Why study The Secret Doctrine
The Secret Doctrine by HPB is said to have laid the foundation of modern Theosophy and has a profound impact on other writers including Annie Besant and CW Leadbeater. Specifically, Specifically Annie Besant described her experience with reading The Secret Doctrine as follows:
As I turned over page after page the interest became absorbing; but how familiar it seemed; how my mind leapt forward to presage the conclusions, how natural it was, how coherent, how subtle, and yet how intelligible. I was dazzled, blinded by the light in which disjointed facts were seen as parts of a mighty whole, and all my puzzles, riddles, problems, seemed to disappear. The effect was partially illusory in one sense, in that they all had to be slowly unravelled later, the brain gradually assimilating that which the swift intuition had grasped as truth. But the light had been seen, and in that flash of illumination I knew that the weary search was over and the very Truth was found.
The Secret Doctrine also influenced others outside the Theosophical Society. Specifically, Alice A Bailey (who later founded the Lucius Trust) had this to say about HPB’s magnum opus:
But those of us who really studied it and arrived at some understanding of its inner significance have a basic appreciation of the truth that no other book seems to supply. HPB said that the next interpretation of the Ageless Wisdom would be a psychological approach, and A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, which I published in 1925, is the psychological key to The Secret Doctrine. None of my books would have been possible had I not at one time made a very close study of The Secret Doctrine.
Moreover, HPB made quite a few claims in The Secret Doctrine which contracticted the science of her time and raised a lot of controversy. A large number of those claims were in fact proven to be true years later. A few claims are as follows:
- The universe is not stationary. It alternately expandsand contracts – which is the current scientific view.
- With respect to the origin of the planets of our system, HPB spoke in favour of what now is called the currently established nebular origin of the planets.
- HPB claimed that gravitation was not even a real phenomenon. Some decades after the publication of the The Secret Doctrine, Newton‘s theory of gravitation was revised by Einstein, who postulated that gravity is not a property of matter itself, and reinterpreted this physical phenomenon as due to the distortion of the space-time continuum.
- HPB asserted that atoms were infinitely divisible. Today we know that atoms are composed of subatomic particles which, in their turn, are also divisible. Actually, in quantum physics, particles are not even regarded as objective tiny pieces of matter but rather ‘excitations of quantum fields,’ a definition not too far from Blavatsky’s ‘centres of force’.
- HPB stated that atoms are in constant motion. It was only at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th that science discovered that phenomena such as light, heat, chemical affinity, electricity, and so on, were mediated by subatomic particles such as electrons, photons, etc.
- HPB wrote about the presence of energy in the atom. Decades later, this fact was discovered by science and the knowledge was used to build an atomic bomb.
MCKS said that “Spiritual Books are good food for the soul. When you read a good book, the Shakti goes to you.” If you were to “energetically scan” The Secret Doctrine you may also observe that it pulsates with spiritual energy. These together may be good reasons why The Secret Doctrine might be a book worth attempting to study.
How the book is organized
The Secret Doctrine was originally published in two volumes, with three parts to each volume. The first volume is titled Cosmogenesis (or genesis of the universe) while the second volume is titled Anthropogenesis (or birth of humanity). The first part of each book is a translation of what HPB called the secret Book of Dzyan, the original of which is written in the sacred language of the Initiates — the Senzar. The stanzas from the Book of Dzyan for the entire basis of The Secret Doctrine.
The structure of the two volumes of The Secret Doctrine is as follows:
- Volume I – Cosmogenesis: Part I of Cosmogenesis is formed by seven Stanzas translated from the secret Book of Dzyan along with their commentaries and explanations. Part II is devoted to the elucidation of the esoteric symbols contained in the great religions of the world, while Part III outlines the contrasting views of science (during the time of HPB) and the Secret Doctrine and meets probable scientific objections by anticipation.
- Volume II – Anthropogenesis: The general arrangement of Anthropogenesis is similar to that of Cosmogenesis. It deals primarily with the evolution of man on this planet. Part I of Anthropogenesis is based on Twelve Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan describing the gradual evolution of humanity and presents a panoramic view of bygone civilizations. Part II deals with the archaic symbolism of the world-religions, while Part III contrasts the view of science with that of The Secret Doctrine, specifically in the domain of Anthropology and Geology.
How to study The Secret Doctrine
It’s no secret that The Secret Doctrine isn’t easy to read. It requires continual mental effort, attention, concentration, and serious study. It even takes a long time to properly read even a few pages. The content is heavy and deep. This is expected given that any work which compares several dozens of philosophies and over half-a-dozen of world-religions is likely to be difficult to read. Also every page introduces several new concepts which is often of a challenging nature (this is actually a hallmark of HPB’s writing style). A lot of students have aborted the study of The Secret Doctrine after but a few hours.
We are aware of the key challenges that a student will face with HPB’s work. Therefore, the objective of this article is to provide some guidelines which might make your study of the The Secret Doctrine easier. This is based on the feedback of a few students who were able to do a serious study of this book:
- First things first, do note that the writings of Bailey, Leadbeater and Besant offer a different perspective of theosophy; and also uses terminology which is significantly different from that used by HPB. This is possibly one of the reasons that a large number of people who read Bailey, Leadbeater and Besant find it difficult to make sense of HPB’s writings. The difficulty and confusion comes from trying to read HPB’s teachings through the lens of terms and concepts which sometimes carry a different meaning vis-a-vis what is used in HPB’s writings. Hence it would serve the student best to approach HPB’s writings with a fresh mind.
- It is preferable to get a hard-bound copy of The Secret Doctrine via the Theosophical Society at Adyar. However, if you would like an electronic edition then you may access an electronic version here. We recommend that you buy the full original text of the books as opposed to abridgments. If HPB had intended her books to be shorter, she would have possibly made them shorter.
- For those unfamiliar with HPB’s style of writing we suggest that you start off with her simplest work – The Key to Theosophy. You can find an electronic copy of the book here. The book is available via the Theosophical Society.
- HPB uses a lot of Sanskrit terms through her writings (which most would be unfamiliar with). It is helpful to use HPB’s Theosophical Glossary (1892) as a reference whenever you get stuck. However, the book is out of print but you will find an online edition here.
- Before taking up the secret doctrine we recommend that you start with The Divine Plan by Geoffrey A Barborka (1961). This book has often been out of print, but is currently available for purchase of late. The Divine Plan is generally held in high esteem amongst several Theosophists and is widely considered to be a useful, accurate, and reliably informative explanation and overview of just about all the teachings and concepts contained in The Secret Doctrine. In the words of the author, this book is written “expressly for the purpose of those who wish to read and gain a deeper understanding of The Secret Doctrine.” However, without sounding overtly critical, in our view the book is about 90-95% accurate in conveying the original views of HPB. There are some concepts discussed in The Divine Plan (such as Solar Logos, Planetary Logos, Fifth Rounders, Inner and Outer Rounds, Ten Kingdoms of Monadic Evolution etc.) which do not feature in The Secret Doctrine or any of Blavatsky’s writing. Usually a tell-tale of sign of deviation from HPB is the absence any HPB quotes or references in the footnote on sources. This aside, The Divine Plan is an excellent book to understand the key concepts used by Blavatsky in her writings as well as an excellent source to get some grasp of the Three Fundamental Propositions given in the Proem (or preface) of Volume I – Cosmogenesis. Please be warned though that The Divine Plan is almost as long as Volume 1 of The Secret Doctrine.
- Following a study of The Divine Plan you should be able to start reading Volume I of The Secret Doctrine (Cosmogenesis). However, Barborka doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining the terminology and concepts in the Stanzas of Dzyan (which forms the foundation for The Secret Doctrine). Hence, there are two additional resources which we feel would be helpful. The first is what is called The Secret Doctrine Commentaries (2010). Immediately after The Secret Doctrine was published, Blavatsky assembled a small group of students, at the Blavatsky Lodge in London, for more in depth discussion of the ideas in the book. The Secret Doctrine Commentaries contains the unpublished transcription of the shorthand notes of these Blavatsky Lodge meetings. You may download these online from here. Another excellent (but partial resource) for understanding the Stanzas of Dzyan are available via the Theosophy Wiki. The wiki contains detailed hyperlinks to help the student drill-down and understand the key terms and concepts that are used in The Secret Doctrine. The wiki still gradually being developed – but even in the current form remains an excellent resource for understanding some of the abstruse concepts and terms used by HPB in her translation of the Stanzas of Dzyan.
- Having covered Volume I, the student can proceed to Volume II (or Anthropogenesis). Comparatively this volume is much simpler to read than Cosmogenesis. There are two resources which would help in the study of the Anthropogenesis. The first is called The Peopling of the Earth by Geoffrey A Barborka (1975) which is a commentary on the first three Stanzas of Dzyan on Anthropogenesis. This book unfortunately has been out of print for a while. However, an electronic copy is available here via Theosophy Forward. The second resource is a book called Story of Human Evolution again by Geoffrey A Barborka (1980) which contains commentaries on stanzas four to twelve.
There are a few other guidelines which may help:
- Do not hesitate to underline, highlight, take notes, re-read, and make cross-references while you read.
- Do not overlook footnotes. Lot of important concepts and topics are tucked away in the footnotes.
- Pay proper attention to the apparently little things such as capitalised words, the careful use of italics for emphasis and, and the way in which certain words are used.
- Read slowly. Don’t rush. The Secret Doctrine takes years to study properly.
- It helps if you could form a book study group. Difficult books like The Secret Doctrine are much easier to understand if studied in a group.
- Finally, be prepared to apply a lot of mental effort. The Secret Doctrine is not presented as an already cooked and digested teaching to save the students the trouble of exercising their mental faculties.
We hope you have found this article helpful. We hope this would aid in your study of one of the greatest books ever written on Theosophy.