H. P. Blavatsky’s masterpiece “The Secret Doctrine,” published in 1888, has never been out of print and is still in demand from spiritual seekers all around the world. It bears the subtitle of “The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy” along with the following dedication by HPB:
“This Work I dedicate to all True Theosophists, in every Country, and of every Race, for they called it forth, and for them it was recorded.”
On several occasions, the Master K.H. and the Master M. stated under their own signatures – entirely independently of HPB and both before and after her death – that she was their “Direct Agent,” their “Brother,” and that “The Secret Doctrine” was the “triple production” of all three of them working together. In one letter, the Master K.H. describes the book as being the “epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.”
The book is in two large volumes, titled “Cosmogenesis” and “Anthropogenesis.” “Cosmogenesis,” the first volume, deals with the origins, birth, and evolution of the Universe, the Cosmos, the Solar System, and our planet, whilst “Anthropogenesis,” the second volume, deals with the origins, birth, and evolution of mankind on our planet.
Unfortunately, many people choose not to attempt to read it, having heard it described by others as being very difficult, hard to understand, and extremely heavy going.
It is certainly not a book to be read through casually like any ordinary book. It requires slow, careful, and preferably meditative, reading. To truly grasp its depths requires proper study . . . an ongoing, lifetime study. Many of those “earnest students” referred to by the Master maintain that no greater book has been written since. At the close of the Preface, HPB states that “The Secret Doctrine” has a fivefold aim:
#1. “to show that Nature is not “a fortuitous concurrence of atoms”,”
#2. “to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the Universe;”
#3. “to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions;”
#4. “to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all spring;”
#5. “to show that the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilization.”
“Occult” is of course a synonym for “esoteric,” “hidden,” and “secret” and is not used in Theosophy in any sense connected with black magic or the dark arts.
HPB makes it clear right from the start that she is merely the writer and not the author. This is important to bear in mind because some people – usually as a result of careless reading or on hearsay and without ever having read it for themselves – have said that “The Secret Doctrine” is a lengthy collection of HPB’s own theories, speculations, and opinions, or that its contents are the results of her own “clairvoyant investigations.” All this is simply untrue and merely misguided personal opinion.
Apart from the Masters’ own letters in which they claim joint authorship of the work (see Who wrote The Secret Doctrine? and Words from The Masters about H. P. Blavatsky) we also have HPB’s own very clear explanation in the Preface that the book is not a “revelation,” not derived from her “personal speculations and theories,” but rather is a presentation of the Secret Teaching or Esoteric Doctrine which underlies all the world’s religions and which predates and transcends them all, being their primeval and archaic source and fountainhead.
She writes that “what is contained in this work is to be found scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol, and hitherto left unnoticed because of this veil. What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole. The sole advantage which the writer has over her predecessors, is that she need not resort to personal speculations and theories. For this work is a partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students, supplemented, in a few details only, by the results of her own study and observation. . . . she now transmits that which she has received and learnt herself to all those who will accept it.”
The title “The Secret Doctrine” was not chosen for any sensational or commercial effect but is simply an English rendering of the Sanskrit term “Gupta Vidya” which can be translated as “secret wisdom,” “secret knowledge,” “secret science,” “esoteric science,” “esoteric wisdom,” “esoteric doctrine,” or simply “secret doctrine.” HPB was using the term “Secret Doctrine” in her first book “Isis Unveiled,” over a decade before the book of that name was published.
This hidden body of knowledge known as the Gupta Vidya or Secret Doctrine is in the safe keeping of a relatively small number of individuals. They have been called the Masters of the Wisdom. They are Adepts and Initiates belonging to a hidden esoteric Brotherhood of illumined Souls which guides and watches over the spiritual evolution and advancement of humanity.
It was some of these Masters – not so-called “Ascended Masters” but living, physically incarnated Men belonging to the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood – who taught, trained, and prepared the Russian woman named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to go forth into the world to give out as much of that Teaching and Knowledge as was permitted. It is well known that in so doing she literally changed the face of world spirituality forever and brought about the first introduction of Eastern spirituality to the Western world.
The Secret Doctrine in question is indeed “the Secret Doctrine of the East,” as the Masters and HPB so often state, yet it is never claimed or implied that the entirety of the Secret Doctrine is contained within “The Secret Doctrine.” Such a thing would of course be impossible, not to mention unwise.
“This book is not the Secret Doctrine in its entirety,” says HPB, “but a select number of fragments of its fundamental tenets.” And “even the two volumes now issued do not complete the scheme, and these do not treat exhaustively of the subjects dealt with in them.” Why is this?
Because “only a certain portion of the Secret teachings can be given out in the present age” . . . “it will take centuries before much more is given” . . . “the SECRET DOCTRINE is not a treatise, or a series of vague theories, but contains all that can be given out to the world” . . . “the present volumes . . . though giving out many fundamental tenets from the SECRET DOCTRINE of the East, raise but a small corner of the dark veil. For no one, not even the greatest living adept, would be permitted to, or could – even if he would – give out promiscuously, to a mocking, unbelieving world, that which has been so effectually concealed from it for long aeons and ages” . . . “the outline of a few fundamental truths from the Secret Doctrine of the Archaic Ages is now permitted to see the light, after long millenniums of the most profound silence and secrecy. . . . But, even the little that is now given is better than complete silence upon those vital truths.”
And despite some similarities and parallels, the teachings contained in the book are not Hinduism, Buddhism, or those of any other particular religion.
We read, again in the all-important Preface, that “it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised.”
And in the Introduction – “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 true philosopher, the student of the Esoteric Wisdom, entirely loses sight of personalities, dogmatic beliefs and special religions. Moreover, Esoteric philosophy reconciles all religions, strips every one of its outward, human garments, and shows the root of each to be identical with that of every other great religion. . . . Furthermore, the records we mean to place before the reader embrace the esoteric tenets of the whole world since the beginning of our humanity, and Buddhistic occultism occupies therein only its legitimate place, and no more.”
The purpose of the book is to promote Truth. The famous motto of the Theosophical Movement is that “There is no religion higher than Truth.” Since its publication the book has appealed not only to lovers of Eastern esotericism but to lovers and seekers of Truth everywhere.
As we mentioned earlier, “The Secret Doctrine” is often thought of as being particularly difficult to read and understand. It is partly because of this assumption that even many Theosophists refuse to read it, which is especially tragic when one stops to think about it. But if this is truly the case then how is it that there are even children and teenagers who read and study it and who are able to grasp its meaning perfectly clearly, and some of these being from countries where English is not even their first language?
The motive and attitude with which we approach the book is of vital importance, as also is the fact that we stand no chance of clearly comprehending and fully appreciating its invaluable teachings as long as we attempt to read it through the lens and filter of other teachings.
Over 50 important terms and concepts are used by later Theosophical “teachers” in an entirely different way from how they were used by HPB and the Masters in their authentic teachings. Hardly anything in “The Secret Doctrine” is even slightly similar or compatible with the type of things presented in the teachings of the likes of Alice Bailey, C. W. Leadbeater, and Annie Besant.
The differences between genuine Theosophy and pseudo-Theosophy are manifold and irreconcilable and have been explored and demonstrated at some length in other articles on this site. More has been said about this in the article titled How To Successfully Study The Teachings of H. P. Blavatsky but for now the only thing we really need to add on this point is that while the majority of Alice Bailey students and Leadbeater/Besant followers admit to having great difficulty in understanding HPB’s teachings, those Theosophists who have nothing to do with the Bailey/Leadbeater/Besant teachings have little problem or difficulty with the Blavatsky teachings.
When our own self-imposed obstacles are cleared away, “The Secret Doctrine” turns out to be far easier to understand than we may have been led to think. For example, halfway through the Proem, HPB tells us that:
“Before the reader proceeds to the consideration of the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan which form the basis of the present work, it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows; therefore no apology is required for asking the reader to make himself familiar with them first, before entering on the perusal of the work itself.”
This, we are told, is “absolutely necessary” and our “understanding of all that follows” is dependent on our gaining a “clear apprehension” of the “three fundamental propositions” by making ourselves truly “familiar with them first.” How many readers have actually done this and appreciated the importance of it? The three fundamental propositions of “The Secret Doctrine” are the three fundamental propositions of the Secret Doctrine itself, i.e. the three fundamental propositions of the Esoteric Philosophy known as Theosophy.
They can be found expressed from pages 14 to 20 of the book but here we can attempt to give a brief overview and explanation.
“The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions . . .”
1. “An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception . . .”
This is the Absolute, the ONE Reality, the “one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned, being.” It is the “Infinite and Eternal Cause” but to describe It as the “First Cause” would be incorrect. The “First” cannot be the Absolute, for by its very nature the “first” is a manifestation, whilst the Absolute, the Infinite, the One Supreme Reality, is not a manifestation and cannot be described in any concrete terms. It is unmanifested and unmanifestable but is the Source from which everything comes.
“The “first” presupposes necessarily something which is the “first brought forth,” “the first in time, space, and rank” – and therefore finite and conditioned. The “first” cannot be the absolute, for it is a manifestation. Therefore, Eastern Occultism calls the Abstract All the “Causeless One Cause,” the “Rootless Root,” and limits the “First Cause” to the Logos, in the sense that Plato gives to this term.”
In “The Secret Doctrine,” the name usually given to this Absolute Eternal Divine Principle is that of Parabrahm. The term Parabrahm is the same as Parabrahman and Brahman, terms used in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism for the ONE Infinite Divine Life. Sometimes we find HPB referring to It under the Kabbalistic equivalent of Ein-Soph (literally “the endless, boundless No-Thing which is everything”), at other times by the mystical Buddhist term Adi-Buddhi (“Primordial Wisdom” or “Supreme Wisdom”), whilst all the time making it clear that in reality the Absolute has no name – and can have no name – as It is the Great Undefinable and the Great Indescribable. It IS all and IN all.
As she says, “It is of course devoid of all attributes and is essentially without any relation to manifested, finite Being. It is “Be-ness” rather than Being (in Sanskrit, Sat), and is beyond all thought or speculation.”
“Parabrahm (the One Reality, the Absolute) is the field of Absolute Consciousness, i.e., that Essence which is out of all relation to conditioned existence, and of which conscious existence is a conditioned symbol.”
And “This “Be-ness” is symbolised in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity . . . On the other, absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness. . . . This latter aspect of the one Reality, is also symbolised by the term “The Great Breath,” a symbol sufficiently graphic to need no further elucidation. Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is this metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE—BE-NESS.”
As the Hymn of Creation in the Rig Veda so beautifully says, before this Universe came into being, “The ONLY ONE breathed breathless by Itself; other than IT there nothing since has been.”
HPB acknowledges the fact that the manifested Universe is indeed “pervaded by duality” but goes on to say that “the opposite poles of subject and object, spirit and matter, are but aspects of the One Unity in which they are synthesized.” There is no ultimate duality and this is because the ONE Absolute Ultimate Reality is neither manifested nor manifestable and It alone is eternal, while the Universe is only a temporary and impermanent phenomenon and thus little more than an illusion, a passing appearance, in the view of an esoteric philosopher. It is only the Absolute in its Absoluteness which can be considered to be truly real and “the ONE (the That) is neither first nor last, but ALL.”
“Further, the Secret Doctrine affirms . . .”
2. “The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically “the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing” . . .”
This is the teaching, well known in Hinduism, that the Universe appears and disappears on a cyclic basis and also that within one of its periods of appearance there are numerous periodical disappearances and reappearances of some of its lesser contents, such as galaxies, solar systems, and planets. This cyclic appearance and disappearance of the Universe and everything in it is all according to the universal law of reincarnation or rebirth or re-manifestation, which is really the law of evolution.
A period of appearance, manifestation, and activity, is known as a manvantara and a period of disappearance, dissolution, and inactivity is called pralaya. Manvantara and Pralaya are also referred to as the Days and Nights of Brahmā . Brahmā (not to be confused with Brahman) symbolises and represents the Universe, so these are really the Days and Nights of the Universe.
“The appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux.”
Earlier in the Proem, HPB quotes by means of elucidation from her first work “Isis Unveiled” where it is said, “To use a Metaphor from the Secret Books, which will convey the idea still more clearly, an outbreathing of the ‘unknown essence’ produces the world; and an inhalation causes it to disappear. This process has been going on from all eternity, and our present universe is but one of an infinite series, which had no beginning and will have no end.”
And none of this is governed by any Being or “Divine Person” but “occurs in obedience to eternal and immutable law.” We are told later on that “Deity is not God” but that “Deity is Law” and “Law is Deity.”
HPB writes, “This second assertion of the Secret Doctrine is 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.”
“Moreover, the Secret Doctrine teaches . . .”
3. “The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; 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, during the whole term.”
This simply means that all life is perfectly and purely divine and that in our innermost spiritual being we are completely, totally, and utterly ONE with the Divine. We are all Divine Sparks, sparks of the Divine Fire, and our true nature is that of the seventh and highest Principle within us – Atman – and, as the Upanishads say, “this Atman is Brahman.” The Universal Seventh Principle is “the only reality in the Universe whether Cosmical or micro-cosmical.”
“The root of every atom individually and of every form collectively, is that seventh principle or the one Reality.”
It is the case that each divine spark, each one of us, is on an indescribably lengthy journey, a pilgrimage truly, through the cycle of incarnation (birth, death, and rebirth) and that this cycle or journey is governed by the Law of Karma, which is the law of self-created destiny.
HPB says, “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.”
There is no such thing as “divine grace” or “special favour.” Everything, without fail, works and proceeds according to the universal Law of Karma, which is the law of cause and effect, the law of action and reaction, the law of sequence and consequence. As is said later in the book, “Nothing but such certainty can quiet our revolted sense of justice.” According to Theosophy, there is no actual injustice, because everything proceeds in exact accordance with Karmic Law, “the great adjuster.”
In the second volume we read, “This Law – whether Conscious or Unconscious – predestines nothing and no one. It exists from and in Eternity, truly, for it is ETERNITY itself; and as such, since no act can be co-equal with eternity, it cannot be said to act, for it is ACTION itself. . . . Karma creates nothing, nor does it design. It is man who plans and creates causes, and Karmic law adjusts the effects; which adjustment is not an act, but universal harmony, tending ever to resume its original position, like a bough, which, bent down too forcibly, rebounds with corresponding vigour.”
She also points out that those spiritual and religious people who deny and object to the doctrine of Karma should bear in mind that it is useless and futile to attempt a reply or explanation to sceptics, agnostics, and atheists who may ask such questions as “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why are there suffering and disasters in the world?” with anything other than this very doctrine of the Law of Karma. No theory or concept other than this will satisfy such intelligent and analytical thinkers. It is in fact more than a theory or a concept; it is a universally present and ever active LAW and it cannot be denied.
Each one of us is on a Cyclic and Karmic journey and it really is a pilgrimage because it eventually leads us back – sooner rather than later, for those who begin to develop spiritual self-consciousness – to DIVINITY ITSELF and our knowing that there is no distinction between us and That, for That is all there is.
The Divine Spark, our Real Self, “is the only immortal and eternal principle in us, being an indivisible part of the integral whole – the Universal Spirit, from which it emanates, and into which it is absorbed at the end of the cycle.”
~ * ~
The person who wishes to read “The Secret Doctrine” does not, of course, have to accept these three propositions but he or she does need to be able to clearly understand them. For those who can – and it is almost definite than anyone who has bothered to read to this point in the article has the ability to do so – the rest of the book will be much more comprehensible and inspiring.
“Such are the basic conceptions on which the Secret Doctrine rests. . . . they are, in fact, contained – though too often under a misleading guise – in every system of thought or philosophy worthy of the name. Once that the reader has gained a clear comprehension of them and realised the light which they throw on every problem of life, they will need no further justification in his eyes, because their truth will be to him as evident as the sun in heaven.”
There are many different editions and abridged versions available today of “The Secret Doctrine.” We personally advise against buying abridged, abbreviated, or edited versions of books by H. P. Blavatsky. If HPB had intended for her books to be shorter then she would have made them shorter . . . but she didn’t. The reader of abridged and altered books has no way of knowing exactly what details and content they’re missing out on. It has often been found that the people who presumptuously assume the role of “editor” of HPB’s works tend to edit out anything with which they do not personally agree or which they don’t personally like very much, thus leading to a distorted and incomplete end result.
There is nothing which is actually inconsequential or outdated in the writings of HPB, as those who have studied them in the form that she originally wrote them will unhesitatingly affirm. All of it is still very relevant today and some of it even more so than when originally written.
When it comes to purchasing a copy of “The Secret Doctrine,” the only entirely unaltered and verbatim editions of the original text currently published are those published by Theosophy Company and Theosophical University Press. These are available at more or less the same price as one another, the only real difference between the two being that the Theosophy Company edition contains both volumes bound together in one big book while the Theosophical University Press edition publishes them as two separate books but which are sold together.
Many well known and influential people have studied, endorsed, and praised “The Secret Doctrine” and other writings and teachings of H. P. Blavatsky, as has been shown in part in the article Praise for H. P. Blavatsky and Theosophy. The famous Irish author George Russell, known as AE, once wrote to a friend, “You dismiss H. P. Blavatsky rather too easily as “hocus pocus.” Nobody ever affected the thought of so many able men and women by “hocus pocus.” The real source of her influence is to be found in The Secret Doctrine . . . it is one of the most exciting and stimulating books written for the last hundred years. . . . If you are ever in the National Library, Kildare Street, and have a couple of hours to spare, you might dip into “The Proem” to The Secret Doctrine, and you will understand the secret of the influence of that extraordinary woman on her contemporaries. . . . You should not be misled by popular catch-words . . . but try to find out the real secrets of H. P. Blavatsky’s influence, which still persists strong as ever.”
For those who have never previously read or studied any Theosophical books, it may be wiser to first read “The Ocean of Theosophy” by William Q. Judge, “Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” by Robert Crosbie, and “The Key to Theosophy” by HPB, before attempting to launch into “The Secret Doctrine.”
“Studies in The Secret Doctrine” by B. P. Wadia is a useful and inspirational companion book to the monumental work itself, as is the lengthy and excellent biography “HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky” by Sylvia Cranston.
Although available and accessible to anyone and everyone, “The Secret Doctrine” was not written for anyone and everyone. “This work is written for the instruction of students of Occultism” and it has always been the most appreciated, valued, and loved by the “earnest students” of Theosophy referred to by the Master K.H., the “True Theosophists” to whom HPB dedicated the book.
It was B. P. Wadia who wrote: “It has been said that The Secret Doctrine should be regarded as a book of reference, a kind of Theosophical encyclopaedia – this estimate is false. The Secret Doctrine is a book to be read and studied, not only to be referred to. It is a book by which the student can and should evaluate other teachings, but he should not use it to amplify or advertise the views and opinions of other books. Then, it has been said that The Secret Doctrine is too profound, too deep, too complex and intricate a book to be read and studied by the ordinary man. The alarm thus caused is false. Let not the student be glamoured or daunted either by the false estimate of the book, or by the false sense of alarm roused.”
If you have found this article interesting and beneficial, you may also wish to read some of our other articles about “The Secret Doctrine,” its teachings, and its study, which you can find listed under the heading “THEOSOPHICAL TEACHINGS” on the Articles page.
“To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a riddle; for in the world mental as in the world spiritual each man must progress by his own efforts. The writer cannot do the reader’s thinking for him, nor would the latter be any the better off if such vicarious thought were possible.”
(H. P. Blavatsky, Preface to “The Key to Theosophy”)
It is important to be aware that the book titled “Occultism of The Secret Doctrine” which purports to be the Third Volume of “The Secret Doctrine” by H. P. Blavatsky is in fact nothing of the sort. Click here to learn more about this.