The nineteenth-century saw its first Western converts to Buddhism. H.P.B. was an immigrant to America from the present Ukraine of the old Russian Empire. Her and Henry S. Olcott, an American lawyer who worked on U.S. Pres. Lincoln’s assassination case, were the two leading theoreticians of the Theosophical Movement.
They both converted to Buddhism in 1880 in Sri Lanka.
Blavatsky, Helena P., La Revue Spirite, Paris, October, 1878: “It is true that I regard the philosophy of Gautama Buddha as the most sublime system; the purest, and, above all, the most logical of all. But the system has been distorted during the centuries by the ambition and fanaticism of the priests and has become a popular religion; the forms and the exoteric or popular cult proceeding from that system, too closely resemble those of the Roman church which has slavishly plagiarized from it, for me ever to be converted to it. Just as in every pure and primitive system, introduced by the great religious reformers of the ancient world, its rays have diverged too far from their common centre — the Vedas of the Aryans; and although among all modern beliefs the Buddhist Church may be the only one to encourage its members to question its dogmas and to seek the last word of every mystery which is taught therein — I much prefer to hold to the mother source rather than to depend upon any of the numerous streams that flow from it.
…Now although I admire with all my soul the lofty philosophy of Siddhartha, or Sakya-Muni, I bow quite as much before the moral grandeur and the powerful logic of the Hindu Kapila, the great Acharya, who was, however, the most implacable enemy of the Buddha. While the latter looked on the Vedas as the supreme authority — the Buddhists rejected them after all, though it was proved, nevertheless, that Gautama in his reform and protest against the abuses of the wily Brahmanas, based himself entirely upon the esoteric meaning of the grand primitive Scriptures. Then, if the reporter — the author of the article in question — had simply said that I belonged to the religion that had inspired the Buddha, instead of presenting me to the public as a Buddhist turning the Wheel of the Law — he would have spoken nothing but the truth. One can be a Platonist without necessarily being a pagan or an idolater at that, as one may remain a Christian without belonging to any of the Churches which have been fighting one another for eighteen hundred years in the name of the Man-God.”