H. P. Blavatsky: Her Work and Legacy

Kirby Van Mater

There exists an ancient tradition going back long before our recorded history. It tells of manifesting universes and living worlds of beings, and of man's relation to them — a philosophy of tremendous proportions, deeper than and beyond the experience of the greatest minds. There is also a secret side to this tradition, and those who believe that this hidden portion can be found through search for mere philosophy for the intellect or physical and psychic powers are sadly mistaken, for it concerns the spiritual unfoldment of man, and love and forgiveness. In the natural order of evolution all people will eventually seek this way of life, following a course of awakenment older than anything we know.

H. P. Blavatsky consistently pointed to this hidden side of the ancient tradition, and reminded us also of the almost limitless philosophical teachings concerning man and cosmos. She awakened public awareness of these long buried truths and showed their direct relevance to the path that evolving mankind must follow. A significant part of her legacy lies in the teachings set forth in her writings. We learn of karma, reincarnation, the story of the races of man, the journey of the soul after death, and the composition of the outer and inner nature of man as well as of the cosmos in which he lives. She described the two paths leading to awareness of one's spiritual Self: the one held to be spiritually selfish because the aim is to secure release for one's self alone from this world of sorrows; and the other followed by those who renounce their nirvanic opportunity in order to remain with humanity and work for the enlightenment of all — "bliss deferred" as H. P. B. spoke of it in The Voice of the Silence.

Her writings also remind us that there is no death in the sense that we speak of it today. There is only the casting off of forms which are recreated again at another birth. She referred to evolution as the unfolding of the latent qualities of consciousness within the ego on its incredible journey through the kingdoms of lives. "In the beginning," when our earth or sun or cosmos — whatever we wish to consider — began its manifestation into material substance, myriads of lesser lives were awakened into activity, and the forms they built seemed to be of light, so ethereal was matter at that time. As the ages passed, this creation became more material until eventually the world appeared as we now see it. Mankind is one among several of the hosts of beings inwardly reflections of the one original Cause — which either have been human in the past or will in some future time become human in their turn. We are the product of this spiritual evolution, with a wondrous future ahead of us when all men will be enlightened and our race will live together in brotherhood as the natural outcome of evolving, advancing nature.

Truth has always existed, obviously, but there was a time millions of years ago when mankind was not mentally aware and little different from animals. When proper forms had been evolved with the capacity for thought and will, mind was stimulated and its fires lit. Even at that time there were members of the human race who had far exceeded the norm of development and who were intellectually and spiritually awakened. There were also imbodied then beings from kingdoms higher than our own, and it was they, together with the advanced among mankind, who quickened our minds in much the same way as we light our children's minds. These higher, more spiritual beings withdrew when our newly self-conscious race turned to material ways in the downward course of the cycle. Representatives of the lightbringers still exist as a body, which is the repository of the ancient tradition of our race. It is from this body that a restatement of these truths is made in every age.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky herself was an unusual and remarkable person. She was born in 1831 in Ekaterinoslav on the Dnieper River in the Ukraine. Her father was a colonel in the Russian army. Her mother died early and her education, when she was not with her father, was supervised by her grandmother, Princess Helena Pavlovna Dolgorukov. When quite young she married Nikifor Blavatsky, very much her senior, only to run away before the marriage was consummated. During the next 25 years she traveled extensively, all over the world. In 1873 she came to the United States and two years later founded The Theosophical Society in New York City. In December, 1878 she left the United States for India to remain there just over six years. From there she went to Europe and died in London on May 8, 1891.

H. P. Blavatsky was a genuine sensitive or natural psychic of unusual ability, but this was the more material expression of her nature. Her great works reveal a remarkable spiritual insight into the philosophies and religions of the world. Were her writings set side by side, her books, articles, editorials, and other literary productions from the United States, Europe, England, India, and Russia would fill a fairsized bookshelf, not to mention her numerous unpublished letters. All were written by hand over a period of about 17 years. Her first major work, Isis Unveiled, in two volumes, was published in 1877. In it she points to the existence of the ancient wisdom-teachings, but gives little explanation of them. She attacks the leading views in the fields of science and religion for their narrow and materialistic bent. Her next work, The Secret Doctrine, printed in 1888, also in two volumes, discusses the birth, evolution, and destiny of man and cosmos, drawing on the religions and philosophies of the world to illustrate the continued existence of these universal ideas. In 1889 she wrote The Key to Theosophy, in question and answer form, wherein she outlined the principles and teachings of theosophy and the purposes of The Theosophical Society. The same year she issued her final work, The Voice of the Silence. It is a small volume yet as important as any of her larger books. Herein she alludes to the silent voice within man and points the way to its discovery. She pictures the two paths before the seeker; the one of spiritual attainment for self alone, and the other where the reward of nirvana is renounced for the sake of all who have not yet found their spiritual way.

The Theosophical Society was founded to be the vehicle for theosophy in the world, although there is no statement in present or past constitutions that contains the word "theosophy." There was and is no wish to set forth a codified set of doctrines which theosophists must believe, acceptance of the principle of universal brotherhood being the only requirement for membership in the Society — a brotherhood that embraces not only the whole human race but all living beings. The recognition and practice of universal brotherhood is the most important objective of the Society and is one that people of almost all beliefs can support. Members are free to accept among the teachings only that which appeals to them as true; as their perceptions deepen, so does their comprehension.

Another objective is the study of ancient and modern sciences, philosophies, and religions, in pursuing which students soon become aware of golden threads of the theosophic tradition running through all cultures and beliefs. And the last objective is the investigation of the powers innate in man. If this be pursued alone, however, we may easily find ourselves, at best, walking the path of spiritual pride and selfishness. But if this endeavor be undertaken in conjunction with a sincere belief in universal brotherhood, the light of altruism is shed upon our motives and an unselfish course followed. These objectives are theosophy without declaring them to be so.

Though the years H. P. Blavatsky spent with the Society were relatively few, her legacy continues. Not only do her writings awaken us again to that wondrous knowledge presented to nascent mankind millions of years ago, but more than all else her dedication to truth and her compassionate love for all humanity rekindle memories of ancient vows to give our lives in service to the noblest in man. And this, of course, is the most excellent of spiritual paths.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984. Copyright © 1984 by Theosophical University Press)

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