Studies in the Secret Doctrine:
Scope, Structure and Method
The writings of H. P. Blavatsky constitute the latest incarnation of the Ageless Wisdom. The ever-recurring Impulse of Theosophy brings into expression one or more aspects of the Wisdom of the world of men. Re-embodiment of that Wisdom is like unto reincarnation of the human soul. Never fully and completely can the Fire of the Soul install itself in the temple of flesh, lest the latter be consumed; thus too only in part can the Wisdom of the Immemorial Fire descend from on high to this globe of earth.
The recurring Impulse of Theosophy produces the manifestation of its Mind on the one hand and its vehicle of matter on the other; that Impulse expresses a certain quantity of knowledge, and secondly manifests a body, an organization, a polity, an order, which in course of time invariably usurps and corrupts the first, producing a sect, a caste, a creed, a dogma.
Of all her writings The Secret Doctrine was regarded by H.P.B. as her best work. But to understand it to any appreciable extent we must bear in mind certain important factors.
The book is not written; it is recorded, as the dedication points out. In the Proem the recorder takes note that her volumes may be regarded (1) as a fairy tale; or (2) “at best as one of the yet unproven speculations of dreamers”; or (3) “at the worst, as an additional hypothesis to the many scientific hypotheses past, present and future, some exploded, others still lingering.” But, it is added, “It is not in any sense worse than are many of the so-called Scientific theories; and it is in every case more philosophical and probable.” (I:23-24.)
But to enjoy a fairy-tale one requires power of imagination; to appreciate a dreamer’s speculation one should be a philosopher to some extent; to understand a scientific hypothesis one should possess adequate knowledge. Next, it is said:
The reader can never be too often reminded that … the present work is a simple attempt to render, in modern language and in a phraseology with which the scientific and educated student is familiar, archaic Genesis and History as taught in certain Asiatic centres of esoteric learning. They must be accepted or rejected on their own merits, fully or partially; but not before they have been carefully compared with the corresponding theological dogmas and the modern scientific theories and speculations. (II:449.)
So far so good; but the reader’s enthusiasm does not find great encouragement as he keeps on perusing:
One feels a serious doubt whether, with all its intellectual acuteness, our age is destined to discover in each western nation even one solitary uninitiated scholar or philosopher capable of fully comprehending the spirit of archaic philosophy. (II:449.)
Can he himself ever hope to be that “one solitary uninitiated” individual?
The study of this book and the grasping of the teachings it contains, like those of any other volume, naturally depends on the capacity of the reader; but, just as the nature of the capacity differs according to the subject matter of study and investigation and the musical faculty is necessary for the appreciation of music, and the mathematical faculty for grasping mathematics, so also for the study of The Secret Doctrine a definite type of capacity and a particular faculty are essential.
Thus we are warned beforehand in the Introductory itself:
Every reader will inevitably judge the statements made from the stand-point of his own knowledge, experience, and consciousness, based on what he has already learnt. This fact the writer is constantly obliged to bear in mind: hence, also the frequent references in this first Book to matters which, properly speaking, belong to a later part of the work, but which could not be passed by in silence, lest the reader should look down on this work as a fairy tale indeed — a fiction of some modern brain. (I:xlvi.)
The Secret Doctrine is the name of a book and yet what book can express, if not fully even adequately, the truths of a system of thought which is not centuries but millenniums old? As the Preface to the first volume says, “It is needless to explain that this book is not the Secret Doctrine in its entirety.”
The complete system of thought, the Ageless Wisdom, the Secret Doctrine, is very different in bulk and profundity from the two volumes, bulky and profound as they are. The latter, “though giving out many fundamental tenets from the SECRET DOCTRINE of the East, raise but a small corner of the dark veil. For no one, not even the greatest living adept, would be permitted to, or could — even if he would — give out promiscuously, to a mocking, unbelieving world, that which has been so effectually concealed from it for long æons and ages.” (I:xvii.)
In pursuing our study, then, we should remember that we are contacting but a part of the mighty whole; that part deemed suited and worthy to be given out to this day and generation. In the process of giving out that which was esoteric and hidden and secret, it had to be clothed in the vestures of exotericism and publicity, and though a “silence of centuries is broken” it is broken along similar lines and in a similar way as on previous occasions, however far past. That is, the language of symbol and allegory has been often used, personification of principles has been resorted to for purposes of explanation, and names and forms are given as indicators of the nameless and formless. Suited to our civilization is the limited presentation in The Secret Doctrine of THE SECRET DOCTRINE — Imperishable, Eternal, Ancient, Constant and Consistent.
The part of the mighty whole held forth to the vision of the age has its horizon. In mid-ocean, on board a ship, an observer sees water bounded by sky on all sides; sandy shores and mountain ranges, rocky solitude and populated islands, emerge in the midst of ever-extending waters, but a radius imposes its circumscribing limit always. So also a student-voyager on the mighty waters of the Wisdom finds himself surrounded by his self-created horizon, the result of his own limitations, and is able to perceive the ever-green, luxurious Elysian foliage in the distance, now here, now there, as it comes within his field of vision — and no more; he catches glimpse of a distant peak of metaphysics or an inspiring but lonely island of foregone days that tells the tale of culture now forgotten.
The student of The Secret Doctrine should remember that the part of the whole is a part which had intimate relation to his own Aryan culture, his own racial mind, with their attendant defects of materialism in science, bigotry in religion and commercialism in all things. The book may be said to symbolize the mind of the incarnation of Immortal and Immemorial Theosophy — the latest link in the ever-lengthening chain of the Life of Truth.
The book is related to time and space, to our civilization, and contains within its covers facts which reveal to us our limitations, individual and racial, but also bring to the daring and the persistent the power to remove those limitations. To understand its contents, to discover its hidden powers and to utilize them we must endeavor to realize the scope of the book, its structure, and method of imparting knowledge. First then, its title-page indicates its scope: “The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy.” It is neither “a synthesis,” nor “the synthesis of a particular science, a particular religion and a particular philosophy.” It is the unification of knowledge obtained by the use of senses physical and super-physical and their power of observation; by the experiences of soul-consciousness in its capacity of a perceiver of phenomena, a silent witness of the panorama of manifestation; and by the deductions and inferences which mental processes of reason and intuition imply. The result of this three-fold work throughout the ages has brought forth many sciences, innumerable religions, and numerous philosophies. The knowledge of all these, galvanized into a living and consistent whole, may rightly be regarded, from one point of view, as the synthesis referred to on the title-page of The Secret Doctrine. This is implied in the statement in the Preface: “What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole.” Such a process, however, implies elimination of innumerable factors belonging to particular schools and creeds, as also acceptance of certain definite principles and facts which constitute that synthesis. H. P. Blavatsky’s “Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy” is very different from Herbert Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy which also is defined as “Unification of Knowledge.” 1 The nature of the synthesis of H. P. Blavatsky can be understood by what is contained in the following extracts:
But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised. (I:viii.)
If coming events are said to cast their shadows before, past events cannot fail to leave their impress behind them. It is, then, by those shadows of the hoary Past and their fantastic silhouettes on the external screen of every religion and philosophy, that we can, by checking them as we go along, and comparing them, trace out finally the body that produced them. There must be truth and fact in that which every people of antiquity accepted and made the foundation of its religions and of faith. (II:794.)
Here we come across a view about synthesis and unification of knowledge which is different from the one ordinarily held in the modern world. Mme. Blavatsky’s synthesis has this advantage that the propositions of science, religion and philosophy brought together in her system do not clash with each other, but on the other hand blend together in a harmonious whole.
This synthesis is arrived at not by the method of putting details together, but, unlike so many modern syntheses, it proceeds from Universals to particulars. Parts do not lead to the whole; the whole reveals the parts. Thus the risks of the Inductive method are avoided and, from Principles and Fundamentals, applications are made and details are derived. From within without, Unity multiplying into diversity according to the Hermetic axiom of “As Above so Below” — the synthesis of The Secret Doctrine is like a burgeoning blossom; every petal of the bud stands revealed in its proper station and signifies its place, utility and value in the whole scheme of the flower.
From Universals to particulars has always been the process of teaching and exposition in the schools of esoteric science. We may mention in passing that care should be taken not to identify this old system with that of the Realists, the opponents of Nominalists who fought over a passage in a translation of Porphyry by Boethius. Nor should this procedure be mistaken for deductive or syllogistic inference in the science of Logic; for the prevailing use of deduction is practically identical with Aristotelian propositions which themselves have assumed different forms since they were brought before Western thought by Bacon. True Induction and Deduction are like spirit and matter — they exist and evolve together and are never separate. Pythagoras learnt to use them both correctly in connection with his Decad, and the intelligent student, if he is in earnest, will soon learn the art in the task that awaits him in The Secret Doctrine.
To comprehend this way of expounding teachings which are at once metaphysical and scientific, and to apply the two-fold process of deduction-induction to them for the purposes of a thorough understanding, is to grasp the real synthesis of The Secret Doctrine.
If synthesis and the processes of deduction and induction have undergone change for the worse, the law of analogy has met with a still sadder fate. Analogy which with the Ancients meant Correspondence on the side of life and principles, has, with the modern, become resemblance on the side of forms and appearances. The Law of Analogy used to provide indisputable facts; now one has to beware of “false analogy” all the time. In The Secret Doctrine, on the authority of a Master’s letter we are advised “to hold to the doctrine of analogy and correspondences.” 2 In fact, without a clear understanding of what the Law of Analogy is in the conception of the Ancients, the study of The Secret Doctrine becomes very difficult indeed. “Analogy is the guiding law in Nature, the only true Ariadne’s thread that can lead us, through the inextricable paths of her domain, toward her primal and final mysteries.” 3 One more quotation and we will pass on:
From Gods to men, from Worlds to atoms, from a star to a rush-light, from the Sun to the vital heat of the meanest organic being — the world of Form and Existence is an immense chain, whose links are all connected. The law of Analogy is the first key to the world-problem, and these links have to be studied co-ordinately in their occult relations to each other. (I:604.)
The Law of Analogy of The Secret Doctrine speaks of manifestation proceeding from within without, refers to the Hermetic axiom of “as Above so Below,” and in full measure correlates Cosmos to atom, and clearly shows the interdependence of Noumena to phenomena, archetypes to types.
In taking into consideration the scope of The Secret Doctrine we have dealt with its synthesis which is held forth for our study, and the laws employed to make clear to the reader abstruse doctrines and teachings. Why have we done this under the heading of scope? The Law of Analogy and Correspondence, the application of the Hermetic axiom, the correct use of induction-deduction, unmistakably bring the reader the opportunity of correlating knowledge in all its branches and aspects. By and under this treatment Astronomy and Embryology can be studied together; atoms and solar systems move by identical processes; human body and cosmos are closely knit; physics and physiology do not war against biology and psychology; theology, mysticism, ethics, become sane, practical and inspiring; mathematics and metaphysics, astrology and alchemy, blend in true harmony; science, religion, philosophy reveal themselves as languages sprung from a common root stock — the synthesis called the Wisdom-Religion — Theosophy.
Let the reader bear in mind that if he is desirous of making his study fruitful he must not be appalled by this prospect. The interdependence of subjects treated in the book is a feature which has its advantages. The Secret Doctrine, in its scope, is a whole in which several parts, most of them of fundamental importance, are so treated that it relieves the tension it causes. A man of ordinary intelligence would find it utterly impossible to tackle the problems of science, religion, and philosophy; it would be simply inconceivable that he could manage many sciences and religions and philosophies. Like the great Newton himself he would expect to find himself worsted on the ever-extending sands of knowledge when he could hold only a palmful. However, when he encounters these innumerable branches of science and schools of philosophy treated in the pages of The Secret Doctrine; their varying doctrines correlated, their faults shown and removed, their merits assigned proper places in the scheme of things universal — he gains confidence in his own power of intelligent perception.
It is the scope of the book that is the salvation of the reader. That salvation is the reward of the faithful student. If The Secret Doctrine was fragmentary, instead of complete in its very incompleteness; if principles were sacrificed to details or minor facts to fundamentals; if the all-roundness of the volumes had been disturbed, resulting in one-sidedness; then it would have become a mighty encyclopedia of ideas — a great and interesting book like the Dictionary, withal somewhat disconnected. We are not unaware that this very charge is laid at the door of The Secret Doctrine. Many years of earnest study has brought us the revelation that the synthesis is all-round and complete and can be so found if the laws by which the subjects are treated in the book are understood and used in the prosecution of its study.
Let us turn next to the structure. The synthesis may be compared to an Ancient Temple whose foundations are the tenets of Gupta Vidya, the Secret Knowledge, Esoteric Science. The edifice which raises its stately head thereon has its four sides built out of the material brought together from the four quarters of the globe: the matter of the Polar Region gives evidence of its strange existence in the north-east corner of the Temple; its eastern side, from low extending to high ceiling, tells the fascinating tale of Asia, modern and ancient; Europe and the Americas are there in the west; and the Lemurian wisdom of the southern seas is given its place. These walls are full of symbols and emblems, carved and painted, strange and even grotesque, with explanations accompanying each. The roof is a dome of mathematical exactitude, a perfect work of art, which covers in exoteric protection the secrets of the esoteric foundation.
The Foundations of the book are the Stanzas of Dzyan. What they are, whence they emanate, how Mme. Blavatsky came across them and how she used them make a fascinating tale — but that, as Kipling would say, is another story. These Stanzas are the Seed from which grows the Tree of The Secret Doctrine. They are not of the earth but are rooted high in the plane of the spirit — verily the Bij of the Ashwattha. Sweeter than music is their lucid meter. The ideas entombed in their language are of Fire-like mystery — they glow as they grow, they flare up as they subside; they are profound, of ocean depth, whence rise the clouds, which become harbingers of promised wind — beautiful to gaze upon, in their white purity on the arching blue, and useful and inspiring withal, for they bring the breeze and the gale which free the mind from the oppressive sultriness of petty and concrete thinking. Like the mighty ocean is their sweeping grandeur, the “glorious mirror where the Almighty’s form glasses itself … the image of eternity — the throne of the invisible.” How apt do the words of Byron fit, applied to this Ocean of Primeval Wisdom compared to the passing panorama of knowledge which pertains to the domain of the senses and the intellect:—
Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee—
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters washed them power while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts; not so thou—
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play—
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow—
Such as Creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.
According to Mme. Blavatsky the Stanzas “form the basis of the present work.” 4 They “give an abstract formula which can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to all evolution: to that of our tiny earth, to that of the chain of planets of which that earth forms one, to the solar Universe to which that chain belongs, and so on, in an ascending scale, till the mind reels and is exhausted in the effort. The seven Stanzas given in this volume represent the seven terms of this abstract formula.” 5 In the two volumes of The Secret Doctrine are given “their modern translated version” 6 and it is added that this is being done “for the first time into a European language.” 7 Further:—
It is almost unnecessary to state that only portions of the seven Stanzas are here given. Were they published complete they would remain incomprehensible to all save the few higher occultists. Nor is there any need to assure the reader that, no more than most of the profane, does the writer, or rather the humble recorder, understand those forbidden passages. (I:23.)
The basis of the book then is the Stanzas. These are followed by their recorder’s commentaries which form the first part in each volume. As these stanzas are formulae, abstract and algebraic, their signs or glyphs are special and strange. The second or middle portion of each volume deals with the symbolic language of ideas, pictures and myths and their influences in past civilizations and cultures. To connect the ancient to the modern and to enable the intelligent student to transform his beliefs into knowledge by the use of modern scientific theories, hypotheses and facts, the third part is devoted to comparison and criticism along the lines of science; let it not be understood, however, that it is devoid of teaching and instruction, information and inspiration.
It is important to recognize the fact, fundamental and palpable, that the book establishes interdependence of the various branches of knowledge. Therefore ancient and modern science and theology, philosophy and mythology elbow each other all the time and move in close embrace most of the time. Hence also scathing denunciation of the false is followed by just and generous appreciation of the true. Therefore in all its parts everything seems to be thrown in together, “helter-skelter,” but careful and prolonged study reveals to the reader the unmistakable rhythmic swing of the mind of the recorder; order emerges out of chaos, and “a land of promise spreads beneath his eye.”
A word about terms and terminology. There is a vagueness and confusion caused by the absence of precise definitions. Let it not be forgotten that Mme. Blavatsky undertook to expound to the Western world of the 19th century abstruse truths, not only strange and novel but of a nature diametrically opposed and entirely foreign to prevailing notions and views, and that on all subjects. Where they believed in history she put forward myths; when they were accepting lifeless matter she thundered forth the teaching of the Unity of life; when they said atoms she said gods, when they spoke of molecules she responded with monads. She was fighting a battle of ideas and did not wage a war of words. Hence it is essential that the earnest students take note that in reference to terms and terminology they must endeavour to grasp her ideas and not memorize her words, to repeat her thoughts and not her language, to understand her propositions and fundamentals and not be bothered by her un-methodic method and her planless plan.
And that brings us to her method of imparting knowledge. Note what she says — “Indeed it must be remembered that all these Stanzas appeal to the inner faculties rather than to the ordinary comprehension of the physical brain.” 8 It is evident that as an Occultist taught by Occultists her way of teaching is closely related to the manner in and by which she herself learnt. The deeper layer of the human mind has to be brought into use if The Secret Doctrine is to be comprehended to any appreciable extent. To enable her readers to understand her ideas she brings them a gift — she presents the key to unlock the door of the higher mind. In this she proves herself a real educator: She draws forth from the hidden recesses of our being the instrument of intellection and in proportion that that is allowed to be done, comes the understanding of the profound teachings. With this purpose in view Mme. Blavatsky resorts to and makes peculiar use of typographical display. Footnotes come in as a handy device, and words, expressions, sentences and paragraphs are printed in italics or capitals to indicate their relative value and importance, and put the student on the track of how certain things unfold his faculties and enable him to grasp the rest of the writings. We evolve as we learn, not only knowing what is taught but gaining the faculty to know more, that which is not written or expressed — that which lies “between the lines and within the words.”
In the grasping of ideas put forward and of those which underlie, the first care should be taken not to mistake personifications for personalities or to materialize abstractions because the latter have already assumed a little of concreteness. Planes of consciousness are not spheres of matter; hierarchies of beings are not always individualized intelligences; Karma is an abstract force and not a personal devil, any more than Universal Self-consciousness is a personal God; the Absolute, the Logos and Logoi, and the Secret Doctrine Pantheon are concretized; and we may give several more instances. Suffice to say that the student is expected to read the book intelligently, bearing in mind what has been written earlier in this paper, to which one more important fact may be now added. There is a tendency to go into details, to shift the ground of study, which make us lose ourselves in the bewildering maze of facts, some of which are simply put while others are presented in pictorial or allegorical form. It is necessary to proceed from fundamental principles; the mastering of postulates and axioms should precede the attempt at solving problems and theorems.
Having thus given somewhat roughly a sketch of the task before the would-be student of this monumental work, let us invite him to his courageous enterprise. In one of the striking and inspiring passages of The Secret Doctrine comes to us the graphic and grand description of the spiritual realm as it opens to the trained vision of a true Seer. What is said there is true for us humble folk whose enthusiasm and aspiration brings us the vision splendid as we delve within the pages of the inspiring Volumes:—
Standing on an open plain, on a mountain summit especially, and gazing into the vast vault above and the spacial infinitudes around, the whole atmosphere seems ablaze with them, the air soaked through with these dazzling coruscations. At times, the intensity of their motion produces flashes like the Northern lights during the Aurora Borealis. The sight is so marvellous, that, as the Seer gazes into this inner world, and feels the scintillating points shoot past him, he is filled with awe at the thought of other, still greater mysteries, that lie beyond, and within, this radiant ocean. (I:633-634.)
(1) Cf. “The Synthesis of Occult Science” by Mr. Judge; reprinted in THEOSOPHY, October and November, 1913.
(2) S.D., Vol. I, p. 187.
(3) S.D., Vol. II, p. 153.
(4) S.D., Vol. I, p. 13.
(5) S.D., Vol. I, pp. 20-21.
(6) S.D., Vol. I, p. 22.
(7) S.D., Vol. I, p. 23.
(8) S.D., Vol. I, p. 21.