HPB, Theosophy, and The Theosophical Society

By Grace F. Knoche

This year's Special Issue — "HPB, Theosophy, and The Theosophical Society" — honors the centenary of H. P. Blavatsky's death: May 8, 1891. Thousands of students, friends, and admirers of her writings will gather in centers round the world in joyous remembrance of her gift to the world.

In the 1870s, with the impinging Aquarian cycle gaining momentum, HPB came upon a world scene already in spiritual and intellectual turmoil, theologians and evolutionists at loggerheads, each entrenched behind a fortress of dogma. Dislodging the props from their conventional wisdoms, she offered in their stead a transcendent vision of a cosmos alive and evolving, every atom of which is a dynamic, growing, learning entity with the same possibility of divine attainment, given time, as the brightest galaxy in the heavens. A cosmic philosophy that is more than a brilliant synthesis of esoteric truths, theosophy is soul-stretching and profoundly consoling, a doctrine of the heart as well as the head, that restores dignity and sanctity to humanhood and to all life.

Far from a static reference book of antiquated facts, HPB's writing is modern, spirited, and in tune with "the pressing needs of earnest minds" (William Q. Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me, 2:15) — not of her day alone, but even more so of our own time and of the centuries to come. Old wisdom, to be sure, yet perennially young as each aspirant distills it anew in the crucible of daily experience. Its appeal rests in its clarity of vision and hope, its strength in aeons of usage, as the spiritual inheritance of mankind was handed down till today in a direct and continuing line of transmission from the Enochs and Krishnas, the Zoroasters, Quetzalcoatls, and Odins of prehistory. "The whole system of ancient cosmogony," HPB reminds us, is not the "fancy of one or several isolated individuals," but is

the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another. . . How did they do so? It is answered: by checking, testing, and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts; . . . No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions — so obtained as to stand as independent evidence — of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences. — The Secret Doctrine, 1:272-3

Charged with imparting for the coming zodiacal cycle "a select number of fragments" from the Wisdom-Science of the ages as tested and verified by "thousands of generations of Seers," HPB was to revolutionize every department of human thought by her portrayal of the genesis of worlds, the divine ancestry of man and his relation to the cosmos and his fellow-humans, as well as to his younger brothers evolving in animal, plant, and mineral guises. To accomplish her mission, she needed an organ to work through. In 1875 The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City with seventeen members, its broad objectives being "to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe," while applicants to membership were welcome irrespective of race or country, sex, color, or caste. Among its elected officers H. P. Blavatsky was listed as Corresponding Secretary — a role that enabled her to keep her sensitive finger (and pen) on the pulse of humanity's need — with Henry S. Olcott as President.

Neither HPB nor Olcott were given directions as to how to administer the Society or increase its influence in the world; they were left to work out the organizational details themselves. Colonel Olcott, with his wide administrative experience combined with steadfast devotion to the Society's progress, played a major role in transforming the young Society into a world movement. HPB had the more subtle but indispensable task of being the link with her teachers, the trained and willing transmitter of teaching that for many millennia had not been given forth with such power and amplitude.

Within two years HPB published Isis Unveiled, an impassioned plea for the restoration of "the anciently universal Wisdom-Religion" so that ultimately would result "the overthrow of error and the triumph of Truth" (Preface). The following year in May a Circular outlining the Plan and Aims of the TS was issued for inquirers: the Society was now divided into three sections or degrees with wide-ranging goals, members of the lowest section being encouraged to acquire "an intimate knowledge of natural law" with the aim of solving "the mystery" of their being; to develop their latent powers; to exemplify personally "the highest morality and religious aspiration"; to oppose "the materialism of science and every form of dogmatic theology"; to disseminate a knowledge of "the sublime teachings of that pure esoteric system of the archaic period, which are mirrored in the oldest Vedas, and in the philosophy of Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster and Confucius"; and

finally, and chiefly, to aid in the institution of a Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men, of every race, shall recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Uncreate, Universal, Infinite, and Everlasting Cause. — Section VI

These are impressive aims, and among the original charter members only three — HPB, Olcott, and William Quan Judge — stayed the course. Very likely most of those gathered in HPB's apartment on the now memorable evening of September 7, 1875 had not the foggiest notion that a seemingly chance suggestion to form a society to look into the hidden laws behind the physical universe, held within it the promise of a world organization that would powerfully affect the thought-consciousness of humanity. As long as HPB and Olcott were in New York, new members came in, but when they left for India at the close of 1878 few of them had sufficiently grasped the inner purpose of the TS. Had it not been for Abner Doubleday (p. 151 this issue) and W. Q. Judge, the seedling might well have withered away during the lean years until 1886, when Judge founded and edited The Path magazine and theosophic work under his guidance spread rapidly across the States.

On their arrival in Bombay in February 1879 HPB and Olcott set up temporary headquarters. The next month Olcott filled the large Framji Cowasji Hall to capacity, addressing an enthusiastic audience on the aims of The Theosophical Society. The well-worn saying that "nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come" proved valid once again: the general public mind in India and elsewhere was stirring from its lethargy, and the long-held dream of fostering universalism in thought and feeling could now be publicly expressed. Soon HPB and Olcott were traveling round the country, sharing the Society's goals with all who flocked to hear what the theosophists had to say; more particularly, encouraging maharaja and outcaste alike to discover for themselves the philosophical riches of their own scriptures.

About the time of the first issue of The Theosophist (October 1879) the revised Principles, Rules, and By-laws of the TS were headed "The Theosophical Society or Universal Brotherhood." More changes in wording were adopted at succeeding annual conventions, until 1882 when the Society's objectives were simplified to three: brotherhood; study of ancient and modern religions, philosophies, and sciences; and investigation of the hidden powers of man. And so they remain in essentials today, with the formation of a nucleus of men and women dedicated to the principle and practice of universal brotherhood being the primary goal of theosophists everywhere.

Championing equality of opportunity for all, no one was too mighty or too simple to counsel. HPB might rudely snub an aristocrat who sought an "occult" favor for selfish gain, but her response to a young aspirant speaks eloquently of her tender patience and quiet wisdom when she intuited a genuine call for guidance:

I am always delighted to be brought into relation with a new seeker after truth, and only wish I had hours enough in the day to take each by the hand and lead him the long journey through that ends at the door of Esoteric Wisdom. But it has been decreed, from time immemorial, that each one must be his own sufficient pilot and body-guard so far as visible things are concerned. The "Kingdom of Heaven," which I need not tell you is but the dominion of man's immortal spirit over the inner force of the Universe, must be taken by violence. I am sorry to be compelled to tell you, that the prize of Wisdom and Power must be won through danger, trial, temptation, the allurements of sense and all the besetments of this world of matter which they counterpoise, hence antagonist of spirit. Broad, smooth and flower-sprinkled is the way to the world's rewards; narrow, hard, sorrow beset the path to the Temple of Truth.
Do not take the above, pray, for literary flourishes, or an attempt to throw a mysterious coloring over our correspondence. What I say is simple and naked truth. As I read your letter, it appears to me that you have reason for encouragement. Your aspirations are warm and proper, your reading in the right direction, and I see in your poetry that the Inner-man has more to do with it than the mere physical brains of the writer. You need to keep on and never turn a glance backward. . . .
To help those who need it is the object of all my life and my most sacred duty. . .
— From a letter to Thomas H. Evans, Washington, D. C., sent by him for publication to The Occult Word, Dec 1885; ed. Mrs. Josephine W. Cables, Rochester, New York.

From 1875 to her death "free and fearless investigation" of the Book of Nature and of all branches of knowledge, theosophic or other, was enjoined, though not enforced, as HPB clearly states in her two articles that follow this editorial. To comprehend the full range of the theosophic philosophy in depth may well demand years, possibly lifetimes, of thought and reflection; yet so wondrous is a human being that, if the opening is clear, one may drink deep of the waters of inspiration and be instantaneously transformed, at least momentarily. Truly, theosophy is primarily a way of living, of feeling, of aspiring, in short, a way of intuiting with the heart.

That H. P. Blavatsky amply fulfilled her sacred duty, generations of theosophists can testify. On behalf of them and of future aspirants on the path, we gratefully acknowledge HPB's threefold gift to humanity: truth, brotherhood, and the inward way.

Because our contributors, each in his unique way, have shared the fruit of their identity with the theosophic tradition, it is our hope that this year's Special Issue will prove a welcome stimulus to our readers to look further into HPB's life and writings, and glean from them whatever they may yield of wisdom and guidance.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press.)


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