Transformation: Vital Essence of HPB's Secret Doctrine

Part 1

by Aryel Sanat

(Posted on the Internet with permission of the author)

The following is an abstract of what I documented much more fully in several books I have written on this subject (none published yet, so far). This is the first of two related papers I am presenting to the Symposium. The material given here comes primarily from three books: The Stanzas of Zen. A Commentary on H.P. Blavatsky's Translation of The Stanzas of Dzyan: Ancient Source for Tibetan Buddhism and the Jewish Kabbalah?; and Transformation: Central Teaching of the New Age and the Perennial Philosophy. In this paper I will state the thesis for both papers. Then, while referring to the Secret Doctrine, in this paper I will concentrate on providing the background for the Secret Doctrine which HPB and her teachers give in other writings. Making this connection is ineludible by anyone serious about the study of the Secret Doctrine: Otherwise, one would have to say there were two mutually exclusive and completely incompatible teachings given by HPB and her teachers. The material in these two papers is but a small selection from very many references used in those, and other books, as documentation.

The thesis

According to HPB and her teachers, in the Secret Doctrine and elsewhere, theosophy is what takes place in theosophical states of awareness. In order for there to be theosophy, there must be theosophical states of awareness. If those states are not present, what is done, studied, or thought is not theosophy proper, but only an exoteric, shallow, and possibly dangerous would-be exposition of it. It is exoteric because that is what both HPB and her teachers called it, for reasons outlined below. It is shallow because depth can only come from theosophical states of awareness, also explained below. It is dangerous because theosophy implies exercising an immense energy, which will be misdirected if there are no theosophical states of awareness. Which means transformation must be at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of any presentation of the ancient wisdom dubbing itself "theosophical."

Without transformation there cannot be theosophy, which is profoundly foreign to the life of the world. So a candidate must be extremely careful of any presentation of the teaching that does not begin, continue, and end with transformation. Accepting concepts as representative of theosophy needs to be watched especially: Concepts come from the mind. The mind, apart from being clever, is at the heart of divisions between people. It is easy to accept a belief system as if it stood for theosophy -- and extremely shallow and dangerous. It is also merely exoteric, no matter how high-sounding or sublime it may appear from the perspective of the intellect. That, in any case, is no more and no less than what HPB and her teachers said. Concept-mongers have a right to believe whatever they wish. But theosophy as a system of concepts, as a belief system, is foreign to what HPB and her teachers taught. According to them, so long as there is no psycho-spiritual and biological mutation in an individual, there is no theosophy. They expressed this teaching in their writings, in many ways. I have shown in several books how this is the central teaching of theosophy in every single one of HPB's writings, as well as in the letters from her teachers. I will proceed to show in what follows, how it is also the central teaching of the Secret Doctrine.


The Key to Theosophy is universally deemed HPB's best exposition of theosophy. It starts, in fact, with its definition. She explains "theosophy" comes from the Greek theos and sophia, "god" and "wisdom." In some ancient texts (like St. Paul's Epistles), it is translated as "the wisdom of God."1 In the Key to Theosophy, however, HPB explains theosophy is not "the wisdom of God." Rather, it is wisdom "such as that possessed by the gods."2 It would be proper to call it "divine wisdom," and so be in a position to teach or understand theosophy. Which leads to the most important, central teaching of theosophy:

Theosophy can only take place in theosophical states of awareness.

Anyone not in a theosophical, god-like state of awareness, is not in a position to understand, for instance, what the word "God" might refer to. That is why the translation of "theosophy" as "the wisdom of God" is unacceptable: Anyone saying it, or receiving it, must be in a theosophical state of awareness, in order to understand it. Otherwise, the words "the wisdom of God" can be but a mere belief, both in the lips of the "teacher" and in the heart of the learner. Belief always divides people, creating fragmentation and conflict within. So there is an impassable chasm between "the wisdom of God" and "wisdom such as that possessed by the gods." Hence HPB's critical clarification.

Anyone not engaged in theosophical states of awareness, only has conditioning as the tool for "understanding" what "God" means. But conditioning consists of prejudices and expectations. So mere belief in "God" -- without the transformation implied in theosophy -- can result in serious divisions and conflicts, as the history of humanity well attests. Without theosophical states of awareness, all one can count on for going into deeper issues (such as God, the soul, and the nature of the world), is one's mind, one's emotions, one's experiences -- one's conditioning. According to HPB and her teachers, those are grossly inadequate tools for going into the question of God, or any other deeper question. This is insisted on urgently in the Voice of the Silence and elsewhere. The teaching is that theosophical, or divine states of awareness, are indispensable for delving into any issue of significance in our lives. Without this, any efforts we make are bound to be in vain.

Mutation, initiation

God-like, theosophical states of awareness are unlike our more usual or "normal" condition. So bringing about such states implies a psychological and spiritual transformation. According to statements made by HPB and her teachers, a biological transformation is required as well: The inner changes could not express themselves, except through a "new" physical vehicle to manifest them properly. She spoke, for instance, of how "in the course of natural evolution our 'brain-mind' will be replaced by a finer organism."3 She added that "Even now, there are pioneer minds who have developed these senses." She was referring to the "sixth and seventh" senses said in the Secret Doctrine to be part of the physiology of the new human type. These physiological, psychological, and deeper mutations come up often in the writings of HPB and her teachers. Synaptic brain cell patterns would change. Also, brain components would be reactivated after millions of years of atrophy created by disuse.

HPB and her teachers used the word "initiation" to refer to the transformation implied in theosophical states of awareness; it had other meanings. According to them, a very old lineage of wise and compassionate men and women have sustained the existence of initiation. The word was also used to refer to rites of inscription into that ancient fellowship of men and women. Those and other meanings, however, imply that the purpose and substance behind it all is that there be theosophical states of awareness. The wisdom and goodness of humanity comes from them. So bringing them about has been at the core of all the major religions, and many philosophies.

A new language

A way of seeing the central position of transformation is to refer to what HPB called the "seven keys" to theosophy. Apart from pointing to the primacy of mutation, this teaching is vital for understanding anything HPB and her teachers had to say. It is in fact an essential companion to transformation. The two go together, as stated in the Secret Doctrine (quoted below). Anyone doing theosophical study without the benefit of the "seven keys" is bound to fail miserably, in a futile attempt to follow what it means. This implies HPB and her teachers used language in an unconventional way. Which means one must be extremely careful when reading any of her work. Deeper meanings are invariably hidden behind a glamor of simpler-seeming teachings.

Some HPB students have emphasized one or two keys. That is extremely useful. It has made it possible to study those keys. But if the universal outlook found only by accepting all seven keys is shunned, the substance of the teaching is lost. Theosophical sources are written so as to force one to put aside all conditioning. They push one towards finding inner resources beyond conditioning, to understand more fully what is said. So in order to follow what HPB and her teachers were saying, one must undergo a mutation at some level. Otherwise, these writings become but more grist for the mill of the personality, of conditioning. One would then transmogrify them into but one more experience based on the mind's expectations. They are then no longer received as theosophical writings -- even if written by perennial teachers.

In fact, this proteic quality of esoteric writings in general, and HPB's in particular, is largely responsible for differing perceptions about their meaning. People would come to these writings with varied perspectives and opinions. They would then walk away from the whole, and take only the portion that appealed to them. Some would be interested in psychism. Others in the esoteric history of humanity. Some care more for meditation and "the spiritual life." Many were and are fascinated by the start of a new era. Other subjects intrigued those who came -- and continue coming -- in contact with this literature. It was thus, incidentally, that the New Age movement was born.

But the essence is to be found in the act of transformation itself. Transformation is the central fact of what theosophy in general, and HPB's works in particular, are about. Understanding transformation is then critical for understanding theosophy. So it is intriguing to see the unique literary style used by HPB, versions of which are found in theosophical works since ancient times.

Seven keys

Most of HPB's works are written in what could be called multidimensional poetry. This is especially true of the Secret Doctrine, where she gives a wealth of information, and insights into what the ancient yet timeless teaching is about. Much of what it says has simultaneously different meanings. So what is read into it depends largely on the reader. As long as one has preconceptions about what can or cannot be, what HPB says will be molded to fit expectations. But if one goes into it with a Socratic attitude ("I only know that I know nothing"), then enormous, perhaps unlimited insights into the nature of what is will be possible.

HPB's writings are pregnant with the notion that the teachings cannot be understood, except by using seven qualitatively different modes of perception, called "keys" in her works. Their use implies a mutation, in order to follow what is meant by them. "Keys" is used both in the sense of opening previously closed doors to knowing ourselves and the world, and in that of clues otherwise unavailable for the investigation. As she said in the Secret Doctrine, where she often uses words like "esoteric," "mystery" and "occult" to refer to this formerly little known teaching:

Speaking of the keys to the Zodiacal mysteries... 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 disclosure of many things, freely spoken about now, was forbidden.4

Non-linear keys

According to that and similar statements, seven modes of perception are required for understanding HPB's teaching: The seven keys are one and the same with the secret doctrine. But identifying the meaning and even the name of each key is another matter. TheSecret Doctrine says only two of the seven keys could be given out at the time of writing. Elsewhere, it is said three or perhaps four have been revealed. In other sources, like the passage from Isis Unveiled quoted above, HPB says only one "turn" (out of seven) of the key had been given then. Those statements throw confusion into the notion of there being seven keys. But it gets worse. The following are nineteen names used in the Secret Doctrine for the presumed "seven" keys: 1) Metaphysical; 2) Spiritual; 3) Physical; 4) Psychological; 5) Anthropological; 6) Psychic; 7) Theogonic; 8) Mystical; 9) Anthropogonic; 10) Numerical; 11) Physiological; 12) Astronomical; 13) Geometrical; 14) Symbolical; 15) Astrological; 16) One that "dealt with creative man, i.e., the ideal and practical mysteries"; 17) Arithmetical; 18) Moral; 19) Cosmological.

Those ignorant of theosophical research might see confusion in this seeming potage -- which is what it would be, if seen conceptually. Theosophical communication -- as that used by HPB's teachers -- seems to be not meant to be "easy," when perceived conceptually and from the perspective of any type of conditioning. Rather, it is intended to awaken new perceptions and perspectives. Theosophy is about transformation. And mutation requires more than memorizing, reading, or "understanding" intellectually. The theosophical teaching is not conceptual. It appeals to inner faculties. So its presentation has often been deemed "strange." But this is true only so long as it is perceived conceptually, unaided by other faculties. It also may be erroneously perceived as not being "easy," for the same reason. What makes it seem "complicated" is the arbitrary assumption that it must be a strictly conceptual presentation. Once this unwarranted demand is dropped, the theosophical teaching is rather simple to understand.

The Secret Doctrine is said by HPB to be largely her commentary on a very ancient text, written in a language presently unknown, called "Senzar." She says it is prior to known languages, like Sanskrit, Pharaonic Egyptian, and Chinese. Of the "mystery language," HPB says it is the language of initiates: Initiates alone can understand it. This is yet another way in which she said there must be transformation before there can be theosophy. Anyone reading the Secret Doctrine -- or any other works by HPB or her teachers -- without thorough soul-searching, is not engaging in theosophy. What goes on, rather, is closer to a travesty of it. It is likely to lead to illusions and false notions about what theosophy is. That, in any case, is what HPB and her teachers insisted on in every single major work or teaching they gave.


There is much evidence to show that -- according to HPB and her teachers -- the psychological (also called spiritual or mystical) key must be turned first, if any of the others are to be of use to the serious student. In her essay "The Esoteric Character of the Gospels" she shed much light on the Secret Doctrine's meaning on the seven keys:

The first key that one has to use to unravel the dark secrets involved in the mystic name of Christ, is the key which unlocked the door to the ancient mysteries of the primitive Aryans, Sabeans and Egyptians. The Gnosis supplanted by the Christian scheme was universal. It was the echo of the primordial wisdom-religion which had once been the heirloom of the whole of mankind... The author of the Clementine Homilies is right; the mystery of Christos -- now supposed to have been taught by Jesus of Nazareth -- "was identical" with that which from the first had been communicated "to those who were worthy,"...We may learn from the Gospel according to Luke, that the "worthy" were those who had been initiated into the mysteries of the Gnosis, and who were "accounted worthy" to attain that "resurrection from the dead" in this life... "those who knew that they could die no more, being equal to the angels as sons of God and sons of the Resurrection."

In other words, they were the great adepts of whatever religion; and the words apply to all those who, without being Initiates, strive and succeed, through personal efforts to live the life and to attain the naturally ensuing spiritual illumination in blending their personality -- the "Son" -- with the "Father," their individual divine Spirit, the God within them. This "resurrection" can never be monopolized by the Christians, but is the spiritual birth-right of every human being endowed with soul and spirit, whatever his religion may be. Such individual is a Christ-man. On the other hand, those who choose to ignore the Christ (principle) within themselves, must die unregenerate heathens -- baptism, sacraments, lip-prayers, and belief in dogmas notwithstanding.

In order to follow this explanation, the reader must bear in mind the real archaic meaning of the paronomasia involved in the two terms Chrestos and Christos. The former means certainly more than merely "a good," and "excellent man," while the latter was never applied to any one living man, but to every Initiate at the moment of his second birth and resurrection. He who finds Christos within himself and recognizes the latter as his only "way," becomes a follower and an Apostle of Christ, though he may have never been baptised, nor even have met a "Christian," still less call himself one.5

That may be the most important passage in HPB's writings. Anyone serious about what theosophy is, would pay attention to what it says. HPB is saying unequivocally that if the psychological key is not turned first, one cannot understand theosophy. First, there must be transformation. Only then can one even begin theosophical study, whether one calls it "theosophy," "occultism," "esoterism," or whatever. "Theosophy," divine wisdom, refers precisely to what the passage above says. Theosophy is that which takes place in transformative states of awareness. It is wisdom "such as that possessed by the gods," as HPB defined it.6 That is why it is "divine": It is not mundane. It cannot be reduced to some diagram or formula, which clearly come from the mind. Nor is it logic or cleverness, such as what is typical of the conditioned mind in general. And belief, which derives either from knowledge, memory, logic, or cleverness -- from conditioning -- qualifies even less as representative of theosophy. So if one is not in a transformative state of awareness, one is not in a theosophical frame of mind, and is in no position to understand, much less teach, theosophy.

Practical Occultism

According to HPB and her teachers, every single esoteric school has demanded, from time immemorial, an 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 is that the mere act of being admitted to such a school amounted to a psychological transformation from what life in the "outside world" has always been. This inner or true teaching at the heart of theosophy, is what HPB called "Occultism." It is "occult" or hidden, only from the untransformed. The vast majority have always lived according to their conditioning. That is the reason why the esoteric has been a "hidden" teaching: People hide it from themselves, by refusing to move away from conditioning. HPB made a 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.7

The ancient wisdom says anyone engaging only in "theoretical" aspects of the teaching is expected to be of pure, unselfish life" -- a lover of truth and goodness, who therefore does not identify with conditioning. So the word "theoretical" here has nothing to do with conceptual learning, the way it is generally used. Even the most "theoretical" expression of theosophy implies a mutation. A person acting out of conditioning is, by definition, self-centered to the point of being incapable of truly helping anyone (including herself) in a psychological or spiritual sense. So theosophy may not be for everyone. Yet HPB is referring here only to "theoretical" or more superficial aspects of the teaching

Practical "Occultism" is even more thoroughly psychological and rigorous. 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, as she put it at the end of the pivotal quota in "The Esoteric Character of the Gospels." In fact, she says here that in order to be a theosophist, "average intellectual capacities" are sufficient -- so long as transforming psychological-spiritual requirements are met. So according to HPB, having much knowledge, even "theosophical" knowledge, is of absolutely no use, when it comes to being a theosophist. Book learning is unrelated to entering theosophical study. HPB and her teachers gave many clarifications such as that. In the Voice of the Silence, for instance, the Lanoo, or theosophical candidate, is instructed to shun "head-learning," and to undergo first a psychological transformation:

But, O Lanoo, be of clean heart before thou startest on thy journey. Before thou takest thy first step learn to discern the real from the false, the ever-fleeting from the ever-lasting. Learn above all to separate Head-learning from Soul-Wisdom, the "Eye" from the "Heart" doctrine.8

The Voice is unequivocal. It is not possible even to begin to understand theosophy, unless there has been transformation already, at a significant level. The Voice is even more acid against accepting the inner teaching intellectually, without first having undergone psychological mutation. It points out it is far better to remain ignorant -- and be part of the mundane world -- than engage in mere head-learning of theosophy:

Yea, ignorance is like unto a closed and airless vessel; the soul a bird shut up within. It warbles not, nor can it stir a feather; but the songster mute and torpid sits, and of exhaustion dies.

But even ignorance is better than Head-learning with no Soul-Wisdom to illuminate it.9

This passage states irrevocably that one is better off being of the world, worldly, rather than possess what one may erroneously consider "theosophical knowledge" while untransformed. These are strong words, which need to be pondered upon by anyone who believes theosophy is that which one talks or reads about in conceptual exchanges.

If transformation were not at the heart of the Secret Doctrine, one would be forced to say HPB and her teachers gave two completely different teachings, two teachings that would be completely incompatible with one another. However, every statement they made is to the effect that there is only one esoteric teaching. Therefore, it behooves any truly serious student of the Secret Doctrine to see in what ways transformation, without which there cannot be any theosophy, was expressed in HPB's magnum opus. That is done briefly in Part 2.


  1. For "theosophy" in St. Paul, see, for instance, Romans 11;33 and I Corinthians 1;21.

  2. H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, being a clear exposition, in the form of question and answer, of the ethics, science, and philosophy for the study of which the Theosophical Society has been founded, Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1946 [1889), p. 1.

  3. H.P. Blavatsky, "Problems of Life. From the Diary of an Old Physician," Lucifer, vols. VII, VIII, and IX, December, 1890, through October, 1891; see also H.P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 15 vols., Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980, vol. XII, pp. 411-412.

  4. H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 6 vols., Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971 [1888], vol. 1, p. xxxviii.

  5. H.P. Blavatsky, Studies in Occultism, Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1967 [1887-1891], pp. 145-146; see also Collected Writings, op. cit., vol. VIII, pp. 182-184.

  6. H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, op. cit., p. 1.

  7. H.P. Blavatsky, Practical Occultism, and Occultism Versus the Occult Arts, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1948 [1888], pp. 7-8; see also Collected Writings, op. cit., vol. IX, p. 155.

  8. H.P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1959 Golden Jubilee Edition [1889], fragment 111, p. 147.

  9. H.P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence, op. cit., fragments 112-113, p. 147.

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