Our study of The Key to Theosophy starts here.  Many of the themes in the first few sections of The Key have already been covered or will be covered in our other study groups on this site.  Therefore, rather than go through the initial sections one by one, for this introduction we will look at just three of the core statements by HPB taken from the first few sections.

A Common Origin.

The root of all nature, objective and subjective, and everything else in the universe, visible and invisible, is,was, and ever will be one absolute essence, from which all starts, and into which everything returns.  (Page 43)

All men have spiritually and physically the same origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy.   As mankind is essentially one and the same essence, and that essence is one - infinite, uncreate, and eternal, whether we call it God or Nature – nothing, therefore, can affect one nation or one man without affecting all other nations and all other men. (Page 41)

Theosophy is the essence of all religion and of absolute truth, a drop of which only underlies every creed.  Theosophy on earth, is like the white ray of the spectrum, and every religion only one of the seven prismatic colours.  (Page 58)

Comments and questions welcome.

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Hi Peter:

Would you say the first two passages above are extensions of the 2nd and 3rd fundamentals?  In your opinion,  how many keys are there to Theosophy? 



Those are two really interesting questions to start us off, Barbara.  Thank you.  

Yes, there does seem to be a connection to the three fundamental propositions of the SD.  Would you say a little more as to what you feel these extensions might be.   

The title of the work refers to a single key i.e. "The Key to Theosophy", so we might wonder what that is and whether it is the only one. 

What do other members of the group thInk about these two thought provoking questions?  Any thoughts, or other questions/comments.


Well the title is the Key not the keys!

I think we will need to go through the whole book to answer Barbs question.

It could be said that all three excerpts are something of a restatement of the three fundamental principles found in the Secret Doctrine.  If this constitutes three keys could we synthesize it to one?  I suppose we must read on.


Do you think that in the same way that there is a Key to Theosophy there is also a Key to Oneself?


We might say that each of us is the Key to Theosophy - 'theosophy' referring to divine wisdom.  A genuine study of Theosophy along with our effort to live it is the key to the Oneself.  I think this is why, each in our own way, we need to take the time to reflect and meditate on this theme of a common origin of all nature, all sentient beings, and the Truth which illuminates the true nature of these.


There are fundamental ideas that make Theosophy profound and encompassing and I would like to become familiar with them so I can explain it to others. The theme of common origin or unity is one of most important tenets. There are other important keys, like periodicity, evolution, reincarnation, karma, the sevenfold constitution, hierarchy and more. What other keys do you think should be included?

If we have a good grasp of these foundational thoughts, it would be easier to explain the teaching. Granted, most of the ideas cannot be proven; they have to be accepted them as working hypothesis.



I agree with you.  The ideas need to be accepted as working hypotheses, and then through trying to lead and see our lives through these ideas we come to discover more and more of what is true and what is not.


Barbara, you were quite right in your first message to ask 'how many keys are there to Theosophy?'.  In  HPB's other works she states in a number of places that there are seven keys to the Mysteries.  She also says each key needs seven turns.  In the Voice of the Silence, for example, we find the seven paramitas (charity, patience etc) are referred to as the seven golden keys to the Portals (see Fragment III).  Recently Pierre invited us to consider that the antaskarana bridge was sevenfold.  We have seven principles & so on. So it's reasonable to feel that the ONE KEY and the SEVEN KEYS are intimately inter-related.

When we have concluded this Introduction we will begin our examination of the other keys you mentioned in your message above as we start with the Section HPB titled "The Fundamental Teachings of Theosophy".  Hopefully, between us all we can realise together that very admirable aim of yours, namely, to know the fundamentals well enough to be able to explain them to others.


Perhaps the greatest 'key', in my view, is the law of correspondence. I think this is what really helps bring us to the unification of all these seemingly separate ideas.


I agree;  this is one of the most profound keys.   We will learn more as Peter goes through the fundamental teachings with us.  For now, I have -

1.  Unity (common origin)

2. Periodicity / evolution

3. Karma / reincarnation

4. Correspondence (As above, so below)

5. Sevenfold Constitution

6. Hierarchy / Compassion



Our group in Ventura came up with these and we put them on our web site.



Very nice.  Thank you.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 24, 2013 at 10:01am

What a beautiful idea. Each human being is the Key to Theosophy.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on April 24, 2013 at 12:10pm

Just from my own experience, it does seem that ideas have been 'unlocked' more often through some aspect of 'self-study' than through 'book-study', but that the two compliment each other. Study of books brings certain ideas, but then it's (in my experience) usually some window into my own actions or thoughts, etc. that then spontaneously unlocks deeper meanings to the ideas.

Also, considering that it is our Self that ultimately does the unlocking, perhaps we could say that the ultimate 'key' is buddhi.

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on April 24, 2013 at 4:05pm

Jon, you say:  'the ultimate 'key' is buddhi.'

that sounds right - the buddic principle (universal understanding, compassion, intuition) appears to be key.  Here's something from the Mahatma Letters that rings a bell:

". . . Once separated from the common influences of Society, nothing draws us to any outsider save his evolving spirituality. He may be a Bacon or an Aristotle in knowledge, and still not even make his current felt a feather's weight by us, if his power is confined to the Manas. The supreme energy resides in the Buddhi; latent — when wedded to Atman alone, active and irresistible when galvanized by the essence of "Manas" and when none of the dross of the latter commingles with that pure essence to weigh it down by its finite nature. Manas, pure and simple, is of a lower degree, and of the earth earthly: and so your greatest men count but as nonentities in the arena where greatness is measured by the standard of spiritual development." — Letter LXI, p. 341


Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 23, 2013 at 12:08am

If the second statement is true than humanity is a family, undivided. What does it mean to think of all of humanity as our family.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on April 24, 2013 at 5:36pm

I would assume we typically mean 'that which we are in close relation with' or something like that, as a definition for family and to 'act as family' to me would mean with love, understanding, compassion, tolerance, patience, etc..

But humanity is only the beginning. We are intimately related to animals as well, and plants, minerals, all elementals, the entirety of the earth, solar system, galaxy, etc., etc., all of Nature (capital N). There's nothing we're not in close relations with. :)

I think the trick is to really live it, because to actually live the idea of universal brotherhood means to apply it even to those parts of reality that we might have aversions to—not just to the parts we like. It means to act as family even towards the worst of the worst. Much easier said than done.

If the 'bad person' we see on the news, was our son, our daughter, our mother, our brother or wife or husband, would we treat them differently? Would we try to have more understanding, patience, leniency, compassion, etc.?

Permalink Reply by barbaram on April 24, 2013 at 10:35pm

The interdependence of all living things is very substantial. It is undeniable that our thoughts and feelings affect our surroundings; we have the power to either uplift or pollute the environment.  Looking at a broader scale, in the past decades no one has escaped the effects of globalization, a loud demonstration of our interdependence on each other. 

When I read the wonderful passages posted by Peter on a common origin, I wonder if, somehow, it takes us even further.  It states that the root of everything stems from the same essence and everything comes from the ONE and dissolves back into the ONE.  Thus, if one looks at life from this standpoint of Unity, it seems the subject - object reference  has to dissolve as well.  

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 24, 2013 at 10:48pm

Another way to state your wonderful point, is that "I" and "Thou" disappear, the dew drop sinking in the shining sea, as the poet puts it.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on April 26, 2013 at 9:55am

Funny, just yesterday I was proofing/editing an old article for the Universal Theosophy site (an old translation), where the text reads:

4. True it is that self or Jiva is Brahm, and that Brahm is self. This fact need not be doubted.

5. Thou becamest Brahm.

6. I became Brahm.

7. There is no difference between thee and me. Thou art I; and I am Thou.

The manifested difference dies in the unmanifested unity. In the unmanifested Brahm everything is I and there is no Thou, You.

The manifested being finite, and the unmanifested being infinite and eternal,I alone is true and Thou false.

Permalink Reply by Peter on April 25, 2013 at 6:19am

Barbara wrote:  ...everything stems from the same essence and everything comes from the ONE and dissolves back into the ONE.Thus, if one looks at life from this standpoint of Unity, it seems the subject - object reference  has to dissolve as well.


Beautifully put, Barbara.  It relates very well to what Jon and Don Petros have written about Buddhi and the Heart.

The other point you raised (as did Jon) is also important, namely "It is undeniable that our thoughts and feelings affect our surrounding; we have the power to either uplift or pollute the environment."   I wonder if this might throw some light on the value of theosophical study.  For example, the Mahatma KH wrote: 

"Plato was right: ideas rule the world; and, as men's minds will receive new ideas, laying aside the old and effete, the world will advance: mighty revolutions will spring from them; creeds and even powers will crumble before their onward march crushed by the irresistible force. It will be just as impossible to resist their influx, when the time comes, as to stay the progress of the tide. But all this will come gradually on, and before it comes we have a duty set before us; that of sweeping away as much as possible the dross left to us by our pious forefathers. New ideas have to be planted on clean places, for these ideas touch upon the most momentous subjects. It is not physical phenomena but these universal ideas that we study, as to comprehend the former, we have to first understand the latter. They touch man's true position in the universe, in relation to his previous and future births; his origin and ultimate destiny; the relation of the mortal to the immortal; of the temporary to the eternal; of the finite to the infinite; ideas larger, grander, more comprehensive, recognising the universal reign of Immutable Law, unchanging and unchangeable in regard to which there is only an ETERNAL Now, while to uninitiated mortals time is past or future as related to their finite existence on this material speck of dirt. This is what we study and what many have solved."

Mahatma Letters No. 6

A sense of our ultimate Unity with all life (our common origin), along with Compassion and Wisdom appear to be essential aspects of the path itself as well as the goal we reach for.  Perhaps this these three might also be aspects of our triple Monad (Atma-Buddhi-Manas)? Wisdom and Compassion being two aspects of that Unitary Essence?

Permalink Reply by barbaram on April 25, 2013 at 1:26pm

Hi Peter:

There are critics of Theosophy who say the teaching is too mental and abstract, lacking any practical instruction and values.  But ideas are powerful tools;   they have the potential to unlock doors and transform lives.  Ideas are like seeds, under the proper conditions, can grow and flourish, and ultimately giving shade to those in need.

As suggested by you, the trinity, Unity-Wisdom-Compassion, is an intriguing idea.   They seem to be essential aspects of the teaching.   At some point, one will be confronted by the two paths – the doctrine of the eye or the doctrine of the heart. What is your understanding of compassion?  How is it different from sympathy?   How is wisdom related to compassion? 

Permalink Reply by Peter on April 26, 2013 at 4:10am

Barbara,  I suspect my understanding of compassion and the living of it is very small, but here goes.

Sympathy probably has a broader meaning than the term compassion and is used, therefore, in a variety of ways.  For example, it can be a feeling of sorrow for the plight of others; it could be a common or shared understanding with another person’s views; it could mean relating to others or some thing in a harmonious way.  

Compassion appears to have a more specific meaning.  It comes from the latin compati, meaning ‘suffer with’.  Compassion for the suffering of others seems to include the desire to act in some way to alleviate that suffering, whereas sympathy may not.  A shining example of this is given in The Voice of the Silence:

‘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.’  (VOS Fragment I.)

Study of the Theosophical doctrines potentially provides us with a larger context in which to view the world’s plight and the individual actions of ourselves and others.  For example, the study of reincarnation and karma can help us to realise a compassion for others when we contemplate the future life consequences that are likely to follow from our actions in this life - actions arising largely from an ignorance of those laws.  Speaking for my own experience, I can’t help but feel that it is only as a result of studying and meditating on these doctrines over the years that i can feel some compassion for those individuals who commit the most heinous crimes.  When I think of all the complex karmic suffering generated by such acts - the present suffering of the victims and its knock on effects along with the future karmic suffering of the perpetrator of the crimes - my heart grieves for all involved.

Compassion and the desire to help others necessarily requires knowledge of natures laws if it is to be truly effective.   The person that offers to fix the  electrical problems in my home needs to have more than good motives and compassion for my plight.  She or he needs knowledge of how the system works and of the forces involved.  Without such knowledge more harm than good may result.   Surely, it is the same with life in general and especially so where the inner life is concerned.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on April 26, 2013 at 3:56pm

Thanks, Peter, for the explanation. I always find it very interesting that the word "love" is rarely used in the eastern religions or by HPB. Rather, the concept of compassion is prevalent in the east but not as much in the west.  One wonders if they talking about the same thing but using different terminology or is the east really that much different from the west.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 26, 2013 at 4:33pm

I have an idea about that.  In the west (maybe modern times is more accurate) the idea of love revolves around personal love.  While the concept of compassion is more closely associated with impersonal or universal love.

In our times you can love peanut butter, but you would not have compassion for it!

Permalink Reply by Peter on April 27, 2013 at 5:03am

I think you're right, Barbara - it's not a word much used by HPB.  However, it is used quite a number of times in The Voice of the Silence in connection with the paramitas and Compassion, the Law of Laws and with "Alaya"  (the "MASTER-SOUL", the Universal Soul).  

Interestingly, very recently I came across a definition of 'Alaya' by HPB which intrigued me:

'This “Fire” is that of Alaya, the “World-Soul,” the essence of which is LOVE, i.e., homogeneous Sympathy, which is Harmony, or the “Music of the Spheres.” Vide The Voice of the Silence, IIIrd Treatise, page 69'

In CW XII 55 ("Footnotes to 'The Alchemists')

There we have our word 'Sympathy' used in a very interesting way in connection with Love and Alaya.


Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on April 24, 2013 at 12:10pm

nothing, therefore, can affect one nation or one man without affecting all other nations and all other men

This is such a powerful thought! It's enough to change everything about the way we live. There are so many things we tend to think of as 'private' and thus not effecting others, but when we can see that everything we do and feel and think ripples through the world and all others, the idea that certain thoughts or actions are 'self-contained' fades away and we get a greater glimpse of the responsibility that comes with being a self-conscious being.

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on April 24, 2013 at 12:33pm

My thought on what is the 'key' to Theosophy is that it is not an idea, but instead a way of being.  It appears to be to live for others - not oneself - selflessness (doctrine of the Heart).  We find that key sometimes, and sometimes (or more often!) we lose track of it. 

This isn't to say that good ideas and right thinking (doctrine of the Eye) are not part of the equation; indeed they help us locate the key.  But I think ideas aren't the key that is being referred to by HPB, who I think was pointing to the Heart. 


Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 29, 2013 at 2:17pm

Theosophy is the essence of all religion and of absolute truth, a drop of which only underlies every creed.  Theosophy on earth, is like the white ray of the spectrum, and every religion only one of the seven prismatic colours.  (Page 58)

Gandhi was big on reverencing all the religious traditions but belonging to none. How can we respect traditions that have been distorted for their original meanings and doctrines?