We will now take up an article by BP Wadia from his Studies in the Secret Doctrine called: Scope, Structure and Method.  Many passages from the SD are contained in the article.

Please let us hear your thoughts and comments and questions on what follows here.

The writings of H. P. Blavatsky constitute the latest incarnation of the Ageless Wisdom. The ever-recurring Impulse of Theosophy brings into expression one or more aspects of the Wisdom of the world of men. Re-embodiment of that Wisdom is like unto reincarnation of the human soul. Never fully and completely can the Fire of the Soul install itself in the temple of flesh, lest the latter be consumed; thus too only in part can the Wisdom of the Immemorial Fire descend from on high to this globe of earth.

The recurring Impulse of Theosophy produces the manifestation of its Mind on the one hand and its vehicle of matter on the other; that Impulse expresses a certain quantity of knowledge, and secondly manifests a body, an organization, a polity, an order, which in course of time invariably usurps and corrupts the first, producing a sect, a caste, a creed, a dogma.

Of all her writings The Secret Doctrine was regarded by H.P.B. as her best work. But to understand it to any appreciable extent we must bear in mind certain important factors.

The book is not written; it is recorded, as the dedication points out. In the Proem the recorder takes note that her volumes may be regarded (1) as a fairy tale; or (2) “at best as one of the yet unproven speculations of dreamers”; or (3) “at the worst, as an additional hypothesis to the many scientific hypotheses past, present and future, some exploded, others still lingering.” But, it is added, “It is not in any sense worse than are many of the so-called Scientific theories; and it is in every case more philosophical and probable.” (I:23-24.)

But to enjoy a fairy-tale one requires power of imagination; to appreciate a dreamer’s speculation one should be a philosopher to some extent; to understand a scientific hypothesis one should possess adequate knowledge. Next, it is said:

The reader can never be too often reminded that … the present work is a simple attempt to render, in modern language and in a phraseology with which the scientific and educated student is familiar, archaic Genesis and History as taught in certain Asiatic centres of esoteric learning. They must be accepted or rejected on their own merits, fully or partially; but not before they have been carefully compared with the corresponding theological dogmas and the modern scientific theories and speculations. (II:449.)

So far so good; but the reader’s enthusiasm does not find great encouragement as he keeps on perusing:

One feels a serious doubt whether, with all its intellectual acuteness, our age is destined to discover in each western nation even one solitary uninitiated scholar or philosopher capable of fully comprehending the spirit of archaic philosophy. (II:449.)

Can he himself ever hope to be that “one solitary uninitiated” individual?

The study of this book and the grasping of the teachings it contains, like those of any other volume, naturally depends on the capacity of the reader; but, just as the nature of the capacity differs according to the subject matter of study and investigation and the musical faculty is necessary for the appreciation of music, and the mathematical faculty for grasping mathematics, so also for the study of The Secret Doctrinea definite type of capacity and a particular faculty are essential.

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"The reader can never be too often reminded that … the present work is a simple attempt to render, in modern language and in a phraseology with which the scientific and educated student is familiar, archaic Genesis and History as taught in certain Asiatic centres of esoteric learning."

What kind of education do students need in order to understand the "phraseology" that HPB speaks of? Are there preliminary subjects to be studied before making an attempt at the Secret Doctrine?

Perhaps she is referring to the large number of Sanskrit, ancient and foreign terminology required to communicate the Esoteric Doctrines. The Glossaries that have been put out since the publication of the SD have been invaluable.  It is interesting how many terms have now filtered into the culture we now live in, words like Yoga and Karma for example.


While B.P.Wadia undoubtedly makes some valuable suggestions as to how the Secret Doctrine might be approached by the student, I think the above passage from HPB is taking out of context. A larger section of the passage renders HPB's meaning clearer.

One feels a serious doubt whether, with all its intellectual acuteness, our age is destined to discover in each western nation even one solitary uninitiated scholar or philosopher capable of fully comprehending the spirit of archaic philosophy. Nor can one be expected to do so, before the real meaning of these terms, the Alpha and the Omega of Eastern esotericism, the words Sat and Asat, -- so freely used in the Rig-Veda, and elsewhere -- is thoroughly assimilated. Without this key to the Aryan Wisdom, the Cosmogony of the Rishis and the Arhats is in danger of remaining a dead letter to the average Orientalist. (SD II 449)

HPB isn't making a comment about all the 'individuals' in every western nation. Her remarks are a reference to the 'scholars and philosophers' of her time: "the orientalists" whose translations of the sanskrit of the Vedas, particularly the Rig Vedas, failed to capture the true spirit of that, and similar, works.


Whether HPB was talking about academics only (and I don't think she was) or not the larger point remains; iniitiation into the mysteries is an endeavor requiring the greatest effort, sacrifice and power within a human being. The point here is to set the bar at the proper height. I believe, in part,  it is a warning by HPB about presumptuousness.

One feels a serious doubt whether, with all its intellectual acuteness, our age is destined to discover in each western nation even one solitary uninitiated scholar or philosophercapable of fully comprehending the spirit of archaic philosophy. (II:449.)

My underline.


Gerry, you are quite right and make an excellent point: initiation into the mysteries requires the greatest effort, sacrifice and power. As important as this is, I don't believe it is the point behind HPB's remarks about the scholarly translators of the Vedas in her time (in SD II 449), remarks  which becomes clearer once the rest of her passage is included rather than omitted. 


I agree that the larger quote provides more context, as is usually the case. She certainly addresses the "orientalists" of her day quite often through her writings. Seems quite 'purposeful' to me.

I'm taken by the importance placed on initiation by HPB. Elsewhere she states:

"So true it is that the noblest ideal to which the religious Spirit of one age can soar, will appear but a gross caricature to the philosophic mind in a succeeding epoch! The philosophers themselves had to be initiated into perceptive mysteries, before they could grasp the correct idea of the ancients in relation to this most metaphysical subject. Otherwise -- outside such initiation -- for every thinker there will be a "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther," mapped out by his intellectual capacity, as clearly and as unmistakeably as there is for the progress of any nation or race in its cycle by the law of Karma. Outside of initiation, the ideals of contemporary religious thought must always have their wings clipped and remain unable to soar higher; for idealistic as well as realistic thinkers, and even free-thinkers, are but the outcome and the natural product of their respective environments and periods." — Vol I, p. 326

To me, this says a lot about our studies - for starters, that intellectual study is simply not enough on its own. With that idea in mind, what might this say about our approach to the SD? Does knowing that there's a self-imposed limit, so to speak, without initiation, change how we approach our study?



Here are some thoughts in relation to your important question.

If we have studied the Secret Doctrine for any length of time we will have encountered time and time again the notion that unless we are initiated into the mysteries there will be limits to what we can know. Even if one were initiated there would still, no doubt, be limits to what we can know unless we believe that initiation into the mysteries transforms us from complete ignorance and dead letter understanding one moment to being a full blown adept of the Mysteries the next.

I think if we can just accept this we can then get on and study the SD as best as we are able to, guided by HPB's explanations, hints, clues, and the occasional key she gives to the esoteric meaning of all those spiritual traditions and occult histories she places before us.

I've no doubt in my own mind that if we needed to be initiated before we could begin to understand HPB's work then neither she nor her Teachers would have put so much time and effort into producing it. Nor does our study need to be limited to the intellect alone. As I'm sure you know, when discussing the first few stanzas HPB says their meaning "…must be left to the intuition and higher faculties of the reader to grasp, as far as he can.."

Importantly, she goes on to state:

"Indeed it must be remembered that all these Stanzas appeal to the inner faculties rather than to the ordinary comprehension of the physical brain." (SD I 21)

It seems to me that HPB and her Teachers both hope and expect that the teachings they have given out in the SD are within the grasp of the intuition and inner/higher faculties of the "the reader".

In HPB's "The Voice of the Silence" she writes that it is  'Dedicated to the Few.'    In her Preface to the Secret Doctrine she says the work "…is written in the service of humanity."   There are no special qualifications or initiations we need to have before making a start on this work.  Therein lies a hope that is available to all.

Hi all,

There is so much to read here in these posts.

One thought I had refers to the intellectual study spoken of here.

It sounds like you all (including HPB) are saying that the intellect itself is the limitation and that although the studies may begin there, they need to quickly move to the "inner faculties" of the "initiate"...the actual process that occurs, of becoming an initiate, is known only by way of comprehension of that which was previously unknown. Is this what is being said here?

Does knowing that there's a self-imposed limit, so to speak, without initiation, change how we approach our study?

I think this is key and there will exist, forever as far as we can tell, a distinction between intellect/study and initiation/intuition that must be balanced in the individual. The discussion of Discipline in Patanjoli's Yoga Aphorisms springs to mind. This is found in any worthwhile mystery tradition and outlined by HPB in Jon's quote (SDI:326). Perhaps, it is not so much that there is an intellectual limit in intellect itself, but that the vehicle for the intellect is currently limited as HPB suggests above (going no farther).

Intuition (initiation used as its vehicle) unlocks itself through study and experience, hence the emphasis throughout the Bhagavad Gita, littered with quotes for the need to do more than simply 'survey the battlefield' with a call to duty!

There is a term slowly creeping into scholarly studies of various traditions and it is that of the 'esotericologist' which means someone who studies a subject but is not directly involved with it. I do not know how this is possible to remain a spectator of occult studies, but the concept lends itself to the notion of the importance of initiation which separates one who simply studies and one who understands (or thinks they do). That is like going to Church on Sundays but ignoring the teachings in your everyday life. But as pointed out by the HPB quotes in this discussion, the method of initiation does not mean one has to go join a magical order, a theosophical group, or participate with others as a prerequisite to become initiated. If one has the power to think then that right there is enough to begin working. The thought of having guidelines or a necessary previous education to pick up the pieces of theosophy is the prerequisite of a limited intellect! An intellectual study leads to self-initiation which means if we take the friendly advice of BP Wadia and company, about the scope, structure, and method of study of the SD, the study itself acts as the ceremonies needed to self-initiate the student! I see no difference. A book such as the Secret Doctrine, microcosm of the macro SECRET DOCTRINE of Nature, is a humble bridge and servant to link purposeful thought with honest action. Until we can learn to process with our hearts we are stuck with our brain!


Very well put all-round.

Perhaps, it is not so much that there is an intellectual limit in intellect itself, but that the vehicle for the intellect is currently limited as HPB suggests above (going no farther).

This is my understanding, yes.

hence the emphasis throughout the Bhagavad Gita, littered with quotes for the need to do more than simply 'survey the battlefield' with a call to duty!

This is why I love when HPB says that:

In its practical bearing, Theosophy is purely divine ethics.

There is practice here as well. We need more than intellectual study.

"The philosophers themselves had to be initiated into perceptive mysteries, before they could grasp the correct idea of the ancients in relation to this most metaphysical subject."


What are the "perceptive mysteries"? And what metaphysical subject?

HPB clearly states that her work, “The Secret Doctrine” contains only selected fragments and is not the Secret Doctrine in its entirety.  She also states on more than one occasion when exploring a theme that she is only permitted to give out so much on the topic and can say no more.  However, she also writes in a number of places that what she cannot give out in her work may yet be within the grasp of the student's intuition.

The writer hopes that, superficially handled as may be the comments on the Seven Stanzas, enough has been given in this cosmogonic portion of the work to show Archaic teachings to be more scientific (in the modern sense of the word) on their very face, than any other ancient Scriptures left to be regarded and judged on their exoteric aspect. Since, however, as confessed before, this work withholds far more than it gives out, the student is invited to use his own intuitions.    (SD I 278)

Every old religion is but a chapter or two of the entire volume of archaic primeval mysteries -- Eastern Occultism alone being able to boast that it is in possession of the full secret, with its seven keys. Comparisons will be instituted, and as much as possible will be explained in this work -- the rest is left to the student's personal intuition. For in saying that Eastern Occultism has the secret, it is not as if a "complete" or even an approximate knowledge was claimed by the writer, which would be absurd. What I know, I give out; that which I cannot explain, the student must find out for himself.     (SD I 318)

Speaking of the mystery surrounding the Nirmanakayas and Adepts from previous manvataras incarnating into the Third Root Race, HPB comments:

Its solution is left to the intuition of the student, if he only reads that which follows with his spiritual eye.  (SD II 94)

Speaking of the meaning of ‘Spiritual Fire’ and the awakening of Mind in early humanity, HPB states:

The foregoing are all mysteries which must be left to the personal intuition of the student for solution, rather than described.      (SD II 106)

Speaking of those Dhyan Chohans called Kumara, and their connection with 'the birth of spiritual ‘microcosm’ and the death or dissolution of the physical Universe…'  HPB writes:

…this is a mystery which the writer dares not dwell upon at length, not being sure of being understood. Thus the mystical side of the interpretation must be left to the intuition of the student.      (SD II 579)

In the last section of volume two of the SD, speaking of the existence of submerged continents - Lemuria, Atlantis - looking at geological, astronomical, astrological and mythical sources, HPB says:

Let the student exercise his intuition by placing these facts together; no more can be said.   (SD II 786)

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Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 24, 2012 at 9:00am

Wonderful, Peter. Powerful to see some of these quotes together like this, to really highlight this idea.

If we take the "Bowen Notes" at their word, we also have this profound statement to go along with the above quotes.

"First of all then, "The Secret Doctrine" is only quite a small fragment of the Esoteric Doctrine known to the higher members of the Occult Brotherhoods. It contains, she says, just as much as can be received by the World during this coming century. This raised a question — which she explained in the following way: —
"The World" means Man living in the Personal Nature. This "World" will find in the two volumes of the S.D. all its utmost comprehension can grasp, but no more. But this is not to say that the Disciple who is not living in "The World" cannot find any more in the book than the "World" finds. Every form, no matter how crude, contains the image of its "creator" concealed within it. So likewise does an author's work, no matter how obscure, contain the concealed image of the author's knowledge. From this saying I take it that the S.D. must contain all that H.P.B. knows herself, and a great deal more than that, seeing that much of it comes from men whose knowledge is immensely wider than hers. Furthermore, she implies unmistakably that another may well find knowledge in it which she does not possess herself. It is a stimulating thought to consider that it is possible that I myself may find in H.P.B.'s words knowledge of which she herself is unconscious. She dwelt on this idea a good deal. . . .

She is telling us without a doubt not to anchor ourselves to her as the final authority, nor to anyone else, but to depend altogether upon our own widening perceptions."

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 25, 2012 at 12:52am

A very interesting passage from Bowen, Jon.  Thanks.  The marvel is that even though we have all this background information about The Secret Doctrine, that it's the triple production of the HPB and the Masters KH, M, that it contained all that could be given out by Adept Brotherhood in the current age etc, yet few theosophists actually study the work itself.  Something invariably seems to come between the student and his/her own intimate contact with the work, and therefore an opportunity to let 'the work' arouse his/her own intuition is possibly missed.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 25, 2012 at 12:33am

When we refer to the “intellect” we should probably examine what Theosophy means by the term.  Strictly speaking the intellectual element in Man refers to our fifth principle, Manas.  The development of this principle is central to one of the three schemes of cosmic evolution -   Monadic,  Intellectual and Physical.  It is intimately related to the Manasa-Dhyanis, the givers of intelligence and consciousness to humanity. (See SD I 181)

The current limitation of the intellect in humanity’s present stage of development rests on the dual nature of Manas.  It has both a material aspect and a spiritual aspect.  Theosophy teaches that the material aspect of Manas was fully developed in the Fourth Root Race.   It is this material/physical aspect of Intellectual development that comes at the cost of declining spirituality in Man, hence it is this “Mind” that is 'the great slayer of the real'. 

 We are told that the spiritual aspect of Manas (Manas in conjunction with Buddhi) will only be fully developed in the Fifth Round of our evolutionary scheme - though there are and will be exceptions:

“ [it is not]...part of the evolutionary law that the Fifth principle (Manas), should receive its complete development before the Fifth Round. All such prematurely developed intellects (on the spiritual plane) in our Race are abnormal; they are those whom we call the "Fifth-Rounders." Even in the coming seventh Race, at the close of this Fourth Round, while our four lower principles will be fully developed, that of Manas will be only proportionately so. This limitation, however, refers solely to the spiritual development. The intellectual, on the physical plane, was reached during the Fourth Root-Race.” (SD II 167-8)

From a Theosophical perspective it would be a mistake to believe that we can by-pass the Intellect (Manas) on the way to spiritual development and Wisdom.  Without Manas there is no link between Man’s highest principles (Atma-Buddhi) and the lower principles.  Indeed, without Manas, there is no Spiritual Intuition.  As HPB states in “The Secret Doctrine Commentaries” (previously ‘Transactions of Blavatsky Lodge’):

"One thing you may say about Buddhi. Intuition is in Manas for the more or less light shed on it by Buddhi, whether it is assimilated much or little with Buddhi." (p639)

"Buddhi by itself can neither have intuition, nor non-intuition, nor anything; it is simply the cementing link, so to say, between the higher spirit and Manas.”(P639)

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 25, 2012 at 9:45am
This seems like a good opportunity to have the words Intellect and Intuition defined from a theosophical perspective, to the end that we may be able to recognize the activity of these faculties within our own consciousness. Here are some definitions from Dictionary.com:

Intellect: 1. the power or faculty of the mind by which one knows or understands, as distinguished from that by which one feels and that by which one wills; the understanding; the faculty of thinking and acquiring knowledge.

Intuition: 1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.

Are these the definitions that we should have in mind when using these words in Theosophical discussions?
Permalink Reply by Peter on September 26, 2012 at 7:42am

Jimmy, the definitions you've given sound like two reasonably clear summaries of the two terms as used in contemporary thought.  

 I believe where Theosophy differs is that Manas (as the Intellectual element in Man) embraces both of the definitions given above.  I'm probably just saying what you already know here:

In conjunction with the lower principles, in particular with Kama and physical brain/senses, Manas acts as the rational function.  Manas minus the light of Buddhi is the intellect of the materialist.  It may be one of the greatest intellects of its age, yet still lack spiritual insight into the nature of life.  Manas in conjunction with the lower principles leads to the false belief that the 'I' is an entity separate from all others and all life.

In conjunction with Buddhi it makes of both (i.e Buddhi and Manas) the spiritual intellect and acts as the faculty of spiritual intuition, i.e. the direct perception of truth.  As Buddhi is universal in nature, then manas in conjunction with Buddhi opens up the awareness of the Unity and One-ness of all life.   This faculty is only fully developed in the Mahatma.  In the Secret Doctrine such a great being is called a Dangma, and the faculty itself is called The Eye of Dangma:

   "Dangma means a purified soul, one who has become a Jivanmukta, the highest adept, or rather a Mahatma so-called. His "opened eye" is the inner spiritual eye of the seer, and the faculty which manifests through it is not clairvoyance as ordinarily understood, i.e., the power of seeing at a distance, but rather the faculty of spiritual intuition, through which direct and certain knowledge is obtainable. This faculty is intimately connected with the "third eye," which mythological tradition ascribes to certain races of men. " (SD I 46)

I think at our (humanity's) current stage of development we still need to use the rational or lower aspect of Manas in the service of the higher in our study of Theosophy.  In fact, in HPB's work she appears to expects this from us.  She writes in her Preface to The Key to Theosophy:

"To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a riddle; for in the world mental as in the world spiritual each man must progress by his own efforts.  The writer cannot do the reader's thinking for him, nor would the latter be any the better off if such vicarious thought were possible."   (The Key to Theosophy)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 26, 2012 at 11:23am

Perhaps another way of restating sine of the excellent points students are making here is to say Buddhi requires a clear and untarnished lens to shine through namely Manas.  If the lens is tarnished the light will be defused, so to speak.  Put yet another way the clarification of our ideas we hold to and live by and view the world through must be elevated to an ever more universal level and away from a personal or partial level..  This I believe is one of the  primary objects of Philosophy. (capital P)