Notable Books

Notable Books 7

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

Judge, William Quan. Echoes of the Orient. 4 volumes. 2nd ed. Compiled by Dara Eklund. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 2009-11. Vols. 1-3 cloth, $35.00 each; vol. 4 (index) paper, $12.00.

Reviewed by John Algeo

William Quan Judge (1851-96) was one of the founding members of the Theosophical Society and its American leader after Blavatsky and Olcott left for India. During his relatively short life, he produced an impressive body of writings on Theosophy, which have been collected and indexed by one of our leading Theosophical authorities, Dara Eklund, now in a second and revised edition.

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Notable Books 6

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

Hoffman, Edward, ed. The Kabbalah Reader: A Sourcebook of Visionary Judaism. Boston: Trumpeter, 2010. Pp. xxxv + 266. $17.95

The Kabbalah is Jewish theosophy, widely known for its central glyph of the Tree of Life, a diagram of the ten sephiroth (from the Hebrew word for “number”), representing emanations from the Absolute, by which it produces the relative world. The sephiroth are connected by twenty-two “paths,” corresponding with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and representing the relationships between those emanations. The sephiroth are divided into three higher and seven lower. The higher three can be seen as corresponding to HPB’s three logoi and the lower seven to her seven rays.

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Notable Books 5

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

Sahagun, Louis. Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall. Port Townsend, WA: Process Media, 2008. Pp. [viii] + 296. $19.95.

Although born in Canada, Manly Palmer Hall (1901-90) was an archetypal American huckster, peddling the mysteries of the universe. This biography, appropriately by a writer for the Los Angeles Times, is a readable and abundantly illustrated account of its subject. It lacks an index, which makes it difficult to find what the author has to say about particular matters, but its journalistic flow makes for both entertaining and informative reading. It is doubtless the most thorough and best available treatment of its subject.

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Notable Books 4

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

Two recently published books are a notable contrast in content and relevance. We call both to the attention of our readers.

Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions. Transcribed and annotated by Michael Gomes. The Hague: I.S.I.S. Foundation [International Study-centre for Independent Search for Truth (Point Loma Theosophical Society, Blavatskyhouse)], 2010. Pp. xvi + 687. $103.10.

This book will appeal mainly to serious students of Theosophy, and for them it is invaluable. But even Theosophical tyros will find much of interest between its covers, and browsing through its index will yield notable insights into HPB’s way of thinking and her remarkable views into the Ancient Wisdom.

During the first half of 1889, after the 1888 publication of HPB’s Secret Doctrine, she met more or less weekly with various followers for discussions, questions, and answers about things related to that book. A stenographer recorded the sessions; extensively edited versions of the records of the first twelve of those meetings (more than half of the total) were published as Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge. The present volume is a transcription, with only minimal editing, of all the available records (which came to light in 1992). The previously published volumes had taken extensive liberties with the stenographic records, doubtless in the interest of converting the free flow of discussion (which is often disjoined and elliptical) into something more coherent and readable, but in the process losing both the tone and sometimes the exact sense of what was said. No record has been published before of the meetings during the last three months of the sessions.
The only way to access fully and accurately those 1889 discussions would be to get a peek into the akashic records. As that is not feasible for most of us, the next best thing is Michael Gomes’s book. It should supersede the old Transactions, which are both incomplete and tarted up (to use a Briticism for “showily redone”. This volume is destined to occupy a place on any Theosophical student’s shelf of indispensible books on basic Theosophy. It is already a classic.

Gowins, Phillip. Practical Sufism: A Guide to the Spiritual Path Based on the Teachings of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2010. Pp. xviii + 219. $15.95.

This book is directed to general readers and holds little of direct concern to Theosophists, although Sufism is arguably a theosophical form of Islam. In this context, “theosophical” with a lower-case “t” refers, not to the Theosophical Society, but to any of the multiple articulations of the Ancient Wisdom found in all ages and all over the globe.

Sufism is a collection of mystical traditions within Islam that orthodox Muslims regard as heretical. The Sufi view is that it is the esoteric teachings given by Muhammad to those capable of receiving them. One of the principle exponents of Sufism in the West was the Indian Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), to whose tradition the author of this book owes allegiance. The book, however, gives more insight into its author than into the details of Sufi esotericism, being more or less in a 1970s feel-good style.

Sufism is highly poetic. Anyone who wants insight into Sufi mysticism would be well advised to read the poetry of the Persian Sufi known simply as Rumi.

Phillip Gowins

In the opinion of your editor, the best English translations of Rumi are those of Coleman Barks, a distinguished poet himself who has appeared on Bill Moyers’s PBS program, and some of whose Rumi translations appeared in the magazine of the Theosophical Society in days of yore.

Notable Books 2

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

"Most books, like their authors, are born to die; of only a few books can it be said that death hath no dominion over them; they live, and their influence lives forever." – J. Swartz

A Theosophically immortal book is The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, and a new work to extend its dominion is the one John Algeo reviews here:

Mills, Joy. Reflections on an Ageless Wisdom: A Commentary on "The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett." Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2010 (July release). Pp. xx + 543 + index.

The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett is the quintessential foundation document of Theosophical literature. It was preceded by HPB's Isis Unveiled (a preliminary clarion call) and followed by her culminating books The Secret Doctrine, Key to Theosophy, and Voice of the Silence. But The Mahatma Letters is the earliest and most authoritative statement of distinctive Theosophical teaching. All dedicated Theosophists should know this work. Yet attaining such knowledge involves a problem.

The letters of the Mahatmas were personal communications to one individual. Their content includes universal truths as well as particular information highly localized in both time and space. Consequently understanding these letters is a challenge for present-day readers. That challenge is rendered far less daunting by Joy Mills's work. She has spent a lifetime studying and lecturing on the Letters, along with the rest of the Theosophical canon, and in this volume she has produced a vade mecum that every serious Theosophical student should have next to a copy of The Mahatma Letters, whose access it will greatly ease.

Joy's style is like a conversation with her readers, inviting them to recognize the relevance of the past to the present, with an emphasis on the application of the Letters to their own lives. Her text is appreciative (the word "beautiful" echoes throughout the volume) and raises questions prompting readers to consider the mysteries of life as well as the circumstances in which the Mahatmas wrote their letters to Sinnett. The best summary of this volume is in Joy's own words from her conclusion (pp. 537-8):

"The letters are redolent with the atmosphere of another world, a domain of consciousness that calls us onward to deeper and more comprehensive knowing. As we read with growing inner perception, we may become aware of stepping even momentarily 'out of our world into theirs,' glimpsing however dimly a realm of truth and beauty unparalleled in our ordinary existence. For a little while, we seem to walk with them, Masters of wisdom and compassion, Mahatmas, great souls, Brothers, knowers of 'every first truth,' who are ever sending out upon the world blessings of light and love and the benediction of their presence. . . .

"Every rereading of the letters seems to open a little wider the door to their world. The letters speak of timeless truths. They tell of a road not easy to travel, a way of life at times uncomfortable in its demands on time and energy, a commitment of mind and heart to the noblest ideal: the realization of human solidarity, Universal Brotherhood."

This volume is a magnificent culmination to Joy's own lifetime of study and commitment, a crowning achievement to all her service and teaching. This volume can also guide others onto the same path she has walked. The extent to which it succeeds in doing so will depend on the willingness of those of us who read it to follow its lead in pointing out the way to the ultimate realization that inspired both the outer and the inner founders of the Theosophical Society.

Joy Mills

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

"A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend".  Author Unknown

Notable Books are not limited to new ones. Among the editor's favorite somewhat older volumes that are classics of their kind are the following:


Hoeller, Stephan A. Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing. Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2002. Pp. xii + 257. The author is a bishop in the modern Gnostic Church and so writes as both a scholar with deep knowledge of the subject and as an insider with a sympathetic view of a movement that is often misunderstood. He emphasizes that, as the term naming it indicates, Gnosticism is about "knowing," not the outer world around us, but the inner world of our higher selves.

Hoeller, Stephan A. The Fool’s Pilgrimage: Kabbalistic Meditations on the Tarot. 2nd ed. with accompanying CD narrated by Stephen Hoeller. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2004. 1st ed. 1975. Pp. xviii + 132. Bishop Hoeller's knowledge, both inner and outer, is wide-ranging. In this volume he deals with two important systems of esoteric symbolism and relates them to each other: the pack of cards known as the Tarot and associated with the Gypsies and the Hebrew Kabbalah, which is Jewish Theosophy using scriptural interpretation to expound an emanative view of the cosmos.

Abdill, Edward. The Secret Gateway: Modern Theosophy and the Ancient Wisdom Tradition. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, 2005. Pp. xiii + 241. This volume is, in the editor's view, the best current introduction to Theosophical thought. Theosophists are often puzzled about what book to recommend to inquirers to give them a good overview of the ideas and ideals of the Theosophical movement that will not puzzle them but keep their attention with its clarity and applications. This is that book.

Notable Books 3

Edited by Bib Leo Phyle – Planet Earth

This  book will be of interest to readers of Theosophy Forward:

Ervast, Pekka. The Divine Seed: The Esoteric Teachings of Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books; Theosophical Publishing House, 2010. Pp. xvi + 135. (September release.)

The author of this book, Pekka Ervast (1875-1934) was a leading Finnish mystic, Theosophist, and authority on the esoteric meaning of the Finnish epic, the Kalevala.

Traditional scholarship on the life of Jesus tends to fall into one of three camps by treating Jesus (a) as a divine incarnation, in the orthodox theological tradition, (b) as a historical, human teacher in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, or (c) as a mythic expression of the hero with a thousand faces in the Joseph Campbell tradition. The Theosophical approach is different from all of those; it regards Jesus as an evolutionarily evolved human being who was a member of the band of human "elders" who have committed themselves to guiding and inspiring our species on the journey along their path to self-realization.

Ervast's book is an exploration of certain gospel subjects from a Theosophical perspective. In particular, it examines Jesus's parables, his teachings about the problem of evil, five commandments from the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, the distinction between Jesus and the Christ, and the Holy Communion—all from an esoteric point of view.

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