[Several years ago Judy Wicks and her husband purchased an old house on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. They established their residence upstairs and a successful restaurant downstairs known as the White Dog Cafe. Shortly after they acquired the property, a stranger knocked on the door and asked if they knew the history of the building. They did not, and the woman told them a brief story regarding its famous occupant, H. P. Blavatsky. Taken by the humanitarian nature of HPB, as described by the stranger, the owners started reading and learning more about her, including the incident mentioned here. From this the business received its name. Ever since, on May 8th, the anniversary of the passing of HPB, a special event is held in the restaurant in her honor. The following remarks are taken from a talk at the breakfast given there May 8, 1990. — Ed.]
In June 1875 H. P. Blavatsky lay in the upstairs bedroom of this building, dying from a gangrenous knee swollen double in size. The doctors said the only way to save her life was to remove the leg. This HPB was not going to allow. A stranger of African descent, sent by her teacher, arrived in the evening. He placed two poultices and a white pup on her leg. Later, in a letter to a friend, HPB wrote: "The mortification had gone all round the knee, but two days of cold water poultices, and a white pup, a dog by night laid across the leg, cured all in no time. Nerves and muscles weak, can't walk but all danger is far. I had two or three other maladies showing an ambitious design to ornament themselves with Latin names but I stopped it all short." (H.P.B. Speaks 1:82) This was not her first encounter with death and a miraculous cure, nor would it be the last.
To the world she was an adventurer. She traveled to India, Tibet, Greece, North, Central, and South America, Japan, Europe, Java, Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, and of course her native Russia. During the 1860s she became an ardent admirer of Garibaldi's effort to liberate Italy and was almost mortally wounded in battle there. At another time, sailing from Greece on board a vessel whose cargo of gunpowder exploded, she was one of a handful of survivors. From the darker side of voodoo to the profundity of the inner teachings of Buddhism she experienced firsthand the evils and spiritual greatness of humanity. A powerful intellect and deep sense of humanity guided her through a maze of her own remarkable psychic and artistic gifts. She inspired the fortunate few by her extraordinary abilities as a concert pianist and conversationalist; as an author she impressed the greatest minds of a hundred years ago as well as today.
Her adventures, and the controversies generated by the bigotry of Hindus and Christians alike and by those who subscribed to the 19th century scientific view that ninety percent of all discoveries about the world and man had been made, are perhaps all the general public knows, but there is so much more than meets the eye to this remarkable woman, H. P. Blavatsky. What she shared came from her compassionate spirit, though too few are prepared to meet her where it counts, heart to heart: to feel, as she must have, the cry of pain from all humanity who in ignorance inflicts the worst atrocities upon itself and then begs for help. Too few look within and become aware of an ancient stream of wisdom, which each of us must discover for the sake of all mankind. At the core of the ideas HPB shared from the wisdom-tradition she knew so well, is one burning concept: universal brotherhood.
Like the great occultists before her, much of her life will always remain a mystery. For this reason the stories of Sankaracharya, Hypatia, Apollonius of Tyana, Jacob Boehme, Paracelsus, Cagliostro, and a host of others will always be open to attack by their enemies. Ultimately, however, it is not the personality that carries weight but the ideas shared. If we are to understand these spiritual trailblazers and their sacrifices, and be able to judge their integrity at all, we must come to understand the concepts they lived and died for.
HPB restated for the public what she had been taught, knowledge long available but ignored. She was a messenger from those who keep alive the esoteric tradition, advanced human beings whose names today have been profaned by commercial and personal needs. Such a fraternity of spiritually evolved human beings has always existed, dedicated throughout the ages to uplifting humankind from its misery. Few religious traditions fail to note them: in Christianity they are the Wise Men who know of the incarnation of a brother and great teacher; in China they have been called Lohans and Brothers of the Sun; elsewhere, they are referred to as adepts, mahatmas, bodhisattvas, or elder brothers. Men of noble intent and spiritual quality, endowed with uncommon abilities and powers found latent in all mankind, they form, in the truest sense, a philanthropic organization — lovers of mankind.
HPB was sent to America for the third time in 1873, this time to start the work for which she had been trained. Several months after the incident with her knee, along with Henry S. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and a handful of others, she founded The Theosophical Society. Excerpts from the Inaugural Address given on November 17, 1875 by Henry Olcott convey the atmosphere of the event:
In future times, when the impartial historian shall write an account of the progress of religious ideas in the present century, the formation of this Theosophical Society, whose first meeting under its formal declaration of principles we are now attending, will not pass unnoticed. This much is certain. The bare announcement of the intended inauguration of such a movement attracted attention, and caused no little discussion in the secular as well as the religious press. It has sounded in the ears of some leaders of the contending forces of theology and science, like the distant blast of a trumpet to the struggling armies in a battle. . . .
The present small number of its members is not to be considered at all in judging of its probable career. Eighteen hundred and seventy odd years ago, the whole Christian Church could be contained within a Galilean fisherman's hut, and yet it now embraces one hundred and twenty millions of people within its communion; and twelve centuries ago, the only believer in Islamism, which now counts two hundred and fifty million devotees, bestrode a camel and dreamed dreams.
No, it is not a question of numbers how great an effect this society will have upon religious thought — I will go further, and say upon the science and philosophy — of the age: great events sometimes come from far more modest beginnings. . . . Nor is it a question of endowment funds and income any more than one of numerous members: the propagandist disciples sent out by Jesus went barefoot, ill clothed, and without purse or scrip.
What is it, then, which makes me say what in deepest seriousness and a full knowledge of its truth I have said?. . . It is the fact that in my soul I feel that behind us, behind our little band, behind our feeble, new-born organization, there gathers a MIGHTY POWER that nothing can withstand — the power of truth! Because I feel that we are only the advance-guard, holding the pass until the main body shall come up. Because I feel that we are enlisted in a holy cause, and that truth, now as always, is mighty and will prevail.
Two years later Isis Unveiled, the first of HPB's books, was published. It struck like a thunderbolt. The Boston Evening Transcript wrote:
It must be acknowledged that she is a remarkable woman, who has read more, seen more, and thought more than most wise men. Her work abounds in quotations from a dozen different languages, not for the purpose of vain display of erudition, but to substantiate her peculiar views . . . her pages are garnished with foot-notes establishing, as her authorities, some of the profoundest writers of the past. To a large class of readers, this remarkable work will prove of absorbing interest . . .
In the preface to Isis HPB recalls that while traveling the East and witnessing the secret chambers of deserted sanctuaries two recurring questions oppressed her thoughts:
Where, who, What is GOD? Who ever saw the IMMORTAL SPIRIT of man, so as to be able to assure himself of man's immortality?
It was while most anxious to solve these perplexing problems that we came into contact with certain men, endowed with such mysterious powers and such profound knowledge that we may truly designate them as the sages of the Orient. To their instructions we lent a ready ear. They showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence of God and immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated like a problem of Euclid. — 1:vi
A year later, she and Olcott left for India, later moving the International Headquarters there from New York. While in India they established schools for the study of the Sanskrit language and brought back to the Indian people an awareness of their own religious traditions, scriptures, and philosophies. In 1885 HPB moved to Europe and after two years settled in England where she published The Secret Doctrine in 1888 — a monumental work bringing together the world's creation stories of the cosmos and man. In these two volumes she elucidates the long hidden concepts which act as keys for unlocking the mysteries of antiquity. Refraining from dogmatism, she rather points the way for students to make their own discoveries in a fresh and vital manner. Toward the end of the "Introductory" HPB writes:
But to the public in general and the readers of the "Secret Doctrine" I may repeat what I have stated all along, and which I now clothe in the words of Montaigne: Gentlemen, "I HAVE HERE MADE ONLY A NOSEGAY OF CULLED FLOWERS, AND HAVE BROUGHT NOTHING OF MY OWN BUT THE STRING THAT TIES THEM."
Pull the "string" to pieces and cut it up in shreds, if you will. As for the nosegay of FACTS — you will never be able to make away with these. You can only ignore them, and no more. — 1:xlvi
Due to inquiries by readers of The Secret Doctrine she wrote The Key to Theosophy and before she died translated portions from the "Book of the Golden Precepts," the heart and essence of her message — The Voice of the Silence. The following two stanzas give a feeling for its ideas and style:
Let not the fierce Sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer's eye.
But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain, nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed. — pp. 12-13
What are some of the ideas HPB expressed and how do they apply to our world today? Perhaps foremost is the existence of an unknowable divine source from which the cosmos and all its family of lives emanate. Whether galaxy or star, human being or atom, all come from the one universal source referred to in India as THAT, for name and form can only diminish it. A second concept is the law of cycles, very obvious to us all: day and night and day again, the cycles of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides. The next thought is significant in that it gives dimension and reason to the first two: that everything in the universe is on an "obligatory pilgrimage" — each unit, be it a mathematical point or the largest galactic cluster, is an evolving being, progressing along a necessary path to become one again with its divine source after unfolding from within its hidden capacities, checked by its self-made limitations.
The processes which keep all this in motion are the dynamics of karma and rebirth or the law of cyclic renewal. All beings are the expression of their own karma. Because of the natural ebb and flux, all beings are subject to rest and action, birth, death, and rebirth — these are the vibrant forces of life which propel all on their journey. Every one of us is multidimensional and each of these aspects must be brought into its highest state. The intellect alone, for example, is composed of the mind influenced by aspects of our lower and our spiritual nature. This very duality both gives us hope and causes us harm. Swinging from the lower to our higher nature, the mind creates the powerful illusion of duality in ourselves as well as in the universe. At one moment we may be of the purest and most selfless intentions and at the next our shifting, undisciplined thoughts are directed towards our lower qualities.
In seeking to understand these concepts, so grand in scope, we come to understand one another and the cosmos in which we live and are a part. Universal brotherhood is not a concept of the "goody-two-shoes" in life but is the fundamental dynamic of life itself, the basis for the manifestation of the universe: why we "feel" one another before we really get to know one another; why the trees and other plants on this globe so intimately affect our lives; why, the poet said, "thou canst not stir a flower without troubling of a star." Universal brotherhood is the basis of the most profound sciences: without these concepts how are we to understand not only the sacredness of birth but the grand purpose and beauty of death? In short, the concepts enumerated by HPB are the whys and wherefores of existence itself. From the daily family chores to the noblest of achievements of humankind we are all linked by magical and wondrous means. At our heart of hearts each life is equal to every other, an expression of the One, involved in a unique inner journey of unfoldment throughout the aeons.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press.)
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