In reference to various remarks concerning "Esoteric
Buddhism" which appear in the course of your new work, "The Secret
Doctrine," I beg to call your attention to some passages on the same
subject which appeared on former occasions in the Theosophist at
a time when that magazine was edited by yourself.
In the Secret Doctrine you speak of Esoteric Buddhism as
a work with "a very unfortunate title," and in reference to a
passage in my preface, emphasising the novelty for European readers of the
teachings then given out, you say the error must have crept in through inadvertence.
In the last number of LUCIFER you discuss the same
point in a note appended to a correspondent's letter. Permit me to remind
you of an editorial note, evidently from your own pen, in the February Theosophist, 1884. This is in reply to an objection raised by Mr. W. Q. Judge that
nearly all the leading ideas of the doctrine embodied in "Esoteric
Buddhism" are to be found in the Bhagavad Gita. You wrote:
We do not believe our American brother is justified in his remarks.
The knowledge given out in Esoteric Buddhism is most decidedly given out for the first time, inasmuch as
the allegories that lie scattered in the Hindu sacred literature are now
for the first time clearly explained to the world of the profane.1 Since the birth of the Theosophical Society and
the publication of Isis, it is being repeated daily that all the
esoteric wisdom of the ages lies concealed in the Vedas, the Upanishads
and Bhagavad Gita; yet unto the day of the first appearance of Esoteric
Buddhism, and for long centuries back, these doctrines remained a sealed
letter to all but a few initiated Brahmins who had always
kept the spirit of it to themselves.
Thus, if I erred in my statement about the doctrine having been unknown
previously to Europeans, I erred in very good company your own. Your note
goes on to say that certainly the teachings of "Esoteric Buddhism"
lie concealed in the Bhagavad Gita, "but" you say:
What of that? Of what good to W. Q. Judge or any other is the diamond
that lies concealed deep underground? Of course everyone knows that there
is not a gem now sparkling in a jewellery shop but
pre-existed and lay concealed since its formation, for ages, within the
bowels of the earth. Yet surely he who got it first from its finder, and
cut and polished it, may be permitted to say that this particular diamond
is given out for the first time to the world.2
In regard to my "unfortunate title," which was (as you know,
I think) approved when first proposed without any question arising as to
the. two "d's" you say in the Secret Doctrine:
It has enabled our enemies to find an effective weapon against Theosophy
because, as an eminent Pali scholar very pointedly expressed it, there
was in the volume named neither esotericism nor Buddhism.
It happens that you discussed the same criticism in an article in the Theosophist for November, 1883. Your text on that occasion was an
article in the St. James' Gazette, which you attributed to Dr. Rhys
Davids, and you wrote:
But before the Orientalists are able to prove that the doctrines, as
taught in Mr. Sinnett's exposition are "not Buddhism, esoteric nor
exoteric," they will have to make away with the thousands of Brahminical
Adwaita and other Vedantin writings the works of Sankaracharya in particular from
which it can be proved that precisely the same doctrines are taught in
those works esoterically.
You spoke, in the course of the article, of the
very remark you now find to be "very pointed,"3 as "such a spiteful and profitless criticism" to attribute it
to the pen of the great Pali scholar.
The propriety of the title given to my book was discussed in an article
in the Theosophist for June, 1884, when an editorial note was appended,
in the course of which the writer said:
The name given to Mr. Sinnett's book will not
be misleading or objectionable when the close identity between the doctrines
therein expounded and those of the ancient Rishis of India is clearly perceived.4
These extracts seem to show that the unfavourable
view of Esoteric Buddhism now presented to the readers of the Secret
Doctrine can only have been developed in your mind within a comparatively
recent period.5 Satisfied with the assurance conveyed to me as explained in the preface to the
sixth edition by the reverend teacher from whom its substance was derived
that the book was a sound and trustworthy presentation of his teachings
as a whole, that would never have to be remodelled or apologised for,6 I have been content, hitherto, to leave unnoticed
every other criticism that it has called forth. I
have known all along that it contained errors which initiates would detect,
but by the time any student might be in a position to appreciate these he
would be independent of its guidance, and till then he could not be embarrassed7 by them. Now, however, I regret to find that the Secret Doctrine is not merely concerned to expand and develop
the earlier teaching a task which I should be the first to recognise could
be performed by no one more efficiently than by yourself but paves
the way for its expositions by remarks on Esoteric Buddhism which
are not in the nature of fresh revelations concerning what are, doubtless,
its many shortcomings, but are in the nature of disparagements8 which you have, on former occasions rebuked others for
You say in objecting to my title "the esoteric truths presented
in Mr. Sinnett's work had ceased to be esoteric from the moment they were
made public." Is not that an odd objection to
appear on the first page of a book called "The Secret Doctrine"?
Has the doctrine ceased to deserve that designation from the date at which
your own book appeared?9
These questions however are all of minor importance,
though it puzzles me to understand why your view of them should have been
so diametrically reversed from what it was a few years ago.10 I might hardly have written this letter at all, but
for a passage in the Secret Doctrine referring to Esoteric Buddhism that occurs on page 169. There you suggest that my own attempt to explain
planetary evolution fails for want of being sufficiently metaphysical, and
you quote a phrase from me "on pure meta-physics of that sort we are
not now engaged" in connexion with a passage from one of the letters
of instruction I received when the book was under preparation. "In
such case," you say, "as the Teacher remarks
in a letter to him: 'Why this preaching of our doctrines, all this uphill
work and swimming in adversum flumen?'" Any reader will
imagine that the passage quoted from the letter had reference to the passage
quoted from the book.11 Nothing can be further
from the fact. My remark about not being "then" concerned
with "pure metaphysics" had a limited and specific application,
and on the next page I see that I have dealt with that period before the
earliest manifestations of Nature on the plane of the senses, when the work
of evolution going on was concerned "with the elemental forces that
underlie the phenomena of Nature so visible now and perceptible to the senses
From time to time, amongst criticisms of Esoteric Buddhism that
have appeared to me misdirected, I have heard this charge that I have not
appreciated the great doctrine metaphysically, that I have materialised
its conceptions. I do not think I have ever before
put pen to paper to combat this idea, though it has always struck me as
curiously erroneous; but when language from yourself seems to fortify the
impression I refer to, it is high time for me to explain, at any rate, my
own attitude of mind.12
The charge of materialising the doctrine seems to me to arise entirely
from the fact that I have partially succeeded in making some parts of it
intelligible. The disposition to regard vagueness of exposition as equivalent
to spirituality of thought is very widely spread; and multitudes of people
are unaccustomed to respect any phraseology that they find themselves enabled
to understand Unused to realise a thought with precision of imaginative
insight, they fancy if it is presented vividly to the mind that it must
have lost caste in the realms of idealism. They are used to regarding a
brick as something with a definite shape and purpose, and an idea as a Protean
shadow. Give the idea a specific plan in Nature, and it will seem to them
materialised, even if concerned with conditions of life as remote from materiality
as Devachanic emotion.
The succession of Cause and Effect seems itself materialised in the
mental atmosphere I am discussing if it is represented, in its most interesting
aspect, as forcing its way from one plane of nature to another.
For readers of this temperament Esoteric Buddhism may be materialistic;
but as I venture to believe that it has been a bridge which has conducted
many, and may bear many more, across the chasm which divides the interests
and materialism of this life, from the realms of
spiritual aspiration beyond, I have not yet seen reason to regret the mould
in which it was cast, even though some of those who have used it in their
time now despise its materialistic construction.13 It would load your paper too heavily if I quoted passages to show how constantly
I really emphasised the non-material aspects of its teaching; but I may
perhaps be allowed one from the closing sentences of the chapter on "the
universe," in which I say: "It" the doctrine of the Esoteric
Wisdom "stoops to materialism, as it were to link its methods with
the logic of that system, and ascends to the highest realms of Idealism
to embrace and expound the most exalted aspiration of spirit."
The truth of the whole matter is admirably expressed in a comprehensive
sentence at the end of a long article on "The Metaphysical Basis of
Esoteric Buddhism," which appeared in the Theosophist for May,
1884, with the suggestive signature, Damodar K. Mavalankar. This runs:
"The reader will now perceive that Esoteric
Buddhism is not a system of materialism. It is, as Mr. Sinnett calls
it, 'Transcendental Materialism,' which is non-materialism, just as the
absolute consciousness is non-consciousness."14
Any vindication of oneself must be a repulsive task. For many reasons
I would rather have left all such questions alone, but to ignore unfavourable
comments when these proceed from your own pen would be to treat them with
less respect than is embodied in my present remarks.
In conclusion, since the Secret Doctrine so frequently discusses
what Esoteric Buddhism meant to say as regards Darwinian evolution,
let me endeavour to elucidate that point. The teaching I received on the
subject of race evolution was very elementary. It was not exactly "fragmentary"
(as has sometimes been said), but it was a skeleton statement, as regards
all the problems of "Cosmogenesis," consequently it dealt merely
with that cosmic progress of the spiritual inquiry through the various kingdoms
of Nature which, beginning (on the material plane)
with the mineral, culminates in Man. It follows from this elementary statement
that at some stage of the great evolutionary process there is an ascent
from the animal to the human kingdom,15 never mind where the transition is effected. There
the teaching vindicated the spirit of the Darwinian idea16 though the further illumination now cast upon the subject by your present
work shows that many specific conjectures of Darwinism are erroneous, and
its application to the human evolution of this world period altogether misleading
It is needless to say that I was not furnished with
the later teaching on this subject when Esoteric Buddhism was written,
therefore of course my own impression at the time was that the doctrine
supported the Darwinian hypothesis, as a general idea. I never heard a word
breathed in India, when writing Esoteric Buddhism to the contrary
Nor was the point worth raising then. My readers had to be made acquainted
with the primary principles of Karma, reincarnation and cosmic progress
towards superior conditions of existence. All the cosmo-genesis that was
essential to the comprehension of these principles was supplied in the teaching
as given. Much was left for further development, for later opportunities.
The first book of Euclid cannot also contain the second, third and fourth.
In the Secret Doctrine I have no doubt we are furnished with
esoteric teaching, which is the analogue of the more advanced geometry.
Probably it will be least appreciated by those who read its opening pages
as warning them off the subject of triangles.
Yours very respectfully,
A. P. SINNETT
OUR CLOSING REMARK
We thank Mr. Sinnett, with all of our heart, for this letter. Better
late than never. On page 186 of Vol. I. of our "Secret Doctrine,"
now just published, we quote from a letter of a member of the T. S., who
wrote: "I suppose you realize that three-fourths of Theosophists, and
even outsiders imagine that, as far as the evolution of man is concerned,
Darwinism and Theosophy kiss one another" in "Esoteric Buddhism."
We repudiate the idea most vehemently on the same page, but our negation
would not go very far without that of Mr. Sinnett. The letter containing
the above quoted sentence was written more than two and a half years ago;
and our denial, notwithstanding the same charge of Darwinism and materialism
in "Esoteric Buddhism," was maintained by the same writer and
supported by many others. Thus it was indispensable for the good of the
Cause that Mr. Sinnett should deny it over his own signature. Our object
is accomplished, for the author of "Esoteric Buddhism" has now
solemnly repudiated the charge, and we hope to receive no more such flings
at our philosophical beliefs.
We close by thanking our esteemed correspondent once more for the indulgent
spirit in which he deals with our remarks, but which, to our regret, he
very erroneously attributes to a personal feeling due to some unwarrantable
change in our attitude towards himself. We repudiate such a charge, and
hope that our explanations will dissipate the last vestiges of any such
Lucifer, November, 1888
H. P. Blavatsky
1 The author of the "Secret
Doctrine" begs to suggest that she never denied to the doctrines expounded
by Mr. Sinnett the privilege of having been clearly "EXPLAINED,"
for the first time, in print, in "Esot. Buddhism." All
she asserts is, that it is not for the first time that they were given out to a European, and by the latter to other Europeans.
Between "publishing" and "giving out" there is a decided
difference; an admirable peg, at any rate, for our common enemies
to hang their captious cavils upon. It is not the writer of the "Secret
Doctrine," moreover, who was the first to put such a natural interpretation
upon the sentence used by our esteemed friend and correspondent, but, verily,
sundry critics outside of, as also within the Theosophical
Society. It is no personal question between Mr. Sinnett and H. P. Blavatsky,
but between these two individuals on the one hand and their critics on the
other; the former being both in duty bound as theosophists and believers
in the esoteric teaching to defend the Sacred Doctrine from side attacks via its expounders. [ED.
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2 This proves, firstly, that the desire
to defend, in print, a friend and co-worker quand même, even
when he is not entirely right, is always injudicious; and secondly, that
experience comes with age. "The good advocate not onley heares, but
examines his case, and pincheth the cause where he fears it is foundred" Puller
teaches. We proved no "good advocate," and now bear our Karma for it; from an "advocate" we have become a "defendant." [ED.
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3 So we say now. Not a word of what we
wrote then do we repudiate here; and the "Secret Doctrine"
proves it. But this does not clash at all with the fact that, once made
public, no doctrine can be referred to any longer as "esoteric."
The esoteric tenets revealed both in "Esoteric Buddhism" and
the "Secret Doctrine" have become exoteric now. Nor does
a remark cease to be "spiteful" for being "very pointed," e.g., most of Carlyle's remarks. A few years ago, at a time when
our doctrines were hardly delineated and the Orientalists knew nothing of
them, any such premature discussion and criticism were "profitless."
But now, when these doctrines have spread throughout the whole world, unless
we call things by their true names, and admit our mistakes (for it was one,
to spell "Budhism," Buddhism a mistake, moreover, distinctly
attributed to ourselves, "theosophists of India," vide page xviii. Vol. I of the "Secret Doctrine," and not at
all to Mr. Sinnett), our critics will have an undeniable right to charge
us with sailing under false colours. Nothing more fatal to our cause
could ever happen. If we would be regarded as theosophists, we have
to protect THEOSOPHY; we have to defend our colours
before we think of defending our own petty personality and amour propre, and should be ever ready to sacrifice ourselves. And this is what we
have tried to do in the Introduction to the "Secret Doctrine."
Poor is that standard-bearer who shields his body from the bullets of the
enemy with the sacred banner entrusted to him! [ED.
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4 The Rishis having nought to do with "Buddhism,"
the religion of Gautama Buddha, this question shows plainly that the mistake
involved in the double "d" had not yet struck the writer as forcibly
as it has done later. [ED.
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5 This is an error. What we say now in
the "Secret Doctrine" is what we knew, but kept silent
upon ever since the first year of publication of "Esoteric Doctrine";
though we confess we have not realised the importance of the mistake as
fully from the beginning as we do now. It is the number of criticisms received
in private letters and for publication in LUCIFER,
from friends as well as from foes, that forced us to see the question in
its true light. Had they (the criticisms) been directed only against us personally (Mr. Sinnett and H. P. Blavatsky) they would have been
left entirely unnoticed. But as all such had a direct bearing upon the doctrines
taught some persisting in calling them Buddhism, pure and simple,
and others charging them with being a new-fangled doctrine invented
by ourselves and fathered upon Buddhism the danger became imminent, and
a public explanation was absolutely necessary. Moreover, the impression
that it was a very materialistic teaching "Esoteric Buddhism"
being accused of upholding the Darwinian hypothesis spread from the Indian
and Vedantin to almost all the European theosophists. This had to be refuted,
and we do so in the "Secret Doctrine." [ED.
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6 No one has ever dreamt of denying that
"Esoteric Buddhism" was a "trustworthy presentation"
of the Master's teachings as a whole. That which is asserted is simply
that some personal speculations of its author were faulty, and led
to erroneous conclusions, (a) on account of their incompleteness,
and (b) because of the evident anxiety to reconcile them with modern physical science, instead of metaphysical philosophy. Very likely
errors, emanating from a desire diametrically opposite, will be found in
the "Secret Doctrine." Why should any of us aye, even the most
learned in occult lore among theosophists pose for infallibility? Let us
humbly admit with Socrates that "all we know is, that we know nothing"; at any rate nothing in comparison to what we have still to learn. [ED.
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7 Not "embarrassed," but misled and
it is precisely this which has happened. [ED.
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8 We demur to the expression. No "disparagement"
whatever is meant, but simply an attempt is made to make certain tenets
taught in our respective works more clear. Without such explanations, the
statements made by both authors would be unavoidably denounced as contradictory.
The general public rarely goes to the trouble of sifting such difficult
metaphysical questions to the bottom, but judges on appearance. We have
to acquaint first the reader with all the sides and aspects of a teaching
before we allow him to accept or even to see in one of such a dogma. [ED.
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9 It has, most unquestionably, if
logic deserves its name. Our correspondent would have hardly made this query,
intended as a hit and a satire, had he paid attention to what is said on
pages xvii xviii (the first and the second) of the Introduction to
the "Secret Doctrine," namely "Esoteric Buddhism" was
an excellent work with a very unfortunate title, though it meant
no more than does the title of this work, the "Secret Doctrine";
which means, if anything, that no more than "Esoteric Buddhism"
are those portions of the "Secret Doctrine" now explained in our
volumes any longer "secret" since they
are divulged. We appeal to logicians and literary critics for a decision. [ED.
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10 Vide Supra notes: the reasons
are now explained. [ED.
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11 This remark of the Master was made
in a general not in any specific application. But what of that? [ED.
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12 Once more we beg to assure our friend
and colleague, Mr. Sinnett, that in saying what is said in the "Secret
Doctrine" we did not for one moment contemplate the remarks as expressive
of our own personal objections seeing we know our correspondent's
ideas too well to have any. They were addressed to and directed against
our benevolent critics: especially those who, with an impartiality most
admirable, though worthy of a better fate, try to hit us both, and through us to upset the Esoteric Doctrine. Has not the latter been proclaimed
by a number of well-wishers as an invention of H. P. Blavatsky's? Did not
even an admirably clever and learned man the late W. C. King claim, in
his "Gnostics and their Remains," to have "reasons for suspecting
that the sibyl of 'Esoteric Buddhism' (i.e. your humble servant)
drew her first notions from the analysis of the Inner man (to wit
our seven principles) as set forth in my (his) first edition"!
This because the most philosophical Gnostic works, especially the doctrines
of Valentinus and Marcus are full of our archaic esoteric ideas. Forsooth,
it is high time that the defendant, also, should "rise and explain"
her attitude in the "Secret Doctrine," regardless of any one's
(even her own) personality! [ED.
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13 No one we know of "despises,"
but many, on the other band, rejoice, and very much so, at being
able to refer to it as 'materialistic." It was high time to disabuse
and contradict them; and this letter from our correspondent, setting forth
his true views and attitude for the first time, is one of
the first good fruits produced by our remarks in, the "Secret Doctrine."
It is an excellent heck on our mutual enemies. [ED.
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14 These are the verbatim expressions
of your friend and humble servant, the Editor. Damodar only repeated our
views. But the "Damodars" are few, and there were, as our correspondent
well knows, other Brahmins in England, who were the first to proclaim "Esoteric
Buddhism" materialistic to the core, and who have always maintained
this idea in others. [ED.
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15 At the stage of the first Round, and
partially at the second, never during any stage of the Fourth Round.
A purely mathematical or rather algebraical reason exists for this: The
present (our) Round being the middle Round (between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd,
and the 5th, 6th, and 7th) is one of adjustment and final equipoise between
Spirit and matter. It is that point, in short, wherein the reign of true matter, its grossest state (which is as unknown to Science as its opposite
pole homogeneous matter or substance) stops and comes to an end. from that
point physical man begins to throw off "coat after coat," his
material molecules for the benefit and subsequent formation or clothing
of the animal kingdom, which in its turn is passing it on to the vegetable,
and the latter to the mineral kingdoms. Man having evoluted in the first Round from the animal via the two other kingdoms, it stands to
reason that in the present Round he should appear before the animal
world of this manvantaric period. But see the "Secret Doctrine"
for particulars. [ED.
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16 What did Darwin, or what Darwinians
know of our esoteric teaching about "Rounds"! The "Spirit"
of the Darwinian idea, is an Irish bull, in this case, as
that "Spirit" is materialism of the grossest kind. [ED.
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17 The reason for this also is stated
in the "Secret Doctrine."
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