Sources of The Secret Doctrine

Joy Mills – USA

Theosophy JM b

Joy, lecturing at Olcott,in Wheaton

The intent of THE SECRET DOCTRINE -- as indeed the intent of all esoteric writings -- is to transform the mind. It is to bring about a profound change in consciousness, and it is from that point of view that we should approach the work of H.P.B. At the same time we may recognize that she had to use the language that was available to her. She clothed the ideas she was presenting in the only language that was available; also, we must recognize that she was putting it in a western language. Specifically of course, it was written in English. But English is a very poor language, very poor from the point of view of philosophy. However, it is a very good language from other points of view; for example, it has spread all over the world. From a very tiny island the language has moved out almost everywhere. From that small island, England, there was a movement in trade and commerce all over the world. But to use such a language -- or indeed to use any western language -- to convey deeply philosophical concepts is to ask of those languages quite an impossible task. And consequently, we must look always behind the words to their deeper meaning, to what is meant by the external word. We must all the time seek the depth of meaning. We must seek that which is hidden by the word. And only by a change in consciousness, that is, a change so that the mind is no longer analyzing, but now moves to a new perception, can we come to understand the doctrine. It Is all too easy to be caught up in the externals, to be concerned with rounds and races and globes. What planetary chain is this? Do Mars and Mercury belong to this chain or do they not? To become concerned with what I call "the technologies of the lower mind." And then we miss the essence of what is presented, so I should like to use H.P.B.'s own statements to examine what is THE SECRET DOCTRINE and what are its sources.

Let me begin then with a quotation from H.P.B. in her magazine LUCIFER, which she published in London after she went there. This was written exactly one year after the publication of THE SECRET DOCTRINE. H.P.B. wrote as follows:

What I do believe in is: one, the unbroken oral teaching revealed by living, divine men, during the infancy of mankind to the elect among men. Two, that it has reached us unaltered. Three, that the Masters are thoroughly versed in the science based on such uninterrupted teaching.

I think that statement gives us a clue to the sources. First of all, that there has been an unbroken oral teaching. Now generally when we hear something, and we attempt to repeat what we have heard, the statements pass through our own personal filter, if I may call it that. It may be said that we hear what we want to hear, and we screen out what we don't want to hear. We color what we hear with our own feelings, and we therefore distort what has been heard. We have to understand what is meant by "the unbroken oral teachings," in which there was no distortion. Because, she says, they have "reached us unaltered." This inevitably points to the significant fact that the teachings can only be received by the individual whose mind is pure, by the individual who is receptive to them in their purity. And that therefore we are dealing not with a collection of facts, but with an interior teaching -- to which we must give attention. That is, we must listen.

And for that reason, THE SECRET DOCTRINE is based on a certain ancient text that has been identified as "The Stanzas of Dzyan." Now that text has never been discovered historically, although one student of THE SECRET DOCTRINE has suggested that there is now evidence of the origin of that text. Indeed, an American student of these volumes, who is also a student of Tibetan, has proposed that the Stanzas are rooted in the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras, that indeed they may have been taken from a text which is referred to in certain Tibetan works, and that they are known as the "Kalachakra teaching." It is interesting for example to note, that that teaching was always the special property of the Panchen Lama, and was focused at a monastery, the Tashi Lampo, which is located adjacent to Shigatse. The teachers of H.P.B., who were responsible for giving much of the material which we have in THE SECRET DOCTRINE, are said to have their abode in that locale. But it is said by the Indo-Tibetan tradition that the Kalachakra doctrine came directly from Shambhala, and therefore it is known as "the teaching of Shambhala." Therefore, this may have some historical evidence to support H.P.B.'s statements. There is a small booklet dealing with this, regarding the origin of the Books of Kiu-te.

The important point is not so much the historical evidence and the analysis of some of the Tantric texts said to be in the extant works in the Kalachakra Tantra. It is not necessary to analyze this, but to look very closely at the recognition that this is a teaching that was conveyed to the enlightened of humanity as a result of an interior illumination. The term DZYAN, which we have as the Stanzas, is of course a phonetic, Tibetan rendering of the Sanskrit JNANA, which is the same as the English word GNOSIS, and means therefore: wisdom in its comprehensive sense, and that this is the result of profound meditation, which in Sanskrit is known as DHYANA. One may just add that JNANA is also the title of the fifth and last section of the Kalachakra Tantra -- its most esoteric portion. So I have tried to show that there is indeed some historical evidence for the existence of these Stanzas but at the same time let me point to the fact that this wisdom, JNANA, arises within the individual seeking enlightenment, as a result of profound meditation. That is, arises because the mind, or consciousness, Is in a certain condition: a condition of pure listening. That indeed, when one clears the consciousness, removes the "filter," one can enter into a realm of knowing which is at one and the same time wisdom and action, a realm that therefore has its own creative potential.

It is said, for example, that the Rig Veda, which is the oldest scripture in the world, was heard by the rishis, the wise and saintly ones, and therefore was first "heard from within." Later on we will look more closely at this matter of sound, for it is the characteristic of the very substance of the universe. I don't want to pursue this right now, but only to indicate that there is that aspect of the creative principle which in Sanskrit is called NADA and then the creative principle is Naha Brahma -- that is to say, shall we say, "the sounding God," "the speaking God" if you wish, the creative principle that is forever sounding throughout the universe. And that sound is the basis of all harmony, the basis of all expression. Now it is this original sound from that depth of meditation in which one is attuned to the original sound that constitutes the unbroken oral teaching.

The reason that it has reached us unaltered is that the world has never been without its divine teachers, and there has always existed therefore a race of "the elect among humanity." To those who have felt such compassion for humanity, those who were eager to share this wisdom, we have given the term "Masters" or MAHATMAS. They do not refer to themselves by that term because they recognize that they are also "learners" who are endeavoring both to hear the teaching and to convey the teaching. And so H.P.B. gives as the third point she believes in, that the Masters "are thoroughly versed in the science based on the uninterrupted teaching." But this does not mean that they have come to a full comprehension of the teaching. This may seem a rather shocking statement to make! But in the letters that they wrote to Mr. Sinnett, they make it clear the fact that they have still more to learn. How much greater their wisdom is than ours, there is still a greater wisdom to be achieved. And consequently, if you are familiar with those letters to Mr. Sinnett, you will recognize that they frequently had to ask a Chohan, a being beyond their status. And you will also recognize how often they referred to that teacher of teachers, the Buddha, who, it is said, was the first of our humanity to achieve full enlightenment. And yet even in that state, because he was in physical incarnation, certain mistakes were made. I refer you to a section in H.P.B.'s ESOTERIC TEACHINGS, a section called "The Mystery of the Buddha." It is said that out of his great compassion for suffering humanity, he revealed more than was permissible. And therefore, the interior presence -- we may call it that: the interior being -- had to take another incarnation. There is a great mystery here that we cannot explore fully right now. But it is a subject of very great interest, and it is one, I suggest, that we need at some time to look into. In brief and to make it as simple as possible, we may say that that interior presence appeared later as the great Shankaracharya. And we have then another step in the transmission of the original teachings. For it was the great Shankaracharya who presented the teachings in yet another way that could be meaningful -- we call those teachings the Advaita Vedanta. The Vedanta is the essence of the Veda's. The term VEDA incidentally, comes from the Sanskrit root VID, that is "to see," and is also "to hear," so that it is the VIDYA, that which is truly seen in its purity, or that which is heard in its totality. We may say it is the hearing that H.P.B. refers to in THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE. And so it is the perception without any cloud, without any mist, without any obscuration. It is the hearing of the original sound, the seeing of what I like to call "the original face of God," "the original face of the Logos." It is that, then, that again is transmitted, and we begin to see a chain of transmission. Of course, there were other great divine teachers, expressing the original teachings in unique ways. It is for this reason that H.P.B. could write:

It is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong to neither the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, to neither Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialized.

This gives us a clue to the structure of THE SECRET DOCTRINE and also should warn the student against what we may call "the materialization of the teachings." She warned us against this: to move from doctrine to dogma, to move from the teaching to its concrete expression. And this of course is a danger which we have to avoid.

So THE SECRET DOCTRINE in its structure presents first the translation of those archaic Stanzas, and that is already two steps removed from the original, oral teaching. Perhaps we could say even three steps, for the oral teachings were heard otherwise they would not be oral. That hearing, what was heard, was expressed first in symbols. Those symbols -- and H.P.B. refers to that archaic text of symbols -- were then expressed in a sacred language, a language of which there is no record, which H.P.B. refers to as "Senzar." But no student of linguistics is acquainted with such a language. While it is postulated that there is a root-language of all the Indo-European languages -- a language that has been lost -- it is difficult to recognize that that may have been the language to which H.P.B. referred. And so we have to recognize that Senzar may refer not so much to a language, but what she called "the most difficult mode of thought altogether." She calls this mode of thought "logo-grammatical." She says that, "It is the most difficult method of all, as every letter represents a whole word." And then she added, no one who is not initiated into the mystery of the occult, religious "logography" can presume to know what a name in any ancient fragment means before he has mastered every letter that composes it. So I would suggest that Senzar is not a language as we think of English or Dutch or German or French, but is a mystery language, in the sense that it is perhaps a quite ordinary language hiding occult meaning. We may even say it is a kind of "code," and one must then be initiated into reading it. Now it is apparent that H.P.B. was indeed initiated into this code. So we have the next level in which she has attempted a translation. And that forms the basis then of THE SECRET DOCTRINE, but we must realize that this is indeed a translation -- as well as she could do it or the Masters could help her do it -- of what is probably untranslatable. In fact, in one of the letters to Mr. Sinnett, H.P.B.'s own teacher, the Master Morya, told Mr. Sinnett that we must agree upon terms. And he added, "because our terms are nearly untranslatable."

So one sees the difficulty in a step-down tradition and while she says the Masters are versed in the science based on this uninterrupted teaching, there is every evidence in the letters that they are still themselves learning further aspects of the tradition. For example there is a very remarkable statement in one of the letters in which the Master Kuthumi writes "I had to study for 25 years before coming to the doctrine of cycles." Are we willing to give so much time to some of the preliminaries? We say the doctrine of cycles is a very simple doctrine! I often hear it said in some theosophical circles "We have heard endless lectures about karma and reincarnation!" I would suggest that we know only a fraction of what those two terms really mean, I'd suggest that we have really only begun to understand what this doctrine is. Now from the Stanzas there are yet further expositions. H.P.B., for example, gives commentaries on each of the SLOKAS or verses. And then because she was presenting this work to the western world and making public for the first time certain fundamental concepts or ideas of the esoteric philosophy, she added two further sections in each of the two volumes. She commented on the language that was coming into use in her days and the language which is our language in this century: the language of science. We may not realize the extent to which science has provided us with a language today, science has given us all of our metaphors. Just as in the Renaissance period and prior to that, the language was that of religion, so from the late nineteenth century to this century, science is our language. So she has a long section in which she uses that language to show what are the original teachings. Do not pass over that section lightly, by saying "well, the science to which she referred is outdated" -- actually, while some of the external facts have changed, the essential scientific attitude has not changed. Also she recognized that it was through science that further explorations into the teachings could be made. And then she has a section on symbology, again pointing to the original teachings.

In one sense THE SECRET DOCTRINE was not put together by H.P.B., nor even by her teachers, but as history records, it was organized by a remarkable uncle-and-nephew team: Archibald and Bertram Keightly. When H.P.B. moved to London in 1887, from Ostende, Belgium, it is said that the manuscript that comprised THE SECRET DOCTRINE was about three feet in height! And H.P.B. was not much of an organizer. You can read about this in the reminiscences of the Countess Wachtmeister, in which both Archibald and Bertram Keightly report how they assembled this mass of manuscript. But because they were working with H.P.B. and she was indeed working with her own teachers, the organization followed the pattern of all occult teachings.

So the structure emerges because of the intent of the work. And I come back to that intent to awaken a new mode of thought in the reader. And therefore the message is, that there is a life to be lived if one would come to wisdom, not just to understanding, not just to a collection of knowledge.

[FROM: Chapter Two in LIVING IN WISDOM: LECTURES ON "THE SECRET DOCTRINE, copyright 1989, Theosofische Vereniging in Nederland / Amsterdam. Reprinted with permission. The booklet was transcribed from a class given at the August 1988 Summer School of the Dutch Section of the Theosophical Society.]

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