Anniversaries are occasions to reflect on the passage of time. Today, we are celebrating the life of one of the most remarkable women of the nineteenth century. I would like to take the opportunity to look at what that life stood for, and to see what relevance it has for us today.

The first forty-two years of H.P. Blavatsky’s life are a bit of a mystery. Lots of incidents are recounted, but given her capacity for story-telling it is not always easy to separate fact from fiction; or rather, to know which are the exaggerations. It is quite clear that she regarded this part of her life as private, and nothing to do with anybody else. She felt no obligation to clarify matters, dispel rumours, or otherwise put the record straight.

In 1873 she went to America, and from this point on her life is well-documented. Perhaps we should respect her desire for privacy, and not probe too deeply into those early years. It is enough to know that she was gifted, intelligent, clairvoyant, spirited, and she embarked on a series of adventures that would allow her to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

She may not have been an ideal candidate to set down the wisdom of the ancients ~ she lacked a formal education and was always on the wilful side ~ but in selecting her the Masters obviously decided she was the best available.

Her Master told her to go to America, in effect to write Isis Unveiled. To people outside the Theosophical Society, the existence of Masters is difficult to accept, and much debate centres on whether or not Blavatsky’s writings were a fraudulent concoction, whether she wrote with psychic assistance, or whether she wrote from her own knowledge and research. To me, the help of unseen Masters is the easiest to believe, but I would not seek to push that belief onto anyone. Rather, I would suggest an alternative view and quote verse 14 from The Voice Of The Silence:

“If thy soul smiles while bathing in the sunlight of thy life; if thy soul sings within her chrysalis of flesh and matter; if thy soul weeps inside her castle of illusion; if thy soul struggles to break the silver thread that binds her to the Master; know, O disciple, thy soul is of the earth.”

The footnote explanation reads:

The ‘great Master’ is the term used by lanoos or chelas to indicate one’s ‘Higher Self’.

And so, ignoring her early life; ignoring the Masters, ignoring the detail of the books, I want to look at why these books were written at the end of the nineteenth century: Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine, and The Voice of the Silence.

Isis Unveiled was a deliberate attempt to put into the public domain information that had previously been regarded as highly secret. Blavatsky was later to comment on the unsatisfactory nature of Isis:

“Of all the books I have put my name to, this particular one is the worst and most confused.” (Lucifer Vol VIII, page 241.)

In fact, the process of editing and re-writing was only brought to an end when the money for revisions ran out. And so another attempt was made, and this time the arrangement followed an identifiable course: the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan. The Secret Doctrine might not be perfect ~ or even complete ~ but the two major parts, Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis, can be read meaningfully from beginning to end. And for those who find that too time-consuming there is always O Lanoo!

According to Blavatsky the ancient knowledge of our origins was preserved from the days of Atlantis and Lemuria. Some of this knowledge became mixed up with myths and legends; some of it was incorporated into religious teachings. This is why there are so many common themes in different cultures around the world. But the complete story was kept secret for millennia, entrusted only to a small select number of adepts. Blavatsky claims that nothing in Isis or The Secret Doctrine is new, but this occult material had never before been collated and made available for general consumption. Why was it being published at the end of the nineteenth century?

According to your frame of reference, you might come up with different ideas. Perhaps it was in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps it was in readiness for the Age of Aquarius. Perhaps it was hoped that the knowledge might prevent the two world wars that dominated the twentieth century. Perhaps it was all of these, but for me the frame of reference is more psychological.

Blavatsky encouraged us to see patterns in nature. In the study of one thing we would gain understanding of another. To know the macrocosm, look at the microcosm. To understand the history of mankind, look at the development of the individual.

The individual starts life totally dependent on his parents. Only gradually does he (or she) begin to relate to the outside world, and even then from within the protection of the family unit. In his teens he starts to experiment with his own individuality and breaks away from the family, more often than not with much pain for all. In his twenties and thirties he begins to accept responsibility and eventually, perhaps, he gains maturity and wisdom.

Society has followed similar lines. The village was dependent on the protection of the Lord of the Manor, and villagers and lords were dependent on the protection of their God. It was a patriarchal society until the industrial revolution changed the natural order. Like teenagers, we began to reject traditional values and search for new meaning. Astronomers had shown that if heaven existed it could not be in the sky, because the sky was an illusion. Darwin had shown that God had not created all the creatures on earth within six days; many of them had evolved over millennia.

And so I believe that The Secret Doctrine was given to humanity at the end of the nineteenth century as a coming of age present. It was the key of the door given on a twenty-first or eighteenth birthday.

Unfortunately, we still behave like teenagers. We have violent mood swings; we go on the rampage; we wage wars; we are obsessed with toys; we have no spiritual values or sense of community; we do things for no other reason than because we can. We push science to the limit with no regard of the consequences. We create nuclear weapons and human embryos but have no moral code to guide us.

The Secret Doctrine gives us reasons why we should not behave in these ways. We are more than brothers and sisters; we are all part of the same whole. To act without regard for others is to neglect parts of one’s own body. To act with hostility to others is to suffer from self-inflicted wounds. The Secret Doctrine was given to us to help save us from the destructive tendencies of our teenage years. But like all teenagers, we are not interested in being helped. We are far too arrogant.

Blavatsky wrote many articles to explain and expand on Isis and The Secret Doctrine. With others, she founded the Theosophical Society. And yet towards the end of her life she felt that she had failed. The Society showed all the signs of disunity that were present in society at large. And although she believed that the next century would fully embrace theosophy this proved not to be the case. The movement has fragmented and very few people outside theosophy have any awareness of its existence. And at the beginning of the twenty-first century we are still behaving like arrogant teenagers.

The last book that Blavatsky wrote was The Voice Of The Silence. Having written The Secret Doctrine for Mankind, she dedicated this book ‘to the few’. Not that she was keeping this book away from the public at large; she simply believed that only a few people were capable of living the life of a theosophist. This book is interesting because it reveals more of Blavatsky herself. Her earlier works benefited from the experience gained on her travels and the wisdom of spiritual teachers from around the world, but we have no idea what was her knowledge and what was simply channelled. But in the Preface of The Voice she says: “I know many of these Precepts by heart”.

There is something revealing about the last works of a great artist. Aware of approaching death, he makes a last supreme effort to say what is most important to him. Beethoven’s last symphony drew on work that he had been working on all his life, and we have embraced part of it it as the European Anthem. With the end in sight, Blavatsky went back to very simple Precepts by which to live one’s life; Precepts which she had learnt for herself, and which now seemed more important than the glories of the Cosmos.

Here was a final message; thirty-nine precepts learnt by heart, years ago. We read the book now and admire it for its beauty and wisdom, but then go back to the difficult task of understanding The Secret Doctrine. So I make no excuse for reading out a few extracts from The Voice.

112. Yea, ignorance is like unto a closed and airless vessel; the Soul a bird shut up within. It warbles not, nor can it stir a feather; but the songster, mute and torpid sits, and of exhaustion dies.

113. But even ignorance is better than head-learning with no Soul-Wisdom to illuminate and guide it.

And later:

119. The Doctrine of the Eye is for the crowd, the Doctrine of the Heart for the elect. The first repeat in pride: “Behold, I know”; the last, they who in humbleness have garnered, low confess, “Thus have I heard”.

The study of books is not enough. We must open our hearts. This is Blavatsky’s final message.

The Theosophical Society was created before The Voice was written and its objectives are all to do with the Doctrine of the Eye:

“To form a nucleus of universal brotherhood.”
“To encourage study.”
”To investigate.”

But if we have any regard at all for the woman who was H.P. Blavatsky, let us not neglect the Doctrine of the Heart.

Which brings us to 9 May 2004. Where do we go from here?

From the mists of time, the ancient knowledge has been protected and preserved. To some extent, that responsibility has now fallen to us, although the fact that this knowledge is now in written form means that preservation is less of an issue.

But having formed a nucleus of universal brotherhood, what next? Is it enough to meet at regular intervals, to continue to study and investigate? There is a danger that we can become so pre-occupied contemplating our collective navels that we lose sight of everything else. And because we have knowledge that others don’t there is also a danger of arrogance. We say, with pride: “Behold, I know!”

Or as Kabir said:

Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.
The blue sky opens out further and further,
The daily sense of failure fades away…
The damage I have done myself becomes preparation
And a million suns come forward with light.
I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken -
Inside "love" there is more joy than we know.
Rain pours down through a clear sky
And the rivers of light are full.
The ocean of this being knows a fathomless love -
That is the fulfillment of life in this body.
Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of reason has parted us from love -
With the word "reason" you are already lost,

from verse 40

Blavatsky, with or without the Masters, gave the world Isis and The Secret Doctrine. She/they wanted these universal truths to be universally accepted. Over a century later, they are not. Does that mean that Blavatsky failed? Of course not. It is down to us to continue the task she started; to continue to make these universal truths accessible, and not just by repeating great chunks of text. Much of her teachings are now available online, the twenty-first century tool of the people. No doubt some will discover theosophy by this route. But I think we need to do more than that. In The Voice Of The Silence Blavatsky says:

126. If you are taught that sin is born of action
And bliss of inaction,
Then tell them they err.
Thus saith the Doctrine of the Heart.

We have to act and interact, avoiding the arrogance of reason, taking love, compassion and wisdom into the world. We have to live by example. And as Society moves out of its teenage years there will be more and more people ready to listen.

Blavatsky must have been hurt by the attacks of her enemies; even more by the betrayal of her friends. Perhaps she felt that hers was a lone voice in the silence of the universe. It is up to us to make sure that her message lives on.

Harvey Tordoff
May 2004