We are moving through the introductory remarks of the Secret
Doctrine, a section at a time. Here is the next section to
Time and human imagination made short work of the purity and
philosophy of these teachings, once that they were
transplanted from the secret and sacred circle of the
Arhats, during the course of their work of proselytism, into
a soil less prepared for metaphysical conceptions than
India; i.e., once they were transferred into China, Japan,
Siam, and Burmah. How the pristine purity of these grand
revelations was dealt with may be seen in studying some of
the so-called “esoteric” Buddhist schools of antiquity in
their modern garb, not only in China and other Buddhist
countries in general, but even in not a few schools in
Thibet, left to the care of uninitiated Lamas and Mongolian
Thus the reader is asked to bear in mind the very important
difference between orthodox Buddhism—i.e., the public
teachings of Gautama the Buddha, and his esoteric Budhism.
His Secret Doctrine, however, differed in no wise from that
of the initiated Brahmins of his day. The Buddha was a child
of the Aryan soil; a born Hindu, a Kshatrya and a disciple
of the “twice born” (the initiated Brahmins) or Dwijas. His
teachings, therefore, could not be different from their
doctrines, for the whole Buddhist reform merely consisted in
giving out a portion of that which had been kept secret from
every man outside of the “enchanted” circle of
Temple-Initiates and ascetics. Unable to teach all that had
been imparted to him—owing to his pledges—though he taught a
philosophy built upon the ground-work of the true esoteric
knowledge, the Buddha gave to the world only its outward
material body and kept its soul for his Elect. (See also
Volume II.) Many Chinese scholars among Orientalists have
heard of the “Soul Doctrine.” None seem to have understood
its real meaning and importance.
That doctrine was preserved secretly—too secretly,
perhaps—within the sanctuary. The mystery that shrouded its
chief dogma and aspirations—Nirvana—has so tried and
irritated the curiosity of those scholars who have studied
it, that, unable to solve it logically and satisfactorily by
untying the Gordian knot, they cut it through, by declaring
that Nirvana meant absolute annihilation.
Toward the end of the first quarter of this century, a
distinct class of literature appeared in the world, which
became with every year more defined in its tendency. Being
based, soi-disant, on the scholarly researches of
Sanskritists and Orientalists in general, it was held
scientific. Hindu, Egyptian, and other ancient religions,
myths, and emblems were made to yield anything the
symbologist wanted them to yield, thus often giving out the
rude outward form in place of the inner meaning. Works, most
remarkable for their ingenious deductions and speculations,
in circulo vicioso, foregone conclusions generally changing
places with premises as in the syllogisms of more than one
Sanskrit and Pali scholar, appeared rapidly in succession,
over-flooding the libraries with dissertations rather on
phallic and sexual worship than on real symbology, and each
contradicting the other.
The usual meaning of the term 'esoteric' issecret
knowledge belonging only to a few people of a select circle.
It can also mean specialist knowledge that only a few
people versed in that particular field of enquiry would
Most systems of teaching in whatever field of endeavour give
out their knowledge - theoretical and practical - according
to the stage of development of the student, while holding
back on the advanced material until the student is ready.
It is quite likely that humanity in general, at its current
stage of development, is not ready or mature enough to have
more than the fundamentals of the spiritual and occult
esoteric teachings revealed to it en masse. This could be
because we would not understand what is given out, or that
we would misuse (consciously or unconsciously) what is given
out, or both.
I would venture to say that one could answer "yes" to each
of the last two questions (it may not be an "or" situation).
I tend to see "esoteric/exoteric" as relative—what is
esoteric to one, may not be esoteric to another. Also,
something esoteric immediately becomes exoteric the moment
it becomes 'known' or 'available'.
So, on an individual level this occurs all the time: what
was exoteric to me 5 years ago may be exoteric now, and
there seems to be a continual process of this kind of
"unveiling" or "unfolding" of that which is esoteric.
On a collective level (humanity), I'd say the same thing
applies. Humanity (as a "collective perceiver" follows the
same process). Though of course, it may not be a linear
straight-line from exoteric to esoteric... it's likely a
cyclical process, with each "unveiling" being a little bit
more than the last.
Yes, I think the dividing line would be within the
perciever, and yes I think there would be an individual
dividing line as well as a line with humanity as a whole
(and lines for smaller groupings too). But those lines
would not be static; sometimes they would move towards
uncovering and sometimes towards obscuring. Like Jon
says - they would likely move in cycles.
Don, could you say that in the life of an individual
there are those aspects of a person's life that are kept
"esoteric" and others that are "exoteric". For example
the aspiration to reach up to one's higher nature usually is
not discussed in private details with others because it is
too internal and perhaps sacred to be talked about in casual
conversation. Is this another manner in which esoteric
and exoteric is relevant. Keeping things private and
sacred internally on the one hand, and public and available
to others on the other hand.
In the physical world some things remain hidden due to the
limitations of the perceiver and some things remain hidden
because they are carefully concealed and guarded by those
who have possession of them. The same would be the case in
the inner world.
Given the human tendency to concretize and materialize it
must be very difficult to determine how and when to open
esoteric teachings into the world with the minimum level of
corruption. I suspect this is a very very old story
and predicament that has been repeated ad nauseum throughout
Evidently, she expands on the esoteric Buddhism question
considerably in SD 3 - "The Mysteries of the Buddha".
In the first E.I. paper, she mentions Kircher, Payne Knight,
Higgins, Furlong, Inman, Hargrave Jennings, and Allen
Campbell - a kind of alternative, semi-popular,
semi-esoteric publishing trend which she references
all full of well-researched obscure information, worth
tracking down at Kessinger, I suppose.
Many of the books of these writers are no doubt now
available for free download at Google Books. Several years
ago I had a chance to look at many of these physical
volumes. The information about Buddhism available at the
time of these writers was highly incomplete and inaccurate.
Perhaps this is partly why they indulged in speculations
about symbolism, seeing in it phallic worship, etc., that
HPB here disagrees with. Inman and many others then thought
that Buddhism was the oldest religion of India, and that
Hinduism had arisen from it. Since seeing this, I have often
wondered if HPB's statements about "pre-Vedic Buddhism" inIsis
Unveiled were based on esoteric information or on what
information was then available in these early writings. We
notice that she did not repeat this inThe
Perhaps in previous cycles their was "Buddha-like" men who
had similar messages. Human beings who had awakened
Buddhi prior to Gautama we might assume. Their
teacheings would certainly be pre-vedic. One could assume
that their was Taoist, Krishna and Buddha like teachings in
previous cycles which might be different because of the
period but bare some resemblance to these cycles that we are
more aware of.
By the term “pre-vedic” HPB appears to refer to a time when India
was the cradle and birth place of our Fifth Root Race. Each root
race and its sub-root races have their own cradle in different parts of
our globe. In the context of pre-Vedic, by “India” HPB means a
land far greater than that known today.
‘And when we say, indiscriminately, “India,” we do not mean the India of
our modern days, but that of the archaic period. In those ancient times
countries which are now known to us by other names were all called
India. There was an Upper, a Lower, and a Western India, the latter of
which is now Persia-Iran. The countries now named Thibet, Mongolia, and
Great Tartary, were also considered by the ancient writers as India.’
(ISIS UNVEILED vol 1 589)
The Wisdom Religion existed then, just as it existed earlier and
throughout the Fourth Root Race. All those vast periods are pre-Vedic.
With regards to the meaning of the term “pre-vedic buddhism” the
following passages would be helpful to take into account. Note
that HPB also refers to ‘pre-Vedic Brahmanism.’
The secret doctrines of the Magi, of the pre-Vedic Buddhists, of the
hierophants of the Egyptian Thoth or Hermes, and of the adepts of
whatever age and nationality, including the Chaldean kabalists and the
we use the termBuddhists,
we do not mean to imply by it either the exoteric Buddhism instituted by
the followers of Gautama-Buddha, nor the modern Buddhistic religion, but
the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni, which in its essence is certainly
identical with the ancient wisdom-religion of the sanctuary, the
pre-Vedic Brahmanism.” (ISIS UNVEILED vol 2 142 (bold emphasis
A similar qualification as to the use of the term “buddhist” is given by
the Master KH in one of his letters to A.P.Sinnett:
‘It is an every day occurrence to find students belonging to different
schools of occult thought sitting side by side at the feet of the same
Guru. Upasika (Madam B.) and Subba Row, though pupils of the same
Master, have not followed the same Philosophy - the one is Buddhist and
the other an Adwaitee.Many
prefer to call themselves Buddhists not because the word attaches itself
to the ecclesiastical system built upon the basic ideas of our Lord
Gautama Buddha's philosophy, but because of the Sanskrit word “Buddhi” -
wisdom, enlightenment; and as a silent protest to the vain rituals
and empty ceremonials, which have in too many cases been productive of
the greatest calamities.Such
also is the origin of the Chaldean term Mage.’
ML no. 85 (bold emphasis added).
The above passages highlight the connection between the Magi/Mage and
the term ‘buddhist/buddhi’ in both passages immediately above - these
term referring to “wisdom” and the “wisdom-religion” i.e Theosophy.
In the SD and The Key to Theosophy HPB corrects the term ‘Buddhism’ in
the title of Sinnett’s work, saying it should have been spelt with one
‘d’ (Budhism meaning wisdom-ism) and not two d’s. However, it appears
the same inconsistency of spelling was also present at times in ISIS
UNVEILED and in The Mahatma Letters. We need to take into account
the context in which the term is used in the above passages, not simply
Therefore, when HPB clarifies the meaning of the word “Buddhism” in her
passage above i.e.:
‘When we use the term Buddhists, we do not mean to imply by it either
the exoteric Buddhism instituted by the followers of Gautama-Buddha, nor
the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni,
which in its essence is certainly identical with the ancient
wisdom-religion of the sanctuary, the pre-Vedic Brahmanism.’(ISIS 2,
. . . this is no different to her later statements in the Collected
Writing where the spelling of ‘buddhism’ has been corrected, for
‘“Budhism” has preceded Buddhism by long ages and is pre-Vedic.’
On this subject, we might consider that Buddha's teachings are
essentially the teaching of the twin doctrine of Reincarnation and
Liberation, of the wheel of birth and death and that one may become free
of that wheel. This is the exact same teaching as the Upanishads, BUT it
is not the same teaching as the Vedas or the Vedic culture, who had
instead a sort of "ancestor worship" belief system. In the Upanishads it
is stated that the great teachings (of reincarnation and liberation)
were never before given to a Brahmin (the keepers of the Vedas and Vedic
tradition), but instead had always been the property of the Rajanyas or
Rajputs (or Kshatriyas). So there are two "streams" of teachings here.
Buddha himself was a Rajput and Buddhism is simply this ancient teaching
in a new garment, thus the "secret philosophy of Sakyamuni" is and can
be demonstrated to be, at the very least "Non-Vedic". If one studies
carefully, one can begin to get the sense that the traditional lore of
ancient India was Vedic, but that the Upanishadic wisdom came from
elsewhere and was sort of "transplanted" into that region and blended
with its terminology.
So the question then is: what are the origins of these two streams of
teachings? And which is "older"? And as Peter shows, the Vedic teachings
certainly appear to be the younger of the two streams. In one sense,
this flips on its head the typical approach to the Upanishads as being
the "Vedanta" (the end of the Vedas).
Brahmâ the Evolver, first of the Bright Powers came to birth, Maker
of all, Preserver of the world. He declared the Wisdom of the
Eternal, the root and foundation of all wisdom, to Atharvan, his
The Wisdom of the Eternal which Brahmâ imparted to Atharvan, that of
old Atharvan declared to Angir. Angir declared it to Satyavaha of
the line of Bharadvaja. The descendant of Bharadvaja declared it to
Angiras, both the higher and the lower wisdom.
Shaunaka, verily, lord of a great dwelling, coming according to rule
to Angiras, asked him: Master through the knowledge of what does all
this become known?
To him he said: Two wisdoms are to be known, as the knowers of the
Eternal declare, the higher and the lower wisdom.
The lower wisdom is, the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva
Veda, Pronunciation, Ritual, Grammar, Definition, Metres and
Knowledge of the stars.
So the higher wisdom is that whereby the Everlasting is attained.
The Upanishads are full of comparisons of these "two wisdoms", that of
the Vedas and the rituals/rites of the Brahmans, and that of the "secret
teachings" of the great sages which belonged always to the "solar race".
In the Gita (Book IV), Krishna says:
This imperishable teaching of union I declared to the Solar lord.
The Solar lord imparted it to Manu, and Manu told it to Ikshvaku.
Thus the Rajanya sages knew it, handed down from Master to disciple.
This teaching of union has been lost in the world through long lapse
of time, O consumer of the foe.
This same immemorial teaching of union I have declared to thee
to-day; for thou art my beloved, my companion; and this secret
doctrine is the most excellent treasure.
So the Vedas appear to be the "lower" wisdom of the scriptures of the
Hindus, but the wisdom underlying the Upanishads and later Buddhism is
Thank you all for the helpful replies on the "pre-Vedic" question. We
can certainly postulate a "Budhism" that goes back into the night of
time. As for "Buddhism," it seems that even the majority of Buddhists
today trace their roots only to Gautama Buddha, despite the widespread
Buddhist traditions of previous Buddhas.
It's interesting to consider HPB's explanation of the Vedas in her
The “revelation”, the scriptures of the Hindus, from the rootvid,
“to know”, or “divine knowledge”. They are the most ancient as well as
the most sacred of the Sanskrit works. TheVedas—on
the date and antiquity of which no two Orientalists can agree, are
claimed by the Hindus themselves, whose Brahmans and Pundits ought to
know best about their own religious works, to have been first taught
orally for thousands of years and then compiled on the shores of Lake
beyond the Himalayas, in Tibet. When was this done? While their
religious teachers, such as Swami Dayanand Saraswati, claim for them an
antiquity of many decades of ages, our modern Orientalists will grant
them no greater antiquity in their present form than about between 1,000
and 2,000 b.c. As compiled in their final form by Veda-Vyâsa, however,
the Brahmans themselves unanimously assign 3,100 years before the
Christian era, the date when Vyâsa flourished. Therefore theVedasmust
be as old as this date. But their antiquity is sufficiently proven by
the fact that they are written in such an ancient form, of Sanskrit, so
different from the Sanskrit now used, that there is no other, work like
them in the literature of this eldest sister of all the known languages,
as Prof. Max Müller calls it. Only the most learned of the Brahman
Pundits can read theVedasin
their original. It is urged that Colebrooke found the date 1400 b.c.
corroborated absolutely by a passage which he discovered, and which is
based on astronomical data. But if, as shown unanimously by all the
Orientalists and the Hindu Pundits also, that (a)
not a single work, nor yet any one of the separateVedas;
but that eachVeda,
and almost every hymn and division of the latter, is the production of
various authors; and that (b)
these have been written (whether assruti,
“revelation”, or not) at various periods of the ethnological evolution
of the Indo-Aryan race, then—what does Mr. Colebrooke’s discovery prove?
Simply that theVedaswerefinallyarranged
and compiled fourteen centuries before our era; but this interferes in
no way with their antiquity. Quite the reverse; for, as an offset to Mr.
Colebrooke’s passage, there is a learned article, written on purely
astronomical data by Krishna Shâstri Godbole (of Bombay), which proves
as absolutely and on the same evidence that theVedasmust
have been taught at least 25,000 years ago. (SeeTheosophist,
Vol. II., p. 238et
seq., Aug., 1881.) This statement is, if not supported, at any rate
not contradicted by what Prof. Cowell says in Appendix VII., of
of India: “There is a difference in age between the various hymns,
which are now united in their present form as the Sanhitâ of theRig
have no data to determine their relative antiquity, and purely
subjective criticism, apart from solid data, has so often failed in
other instances, that we can trust but little to any of its inferences
in such a recently opened field of research as Sanskrit literature. [Not
a fourth part of the Vaidik literature is as yet in print, and very
little of it has been translated into English (1866).] The still
unsettled controversies about the Homeric poems may well warn us of
being too confident in our judgments regardingthe
yet earlier hymns of the Rig-Veda. . . . When we examine these
hymns . . . they are deeply interesting for the history of the human
mind, belonging as they do to a much older phase than the poems of Homer
or Hesiod.” The Vedic writings are all classified in two great
divisions, exoteric andesoteric,
the former being calledKarma-Kânda,
“division of actions or works”, and theJnâna
“division of (divine) knowledge”, theUpanishads(q.v.)
coming under this last classification. Both departments are regarded asSrutior
revelation. To each hymn of theRig-Veda,
the name of the Seer or Rishi to whom it was revealed is prefixed. It,
thus, becomes evident on the authority of these very names (such as
Vasishta, Viswâmitra, Nârada, etc.), all of which belong to men born in
various manvantaras and even ages, that centuries, and perhaps
millenniums, must have elapsed between the dates of their composition.