Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy
The Theosophical Publishing House Ltd 1980
The particular task that Madame Blavatsky undertook in her writings was to bring to the attention of the western world the teachings of the Wisdom tradition, the Sacred Science of the east. Repeatedly she affirmed both the antiquity and the universality of these teachings, known since the early centuries of our era as Theosophy. For herself she claimed only the role of writer and transmitter.
The way in which she saw her task is plainly stated in the Preface to her greatest work, The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888;
These truths are in no sense put forward as a revelation; nor does the author claim the position of a revealer of mystic lore, now made public for the first time in the world's history. For what is contained in this work is to be found scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol, and hitherto left unnoticed because of this veil. What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole.
The work of collecting and publishing all Madame Blavatsky's writings is now nearing completion, to make a total of some nineteen or twenty substantial volumes. The compiler of these Collected Writings, her great-nephew Boris de Zirkoff, informs the reader that a letter published in the New York Daily Graphic on 30 October 1874 was the first article definitely known to be from her pen. In 1877 her first major work, Isis Unveiled, appeared in two large volumes. It was followed eleven years later by the two volumes of The Secret Doctrine. Her last books, The Voice of the Silence and The Key to Theosophy, were published in 1889. If one bears in mind her long and frequent travels and the poor state of her health, with periods of severe illness, this enormous literary output in under seventeen years - and in a language that was not her own - seems little less than miraculous. It is to be noted that, although some letters and articles are awaiting publication in the Collected Writings, the great books have been continuously in print throughout the hundred or so years that have elapsed since their first appearance.
With such a mass of material, in which the topics range from Biblical symbolism to Darwinian theory, from an examination of antediluvian flora and fauna to quotations from the sacred texts of Hinduism and the Kabalah, as well as from 19th century philosophers, theologians and scientists, it would be difficult if not impossible for the reader to extract the essential framework of the theosophical system. However, Madame Blavatsky herself comes to the student's rescue by setting out here and there in numbered statements the principles on which that system is based. The collection of these statements presented here is intended to serve as an Ariadne's thread through the vast labyrinth of information, description, explanation, criticism, commentary and personal instruction that constitutes her well-nigh inexhaustible gift to posterity.
Where should the student begin? During Madame Blavatsky's last years, there gathered round her in London a group of earnest members of The Theosophical Society who applied themselves seriously to the study of The Secret Doctrine, questioning her and pressing her for further elucidation of the teaching. Happily for us, much of this oral instruction was taken down and later published in the Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, now forming the second half of Volume X of the Collected Writings. In addition to this, there is a small but invaluable collection of notes written down at the time by one member of the group, Commander Robert Bowen, and brought to light some forty years later by his son, Captain P.G. Bowen. Initially printed in 1932 in Theosophy in Ireland, these notes have since been published separately as a booklet entitled Madame Blavatsky on How to Study Theosophy; they are reproduced herein Appendix A.
It is from these notes that we learn not only the way in which, in her view, one should approach the study, the attitude and expectations one should bring to it, but further, the order in which the essential statements are to be taken before embarking on the whole work. In addition, she places before the student the basic ideas which he should keep permanently in mind. Her presentation of these ideas, together with the sections of the work to which she calls especial attention, form the greater part of this present collection.
Isis Unveiled is admittedly a diffuse and disorderly compilation, displaying extraordinary erudition in a woman who had had no formal education and whose travelling library seems to have consisted of no more than two or three dozen volumes. It is a mass of curiosities, of information and critical commentary on a truly vast range of subjects, of profound knowledge of the occult tradition in its many forms, but the material is presented in some confusion and often in a sharply polemic tone which declares its contemporary setting. At the end of Volume II, Madame Blavatsky summarizes in ten numbered items the essential elements of the teaching she has sought to lay before the reader. Although this was her first attempt to set out an orderly statement of the fundamental principles of the esoteric philosophy enunciated in her work, the relevant passage is here given last, for the reason that, as will be seen, she had not at that time clearly distinguished between the broad principles and the secondary material, that is, the working out of the principles in particulars. In speaking of her occult instructors she used the name of Masters, because it was from them, as she explicitly states in The Key to Theosophy, that she derived all her knowledge of the theosophical system. Nevertheless, it was left entirely to her to use the knowledge communicated to her as best she could, organizing the material and developing literary skills in the doing.
In preparing the passages for this collection, the three editions of The Secret Doctrine in current use have been consulted, and references are given to all three, in date order, thus: First Edition 1888/Third Edition 1893/Adyar 6-vol. Editions. As the aim here is to present the basic teaching in the most readable form, some discretion has been exercised in modifying the use of punctuation, capital letters and italics, where this has been thought appropriate to facilitate first acquaintance with the text. Each extract is preceded by an introductory note, and a Glossary of terms is given in Appendix B.
The listing of those ideas that must be recognized as fundamental to the theosophical system is to some extent arbitrary. So we find that Madame Blavatsky presents the student of Theosophy with three fundamental propositions, four basic ideas, a summary of six numbered points, a further five proven facts, and the ten items recapitulating the essentials of Isis Unveiled. Yet, above and beyond all lists and enumerations of principles, there must ever be the affirmation of the ONE - the nameless Reality from which and in which all things have their being. As there can be no understanding of Theosophy without constant reference back to this fundamental Unity, the unequivocal statement of the Unity has been placed first in this selection of extracts.
Esoteric philosophy insists that beneath the manifold world of our experience there is a single Reality, the source and cause of all that ever was, is and is to be. The great exponent of the Vedic tradition, Shri Shankaracharya, puts it simply: no matter what shape may be given to the moulded clay, the reality of the object remains always the clay, its name and form being but transitory appearances. So likewise all things, having issued from the One Supreme, are themselves that Supreme in their essential nature. From highest to lowliest, from vastest to most minute, the infinite phenomena of the manifested universe are the One, clothed in name and form.
This teaching of the fundamental Unity is the hallmark of the theosophical system. It follows that no doctrine based on an ultimate duality - of spirit and matter for ever separate, of God and man as essentially distinct, of good and evil as eternal realities - can have a place in Theosophy.
ONE FUNDAMENTAL LAW
The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature - from star to mineral atom, from the highest Dhyaan Chohan to the smallest infusorium, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual or physical worlds - this unity is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.
In the course of the oral instruction given to her students in London and recorded in Commander Bowen's notes (see Appendix A), Madame Blavatsky repeated many times that the study of The Secret Doctrine could not give a final and complete picture of the universe. It is meant, she said, to 'LEAD TOWARDS THE TRUTH'. As an aid to progressive understanding, she then outlined four basic ideas which the student should never lose from view. Being given spontaneously, these ideas are presented in simpler language than in the great works and may therefore serve as a preparation for some of the more complex phraseology of the fuller statements.
FOUR BASIC IDEAS
Observe the following rules:--
In the Bowen notes, Madame Blavatsky advises the student that `the first thing to do, even if it takes years, is to get some grasp of the "Three Fundamental Principles" given in Proem' - the masterly prelude to The Secret Doctrine. The statement of the three principles is introduced with a similar insistence on their primary importance, and again, in concluding their presentation, Madame Blavatsky affirms that these are the foundation ideas of the theosophical tradition.
The Secret Doctrine is in large part a commentary on selected stanzas from an ancient work, the Book of Dzyan. Following modern usage, the title of her book is always given in italics, while her references to the age-old esoteric philosophy are left as in the original edition, with initial capitals, the Secret Doctrine.
The study of the Three Fundamental Propositions, advises Madame Blavatsky, should be followed by that of the numbered items in the Summing Up at the end of Volume I (Part I). It would seem to have been her intention to gather together in a few orderly paragraphs the essential features of the Secret Doctrine so far presented. She begins, however, in the first of the numbered paragraphs, with a reference back to the Introductory section of the work, in which she had assembled a great range of evidence that establishes beyond doubt the existence of an esoteric tradition. Furthermore, arriving at the sixth numbered paragraph, she refuses to confine herself to mere recapitulation, and adds a considerable amount of explanatory information about those Hierarchies of Beings through whose agency `the Universe is worked and guided'. Even so, she reverts more than once to the fundamental law of the whole system, the essential Oneness of existence.
Once again, Madame Blavatsky seeks to emphasize certain important aspects of the teaching, underlining what has already been explained and expanding the statement of fundamentals with further commentary and quotation. So to the six numbered paragraphs of the Summing Up are added five more items which are introduced as "proven facts".
The words in square brackets [ ] are given thus in the text, being Madame Blavatsky's clarification of the quoted passages.
FIVE PROVEN FACTS
Whatever may be the destiny of these actual writings in a remote future, we hope to have so far proven the following facts:
The first volume of The Secret Doctrine has as its subject matter the becoming of the Cosmos - "Cosmogenesis". The second volume (Vol. III in the Adyar 6-vol. editions) is concerned with the becoming of Man - "Anthropogenesis". Its first section, like that of the preceding volume, is based on stanzas "drawn from the same Archaic Records as the Stanzas on Cosmogony". As an indication of its main theme, the Preliminary Notes which serve as an introduction to the further stanzas and commentaries are preceded by a passage from Isis Unveiled. Provocative and challenging to the leaders of contemporary scientific and religious thought, the extract prepares the reader for the seemingly revolutionary ideas about the story of Man that are offered in the occult record.
In the Bowen notes, Madame Blavatsky draws the student's attention to these Preliminary Notes, which begin with a statement of three new propositions concerning the evolution of Man.
THREE NEW PROPOSITIONS
Modern Science insists upon the doctrine of evolution; so do human reason and the Secret Doctrine, and the idea is corroborated by the ancient legends and myths, and even by the Bible itself when it is read between the lines. We see a flower slowly developing from a bud, and the bud from its seed. But whence the latter, with all its predetermined programme of physical transformation, and its invisible, therefore spiritual, forces which gradually develop its form, colour and odour? The word evolution speaks for itself. The germ of the present human race must have pre-existed in the parent of this race, as the seed, in which lies hidden the flower of next summer, was developed in the capsule of its parent flower; the parent may be but slightly different, but it still differs from its future progeny. The antediluvian ancestors of the present elephant and lizard were, perhaps, the mammoth and plesiosaurus: why should not the progenitors of our human race have been the "giants" of the Vedas, the Voluspa, and the Book of Genesis? While it is positively absurd to believe the "transformation of species" to have taken place according to some of the more materialistic views of the evolutionists, it is but natural to think that each genus, beginning with the molluscs and ending with man, has modified from its own primordial and distinctive form.
The Stanzas, with the Commentaries thereon, in this Volume, are drawn from the same Archaic Records as the Stanzas on Cosmogony in Volume I .....
As regards the evolution of mankind, the Secret Doctrine postulates three new propositions, which stand in direct antagonism to modern science as well as to current religious dogmas. It teaches: (a) the simultaneous evolution of seven human groups on seven different portions of our globe; (b) the birth of the astral before the physical body, the former being a model for the latter; and (c) that man, in this Round, preceded every mammalian - the anthropoids included - in the animal kingdom.
[A footnote to this proposition is indicative of the vast range of ancient traditions from which corroboration of the Archaic Records may be adduced. It reads.-]
See Genesis ii, 19. Adam is formed in verse 7, and in verse 19 it is said: "Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them". Thus man was created before the animals; for the animals mentioned in Chapter i are the signs of the Zodiac, while the man, "male and female", is not man, but the Host of the Sephiroth, FORCES or Angels, "made in his [God's] image and after his likeness". The Adam, man, is not made in that likeness, nor is it so asserted in the Bible. Moreover, the Second Adam is esoterically a septenary which represents seven men, or rather groups of men. For the first Adam, the Kadmon, is the synthesis of the ten Sephiroth. Of these, the upper Triad remains in the Archetypal World as the future "Trinity", while the seven lower Sephiroth create the manifested material world; and this septennate is the Second Adam. Genesis, and the mysteries upon which it was fabricated, came from Egypt. The "God" of the 1st chapter of Genesis is the Logos, and the "Lord God" of the 2nd chapter the Creative Elohim, the lower Powers. (v2 p1-2)
In the Bowen notes (see page 63 below), Madame Blavatsky suggests that an initial study programme should include the Conclusion (Vol. II). From the subject matter to which she there refers - "the times of coming of the Races and Sub-Races" - it is evident that the Conclusion to which the student's attention is directed is the one which occurs at the end of Part I of the second Volume. The passages that follow are selected from that part of the work, which carries the heading CONCLUSION.
THE SECRET DOCTRINECONCLUSION
Enough was said to show that evolution in general, events, mankind, and everything else in Nature, proceeds in cycles. We have spoken of seven Races, five of which have nearly completed their earthly career, and have claimed that every Root-Race, with its sub-races and innumerable family divisions and tribes, was entirely distinct from its preceding and succeeding race. This will be objected to, on the authority of uniform experience in the question of Anthropology and Ethnology. Man was - save in colour and type, and perhaps a difference in facial peculiarities and cranial capacity - ever the same under every climate and in every part of the world, say the Naturalists: ay, even in stature. This, while maintaining that man descends from the same unknown ancestor as the ape, a claim that is logically impossible without an infinite variation of stature and form, from his first evolution into a biped. The very logical persons who maintain both propositions are welcome to their paradoxical views. Once more we address only those who, doubting the general derivation of myths from "the contemplation of the visible workings of external nature" .. think it, "less hard to believe that these wonderful stories of gods and demi-gods, of giants and dwarfs, of dragons and monsters of all descriptions, are transformations, than to believe them to be inventions." It is only such "transformations" in physical nature, as much as in the memory and conceptions of our present mankind, that the Secret Doctrine teaches. It confronts the purely speculative hypotheses of modern Science, based upon the experience and exact observations of barely a few centuries, with the unbroken tradition and records of its Sanctuaries; and brushing away that tissue of cobweb-like theories, spun in the darkness that covers a period of hardly a few milleniums back, and which Europeans call their "History", the Old Science says to us: Listen, now, to my version of the memoirs of Humanity. (v2 p443)
It would seem that Madame Blavatsky had constantly in mind, in preparing her first major work for publication, the need to demonstrate to the educated reader of her day that what she had to say was indeed "no new candidate for the world's attention". Each chapter of Isis Unveiled is introduced by a selection of extracts from respected sources ancient and contemporary, which demonstrate that neither the attitudes displayed nor the information given by her were without precedent. The final chapter is headed by several such quotations, of which one is given here. The chapter begins with an attempt to summarize the main features of the oriental philosophy as presented in the two volumes of Isis. However, as indicated earlier, Madame Blavatsky was at this period experimenting with the mass of material at her command and trying to find out how to give it to the world. Consequently, there is no clear sifting of fundamental principles from secondary detail and illustration. The contrast between this first attempt at a numbered summary and the later statements in The Secret Doctrine is striking evidence of her own development as both pupil and teacher.
Appendix A: Bowen Notes
Appendix B: Glossary
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