About the Author:
Annie Besant (1847-1933), second President of the Theosophical Society (1907-1933) was described as a 'Diamond Soul', for she had many brilliant facts to her character. She was an outstanding orator of her time, a champion of human freedom, educationist, philanthropist and author with more than three hundred books and pamphlets to her credit. She also guided thousands of men and women all over the world in their spiritual quest.
In her earlier days in England, she did remarkable work as a Freethinker and Fabian socialist, and supported many noble causes including women's suffrage. From 1893, she lived in India and worked indefatigably for the cultural and spiritual renaissance of the country. She organized the Home Rule movement and inspired Indians with a dynamic vision of India's future.
In 1896, Dr Annie Besant gave four Convention Lectures on Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity. They were published in 1897 with a foreword from her as Four Great Religious.
In 1901, she continued the series with another four lectures on Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, and Theosophy or Divine Wisdom.
In 1966, TPH brought both the series together under one cover as Seven Great Religions, omitting the Divine Wisdom lecture.
The 1992 edition made good the above omission by re-including the lecture on Divine Wisdom at the end, as all religious rightly culminate in Divine Wisdom.
The present edition has undergone an extensive and careful revision and all the lectures are given in their natural sequence of delivery.
The following lectures do not pretend to be any-
thing more than popular expositions, intended for
the ordinary reader rather than for the student.
Delivered to audiences composed almost entirely
of Hindus, with only a sprinkling of Zoroastrians
and Christians, they rather take for granted a
knowledge of Sanskrit terms; so notes have been
added where obscurity might arise from their use.
They are intended to help members of each of the
religions to recognize the value and beauty of faiths
which are not their own, and demonstrate their
In the lecture on Buddhism I had especially in
mind the misconceptions which shut the Lord
Buddha out from the hearts of his countrymen,
and strove to remove them by quotations from the
received scriptures containing the authoritative
records of his own words. For indeed I know of no
greater service that could be rendered to religion
than to draw together again these sundered faiths
which almost divide between them the Eastern
world. Mother and daughter they are, and
family feuds are proverbially bitter; yet might the
quarrel be healed, if the desire for amity reigned on
Less deeply rooted, but more bitter, was the
antagonism to Christianity, exasperated by the
ignorant and often coarse and abusive attacks
levelled by the lower class of missionaries against
the venerable faith held by nearly all my hearers.
Yet they listened respectfully and after a while
sympathetically to the exposition of the faith so
young in comparison with their own, and finally
recognized that it also was a great religion, and was
not really alien from Hinduism. I can wish these
lectures no better fate than that they may act as a
message of peace to the hearts of their readers, as
they evidently did to the hearts of their hearers.
The general principles underlying these lectures
are the following: Each religion is looked at in the
light of occult knowledge, both as regards its
history and its teachings. Without despising the
conclusions arrived at by the patient and admirable
work of European scholars, I have unhesitatingly
cast them aside where they conflict with important
facts preserved in occult history, whether in those
imperishable records where all the past is still to be
found in living pictures, or in ancient documents
carefully stored up by Initiates and not wholly
inaccessible. Especially is this the case with regard
to the ages of Hinduism and Zoroastrianism,
touching which modem scholarship is ludicrously
astray. That scholarship, however, will regard the
occult view as being, in its turn, grotesquely
wrong. Be it so. Occultism can wait to be justified
by discoveries, as so many of its much-ridiculed
statements as to antiquity have already been. The
earth is a faithful guardian, and as the archeologist
uncovers the cities buried within her, many an
unexpected witness will be found to justify the
antiquity that is claimed.
Secondly, each religion is treated as coming
from the one great Brotherhood, which is the
steward and custodian of spiritual knowledge.
Each is treated as an expression, by some member
or messenger of that Brotherhood, of the eternal .
spiritual truths, an expression suited to the needs of
the time at which it was made, and of the dawning
civilization that it was intended to mould and to
guide in its evolution. Each religion has its own
mission in the world, is suited to the nations to
whom it is given, and to the type of civilization it is
to permeate, bringing it into line with the general
evolution of the human family. The failure to see
this leads to unjust criticism, for an ideally perfect
religion would not be suitable to imperfect and
partially evolved men, and environment must
always be considered by the Wise when they plant
a new slip of the ancient tree of wisdom.
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