The Path – July 1894

HOW TO STUDY THE "SECRET DOCTRINE": I — J. H. Fussell

Is there a key to the study of the Secret Doctrine? Are the seeming contradictions in the Secret Doctrine really such, or is there a possibility of their reconcilement?

It is not the purpose of this paper to show that the apparent contradictions are not contradictions, nor even to attempt to reconcile any of them; for, while it is claimed by some students that such reconcilement can be shown in many cases, others fail to see it in any. Nor is it necessary to bring up the question of the fallibility of the writer of the book, for even going so far as to grant infallibility to H. P. B., which she herself would have disclaimed, there remains the imperfection of the language in which the book is written, and its inadequacy to express purely metaphysical ideas. There is, however, it is claimed, a key to the study of the Secret Doctrine, the use of which will open many of its doors, clear away many of its difficulties, connect many otherwise disconnected statements, and even reconcile some of its apparent contradictions.

Theosophy is synthetic. The Secret Doctrine is also synthetic, and the key to its study, if such may be found, must also be, so to say, synthetic. For the difficulty in understanding it is partly due to the fact of the many points of view from which each subject is treated and the absence of definite links to connect the different statements thence arising: e. g. a subject in one place may be treated from the standpoint of the Vedanta philosophy, and in another place from that of the Sankya philosophy, and again from a third standpoint elsewhere. Add to all this the personal equation of the reader, usually a very important factor, depending upon education and general trend of mind, and it will be evident that it is no easy matter to reduce to order the great mass of information contained in the volumes under consideration.

It may be as well at this point to call to mind one of the preliminary requisites for the study of Occultism, and the value of a pursuit of the second object of the T. S., viz.: to free the mind from all preconceived ideas which may be due to inheritance and training, so that the true underlying meaning of the subject in hand may be grasped apart from the garb in which it is given, or the particular system of philosophy according to which it is presented. In other words, every student must learn to think for himself, and must realize that the ultimate tribunal to which he must refer everything is his own inner nature. The completest philosophy ever conceived can be no more than a mere working hypothesis for the student until he has arrived at that point where such a philosophy may be proved and tested in every way, i. e. until he is able to reformulate the same philosophy for himself and is able to base it on his own knowledge, not on the knowledge of others. In fact, each one ought to have his own philosophy of life: not a cut and dried philosophy with hard and fast limits, but a living philosophy which can grow as the mind develops, taking in a wider and wider horizon and sending its roots deeper and deeper in search of the living waters of Truth.

The key above referred to is threefold and consists of the three fundamental propositions of the Secret Doctrine. (1) Space does not permit of giving these here in full, but they may be summed up briefly as follows:

(a) "An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle, on which all speculation is impossible. . . . It is beyond the range and reach of thought . . . . unthinkable and unspeakable."

This first proposition is a statement of the unity underlying the whole manifested universe, the unity of source and the unity of ultimate essence of all things, of the whole of nature, of things animate and inanimate, of universes, worlds, men, atoms. A further statement of this proposition is, that although the ultimate Reality, the ever Unmanifested, is One, yet the sine qua non of all manifestation is duality. Manifestation implies duality, relativity, and is unthinkable save as comprising subject and object, cogniser and the thing cognized, the ego and the non-ego, spirit and matter. To rise above this quality one must pass from the finite, the conditioned, the manifested, into the unmanifested, the unconditioned, the infinite. From this duality which underlies all manifestation further spring the pairs of opposites, for the object of cognition can only be such in reference to other objects; a condition or state or property can be known only in reference to other conditions, states, or properties. This arises from and indeed constitutes one of the primary functions of mind, that of analysis and comparison. Separateness and illusion do not exist save in the mind; it is in the mind that arises the idea of the "me" and the "not me", and then the further analysis of the totality of the "not me" by means of the pairs of opposites, heat and cold, light and darkness, love and hate.

(b) "The absolute universality of the law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow." The Universe in toto is periodically "the playground of numberless universes, manifesting and disappearing", called "the manifesting stars" and the "sparks of eternity".

(c) "The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every soul — a spark of the former — through the cycle of Incarnation (or "Necessity") in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term".

This proposition further goes on to say that each Soul or divine spark, in order to have an independent (conscious) existence must have "(a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised effort (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant up to the holiest archangel."

It is easily seen that propositions (b) and (c) depend upon (a). For if there is a Unity underlying all things it must imply, and be implied by, universal law as in (b), and also it must imply a unity in evolution as in (c). If we grant the unity of all things in source and essence, this ultimate unity must also apply to the law underlying and guiding all manifestation, and synthesizing all the known laws of the manifested universe. Furthermore, if we grant the One Reality, the ever Unmanifested Unity, and also that manifestation is the differentiation not of, but arising in, the One, thus causing the apparent "many", it must follow that between "non-manifestation" and the condition of greatest manifestation, between homogeneity and the utmost heterogeneity, there is endless progression, endless gradation, without one break or a single missing link in the chain of evolution.

There is, then, a sequence and a logical connection between these fundamental propositions, and since they are given as being "fundamental" it may be that in them we may find a key to the whole philosophy of the Secret Doctrine.

The tendency of Western thought and civilization has for a long time been in the direction of specialization. Religion, Philosophy, and Science have been separated and considered apart from one another, so much so that Religion has said "The secrets of life and death are with me alone, follow me." Science has said "Follow me and I will teach you to map out the heavens and weigh the sun in a balance; I will teach you the story of evolution, and the chemical combination of atoms upon which life depends." But if asked "What of the Soul?" Science answers. "I have nothing to do with the Soul, it is outside my province; we can never know anything about the soul, or that it exists; but follow me, accumulate facts, frame hypotheses, and get knowledge." And Philosophy? . . Philosophy has been running between the two, between dogmatic Religion and dogmatic Science, and ending too often in agnosticism, or else mere empiricism. Let it not be understood, however, that the writer is unaware that there are many of the exponents of Religion, of Philosophy, and of Science who cannot be included in the above; but he asks, can it be denied that such has been the general trend of thought in these departments.

What, however, has this to do with using a key to the study of the Secret Doctrine? It is an illustration of the tendency of thought which each one of us has from education and heredity, viz.: to treat part of a subject as the whole subject, to look at things from one standpoint only, and so long as we are unable to view a subject as a whole and in its relation to other subjects, so long will the Secret Doctrine remain practically a sealed book; so long will the different view-points cause its statements to appear contradictory; so long will the connecting links be unperceived. What is needed is a study of fundamentals, and a constant application of and appeal to them. The Secret Doctrine begins with a statement of fundamentals; and its philosophy, far older than Plato, is yet Platonic, proceeding from universals to particulars. Hence to study it, to comprehend it, the student must proceed along the same lines, and endeavor to grasp with his mind the fundamentals, and to realize that neither man nor anything can be separated from the All, but that all evolution has one origin, is guided by one law, and has one aim. If the student can ever keep this in his memory, then can he also take up the study in the way that Science does, from particulars to universals, but with a far different result, for he no longer has to look for a key; he has it in his own hand.

(To be continued)

FOOTNOTE:

1. Secret Doctrine, I., 14-17 (new ed.), 43-45. (return to text)


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