We are moving through the introductory remarks of the Secret Doctrine, a section at a time. Here is the next section to consider:

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 innovators.

    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.

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What is the dividing line between esoteric and exoteric? Is it relative to the perciever? Or is there a general dividing line for humanity as a whole?


The usual meaning of the term  'esoteric' is secret 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 understand. 

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.


Would it be accurate to say that the helio-centric idea was "esoteric" during medieval times in Europe due to the influence of the church?


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 history.


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 extensively in Isis - 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" in Isis 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 in The Secret Doctrine.


She seems to have a certain fondness for Inman, so it seems plausible that his works had some influence on how she presented certain concepts.


 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.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on June 25, 2013 at 5:00am

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 Jewish nazars, were identical from the beginning. When 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 added))

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 the spelling.

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, p142)

. . . this is no different to her later statements in the Collected Writing where the spelling of ‘buddhism’ has been corrected, for example:

‘“Budhism” has preceded Buddhism by long ages and is pre-Vedic.’

CW IX 283

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on June 26, 2013 at 3:36pm

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).

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on June 27, 2013 at 12:31pm

The beginning of the Mundaka Upanishad explains:

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 eldest son.

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 age-less.

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on June 29, 2013 at 10:49am

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.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on June 27, 2013 at 11:56am

It's interesting to consider HPB's explanation of the Vedas in her Glossary:

Vedas (Sk.). The “revelation”, the scriptures of the Hindus, from the root vid, “to know”, or “divine knowledge”. They are the most ancient as well as the most sacred of the Sanskrit works. The Vedas—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 Mânasa-Sarovara (phonetically,Mânsarovara) 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 the Vedas must 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 theVedas in 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) the Vedas are not a single work, nor yet any one of the separate Vedas; 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 as sruti, “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 the Vedas were finally arranged 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 the Vedas must have been taught at least 25,000 years ago. (See Theosophist, Vol. II., p. 238 et seq., Aug., 1881.) This statement is, if not supported, at any rate not contradicted by what Prof. Cowell says in Appendix VII., of Elphinstone’s History of India: “There is a difference in age between the various hymns, which are now united in their present form as the Sanhitâ of the Rig Veda:but we 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 regarding the 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 and esoteric, the former being called Karma-Kânda, “division of actions or works”, and the Jnâna Kânda, “division of (divine) knowledge”, the Upanishads (q.v.) coming under this last classification. Both departments are regarded as Sruti or revelation. To each hymn of the Rig-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.