The “Third Volume” of The Secret Doctrine

As many students of Theosophy are aware, there is a large book available titled “Occultism of The Secret Doctrine” which purports to be the Third Volume of “The Secret Doctrine” by H.P. Blavatsky. It is, however, nothing of the sort.

The authentic edition of “The Secret Doctrine” consists of two volumes, published in 1888, with the titles of “Cosmogenesis” (Volume 1) and “Anthropogenesis” (Volume 2). At the close of this second volume, HPB writes –

“A commencement has been made to fell and uproot the deadly upas trees of superstition, prejudice, and conceited ignorance, so that these two volumes should form for the student a fitting prelude for Volumes III. and IV. Until the rubbish of the ages is cleared away from the minds of the Theosophists to whom these volumes are dedicated, it is impossible that the more practical teaching contained in the Third Volume should be understood. Consequently it entirely depends upon the reception with which Volumes I. and II. will meet at the hands of Theosophists and Mystics, whether these last two volumes will ever be published, though they are almost completed.”

So we have it in HPB’s own words that both the third and fourth volumes of “The Secret Doctrine” were “almost completed” as of 1888, which was three years before she passed away.

At no point during those remaining three years of her life were the third or fourth volumes ever published. Occasionally, hints were made by both herself and others that the manuscripts of those additional volumes were all typed up and ready to be printed and published whenever – or if ever – the time would be suitable and right.

However, the time and circumstances never became suitable and right and HPB passed away without overseeing or authorising their publication.

The “Third Volume” That Isn’t

What actually became of those unpublished manuscripts after her death remains a complete mystery to this day, since they have never been seen by anyone. It seems likely that one of the few privileged individuals who was permitted to see them while HPB was still alive must have quietly taken them into his or her possession after HPB’s death, so that they would not be published, seeing as HPB had passed away without authorising this.

Imagine then the surprise of many Theosophists in 1897 – especially some of those who had been closest to HPB during her final years in London – when Annie Besant published a hefty volume which she claimed to be the Third Volume of “The Secret Doctrine” as written by HPB!

It is readily apparent to anyone who has acquainted themselves closely with the history of the Theosophical Movement and the life and work of H.P. Blavatsky that this supposed “Third Volume” merely consists of the discarded and abandoned remnants of the initial draft of the first part of “The Secret Doctrine.”

For it had originally been the plan of the Masters for “The Secret Doctrine” to be an expanded continuation of HPB’s first book “Isis Unveiled” which had been published in 1877. She began writing it in this vein until it was eventually decided by the Masters that it would be better for “The Secret Doctrine” to actually contain much more of a profoundly esoteric nature and to deal with matters such as cosmic and human evolution. The initial draft was thereupon discarded (it was this which had been criticised by T. Subba Row) and HPB set to work writing “The Secret Doctrine” in the form in which we have it today.

As can be seen by the subject matters on which they treat, the first 430 pages of the “Third Volume” published by Mrs Besant consists of fragments and excerpts from this initial draft, which had never been permitted to be published and which was by no means the actual and authentic Third Volume of the work. In the Preface, Mrs Besant writes –

“The papers given to me by H.P.B. were quite unarranged, and had no obvious order: I have therefore taken each paper as a separate Section, and have arranged them as sequentially as possible. With the exception of the correction of grammatical errors and the elimination of obviously un-English idioms, the papers are as H.P.B. left them, save as otherwise marked. In a few cases I have filled in a gap but any such addition is enclosed within square brackets, so as to be distinguished from the text. … They were given into my hands to publish, as part of the Third Volume of the Secret Doctrine … This volume completes the papers left by H.P.B.”

The unfortunate thing is that many Theosophists who are unfamiliar with the history of the Movement and with the true nature of Mrs Besant’s character will unquestioningly believe and accept these assertions whereas in fact they are nothing but deliberate falsehoods. Those papers had not been given to her by HPB, they had not been intended for publication, and they were most definitely not part of the genuine Third Volume. It is precisely because of this that they had been found to have no definite arrangement or obvious order.

Revised and Corrected or Vandalised and Distorted?

Readers of the Besantian “Third Volume” must also take with a pinch of salt the claim that “with the exception of the correction of grammatical errors and the elimination of obviously un-English idioms, the papers are as H.P.B. left them, save as otherwise marked,” seeing as her “Third and Revised Edition” of the first and second volumes of “The Secret Doctrine” which she had released not long beforehand (in 1893) was found to contain over 40,000 alterations from the original text of the original edition that HPB had written and published.

The fact that the Master M. and Master K.H. had directly certified in their own writing on more than occasion that they were the real authors of “The Secret Doctrine” – that they approved wholeheartedly of everything HPB had written in it and described it as “the triple production” of themselves with the one who they called their “direct agent” and “brother” – was either conveniently forgotten about or ignored by Mrs Besant in taking it upon herself to “revise” and “improve” that monumental work, just as this fact of the true authorship of “The Secret Doctrine” has been deliberately suppressed and distorted by many Adyar Theosophists ever since.

Under the title of “ANNIE BESANT’S CORRUPTION OF THE SECRET DOCTRINE” Dr H.N. Stokes wrote the following in October 1921 –

“In all probability Annie Besant’s “revision” of H.P. Blavatsky’s original edition of The Secret Doctrine constitutes the most colossal case of corruption of an original text to be found in history. A group of students is comparing the original edition with the “third and revised edition,” edited by Annie Besant and G.R.S. Mead, after the author’s death. I am informed by those making the comparison [that] the actual changes will be far more than twenty thousand. Many of these changes are trivial and one wonders at the impertinence or conceit which inspired them. Some of the changes – those which might have put students on their guard against the so-called Third Volume – can only be construed as deliberate and intentional suppressions and corruptions of the original text. And this in a work of which the Master K.H. wrote: “Every mistake or erroneous notion corrected and explained by her from the works of other Theosophists was corrected by me or under my instruction.” The true title of the “third and revised edition” should be “The Secret Doctrine, written by H.P. Blavatsky, corrected and approved by the Master K.H., and corrupted by Annie Besant.” It is almost impossible to comprehend the colossal conceit, the limitless contempt for common literary decency which could have inspired such an act of vandalism, to say nothing of such disrespect for the Master whom she professes to venerate. And all of this is put forth as the work of H.P. Blavatsky herself, with the mere apology in the preface that “Had H.P. Blavatsky lived to issue the new edition, she would doubtless have corrected and enlarged it to a very considerable extent.” What a specious excuse? Had H.P.B. “corrected and enlarged it” it would without doubt have been done under the same guidance and authority which directed and corrected the first edition. It is enough to cast suspicion on each and every quotation of original sources made by Mrs Besant, and her emendation of the Theosophy of H.P.B. as well.”

By the following year, 1922, further examination and comparison between “The Secret Doctrine” as HPB had written it and “The Secret Doctrine” as Annie Besant had altered and edited it showed that the number of alterations was indeed “far more than twenty thousand.” In her book “H.P. Blavatsky – A Great Betrayal” published in 1922, Alice Leighton Cleather (who had been one of HPB’s closest students during her final years and one of the twelve specially selected members of the “Inner Group” of esoteric students) wrote –

“This monumental work, produced with such meticulous care and precautions against errors, is subjected to some thirty thousand corrections by its subsequent “editors”! In all my study of the original edition I have never found more than a few errors that matter in the least, and these are mostly typographical and quite obvious to any person of average intelligence. The marvel is that there are so few in a work of such magnitude and scope. Those of my students who possess only the “third and revised edition” (the first and second now being scarce), have re-corrected it to agree with the first; and to look at the pages covered with these re-corrections brings home to one, as nothing else can, the force and justice of Dr Stokes’s indictment. Let us hope that when H.P.B.’s great work is understood and accepted seriously at its true worth, an indignant posterity will pass judgment on one of the worst examples of literary vandalism in the nineteenth century.”

And in December 1921, Dr Stokes had written: “As for the third volume, edited and published after the death of H.P.B. from manuscripts left by her, nobody knows, in the absence of a previous edition issued by her, how much of it is H.P.B.’s and how much is not, but there is good evidence that much of it is not, which is the more likely in view of the vandalisms the same editors perpetrated in the first two volumes. In no sense can the “third and revised edition” be said to be a re-print of the original Secret Doctrine of H.P. Blavatsky.”

There is no valid reason why people should not read, if they want to, those 430 pages of discarded “literary leftovers” which comprise the first part of the so-called “Third Volume” of “The Secret Doctrine.” Despite the fact that they are permeated with the air of incompleteness – which is not surprising considering what they actually are – there is much in them that is interesting, informative, and inspiring. One must always bear in mind, however, that there is no way of knowing to what extent and in what way those sections have been altered, edited, and tampered with prior to publication. It is a well known fact that Mrs Besant had expressed disrespect and distrust of HPB on numerous occasions after her death, both privately and publicly, and so – considering her record as a literary vandal – it will not have been surprising if she removed or altered certain parts of those discarded manuscripts which she happened to dislike or disagree with, prior to publishing them under false pretences.

In regard to Dr Stokes’ articles, Alice Leighton Cleather wrote, “I most fully endorse all that Dr Stokes so ably demonstrates, and I can quite believe that, in regard to Vol. III, some of the contents are not by H.P.B. – the style in places is not hers at all. But I can enlighten him as those portions of the contents of which I have actual knowledge.”

Now if we move forward a few years we find the following in the book “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925 – A History and A Survey” –

“How Mrs Besant fulfilled her duties as Recorder of the Teachings is shown in many ways, but most glaringly by two standing witnesses: the “Third and Revised Edition” of the “Secret Doctrine,” and the spurious “Third Volume” of “The Secret Doctrine” issued by her in 1897. Any reader can compare the Original Edition of the “Secret Doctrine” with the Third and Revised Edition, edited by Mrs Besant and Mr Mead. Despite the assurances contained in their Preface, the comparison will show more than forty thousand changes from the text of the Original Edition, ranging all the way from mere trivialities, through important alterations, to deliberate suppression of all those paragraphs of the Original Edition of two volumes which showed unmistakably what the genuine Third Volume (already, with the Fourth Volume, completed by H.P.B. before her death) consisted of. The utter disappearance without a trace left behind, of the genuine Third and Fourth Volumes of the “Secret Doctrine” remains to this day an unrevealed mystery. And as to Mrs Besant’s spurious “Third Volume,” her own Preface alone is ample to convince any careful student, able to sift statements, that it is nothing more than a hodgepodge of rejected manuscripts, “literary remains,” private papers originally issued to the E.S.T. [i.e. the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, later renamed “Eastern School of Theosophy”] during the lifetime of H.P.B., and largely rejected manuscript of the first volume of the Original Edition. … It is matter from that rejected manuscript which is incorporated in Mrs Besant’s “Third Volume.” And – notable phenomenon – the fact is admitted by Mrs Besant herself in The Theosophist for March, 1922 – twenty-five years after the event. Why did she concoct this spurious “Third Volume” in the first instance? And why did she in 1922 let slip the truth which in 1897 she not only suppressed, but replaced by an untruth?”

The Esoteric Instructions

This brings us onto the matter of the Esoteric Instructions which comprise the latter part of the Besantian “Third Volume,” from page 433 to 594. They are there titled as “SOME PAPERS ON THE BEARING OF OCCULT PHILOSOPHY ON LIFE.” As said by Alice Leighton Cleather, “Volume III, as given to the public in 1897, appears to be simply a collection of fugitive articles which, as I have shown, were obviously freely edited. To pad out the volume Mrs Besant prints both the E.S.T. and the Inner Group Instructions, despite the pledge of secrecy taken by her and all other recipients of these teachings. In justification of this she states – six years after H.P.B.’s death – that H.P.B. instructed her to do so!”

In her prefatory note to these Esoteric Instructions, Mrs Besant writes, “Papers I. II. III. Of the following were written by H.P.B. and were circulated privately during her lifetime, but they were written with the idea that they would be published after a time. … they are published with her consent, the time for restricting them to a limited circle having expired.”

Again, those unfamiliar with Theosophical history will simply accept this as true, whereas in fact it is one of Mrs Besant’s worst and most serious falsehoods. These documents were not merely “circulated privately during HPB’s lifetime” but were only issued to those who were pledged members of the Esoteric Section and on the ground that they never, under any circumstances, reveal any of the teachings or details contained in them. The two main reasons for the secrecy of esotericism are given on page 12 of HPB’s book “The Key to Theosophy.” Those reasons are –

1. The human traits of selfishness, personal desire, and ambition, can easily result in such revelatory teachings and potent information being misused and misdirected to evil effect.

2. The inability and unreliability of the masses to prevent that which is sacred and divine from being desecrated and distorted.

The head of the Esoteric Section was HPB and under her was William Quan Judge, who Mrs Besant soon turned against after HPB’s death, as we have outlined in the article Who was William Quan Judge? Anyone who was found to have revealed or divulged any of the contents of the Esoteric Instructions was immediately and unhesitatingly expelled from the Esoteric Section. When talking about the Esoteric Section in “The Key to Theosophy” HPB had written, “Before any such knowledge can be imparted, the applicant has to bind himself by a solemn oath not to use it for selfish purposes, nor to reveal anything said except by permission.”

She calls this “the sacred pledge of secrecy” and continues, “To any man or woman with the slightest honourable feeling a pledge of secrecy taken even on one’s word of honour, much more to one’s Higher Self – the God within – is binding till death. … But if it does not bind one as far as this, what use is a pledge at all? How can anyone expect to be taught secret knowledge, if he is to be at liberty to free himself from all the obligations he had taken, whenever he pleases? What security, confidence, or trust would ever exist among men, if pledges such as this were to have no really binding force at all? Believe me, the law of retribution (Karma) would very soon overtake one who so broke his pledge, and perhaps as soon as the contempt of every honourable man would, even on this physical plane.”

Yes, that serious pledge, taken with great solemnity and gravity by those who entered the Esoteric Section, was a pledge to their own Higher Self and was a pledge “binding till death.” There is absolutely nothing anywhere which states or even remotely suggests that HPB wrote the Esoteric Instructions “with the idea that they would be published after a time,” nor that “the time for restricting them to a limited circle” would have any expiration date. Instead, just the opposite is firmly and repeatedly implied and stated by HPB and Mr Judge.

HPB’s death in 1891 did not free the Esoteric Section members from their pledges, just as it did not automatically mean that the Esoteric Instructions could now be printed and published to be read by all and sundry.

Elsewhere in “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925” we find the following: “In Mrs Besant’s “Third Volume” are incorporated the private papers originally issued by H.P.B. to the E.S., and in reprinting these Mrs Besant not only falsely declared them to be a part of the “third volume of the Secret Doctrine which was placed in my hands by H.P.B.,” not only broke the seventh clause of her solemn pledge as a member of the Esoteric School, but corrupted them by more than twelve hundred alterations, perversions, suppressions, and substitutions of text.”

Those who read and study the Esoteric Instructions in the so-called “Third Volume” need to understand, therefore, that what they are studying contains over 1,200 alterations and distortions from what HPB herself had written. Thus many parts of what they are studying are likely to be misleading them without them even realising it. And even if the Esoteric Instructions had been preserved pristine and intact, is it not nonetheless unwise for one to casually help oneself to them, as it were, thus blatantly disregarding and defying the sincere warnings of HPB that only those who had joined the Esoteric Section and solemnly pledged themselves had a right to access them?

The reason for this is not only because of the need to keep their contents private but also because of the occult law that such teachings should only be studied under the correct protective environment – spiritually and mentally – which could be obtained or attained only by entering the Esoteric Section founded by HPB and abiding by its strict rules and regulations at all times.

Some people have said, “Well, those Esoteric Instructions have been published and made freely accessible to us, even though they actually shouldn’t have been, so we may as well seize the opportunity to help ourselves to them seeing as we have the opportunity to do so.” But would we help ourselves to thousands of pounds (or dollars) if we found it lying somewhere along a quiet path and knew that the individual who had issued the money had actually intended it to be received by only a select few, none of which was ourselves? The analogy is quite apt.

We cannot stop people reading the Esoteric Instructions, to which today anyone has very easy access…it is all ultimately a matter of one’s principles and conscience. Those Instructions will have very little meaning or benefit anyway to one who is not a serious and perpetual student of “The Secret Doctrine” itself and the vast majority of people who are eager to read the Esoteric Instructions are people who are not at all interested in HPB’s other works but who are merely greedy for “esoteric secrets” and “spiritual powers” and who naively hope to find them through reading through those papers.

In the past we have on occasion quoted from, or referred to concepts from, those Esoteric Instructions in some of our articles, thinking that this would be a help to the reader in more clearly comprehending certain teachings and ideas from HPB’s public writings such as “The Secret Doctrine,” “The Voice of the Silence,” and so forth. In hindsight we see that this was an error and a mistake. The teachings contained in HPB’s books, such as “The Secret Doctrine,” are self-explanatory if studied deeply enough and do not need help or support from private documents which were never meant for the eyes of the general public. Regretting this, we have now removed the relevant quotes or references wherever possible or appropriate and do not intend to use such quotations or references again. This is our own stance on the matter, out of respect for H.P. Blavatsky.

Mrs Besant finally tells the truth – Better Late than Never

On 6th October 1926, “The Hamilton Spectator” of Ontario, Canada, published an interview between Mrs Besant and that paper’s Managing Editor, William Mulliss. The interview took place at Los Angeles, California. Bearing in mind that this was almost thirty years after the initial publication of the supposed “Third Volume,” these statements quoted from the interview are of tremendous significance and import.

Mr. Mulliss. Your critics have insisted that somebody or other has deliberately suppressed the Third and Fourth Volumes of The Secret Doctrine to which H.P.B. makes reference in the First Volume of The Secret Doctrine. What have you to say to this? Do you regard the Third Volume of your edition of The Secret Doctrine entitled “Occultism” as containing any of the matter intended for the Third and Fourth Volumes?

Mrs. Besant. I was appointed H.P.B.’s literary executor and the matter from which I compiled the Third Volume of “Occultism” in The Secret Doctrine published under my direction was compiled from a mass of miscellaneous writings found in her desk after her death. These I took under my own charge.

Mr. Mulliss. Did Mead help you in the compilation of these articles?

Mrs. Besant. No. The papers came absolutely under my own hand and Mead had nothing to do with them.

Mr. Mulliss. Well, what about the material for the Third and Fourth Volumes?

Mrs. Besant. I never saw them and do not know what became of them.

In her Preface to “Volume 3,” Mrs Besant asserted that these papers were “given to me by H.P.B. . . . They were given into my hands to publish, as part of the Third Volume of the Secret Doctrine.” Here, however, she says, “the matter from which I compiled the Third Volume of “Occultism” in The Secret Doctrine published under my direction was compiled from a mass of miscellaneous writings found in her desk after her death. These I took under my own charge.” As for the material for HPB’s own authentic Third and Fourth Volumes: “I never saw them and do not know what became of them.”

Commenting on this in the February 1927 edition of “The O.E. Library Critic,” Dr Stokes remarks with his customary sarcasm and scathing wit –

“This recent version entirely confirms the opinion that has been frequently expressed of late years by certain “pestiferous slanderers” [i.e. as Mrs Besant called her critics] that Mrs. Besant’s so-called Third Volume of The Secret Doctrine is in reality not a portion of that work, but merely a collection of miscellaneous papers on various topics, possibly intended for publication under some other title or titles, possibly rejected or unfinished manuscripts.

“In 1893 Mrs. Besant eliminated from her revision of The Secret Doctrine all references to the Third Volume, which both H.P.B. herself and her literary assistant, Dr. Keightley, had asserted to have been ready for the printer.

In 1897 she published a “Third Volume of The Secret Doctrine” which she claimed was given into her hands as such by H.P.B., albeit in an unfinished condition.

In 1926 she says that this Third Volume consists of miscellaneous writings found in H.P.B.’s desk after her death, and that she knows nothing about the Third Volume mentioned by H.P.B.

“I gladly leave the reconciliation of these seemingly contradictory statements to the champions of Mrs. Besant’s infallibility. Meanwhile, possibly H.P.B., who Mrs. Besant in the same interview asserts to be reincarnated as a man, “living in the North”, and with whom she is in communication, might be persuaded to help Mrs. Besant to do it herself.”

In his “Historical Introduction” to the “Collected Writings” edition of “The Secret Doctrine,” Boris de Zirkoff commented on this interview, saying, “It should be pointed out, in connection with the above excerpt, that there exists no documentary evidence whatever about Mrs. Annie Besant having been appointed as Literary Executor of H.P.B.’s Will. She appointed as her Executors Col. H.S. Olcott and Damodar K. Mavalankar; as the latter had withdrawn to Tibet, the Colonel took charge of things at H.P.B.’s death. Her Will was filed at Adyar and its contents are well known. As far as English Law is concerned, a Literary Executor can be appointed only in a Will. If the legal Executor (Olcott) appointed anyone else to take charge of H.P.B.’s papers, etc., this would not give to such a person any power whatever in law, all control remaining in the named Executors.”

Occasionally we receive enquiries from website visitors regarding not only the “Third Volume” but also volumes published in 1938 claiming to be the “Fourth Volume” and “Fifth Volume” of “The Secret Doctrine.”

The explanation of this is that in that year “The Theosophical Society – Adyar” decided to republish “The Secret Doctrine” (Volumes 1, 2, and the so-called Volume 3) but spread out over more volumes than normal. Volume 1 was divided into Volumes 1 and 2, Volume 2 into Volumes 3 and 4, Volume “3” became Volume 5, and an Index volume was published as the sixth.

Why this was done is anybody’s guess, as it makes no sense at all and can only cause confusion, but sadly the Adyar Society and its Theosophical Publishing House are known for not having much respect, appreciation, or understanding, for HPB’s work. This 5 or 6 volume edition – known as the “Adyar Edition” and long out of print – was based on Mrs. Besant’s 1893 “Third and Revised Edition” of “The Secret Doctrine.”

There is no Religion higher than Truth

Not too long ago a well known American Theosophist read our article The Final Mahatma Letter and misinterpreted it as being an “attack” on a deceased person, i.e. Annie Besant. This was certainly never our intention at all and nor has it been our intention in the writing of this present article.

Robert Crosbie, founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists, once wrote, “You say that our attitude toward these things seems to many like “condemning” others. It is the duty of esoteric students to unmask error and hypocrisy; to face lie with truth; not as personal criticisms but as facts against mis-statements. It is assumed in charity that one who wrongs the Truth does so in ignorance; but the custodians of Truth voice it in the face of lie, ignorance and error, and take every opportunity possible to correct erroneous impressions. Theosophy is in the world for that purpose.” (See “The Friendly Philosopher” p.181)

We merely believe that Theosophists and those interested in Theosophy have a right to know certain undeniable FACTS, which are vital for gaining anything like a clear understanding of the history, background, and development of the Theosophical Movement. The information and details that we share in articles such as these are not fresh revelations by any means. They can be found in many books and articles from the pens of many writers. We simply attempt to present such information and details in as clear and concise a way as possible for the modern reader.

In the 1970s, the Adyar Theosophical Society finally stopped publishing both the “Third and Revised” edition of “The Secret Doctrine” and the “Third Volume,” acknowledging at long last that these were far from being legitimate or reliable. Nevertheless, “Occultism of The Secret Doctrine” is still available today from independent publishers and popular websites. What this article has hopefully shown is that the book commonly known and referred to as the “Third Volume” of “The Secret Doctrine” is not what it claims to be.

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

10 RELATED ARTICLES: The Final Mahatma Letter, The “Etheric” Body Does Not Exist, Maitreya in the Light of Real Theosophy, The Closing Cycle, 14 Good Reasons to reject the Alice Bailey Teachings, Words from The Masters about H.P. Blavatsky, The Masters and Madame Blavatsky, Who wrote The Secret Doctrine?, Who are you, Madame Blavatsky? and How to successfully study the Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky.

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