One of the many forms of criticism H. P. Blavatsky had to sustain as a thank-you for the insight she provided for many, was unkind commentary on the certainty with which she spoke. How could one who had declared war on authority and dogma herself speak with such absolute certainty? Undogmatic thinking does not preclude knowledge, obviously.
Polynesian sailors know, not only by the stars but even from differences that escape us in the patterns of the waves, exactly where they are, without any of our modern navigational aids. This is a form of knowledge.
There was a time when scholastics, Bible in hand, were quite sure that the earth is flat. This too was called knowledge, and for the bystander it was not always a simple matter by any means to tell fact from error. And it is still no easy matter in all cases. The growing inner certainty of gnosis, knowledge older than the world, is often understood as something elusive, sensational, and mysterious; and this offers the opportunity for some to pretend to some qualities they don't really possess. There is, however, a world of difference between the mystical and the mysterious.
Opposites sometimes have a superficial resemblance. Whether it is a TV-program depicting our never really proven descent from the apes — as if we were eyewitnesses of the memorable event — or the countless lucubrations with which bookshops are getting better and better stocked, they all present themselves as "truth." But on closer inspection, events in the world of the psychic turn out to have a knack of taking the same course as they always have in the world of the theologians: anything asserted by one is sure to be vehemently contradicted by somebody else. So there is plenty of choice for one who wants to belong to something. But for one who tries to "fight his way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial" — as the paramita formulates it — there is surprisingly little choice.
The preface to The Secret Doctrine says:
The publication of many of the facts herein stated has been rendered necessary by the wild and fanciful speculations in which many Theosophists and students of mysticism have indulged, . . . — p. viii
These words could have been written for our day and age. In spite of her great knowledge, we never see H. P. Blavatsky laying claim to a miraculous revelation, or coming up with brand-new theories. What we do find is a collection of mankind's spiritual heritage, the wisdom and vision that have accompanied man throughout the millennia, in civilization after civilization.
"I only hand on," said Confucius, "I cannot create new things. I believe in the ancients and therefore I love them." Every time dogma and fantastic interpretations threaten to deprive humanity of a clear view of this fundamental knowledge, the great teachers themselves always declare that they want nothing more than to return to the pure ideas and vision of the ancients. It is always the followers who construct systems of belief.
Laurens van der Post, recalling his visit to a Japanese mountain shrine, so old that nobody can trace the period it stems from, writes: "Perhaps one of the saddest things in life is the recurrent illusion of human beings that they can improve on the truth" [Yet Being Someone Other, p. 236].
New variations of the ideas inherent in the human race are constantly being developed, much like new varieties of crops in agriculture — hybrids with incredibly rich yields, but which also are susceptible to disease. On the one hand they have facilitated the "green revolution," banning hunger in more and more parts of the world; on the other, food specialists are painfully aware of their vulnerability. During hybridization much genetic material is lost, and with it many of the qualities that make crops resistant to disease and inclement conditions. In a number of cases the nutritional value also deteriorates.
The Irish famine shows what can go wrong. The potato plants that covered field after field were — genetically speaking — as alike as peas in a pod. They were all descendants of the one or two plants brought from Peru by the Spaniards. Then came the cold and wet summer of 1841, and history relates how the stench of rotting plants blanketed the country. A million people died of starvation, and a million more emigrated. Another incident showing how vulnerable hybrids in agriculture are is the coffee rust which wiped out the entire coffee culture in Ceylon — Sri Lanka — in the 1860s. The island exports tea at present, no coffee. A more recent example is the corn blight that swept uncurbed through the Southern part of the United States and destroyed 50% of the crop within a few days.
Of late years, expeditions have been sent to remote places to find and collect the original seeds, bulbs, and tubers of our food plants. In that way the wealth of genetic material that can still be found here and there can become the starting point of new, healthy and strong agricultural hybrids. A few centers have been set up where the collected seeds are stored in refrigerated vaults, a veritable bank of genetic material.
Just as botanists estimate there are some 20,000 edible plants on earth, 100 of which have been developed as food crops, and out of that number only some 22 are being cultivated on a really large scale, so has our thought life narrowed down to the very small world of thoughts occupying our minds at present. Here too — and especially here — the wealth humanity has once known could mean relief for a tormented planet. When we consider thoughts as living, growing entities, a natural kingdom — like the vegetable kingdom — the correspondence is striking. Even without a Linnaeus to classify the realm of thoughts, it clearly harbors quite a number of species and families, not all of them food crops by any means. G. de Purucker in The Esoteric Tradition gives a few hints about the nature of thoughts and their role in humanity's weal and woe:
Thoughts are . . . elemental energies. They do not originate in a man's mind. . . . The inspirations of genius, the loftiest productions of the human spirit, simply come to us through lofty and great minds, capacious channels which could transmit so sublime a flow.
A man can become degenerate by constantly thinking low and degenerate thoughts. Contrariwise, a man can raise himself to the gods by exercising his spiritual will and by opening his nature to receive only those sublime thoughts which leave impressions upon the fabric of his being . . . — pp. 354-5, 3rd & rev. ed.
H. P. Blavatsky and her successors have collected ideas from the ancient wisdom-tradition and rendered them accessible again, the "corner stone, the foundation of the future religion(s) of mankind," the starting point of new and healthy hybrids that will provide the spiritual food mankind is so critically in need of. For the world is stricken by another kind of famine, afflicting the entire planet, and leaving behind a trail of withering spiritual life, loss of ideals and moral values, the reign of envy and violence. What is needed to assuage this moral famine can be found near at hand as also in the remotest corners of the globe, in the memory where impressions from a better and wiser past are still green:
the Esoteric Philosophy is alone calculated to withstand, in this age of crass and illogical materialism, the repeated attacks on all and everything man holds most dear and sacred, in his inner spiritual life. — The Secret Doctrine, 1:xx
From the moment H. P. Blavatsky started teaching and explaining, many pens were set in motion, with all sorts of motives. This much is clear: our discrimination will be taxed to the utmost, and this everybody has to teach himself — just as everybody's immune system has to recognize and render harmless the false genetic information of invading viruses.
There are a few rules of thumb though, as for instance, the touchstone of universality. This aid can be employed in two ways: Is the enunciated theory merely some "new wheeze," whether seemingly learned or not? Or, do we find it, if only in outline, in ancient traditions all over the world, among many peoples and civilizations, as part of mans spiritual heritage? A second aspect is: Does the theory or statement have a bearing upon everybody and everything, or is it limited to a group of chosen ones or believers, a singular revelation, or a unique moment in the history of the world, etc.?
Paul Davies relates in his book God in the New Physics how much he is impressed by the discovery of the universal nature of "physical constants," like the 21- cm wavelength of hydrogen which appears to be exactly the same a million light-years away as it is here on earth.
What is truth other than reality? Things as they really are in the immeasurable universe that brought us forth, and whose kindred we therefore are. It is this kinship that enables us to come to know the reality of things in direct proportion as we develop our faculties — a development favored by the "spirit of free research untrammelled by anyone or anything."
What will the future spiritual climate be? Are we going to live free from fear and oppression, in harmony with ourselves and other members of the human family, and in possession of the broad vision that is our birthright?
Blavatsky wrote in "Le Cycle Nouveau," La Revue Theosophique, Paris, 21 March 1889 [H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, XI, 109ff]: "The spirit of truth is now passing over the face of the dark waters, and in dividing them, is compelling them to disgorge their spiritual treasures. This spirit is a force that can neither be hindered nor stopped. . . . There do exist men and women thoroughly qualified for this, whose only aim is to dwell under the aegis of their Divine Nature. Let them, at least, take courage to live the life and not conceal it from the eyes of others!"
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1986/January 1987; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)