The first volume of H. P. Blavatsky's masterwork, The Secret Doctrine, treats of the birth and evolution of universes, suns, and planets with all their kingdoms, stretching from the elemental lives or forces, up through the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms. Above mankind, according to ancient tradition, are spiritual kingdoms stretching up to the great cosmic gods whose immanent activities constitute the law and harmony of the cosmos. The second volume treats of the origin and destiny of the human race in conjunction with all the other earth kingdoms with which we are familiar. Prominent in this volume is a discussion of the awakening of the human mind by more highly evolved beings.
Interspersed with these subjects are wondrous insights into sciences now asleep or only partly awake, such as the many-layered interpretation of legend, myth, and symbol. Also discussed is the story of initiation and the Mystery schools which existed in all parts of the world, places where stage by stage, first by instruction, discipline, and purification, and later through actual experience, the disciple might achieve within himself the birth of his inner god, an achievement which over many cycles every person may aspire to and will in time succeed in bringing about.
Commencing with volume one, the birth of worlds is based on what Blavatsky terms three fundamental propositions. The first one projects a picture of the ultimate, unknowable cause from which everything is born and to which all things eventually return:
An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought — in the words of Mandukya [Upanishad] "unthinkable and unspeakable." — The Secret Doctrine 1:14
Ancient peoples refused to give attributes to this principle: the Jews called it 'eyn soph (the Boundless), the Hindus tat (That). It cannot be called large or small, good or evil, for these terms apply only to finite things. Its aspects are given as infinite space, eternal duration, and unending motion.
The second proposition Blavatsky phrases as follows:
The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically "the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,..."
...the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all departments of nature. An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe. — Ibid. 1:16-17
While the first proposition conveys a picture of the boundless source of all, the second proposition sets the pattern for all manifested existence — whether atoms, humans, gods, or universes — which issue forth from their inner essence. Many of the old philosophies speak of a ray from the Unknowable fecundating chaos or the mother principle, so that out of chaos is born the cosmos, the manifested worlds. Here we have the trinity — Father, Mother, Son; Father, Holy Spirit, Son; Osiris, Isis, Horus; Parabrahman, Mulaprakriti, Brahman.
The third proposition pertains to those aspects of life with which we are the most directly involved:
The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, ...and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former — through the Cycle of Incarnation (or "Necessity") in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law,... In other words, no...(divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark...has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas (mind), from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha). The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations. — 1:17
The range of beings stretches from the tiniest subatomic particle and below to the grandest universe or clusters of universes and beyond. And since every unit is a consciousness or monad of infinite potential, the cosmos is infilled with divine intelligences of all types, all seeking to unfold themselves through evolution by means of repeated imbodiments.
Blavatsky sought to reintroduce the concept of a living universe governed by cause and effect, or karma. When we are born, we come freighted with karma out of the past. We are that karma. In previous incarnations we have made ourselves what we now are, and are in the process of making ourselves what we shall one day become in future incarnations. When the universe is reborn, it seeks its rebirth by means of all the lesser lives of which it is composed, just like man with his atoms and lesser units when he reincarnates. The new universe is the karma of the old universe. All beings, then, are sparks of the universal essence or over-soul at various levels in their self-unfoldment or evolution, which takes place through repeated imbodiments:
Everything in the Universe, throughout all its kingdoms, is conscious: i.e., endowed with a consciousness of its own kind and on its own plane of perception. We men must remember that because we do not perceive any signs — which we can recognize — of consciousness, say, in stones, we have no right to say that no consciousness exists there. There is no such thing as either "dead" or "blind" matter, as there is no "Blind" or "Unconscious" Law. — 1:274
When the scroll of earth unrolled, all the lives of earth were unrolled with it, starting at a very ethereal level. Earth reimbodied itself by means of its lesser lives, and all the kingdoms of nature were present at the outset, including ourselves. However, neither earth nor its kingdoms resembled even remotely what we see about us today, for then everything was ethereal, spiritual, astral, not physical as now. Planetary evolution takes place in a series of pulsations or "rounds." Blavatsky speaks of seven or more of these rounds for the earth. With each succeeding round, the earth grew more material until it reached its most material phase, which is roughly where we are today in the fourth round. In this round on this physical globe each of the kingdoms has successively dominated earth. For millions of years mineral activity was most intense and then, as the mineral efflorescence subsided, the lives of the plant kingdom eventually became dominant. Overlapping the era of plant dominance and gradually superseding it was the animal kingdom, which climaxed and declined, giving way to a new insurgence, our own human life-wave.
Three further propositions are given in volume two, having to do with life on this physical globe in the fourth round:
As regards the evolution of mankind, the Secret Doctrine postulates three new propositions, which stand in direct antagonism to modern science as well as to current religious dogmas: it teaches (a) the simultaneous evolution of seven human groups on seven different portions of our globe; (b) the birth of the astral, before the physical body: the former being a model for the latter; and (c) that man, in this Round, preceded every mammalian — the anthropoids included — in the animal kingdom. — 2:1
For tens of millions of years mankind was more astral than physical. And although the seven primeval races appeared simultaneously, they did so in seed or germ, one by one to flower, each on its own continental system. Each such root-race had numerous subraces, family and tribal races, and other smaller subdivisions. We are now approaching the midpoint of the fifth root-race. In Works and Days (lines 147-234) Hesiod mentions the five races that have thus far appeared, and also the four ages, the Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron, and said that we are now in the Iron Age and our fifth race. Similar descriptions are given in the Zend-Avesta, the Puranas, the Eddas, the Popul Vuh, and other ancient works. When we study these accounts of earlier races, we should bear in mind that we are reading about ourselves, for those past races were the scenes of our previous striving.
Each great root-race flourishes upon its own system of continents. The continent of the first race, "The Imperishable Sacred Land," is said to have been located at the North Pole. The second or Hyperborean race occupied a horseshoe-shaped continent in the far north. The third (Lemurian) and fourth (Atlantean) races inhabited continents, large portions of which may now be under the oceans, buried under deserts, or may still be in use as parts of existing continents. Because root-races endure for millions of years, the continents they live on vary greatly during their lifespan. Each race is born from the midpoint of its parent race, from its most material cycle or kali yuga. When a race has entered its kali yuga, the seeds of the next race begin increasingly to appear. Eventually as these seeds become numerous, they are separated geographically, and portions of the old continents become uninhabitable and begin to break up or submerge. In the case of the fifth race, Central Asia was the cradleland for those fleeing from Atlantean depravity. There our young race enjoyed its Golden and Silver ages in a series of splendid civilizations. Our own root-race is now entering its kali yuga or midpoint.
Perhaps the most important evolutionary event insofar as humanity is concerned took place in the third root-race and is remembered in all the world's religions and legendary histories. When the human vehicle was ready, the heretofore slumbering human mind awakened. The Greeks expressed it as Prometheus stealing from the gods the fire of mind for mankind. In the Far East the manasaputras or Sons of Mind were said to have incarnated in humanity and thus awakened it into mental life and self-awareness, qualities which distinguish the human from the animal. These superior beings had evolved beyond the human stage in a previous cosmic cycle and returned to inflame the latent human mind. Christian mythology remembers it in the story of Lucifer, the Lightbringer, who was on the right hand of God and cast out to make his way to the Garden of Eden: Lucifer, the Christian Prometheus, who as a serpent tempted Eve with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Thereafter humans possessed the power to choose; they could sow and reap karma in a far more potent manner than before. There could no longer be an Eden or idyllic mindless life, for humanity now had self-conscious mind.
Interestingly, anthropologist Loren Eiseley, while going through a museum in which the supposed human ancestors were depicted, found himself strangely disappointed. Somewhere along the line, he felt, there must have occurred a sudden mitosis of the brain — one moment a higher mammal and in the next thinking man. Alfred Russel Wallace felt that human evolution was not so much bodily as mental; our evolution took place primarily in the mind and its vehicle the brain. Wallace also believed that no evolution could take place without the intercession of superior beings.
Worldwide legends of divine teachers instructing early mankind in the arts and sciences, taken in conjunction with the incarnation in man of his manasaputra or higher self, would certainly have brought about spectacular physiological changes, separating man from all the other mammals. This is confirmed by embryology, for the human brain trebles in size during the first year after birth, something no other mammal succeeds in achieving. We see here how physiology confirms human history, and how the old myths can be found to have a basis in scientific fact.
One of the magnificent achievements of The Secret Doctrine is that Blavatsky does not speak merely in generalities, but quotes from the major scriptures and authors of the ages — East, Mideast, and West, ancient and modern — to illustrate step by step, as she develops her theme, what the greatest minds of the human race have said about the points she is then discussing. The two volumes contain quotes from about 1,200 authors and scriptures, some referred to many times.
Many who have looked into these references realize that although we may have read and reread certain passages, it is only when Blavatsky sheds her penetrating light upon them that we can see, for the first time perhaps, their real import. This is particularly true of those from ancient times, which are often fragmentary and highly symbolic. As we read in them the great events of cosmogenesis and evolution, we note how closely they parallel one another.
Blavatsky insisted that these ideas were not her own, but simply what she had been taught. She never claimed credit for anything except a knowledge of the principles of the ancient wisdom as known and taught through the ages. This, however, is the running thread without which all the quotations in the world would be aimless and misleading. It is because she had the esoteric philosophy in the forefront of her mind that she could produce a Secret Doctrine and cull the literatures of the world to illustrate its ageless universality. The Secret Doctrine is an enormous creative achievement. The substance of these volumes is a portion of the wisdom of the ages, pure and distilled.
The universe surrounds us on every side. It was born as we were born, has its life, and one day, like us, will die and then, after a lapse of cosmic time, seek its rebirth. It therefore has a history and a destiny over and above that which we now see and investigate; and the same is true of mankind. What is the relationship between man the microcosm and the all-embracing cosmos? This in brief is The Secret Doctrine.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Theosophical University Press)