The Secret Doctrine is written in what could be called multidimensional poetry. Much of what it says has simultaneously different meanings, and so what is read into it depends largely on the standpoint of the reader. It is pregnant with the notion that the esoteric teachings cannot be understood, except through the use of seven qualitatively different modes of perception, called "keys." "Keys" is used both in the sense of opening previously closed doors to knowing ourselves and the world, and in the sense of providing clues that would not be otherwise available for the investigation. As she said in the Secret Doctrine,
Speaking of the keys to the Zodiacal mysteries as being almost lost to the world, it was remarked by the writer in Isis Unveiled some ten years ago that: "The said key must be turned seven times before the whole system is divulged. We will give it but one turn, and thereby allow the profane one glimpse into the mystery. Happy he, who understands the whole!"
The same may be said of the whole Esoteric system. One turn of the key, and no more, was given in "Isis." Much more is explained in these volumes. In those days the writer hardly knew the language in which the work was written, and the disclosure of many things, freely spoken about now, was forbidden. In Century the Twentieth some disciple more informed, and far better fitted, may be sent by the Masters of Wisdom to give final and irrefutable proofs that there exists a Science called Gupta-Vidya; and that, like the once-mysterious sources of the Nile, the source of all religions and philosophies now known to the world has been for many ages forgotten and lost to men, but is at last found.1
So seven different modes of perception are required in order to understand what the secret doctrine is about. On the other hand, being able to identify the exact meaning and even the name of each of the keys is quite another matter. For one thing, in various places the text says that only two of the seven keys could be given out at the time of writing; elsewhere, it is said that three or perhaps four have been revealed. And in other sources, like the passage from Isis Unveiled quoted above, for instance, it is stated that only one turn of the key has been given then. While those statements throw a great deal of confusion into the notion that there are seven keys, the fact is that it gets worse.
For instance, when it comes to being able to pinpoint, without fear of erring, exactly what are the names and content of the seven keys, the task becomes seemingly unwieldy. The following are nineteen different names used at various points in the Secret Doctrine for the presumed "seven" keys:
Anyone not conversant with the methods of research of the perennial philosophy would be likely to see confusion in this seeming intellectual potage. It would therefore be valuable to first realize that the perennial way of communication--such as that used by HPB's teachers--is never meant to be "easy," since it is intended to awaken new perceptions and perspectives in the listener or reader, as much as possible. After all, what the perennial philosophy is about is transformation, and one would think that psychological mutation would require much more than mere reading or intellectual "understanding."
The mystery language, as the Secret Doctrine refers at times to its mode of communication, does not use conventional language for its foundation, as is done, for instance, in metaphysics. Rather, it employs a "logic" based on a more comprehensive form of perception than the one we all have more or less grown accustomed to since the times of the cavemen, and which has been institutionalized in academic circles as the only acceptable form of thinking. This does not mean in itself, of course, that there is necessarily any guarantee that the mystery language is clearer or better than "the vernacular" for every purpose.
In fact, one of the most formidable stumbling blocks for the acceptance of the Secret Doctrine by a wider public, especially a more educated public, has been that it easily lends itself to appropriation by anyone without any need on their part to exercise mental clarity, scruples, intelligence or compassion. This suggests that the Secret Doctrine, like its human sources, is thoroughly vulnerable. A reason for its being secret and for its authors' remaining fairly isolated from the rest of the world seems to be this eminent vulnerability of theirs. It could be said that a supremely compassionate human being is a supremely vulnerable human being, and compassion is probably the keyword that most appropriately describes in our limited language the essense of the source of the Secret Doctrine. Perhaps that vulnerability is partly responsible for the overdevelopment of groups and schools in the 20th Century, all of them hailing back to HPB and her teachers, and each of them claiming (or more often insinuating) to have the right interpretation.
The language of compassion is the language of total acceptance of differences; it is the attitude of all-accepting compassion that lends to the mystery language its comprehensiveness. But therein lies another major stumbling block in understanding what the Secret Doctrine and its authors intend to say, since the reader, the one who is facing this possibly "otherworldly" source, must share in that comprehensive attitude in order to have even a faint hope of understanding what it means. In other words, no amount of scholarship, and even less of acceptance of metaphysical principles, will be of any use in the "study" of it. That is, unless it comes from an attitude of compassion, in the context of having a willingness to undergo a total psychological transformation.
This implies, of course, that scholarship itself must work using completely different standards from those prevalent up to the late 20th Century, in order to understand the "lines of reasoning" (if one could call them that) pursued in the Secret Doctrine. The understanding and use of the mystery language seems to require a great deal more than is normally assumed in any conventional field of research. For one thing, it requires that the researcher drop completely any and all forms of conditioning before the research proper can even begin. This means that one cannot assume the reality of any religious belief, of any intellectual school, of any experiences one has had in the past, of any interpretations one has found useful for understanding other matters. It means, indeed, that one must actually die, quite literally, to any and all identifications one has made throughout the course of one's life.
According to the perennial teaching everywhere, this death is quite indispensable. Presumably, so long as one holds on to any one of the innumerable forms of conditioning that one tends to identify as being a vital part of oneself, it is not possible to see anything, except through the very opaque screen of those identifications. If one is a Catholic, for instance, and one is convinced at some level of the truth of Catholicism, that conviction will inevitably vitiate one's perception of anything one intends to investigate. In other words, there are certain (Catholic) assumptions that one will be taking for granted and that one will be unwilling to question. And since one will not question them, the guide in one's alleged investigation will not be truth, but one's conditioning, in this case Catholic.
The mystery language may then be perceived as beginning at the point where conventional forms of communication end. And the "keys" to it refer in part, singly and collectively, to any of a number of ways of perceiving that imply the non-acceptance in one's life of conventions based on conditioning. What this means is that the only way of using the mystery language in any form (or of understanding it when someone else is using it) is through the death of the me, of what theosophists have called in their classic literature "the personality."
This "dying in order to really live" ought to come as no surprise to students of the esoteric lineage. In the ancient mysteries--as in the Egyptian, for instance--"initiations" would be held in which the candidate was often placed in a coffin. The candidate would remain there for several days performing certain forms of meditation, after which there would be a "new birth," psychologically and spiritually. Similar practices have been common in Tibet and elsewhere. The candidate was in other words expected to die to the life of the world "outside," that is, to the life of personal identifications. And this is clearly what was meant also by Socrates when he said that philosophy--the love of wisdom--consisted of the daily practice of death.
The point is that, as expressed throughout Blavatsky's writings (and as would later be repeated by innumerable authors, many of whom would not acknowledge the source of their information) there was an esoteric lineage present in all major cultures of the world. According to her, that international and inter-regional lineage had one language through which it communicated, regardless of the vernacular each spoke. That single tongue was the so-called mystery language. But the mystery language, in its essentials, turns out to be no language in the ordinary sense. It is simply the form of communication that is available to anyone in the world who is in the process of dying from moment to moment to whatever particular conditioning that person had been born.
Such human beings would indeed be able to communicate clearly and efficiently with each other, and to easily recognize each other. After all, there would be among them no barriers on the basis of their nationality, religion, sex, creeds, caste, color, university department, or any of the many other differences that are required by society when one lives a life of conventions. Such human beings would be worthy representatives of a true brotherhood of humanity, and would pose the only hope for the creation of a sane society.
This may be the reason behind the fact that the perennial teachers who founded the Theosophical Society were constantly insisting on a universal brotherhood of humanity being the one reason for having started the movement. The brotherhood they were referring to was then not an ideal, since ideals are conceptual and so they always divide--and anything that divides is against brotherhood. Rather, it was the brotherhood that takes place naturally, without looking for it, without "working towards" it, as a result of having died to all of one's identifications.
The mystery language is, then a silent language. This is appropriate even etymologically, since the word "mystery" (like the word "mystic") comes from the Greek mysterion, meaning "a secret rite, divine secret." And that word in turn comes from mystes, "one initiated into the mysteries." The curious thing about these roots is that they all derive from myen, "to close (the eyes or the mouth)." In other words, the sound of the mystery language was, as in the title of HPB's translation of fragments from the Book of the Golden Precepts, the voice of the silence.