Chapter 1:

The Secret Doctrine


The "Secret Doctrine" of H.P. Blavatsky has been hailed universally as providing the basis for all the foundational teachings of the new age. From Gurdjieff to Ramtha, from Alan Watts to David Spangler, From Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to Wassily Kandinsky and his many successors, from Alice Bailey to Edgar Mitchell, from Manly Palmer Hall to William Irwin Thompson, from Rudolf Steiner to John White, from Edgar Cayce to Ken Wilber, careful research has shown that the Secret Doctrine's approach to the perennial philosophy provides the scaffolding for the thrust of their work, and often for their main theses.1

The pervasive passionate interest in widely diverse issues and practices, such as various forms of meditation at one end of the spectrum, with crystals at the other end--and numerous psychobiological and other beliefs and practices in between--also reveal having a similar pedigree. The cultural renaissance in Japan, India, and other Asian countries (which has been seminal for numerous developments in the 20th Century) has also been shown to be associated with the same source.

Yet, for all its influence, it now seems that the truly deeper elements in the Secret Doctrine--which point to the heart of the secret doctrine of the very ancient and profoundly influential perennial philosophy--have not been explored to date. These elements, as is shown in what follows, point to the necessity for looking at the psychological teachings to be found in that work. If the psychological elements are not taken into account, it is practically inevitable to end up with confusion and misinterpretations.

Metaphysical limitations

In the past, the Secret Doctrine has been viewed strictly as a metaphysical treatise. That concentration on the metaphysical aspects of Blavatsky's magnum opus has been responsible for a large body of productive research into what could be called the intellectual aspects of the perennial teaching. On the other hand, such one-pointedness has also resulted, unfortunately, in previous studies of it being plagued by far-reaching limitations. Similar remarks could be made of 20th Century studies on the perennial philosophy, and of the new age movement's teachings.

Yet, a psychological understanding of the secret doctrine--which is the basis for the Secret Doctrine and for the perennial teachings--shows previously unexpected connections whith the work of J. Krishnamurti. Careful research shows these connections to be critical for having a better understanding of both Blavatsky (HPB) and Krishnamurti.

The most essential point in these intimate relationships may be expressed in the following manner: The essense of the Secret Doctrine, like that of J. Krishnamurti's insights and observations, is human transformation.

But while the expression "human transformation" is closely associated with Krishnamurti (there is even a series of his videotapes called The Transformation of Man), it may sound somewhat strange as representative of the Secret Doctrine to the ears of a traditionalist student of H.P. Blavatsky's great work. This may be attributed to the emphasis historically in Secret Doctrine studies on metaphysical aspects of the teaching, rather than on its many other dimensions, particularly the psychological. That emphasis has turned out to be critical historically, because a very large number of new age teachings, which trace back their pedigree to HPB, have followed suit in interpreting the Secret Doctrine as if it were providing a purely metaphysical teaching. A similar pattern may be found in 20th Century studies of the perennial philosophy, all of which have been based on the Secret Doctrine's presumed metaphysical foundations. Such studies have tended to concentrate on the conceptual husk of the ancient perennial philosophy, and to ignore the existence of its psychological and spiritual heart.

Practical Occultism

Such a point of view, however, would seem to severely misinterpret the teaching when taken in its totality, as is shown in what follows. For while metaphysical aspects have their place, according to HPB they represent only one of the "seven keys" to understanding the Secret Doctrine.2 On the other hand, there is quite a body of evidence to show that the psychological (also called spiritual or mystical) key must be the first one to be turned, if any of the others are to be of use to the serious student.3

This ought to come as no surprise, since according to HPB and her teachers, from time immemorial every single esoteric school has demanded a very intense and deep level of moral probity and strength of character from anyone wishing to be even a beginner. One of the most basic teachings given by them is that the mere act of being admitted to such a school amounted to something of a psychological transformation from what life in the "outside world" has always been. This inner or true teaching, which represents the heart of the perennial philosophy, is what HPB referred to as "Occultism" (in her writings, that word never has the demonic or more superficial meanings often associated with it). Further, HPB made a very clear distinction between what she called "theoretical" and "practical" Occultism.

... or what is generally known as Theosophy on the one hand, and Occult science on the other, and:
The nature of the difficulties involved in the study of the latter.

It is easy to become a Theosophist. Any person of average intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the metaphysical, of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbor than in receiving help himself, one who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people, and who loves Truth, Goodness and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer--is a Theosophist.4

In other words, the ancient wisdom implies that someone engaging only in what she calls the "theoretical" aspects of the teaching is expected to be "of pure, unselfish life"--someone who is a true lover of truth and goodness and who therefore does not identify with various forms of conditioning. Clearly, this implies a psychological mutation from the way of life that most of us are used to in all the various human cultures, and may not be for everyone. Yet this refers only to the "theoretical" or more superficial aspects of the teaching.

Practical "Occultism" is even more thoroughly psychological, and demands much more spiritually from the candidate, according to Blavatsky. There is great subtlety here, because HPB's presentation of what a "theoretical" understanding of theosophy is has absolutely nothing to do with accepting a conceptual system. In fact, she specifically says in that theosophical classic that in order to be a theosophist, it is sufficient to have "average intellectual capacities"--so long as the psychological-spiritual requirements are met.

HPB and her teachers provided very many clarifications such as that, in a diverse number of ways. Nevertheless, their teaching was interpreted in such a manner as to make it possible to perceive it as being merely an intellectual construction, which anyone could accept or reject purely on the basis of logic and knowledge. Unfortunately, such an intellectual--metaphysical--understanding of what theosophy is would continue to be universally held among theosophists a century after her death. In chapter 2 it is suggested that such an intellectual, conceptual view of the nature of theosophy comes directly from Victorian society and its values, not from esoteric sources--and certainly not from Blavatsky and her teachers.



Notes

1 For documentation of Blavatsky's pervasive influence over numerous cultural developments throughout the 20th Century, see, for instance, her definitive biography by Sylvia Cranston, HPB. The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement, New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1993 (see especially Part 7, "The Century After"); see also several well-researched works by James Webb, such as The Occult Underground, La Salle, Il.: Open Court, 1976; and The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Work of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers, Boston: Shambhala, 1987; see also Alan Watts, In My Own Way. An Autobiography, New York: Pantheon, 1972 (for paperback, New York: Vintage, 1972); see also Kathleen J. Regier, The Spiritual Image in Modern Art, Wheaton, Quest, 1987; see also Gail Levin and Marianne Lorenz, Theme and Improvisation: Kandinsky & the American Avant-Garde 1912-1950. An Exhibition Organized by the Dayton Art Institute, Boston, Toronto and London: Bulfinch Press, 1992.

2 On the seven keys, with their separate universes of discourse, see, for instance, H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971, vol. 4, pp. 85-86; vol. 5, p. 186, pp. 201-204; on the metaphysical key not being self-sufficient, see: vol. 5, p. 186; see also references to the Doctrine of the Heart versus the Doctrine of the Eye, vol. 5, pp. 387, 406-413.

3 Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 78-79, 89-90; vol. 5, pp. 406-413.

4 H.P. Blavatsky, Practical Occultism, and Occultism Versus the Occult Arts, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1948 [1888], pp. 7-8.


The Secret Doctrine | Victorian Theosophy | Victorian Zen | The Mystery Language | Seven Keys
The Stanzas of Zen | The Voice of the Silence | The Kalachakra Tantra | Krishnamurti and Transformation

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