Theosophy: The Ancient Wisdom

Himalayan Mountain

The term “Ancient Wisdom” is in popular usage nowadays. Almost anything and everything is classified as “Ancient Wisdom” by people who don’t seem to know what they’re talking about. Ask such a person what they understand the term to mean and they will probably answer along the lines of, “Something wise that was said in ancient times.”

The fact is that the Ancient Wisdom is something very definite and specific, while at the same time being unsectarian and universal. It is a full and complete body of Knowledge, a vast, perfect, and unchanging system of information, instruction, and guidance. It is the natural unity and synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science. It is something which contains the answer to every question and the solution to every problem. It is timeless Truth.

“Ancient Wisdom” is only one name which has been applied to the Great Knowledge. It has also been called Ageless Wisdom, Divine Wisdom, Divine Science, Gnosis, Atma-Vidya, Brahma-Vidya, Gupta-Vidya, Sanatana Dharma, Esoteric Philosophy, Esoteric Science, Occult Philosophy, Sacred Science, the Wisdom-Religion, and the Secret Doctrine.

It is the Esoteric Teaching which underlies all the world’s religions. It is also the archaic and primeval source and fountainhead of all the truth which may be found in the various religions, philosophies, and sciences of the world.

It has never been given out in its fullness or totality to mankind. For one thing, mankind is at present sufficiently evolved to only be able to understand a relatively small portion of it and for another, the tremendous selfishness and personal focus which characterises so much of humanity would swiftly lead to both desecration and dangerous misuse of such powerful information.

Regardless of how much we may learn, know, and understand from our personal study and practice of the Ancient Wisdom, our knowledge of it is still very limited in comparison with those who have been initiated into its great truths and secrets. How have such individuals come to be initiated? They have made themselves worthy over the course of numerous lifetimes. They have practiced relentless self-discipline, self-denial, and self-mastery. They have purified themselves of all personal desire, lust, selfishness, and ambition. As a definite and actual act, they have given up and renounced their life, given up and renounced all personal separate existence, having one sole intent and aspiration: to be a true and effective helper of humanity, a selfless server of the human race.

They have been made to undergo countless and ever-ongoing tests and trials, to fail some of which could potentially result in the loss of their very soul. Then, finding themselves at last in actual contact and communication with some of the Masters of the Wisdom, some of the Adepts of that very hidden but very real Brotherhood which guides and watches over the spiritual evolution and advancement of humanity, they have taken solemn oaths and made sacred pledges, entering the Great Brotherhood, to one day become a Master, an Adept, a Teacher, in their own right.

From time to time, and always in accordance with cyclic law, one of such initiates is sent forth into the world with a specific mission. Sometimes their mission is confined to a specific people or nation. Before the advent of the printed page and easy international travel, this was almost inevitable.

Sometimes they give out an exoteric teaching to the masses (something which they see will be of the most benefit to that particular people at that particular time) and reserve a deeper, more powerful, esoteric teaching – a real impartation of the Timeless Truth – to a relatively small group of disciples and students, chosen or permitted to receive such teaching after diligently proving their worthiness and pledging themselves to utter secrecy at any cost.

Such Initiate-Teachers never attempt to draw attention to themselves as individuals. They never claim any personal greatness, nor purport to hold a high spiritual position or to be an initiate of a certain degree. They will tend to speak of themselves humbly and disparagingly, often preferring not to say anything about themselves at all, often deliberately concealing their true nature and knowledge – both for their own safety and to avoid being blindly worshipped by their followers and students – by doing certain things and making certain purposeful “mistakes” which to the sight of the spiritually blind will cause them to seem less and otherwise than what they really are. Yet all the time they know who they really are, they know what they have to do, and they know how to do it.

The closing quarter of the 19th century was an extremely important and crucial period in humanity’s history and evolution. Three great cycles all intersected at the same time, a very rare and uncommon occurrence. The first 5,000 year cycle of the Kali Yuga was due to draw to a close between late 1897 and early 1898. The Age of Pisces was rapidly fading out and the New Age of Aquarius was to gradually begin its 2,155 year course from the dawning of the new century in 1900.

In 14th century Tibet, Tsong Kha-pa – the reincarnation of Gautama Buddha – had ordained that the Esoteric Brotherhood was henceforth to send one of their own to the Western world in the closing quarter of each century, to help bring about further spiritual awakening and enlightenment. It was known and understood that only a particular 25 years in each century could be actively used for this purpose, such were and are the very real restrictions of Cyclic and Karmic Law.

Now the “centennial cycle,” as the Masters have called it, coincided with the closing of the other two cycles. Someone had to appear; someone had to be sent forth into the world; someone with sufficient power, knowledge, and capability to make a real and lasting difference, not only for the West, not only for the East, but for the whole of humanity.

The “rubbish of the ages” had to be forcibly cleared away from the minds of men, so that the seeds of Truth could be planted and grow to full fruition, although neither the Masters nor their Messenger were under any illusions about the tremendous difficulties, hindrances, and opposition – both seen and unseen – that would be in the way of the fulfillment of their mission.

That great “Someone” appeared on the scene in, through, and as a Russian woman named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. A handful of those who were closest to HPB (as she preferred to call herself) came to recognise and realise that it was actually a male Eastern Initiate who had assumed that female European personality, in order to fulfill the mission of the Masters to the greatest extent possible. The Masters stated that although known to the world as “HPB” she was known to them by quite another name. They asserted that she was their “Brother” and their “Direct Agent.”

In 1875, she and several others founded the Theosophical Movement in New York, USA. She was later to move to India and finally to London, England. The time had come for a re-presentation of the Ancient Wisdom, under the name “Theosophy,” a word derived from the Greek “Theosophia,” meaning “Divine Wisdom.”

The Movement was founded with three main objectives. First and foremost was to help bring about the actualisation of Universal Brotherhood, which HPB maintained was not merely a noble and lofty ideal but an eternal fact in Nature, due to the Unity and Divinity of all life. She boldly declared that it was a sin against Nature and a sin against Humanity for one to discriminate against race, creed, gender, caste, or skin colour. Although the truth of this is now generally accepted around the world, it was considered radical, strange, extreme, and even unacceptable at the end of the 19th century. Part of HPB’s mission was to break down the illusory and self-erected barriers that separated man from man, race from race, caste from caste, nation from nation, and religion from religion.

Second, the Movement was to draw the world’s attention Eastward; to promote the study and investigation of the religions, philosophies, and sciences of India and the East, particularly those relating to Hinduism and Buddhism, and to demonstrate both their greatness and their vital importance for humanity at large. The first introduction of Eastern spirituality to the West came via H.P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement which she founded.

The third main objective, which was considered to be of lesser importance than the other two, was to study and research into some of the mysterious and unexplained Laws of Nature and the psychic and spiritual faculties latent in every human being.

In 1877, HPB published her first book, a vast work in two volumes, titled “Isis Unveiled.” It described itself as “A Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology,” with the first volume titled “Science” and the second “Theology.” At one and the same time challenging, powerful, insightful, and revelatory, it immediately made headlines and began to gradually draw the thought and attention of the general public towards the Theosophical Movement and the teachings it was presenting to the world.

Although she wrote hundreds of articles on many different topics and aspects of Theosophy between 1877 and 1888, it was not until the latter date that her second book was published. Even lengthier than “Isis Unveiled,” this was the greatest and most important of all of HPB’s writings. It was titled “The Secret Doctrine” and also published as two large volumes, “Cosmogenesis” and “Anthropogenesis.” The first dealt with the origins, birth, and evolution of the Universe, the Cosmos, the Solar System, and our planet, whilst the second concerned itself with the origins, birth, and evolution of mankind.

It was never claimed or implied that the entirety of the Secret Doctrine itself was contained within the book titled “The Secret Doctrine” but the book did state that –

* “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.”

“The Secret Doctrine” was deliberately written in such a way as to prove difficult, unappealing, and unattractive to the average and merely curious reader. HPB wrote that although it was readily available to anyone and everyone, it had been written primarily for students of esotericism and those who had already begun to acquaint themselves with the teachings of Theosophy. Presenting the perfect and natural synthesis and unity of religion, philosophy, and science, it was confirmed by the Masters to have been “a triple production,” the result of two of them – known as Koot Hoomi and Morya – working together with the one they called their Direct Agent.

The Master K.H. had described “The Secret Doctrine” as the “epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.”

So vast, deep, stupendous, perfectly logical and philosophically self-consistent was “The Secret Doctrine” that even some who had previously doubted and been sceptical now began to acknowledge that these teachings could not possibly be the mere speculations and ideas of HPB’s own mind. As she wrote, “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.”

What was occurring was of unique and monumental importance and significance to the world although it was not widely recognised and properly appreciated as such, neither then nor since.

Alongside such fundamental teachings as the Law of Karma, Reincarnation, and the Oneness of All Life, certain esoteric spiritual teachings which had never before been given out to the public were being made available, such as those about the origin, nature, and future of Earth and humanity (including planetary chains, globes, rounds, root races etc.), Atlantis and Lemuria, the true details of the afterlife state and what happens between death and rebirth, the sevenfold nature of man, the true nature and system of evolution, and the birth, origins, and structure of the Universe. Much of this information and knowledge had previously been kept very secret and carefully guarded by its wise custodians.

It was said by the Masters, “We have broken the silence of centuries.”

Although Theosophists do not refer to “The Secret Doctrine” as their “Bible” it is nevertheless the Book of Theosophy and rightly viewed by true students of the Ageless Wisdom as a precious and priceless gift from more advanced souls, the standard and measure by which all other teachings – spiritual, religious, philosophical, and scientific – must be tested and examined. It is a book for perpetual, unceasing, lifetime study.

The following year saw the publication of HPB’s third and fourth books, “The Key to Theosophy” and “The Voice of the Silence.” The earlier two books having dealt almost exclusively with esoteric philosophy and metaphysics, the teaching now took a more practical and personally challenging direction, sounding the call to personal purity, self-denial, self-discipline, self-mastery, self-sacrifice, and altruistic ethics, for all those who would be “true Theosophists,” true students and practitioners of the timeless and universal Wisdom.

“The Voice of the Silence,” being the translation of three fragments of text from an esoteric Buddhist scripture known as “The Book of the Golden Precepts,” was the first introduction to the West of the Bodhisattva Path, the Heart Doctrine characterised by Mahayana Buddhism. Fearlessly declaring all spiritual aspirations and motives other than the Bodhisattva ideal to be little more than selfishness, this short but potent work lays out in beautiful and inspirationally poetic language the tried, tested, and proven Path which must be followed by all who seek to join the ranks of the initiates, servers, and benefactors of suffering humanity. “To live to benefit mankind is the first step. To practice the six glorious virtues is the second.”

Fully aware of the almost overpowering selfishness and self-centredness prevalent amongst the majority of mankind and even amongst many Theosophists, this book was therefore “Dedicated to the Few.”

None of these books were written for commercial purposes or financial gain. HPB stated that she would rather “starve in the gutter” than take a single penny for teaching the sacred truths. These books were transmissions; transmissions of Theosophy, the Ancient Wisdom. Over the course of these four books – alongside several hundred articles written for Theosophical magazines and a number of posthumous publications and compilations such as “The Theosophical Glossary,” “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge,” “Five Messages from H.P. Blavatsky,” “Raja Yoga or Occultism,” and “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” – HPB had given out THE TEACHING for the modern age. Again, as she neared the end of her life, she reminded her students and co-workers that the time period for further impartation of teachings was severely limited and drawing to a close.

It is the books and writings just mentioned, along with those by William Quan Judge, which are studied and applied by students and associates in the United Lodge of Theosophists.

WQJ, as HPB often called him, was a co-founder of the Theosophical Movement and, similarly to HPB, was recognised by “the few” as being inwardly an Indian Initiate, whilst outwardly an Irish-American. As well as writing a few hundred articles on all aspects of Theosophy, he also wrote the book “The Ocean of Theosophy,” produced brilliantly clear translations of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali and wrote many uplifting and insightful letters to fellow Theosophists, some of which were later published as the book “Letters That Have Helped Me.”

In May 1891, just a few months prior to her 60th birthday, H.P. Blavatsky passed away in London. It was reported that her final words, as she began to depart from the physical body, were, “Keep the link unbroken. Do not let my last incarnation be a failure.”

Several months later, an influential English Theosophist named Annie Besant wrote the following in a prominent article:

“By Theosophy I mean the “Wisdom Religion,” or the “Secret Doctrine,” and our only knowledge of the Wisdom Religion at the present time comes to us from the Messenger of its Custodians, H.P. BLAVATSKY. Knowing what she taught, we can recognise fragments of the same teachings in other writings, but her message remains for us the test of Theosophy everywhere. … Only, none of us has any right to put forward his own views as “Theosophy,” in conflict with hers, for all that we know of Theosophy comes from her. … Theosophists have it in charge not to whittle away the Secret Doctrine. … Steadily, calmly, without anger but also without fear, they must stand by the Secret Doctrine as she gave it, who carried unflinchingly through the storms of well-nigh seventeen years the torch of the Eastern Wisdom. The condition of success is perfect loyalty.”

If only “perfect loyalty” had been maintained, the success of the Theosophical Movement would have been ensured and a great change for good would have been brought about in this world. It was never the aim of the Theosophical Movement to recruit members or to get more people to identify themselves as “Theosophists.” The aim has always been to spread the ideas, the concepts, the principles, and the truths of the Ancient Wisdom far and wide, that a beneficial transformation in human consciousness may be achieved.

To whom or to what should this perfect loyalty have been given? To HPB and to those great Adept Teachers for whom she had been the unwaveringly faithful Messenger and Agent, of course, but also to Theosophy itself.

But it takes a certain amount of humility, a real sacrificing of what has been called “the personal idea,” for one to be truly content and satisfied to remain as a mere transmitter and “hander on” of a Teaching which has already been given out. Within the hearts of many lurks the desire to be looked upon as a great leader, to be viewed as a Teacher in their own right, and to be admired and revered as a new “Messenger” for “new teachings” from the Masters.

This, combined with the constant childish longing of the masses for “fresh revelations” and the “latest messages,” especially when they have not even bothered to make proper use of the huge mass of teaching and information already available, has resulted in considerable damage and tremendous harm for both the Theosophical Movement and the world of spirituality in general.

Within just two years of HPB’s departure from the physical scene, Annie Besant had fallen under what the Master K.H. was later to describe in his last known letter (of 1900) as “deluding influences” and turned against HPB and the cause of genuine Theosophy. This also resulted in her turning against William Judge and in 1895 led to the first split in the Movement. WQJ passed away the following year, 1896, at only 44 years of age, his health and vitality ruined by the venomous force of the attacks and conspiracies against him. At the end of her life, HPB had called him “my only friend.”

A new form of “Theosophy” sprung up, derived almost exclusively from the self-proclaimed clairvoyant revelations and discoveries of an English Theosophist named C.W. Leadbeater, who Besant had chosen to be her close colleague and spiritual guide. Together, they proceeded to completely rewrite the teachings of Theosophy and to present in their place an entirely different and incompatible system, whilst deliberately pushing HPB and her legacy well into the background. HPB had written and warned against what she described as “Pseudo-Theosophy.” The version of “Theosophy” promulgated by Besant, Leadbeater, and their adherents, was certainly this!

Problems and difficulties inevitably arise when the true and unique nature of Theosophy is forgotten or obscured. It is not something which is open to being rewritten by anyone. It is not something which can be altered, corrected, or improved. It is not something which can be replaced by someone’s supposed clairvoyant discoveries and readings of the Akashic Records and still be called “Theosophy.” Least of all can it be substituted by channellings and mediumistic messages, such practices having been severely condemned and warned against by the Wisdom Traditions of all times and nations.

In three of her four main books, HPB specifically explained what Theosophy is:

“What we desire to prove is, that underlying every ancient popular religion was the same ancient wisdom-doctrine, one and identical, professed and practiced by the initiates of every country, who alone were aware of its existence and importance. To ascertain its origin, and the precise age in which it was matured, is now beyond human possibility. A single glance, however, is enough to assure one that it could not have attained the marvellous perfection in which we find it pictured to us in the relics of the various esoteric systems, except after a succession of ages. A philosophy so profound, a moral code so ennobling, and practical results so conclusive and so uniformly demonstrable is not the growth of a generation, or even a single epoch. Fact must have been piled upon fact, deduction upon deduction, science have begotten science, and myriads of the brightest human intellects have reflected upon the laws of nature, before this ancient doctrine had taken concrete shape. The proofs of this identity of fundamental doctrine in the old religions are found in the prevalence of a system of initiation; in the secret sacerdotal castes who had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a public display of a phenomenal control over natural forces, indicating association with preterhuman beings.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 99

“The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system: e.g., even in the exotericism of the Puranas. But such is the mysterious power of Occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs. The flashing gaze of those seers has penetrated into the very kernel of matter, and recorded the soul of things there, where an ordinary profane, however learned, would have perceived but the external work of form. But modern science believes not in the “soul of things,” and hence will reject the whole system of ancient cosmogony. It is useless to say that the system in question is no fancy of one or several isolated individuals. That it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity. That for long ages, the “Wise Men” of the Fifth Race, of the stock saved and rescued from the last cataclysm and shifting of continents, had passed their lives in learning, not teaching. How did they do so? It is answered: by checking, testing, and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts; i.e., men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic, and spiritual organisations to the utmost possible degree. No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions – so obtained as to stand as independent evidence – of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 272-273

“What science in general will never accept as proof – the cumulative testimony of an endless series of Seers who have testified to this fact. Their spiritual visions, real explorations by, and through, physical and spiritual senses untrammelled by blind flesh, were systematically checked and compared one with the other, and their nature sifted. All that was not corroborated by unanimous and collective experience was rejected, while that only was recorded as established truth which, in various ages, under different climes, and throughout an untold series of incessant observations, was found to agree and receive constantly further corroboration. The methods used by our scholars and students of the psycho-spiritual sciences do not differ from those of students of the natural and physical sciences, as you may see. Only our fields of research are on two different planes, and our instruments are made by no human hands, for which reason perchance they are only the more reliable. The retorts, accumulators, and microscopes of the chemist and naturalist may get out of order; the telescope and the astronomer’s horological instruments may get spoiled; our recording instruments are beyond the influence of weather or the elements. … Faith is a word not to be found in theosophical dictionaries: we say knowledge based, on observation and experience. There is this difference, however, that while the observation and experience of physical science lead the Scientists to about as many “working” hypotheses as there are minds to evolve them, our knowledge consents to add to its lore only those facts which have become undeniable, and which are fully and absolutely demonstrated. We have no two beliefs or hypotheses on the same subject.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 86-87

“The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages.” This refers to the Secret Doctrine itself, of which the book titled “The Secret Doctrine” is the chief and highest representative in our day. Theosophy is the Ancient Wisdom. H.P. Blavatsky did not invent it; she merely fulfilled her mission and duty and transmitted it. Utilising thousands of supporting references from a multitudinous array of the most diverse and distant sources, she proved the timelessness, reliability, and universality of her doctrines, even those which seemed at first glance to be the most peculiar.

Today, many systems of thought and teaching claim to be “Ancient Wisdom,” from “New Thought” to “A Course in Miracles” to “The Secret” to the so-called “Ascended Master” teachings and beyond. A simple comparison with the original and genuine teachings of Theosophy will swiftly show the frequent untenability and deceptiveness of the claim.

It is true, as the Rig Veda famously says, that “Truth is One, though the Sages call it by many names.” The Master K.H. wrote, “Truth is One and cannot admit of diametrically opposite views.” To say that “Truth is One” is not equivalent to saying that everything is Truth. Theosophy, the Ancient and Ageless Wisdom, not only leads towards the Truth but is Eternal Truth itself.

As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Taste of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge for yourself and you too shall be as gods.

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

Over 100 articles relating to many different aspects of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement are listed on the Articles page.

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