Secret Wisdom


Esoteric vs. exoteric
The Alexandrian library
Secret records
Gnosticism and Kabbala
Taoism, Jainism, Hinduism
Buddha and Buddhism
Buddhism and Blavatsky
Theosophy – a fresh impulse

Esoteric vs. exoteric

All the major religious and mystical traditions have had exoteric teachings for the public, and deeper, esoteric teachings for those who have proved themselves worthy to receive them, in accordance with the old saying: ‘Live the life if you would know the doctrine.’

    The Church father Origen (185-254 CE) wrote of an esoteric doctrine existing in the non-Christian religions of his time:

In Egypt, the philosophers have a most noble and secret Wisdom concerning the nature of the Divine, which Wisdom is disclosed to the people only under the garment of allegories and fables. ... All the Eastern nations – the Persians, the Indians, the Syrians – conceal secret mysteries under the cover of religious fables and allegories; the truly wise of all nations understand the meaning of these; but the uninstructed multitudes see the symbols only and the covering garment. (ET 61-2)

Origen claimed that in Christianity, as in all other religions, there was a similar esoteric system.

    According to the New Testament, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’ (Luke, 8:10). While speaking to the multitude in a veiled manner, ‘privately to his own disciples he explained everything’ (Mark, 4:34), and advised them not to ‘throw your pearls before swine’ (Matthew, 7:6).

    According to Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE), ‘Mark’ preached three different gospels. The New Testament version was intended for ‘beginners’, but there was also a Secret Gospel of Mark for those who were ‘perfected’, i.e. initiated. Clement advised one of his students that the existence of this secret gospel should be denied ‘even under oath’, for ‘the light of the truth should be hidden from those who are mentally blind’. The third gospel was so mystical that it was not written down but was imparted orally to the chosen few (JM 120-1).

    The fragments that remain of The Secret Gospel of Mark include an account of Jesus raising a young man from the dead, which may be an early version of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John’s Gospel. In the Secret Gospel, the risen young man is then initiated by Jesus, who ‘taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God’. This indicates that for the gnostics, being raised from the dead is an allegory for spiritual rebirth through initiation.

    The Jews had a system of mystical research embodied in the Kabbala, a word meaning ‘tradition’, i.e. the traditional teaching handed down from teacher to pupil. The Zohar (‘splendour’), the main kabbalistic textbook, says that anyone who understands the Hebrew Bible in its literal meaning is a fool; every word of it has ‘a secret and sublime sense, which the wise know’. The great Jewish rabbi of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, wrote: ‘We should never take literally what is written in the Book of the Creation, nor hold the same ideas about it that the people hold. ... Taken literally, that work contains the most absurd and far-fetched ideas of the Divine’ (ET 62).

    The Greeks and Romans had their lesser, outer, or exoteric Mysteries and their greater, inner, or esoteric Mysteries, as did the Persians, the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Essenes, the Druids, the Mayas, and the American Indians, for example. The lesser Mysteries consisted largely of symbolic dramatic rites or ceremonies relating to the mysteries of nature, together with a certain amount of instruction. Candidates who were admitted to the greater Mysteries received deeper instruction, after taking a strict vow of secrecy, and eventually experienced the truth of the doctrines at first hand through inner initiatory experiences.

    Among the Greeks, the lesser Mysteries were conducted in the springtime at Agrai near Athens, while the greater Mysteries were celebrated in the autumn at Eleusis. In the lesser Mysteries the candidates who experienced the first rites were called mystai (the closed of eye and mouth), while in the greater Mysteries the mystai became epoptai (the clear-seeing) and attained communion with their higher self (MS 32).

The main initiation hall (Telesterion) at Eleusis.

    The Hindu and Buddhist traditions also had their secret schools for better qualified and more trustworthy students. The Buddha, for example, once took a handful of simsapa leaves and explained that just as the few leaves in his hand were vastly outnumbered by the leaves overhead, so the truths he had taught were only a few of the truths that he knew. He reserved his deeper teachings for selected disciples whom he taught in secret. His policy was ‘to refuse no one admission into the ranks of candidates for Arhatship, but never to divulge the final mysteries except to those who had proved themselves, during long years of probation, to be worthy of Initiation’ (BCW 14:370).

    H.P. Blavatsky mentions several reasons for the reticence and secrecy that often surround deeper mystical teachings:

Firstly, the perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbours and next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets. Secondly, their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge from desecration. It is the latter that led to the perversion of the most sublime truths and symbols, and to the gradual transformation of things spiritual into anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery – in other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry. (Key 12)

Sometimes, however, truths are concealed for selfish reasons:

Purely Brahmanical considerations, based on greed of power and ambition, allowed the masses to remain in ignorance of great truths; and the same causes led the Initiates among the early Christians to remain silent, while those who had never known the truth disfigured ... things ... (SD 2:60)

    G. de Purucker says that certain teachings have traditionally been kept secret because they are the noble reward for those who have proven themselves worthy and devoted, and because they would be misunderstood by untrained minds. If the teachings were given out indiscriminately, intuitive but untrained people would worship the teachers as ‘gods’, the ignorant would persecute them as ‘devils’, and the sceptics would deride and mock both the teachers and their message (FEP 253).

    The mahatmas stress that more advanced teachings cannot be divulged all at once; the recipient must be prepared gradually:

The truth is that till the neophyte attains to the condition necessary for that degree of Illumination to which, and for which, he is entitled and fitted, most if not all of the Secrets are incommunicable. The receptivity must be equal to the desire to instruct. The illumination must come from within. ... [K]nowledge ... can only be communicated gradually; and some of the highest secrets ... might sound to you as insane gibberish ... (ML2 283; MLc 72-3)

This is echoed by Blavatsky:

The whole essence of truth cannot be transmitted from mouth to ear. Nor can any pen describe it, not even that of the recording Angel, unless man finds the answer in the sanctuary of his own heart, in the innermost depths of his divine intuitions. (SD 2:516)

    Certain teachings are potentially dangerous and could be misused for selfish purposes. Blavatsky says that imparting certain portions of the secret science to the unprepared multitude would be ‘equivalent to giving a child a lighted candle in a powder magazine’.

Doctrines such as the planetary chain, or the seven races, at once give a clue to the seven-fold nature of man, for each principle is correlated to a plane, a planet, and a race; and the human principles are, on every plane, correlated to seven-fold occult forces – those of the higher planes being of tremendous power. So that any septenary division at once gives a clue to tremendous occult powers, the abuse of which would cause incalculable evil to humanity. A clue, which is, perhaps, no clue to the present generation – especially the Westerns – protected as they are by their very blindness and ignorant materialistic disbelief in the occult; but a clue which would, nevertheless, have been very real in the early centuries of the Christian era, to people fully convinced of the reality of occultism, and entering a cycle of degradation, which made them rife [ripe] for abuse of occult powers and sorcery of the worst description.
    The documents were concealed, it is true, but the knowledge itself and its actual existence had never been made a secret of by the Hierophants of the Temple, wherein Mysteries have ever been made a discipline and stimulus to virtue. (SD 1:xxxv)

    Referring to a case in which a hypnotized person was told he had received a severe burn and in 36 hours marks appeared on the body, Blavatsky states, ‘there is a good deal to be said for the ancient plan of keeping secret knowledge which placed in the hands of unscrupulous persons control over the subtler forces of Nature’ (BCW 13:114). ‘It is not in our age of “suggestion” and “explosives”,’ she says, ‘that Occultism can open wide the doors of its laboratories except to those who do live the life’ (13:218).

    Grace Knoche writes:

Much derision has been cast on the ancients for withholding knowledge that even a child can understand in its simpler forms. Certainly the simpler forms were taught openly, but their occult background was kept rigidly secret (as it is even now, though the world at large little dreams of this fact) as fit only for those who would not misuse the knowledge obtained. Can as much wisdom be shown today when, as soon as scientists discover some new device, opportunity is instantly found to turn that invention to destructive uses? One is driven to admire the strength and wisdom of the ancients who knew better than to turn knowledge over indiscriminately to those lacking moral control. With all our boasted superiority, we have not yet caught up on all lines with the scientific knowledge of our ancient forebears. (MS 44-5)

    Only trained adepts who know how to direct their mental vision and transfer their consciousness to inner planes can speak with authority on nonphysical realities. The masters gave Blavatsky the following advice:

Do not give out the great Truths that are the inheritance of the future Races, to our present generation. ... Let rather the planetary chains and other super- and sub-cosmic mysteries remain a dreamland for those who can neither see, nor yet believe that others can. (SD 1:167)

    As times change, and different souls incarnate, the need for reticence varies, and what was once kept secret or revealed only in veiled form is given out openly. The formation of the Theosophical Society in 1875 marked a turning point in this regard. As The Secret Doctrine and other theosophical works demonstrate, theosophical teachings on karma and reincarnation, the septenary constitution of the man and the universe, evolution and involution, after-death states, planetary chains, and rounds and races, are reflected to varying degrees in many of the world’s religious and philosophical systems. But the modern theosophical movement has made many more details of these ageless-wisdom teachings publicly available. Theosophy also provides keys to interpreting ancient mythology and symbolism, and shows how the fundamental teachings of different religious and philosophical systems can be reconciled when understood correctly – something that the orthodox of each faith tend to resent.

The Alexandrian library

The reasons for keeping certain documents hidden or even destroying them are sometimes purely negative. Conquerors or usurpers wishing to destroy a people’s heritage have often burned its books, as did Shih Huang-ti in China in 213 BCE, the Spaniards in Mexico in 1520, and the Nazis in the 1930s. The destruction of the records of rival pagan religious and philosophical schools by the early Christian Church was another act of deliberate vandalism. The fate of the Alexandrian library in Egypt tells a similar story.

    The Alexandrian library was the most famous library of the ancient world. It formed part of a research institute known as the Alexandrian Museum (or temple of the Muses). The library and museum were founded and maintained by the long succession of Ptolemies from the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. An auxiliary library was established about 235 BCE in the Serapeum, a temple dedicated to the god Serapis. The Alexandrian library systematically collected together the knowledge of the ancient world, and at its peak it is estimated to have held 400,000 to 700,000 scrolls and papyri.

Reconstruction of the main hall of the Alexandrian Museum.

    Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city of Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Jews, and a prosperous trade centre between East and West. Its library promoted and nourished the intermingling of different cultures and spiritual traditions, and for a time Alexandria became the greatest centre of learning in the ancient world. It was the centre of pagan mysticism in late antiquity, and the birthplace of the most celebrated schools of gnosticism (a syncretistic movement that included all the systems of belief prevalent in the first two centuries of the Christian era).

    Ammonius Saccas, the founder of Neoplatonism, began teaching his synthetic theosophic philosophy in Alexandria in the 3rd century CE. His pupils included Origen and Plotinus; the latter was succeeded by a series of other well-known neoplatonic philosophers, including Iamblichus, Porphyry, Hypatia, and Proclus. Other famous names associated with Alexandria are Philo Judaeus, who synthesized the Old Testament with Greek and Pythagorean philosophy, and Clement, who imported many gnostic ideas into Christianity.

    The repeated destruction of the Alexandrian library dealt a great blow to the preservation of the ancient wisdom. Julius Caesar is sometimes said to have burned the library during his invasion of Alexandria in 47-48 BCE. However, the prevailing view today is that after he had set the enemy fleet on fire, the flames spread, and some 40,000 to 70,000 scrolls stored in a warehouse adjacent to the harbour were accidentally destroyed.

    In 272 CE the Alexandrian museum and main library were ravaged in the civil war under the Roman emperor Aurelian. Most of the alchemical and hermetic works of the Egyptians were burned by order of Emperor Diocletian after suppressing a revolt in Alexandria in 296 CE (SD 2:763fn; BCW 11:549). In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius II banished paganism from the Roman Empire, which at that time included Thrace, Macedonia, Crete, Syria, and Egypt. Theophilus, the Christian Patriarch of Alexandria, set about obliterating all vestiges of pagan shrines. In 391 CE a Christian mob razed the Serapeum to the ground, along with its irreplaceable collection of classical literature. The stone from the temples was used to construct new Christian churches, and Theophilus was later honoured as a saint.

    Neoplatonism flourished in Alexandria until 415 CE, when a Christian mob, inflamed by Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, brutally murdered Hypatia, an esteemed philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. Like his uncle (Theophilus), Cyril was made a saint. The murder of Hypatia has been called the death of the pagan world and the beginning of the dark age. By this time, the Mysteries in the West had long been in decline, due to both persecution from without and degeneration from within. Grace Knoche writes: ‘Aside from the suppression of everything non-Christian, much of what had once been held beautiful and holy in the Mysteries – the sacred ritual of the union of the aspiring soul with the higher self – had become orgies of the most degraded sort’ (MS 66). In 529 CE Emperor Justinian closed the last philosophical school of Athens, the Academy founded by Plato.

    The final deliberate destruction of the Alexandrian library is often said to have taken place in 642 CE when the Arabs conquered Egypt. However, many regard these allegations as a Christian attack on Muslims, and the claim that it took six months to burn all the contents of the library to heat Alexandria’s public baths is dismissed as an outright fabrication.

    H.P. Blavatsky says that the destruction of the Alexandrian library was a temporary setback rather than a permanent defeat for those who valued the wisdom of the ancients.

There are strange traditions current in various parts of the East – on Mount Athos and in the Desert of Nitria, for instance – among certain monks, and with learned Rabbis in Palestine ... that not all the rolls and manuscripts, reported in history to have been burned by Caesar, by the Christian mob, in 389, and by the Arab General Amru, perished as it is commonly believed ...
    No more do sundry very learned Copts scattered all over the East in Asia Minor, Egypt, and Palestine believe in the total destruction of the subsequent libraries. (Isis 2:27-8)

She elaborates:

It has been claimed in all ages that ever since the destruction of the Alexandrian Library, every work of a character that might have led the profane to the ultimate discovery and comprehension of some of the mysteries of the Secret Science, was, owing to the combined efforts of the members of the Brotherhoods, diligently searched for. It is added, moreover, by those who know, that once found, save three copies left and stored safely away, such works were all destroyed. In India, the last of the precious manuscripts were secured and hidden during the reign of Emperor Akbar [second half of the 16th century].
    It is maintained, furthermore, that every sacred book of that kind, whose text was not sufficiently veiled in symbolism, or which had any direct references to the ancient mysteries, after having been carefully copied in cryptographic characters, such as to defy the art of the best and cleverest palaeographer, was also destroyed to the last copy. (SD 1:xxiii-iv)

    The destruction of the Alexandrian Library marked the beginning of an era when the ‘mysteries of the secret science’ were deliberately hidden. Yet slowly but surely lost works are becoming available again because more and more people are proving capable of appreciating them. Indeed, the modern theosophical movement was founded to partially unveil long-hidden truths.

Secret records

That the Brotherhood of Adepts has extensive records concerning the history of the human race is repeated on many occasions in theosophical literature.

The Secret Doctrine was the universally diffused religion of the ancient and prehistoric world. Proofs of its diffusion, authentic records of its history, a complete chain of documents, showing its character and presence in every land, together with the teaching of all its great adepts, exist to this day in the secret crypts of libraries belonging to the Occult Fraternity.
    This statement is rendered more credible by a consideration of the following facts: the tradition of the thousands of ancient parchments saved when the Alexandrian library was destroyed; the thousands of Sanskrit works which disappeared in India in the reign of Akbar; the universal tradition in China and Japan that the true old texts with the commentaries, which alone make them comprehensible – amounting to many thousands of volumes – have long passed out of the reach of profane hands; the disappearance of the vast sacred and occult literature of Babylon; the loss of those keys which alone could solve the thousand riddles of the Egyptian hieroglyphic records; the tradition in India that the real secret commentaries which alone make the Veda intelligible, though no longer visible to profane eyes, still remain for the initiate, hidden in secret caves and crypts; and an identical belief among the Buddhists, with regard to their secret books.
    The Occultists assert that all these exist, safe from Western spoliating hands, to re-appear in some more enlightened age ... (SD 1:xxxiv)

The members of several esoteric schools – the seat of which is beyond the Himalayas, and whose ramifications may be found in China, Japan, India, Tibet, and even in Syria, besides South America – claim to have in their possession the sum total of sacred and philosophical works in MSS. and type: all the works, in fact, that have ever been written, in whatever language or characters, since the art of writing began; from the ideographic hieroglyphs down to the alphabet of Cadmus and the Devanagari. (SD 1:xxiii)

The Great Ones know of the existence, and are protectors, of vast underground libraries, depositories, existing from very ancient times, and containing still, in catalogued form, all literary records of value dating doubtless from the beginning of the present great fifth root-race of mankind. ...
    ... I know no more fascinating and delightfully interesting hours than those passed in wandering under competent guidance through some of these underground corridors, many of them connecting with deep caves in the profound recesses of which there remain even today gathered together and carefully watched over and preserved, among many other things, even the bones of inhabitants of the earth and of animals of the earth of long past ages.
There you will find skeletons of the giants of Atlantean days. There you will find some of their handiwork preserved for the instruction, and it may be for the edification, of future generations of men when the proper time comes to bring these to public knowledge.
    The scientists of the future, if they are as dogmatic as some of the scientists of today are, are going to receive some very unpleasant surprises, for one day these records of the past will be brought forth, and positive proof given of the teachings of the Wisdom-Religion regarding the nature, characteristics, and handiwork of the ancient mankinds. (EST 2:113-4)

Gnosticism and Kabbala

In the early 4th century CE, orthodox Christianity – based on a literal interpretation of selected gospels dating from the 2nd century CE – was made into the state religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine. This gave it the power it needed to begin the final ruthless suppression of paganism and gnosticism. H.P. Blavatsky writes:

The days of Constantine were the last turning-point in history, the period of the Supreme struggle that ended in the Western world throttling the old religions in favour of the new one, built on their bodies. ... [The period] beginning with Buddha and Pythagoras at one end and the Neo-Platonists and Gnostics at the other, is the only focus left in History wherein converge for the last time the bright rays of light streaming from the aeons of time gone by, unobscured by the hand of bigotry and fanaticism. (SD 1:xliv-v)

By the end of the 5th century, the destruction was so complete that Archbishop Chrystostom could boast: ‘Every trace of the old philosophy and literature of the ancient world has vanished from the face of the earth’ (CC 357).

    As Blavatsky points out, however, the fanatical efforts made during the early centuries of the Christian era to obliterate every trace of pagan philosophy and the secret doctrine were doomed to failure (SD 1:xl). Echoes of the ancient wisdom pepper the Christian faith, though largely disfigured and literalized. Furthermore, many sacred texts were hidden and are beginning to reappear.

    A handful of gnostic treatises in Coptic were discovered in the 18th and late 19th centuries, including the Pistis Sophia. Blavatsky published a commentary on part of this important work in 1890-91, uncovering its inner meaning and demonstrating its parallels with the esoteric doctrines of the Brahmans (BCW 13:1-81, Gnostics 161-271).

    In 1945, 13 codices containing Christian gnostic books in Coptic translation were discovered near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. This significant discovery richly added to our knowledge of gnosticism and early Christianity. Two years later Bedouin shepherds discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea. Between 1947 and 1956, 830 distinct documents were salvaged from 11 different caves. They paint a much more diverse picture of 1st-century Judaism than had previously been accepted.

Qumran cave 4.

    The noted Orientalist Max Müller remarked in 1860 that over the previous 50 years ‘the authentic documents of the most important religions of the world have been recovered in a most unexpected and almost miraculous manner’. He was referring, for example, to the canonical books of Buddhism, the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster, and the hymns of the Rig Veda. Blavatsky adds:

In their insatiable desire to extend the dominion of blind faith, the early architects of Christian theology had been forced to conceal, as much as it was possible, the true sources of the same. To this end they are said to have burned or otherwise destroyed all the original manuscripts on the Kabala, magic, and occult sciences upon which they could lay their hands. They ignorantly supposed that the most dangerous writings of this class had perished with the last Gnostic; but some day they may discover their mistake. Other authentic and as important documents will perhaps reappear in a ‘most unexpected and almost miraculous manner.’ (Isis 2:26)

    This is borne out by the discovery of the Nag Hammadi writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Blavatsky suggests that such discoveries ‘at the most opportune moments’ are part of a ‘premeditated design’. ‘Is it so strange’, she asks, ‘that the custodians of “Pagan” lore, seeing that the proper moment had arrived, should cause the needed document, book, or relic to fall as if by accident in the right man’s way?’ She says it is quite plausible that ‘the remains of that glorious literature of the past, which was the fruit of its majestic civilization’ are guarded in various regions of the earth, and that, as religious dogmatism crumbles, ‘much more will be discovered that is now hidden’ (Isis 2:26fn).

    As regards the Kabbala, Blavatsky refers to ‘the Vatican MSS. of the Kabala – a single copy of which (in Europe) is said to have been in the possession of Count St. Germain’, and says that it contains more detailed teachings not to be found in any publicly available works (SD 2:239). She points out that there are really two Kabbalas:

the one compiled by Shimon ben Yohai in the Zohar, in the second century (we say the first), that is the true Kabalah of the Initiates, which is lost and whose original is to be found in the Chaldean Book of Numbers; and the other, that which exists in Latin translations in your libraries, the Kabalah denatured by Moses de Leon in the XIIIth century, a pseudograph composed by that Spanish Israelite, with the aid and under the direct inspiration of the Syrian and Chaldean Christians, on the traditions preserved in the Midraschim and the remaining fragments of the true Zohar. (BCW 9:376)

She describes the Chaldean Book of Numbers as follows:

A work which contains all that is found in the Zohar of Simeon Ben-Jochai, and much more. It must be the older by many centuries, and in one sense its original, as it contains all the fundamental principles taught in the Jewish Kabbalistic works, but none of their blinds. It is very rare indeed, there being perhaps only two or three copies extant, and these in private hands. (TG 75)

    In other words, the Kabbala of the Jews is ‘the distorted echo of the Secret Doctrine of the Chaldeans, and ... the real Kabalah is found only in the Chaldean Book of Numbers now in the possession of some Persian Sufis’ (BCW 14:174). The public, she says, ‘knows nothing of the Chaldean works which are translated into Arabic and preserved by some Sufi initiates’ (SD 1:288). Writing in 1889, she says that only two or three incomplete copies of the Book of Numbers now exist and that they are in the possession of initiated rabbis: ‘One of these lived in Poland, in strict seclusion, and he destroyed his copy before dying in 1817; as for the other, the wisest rabbi of Palestine, he emigrated from Jaffa some few years ago’ (BCW 11:549).

    H.S. Olcott testifies to Blavatsky’s exceptional knowledge of the Kabbala:

I have known a Jewish Rabbi pass hours and whole evenings in her company, discussing the Kabballa, and have heard him say to her that, although he had studied the secret science of his religion for thirty years, she had taught him things he had not even dreamed of, and thrown a clear light upon passages which not even his best teachers had understood. ... [I]n her better moments of inspiration ... she astonished the most erudite by her learning ... (ODL 1:206-7)

Taoism, Jainism, Hinduism

19th-century Orientalists discovered that an immense number of manuscripts and even printed works known to have existed had disappeared without trace. Blavatsky says that ‘most of them contained the true keys to works still extant, and entirely incomprehensible, for the greater portion of their readers, without those additional volumes of Commentaries and explanations’.

    As an example she mentions the works of Lao-tzu, who reportedly wrote 930 books on ethics and religion, and 70 on magic. However, his great work, the Tao te Ching, only contains about 5000 words or barely a dozen pages. The earliest commentary on it dates from 163 BCE, and during the preceding 450 years since Lao-tzu lived ‘there was ample time to veil the true Lao-tse doctrine from all but his initiated priests’. According to tradition, the commentaries to which Western Sinologists have access ‘are not the real occult records, but intentional veils’, and ‘the true commentaries, as well as almost all the texts, have long since disappeared from the eyes of the profane’ (SD 1:xxv).

    As regards the ancient sacred canon of India’s Jain religion, only the scriptures known as Angas are now available. They were once considered auxiliary scriptures to the 14 Purvas, which are entirely lost to us. According to one of the two main sects of Jains, the Digambaras, even the Angas we have are not the original ones.

    Similar observations can be made about the sacred works of Hinduism. Swami Dayanand Sarasvati, a contemporary of Blavatsky, stated that what European Orientalists had in their possession was only ‘the bits of rejected copies of some passages from our sacred books’. He spoke of a cave near Okhee Math in the Himalayas, where secret works were kept (SD 1:xxx).

    The Vedas are the oldest religious compositions of India. Modern scholarship estimates that they date from 1500-1000 BCE, while Indian tradition makes them considerably older; one view is that they date back to 20-30,000 BCE (BCW 14:361-5). They can only be properly understood with the help of commentaries, yet all the commentaries available today are comparatively modern. For a long time the only commentaries known were those of Sayana, dating to the 14th century CE. A few incomplete manuscripts of earlier commentaries are now known, but even the oldest of these probably only dates to the 7th century CE. As David Reigle says, ‘The strange fact that we have only late commentaries on India’s oldest texts provides weighty evidence for the Wisdom Tradition’s assertion that the genuine commentaries have all been withdrawn’ (Reigle4).

    T. Subba Row stated that the Vedas ‘have a distinct dual meaning – one expressed by the literal sense of the words, the other indicated by the metre and the swara – intonation – which are as the life of the Vedas’ (SD 1:270fn). According to Blavatsky, the oldest known Hindu work, the Rig Veda, consisting of 1028 hymns, was compiled by initiates, and modern Sanskritists can know nothing of its internal or esoteric meaning (SD 2:451):

in spite of the Brahamanas and the mass of glosses and commentaries, it is not understood correctly to this day. Why is this so? Evidently because the Brahmanas, ‘the scholastic and oldest treatises on the primitive hymns,’ themselves require a key, which the Orientalists have failed to secure. (SD 1:xxvii)

The Brahmanas, ... often clashing with each other, are pre-eminently occult works, hence used purposely as blinds. They were allowed to survive for public use and property only because they were and are absolutely unintelligible to the masses. Otherwise they would have disappeared from circulation as long ago as the days of Akbar. (SD 1:68)

    ‘Upanishad’ literally means ‘sitting down near [the guru]’, or as Blavatsky paraphrases it, ‘the conquest of ignorance by the revelation of secret, spiritual knowledge’. She says that the Upanishads are to the Vedas what the Kabbala is to the Jewish Bible, for they expound the secret and mystic meaning of the Vedic texts. However, nowadays the full meaning can only be understood with the help of a master key (SD 1:269-70).

Some thirty years ago [c. 1860] the Upanishads, consisting of brief treatises, numbered approximately 150. Little by little, hidden away by the Brahmanas, they gradually disappeared, with the exception of some 20 of them, and even those were not all genuine. There is a widespread rumour in India that all the best Upanishads, as well as the explanatory manuscripts of the Vedanta (gradually composed through the centuries and providing the key to the Upanishads) are in the hands of initiated Taraka-Raja-Yogins, in the chief Mathas (monasteries) of the Vedantists belonging to the Adwaita school; and also in the hands of some independent Yogins, adept-mystics, scattered through the jungles of the Himalayas and the inaccessible summits of the mountain ranges of Southern India. (BCW 12:345fn)

Half the contents of the Upanishads were eliminated, while some were rewritten and abridged.

[T]he Upanishads were originally attached to their Brahmanas after the beginning of a reform, which led to the exclusiveness of the present caste system among the Brahmins, a few centuries after the invasion of India by the ‘twice-born’ [i.e. Brahmans]. They were complete in those days, and were used for the instruction of chelas preparing for their initiation.
    This lasted so long as the Vedas and the Brahmanas remained in the sole and exclusive keeping of the temple-Brahmins ... (SD 1:270-1)

    Things changed when Gautama Buddha (born 643 BCE) arrived on the scene. Indignant at the fact that the Brahmans were withholding their sacred knowledge from the world at large, he began to give out some of their secret teachings publicly. The Brahmans responded by abridging the texts of the Upanishads, which originally contained three times the matter of the Vedas and Brahmanas put together, by detaching certain portions, without altering one word. ‘The key to the Brahmanical secret code remained henceforth with the initiates alone, and the Brahmins were thus in a position to publicly deny the correctness of Buddha’s teaching by appealing to their Upanishads ... Such is the esoteric tradition beyond the Himalayas’ (SD 1:271).

    Shankaracharya, the most renowned exponent of the Advaita (nondualistic) Vedanta school of philosophy, who was born about 50 years after Buddha’s death, wrote many commentaries (bhashyas) on the Upanishads. But his original treatises are jealously preserved in his mathas and have not yet fallen into public hands. Blavatsky says that they will remain a dead letter to most Hindus for ages to come, except the Smarta Brahmans, a sect founded by Shankaracharya, whose mathas are still occasionally headed by real initiates (SD 1:271-2).

    Evidence suggests that the major writings of Shankaracharya now extant – his commentaries on the Brahma-Sutras, Upanishads, and Bhagavad-Gita – were not written by the original Shankaracharya, but by a later, distinctly theistic Shankaracharya who lived in the 8th century CE. Only some of his shorter works, including the Viveka-Chudamani (‘Crest Jewel of Discrimination’), appear to have been authored by the original Shankaracharya, and are in keeping with the wisdom tradition (Reigle3).

    As for the Puranas, their true meaning was clear only to the initiated Brahmans, who wrote them allegorically to avoid giving the whole truth to the masses; taken in their dead letter they ‘read as an absurd tissue of fairy tales’ (SD 2:320). The Puranas, too, have been altered. The Vaishnavas, says Blavatsky, ‘interpolated almost as much, out of sectarian spite, as the Christian Fathers did’ (SD 2:550fn).

The Vishnu Purana, like all other works of this kind, has passed at a later period into the hands of the temple-Brahmins, and the old MSS. have, no doubt, been once more tampered with by sectarians. But there was a time when the Puranas were esoteric works, and so they are still for the Initiates who can read with the key that is in their possession. (SD 1:423; also 1:65-6, 2:174, 403)

She says that the oldest manuscript of the Vishnu Purana is in the possession of an initiate in southern India (SD 2:174fn).

    She makes the following observations on two other Puranas:

The Brahmanda Purana contains the mystery about Brahma’s golden egg fully; and this is why, perhaps, it is inaccessible to the Orientalists, who say that this Purana ... is ‘no longer procurable in its collective body,’ but ‘is represented by a variety of Khandas and Mahatmyas professing to be derived from it.’ (SD 1:367fn)

In Naradiya Purana, [Narada] describes the laws and the duties of celibate adepts; and as these occult duties are not found in the fragments of about 3,000 Stanzas in the possession of European museums, the Brahmins are proclaimed liars; the Orientalists forgetting that the Naradiya is credited with containing 25,000 Stanzas, and that it is not very likely that such MSS. should be found in the hands of the Hindu profane, those who are ready to sell any precious olla for a red pottage. (SD 2:82)

    The best-known Hindu work, the Bhagavad-Gita, also requires interpretation. W.Q. Judge says that although it contains the esoteric doctrine, this cannot be found in its entirety without the key.

That key was deliberately suppressed at the time of the driving out of the Buddhists from India when the Pauranikas, or those who followed the ancient Puranas, were desirous of concealing the similarity between Buddhism and Brahmanism. The missing key is said to be contained in a work three times as bulky as the Mahabharata, and to have been carried away by the Buddhist Initiates; and the tradition now claims that in Ceylon at the Kandy Temple is a copy. (Echoes 3:253)

    One of Blavatsky’s adept teachers suggested that when westerners had sufficiently changed their attitude towards ancient Hindu philosophy, old manuscripts ‘hitherto buried out of the reach of the Europeans’, would again come to light, along with the key to much of what has been hidden for ages from popular understanding (MLc 474-5; CCML 36).

Buddha and Buddhism

Blavatsky explains that Gautama Buddha had the task of destroying the idolatry and fanatical superstition of the multitude resulting from the fact that the Brahmans excluded every caste except their own from their superior knowledge.

[T]he whole Buddhist reform merely consisted in giving out a portion of that which had been kept secret from every man outside of the ‘enchanted’ circle of Temple-Initiates and ascetics. Unable to teach all that had been imparted to him – owing to his pledges – though he taught a philosophy built upon the ground-work of the true esoteric knowledge, the Buddha gave to the world only its outward material body and kept is soul for his Elect. ...
    [The soul] doctrine was preserved secretly – too secretly, perhaps – within the sanctuary. (SD 1:xxi)

    There is therefore a big difference between the Buddha’s public teachings and his secret or esoteric doctrine, which was essentially the same as that of the initiated Brahmans of his day.

[T]he secret portions of the ‘Dan’ or ‘Jan-na’ (‘Dhyan’) of Gautama’s metaphysics – grand as they appear to one unacquainted with the tenets of the Wisdom Religion of antiquity – are but a very small portion of the whole. The Hindu Reformer limited his public teachings to the purely moral and physiological aspect of the Wisdom-Religion, to Ethics and man alone. Things ‘unseen and incorporeal,’ the mystery of Being outside our terrestrial sphere, the great Teacher left entirely untouched in his public lectures, reserving the hidden Truths for a select circle of his Arhats. The latter received their Initiation at the famous Saptaparna cave ... (SD 1:xx)

    Blavatsky says that in his public teachings the Buddha was too cautious and concealed too much (Key 81). G. de Purucker says that although the Buddha’s presentation of the philosophical and ethical side of the ancient wisdom was almost perfect, he realized shortly before his nirvana that the mystical and religious portions of the wisdom teachings had not been sufficiently elaborated, except as far as his arhats were concerned (SOP 696). Elsewhere De Purucker views the matter from a different angle, and says that the Buddha had opened the door a little too widely (Dia 2:210). In other words, the Buddha went further than the Brahmans of his day, but not far enough to make all the new teachings entirely clear.

    The Buddha’s teaching that humans are composite, and that only their karma survives death and passes into new bodies, was misunderstood to mean that no part of the human constitution perpetually endures – though if our karma endures there must clearly be something in which it inheres. The Buddha had also taught that there is a spiritual universe filled with entities in infinitely varying grades of development, but the teaching that these entities were essentially one with the universe had not been understood. To correct his minor ‘mistakes’, the Buddha brought about the birth of the avatara Shankaracharya in 510 BCE, 51 years and 2 months after attaining nirvana (SRCW 1:211), with the Buddha supplying the intermediate, psychological part of Shankaracharya’s constitution (SOP 696-7, Dia 2:232-3).

    19th-century Orientalists such as Max Müller denied point-blank that the Buddha had any secret teachings, but this view is now known to be completely erroneous. In reply to the claim that ‘Real Adepts like Gautama Buddha or Jesus Christ did not shroud themselves in mystery, but came and taught openly’, one of the mahatmas remarked: ‘If they did it’s news to us – the humble followers of the former’ (ML2 281; MLc 71)!

    As Blavatsky wrote, ‘There is an esoteric doctrine, a soul-ennobling philosophy, behind the outward body of ecclesiastical Buddhism.’ The Buddha generally taught this secret system in the Saptaparna cave, located near Mount Baibhar in Rajagriha, the ancient capital of Magadha.

It is from this cave – called in the days of Sakyamuni, Saraswati or ‘Bamboo-cave’ – that the Arhats initiated into the Secret Wisdom carried away their learning and knowledge beyond the Himalayan range, wherein the Secret Doctrine is taught to his day. Had not the South Indian invaders of Ceylon ‘heaped into piles as high as the top of the cocoanut trees’ the ollas of the Buddhists, and burnt them, as the Christian conquerors burnt all the secret records of the Gnostics and the Initiates, Orientalists would have the proof of it ... (BCW 10:71-2)

    Buddhist literature is thus not available in its completeness. Müller himself wrote: ‘according to a tradition preserved by the Buddhist schools, both of the South and of the North, the sacred Buddhist Canon comprised originally 80,000 or 84,000 tracts, but most of them were lost, so that there remained but 6,000.’ Blavatsky comments:

‘Lost’ as usual for Europeans. But who can be quite sure that they are likewise lost for Buddhists and Brahmins?
    Considering the sacredness for the Buddhists of every line written upon Buddha or his ‘Good Law,’ the loss of nearly 76,000 tracts does seem miraculous. (SD 1:xxvii-viii)

    According to Thango-pa Chhe-go-mo, the ‘Chohan Lama’ in charge of the secret libraries of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, whom Blavatsky said was more deeply versed in esoteric and exoteric Buddhism than anyone else in Tibet, the Tibetan sacred canon comprises 1707 volumes, of which 1083 are public and 624 secret. ‘Even in those volumes to which the masses have access,’ he says, ‘every sentence has a dual meaning, one intended for the unlearned, and the other for those who have received the key to the records.’ The books in the canon ‘contain no fiction, but simply information for future generations, who may, by that time, have obtained the key to the right reading of them’ (BCW 6:98-100, 14:424fn).

    A prominent Sinhalese priest assured Blavatsky that the most important Buddhist tracts belonging to the sacred canon were stored away in countries and places inaccessible to European scholars (SD 1:xxx). All the main lamaseries situated in the mountains have subterranean crypts and cave libraries, and there are several such hiding places in the Karakorum mountains in Western Tibet.

Along the ridge of Altyn-Tagh, whose soil no European foot has ever trodden so far, there exists a certain hamlet, lost in a deep gorge. It is a small cluster of houses, a hamlet rather than a monastery, with a poor-looking temple in it, with one old lama, a hermit, living near by to watch it. Pilgrims say that the subterranean galleries and halls under it contain a collection of books, the number of which, according to the accounts given, is too large to find room even in the British Museum. (SD 1:xxiv)

    Numerous Buddhist texts that are available have been tampered with by sects within the past few thousand years or so to suit their own fancies (BCW 14:441).

    Although many Buddhist works remain intentionally hidden, manuscripts are constantly coming to light. In the early 20th century, various countries sent expeditions into Central Asia to excavate ruins along the Silk Road, and numerous documents in many different languages were discovered. One of the most important discoveries was the finding of about 3000 folios of birch bark and some paper manuscripts at stupa ruins in Gilgit, a town in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, in 1931. These Buddhist manuscripts included the original Sanskrit and Prakrit texts of numerous important scriptures which were assumed to be lost, though most of the documents were only fragments.

    Civil strife in Afghanistan in the past couple of decades has led to a huge outflow of Buddhist manuscripts. For instance, the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project was founded in 1996 to study and publish 57 fragments of Buddhist manuscripts on birch-bark scrolls, written in the Kharosthi script and the Gandhari (Prakrit) language. They were probably found in earthen jars in a cave near Jalalabad in what is now eastern Afghanistan, and were acquired by the British Library in 1994. Thought to date from the 1st century CE, they are among the oldest surviving Buddhist texts.

    Norway’s Schøyen Collection contains 10,000 fragments of around 1000 Buddhist manuscripts. They were originally kept in monasteries in Afghanistan, but were removed for safety from Muslim marauders centuries ago to caves near Bamiyan, and were smuggled out of Afghanistan in 1993-95. Other manuscripts were destroyed by the fundamentalist Taliban, which also blew up two giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in 2001 (see SD 2:336-40). Written on palm leaf, birch bark and vellum, the Schøyen manuscripts date from the 1st to the 7th centuries, and include many previously unknown Buddhist texts, as well as some of the oldest surviving scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. The manuscripts in the Schøyen and British Library collections have been dubbed the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism’.

In the name of Allah: the 173-ft-tall Bamiyan ‘Buddha’ vanishes. Its legs were destroyed by Persians in the 18th century, and both this statue and the other (115-ft) statue destroyed by the Taliban had earlier served as targets for Muslim armies.

    Following the Chinese invasion and takeover of Tibet in the 1950s, 100,000 refugees fled, taking their prize possessions with them, including sacred texts, virtually none of which had previously been published. Today the Tibetan Buddhist canon can be obtained inexpensively on microfiche, a large number of its Sanskrit originals have been edited and published, and many of these texts have been translated into English. The canon is currently being put onto computer. Five modern reprints of the Kanjur editions are also available: the first was published in Peking in 1958, and the other four have become available since 1975.

    A key work by the 14th-century reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsong-kha-pa, is the Lam Rim Chen Mo, or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. It was largely unknown in the West until two long sections of it were published in English in 1978. A full English translation in three volumes was published by Snow Lion Publications in 2002-04. G. de Purucker says that this important commentary is partly exoteric and partly esoteric (SOP 453). Tsong-kha-pa left a whole library of his own works, but less than a tenth of it has ever been made known (BCW 14:441). Tsong-kha-pa himself said:

‘every sacred truth, which the ignorant are unable to comprehend under its true light, ought to be hidden within a triple casket concealing itself as the tortoise conceals his head within his shell; ought to show her face but to those who are desirous of obtaining the condition of Anuttara Samyak Sambhodi’ – the most merciful and enlightened heart. (BCW 6:99-100)

Buddhism and Blavatsky

The majority of western Buddhist scholars have been scathing in their denunciation of H.P. Blavatsky and her writings. They could not bring themselves to believe that she had gained access to a living, esoteric Buddhist tradition (represented by the mahatmas) and had learned things of which they themselves were completely ignorant. They accepted the widespread prejudice that she was an amateur, an adventuress, and a fraud. By contrast, a minority of prominent Buddhist scholars have considered her to be an accurate transmitter of Buddhist teaching: e.g. Emile Burnouf, D.T. Suzuki, Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup, and Edward Conze. It is also significant that several high Tibetan lamas have expressed respect for her work, including the Ninth Panchen Lama, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism (Taylor, ch. 1).

    Richard Taylor writes:

Blavatsky was in a position to see what no other European of her time could: that the mysticism, mythology and obscure symbolism in the works of ‘esoteric’ Tibetan Buddhism held teachings of great depth and philosophical sophistication, a fact only now coming to be understood in the late 20th century by Western Buddhist scholars. That Blavatsky was a practising Mahayana Buddhist, in touch with a living textual and oral tradition, can be proven now that Western knowledge of ‘esoteric’ Buddhism has grown ... (Taylor, ch. 2)

    One of Blavatsky’s most controversial claims was that the ‘stanzas of Dzyan’, which form the nucleus of The Secret Doctrine, were taken from a secret Buddhist work which she called the Book of Dzyan, which in turn was one of the volumes of Kiu-te. She also said that her short devotional work, The Voice of the Silence, which expounds the heart doctrine and bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism, was a translation of extracts from The Book of the Golden Precepts, belonging to the same cycle of works as the Book of Dzyan. She writes:

The Book of Dzyan ... is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers.
    Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed ‘The Popularised Version’ of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds, and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand – with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World – contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences. These, it appears, are kept secret and apart, in the charge of the Teshu-Lama, of Shigatse. The Books of Kiu-te are comparatively modern, having been edited within the last millennium, whereas, the earliest volumes of the Commentaries are of untold antiquity ... (BCW 14:422)

Blavatsky refers to Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese translations of the original Senzar version of the Book of Dzyan and related commentaries (SD 1:23).

    Many critics have dismissed the Books of Kiu-te as figments of Blavatsky’s imagination. But they are now known to have been mistaken. In 1975 Henk Spierenburg identified the Books of Kiu-te as the Tibetan Buddhist tantras (BHPB 135-50), a group of more than 100 individual works collected into some 20 volumes. The correct (nonphonetic) transliteration of the Tibetan title is rGyud-sde, but ‘Kiu-te’ is a good approximation of the pronunciation. In 1981, another theosophical scholar, David Reigle, independently came to the same conclusion regarding the identity of the Books of Kiu-te (Reigle2; Reigle1).

    It was therefore the unfamiliar spelling that impeded attempts to identify the Books of Kiu-te. Blavatsky adopted this spelling from the Catholic monk Horace della Penna, who travelled in Tibet in 1730. He spoke of the Buddha’s laws being divided into the ‘Dote’ and the ‘Khiute’. These two divisions are clearly the mDo-sde and the rGyud-sde respectively, or the sutra (mDo) and tantra (rGyud) divisions (sde) of the Buddha’s Word. The Tibetan Buddhist sacred canon is divided into two parts: the Kanjur (bKa’-’gyur), containing the Buddha’s Word, and the Tanjur (bsTan-’gyur), containing commentaries. Both the Kanjur and the Tanjur comprise the same two divisions: the tantras and the sutras.

    Whereas the Hindu tantras are held in low esteem by most Hindus, the Buddhist tantras are respected by all Tibetan Buddhists as the highest Buddhist teachings. In contrast to the Hindu tantras, the Buddhist tantras are thoroughly based on the bodhisattva ideal, i.e. on working for the welfare of others rather than for oneself. Buddhist root tantras do include passages containing sexual imagery, causing Della Penna to denounce ‘this infamous and filthy law of Kiuthe’. However, standard tantric literature insists on a nonliteral interpretation of the root texts, and characterizes the idea that tantra equals sex as the view of ‘fools’.

    Reigle believes that the Book of Dzyan may be the Mula (Root) Kalachakra Tantra – which is ‘missing’. Given Blavatsky’s remark that the Book of Dzyan is ‘the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te’, it is significant that the Laghu (Abridged) Kalachakra Tantra, which is still available, is always placed first among the Books of Kiu-te in editions of the Kanjur. Blavatsky herself states that the Kalachakra is the first and most important work in the Gyut (rGyud) division of the Kanjur, and that it is ‘half esoteric’ and ‘has misled the Orientalists into erroneous speculations’ (BCW 14:402; SD 1:52fn). It is the only Buddhist tantra whose subject matter resembles the cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis of The Secret Doctrine. ‘Dzyan’ is a Tibetan phonetic rendering of the Sanskrit jñana (wisdom), the result of dhyana (meditation), and ‘Jñana’ is the title of the fifth and final section of the Kalachakra Tantra.

    The Kalachakra Tantra is considered to be the pinnacle of the Buddha’s esoteric doctrine, and is the only tantra said to have come directly from Shambhala – which in theosophical literature is regarded as the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Adepts. The Kalachakra teaching is considered the special domain of the Panchen Lama and his monastery, Tashilhunpo, located adjacent to Shigatse. The theosophical mahatmas sometimes lived in that area and Blavatsky indicated that they were known to the then Panchen Lama. In 1927 Blavatsky’s Voice of the Silence was reprinted under the auspices of the Chinese Buddhist Research Society in Peking, at the request of the Ninth Panchen Lama, who contributed a brief message on the path of liberation. (See ‘The Book of Dzyan’.)

    Tibet seems to have been one of the last places where Mystery schools were able to exist with public recognition. After successfully completing the approximately 20-year course of training in the monasteries, monks could enter the Tantric Colleges, in which the Books of Kiu-te formed the curriculum. Some of the monks who completed this course were then invited to enter the Kalachakra Colleges.

    Until quite recently, even the ‘public’ volumes of Kiu-te were kept secret from all who had not received initiation into them, as they are virtually incomprehensible without further explanation. In some schools of the Tibetan tradition a book called Ratna-gotra-vibhaga or Uttara-tantra, one of five known books attributed to the coming Buddha Maitreya, is used as a bridge to the tantras, or Books of Kiu-te, because it provides their doctrinal or philosophical basis. There is an interesting link between this work and the Book of Dzyan.

    Blavatsky mentions in a letter that she has just finished a long introductory chapter to The Secret Doctrine and that every section begins with ‘a page of translation from the Book of Dzyan and the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha” Champai chhos Nga (in prose, not the five books in verse known, which are a blind)’. David Reigle suggests that the book of Maitreya referred to by Blavatsky is the secret original of the Ratna-gotra-vibhaga (Reigle2 129). Significantly, the doctrinal or philosophical position of the Ratna-gotra-vibhaga is ‘far and away the closest, among all known books, to that of the fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine’. It is no coincidence, says Reigle,

that the doctrinal position of a known book of Maitreya matches the fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine, and that these teachings are used as necessary preliminaries for understanding, respectively, the public Books of Kiu-te or the Tibetan Buddhist tantras, and the first volume of the secret commentaries on Kiu-te or the Book of Dzyan. (Reigle2 177-8)

    As well as quoting from the Book of Dzyan, Blavatsky also quotes from several associated commentaries that are equally secret. For instance, vol. 2 of The Secret Doctrine contains a section entitled ‘Additional fragments from a commentary on the verses of Stanza XII’. She writes:

The MS. from which these additional explanations are taken belongs to the group called ‘Tongshaktchi Sangye Songa,’ [Ltung-bshags sangs-rgyas smon-lam] or the Records of the ‘Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession,’ as they are exoterically called. ... These ‘baskets’ of the oldest writings on ‘palm leaves’ are kept very secret. Each MS. has appended to it a short synopsis of the history of that sub-race to which the particular ‘Buddha-Lha’ belonged. The one special MS. from which the fragments which follow are extracted, and then rendered into a more comprehensible language, is said to have been copied from stone tablets which belonged to a Buddha of the earliest day of the Fifth Race, who had witnessed the Deluge and the submersion of the chief continents of the Atlantean race. The day when much, if not all, of that which is given here from the archaic records, will be found correct, is not far distant. (SD 2:423)

    If the Book of Dzyan is one day made publicly available, it would go a long way to restoring Blavatsky’s reputation in the academic world. But a great deal of what she stated in this connection has already been vindicated or shown to be very plausible. We now know that there are Tibetan traditions of secret, lengthy tantric texts. Richard Taylor writes:

... Tibetan tradition accepts that its ‘published’ canonical Tantras may not be the definitive, final exposition of their teachings. Esoteric as the rGyud-sde (Tantras) may be, even more esoteric commentaries and/or root texts appear to have once been known, and are now lost, hidden, or unknown. ...
    [W]hile a few Western sources by Blavatsky’s time had made brief mention of the existence of a Kalachakra Tantra and the existence of a ‘Gyut’ section of the Buddhist canon, Blavatsky gave significantly more information, which has turned out to be correct. (Taylor, ch. 2)

He concludes that there is strong evidence that

Blavatsky had access to Tibetan Buddhist sources which no other Westerner during her time had. Her works are by no means merely strings of plagiarisms, but rather very cogent arguments, supplemented by masses of data, that her readers should believe Buddhist claims that there is a perennial philosophy, in the possession of Adepts, which explains the origins of the world and leads to salvation from it. (ibid.)

Theosophy – a fresh impulse

The founding of the Theosophical Society by H.P. Blavatsky, H.S. Olcott, W.Q. Judge, and others in New York in 1875 was part of an effort made by the Brotherhood of Adepts ‘to restate once again and in fuller measure the archaic wisdom-tradition of mankind in its more esoteric aspects’, in order to help root out ignorance and strengthen human brotherhood. The theosophical movement ‘was intended to be the spiritual-intellectual nursery from which will be born the great philosophical and religious and scientific systems of future ages – indeed, the heart of the civilizations of the coming cycles’ (FSO 5-6).

    In the Preface to The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky writes:

The aim of this work may be thus stated: 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; 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; finally, to show that the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilization. (SD 1:viii)

    As well as exposing the shortcomings and delusions of scientific materialism, orthodox theology, and necromantic spiritualism, Blavatsky criticized 19th-century Orientalists who had indulged in ‘ingenious deductions and speculations’ in interpreting the symbolism of ancient religions and myths, thereby ‘over-flooding the libraries with dissertations rather on phallic and sexual worship than on real symbology, and each contradicting the other’.

This is the true reason, perhaps, why 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. I say ‘a few truths,’ advisedly, because that which must remain unsaid could not be contained in a hundred such volumes. ... [T]here is a fair minority of earnest students who are entitled to learn the few truths that may be given to them now ...
    Every century an attempt is being made to show the world that Occultism is no vain superstition. Once the door [is] permitted to be kept a little ajar, it will be opened wider with every new century. ... But it will take centuries before much more is given from it. (SD 1:xxi, xxvii-viii)

    Blavatsky and others have made clear that the published teachings contain puzzles that students are expected to try and solve for themselves:

The blinds which conceal the real mysteries of Esoteric philosophy are great and puzzling, and even now the last word cannot be given. (SD 2:310)

Since ... this work withholds far more than it gives out, the student is invited to use his own intuitions. (SD 1:278)

Theosophy is for those who can think, or for those who can drive themselves to think, not mental sluggards. (ISD 4)

    In the first half of the 20th century G. de Purucker clarified and in some respects amplified the teachings Blavatsky had transmitted. As in Blavatsky’s time, some of the teachings were originally given to members of the Esoteric Section (which was closed in the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) in 1950, eight years after De Purucker’s death). All the recorded teachings of the TS’s early leaders are now available to the public.

    The ageless wisdom is the parent source of every great religion and philosophy, and modern theosophy is the most complete and coherent presentation of this timeless tradition currently available. De Purucker stated that the teachings the adepts had made available through the TS ‘are such as have not been divulged for tens of thousands of years in the past, except under the most stringent and rigid conditions’ (EST 2:103).

    Referring to the deeper, ‘technical’ theosophical teachings about the inner constitution of nature and man, and the cyclic processes of cosmic and human evolution, De Purucker writes:

It is most interesting to note that these subjects, which so many people have misunderstood to be merely interesting questions for intellectual entertainment, are intimately involved with the moral, and with the spiritual, nature of man; and no man can have a proper comprehension of ethics and morals without understanding his proper place in the universe: his origin, his nature, and his destiny. What morals need in Occidental thought is a foundation based on science and philosophy. (FEP 450)


BCW H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Theosophical Publishing House (TPH), 1950-91
BHPB The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky, H.J. Spierenburg (comp.), Point Loma Publications (PLP), 1991
CC The Christ Conspiracy: the greatest story ever sold, Acharya S, Adventures Unlimited, 1999
CCML Combined Chronology for use with The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett & The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, Margaret Conger, Theosophical University Press (TUP), 1973
Dia The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, A.L. Conger (ed.), TUP, 1948
Echoes Echoes of the Orient, W.Q. Judge, PLP, 1975-87
EST Esoteric Teachings, G. de Purucker, PLP, 1987
ET The Esoteric Tradition, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1973
FEP Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1979
FSO Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974
Gnostics    H.P. Blavatsky, On the Gnostics, H.J. Spierenburg (comp.), PLP, 1994
ISD An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1988
Isis Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1877)
JM The Jesus Mysteries: Was the original Jesus a pagan god?, Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, Thorsons, 2000
Key The Key to Theosophy, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1889)
ML2 The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, A.T. Barker (comp.), TUP, 2nd ed., 1975
MLc The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, TPH, chron. ed., 1993
MS The Mystery Schools, Grace F. Knoche, TUP, 1999
ODL Old Diary Leaves (series 1-6), H.S. Olcott, TPH, 1900-1941
Reigle1 The Books of Kiu-te or The Tibetan Buddhist Tantras: a preliminary analysis, David Reigle, Wizards Bookshelf, 1983
Reigle2 Blavatsky’s Secret Books: twenty years’ research, David Reigle & Nancy Reigle, Wizards Bookshelf, 1999
Reigle3 The original Sankaracarya’, David Reigle, Fohat, V:3, 2001, pp. 57-71 (
Reigle4 God’s arrival in India – Part I’, David Reigle, Fohat, VII:1, 2003, pp. 6-11 (
SD The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1977 (1888)
SRCW T. Subba Row Collected Writings, H.J. Spierenburg (comp.), PLP, 2001/02
SOP Studies in Occult Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1973
Taylor Blavatsky and Buddhism’, Richard P. Taylor, 1999,
TG The Theosophical Glossary, H.P. Blavatsky, Theos. Co., 1973 (1892)

by David Pratt. Aug 2005; last revised Nov 2008.

The Book of Dzyan

The mahatmas

Theosophy and the Theosophical Society

Key concepts of theosophy

Origins of Christianity

God and religion