Friday, 18 September 2015

Book Review: The Esoteric Papers of Madame Blavatsky - Daniel Caldwell

Blavatsky’s Esoteric Instructions have had a complicated history – three pamphlets were distributed privately in her lifetime and two more based on notes from her classes posthumously. The three pamphlets and different class notes were included in the posthumous Secret Doctrine Vol. 3 in 1897. The SD3 went on to become probably HPB’s most influential work, the complex, challenging, eloquent erudition of her other writings having noticeably less influence than the more direct, straightforward and explicit texts  that make up these writings. They had a marked influence on C.W. Leadbeater, Alice Bailey and a host of writers in the new age/popular occult vein (That is not to say that new age interpretations are an accurate representation of the originals, more of a vulgarization). For complicated reasons, the SD3 went out of print in 1980 and the instructions reappeared in Blavatsky’s Collected Writings, Vol. 12 and the SD3 was renamed The Esoteric Writings of H.P. Blavatsky. Cambridge University has since issued an edition of the SD3. The Theosophical Publishing House has recently released a new stand-alone version entitled Esoteric Instructions (without the additional SD3 material). Moreover, Henk Spierenburg edited a collection of private class notes entitled The Inner Group Teachings, with similar and additional material, and there have been other more obscure editions.

Daniel Caldwell’s large 700-page 2004 edition from Kessinger is remarkably complete. Included are facsimile reproductions of the original pamphlets (some 250 pages in all), and an earlier first printing of the first two pamphlets that has slight differences from the subsequent printings. Of particular  note is the inclusion of the rare 6th instruction pamphlet issued in 1900 which contains much little-known material of considerable interest. There is also a reproduction of the ‘Inner Group’ class notes (some 60 pages) and numerous administrative memos, letters and book extracts pertaining to the esoteric section of the Theosophical Society. The only significant omissions being color versions of the diagrams, and some annotations and an historical essay from the Spierenburg book (NB- additional esoteric section material can be found in the SD3 (notes on oral teachings) and Judge's Echoes of the Orient, Vol. 3). Although the variations in page layout give the book a somewhat cluttered appearance, this book contains a cornucopia of new and valuable historical material covering the final period of HPB’s life.
It may be useful to note that it is not advisable to follow practically the ‘Inner Group’ instructions without a competent teacher (which would presumably entail complying with the various rules and pledges included in the instructions) any more than one should follow Hindu or Buddhist Tantric texts practically without a qualified instructor. Moreover, I personally feel that these instructions are best studied as (presumably) originally intended by Blavatsky, as a culmination of the three-volume Secret Doctrine series; in any case, the instructions give numerous references to the first two volumes of the Secret Doctrine, so a certain amount of knowledge of these works is helpful.

PS. One needn't be deterred by the originally intended monthly frequency of the instructions - there is considerably more than a month's worth of study in each pamplet - the complete instructions contain matter for several years' worth of study.

links of interest -
Happy Peace Day!