The Secret Doctrine of the Ages

By Grace F. Knoche

One hundred years ago H. P. Blavatsky's monumental work, The Secret Doctrine, was published in London and New York on November 1st, and it has been in print ever since. This Special Issue, "The Secret Doctrine of the Ages," celebrates not only the SD's hundredth anniversary, but also the existence of a secret doctrine or ancestral wisdom that has been the lodestar for aspirants from remotest times to the present. Once widely disseminated over the globe, this body of truths about the nature, evolution, and destiny of mankind and the universe is the mother-source of which HPB wrote and from which she drew inspiration.

That there is a Primordial Tradition at the core of the world's sacred literatures and legendary lore is a theme familiar to students of comparative religions and mythologies. Its universal presence is evidenced by the near identity of terms still in use, such as gupta vidya (secret knowledge) and sanatana dharma (eternal truth or law) of India; nistorah hokhmah (hidden wisdom) of the Hebrew Qabbalah, passed down from rabbi to rabbi from earliest times, ishraqi theosophy (god wisdom) of Sufi mystics, gnosis (wisdom-knowledge) of the Gnostic, and the philosophia perennis (perennial philosophy) that kept aflame the Hermetic tradition of independent spiritual inquiry during the Renaissance. Embers of this primeval imparting of truth are aglow in varying degree in the souls of men and women over the face of the globe.

How did this come to be? The tradition is that when we humans were as yet innocent of wrongdoing, the Spirit of Earth, protector of the planet and its families of lives, sealed upon our inmost being certain primal truths about ourselves, our kinship with divinity, and the long evolutionary pilgrimage we must embark on if we would attain full stature as self-conscious divinities in the cosmic order. So powerful was this impress that even today, however faint and imperfect our recall, the memory is there. In quiet moments, when turbulent emotion and brain are stilled and the heart receptive, we know that we are more than we seem; that love, courage, and troth are deathless and that individually and collectively, have power to strengthen the healing energies in our world so that adversaries may become allies in the forward evolutionary process.

What an appealing thought, that the spiritual inheritance of humanity is the heritage of every human being on our globe, regardless of social or religious trappings. Within the outer is the inner man, the eternal pilgrim, who eventually will consciously tread the ancient way of self-discipline that leads to self-illumination and the power to heal and bless all who sorrow. What one is in essence, all are in essence for we are not separate, discrete entities apart and different from the universe of living beings. The garments differ so that uniqueness may express itself in manifold diversity of color, form, and frequency. This natural fact reveals a unifying and uniting picture in which atoms humans, and gods, while evolving in their own distinct manner, are all part of the One Life, the One Being.

In commemorating the centenary of the SD we also acknowledge its author's courage, sensitivity, and devotion in serving as transmitter of a cosmic philosophy that nourishes both intellect and heart. HPB is as much a mystery today as when she arrived in the United States in 1873, two years before founding The Theosophical Society. What she had learned during her apprenticeship, training, and discipleship she synthesized and reexpressed in her writings. No ordinary biography could tell the tale of what went on interiorly behind the many masks she had to wear. How are we to comprehend the complex and subtle energies that pour through and inspire a spiritual and literary titan charged with presenting to Western and Eastern peoples "a select the planet and its families of lives, sealed upon our inmost being certain primal truths about ourselves, our kinship with divinity, and the long evolutionary pilgrimage we must embark on if we would attain our full stature as self-conscious divinities in the cosmic order. So powerful was this impress that even today, however faint and imperfect our recall, the memory is there. In quiet moments, when turbulent emotion and brain are stilled and the heart receptive, we know that we are more than we seem; that love, courage, and troth are deathless and that we, individually and collectively, have power to strengthen the healing energies in our world so that adversaries may become allies in the forward evolutionary process.

What an appealing thought, that the spiritual inheritance of humanity is the heritage of every human being on our globe, regardless of social or religious trappings. Within the outer is the inner man, the eternal pilgrim, who eventually will consciously tread the ancient way of self-discipline that leads to self-illumination and the power to heal and bless all who sorrow. What one is in essence, all are in essence, for we are not separate, discrete entities apart and different from the universe of living beings. The garments differ so that uniqueness may express itself in manifold diversity of color, form, and frequency. This natural fact reveals a unifying and uniting picture in which atoms, humans, and gods, while evolving in their own distinct manner, are all part of the One Life, the One Being.

In commemorating the centenary of the SD we also acknowledge its author's courage, sensitivity, and devotion in serving as transmitter of a cosmic philosophy that nourishes both intellect and heart. HPB is as much a mystery today as when she arrived in the United States in 1873, two years before founding The Theosophical Society. What she had learned during her apprenticeship, training, and discipleship she synthesized and reexpressed in her writings. No ordinary biography could tell the tale of what went on interiorly behind the many masks she had to wear. How are we to comprehend the complex and subtle energies that pour through and inspire a spiritual and literary titan charged with presenting to Western and Eastern peoples "a select number of fragments" of the archaic wisdom-religion that time and the rise and fall of civilizations had all but obliterated from the memory of man?

When the SD appeared in 1888 a remarkable number of people in Europe and America had read HPBs Isis Unveiled and the more popular books by A. P. Sinnett which included extracts of letters received through HPB from two Eastern adepts. The idea that there were advanced human beings who had sources of knowledge and wisdom greater than the keenest intellects of the day had fired the aspirations of seekers everywhere. To answer the call of intuitive and intelligent minds a larger rent in the veil of Isis (nature) had to be made, a more comprehensive presentation of the prajna purani (wisdom of old), given out. The Secret Doctrine was HPB's and her teachers' response.

How best to study the SD so that it does not overwhelm or confuse? HPB formulated no set rules or methods, each student being free to commune with the atmosphere of the teachings in his own way. Nevertheless she left a wonderful guide in the hints she gave her pupils, among them Robert Bowen, who plied her with questions on her then recently published Secret Doctrine. ("The 'Secret Doctrine' and its Study," SUNRISE, August-September 1985, pp. 198-203. A debt of gratitude is owed to Cmdr. Bowen for having recorded what he could remember, and for having checked moot points with HPB; also to his son, the late P. G. B. Bowen for publishing in Theosophy in Ireland in 1932 these extracts from his father's "large MSS volume.") She outlines the four principal concepts they should master, but urges them not to expect to get "a satisfactory picture of the constitution of the Universe," for this the SD is not intended to provide. Its purpose is, rather, to "lead towards the truth." Of the many hints Bowen records, we cite but two. Firstly,

Every form, no matter how crude, contains the image of its "creator" within it. So likewise does an author's work, no matter how obscure, contain the concealed image of the author's knowledge.

Bowen was excited. If a good deal of the teaching in the SD comes "from men whose knowledge is immensely wider than hers," any person could "find in HPB's words knowledge of which she herself is unconscious" Was she not warning them (and all future students) against taking her or anyone's words as the final authority; were they not enjoined to rely on their "own widening perceptions"? Later, he put the matter to HPB and received an "approving smile." More elusive, but nonetheless present, is the implication that the mahatmic power behind and within the written words of the SD will reverberate in the thought-atmosphere of humanity beyond the 21st century into and throughout the current precessional cycle of some 2,160 years, i.e., during the whole of the Aquarian Age now coming into its own.

Secondly, "There is neither COMING nor PASSING, but eternal BECOMING" — this having reference to races and subraces succeeding one another. (Theosophy envisions humanity imbodying in seven great races, called root-races, each having seven subraces.) HPB explains that the root-race preceding our own (the 5th) "is still alive," as are the three earlier root-races, "that is their manifestations on our present plane of substance are present." And this means, Bowen adds, that the next subrace and root-race coming after us are also among us, "and even people of the coming ROUNDS."

The thought is electric, and ties in with what HPB remarks (SD 2:204 that the Eden of Genesis is really Eden 'illa'ah (elevated or heavenly Eden), which in one sense means wisdom, a nirvanic state, or a paradise, but in another sense refers to "Intellectual man himself, the container of the Eden in which grows the tree of Knowledge of good and evil: man being the Knower thereof." To see ourselves as the Knower, a repository of the Eden of our past innocence and also all that the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil implies, is to realize that we are at any moment in time all that we have been and all that we may become. There is "neither coming nor passing, but eternal becoming" — past, present and future are the "eternal Now."

The inference is plain that even now there may be beings in incarnation among us, using ordinary 5th-race bodies, whose intelligence and spirituality are fully unfolded. While pursuing their own evolutionary purposes they radiate light among us, in spite of our obtuseness. We little know with whom we may be rubbing mind and spirit and, in the process, perchance receiving a momentary opening of soul. But just as every coin has two sides, and every light casts a shadow, so the godlike has its polar opposite in the sinister and dark side of nature. Hence, the need to allow into our consciousness only those energies that are constructive and for the well-being of all lives.

Judging by the revolution of consciousness that has already taken place during the 100 years the SD has been available, the times ahead will demand that future generations be fully reliant on their inner touchstone to aid them in distinguishing gold from alloy among the glitter and glut of panaceas being offered. They will need to discern between genuine altruism and the many disguises selfishness may assume; to develop the moral fiber to resist the temptations of power, especially when that power consists in bending to one's will the mind and personality of another; to discover what is their task as human beings in relation to all of nature's families; and, not least, to realize that thoughts and feelings that elevate or mar their own character have repercussions not only on their present and future lives, but also on the destiny of kingdoms below and above the human, even on the cosmos.

What is it then that makes the SD worthy of study today? Surely not HPB's commentaries on the woeful lacks and bigotry of 19th century religionists and scientists, or the often tedious disquisitions of outdated scholars on the numerical value of Hebrew and Kabbalistic terms. All this is ephemeral, and has little to do with the Secret Doctrine of the Ages that like the deep ocean currents rolls on in harmony with the magnetism of Father Sun and his planetary family, undisturbed by the surface swells and tidal ebb and flux of human opinion. The fact that the SD today is being more and more widely read, and by every type of seeker, strongly suggests that by its bicentenary, the Secret Doctrine will be recognized as an illumined interpreter of the sacred traditions of all peoples, and as a catalyst of extraordinary spiritual power.

Many centuries may pass before the citizens of planet Earth comprehend the full reach of cosmic and human workings as poetically outlined in the Stanzas of Dzyan. Yet even these slokas, with all their beauty and grandeur, are only part of HPB's message. Within a year after publishing the SD she was moved to issue The Voice of the Silence whose "noble ethics" are drawn from the same source as the Stanzas. Was this, her parting gift, her way of reminding us that the real secret doctrine is to be found not in words but in silence?

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Theosophical University Press.)

 


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