The Theosophical Reception of Buddhism

  • Ulrich Harlass (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


When the Theosophical leaders developed the intricate ‘esoteric doctrine’, many aspects of Buddhist philosophy became prominent points of reference. Even though Buddhist teachings are commonly held to be a central aspect of Theosophy to the present day, it is not clear how exactly ‘Western esotericism’ became ‘Orientalised’—and if at all. This paper reconsiders the connection between Theosophy and Buddhism that is predominantly depicted as an encounter of ‘East and West’, assuming two distinct spheres meeting in the course of the globalisation of ‘Western esotericism’. Furthermore, H.P. Blavatsky commonly appears as the central agent who explored Buddhism and (Asian) Oriental thought while shaping her Theosophical doctrines, particularly during her years in India. Such viewpoint excludes important aspects as it is based on categories that are themselves products of this discourse. This article focuses on the historic (discursive) production of ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Theosophy’, as opposed to the ‘West’. The analysis of the debates and disputes between Theosophists and a wide range of interlocutors will illuminate how and why Buddhism emerged as a central subject. These positions often defy clear cut categories (e. g., spiritualist, Christian, Theosophical) and I will demonstrate how much ‘Buddhism’ in its esoteric Theosophical reading depended upon the quarrels between the Theosophists in India and their opponents.