From time to time, in the news, reference is made to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who was one of the founders of The Theosophical Society. Because she was an unusual woman who made a considerable impact on the thought of the Western world, speculation about her has often exceeded information and understanding. She was able to exercise extraordinary powers of E.S.P. and, because of the unusual nature of these powers, she endured public derision and slander. She also was a controversial figure because of her forthright and outspoken nature and her fearless attacks on hypocrisy and bigotry. At the same time, she won fame for her great metaphysical knowledge and she left as proof of this knowledge an immense quantity of literary work that has, in the years since her death in 1891, greatly influenced the thinking of inquiring minds all over the world.
Helena Blavatsky was born in Russia to a noble family in 1831. From earliest childhood she attracted attention with her psychic powers, her ability to produce phenomena at will. However, she was not interested in her powers as such, but in the principles and laws of nature that governed them. She became a deep student of metaphysical lore and travelled to many lands, including most of the Orient, penetrating even Tibet, in search of hidden knowledge. These were extraordinary travels for a lone woman in the 19th century. Then, in the eighteen seventies, H.P. Blavatsky came to the United States for the second time and, in New York, was instrumental in forming The Theosophical Society in the year 1875 along with Colonel H.S. Olcott and others.
In 1878 H.P. Blavatsky became an American citizen, the first Russian woman ever to do so. In 1879 she and Col. Olcott arrived in India and in 1882 they established the International headquarters of the Society at Adyar, near Madras. This remains the headquarters for the Society which has since become established in some seventy countries of the world. In 1885 H.P. Blavatsky went to Europe and it was there she completed her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine. She died in London in 1891.
Through her manifold writings, H.P. Blavatsky — or 'H.P.B.' as she came to be known — has given readers something of her tremendous knowledge of the philosophies and religions of the world, the wisdom of the Far East, symbology, metaphysics, occultism, psychism, and the practical application of all these to life. She was a prolific writer, and newspaper and magazine articles as well as commentaries on a variety of subjects flowed steadily from her pen. Much of her knowledge was derived from Eastern teachers, with whom she came in touch early in her life.
The first major book by H.P. Blavatsky was Isis Unveiled, in two volumes. It created a sensation when published in New York City in 1877 and the first edition of 1000 copies was sold out in two days. Within only seven months three printings had been issued. The book has as its sub-title, A Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. Volume I deals generally with the alleged 'infallibility' of science, while the second volume deals in a similar manner with the so-called 'infallibility' of religion. However, the material covers much more than the sub-titles indicate and many subjects are discussed. For instance, in Part One the author moves from the ancient Greek views on matter and force advanced by Pythagoras and Plato to the cabalistic religious philosophy developed by certain Jewish rabbis from a mystical interpretation of the scriptures. She discusses the interpretation of mythological stories in several religious scriptures, aspects of magic, ancient Egyptian writings, the classic philosophies, world religions compared, and a multitude of other subjects. In the preface, the author states that the book Isis Unveiled is in essence 'a plea for the recognition of the Hermetic philosophy, the anciently universal Wisdom-Religion.'
Because of the advance of science in the past hundred years and today's broadened approach to religion, some portions of what H.P.B. wrote in the eighteen-seventies are no longer pertinent; yet Isis Unveiled is filled with challenging pages of undiminished importance. It is still being read and is still in print.
The Secret Doctrine
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's greatest work is The Secret Doctrine. This book appeared in 1888 in two tremendous volumes, the first being concerned with cosmogenesis, the study of the origin and development of the universe, and the second with anthropogenesis, the study of the origin and development of the human being.
H.P.B. made it clear that The Secret Doctrine was not written as a revelation, but rather as a collection of fragments scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asian and pre-Christian European religions. Furthermore, she made no suggestion of dogma and the reader was asked to study the ideas and information only from the stand-point of common experience and reason.
This fascinating work outlines a vast scheme of evolution relating both to the universe and to man, and to the unseen as well as the seen worlds of manifestation in which life is said to exist in thousands of forms. It is based on three fundamental propositions:
(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought.
(b) The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically 'the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing'.
(c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Oversoul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former — through the cycle of incarnation in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law.
Although drawn from many sources, The Secret Doctrine is based largely upon an archaic manuscript entitled The Book of Dzyan, of which it is a commentary and an interpretation. The stanzas of The Book of Dzyan are written in terms that are not easy for us to understand but they reveal, to the person willing to study them, a sublime description of cosmic evolution beginning with the eternal darkness before the awakening of a universe. Later stanzas describe poetically the reawakening of the universe to life, the differentiation of forms, the process of world formation, and the appearance of humanity on earth. It is no simple study and yet, as one delves into this work, one realises the magnitude of H.P. Blavatsky's undertaking. So we cannot dismiss it lightly today, even if we are unable to understand it fully or to accept all of it. Anyone who approaches it seriously will gain a new respect for the author, and for her scholarship and great knowledge.
The Secret Doctrine, since its first appearance in 1888, continues to attract thousands of students who mine its rich profundity of knowledge and wisdom. This work is also still in print, available in various editions, including one comprising six volumes. There is also an excellent abridgement which serves as a guide and in-troduction to the larger work. The Secret Doctrine continues to be the principle source-book for students of Theosophy. No one is expected to accept the text as a final word, but only to ponder its thoughts with a free and questing mind.
In addition to Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky wrote a number of briefer books. One of these is The Key to Theosophy, a work that remains a most valuable introduction to theosophical thought and philosophy. She also left voluminous articles which have been brought together in The Collected Writings of H.P.Blavatsky compiled by Boris de Zirkoff, and published in fourteen volumes with a one volume index.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky is remembered most by thousands of persons in every part of the world, not only for her tremendous works of scholarship and her industry, but for a modest little book of spiritual insight and instruction called The Voice of the Silence. It is her translation of an old Eastern manuscript and includes her explanations and comments on a series of precepts offered to one seeking the path to Enlightenment. Wisdom and an understanding heart are evident in the skill with which H.P.B has safeguarded the original poetic imagery as she rendered the ancient verses into English prose.
First published in the late nineteenth century, The Voice of Silence has been issued in one edition after another in many languages, read, re-read, and treasured the world around. It is always difficult, if not impossible, to tell anyone about a work characterised by poetic feeling and literary imagery. Here are a few popular passages from The Voice of the Silence:
'Let thy soul lend its ear to every cry of pain
like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun.
Let not the fierce sun dry one tear of pain
before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer's eye.
But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart, and there remain,
nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.
'Tis from the bud of renunciation of the self,
that springeth the sweet fruit of final liberation.'
Perhaps the true measure of the enduring worth of the writings of H.P. Blavatsky is the simple fact that they are still in print, that her books are being bought every day, here and in the farthest parts of the globe, and that they are still being read and studied.
"If Theosophy prevailing in the struggle, its all-embracing philosophy strikes deep root into the minds and hearts of humanity, if its doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma, in other words, of Hope and Responsibility, find a home in the lives of the new generations, then, indeed, will dawn the day of joy and gladness for all who now suffer and are outcast. For real Theosophy IS ALTRUISM, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth. If once people do but realize that in these alone can true happiness be found, and never in wealth, possessions, or any selfish gratification, then the dark clouds will roll away, and a new humanity will be born upon earth."
From HP Blavatsky, Our Cycle And The Next, Collected Writings Volume XI 1889 Pages 186-202
Major Titles By H.P. Blavatsky
Isis Unveiled, Volumes I and II published 1877
The Secret Doctrine, Volumes I, II and III
1st edition Volumes I & II published 1888 to subscribers.
2nd edition Volumes I & II published 1888 to the general public and the last edition issued during her lifetime.
(see the facsimile edition produced by the Theosophical University Press).
3rd edition Volumes I & II published 1893 Volume III published 1897 edited by Annie Besant & G.R.S. Mead including corrections by H.P.B.
4th edition Volumes I-VI published 1938 edited by Josephine Ransom.
(former Vol. I now I & II, former Vol. II now III & IV, former Vol. III now V and the Index now VI).
5th edition Volumes I & II published 1993 edited by Boris De Zirkoff (former Vol. III now part of the Collected Writings).
The Key to Theosophy published 1889
The Voice of the Silence published 1891
Collected Writings of H.P. Blavatsky, Vols. I-XV
compiled by Boris de Zirkoff
Personal memoirs of H.P. Blavatsky
compiled by Mary K. Neff