A Review of The Secret Doctrine
The Sherman Democrat, February 10, 1889. Literary Section.
The Secret Doctrine, by Blavatsky, is a work whose aim is stated as follows: “To show that Nature is not a fortuitous concurrence of atoms, and to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the Universe; to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions; and to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all spring; finally, to show that the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilization.”
This is a high aim, a great claim to advance. Whether both are fully sustained must be left, not alone to the judgment of individual readers, but to that large verdict of “humanity and the future generations,” to which the author appeals. Meantime, the just critic recognizes that these claims are ably put forth, in a work of great erudition and power. The publication of a book like this has, in itself, an emphatic significance. The attention of thinkers has in late years been directed to the evolution of thought, its laws and its results. Of these last The Secret Doctrine is a tremendous one. It marks the acme of the theosophical movement; that movement which urges a search after truth in every department of life, while predicting the final and essential unity of the whole. It shows the most advanced phase of religious development and points out its future course; not alone concerned with the beliefs of the present; refusing indeed to recognize that present as a separate fact, but showing past and future interwoven into one eternal now, and all religions, all sciences, proceeding from one primeval belief, which afterwards became differentiated, along the path of evolutionary progress, into forms which are various facets of the one truth. The writing of this work is sufficient evidence for a demand for it, and however we may take issue with some of its teachings, we must recognize the breadth and beauty of its aim; also three facts concerning it:
First, it is a great event in literature per se.
Second, it is not the outcome of the mental or other experience of any one person. No human brain could singly conceive a scheme so vast, so complex in details, so simple of base. It is evidently an aggregation beginning far back in archaic times.
Third, it is thrown into the arena where science and religion, where matter versus spirit, are warring, as the sceptre of the king was thrown into the lists to bid contention cease. It logically reconciles the combatants in proving their basic unity, in saying to the materialist: All issues from the one substance which is eternal,—and to the [believers in] spirit: That one substance is vivified by the co-eternal undetermined potency called Spirit, of which our word “will” is the nearest expression.
A work which can do us this service in a rational manner, while bringing the testimony of all recorded time to sustain its teachings, certainly deserves careful attention. The need of unity is the great tendency of our time. It is displayed in art, literature, religion, mechanics, industrial enterprise and international law, by efforts towards co-operation, arbitration, in a word—unity. To find this need met in the religious field without empiricism or dogmatism, without attempt at scientific limitations or theological form, attacks our innate sense of justice, and inclines us to weigh before we reject.
The basis of this remarkable work is the “Book of Dzyan,” an archaic Ms. unknown to the western world and secretly preserved in the Far East. Stanzas from it are given, with ancient and modern commentaries, followed by learned references and explanations. The whole is supplemented by addenda showing the respective positions of modern scientists and occultists, their agreements and their differences. To persons wishing to be well informed on such questions without the need of reading many books, these last are invaluable as giving a bird’s-eye view of the modern situation by well selected quotations from writers of established reputation. Vol. I treats of Cosmogenesis; Vol. II of Anthropogenesis. The stanzas are weird, magnificent. They have the grand calm of classics, joined to that subtle, soul-stirring quality which is of all time and conveys the aroma of the orientalist, to the student, from their own inherent literary quality, quite apart from that deeper interest with which their teachings invest them for the bold explorer into the mysteries of Being. Altogether the book is a fascinating one. The style is abrupt and full of variations which show the work of different minds and sustain the author’s claim to the aid of Tibetan adepts. For all these reasons it is sure to be much read, much abused and hotly defended.