EACH YEAR on February 17, Buddhists throughout Sri Lanka light brass lamps and offer burning incense to commemorate the anniversary of the death of an American-born Buddhist hero. In Theravadan temples, saffron-robed monks bow down before his photograph, and boys and girls in schools, houses across the country offer gifts in his memory.
May the merit we have gained by these good deeds, they meditate, pass on to Colonel Olcott, and may he gain happiness and peace. Disinterested historians describe Henry Steel Olcott as the president-founder of the Theosophical Society, one of America’s first Buddhists, and an important contributor to both the Indian Renaissance in India and the Sinhalese Buddhist Revival in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Less objective observers have allotted Olcott an even more central place in sacred history. A prime minister of Ceylon praised Olcott as one of the heroes in the struggle for our independence and a pioneer of the present religious, national, and cultural revival.