Blavatsky and Buddhism

It is often overlooked that H. P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875, was the first person to bring both Buddhism and Hinduism to the West. Of course, there were orientalists and scholars who had written books about the Eastern religions prior to Blavatsky’s day but these were merely written from the perspective of academic observation and more often than not misrepresented the religions as being primitive, superstitious, and “demonic,” according to the level of prejudice and bigotry of the writer.

Blavatsky, however, presented them as valid and noble spiritual paths and philosophies – indeed as the highest spiritual paths and philosophies – and worked ceaselessly and under much persecution from the Christian elite to show their true nature and real worth and importance. As has been said elsewhere, anyone in the West today whose life has been at all enriched by the concepts, teachings, or practices of Eastern spirituality has – whether they realise it or not – Madame Blavatsky to thank for it. It is a great shame then that many people today refuse to read her writings on the nonsensical grounds that they are “impossible to understand.”

The Buddhism expert Richard Taylor has written, “Blavatsky had access to Tibetan Buddhist sources which no other Westerner during her time had. Her works are by no means merely strings of plagiarisms, but rather very cogent arguments, supplemented by masses of data, that her readers should believe Buddhist claims that there is a perennial philosophy, in the possession of Adepts, which explains the origins of the world and leads to salvation from it. . . . Blavatsky knew what the Buddhist Tantras were, knew their content and philosophical import better than any Western contemporary, and knew bona fide Tibetan traditions surrounding them. This alone gives strong reasons not to dismiss her claims out of hand.”

In 1927, the Panchen Lama of Tibet officially endorsed her book “The Voice of The Silence” and called it the “only true exposition in English of the Heart Doctrine of the Mahayana and its noble ideal of self-sacrifice for humanity.”  At the same time, the Panchen Lama’s secretary wrote that “what is embodied in it [i.e. “The Voice of The Silence”] comprises a part of the teachings of the Esoteric School. . . . Madame Blavatsky had a profound knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, and the doctrines she promulgated were those of many great teachers.”

When the centenary edition of this book was brought out in 1989, the present Dalai Lama wrote, “I am therefore happy to have this long association with the Theosophists and to learn about the Centenary Edition: THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE which is being brought out this year. I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path. I very much welcome this Centenary Edition and hope that it will benefit many more.”

The world famous Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki spoke of Blavatsky as “one who had truly attained” and praised her teachings as being “the REAL Mahayana Buddhism.”

The Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup, who translated the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” with W. Y. Evans-Wentz, said that HPB’s writings clearly indicate “intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings.”

Leading representatives of Buddhism in the West, such as Christmas Humphreys, Bhikshu Sangharakshita, Alex Wayman, Evans-Wentz, and Edward Conze have all emphasised that they owed their introduction and interest in Buddhism to the writings of H. P. Blavatsky.

Regarding the numerous letters written during the time of HPB by the Master M. and Master K.H. – the real Inspirers behind the modern Theosophical Movement – Humphreys wrote, “Only those who have carefully compared the teachings contained in this great body of literature with that of the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism can testify to the brilliant light which the former throws on the latter, and to the volume of the former which the latter contains. Difficult parables, traditional phrases and obvious hints are suddenly seen as basic principles, which in turn explain much else that escapes the eye of the Western scholar. It becomes easy indeed to accept that part of the Wisdom which speaks of Two Paths, the doctrine of the ‘Eye’ and the doctrine of the ‘Heart’.”

The famous and highly revered Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) has been described as “the leading Buddhist missionary of our time” and “a towering figure in the work for the spiritual resurgence of Asia.” Dharmapala himself attributed all this to HPB, who he said encouraged him to begin his work for Buddhism. Amongst many references to her in his articles and letters, he wrote, “HPB helped me much in my effort. . . . Until the day of her departure [from Adyar] HPB took care of me. She wrote to me to follow the light that is within me. I have strictly followed her advice, and am glad to testify to her wonderful powers of mystic illumination. . . . Love to all living beings, small and great, the desire to renounce sensual pleasures that impede the progress in the realm of spirituality and the strenuous effort to do meritorious deeds for the betterment of humanity, forgetting self, have been to me a kind of spiritual pabulum which I have partaken since I came in touch with the wonderful personality of HPB.”

More recently, the Tibetologist David Reigle has discovered and shown the definite esoteric Tibetan Buddhist sources of H. P. Blavatsky’s writings, including that the “Secret Book of Dzyan” on which her monumental masterpiece “The Secret Doctrine” is based may very well be the lost Mula Kalachakra Tantra, the highly esoteric root and source of the relatively less esoteric Kalachakra Tantra, the latter of which has become so widely heard of today thanks to the Dalai Lama.

The Theosophical Movement and its teachings are universal in nature and don’t specifically belong to or represent any one religion. The famous motto of the Movement is that “There is no Religion higher than Truth.”

H. P. Blavatsky described herself, however, as “a Buddhist by profession of faith.” She once wrote, “It is true that I regard the philosophy of Gautama Buddha as the most sublime system; the purest, and above all, the most logical of all. But the system has been distorted during the centuries by the ambition and fanaticism of the priests and has become a popular religion. . . . I much prefer to hold to the mother source rather than to depend upon any of the numerous streams that flow from it. . . . Gautama in his reform and protest against the abuses of the wily Brahmins based himself entirely upon the esoteric meaning of the grand primitive Scriptures.”

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Some articles which may shed light on the above points include

The REAL Esoteric Buddhism, The Great Tsong-Kha-Pa, “The Voice of The Silence” – An Authentic Buddhist Text, and The Secret Book of Dzyan.