The Secret Doctrine,
H. P. Blavatsky
& the Stanzas of Dzyan
“… the occult side of Nature has never been approached
by the science of modern civilization.”
“... the Secret teachings ... must be contrasted with the speculations of modern science.
Archaic axioms must be placed side by side with modern hypotheses and comparison left to the sagacious reader. (p.480)
... To make of Science an integral whole necessitates, indeed, the study of spiritual and psychic, as well as physical Nature. ...
Without metaphysics ... real science is inadmissible.” (p. 588)
Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1888
In 1888, Madame H. P. Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine: The synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy. Manly Hall, an occult scholar, described Blavatsky’s work as “unquestionably the Magnus opus of the literature of the modern world.” The Secret Doctrine is a classic and authoritative work that has had a broad influence on the last century of western occultism. Blavatsky’s teachings of “Theosophy”–Theo meaning God and Sophia, wisdom –are profound elaborations of “divine wisdom.” Theosophy articulates an ancient mystical knowledge and teaching about the divine and metaphysical nature of life.
The Secret Doctrine (1888) is a massive, almost incomprehensible document. It is composed of two volumes: the first, Cosmogenesis, deals with the “genesis” of the “cosmos” –the origin and creation of the universe. Cosmogenesis outlines the laws of cosmology, physics and metaphysics, from an esoteric and occult perspective. Blavatsky made every effort in her work to represent the essence of the ancient mystical teachings about cosmogenesis and metaphysics, while contrasting these views with the scientific theories of her day. Volume II, Anthropogenesis, deals with the creation (genesis) and evolution of humanity through various dimensions of existence and rounds (cycles) of life. The Secret Doctrine provides a sweeping view of the nature of life from the first moments of the awakening of the Kosmos to the final destiny of humankind and the Universe. In her magnus opus, Madame Blavatsky provides a tour of the cosmos, which is substantially different from that of contemporary scientists and science philosophers.
Anyone who closely examines The Secret Doctrine must be impressed and perhaps overwhelmed by the author’s erudition and knowledge. Madame Blavatsky draws material from many sources, including ancient mystical works, mythologies, religions, science and philosophy. The Secret Doctrine is based upon Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan, an ancient poetic text of Tibetan origin, which apart from Blavatsky’s writings seems largely unknown to modern scholarship. H. P. B. commented: “The Book of Dzyan (or “Dzan”) is utterly unknown to our Philologists, or at any rate was never heard of by them under its present name.” (p. xxii) In fact, there are many things about The Secret Doctrine and the Book of Dzyan which are shrouded in mystery and enigma–as befits an individual as enigmatic and mysterious as H. P. B.
Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born in a Ukrainian town of Ekaterinoslav, Russia in the early morning of August 12, 1831 and died in May of 1891 in London, England. Through her extraordinary life, she travelled widely throughout the world—from the foot of the pyramids in Egypt, within the Caucasus and Middle East, to the mountains of Tibet and the lands of India, within North, central and South America, and Europe. She demonstrated psychical and unusual powers throughout her life and was involved in broad investigations of paranormal phenomena, particularly Spiritualism in America. Blavatsky was exposed to a wealth of the world’s mystical, occult and spiritual practices, teachings and traditions. In addition, she was knowledgeable of the sciences of her day.
The Theosophical Society was officially founded in the United States on November 17, 1875. Blavatsky moved on to establish the Theosophical Society in India and within Europe. Today, her teachings are studied throughout the world. Madame Blavatsky is regarded as the grandmother of modern western occultism, a unique synthesizer of the ancient wisdom teachings and a dramatic individualist who challenged the materialist and mechanistic science philosophy of the day, as well as social and religious conventions. Historically, her work introduced eastern mystical teachings to western audiences and she uncovered numerous wisdom teachings of the early western esoteric traditions.
Madame Blavatsky claimed to be in touch with Adepts or Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood and to have partially acted as an ‘amanuensis’ for her superior in the occult hierarchy, who aided in the preparation of The Secret Doctrine. In modern terms, amanuensis might be labelled as ‘channelling’ but was described by Madame as a form of psychological telepathy based on an electromagnetic connection existing between a Mahatma (a master) and his chelas (or students). Blavatsky also claimed to employ her trained spiritual perception and intuitive consciousness to draw from the Akashic record, the storehouse of all knowledge and spiritual wisdom.
In Sylvia Cranston’s biography of Madame, The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the modern theosophical movement, she quotes the prominent editor of an English newspaper, W. Stead, who wrote to Blavatsky in 1888 after receiving a copy of her work. His letter nicely captures the extraordinary character of Madame Blavatsky and remarkable nature of her magnus opus–The Secret Doctrine.
“You are a very great woman and I do not think that anyone but yourself (either man or woman) could have written The Secret Doctrine, nor do I feel competent, from the depths of my ignorance, even to express an opinion upon its extraordinary contents ... I do not profess to understand you, for you inhabit space of more dimensions than I can even conceive, but I am not so great a fool as to be unable to see that you have a genius quite transcendent.... (Cranston, 1994, p. 361)
These comments provide a most appropriate perspective on this remarkable woman, and this classic study of the ancient wisdom teachings. Blavatsky has also been appropriately labelled as “the Sphinx of the nineteenth century,” and as “among the modern world’s trailblazing psychologists,” by sociologist T. Roszak. (Cranston, p. xxiii) 1
The Secret Doctrine provides keys to the original mystery teachings about the origin of the universe and the metaphysical nature of life and creation. We must take this so-called “Magnus opus of the literature of modern world,” and consider the metaphysical and cosmological viewpoints espoused, while comparing the ancient wisdom teachings with the theories, facts and paradigm of modern science. No matter what the origin of the Book of Dzyan, or how The Secret Doctrine was produced, and despite the controversy surrounding Madame Blavatsky as an individual, it is possible to examine the ideas, theories and claims of The Secret Doctrine in their own right as scientific hypotheses and theories. In fact, it is profoundly important to do so–insofar as The Secret Doctrine provides an intriguing perspective on many of the most profound questions confronting modern science. How does The Secret Doctrine, completed in 1888, compare with the theories, data and paradigm of modern science a century later?
In the preface to The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky explained three major aims of her work: The first was “to show that Nature is not “a fortuitous concurrence of atoms,” and to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the Universe…” (p. viii) This aim expressed Blavatsky’s desire to oppose the mechanistic and materialist science philosophy dominant in 1888–a philosophy that regarded the origin of the universe and mankind as nothing more than a fortuitous “accident” which proceeded blindly through the natural laws governing material nature. This is the scientific paradigm still evident today in the writings of popular science writers–such as Drs. Sagan, Asimov and Hawking–and among other physicists, natural scientists, psychologists and philosophers. In the modern view, the formation of life is an inherently random or accidental (fortuitous) process, and creation and evolution are regarded as having occurred within a godless Universe—devoid of spirit, demigods, spiritual intelligence or consciousness. The notions of randomness, uncertainty and accidental happenings are cornerstones of contemporary science philosophy. In contrast, Blavatsky argues that there is nothing, which is truly random or fortuitous. Everything involves creation by design in a Universe full of meaning, life and interconnectedness. She quotes the poet Coleridge: “Chance is but the pseudonym for God (or Nature), for those particular cases which He does not choose to subscribe openly with His sign manual.” Further, a human being is not simply a soul-less, biological organism, but has a profound, deep connection to the grounds of being and thereby to the larger Cosmos.
The second aim of The Secret Doctrine was “to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions; and to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all spring.” Blavatsky explains that the ideas in The Secret Doctrine are not simply something which she has invented but are scattered throughout eastern and western religions and mystery schools. The sacred scriptures of all times embody the same teachings, although “hidden under glyph and symbol” and unnoticed because of “this veil.” Blavatsky claims that the basic ideas of the secret doctrine are the essence of Hindu, Zoroastrian, Chaldean, Egyptian, Buddhist, Islamic, Judaic and Christian belief, all of which are said to have emerged from one original “parent document.” She writes: “the Secret Wisdom was once the fountain head, the ever-flowing perennial source, at which were fed all its streamlets–the religions of all nations–from the first down to the last.” (p.viii) Thus, the second aim of the S.D. is to “rescue from degradation the archaic truths.”
The third aim of The Secret Doctrine was to demonstrate that “the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilization.” (p.viii) Unfortunately, a century later, this is largely still the case. Despite the fact that a few scientists and individuals search for the soul or explore mysticism and the new physics, scientists have hardly begun to scratch the surface of the ancient wisdom teachings. Indeed, scientists generally do not know of nor understand the occult teachings. Beyond this pervasive ignorance, there is a more fundamental fear of mystical teachings, as mainstream scientists do not want to see their so-called real science mixed up with mystical nonsense, vague metaphysical speculations and superstitions. However, Blavatsky regarded scientists’ attitudes towards mysticism as being indefensible. She bluntly accused them of being irrationally close-minded, noting that, “... in our days, Scientists are more self-opinionated and bigoted than even the clergy.”(p. 509). At the start of the new millennium, this is still largely the case and contrary views are marginalized within science.
Madame Blavatsky did not regard science and occultism as incompatible. Rather, her view was that as science advanced, it must come to validate mystical teachings:
There can be no possible conflict between the teachings of occult and so-called exact Science, where the conclusions of the latter are grounded on a substratum of unassailable fact. ... Science can, it is true, collect, classify, and generalize upon phenomena; but the occultist, arguing from admitted metaphysical data, declares that the daring explorer, who would probe the inmost secrets of Nature, must transcend the narrow limitations of sense, and transfer his consciousness into the region of noumena and the sphere of primal causes. To effect this, he must develop faculties which are absolutely dormant—save in a few rare and exceptional cases—in the constitution of the off-shots of our present Fifth Root-race in Europe and America. (pp. 477-8)
Blavatsky explains that, when so-called “exact” science really achieves a correct understanding of the nature of life, it will confirm the claims of mystic seers who directly apprehend the underlying or innermost side of creation and attained such dormant faculties.
Blavatsky was very aggressive in her attacks on the scientific opinion of her day, but not because of disrespect for the aims of the scientists. Her concern was with the advancement of science and in The Secret Doctrine, she goes to great lengths to demonstrate the relationships between the ancient teachings and the prevalent scientific views. She notes:
... the Secret Teachings ... must be contrasted with the speculations of modern science, Archaic axioms must be placed side by side with modern hypotheses and comparisons left to the sagacious reader. (p.480)
According to Blavatsky, the problem with the scientific theories is most simply that they are “wrong.” Scientists deal only with the observable side of phenomena, rather than the underlying noumena, or causes–because they exclude consideration of the spiritual and metaphysical side of life:
“To make of Science an integral whole necessitates, indeed, the study of spiritual and psychic, as well as physical Nature. ... Without metaphysics, real science is inadmissible.” (p. 588)
All science must ultimately lead to metaphysics and supernatural causes–because they exist!
In God, Science & The Secret Doctrine, we will particularly consider the ancient wisdom in four major areas of inquiry, regarding: 1) cosmogenesis–the genesis or creation of the Universe; 2) the relationship of the laws of physics to ancient metaphysics–to explain the ultimate nature of matter, energy, time and space, and the mechanisms of the laws of nature; 3) evolution–which needs to be considered from a spiritual and metaphysical perspective, in addition to the biological; and 4) human consciousness–which originates out of deep metaphysical realities. According to an occult perspective, “without metaphysics, real science is inadmissible,” (p. 588) and this applies to scientific study within each of these areas.
It is over a hundred years since the publication of The Secret Doctrine and there has been little change in the strict materialist perspective which dominates science philosophy. Many scientists, like Carl Sagan, imagine that believing in the spiritual nature of life, or in mysticism and ancient wisdom, involves believing in an old, long bearded man who sits up in heaven counting sparrows or talking to flowers. These scientists have no idea of the profound metaphysical philosophies embodied within the ancient wisdom teachings.
The Secret Doctrine does not contradict the facts of science. Rather, it is scientists’ rigid adherence to a simplistic, mechanistic and materialist science philosophy which leads them to prejudge and mindlessly dismiss mystical claims of metaphysics and higher dimensions. Blavatsky noted in this regard:
Occultism does not deny the certainty of the mechanical origin of the Universe; it only claims the absolute necessity of mechanicians of some sort behind those Elements (or within)–a dogma with us. ... It is easy for an astronomer ... to build a theory of the emergence of the universe out of chaos, by simply applying to it the principles of mechanics. But such a universe will always prove, with respect to its scientific human creator, a Frankenstein’s monster; it will lead him into endless perplexities. The application of the mechanical laws only can never carry the speculator beyond the objective world: nor will it unveil to men the origin and final destiny of Kosmos. (1888, p. 594)
Normally, scientists simply close their eyes to these endless perplexities in science and psychology, instead of venturing into the unknown. However, essential ideas from The Secret Doctrine provide an alternative approach to interpreting the facts and theories of science itself, and of understanding contemporary scientific enigmas and perplexities. Everything takes on new significance if the parts are considered in relationship to the whole and in relationship to underlying metaphysical causes. Mystical and spiritual teachings do provide all kinds of testable hypotheses, if we are ingenious enough to begin from first principles and draw out the implications and applications of such theories—within different domains of inquiry.
Most importantly, mystical studies entail self-study, the awakening of consciousness and the transformation of the human heart. In this way, the most advanced scientific methods require the individual process of psycho-spiritual transformation, and include the scientist in the equation. Ordinary science is limited by the ordinary state of egoic consciousness and the commonly conditioned psychopathology of humankind. In contrast, mystical science includes the scientist him/herself in the equation, and demands more, not less, from the seeker after truth. The key to the mysteries lies in understanding the nature of consciousness within oneself–by inner experience, sensation and taste. This might enable one to develop those “faculties which are absolutely dormant—save in a few rare and exceptional cases—in the constitution of the off-shots of our present Fifth Root-race in Europe and America,” as described by Madame.
It is more than a hundred years since Blavatsky completed The Secret Doctrine and unfortunately, scientists are still far from having taken up her challenge of exploring the “occult side of Nature.” Her comments from 1888 thus hold true today:
Occultists believe they have a right to present their philosophy, however misunderstood and ostracised it may be at present. ... (the) failure of the scientists to discover the truth is entirely due to their materialism and contempt for transcendental sciences. (p.600)
Now that (scientists) have studied nature in the length, breadth, and thickness of her physical frame, it is time to remove the skeleton to the second plane and search within the unknown depths for the living and real entity, for its SUB-stance—the noumenon of evanescent matter. (p. 610)
Madame Blavatsky did not expect The Secret Doctrine to be seriously studied by scientists and scholars in her day. In fact, she predicted:
... the rejection of these teachings may be expected, and must be accepted beforehand. No one styling himself a “scholar,” in whatever department of exact science, will be permitted to regard these teachings seriously. They will be derided and rejected a priori in this century; but only in this one. For in the twentieth century of our era scholars will begin to recognize that the Secret Doctrine has neither been invented nor exaggerated, but, on the contrary, simply outlined…. (Introduction, p. xxxvii)
In 1888, Blavatsky’s explanations of the creation of the Universe, and of physics and metaphysics, offered a viewpoint totally incomprehensible in terms of what were the fashionable scientific viewpoints and theories. The Secret Doctrine was bound to be ignored and dismissed. As it happens however, in this strange universe, a century of scientific advances and the profound “new physics” and cosmology of twenty first century are beginning to vindicate Blavatsky’s utterly awesome work on cosmic origins and ancient wisdom teachings. Ancient mystical maxims and modern scientific theories can be placed side by side to draw comparisons. When it comes to the ultimate questions of the origin of the Cosmos and understanding the laws of nature, it turns out that science and mysticism are not such a world apart–except in the interpretation of the data and the theories of science. Science is beginning to arrive at those levels of reality spoken of by the mystics who penetrate the Heart and soul to the grounds of Being.
Table of Contents for God, Science & The Secret Doctrine
1 Blavatsky attracted considerable attention and notoriety during her life and through the turn of the century, after the publication of The Secret Doctrine. Admirers included those within the literary, artistic and scientific communities, as well as within broader society—those interested in a deeper spiritual understanding of life and the high ideals of the Theosophical Society. Some of the most well know admirers of Blavatsky included: Albert Einstein, whose niece reported that he always kept a copy of The Secret Doctrine on his desk; Robert Millikan and other scientists associated with the Mount Wilson observatory; and Elvis Presley, who was taken by Blavatsky’s poetic account of the pilgrimage of souls--The Voice of the Silence.