The life of
'The Spiritual Quest'
There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount.
Blavatsky, the inspiring force behind the founding of the Theosophical Society, never claimed to be the founder of any new religion or philosophy. She was, she said, only a transmitter, in modern language, of "a few fundamental Truths from the Secret Doctrine of the archaic ages". To be properly understood, Blavatsky must be seen as the bearer of a message; the spokesman for those wiser than herself, members of a Brotherhood of guardians and protectors of mankind who hold in their custody the ageless truths about man's spiritual nature, his origins and destiny.
THE YOUNG HELENA
In 1831, in the Southern Russian province of Ekaterinslov, a daughter was born to the wife of Colonel Peter von Hahn; they named her Helena Petrovna.
Helena showed considerable psychic abilities at a very early age; she saw and talked with nature spirits. Younger children used to gather round her. She delighted in telling them weird and frightening tales of fearsome monsters and elemental creatures. She also told stories of the lives of the stuffed animals in her grandmother's collection.
This was the first stage of a long journey that took her to Egypt, Greece and other parts of Eastern Europe, Canada, and North and South America.
She was searching for occult knowledge, an understanding of the inner powers in nature and man, some of which she possessed from a very early age. She sought to penetrate the deep mysteries of life; to find those who could instruct her and explain not only the nature of her own psychic faculties, but who could demonstrate other and greater powers that she felt the human being possessed.
This search led her to many parts of the world where men practiced sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy and 'magic' in many forms. She became acquainted with the Spiritualism then sweeping America and elsewhere. These journeys provided her with a uniquely comprehensive first-hand experience of the occult, which was to become a major factor in her future work.
Helena' s adventures around the world were many and varied. She suffered a terrible illness at Rougodevo in Russia in 1859. Later as a member of Garibaldi' s army she was wounded in the Battle of Mentana in Italy in 1867. At the end of that year she went to India, whence after some frustrations she succeeded in entering the., mysterious country of Tibet.
For a time, all contact with her was then lost.
MEETING THE MASTER
From her childhood Blavatsky had talked of a mysterious but familiar ‘presence’, a majestic Hindu in a white turban, whom she knew as her 'protector' .He subsequently did save her from serious injury .She often went riding and on one occasion, her horse took fright and bolted. She was unseated; a leg became entangled in a stirrup. Instead of falling to the ground, being dragged along and almost certainly being seriously injured, she felt herself held up by invisible arms until the horse stopped.
This was just one of a number of incidents when she felt this invisible 'presence' and was prevented from coming to harm.
In 1851 she visited London with her father. While out walking one day, she saw a tall Hindu in a procession. She instantly recognized him as her 'protector' .She would have stepped forward to speak with him, but he indicated that she should not, and moved on.
They have become 'perfected' men and passed beyond the evolutionary stage of ordinary men. Some of them, instead of then passing onto superhuman realms, elect to remain, for a time at least, on earth to help and inspire us along our spiritual journey. They are our 'elder brothers' working behind the scenes and forming a 'guardian wall' against further and greater evils that could otherwise befall us.
In 1873 she travelled to Paris. From there she was sent to America by her Master to begin her great work.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SPIRITS
She arrived in New York on the 7th. July 1874. She saw in Spiritualism an opportunity to introduce, as she called it, "... a new cycle of occult research. "
HPB made it quite clear that the shells, or spooks as she called them, were "... soulless creatures, the shadows of their terrestrial bodies from which throve and preserved their semi-material shadows, at the expense of the medium's ".
When these 'shadows' materialised at séances, the mediums were giving form unconsciously to pictures of the dead persons existing either in the minds of the sitters or in the 'astral light'.
At first she saw in Spiritualism an opportunity to check the materialistic scepticism of the time, and so sided with them against material science. After all, Spiritualism did demonstrate that there are entities in the invisible world, whatever their nature may be. She hoped that this demonstration would provide an opportunity for her to present the philosophy of Occult Science to the world, through her explanations of their phenomena.
HPB at first allowed herself to be thought of as a Spiritualist. But as it became clear that they rejected her explanations, and it became clear that it would not be possible for her to utilise the movement in the way which she and the Masters had hoped.
During a visit to a farmhouse at Chittenden in Vermont in 1874, where some remarkable phenomena of materialisation were taking place, she met a civil war colonel, Henry S. Olcott. He was there as a reporter for the New York Daily Graphic, investigating the phenomena being produced by two mediums, the Eddy brothers.
His attention was drawn to HPB by her unusual appearance. Her Russian accent, striking Calmuck face and red Garibaldi shirt stood out in the drab surroundings. He struck up a conversation with her in French, and they immediately became friends. When HPB returned to New York she met him again. She explained to him the true nature of 'spirits', and the basic theosophical principles behind the phenomena, which he found so fascinating.
A SOCIETY IS BORN
Olcott introduced HPB to his friend William Quan Judge, a young attorney. Together they became her trusted pupils and received personal instruction in occult lore from her and the Master.
HPB held meetings in her rooms at 46 Irving Place, New York. A mixture of lawyers, academics, prominent religious publishers, and Spiritualists attended these meetings. She was instructed by the Masters to form a society, and to choose Olcott for the task. Among the objects of the new Society was the investigation of spiritualistic and psychic phenomena.
At first the Society did not flourish. The Spiritualists did not like the ‘truth’; the theosophical explanations about their spirits, and many Spiritualists who had joined the Society left it. But the founders were undeterred and from among a continual flow of enquirers, some began to take an interest in the Society's work. One of the most notable members at that time was the scientist Thomas Edison.
When Blavatsky began writing Isis Unveiled in 1875, she had no idea of the scale of work on which she was embarking. As she said to Olcott on showing some of the first pages to him,
But how was she able to gather together this remarkable collection of information from so many different cultures, religions and philosophies?
On December 18th. 1878, Blavatsky and Olcott left New York for India, where she immediately set to work promoting Theosophy and the Theosophical Society.
Throughout her life H.P .B .had been surrounded by phenomena. We have already seen that she was trained to control her psychic faculties; she could cause bells to ring, furniture to move and objects appear as she willed.
Facsimile of a Master's letter
The main recipient of the many letters from the Masters was A.P Sinnett, publisher of a periodical in India called 'The Pioneer’. He became a go-between for the Masters and the European community both in India and England. The correspondence, rich with esoteric teaching, provides a valuable insight into the nature and wisdom of the Masters. Sinnett was, however, an intellectual, and this eventually became a barrier to further correspondence. He found himself doubting not only the teaching in many of its aspects, but Blavatsky herself. The letters that she wrote to him in response to his criticism of her are fascinating:
In her travels, HPB. had reached Cairo in I870 after surviving a shipwreck. While she was waiting for funds to arrive from Russia, she was helped by a Mme. Coulomb, who with her husband turned up in Bombay in 1880, destitute and begging her for assistance. HPB sheltered them for a time, and then she invited them to Adyar as housekeeper and handyman.
THE WORK IN EUROPE
Mme. Blavatsky arrived in Italy in April 1885, where she remained for several months regaining her strength sadly depleted by her experiences at Adyar. From there she went to Wurzburg in Germany, where she stayed at Ludwig Strasse No.6. Here she began writing her magnum opus The Secret Doctrine. At first she set out to write a revised version of Isis Unveiled, but it soon became clear by the size and scope of the material, that it was to be a completely new work.
This huge work was, like Isis, of immense erudition: some 1400 pages in two volumes, in which she quotes from 1100 other works. It is a synthesis, representing the Wisdom of the Ages known by the few from time immemorial, which she called 'the perennial tradition’. She took material from remote ages, and integrated it with the new, in a modem setting.
Its two volumes were first, Cosmogenesis, which looks at the birth of, and subsequent development of the cosmos, its spiritual origins, cyclical processes and Laws, and its hierarchical structure. The second, Anthropogenesis, deals with the birth of Man and his evolution during millions of years on this planet.
The culture of the 19th century was dogmatic not only in theological thinking, but also in the assertions of science. Scientists then believed there was really nothing more to discover in nature. The Secret Doctrine pre-empted many scientific discoveries such as the divisibility of the atom, and those that show that the whole fabric, the edifice on which we constructed our view of physical reality, was basically energy. The manifest world, in all its diversity, was derived from differentiations of one Element, a kind of primordial plasma, and relative to the Ultimate unchanging REALITY, The Secret Doctrine shows that all temporary existence is Maya - illusion.
The book was finally completed and published in 1888 in London where she had settled. It has been in print continuously ever since.
Mankind is on a long, long pilgrimage to perfection. This 'spiritual journey' is a process which takes us through the evolutionary stages of growth from human to superhuman states of consciousness. However, we can consciously assume control of, or become responsible for our spiritual development. By this intervention we can speed up the process, but it is difficult and painful. However, humanity as a whole must eventually tread this ‘path’, as part of planned evolution through long cycles of gradual development.
Blavatsky's priceless work The Voice Of The Silence (1889) was written to guide aspirants to individual spiritual attainment. It was translated from 'The Book Of The Golden Precepts '; an ancient work of unknown origin, which describes the nature of 'the path’; the disciplines required, and the pitfalls and dangers that may be encountered on the way to the conquering of the lower self.
This culmination of her teaching is written as an exquisite prose poem. It reveals the way to the supreme mystical achievement, that of finding the Self, the God within each of us.
Published in the same year was another great work, The Key To Theosophy that is of special significance to students. This is a practical textbook, in a question and answer format, which deals with a wide range of theosophical subjects. It traces the broad outlines of the Wisdom Religion, and explains its fundamental principles, such as the constitution of man, reincarnation, life-after death, Karma, and the purpose of the theosophical movement. It also deals with the application of Theosophy to the affairs of the world; to problems occurring in everyday life; education, social reforms, right behaviour etc.
The Key To Theosophy is written in a language that makes Theosophy accessible to those who have newly encountered the subject. It has a helpful comprehensive glossary .It represents the full range and depth of subjects which HPB's works cover, and is a key to unlock the door to the deeper study of this immense subject of inestimable importance to mankind.
HPB AND RELIGION
The word 'theosophy' is from the Greek theos, 'god', and sophia, 'wisdom'. In HPB's words it is
Theosophy is not a religion, but describes a unity of truth that flows through and links all the spiritual teachings of the world. "It is the root and trunk of the tree of which all religions are branches" and she described The Secret Doctrine as "The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy".
HPB encouraged everyone to look beyond the surface of the great religions, to discover the One Truth, that truth which forms a common background to them all, It is Theosophy, the Ancient Wisdom, the Perennial Philosophy as Huxley called it.
A unanimity of experience and thought is to be found amongst early Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist mystics, including St. John of the Cross and many others. As there is only one truth, it is not surprising that, although they used different words to describe their experiences, what they were all describing was essentially, the same.
But this experience has been largely lost, repressed or distorted by the many dogmatic religions. A major part of HPB's work was to restore this knowledge, and its associated ancient teachings, to the world.
As she was based in England for much of her work, she ran into criticism and resistance to her ideas from the institutional theologists of the late 18th Century, and especially some of the Christian authorities who reacted strongly against her.
The following extract from a letter by her to the then Archbishop of Canterbury illustrates the position she took regarding religions and the church.
MESSENGER OF THE MASTERS
HPB had many personal difficulties. She always suffered from poor physical health, injuries, and several serious illnesses during her life. She was frequently short-tempered. This was partly due to her physical suffering, but some resulted from an abnormal alteration to her principles made during the intense occult instruction she underwent with the Masters in Tibet.
One particular example occurred in 1889 when she was on her way from England to New York. She was about to embark on a steamer when she met a poor woman and her two young children on the quay. The mother was very distressed as she had been swindled out of her travelling money when she purchased counterfeit steamer tickets; she was now stranded, penniless, unable to join her husband in New York.
HPB, who had a first class ticket, traded in her ticket for steerage ones for them all. Steerage on a steamer in the 1800s was very basic, cold and uncomfortable, and the change from first class would have been a great personal sacrifice to her, yet typical.
But why did the Masters choose such a physically handicapped woman? Their reply to this question was that they had searched for nearly a century to find someone suitable to send out into the Western world to convey their message.
They said that "she was not the best, but the best available". She was an 'amanuensis', an assistant who takes dictation, a channel for their teachings. She was unique in that she had both the intellect to understand the material, and the ability to put profound ideas into a suitable literary form, and as far as possible, in language that could be readIly understood.
She also had extraordinarily developed psychic powers which enabled her to see into the universal memory, the 'astral light' as she called it. This is Nature's memory which records everything that has ever happened during this cycle of the world's history. Its cosmic counterpart, the everlasting universal memory is sometimes referred to as the 'akashic records'.
It was by drawing on this astral light memory that the Master was able to show her the copious references she needed for The Secret Doctrine, and which she wrote down during long and exhausting sessions often involving periods of great mental exertion.
BLAVATSKY AND SCIENCE
At the time when H.P.B. was writing The Secret Doctrine in the 19th century, the atom had not yet been split, and no theories of sub-atomic particles and quantum physics had been expounded. As with any revolutionary thinker, she was up against dogmatism, caught between science and orthodox religious theology. Although science was once much more of a spiritual discipline which had grown out of the mystical traditions of such men as Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras, by the end of the 19th. century the climate of scientific thinking had become materialistic and mechanistic. God was reduced to 'the ghost in the machine'.
And yet Blavatsky was already saying that the essential nature of matter was energy, and that the apparent solidity associated with the atom and matter was an illusion. This idea, that matter is simply a different form of energy, was prevalent in the whole ancient tradition, and it was to be validated by the work of Einstein and others in the years to come.
It is interesting to compare two descriptions of the beginning of the cosmos. One given by Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine and the other by Robert Jastrow, director of the Institute of Space Studies.
Blavatsksy paints a picture of the beginnings of the cosmos that can be compared to the modem theories of , its origins such as 'The Big Bang', almost 100 years before.
Today, some freethinking scientists are returning to a 'sense of Nature'. They are beginning to see the cosmos as a developing organism instead of a vast machine which is gradually running out of steam. Through the evolutionary theories of Darwinism, and the budding ideas of cosmic evolution, we are beginning to see that the teachings of HPB and her Masters were indeed, very much ahead of their time. As Blavatsky says about her work:
HER LAST DAYS
HPB had difficulties with her health all her life. Although her teachers were hard task-masters, they gave her the choice of continuing with the work, or, having already done more than could reasonably have been expected of her, of withdrawing from it. She decided to continue.
"Master has been here; he gave me my choice, that I might die and be free if I would, or I might live and finish The Secret Doctrine, He told me how great would be my suffering and what a terrible time I would have before me,' but when I thought of those students to whom I shall be permitted to teach a few things, and of The Theosophical Society in general, to which I have already given my heart's blood, I accepted the sacrifice,. and now to make it complete, fetch me some coffee and something to eat, and give me my tobacco box. "
When Col. Olcott visited her in London in September 1888, he found her "working with desperate pertinacious energy at the completion of The Secret Doctrine, notwithstanding that, by all the laws of pathology and medical science, it was a miracle that she was alive at all." But with the Master's help, she was to survive for another 3 years, and produce not only The Secret Doctrine but several further writings including The Key To Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence, and many articles.
The following letter to Mrs. Sinnett sums up her feelings towards life: after she had virually been expelled from India, given up her editorship of the Theosophist, which magazine she had started, then been subjected to continual vilification and calumny - "my heart is broken physically and morally. For the first I do not care; Master shall take care it does not burst, so long as I am needed; in the second case there is no help ... I was ready to shed the last drop of life in me, give up every hope, for the last shred of -I shall not say happiness - but rest and comfort in this life of torture, for the cause I serve and for every true Theosophist. "
On the 8th. May, 1891, H.P. Blavatsky died at 19 Avenue Rd., St. John's Wood, London. Her last words were typical of her life's devotion to the Master's work. " Keep the link unbroken...do not let my last incarnation be a failure ".
Colonel Olcott wrote a tribute to her after her death:"HPB's enthusiasm was aflame at which all our Theosophists lit their torches, an example which stirred one's blood like the sound of a war trumpet! It is no wonder that I have loved her as a friend, prized her as a teacher, and for evermore kept her memory sacred".
Blavatsky's own words best summarise the spirit of hope she bequeathed Mankind:
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OCEAN OF THEOSOPHY by W.Q. Judge
BIOGRAPHIES OF H.P. BLAVATSKY
THE REAL H.P. BLA V ATSKY by William Kingsland
VIDEO AND BOOKLETS
BLAVATSKY: A Drama Documentary (65 min. duration)
The Blavatsky Trust 2004