#1. Mentally discard and endeavour to unlearn everything you may have learnt from the pseudo-Theosophy of Alice Bailey, C. W. Leadbeater, Annie Besant, etc.
This is first and foremost because it is impossible to gain anything like a clear or accurate understanding of HPB’s teachings while at the same time following the teachings of such people as Bailey, Leadbeater, and Besant. Their teachings are an entirely different system with entirely different focus, aims, objectives, and use of terminology to that of the original Theosophy.
This is the initial thing to realise, otherwise you will just mistakenly assume when you read HPB’s references to the astral body or the Monad or the Seven Rays or the Seven Planes or the Logos or the Kumaras, etc. that she is using those terms and concepts in the same way as those later writers, whereas in fact those later writers use these and over 50 other important terms and concepts in an entirely different way and with entirely different meanings (sometimes the exact opposite meaning) from how they were used by HPB and the Masters in their authentic teachings.
This is a proven and undeniable fact which has been shown and demonstrated in depth, point by point, in some of our articles. It is also a fact that the human mind cannot hold to two contradictory understandings or perceptions of something at one and the same time. Thus it is essential, if you want to stand any chance of comprehending the teachings of HPB, to unlearn those later teachings.
The majority of Alice Bailey students and Leadbeater/Besant followers admit to having great difficulty in understanding HPB’s teachings. Meanwhile, those Theosophists who have nothing to do with the Bailey/Leadbeater/Besant teachings have little problem or difficulty with the Blavatsky teachings. The difficulty and confusion comes from trying to read HPB’s teachings through the lens of those other teachings. It just cannot be done.
The same applies to some extent to the Agni Yoga teachings of Helena Roerich. Although these are in some respects closer to HPB’s teachings, they are still quite different in other respects and use concepts and terminology in contradictory ways which are liable to cause confusion and misunderstanding.
Do not approach HPB’s works expecting to find something even slightly similar or compatible with those later teachings. The differences are manifold and irreconcilable. You must be willing to unlearn in order to learn. And if you are not, then there is no point even bothering with HPB because it will be little more than a waste of your time.
#2. Keep in mind that the Masters directly certify these teachings to be their own.
Entirely independently of HPB, the Master M. and Master K.H. wrote letters on various occasions to certain Theosophists informing them that they were the real authors of “The Secret Doctrine” and describing that book as “a triple production” – the combined work of those two Masters with HPB, who they referred to as their “direct agent” and their “brother,” adding that there would be no chance of them finding a better agent and amanuensis than her.
The Masters asserted that the whole of “The Secret Doctrine” had been reviewed and approved by them and that the majority of it came direct from them. In a letter sent by the Mahatma M. to William Quan Judge after HPB’s death, he prefaced a sentence by saying “As said by me in The Secret Doctrine . . .”
According to the Master K.H., “The Secret Doctrine” is the “epitome of occult truths” and is to be the “source of information and instruction” for “the earnest student” of Theosophy for many long years to come, since it was repeatedly made clear by the Masters, by HPB, by William Judge and others, that under cyclic and karmic law no new teaching would or could be given out by the Masters after the close of the 1875-1900 cycle, for many years. The amount of teaching given out by them during that time is so vast and immense that it would take more than one lifetime to study and assimilate even that!
In one letter sent by a Master to one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society, the Master states that even he (the Master) has to obey the orders of HPB! The inner HPB was an Adept and high Initiate in her/his own right, as we have shown with quotations and facts from numerous sources in several articles, such as Who are you, Madame Blavatsky?.
The Master K.H. once wrote regarding HPB: “You do not realize that when speaking of, or as from us, she dares not mix up her own personal opinions with those she tells you are ours. None of us would dare do so, for we have a code that is not to be transgressed.” When we read the words of HPB, we are reading the words and thoughts of Masters of the Wisdom.
#3. Understand what Theosophy is.
If we have the idea that Theosophy is some vague, hazy, or undefined thing, we are not likely to profit much from the study of HPB’s teachings. Theosophy or Theosophia, literally meaning “Divine Wisdom,” is the Ancient Wisdom, the Ageless Wisdom, the Timeless Truth itself. It is the esoteric Teaching which underlies all the world’s religions. It is the primeval and archaic source and fountainhead of all the Truth which is contained under various forms in the world’s religions, philosophies, and sciences.
In Sanskrit it is called the “Gupta Vidya,” meaning “Secret Knowledge” or “Secret Doctrine.” It is the Sacred Science, the Universal Philosophy which reveals all mysteries and unveils Truth and Divinity itself.
Theosophy transcends all religions and belongs to none of them in particular. The motto of the Theosophical Movement has always been: “There is no religion higher than Truth.” The basic premise of Theosophy – contrary to the many atheists, agnostics, sceptics, scientists, and even many religious and spiritual people, who say that no-one really knows the Truth – is that TRUTH EXISTS and that there are “Those who know.”
“Those who know” are those Adepts of the Esoteric Science known as the “Masters of the Wisdom” who have been initiated into it and who have become its custodians, guardians, and – in the words of the Master K.H. – “the keepers of the sacred Light” which has burnt incessantly throughout all the ages but which was only ever found by those who were willing to search for it and determined to find it at any cost.
The Masters say that it is only in the esoteric philosophies of the East that the Theosophia is clearly represented and that it is only in Tibet and India that all the esoteric records and secret books are fully preserved. Genuine Theosophy, as taught by HPB and the Masters, is the Esoteric Philosophy of the Mystic East. It is a complete and perfectly defined system, not open to change, alteration, or redefinition. It is perfect and complete as it is and answers every question and solves every problem. The Master K.H. states that it is “the sole custodian of Truth” and the Master M. calls it “the only true philosophy on earth.”
In response to the theory propounded by some that differing and contradictory teachings on one and the same subject can still both be considered as Theosophy, the Master K.H. wrote “Truth is One and cannot admit of diametrically opposite views.” HPB states very significantly and with special emphasis in “The Key to Theosophy” that “we have no two beliefs or hypotheses on the same subject.”
“Theosophy is Eternal Truth,” according to HPB. But naturally the particular teachings known as “Theosophy” as presented via the modern Theosophical Movement cannot and do not present the whole Truth in all its fullness and glory, since one must be gradually initiated into that over the course of many lifetimes. But the teachings of Theosophy as given to the world by HPB contain as much of that Truth as the hidden Brotherhood of Masters would permit to be given out to humanity at this point in time, with them adding that it may take “many centuries” before more is given. To those who have never made a serious and thorough study of HPB’s teachings this assertion may sound laughable and unwarranted but those who have “done their homework” attest unashamedly to its legitimacy.
B. P. Wadia wrote in “Studies in The Secret Doctrine” – “Confusion, splits and failures in the Movement can all be traced to this very important teaching of what Theosophy is. . . . There is a tendency on the part of many who are sincere in their attachment to the Cause of Theosophy to overlook the implications of the correct view of Theosophy, namely, that it is a definite system of thought, a philosophy whose principles are clearly defined and a science whose findings are precise. Their desire to be broadminded and tolerant leads them to define Theosophy as something so all-inclusive as to become obscure, something so general as to become vague. . . . Those who have learnt their “theosophy” at any source other than that of H.P.B. need a serious warning: between her teachings and those that commonly pass as Theosophy there is an unbridgeable gulf; the difference between the two is as between day and night.”
#4. Be willing and prepared to apply real mental effort.
We live in a world where there is currently a mass epidemic of mental inertia, a global aversion to thinking. In “The Key to Theosophy” HPB says, “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.”
Elsewhere she said that Theosophy “is not for the mental sluggard” but is for those who can think, do think, and are willing to drive themselves to think.
Numerous people have said, “I tried to read Madame Blavatsky’s books but I didn’t understand all the Hindu and Sanskrit terms she used so I got confused and gave up.” Then why not look them up and find out their meaning? She produced the “Theosophical Glossary” for this very purpose, although many such terms are also explained in their own context in the books where they are used. And why not also take advantage of all the myriad resources on the internet so you can understand Sanskrit terms more clearly and deeply? It is normal and natural to get confused but there is no valid reason or excuse to stay confused, provided that you do actually want to understand the teachings.
In this and other areas – such as acquainting oneself in detail with different religions and philosophies of the world and particularly those of India and the Orient – the application of real mental effort and serious thought is required in order to benefit from your reading and study. But thinking itself is a spiritual exercise and the more you do it, the more your higher mental faculties and ability to think and understand begin to expand and open up.
#5. Understand that the teachings are to be studied and not merely read.
Neither “The Secret Doctrine,” “The Key to Theosophy,” or anything else written by HPB was produced in order to simply be read through like a normal regular book and then placed on the bookshelf to collect dust.
It is a commendable feat in itself to read “The Secret Doctrine” from cover to cover but if all you do is read it you will have missed out on a great deal. These books are designed to be seriously studied and to be treated as textbooks of Esoteric Science. Do not hesitate to underline, highlight, take notes, re-read, and make cross references while you read. You can also refer to the excellent 433 page “Index” volume to “The Secret Doctrine” published by Theosophical University Press. This is how to turn your Theosophical reading into Theosophical study.
“The Secret Doctrine” in particular is designed for perpetual lifetime study. It is meant to be the Book and the Message of Theosophy. Those who have actually studied it in full tend to agree that no greater book has been written since. Every time we open it we see and discover new things which we had never noticed or realised before.
#6. Understand that the teachings are purposely presented in a disconnected and seemingly disorganised way.
Some books on spiritual and esoteric topics contain long and numbered lists and tables of supposed facts, so that the reader can have easy and effortless access to all the information on a topic all at once and thus memorise it. But this does not bring about real knowing and true understanding.
If all the facts, details, and information on something are presented to you at once in neat and tidy lists, then where is the reason and motivation for real study and application of the spiritual intuition? There is a method to HPB’s apparent madness in the seemingly disorganised, disconnected, and chaotic way in which everything is put together in “The Secret Doctrine.” As B. P. Wadia wrote, “It is evident that as an Occultist taught by Occultists her way of teaching is closely related to the manner in and by which she herself learnt. The deeper layer of the human mind has to be brought into use if The Secret Doctrine is to be comprehended to any appreciable extent.”
The polished, tidy, clean-cut, complete body of Knowledge we are lazily looking for has been purposely disjointed and scattered about – seemingly at random but not so in reality – over thousands of pages. The object of this is to make us apply individual effort, energy, and thought, in slowly digging out the Truth and gradually assembling it together for ourselves. Any other approach is ultimately of little value in the whole scheme of things. HPB knew exactly what she was doing and merely followed the method of the Masters in presenting her teachings in this way.
#7. Remember that every word, hint, and typographical change is important.
Normally we wouldn’t pay much attention to the “Contents” section of a book and would not be inclined to view the footnotes throughout the book as being of particular importance. But if we want to make a successful study of the teachings of HPB, we cannot afford to overlook or disregard anything. We need to pay proper attention to the apparently little things such as capitalised words, the careful use of italics for special emphasis and suggestion, and the way in which certain words are used.
#8. Read slowly, carefully, and meditatively.
Due to the specific style and way in which HPB’s books are written, it is impossible to read through them quickly or to skim them. Any attempt to do so results in stumbling over the words and failing to grasp the full extent of what is actually being said.
The best and most effective way to read them is to decide not to rush but to read through slowly, carefully, and in a meditative and reflective state of mind, taking in every word. Some students find it beneficial to read out loud or under their breath in order to more effectively comprehend and remember what they are reading.
This in itself is a form of Jnana Yoga practice . . . the gradual attaining to an increasingly higher state of spiritual self-consciousness through Jnana (spiritual knowledge or knowledge of spiritual Truth).
#9. Open your mind to philosophical and metaphysical thought.
One definition of Theosophy is that it is “the synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science.” The philosophy side of Theosophy is a vital and essential part of it. The word “philosophy” literally means “Love of Wisdom” or “Love of Truth,” wisdom and truth being synonymous in olden times. The term has developed a rather negative connotation here in the West, due to the dry, dusty, soulless, and over-intellectual speculative philosophy that sprung up and then withered away here over the past few centuries.
In “Studies in The Secret Doctrine,” B. P. Wadia wrote, “During the last several centuries metaphysical philosophy has been a very useless kind of speculative hair-splitting all over Europe. The Western world has first to be trained in the idea that the philosophy of the Ancients is far from speculative and that Eastern metaphysics is a science that is highly practical. The writings of H.P.B. go to make this amply clear. In our own Theosophical Movement we have suffered through the obtuseness of many early students who failed to see the reasons for viewing, studying and examining the teachings of the Masters through H.P.B. in their true setting and perspective, viz., metaphysical and philosophical.”
Spirituality divorced from philosophy is often little more than idiocy, as has been painfully demonstrated by the Spiritualist movement and by the channelled teachings and messages and angel mania that characterise the New Age movement. But whereas such things come and go, the Ancient and Ageless Wisdom ever remains, for it is Timeless Truth and the Truth never changes.
HPB tells us in “The Secret Doctrine” that “outside of metaphysics no occult philosophy, no esotericism is possible. It is like trying to explain the aspirations and affections, the love and hatred, the most private and sacred workings in the soul and mind of the living man, by an anatomical description of the chest and brain of his dead body.”
You will come across basic philosophical terminology and concepts in the teachings of HPB. Terms such as absolute, relative, subjective, objective, conditioned, unconditioned, archetypal, illusion, “universals to particulars,” noumenon and noumenal, phenomenon and phenomenal, abstract, homogeneous, heterogeneous, Nature, Chaos, the distinction between Kosmos and Cosmos, theogony, cosmogony, idealism, ideal, idealistic, materialism, materialistic, inductive, deductive, light and darkness, consciousness and unconsciousness, microcosm and macrocosm, pantheism, rational and irrational, manvantara and pralaya . . . all these and more must be clearly comprehended. Don’t just assume that you automatically know what she’s talking about when she uses terms and concepts such as these. The study of HPB’s teachings is in itself an education in philosophy.
As we begin to open our minds to the high metaphysical philosophy of Theosophy, we find that we begin to view and perceive things – things around us, things within us, and the universe itself! – in a different and more elevated light. We begin to truly realise that logic is divine and that the law of correspondence and analogy rules in all things.
The Three Fundamental Propositions of the Esoteric Philosophy must always be kept in mind, since HPB tells us right at the start of “The Secret Doctrine” that we stand no chance of understanding what follows unless we can clearly and accurately grasp and understand these three basic truths, being (1) The ONE Absolute, Infinite, Omnipresent, Eternal Divine Principle, (2) The cyclic appearance and disappearance of the universe and everything in it, (3) The gradual yet ongoing inner evolution of all life and the fact that this is governed by the Law of Karma and reincarnation.
#10. Do not be afraid to question and challenge the teachings.
HPB’s teachings are presented to us to be studied, examined, and pondered over. Her intent and purpose was most certainly not to present a belief system or a collection of ideas and theories that were to be unquestioningly accepted and blindly believed. Blind faith and unthinking belief were considered by her to be “a mental disease.”
Study the teachings initially with neither the intention of believing nor disbelieving them, but simply to find out what they say. If to your mind they stand up to reason, logic, and scrutiny, then by all means accept them as true. But if they don’t, then don’t accept or believe them. But remember that all spiritual teachings must be judged on their own inherent and intrinsic worth and not according to whether or not they agree or disagree with your existing beliefs and ideas about things.
The Lord Buddha famously implored his disciples to never believe or accept anything at all unless it was in perfect accord with their own reason, intelligence, and sense of rationality. HPB and the Masters – who describe Buddha as the greatest and holiest man that ever walked this Earth – follow the same lines.
#11. Synthesise your study by bringing all the teachings together.
HPB spread out the entirety of her Message over four main books – “Isis Unveiled,” “The Secret Doctrine,” “The Key to Theosophy,” and “The Voice of the Silence.” She also wrote hundreds of articles on many different subjects for various Theosophical magazines. Those four books in particular must all be repeatedly studied by the individual who wants to comprehend HPB’s teachings in their fullness.
If you read what HPB had to say in “The Secret Doctrine” about Alaya, to give one example, you may perhaps assume that that was all she ever wrote about it. But if you then turn to “The Voice of the Silence” you will find even further interesting insights about Alaya. And if you also make use of the “Theosophical Glossary,” which was prepared by HPB but not published until shortly after her death, you can discover even more about it.
This is the case with hundreds of different topics dealt with in her teachings. All that she wrote at various times must be brought together and synthesised in order to create the perfect whole. “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge,” “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues,” “Five Messages from H. P. Blavatsky to the American Theosophists,” and the compilation of articles in “Raja Yoga or Occultism” are also vital parts of the picture.
#12. Do not keep what you have learnt to yourself but share it with others.
Someone has said, “Each one reach one, each one teach one, until all are one.” It is only he or she who freely shares their learning and knowledge with others, who truly benefits from it.
Humanity is hungering for spiritual understanding. Shall we feed ourselves only and leave the rest of “the great orphan humanity” to starve? Materialistic science and militant atheism are conquering the minds of men and animalising the human race. Shall we just sit back complacently and allow this to go on unchallenged or shall we rise up, equipped with the necessary tools, knowledge, facts, and understanding that the Masters and HPB have provided, and say what must be said in this crucial hour in history?
HPB wrote, “Each man should strive to be a centre of work in himself. When his inner development has reached a certain point, he will naturally draw those with whom he is in contact under the same influence; a nucleus will be formed, round which other people will gather, forming a centre from which information and spiritual influence radiate, and towards which higher influences are directed.”
Not long before the end of her life she also wrote, “Learn, then, well the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, and teach, practise, promulgate that system of life and thought which alone can save the coming races.”
The first and primary objective of the Theosophical Movement has always been to bring about the actualisation of Universal Brotherhood. The New Agers have been saying “All is one, we’re all one, love and light,” for decades but without making the slightest bit of difference in the world except in their own imaginations. The intelligent and educated person wants to know and understand why we’re all one and how we’re all one and what this actually means and the full extent of its ramifications.
Theosophy alone – as the fullest, most complete, most self-consistent, most logical, most philosophical, most scientific system of spiritual teaching available to modern man – has the answer.
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Further information and explanation about some of the things mentioned here can be found in other articles on this site. The complete listing of over 300 articles related to all aspects of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement can be found on the Articles page.
2 thoughts on “How To Successfully Study The Teachings of H. P. Blavatsky”
I have just read your article on HPB and the study of the Secret Doctrine and some of her other works of which I have all of them for over 40 years now but I have always found it very difficult and confusing to comprehend the teachings given.
However since I just read your article it has shed more light on the way in which to approach HPB teachings
Very helpful pointer
It’s encouraging to read this Herbert. Thank you for sharing your feedback!
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