Studies in the Secret Doctrine:
The Right Approach
IN the two former series of Studies an attempt was made to show that The Secret Doctrine and other writings of H.P.B. are portions of the immemorial and imperishable Record of Knowledge. Theosophy as presented by her and her Predecessors is a system of thought neither progressive nor evolving. When they study Theosophy men learn today what always has been known. All that we can gain of instruction in this age has been suitably epitomized for us in the works of H.P.B. That which humanity learns and forgets is relative knowledge; it changes and grows. That which is learnt once for all and is embodied in the heart of the race is Truth, Absolute Knowledge.
Another fact brought out is that true appreciation of The Secret Doctrine depends on correct assimilation of its contents through the unfoldment of that spiritual faculty which follows the purification of mind by study of metaphysics. This faculty is Buddhi conjoined with Manas. Further, an attempt was made to examine the Three Fundamental Propositions which are the veritable foundations of her monumental volumes.
The end in view is to provoke thought. No one could translate the weighty contents of the two volumes into language which the man in the street can grasp without effort. It is necessary to point this out because of criticisms which have come to our notice.
The great function of H.P.B.’s writings is to evolve in the student a new perception of Nature — a perception which is synthetic, universal, impersonal. This is Buddhi-Manas “incarnated” in the individual. Different people read in The Secret Doctrine different things. It has been said that it all depends on what interpretation each puts on its expositions. This is not so. The volumes are not capable of diverse and conflicting interpretations. Each tenet, each teaching, each doctrine has but one interpretation, and no more. The applications of the true interpretation can be varied and many; they ought to be. As the grasp of the teachings is profound so will the applications be numerous. The completeness of understanding is related to that of applications. The true test that a teaching is correctly interpreted lies in the student’s ability to make applications. When our interpretation is correct our applications fit in with our understanding of other and related teachings. The sincere and earnest student persists in getting at the whole philosophy, all the correlated teachings, in patience and perseverance. He is not satisfied with piecemeal understanding of a tenet here and a doctrine there. True interpretation of one tenet dovetails with true interpretation of all other tenets; a false interpretation does not agree with either a true interpretation of any tenet or false interpretations of several tenets.
This third series is a consideration of the steps leading to Buddhi-Manasic unfoldment — transformations which must take place in the student if with intellectual honesty and sincere courage he proceeds with his task of mastering The Secret Doctrine. This race and civilization are under the dominance of Kama-Manas, the Passion-Mind. Most students are aware of this. But when we endeavour to purify our lower nature and eradicate our moral blemishes and introduce moral excellencies therein we are made painfully aware of the machinations and strength of Kama-Manas in ourselves. Its vagaries and mischievous tendencies come to the fore when the student sits down to read and reflect on The Secret Doctrine or to study and contemplate its specific teachings. This fact is generally overlooked.
Not all students apply to themselves the remarks in the Introductory, which are significant and important:
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. (I, xlvi.)
The active centre of consciousness in this age is Kama-Manasic. It is built up of experiences which fluctuate between the pairs of opposites — cold and heat, pleasure and pain, fame and ignominy. The knowledge which such experience yields is relative, therefore unstable. It is very necessary that each student meditate for a while on his own “knowledge, experience, and consciousness,” for thus will he protect himself by noting in advance his proclivities and tendencies. The Secret Doctrine is altogether sui generis. It is necessary therefore for the student to refrain from arguing that the statements made by H.P.B. are not in accordance with what other people have said or written, or with his own ideas upon the subject, or that, again, they are apparently contrary to any accepted system of thought or philosophy. The student must endeavour as much as possible to free his mind while studying from all ideas which he may have derived by heredity, from education, from surroundings, or from other “authorities.” His mind should be made perfectly free from all other thoughts so that the true interpretation of the statements of The Secret Doctrine is arrived at. Otherwise there is a constant risk of his ideas becoming as coloured with preconceived notions as those of so many early students of H.P.B. who have made the occult tenets subservient to modern science or have degraded them by pulling them down to the level of religious creeds.
Now there are three outstanding characteristics of Kama-Manas or Passion-Mind. It is confused; it is infatuated; it is wild and wandering. However powerful our Kama-Manas, so long as it is Kama-Manas, it will show forth these three traits. When the student contacts The Secret Doctrine he comes to it with this Passion-Mind. That mind is confused as to its owner’s place in the scheme of things; being infatuated with its and its possessor’s self-importance, it flies fast and faster from object to object in the world of things, and from subject to subject in the world of thoughts. It is really trying to justify itself in conflict with other wandering Passion-Minds. Through conquests and defeats, through exhilaration, but more through suffering, it is slowly moving in the direction of one objective: it is becoming one-pointed; it is coming together to establish its new centre of gravity and evolve its perception proper.
When the student begins his study of The Secret Doctrine this Passion-Mind carries him away to distant fields of speculation. That mind joys in its own creations and in multiplying itself. Thus the tendency of the student is not so much to try to understand what The Secret Doctrine teaches as to fly off at a tangent, struck by a single solitary thought and speculate thereon in terms of his “knowledge, experience, and consciousness.” In her Preface to The Secret Doctrine H.P.B. says:
The publication of many of the facts herein stated has been rendered necessary by the wild and fanciful speculations in which many Theosophists and students of mysticism have indulged, during the last few years, in their endeavour to, as they imagined, work out a complete system of thought from the few facts previously communicated to them. (I, viii.)
If such was the case with the early students who surrounded H.P.B. herself, equally if not more liable must be the present generation of students to err in the same direction. It is essential, therefore, to learn to eschew the tendency to hastily interpret what we read. To understand a statement is very different from interpreting it or speculating on it. Interpretation demands understanding. Right interpretation requires coordination of all phases and aspects of the teaching.
The tendency to confusion shows itself in the equally hasty attempt at reconciliation of what appear as conflicting and contradictory statements of teachings. It also manifests itself in discriminating in favour of one set of ideas and teachings because our own interpretation of them satisfies us as against others which we dub unimportant and even incorrect. In terms of the second tendency of the Passion-Mind, it is so egotistically infatuated with itself and its processes that what it does not perceive is considered full of flaws — “I do not see that way, therefore it must be wrong.”
Steadfast and constant application at understanding a few metaphysical ideas which are basic and foundational is essential; for thus we steadily grow. “True knowledge comes slowly and is not easily acquired,” says H.P.B., and the Bhagavad-Gita:
There is no purifier in this world to be compared to spiritual knowledge; and he who is perfected in devotion findeth spiritual knowledge springing up spontaneously in himself in the progress of time. (Discourse IV.)
True understanding purifies the Passion-Mind; the perception of the universal principles slowly makes it pure by eradicating these three tendencies. Then Manas or mind, having arrived at its own centre (true concentration) begins to see itself in the light of the philosophy. The student can now examine his own “knowledge, experience, and consciousness” in terms of those fundamentals. Months, nay years, must elapse before such perception and examination unfolds that detachment of and in the mind which reveals to the student that himself and the Science are not different, but that the two are one. He sees his own life-problems and life-actions reflected in the Wisdom, and the light of the Wisdom is constantly being reproduced within himself. It is for this reason and with this in view that emphasis was laid in the second series on the altruism of The Secret Doctrine.
In our continuing quest of the Wisdom we need to hold firmly the definite idea that The Secret Doctrine “is written for the instruction of students of Occultism” (I, 23) — not forgetting that the same is equally true of all the other writings of H.P.B.
Many students take it for granted that in The Secret Doctrine there are some gems buried in a heap of rubbish which their intelligence and discernment will have to unearth. Some arrogate to themselves the power to conclude that these volumes show H.P.B.’s wonderful sweep of vistas of knowledge, to admire which we must overlook many errors of detail. Others equally arrogant opine that some priceless information about a great number of odds and ends is to be gathered from the book, with care and tact. They say that The Secret Doctrine is not a treatise on occult philosophy and science but merely a book of reference. Then there is a class of “intelligensia” who endeavour to find justification for their own pet theories and notions. Their desire is to gain from H.P.B. corroboration for modern science and philosophy, for up-to-date creeds and suitable religions. All such Kama-Manasic students as these will gain little from the work.
These students, often unconsciously to themselves, have estimated the value of the contents in terms of their own “knowledge, experience, and consciousness.” In this age of egotism and conceit these forces so overpower human nature that many men notice not that they are egocentric and conceited.
That student whose Kama-Manas has been purified by past efforts, in this or other lives, whose mentality is afire to gain knowledge for its own sake, who is searching answers to his unsolved problems, and whose sincerity is genuine, evinces a different attitude very early in his contact with The Secret Doctrine. A careful examination of the Table of Contents and the structure of the book, some thought bestowed on the Preface, Introductory, the Proem of the first volume and the Preliminary Notes of the second, and a comparison of these with the Table of Contents of the two volumes of Isis Unveiled, together with what is written in their Prefaces, will convince him that in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky there is a fullness, nay a completeness which is unique; that her books are not like other books. More of this careful study in a truly reverent attitude, and there dawns on his mind the idea that in her writings the end of knowledge is attained. The process continued, and the sun of his ideation reaches the zenith of conviction. Not only is there end of knowledge attained in these volumes, but it is proven and therefore provable knowledge. As Mr. William Q. Judge rightly points out in The Path for March, 1892, p. 382:
If any authority pertains to The Secret Doctrine, it must be sought inside, not outside. It must rest on its comprehensiveness, its completeness, its continuity and reasonableness; in other words, on its philosophical synthesis, a thing missed alike by the superficial and the contentious, by the indolent, the superstitious, and the dogmatic.
The end of knowledge! It is an almost unthinkable conception. Yet the phrase is a very ancient one in the history of human thought. Vedanta means the end of knowledge. It is necessary to catch a clear glimpse of this idea of a completed and codified system of knowledge which informs us of the genesis, evolution, death and rebirth of cosmos — of which man and all else is a part. This knowledge is based on the experimentation and realization of a large number of fully trained individuals, equipped with reliable apparatus and machinery in the realms of consciousness — such is the view we have to keep ever before us.
Vedanta implies that there are beings who have systematized knowledge and codified all its items and factors. Such Codifiers are recognized in every presentation of Theosophy from the most ancient times. This was shown in our previous Studies. It was also indicated how such Codifiers are in a position to affirm that nothing remains for them to learn of principles and fundamentals of the evolution of atoms, planets, solar systems, cosmos, as an ever-moving Impulse of LIFE, in which changes take place eternally but which in Itself changes not.
In ancient India such Codifiers were called Siddhas — men who have proven for themselves the truths of Vedanta. Between a Vedantin and a Siddha there is a mighty difference. The former recognizes the facts of the Eternal Code of Knowledge by an intellectual process, which is comparative and contrastive of the phenomena of the universe. By the height of mountains he sees the depth of valleys; by the length of shadows he guesses the position of the orb of light in the sky; by the struggles of and in the lower self he is able to posit the existence of the Higher Self. But his knowledge is as yet an intellectual recognition of the facts, most of which remain to be proven by himself to himself — yet to be realized. But a Siddha sees the million things of the phenomenal universe with the Single Eye of Truth, which knows the common origin of mounts and vales, of light and shade, of soul and body, and how they come to be what they are and where they are. With him it is no more a matter of intellectual recognition, but of intimate, first-hand, spiritual realization.
Our student of The Secret Doctrine has to come to the perception that the teachings of H.P.B. are not the fruit of the outer study of Vedanta, but the inner realization of Siddhanta. It is
the wisdom imparted by the “Divine Ones” — born through the Kriyasakti powers of the Third Race before its Fall and Separation into sexes — to the adepts of the early Fourth Race, [which] has remained in all its pristine purity in a certain Brotherhood. The said School or Fraternity being closely connected with a certain island of an inland sea, believed in by both Hindus and Buddhists, but called “mythical” by geographers and Orientalists, the less one talks of it, the wiser he will be.” (II, 636-37.)
Further it is stated:
The Secret Doctrine teaches us that the arts, sciences, theology, and especially the philosophy of every nation which preceded the last universally known, but not universal Deluge, had been recorded ideographically from the primitive oral records of the Fourth Race, and that these were the inheritance of the latter from the early Third Root-Race before the allegorical Fall. (II, 530.)
Unless the student by repeated study and continued contemplation comes to the conclusion that The Secret Doctrine is a fragment of Siddhanta — that therefore in it there are neither errors or mistakes, nor superfluous rubbish or strange contradictions, but that all is purposefully and deliberately put together — he will grope in the dark. This attitude towards the contents of the book is essential if real benefit is to be derived from its study. He has to arrive at the recognition of this stupendous fact: every planet and mineral that exists in space or inside the earth was known and recorded in the books of the Siddhas thousands of years ago, and that those sacred Records are worthy of trust. The Secret Doctrine contains full information on every conceivable subject necessary for the progress of man individually and of humanity en masse. It is this attitude, once reached, which transforms the mind and gives it the tone to truly understand the Message.