The history of Theosophy down the ages is the history of the cyclic attempts made by the Preservers of the Wisdom-Religion, the one Religion which underlies all the now existing creeds, to present it to a world in need of it. Theosophy is declared by Them to be as old as thinking man; i.e., it has existed on this earth since the time man became a self-conscious chooser, over 18 million years ago.
The ultimate purpose of evolution in the macrocosm is that each globe become a man-bearing globe. There are in the entire cosmos two types of globes: (1) those on which there is no human evolution proceeding as yet, and (2) those on which self-conscious, intelligent beings are evolving. Our Earth is not the only man-bearing globe; there are others as well. With the attainment of self-consciousness, then, an important stage was reached in the drama of evolution on this earth.
Before the lighting up of Manas, Theosophy, the Eternal Wisdom, was in the custody of those Beings who had already passed through the man-stage and perfected themselves in prior fields of evolution. Theosophy thus is primordial and was revealed directly to humankind by its progenitors and informing Egos. The knowledge of Theosophy does not exist in the lower kingdoms because in these lower forms there is no mind to perceive it. There are two ways in which the wisdom of Theosophy manifests: First, in the form of intimations which arise spontaneously from within; although one may be unaware of the existence of Theosophical records, each possesses certain innate ideas and can, by exercising his power of thought and reasoning, arrive at a recognition of the three basic truths concerning the universal, divine, impersonal deific Principle; universal, just and impersonal law; and the brotherhood of all manifesting, evolving beings. Secondly, it manifests in the form of knowledge derived from facts observed, checked and verified by a constantly growing body of students and devotees.
The unadultered teachings of Theosophy are given out openly at certain times, taking advantage of special cycles. At other times the teachings have been given out in a veiled or more or less concealed fashion. Sometimes the ethical or application aspect has been more emphasized, as for example in the Buddha's exoteric teachings; the teachers of the ancient Upanishads, on the other hand, expounded the metaphysical side of the Esoteric Philosophy. It is very rare to find the two given out together. Theosophy as given out by H. P. Blavatsky for us of this era is as complete a system of ethics and metaphysics as this present cycle was ready for, and this cycle is a special one. There are indications that the coming years will be very important and that events will move rapidly; this is a characteristic of the Kali Yuga, the first 5,000 years of which ended towards the close of the last century. The teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita, which Krishna gave out at the beginning of this Yuga, contains the ethics and the metaphysics which are suited to this entire Kali-Yuga cycle of 432,000 years.
So, it is according to the needs of the cycle that the supply of ethics, or of metaphysics, or of both, is made. It is we human beings who make the cycles and the Masters of Wisdom respond if we make the necessary efforts.
As said above, Theosophy as a system of knowledge, of laws, of facts in Nature, was first given out on this globe some 18 million years ago. It is called in H.P.B.'s Secret Doctrine the "ancient Atlanto-Lemurian Wisdom," the Wisdom belonging to the Third and Fourth Root Races, whose descendants we find in the seed of the Fifth Race, the earliest Aryans. When Manas was lit up, the first great instalment of this Wisdom was presented. This Universal Wisdom antedates the Vedas. The story of the degradatation and loss of these original teachings is the story of that madness which pride engenders. The Atlanteans went mad with pride and brought about the downfall of their civilization. The few who were saved from the cataclysm that destroyed Atlantis set themselves apart so to say, one million years ago, to spend their time, not in teaching, but in learning and verifying the system of ancient cosmogony and in perfecting themselves, and it is these Wise Men who became the Instructors of the early Fifth, the Aryan Race. It is here that we must look for the source of the ancient teachings of what later came to be called Hinduism, the earliest of the extant religions. These teachings were first taught orally and only much later recorded in writing as the hymns of the Vedas. The original, pure Hinduism thus sprang from the Atlanto-Lemurian Wisdom.
Those saved from the last great series of cataclysms and shifting of continents originated two great efforts; the tree of the Ancient Wisdom branched into two: one took root and flourished in India; the other in Persia. There was a time when greater India included areas stretching out to sections of China and extending as far south as Borneo. A study of the languages which these two branches developed, Sanskrit and Avesta, reveals that they are two sister languages, born of the mother, Senzar, which is now lost to the outer world. Of these two branches, of the Avestan sacred texts only a few fragments are now extant, and one cannot reconstruct a whole system out of these. Fragments obtained from Babylon, Chaldea and Egypt are all subsidiary presentations derived from this branch.
In Isis Unveiled (II, 123) H.P.B. has written:
We can assert, with entire plausibility, that there is not one of all these sects—Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included—but sprang from the two main branches of that one mother-trunk, the once universal religion, which antedated the Vedic ages—we speak of that prehistoric Buddhism which merged later into Brahmanism.
H.P.B. wrote further:
The religion which the primitive teaching of the early few apostles most resembled—a religion preached by Jesus himself—is the elder of these two, Buddhism. The latter as taught in its primitive purity, and carried to perfection by the last of the Buddhas, Gautama, based its moral ethics on three fundamental principles. It alleged that (1) every thing existing, exists from natural causes; (2) that virtue brings its own reward, and vice and sin their own punishment; and (3) that the state of man in this world is probationary. We might add that on these three principles rested the universal foundation of every religious creed; God, and individual immortality for every man—if he could but win it. (Ibid., II, 123-24)
The Buddhism that is referred to here is not the religion of Gautama Buddha, but "Bodhism," "that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhartha Sakyamuni" (Isis Unveiled, II, 143). In its essence it is "certainly identical with the ancient wisdom-religion of the sanctuary, the pre-Vedic Brahmanism" (Ibid., II, 142). It is from this primitive source that the multitudinous religious faiths of mankind have sprung. In fact all knowledge, ancient and modern, is derived from this ancient source.
...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. (Isis Unveiled, II, 142)
This Wisdom-Religion, "that prehistoric Buddhism which merged later into Brahmanism," thus existed long before the Rig-Vedic hymns were chanted.
We repeat again, Buddhism is but the primitive source of Brahmanism. It is not against the primitive Vedas that Gautama protests. It is against the sacerdotal and official state religion of his country....Gautama Buddha's philosophy was that taught from the beginning of time in the impenetrable secrecy of the inner sanctuaries of the pagodas. (Isis Unveiled, II, 169)
Buddhism as taught by Gautama was a protest against Brahmanical ortodoxy. He gave out the original and pure philosophy, the Universal Religion, and taught further that it was the universal heritage of all men, and that it could be contacted and learned without any intermediary. From India Buddhism spread to the East and the West.
The king of Eastern Hindustan, Asoka, had embraced the religion of Siddhartha, and sent missionaries clear to Greece, Asia, Syria, and Egypt, to promulgate the evangel of wisdom. The Essenes of Judea and Arabia, the Therapeutists of Egypt, and the Pythagorists of Greece and Magna Graecia, were evidently religionists of the new faith. The legends of Gautama superseded the myths of Horus, Anubis, Adonis, Atys, and Bacchus. These were wrought anew into the Mysteries and Gospels, and to them we owe the literature known as the Evangelists and the Apocryphal New Testament. They were kept by the Ebionites, Nazarenes, and other sects as sacred books, which they might "show only to the wise"; and were so preserved till the overshadowing influence of the Roman ecclesiastical polity was able to wrest them from those who kept them. (Isis Unveiled, II, 491-92)
It is the sects named above that Jesus contacted and learned from. Decay of the original Teachings is bound to take place in the course of time, and for their restoration periodic attempts are made by the Great Lodge of Masters in the last quarter of every century. The teachings of H.P.B. constitute the latest attempt to bring the Ageless Wisdom once again into the world.
The Secret Doctrine is the common property of the countless millions of men born under various climates, in times with which History refuses to deal, and to which esoteric teachings assign dates incompatible with the theories of Geology and Anthropology....It is only by bringing before the reader an abundance of proofs all tending to show that in every age, under every condition of civilization and knowledge, the educated classes of every nation made themselves the more or less faithful echoes of one identical system and its fundamental traditions—that he can be made to see that so many streams of the same water must have had a common source from which they started. What was this source? If coming events are said to cast their shadows before, past events cannot fail to leave their impress behind them. It is, then, by those shadows of the hoary Past and their fantastic silhouettes on the external screen of every religion and philosophy, that we can, by checking them as we go along, and comparing them, trace out finally the body that produced them. There must be truth and fact in that which every people of antiquity accepted and made the foundation of its religions and its faith. (S.D., II, 794)