Tuesday, 9 July 2019

On Studying the Secret Doctrine

Blavatsky’s magnum opus, the Secret Doctrine, is an epic three-volume, two thousand page work that explains the creation of the universe, the solar system and the evolution of life on earth. The first two volumes (sub-titled Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis respectively) are each divided into three sections: the first deals with the main theme of cosmic and human evolution, the second with comparative religious symbolism, and the third is devoted to a wide variety of scientific topics. The third volume deals with eastern and western esoteric history and contains Blavatsky's Esoteric Instructions.

Obviously, one could start reading this work cold from page one and proceed sequentially. Even though the chapters aren’t always tightly sequential, the sections are complementary and so you would get a kind of overall, progressive, panoramic view of the story of the universe. The only problem is that the text is often extremely difficult. The esoteric concepts are very complex and the erudition is such that one would ideally have to have the knowledge of a Mircea Eliade and a Fritjof Capra combined to be comfortable with it. Being familiar with world mythology, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Vishnu Purana, the Zohar, the Timaeus, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Hermetica, and Gnosticism would be helpful.

Another way of approaching the work is to start with easier works and gradually progress to reading the full text. Below are some suggested introductory texts to make the journey easier:

Basic Introduction
Blavatsky - The Key to Theosophy (1889)
Basic general notions are covered, the sevenfold principle, karma, reincarnation.

The Ocean of Theosophy, William Q. Judge (1893)
This one’s a little more comprehensive, with a chapter on spiritual evolution.

Earlier Literature

Blavatsky - Isis Unveiled 2 vols. (1879 )
Why not start with her first great work? Metaphysical and spiritual evolution concepts in a more basic form. Lots of interesting details that you find nowhere else. 

Esoteric Buddhism by A.P. Sinnett  1883
The major concepts of chain, rounds and races were first significantly presented in this work.The source material of this revolutionary work was later released as The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in 1923 by A. Trevor Barker.

Laura Holloway & Mohini Chatterji – Man, Fragments of a Forgotten History (1885)
This work elaborates on Esoteric Buddhism with some original elements.

Highly recommended
Blavatsky - Secret Doctrine Commentary: Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society 1890, 1891.
This short work is a transcript of study classes, but the language is very clear and the difficult concepts explained with admirable simplicity, a gem.

Theosophical Gleanings by Two Students
A collection of magazine articles from the era, a very solid summary of technical intricacies.

Volume 3
Volume three appeared posthumously, in 1897, and was moved to volumes 12 & 14 of Blavatsky’s collected writings in the 1980s. One can consider it separate or as part of a trilogy. (Originally announced as a four-part work, volume three would correspond to parts 3 & 4).
Secret Doctrine Volume 3

This edition has more updated references.
Blavatsky collected writings vol. 14

The Myth of the "Missing" Third Volume of The Secret Doctrine Daniel H. Caldwell

Short Versions
Below are some solid, basic summaries:

The Peopling of the Earth. Geoffrey Barborka 
This covers volume one.

The Story of Human Evolution. Geoffrey Barborka (1979)
This covers volume two.
The Secret Doctrine: The Classic Work, Abridged and Annotated: H.P. Blavatsky, Michael Gomes: 2009
This abridges the first sections of volumes 1 & 2 and certain parts of the symbolism sections.

O Lanoo! ~ The Secret Doctrine Unveiled Harvey Tordoff 1999
The structure of the Secret Doctrine is based on a commentary of an eastern creation poem called the stanzas of Dzyan, which is very cryptic. This work paraphrases the stanzas in easy to understand modern English.

Easier Sections
The various chapters are only loosely inter-connected, so one can tackle the work piecemeal. Below are a selection of text sections that are both relatively easy to read and quite self-contained. Overall, volume 2 is less difficult than volume 1, so reading volume 2 first can be a good approach.

At its most opulent, it was available in a 
 6-volume hardcover format. The text formatting
is more reader-friendly, which is helpful.


1, 1, 6 A Few Misconceptions concerning planets, rounds and man
Summing Up

1, 2, 3 Primordial Substance and Divine Thought

1, 2, 4 Chaos, Theos, Cosmos

1, 3, 11 On the Elements and the Atoms

1, 3, 15 Gods, Monads, Atoms

2, Preliminary Notes

2, 2, 25 The Mysteries of the Hebdomad

General resources   
Finally, it might be useful to note that the Secret Doctrine does not fully explain the system of chains and rounds; It is necessary to study Esoteric Buddhism and other works to get the full picture. Another important addition was provided by Blavatsky with a series of answers to seven questions entitled:“Some inquiries suggested by Mr. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism” (see vol. 5 of her collected writings). 

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