Every people has preserved traditions of elders, advanced human beings who are custodians of the truths about man and the celestial and terrestrial spheres from which he draws his very life: truths that are passed on from generation to generation to those who will use them solely for the well-being of humanity and of all nature's kingdoms. It is held that this body of wise men still exists as a fraternity or brotherhood of adepts or masters; and while their role is little understood, their function as guardians of truth and of mankind is as natural as parents and teachers are for children.
There runs a legend that Tibet's 4th-century spiritual reformer, Tsong-kha-pa, urged that an effort be made "to enlighten the world, including the 'white barbarians,' every century, at a specified period of the cycle." Outside of the few known luminaries scattered throughout Britain and Europe who labored untiringly to keep alight in Christendom the sacred flame of independent thought, it is difficult to graph the extent of their spiritualizing influence during the 5th to 18th centuries. The 19th century, however, witnessed a radical upheaval of norms, for not only were theologians and scientists thrown into bitter conflict after Lyell's presentation of geologic evidence of earth's vast age and Darwin's theories of the progressive development of species from protozoon to Homo sapiens, but archaeology also enlarged our perspective of man's spiritual history by revealing an Egyptian civilization of splendor and a Babylonian story of Noah and the deluge that antedated the biblical one. Moreover, the Orient which had been a closed book until the 1780s, now was emancipating Western thought with its rich philosophic treasures.
The world consciousness was ripe for change: on the one hand, rampant materialism both in theology and science had a stranglehold on the spirit of inquiry and, on the other, many people hungry to believe in the immortality of the soul were being caught by the will-o'-the-wisp of spiritualistic phenomena. A cosmic vision of man and his role in the universal plan was sorely needed, one that would restore trust in divine law and explain the cruel injustices of earthly existence. H. P. Blavatsky, a woman of extraordinary gifts powered by a fearless devotion to truth and the eradication of the causes of human suffering, became the spokesman for the modern theosophical movement whose objectives included the forming of a nucleus of individuals dedicated to fostering a brotherhood of humanity, the comparative study of religions, philosophies, sciences, and mythologies, and the investigation of the inner powers of man.
The word "theosophy" was chosen for the teachings H. P. Blavatsky would outline as well as for the Society that would disseminate them since it had been in use for many centuries for several schools of thought, such as the Stoic, Gnostic, Neoplatonic, Sufi, and Qabbalistic. These — in contradistinction to the revealed religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — posit the universe and all its monadic lives as emanating from the One, and that each of its monads, being a spark of the Universal Mind or Divine Intelligence, has the intrinsic capacity to attain mystical union with the Divine and in time be reunited with its source, enriched by the manifold lessons of experience.
In the 70s and 80s of last century it took persons of considerable spiritual and social daring to speak and write of universal brotherhood regardless of race, caste, creed, or sex. Yet anyone who reads the correspondence between H. P. Blavatsky's teachers and A. P. Sinnett and A. O. Hume will realize that in consenting to instruct these Englishmen in the preliminaries of occult science it was with the expressed hope that Hume and Sinnett and their colleagues might be able to recast the teachings and thus provide the basis for a "needed universal religious philosophy" that would benefit the whole of mankind and free the millions of the oppressed from the tyranny of ignorance, bigotry, and unbrotherliness. In short, the establishment of a universal brotherhood was their paramount concern, and not the formation of a school of magic that would teach the rationale of astral or psychic phenomena.
By 1884, however, it had become obvious that a more comprehensive restatement of the primal truths was required than that contained in H. P. Blavatsky's first literary effort, Isis Unveiled (1877) or in A. P. Sinnett's published selections from letters he and Hume had received from their mentors. Therefore, under the guidance and inspiration of her teachers, known now under the initials M. and K. H., H. P. Blavatsky was helped to write The Secret Doctrine, a massive two-volume work regarded today as an authentic source of ancient and modern theosophic principles. Using some 100 stanzas from "a very old book" not found in any modern library, the Book of Dzyan, she unfolds a magnificent panorama encompassing the genesis and evolutionary destiny of solar systems, of earth and its humanities, and of the animal and other kingdoms held to be offthrowings in former cycles from early human stocks. She makes no claim to having originated the teachings; rather, she is a transmitter of a few fragments from the esoteric records, as no more would be understood in this period of confused values.
Before beginning her commentary on the Stanzas of Dzyan, H. P. Blavatsky invites us to consider "three fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought" on which the sacred science of antiquity and therefore the world's religious and philosophical schools are founded. Reduced to essentials, the three postulates are: (1) that there is an eternal, omnipresent, immutable Principle which cannot be described as it is beyond "the range and reach of thought," yet from It all life emanates or flows forth; (2) that universes like "manifesting stars" continually appear and disappear in rhythmic pulsation, like a tidal flux and ebb; and (3) that all souls, having at their heart the same deific essence as the "Universal Over-Soul," are required to undergo the full cycle in material worlds in order to bring into active expression, by self-effort, their divine potentialities.
There's a vision to lift the heart, to share with those who have lost trust in themselves, in others, in life itself. To feel that every human being is a necessary part of the cosmic purpose is to give dignity to our strivings; indeed, to the urge to evolve. And the reason for this grand "cycle of necessity" is twofold: whereas we start as unself-conscious god-sparks, by the time we will have experienced all there is to learn in every life form in all the kingdoms, not only will we have awakened into fuller awareness the multitudes of atomic lives which serve as our bodies on the various planes, but we ourselves will have attained the stature of full divinities.
We are featuring these three postulates in our Special Issue on Theosophy because when we grasp their intimate relationship to our lives we come to see how all the other teachings flow forth from them; they are as keys to a larger understanding of reincarnation, cycles, karma, what happens after death, the cause and relief of human suffering, hierarchies and the sevenfold nature of man and cosmos, the interplay of involution/evolution, and more — all the while the awakening soul pursues the eternal quest.
The Secret Doctrine is being studied today by all types of inquiring minds; professors and students of comparative religion and mythology are looking to it for interpretative guidelines. Further, the cosmogony presented is being reformulated in varying manners, in scientific terminology, in fiction and, alas, also travestied by those who distort the message, in ignorance or for selfish gain. All this poses a challenge to the discriminating seeker who would separate conjecture from natural truth and not let the barrage of half-truths in circulation blind him to the brilliant insight that may appear in unfamiliar guise.
A quickening of thought has concurrently been taking place in every phase of our culture, notably in the fields of science, literature, philosophic research, mythology, archaeology, as well as in psychology and holistic medicine. For instance, the late Dame Frances Yates enhanced our perception of the influence of the Hermetic tradition; another British scholar, poet, Neoplatonist, and philosopher, Kathleen Raine, appeals to the modern world to reexamine its spiritual traditions and recapture "a sense of the sacred." Joseph Campbell, Joseph Needleman, Mircea Eliade, and other mythologers and historians are delving into the ancient world and retrieving pearls of mystical and philosophic wisdom. Revolutionary hypotheses are being offered by innovative scientific minds, such as David Bohm, theoretical physicist of the University of London, and Rupert Sheldrake, botanist and plant physiologist of Cambridge University, that are remarkably close to theosophical concepts.
Possibly the theme that has most revolutionized present-day thinking and lifestyles is that of our oneness with nature. Once again we are seeing the universe as a living, sentient being and ourselves as participants with it in an ecosystem of cosmic dimension. We have discovered that we, the observers, measurably affect not only the object we are observing but the entire complement of evolving entities. Best of all, we are realizing, though not sufficiently as yet, that we are one humanity, and that what you or I do to help another benefits all, strikes a resonant chord in the ongoing symphony that we together are composing. If the whole creation travaileth over the burden of our inhumanities, how it must rejoice over the slightest movement of compassion in the soul of even a single human being.
With these thoughts we introduce our Special Issue with the hope that the many different approaches herein presented may spark your own intuitions and be a stimulus to further inquiry and deepened thought.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984. Copyright © 1984 by Theosophical University Press)