To a superficial reader, The Secret Doctrine may well seem lacking in any logical sequence, or in any precise definitions of terms, such as would make it more readily understood by the average reader. Turning to the first Part of Volume I as an example, it is true enough that there is a rough chronological sequence as it comments on the various Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan: universal Pralaya; the prologue to evolution; the emergence of the "Monads"; the appearance of the septenary hierarchy of conscious Divine Powers, who are ultimately the creators of the manifested universe; the earth; and, finally, the development of life on our earth, down to the present time. Nevertheless, not only could any page return to almost any subject, but often in different places the author seems to be using different terms to describe the same thing; but one can never feel certain of synonymity.
We suggest that the unity of the work lies, primarily, not in the method of presentation, but in the ability of the author to comprehend the sweep and the detail of evolution in terms of the Three Fundamental Propositions given on pages 14-18 of Volume I. H.P.B.'s position is not unlike that of the artist who tries to convey the unity of his picture or sculpture in words to a listener. Inevitably these must direct his attention to detail, and it is only through the depth and breadth of his own experience that he can find his way to that unity. The kind of knowledge of The Secret Doctrine that is required is that described by Krishna in the words: "By this knowledge thou shalt see all things and creatures whatsoever in thyself and then in me" (Gita, IV, 35), and can be achieved only by the kind of search advised by him.
In the hope that some who still find themselves bewildered by The Secret Doctrine may be assisted, we shall attempt to show, using only Volume I, Part I, that it does in fact centre round the Fundamental Propositions mentioned; but what we have to say must necessarily be inadequate and incomplete.
It describes, this first Part, the great cycle of Incarnation or "Necessity" which begins with the vibration of the unmanifested Logos, outside of space and time, sweeping through infinity and stirring to life the universe which slumbers in that infinitude. It ends with the onset of Pralayic sleep when all things are gathered into one again as are the separate globules of quicksilver on a plate gathered into one mass. Thus universes disappear in space as, say, sugar disappears when dissolved in water, but reappear as does the sugar when it is made to crystallize again. These cycles repeat themselves endlessly, but no in meaningless succession, as a stream of events. Out of each cycle matures a perfection, and out of that perfection grows the perfection of a succeeding cycle as the perfect flower gives way to the perfect fruit.
The nature of the perfection to be achieved in the cycle of necessity for our earth can be understood only in terms of the threefold line of evolution defined on page 181. There is a Monadic line concerned with the growth and development of the Monad, in conjunction with the Intellectual, represented by the Manasa-Dhyanis who give intelligence and consciousness to man; and the Physical, represented by the Chhayas of the Lunar Pitris, round which Nature has concreted the present physical body. "This body serves as the vehicle for the 'growth' (to use a misleading word) and the transformations through Manas and—owing to the accumulations of experiences—of the finite into the INFINITE, of the transient into the Eternal and Absolute." The downward and the upward arcs of the Great Cycle are implicit in these definitions. In the first, the work of preparation, described by W. Q. Judge in Chapter II of The Ocean of Theosophy as the building of the Temple, goes forward. At the turning-point of the cycle, Man enters the Temple and begins the worship and sacrifice which constitute the second half of the cycle and which not only sanctify the Temple but make of him a Lord of Compassion-Wisdom.
In describing the birth of the cosmos, frequent use is made of the symbol of the egg—in the Stanzas themselves, for example: "'Darkness' radiates light, and light drops one solitary ray into the waters, into the mother-deep. The ray shoots through the virgin-egg; the ray causes the eternal egg to thrill, and drop the non-eternal (periodical) germ, which condenses into the world egg" (S.D., I, 64). In the commentary, the eternal egg is also defined as being, in one sense, egg-ness or the power of becoming developed through fecundation. That which emerges from and returns to it, the periodical egg, contains, when it emerges, "the promise and potency" of all the Universe. One has only to read any standard description of the outwardly invisible development of the chick within the egg, the amazingly complex organism out of the seemingly simple contents, to appreciate how apt is the symbol. One might be forgiven for believing the whole process to be directed by an intelligence behind the scenes.
The substance of the matrix of the universe bears no relation to ordinary conceptions of matter which have been influenced considerably by scientifc ideas of preceding centuries. Probably most of us think subconsciously of matter as something impenetrable and inert pushed and pulled by outside forces. Only by prolonged study and reflection on what may seem at first contradictory statements of the nature of substance will we eradicate these erroneous notions and obtain some kind of unified understanding.
We note here two vital considerations: substance is dual in its potentiality and atomic in its nature. The duality is symbolized in many places by "Father-Mother"; for example, on page 283, where H. P. Blavatsky quotes from Paracelsus to the effect that it manifests both as vital activity, as incomprehensible and indescribable power, and as vital matter, of which the substance of all living beings consists. Its atomic nature is also expressed by the symbol of the egg or germ, for we have to consider that each atom has infinite capacity to unfold and in its unfoldment embraces all other atoms. The real atom of Occultism is the highest principle of a body while the physical atom of science is the lowest. It has within itself the potentiality of self-consciousness.
The transformation of the Egg or Matrix of the cosmos into objective differentiated matter is described. In the words of Stanza III, Shloka 4, the Radiant Essence of the Luminous Egg "becomes" seven inside, seven outside," i.e., seven principles on the plane of the manifested and seven on that of the unmanifested. The Radiant Essence then "curdles and spreads in milk-white curds" throughout the depths of Space. This is the Milky Way, the world stuff, or primordial matter in its first form. It is the storehouse of the materials from the which the stars, planets and other celestial bodies are produced. It is, of course, matter in quite a different state from that which we know on our earth and must pass through many states of differentiation or inform itself through various planes.
At this point we recall what is said of Fohat on page 6 of Volume I, that "it is the 'bridge' by which the 'Ideas' existing in the 'Divine Thought' are impressed on Cosmic Substance as the 'laws of Nature,'" that it is "the "Thought Divine' transmitted and made manifest through the Dhyan Chohans, the Architects of the visible World." The Atoms of the Radiant Essence spread through space are able to follow magnetically their directing thought as minute particles of iron scattered near a magnet are able to follow the invisible influence of the magnet.
Stanza IV describes the appearance of those Divine Powers, called collectively the "Army of the Voice," by which the Divine Thought comes into action. They are like an army in that each group within the latter has its own responsibilities and freedom of action, has its own kind of individuality which is contained within a larger individuality and contains lesser individualities within itself. The highest group in the "Army of the Voice," the Primordial Seven, "produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating Breaths the Fiery Whirlwind," which is the first stage in the formation of a nebula. They make of Fohat "the messenger of their will.... He is the steed and the Thought is the rider. He passes like lightning through the fiery clouds....He lifts his voice, and calls the innumerable sparks (atoms) and joins them together." (S.D., I, 107-8)
Thus begins a universal process of growth round a central nucleus of rotating radiant substance which ultimately will produce such bodies as our sun and its planetary system. It is a process guided at every stage by Fohat, i.e., impersonal Divine Thought made active by intelligent beings. Fohat is indeed "present in the constructive power that carries out, in the formation of things—from the planetary system down to the glow-worm and simple daisy—the plan in the mind of nature, or in the Divine thought, with regard to the development and growth of that special thing" (I, 111). In considering this process, it is vital to remember that, in accordance with the basic principle that contrast is essential to manifestation, each degree of substance is as much a degree of intelligence through which the Monad journeys.
A particular order of beings are those known as the Planetary Spirits who guide the development of the seven so-called Sacred Planets and at the same time are concerned with the destinies of men on our earth; they are Karmic agencies.
Subsequent to page 151, The Secret Doctrine is concerned mainly with the development of our earth during the first four Rounds; the development of the basic elements of fire, air, water and earth out of which have developed the different elements or forms of matter we know today; and the work of the Lunar Pitris in preparing the astral form of future man. Concurrently with the development of the different forms of matter went the evolution of the senses capable of experiencing these new forms in these centres of consciousness destined to become the self-conscious men of the future. This brings us down to the turning-point of the Cycle in Round IV on our physical earth, when the three lines of evolution converge in sevenfold Man.
This convergence is described in a long passage beginning on page 247, from which we quote the following:
The Occult doctrine teaches that while the monad is cycling on downward into matter, these very Elohim—or Pitris, the lower Dhyan-Chohans—are evolving pari passu with it on a higher and more spiritual plane, descending also relatively into matter on their own plane of consciousness, when, after having reached a certain point, they will meet the incarnating senseless monad, encased in the lowest matter, and blending the two potencies, Spirit and Matter, the union will produce that terrestrial symbol of the "Heavenly Man" in space—PERFECT MAN.
The cycle; instead of being a passage of the impersonal Monad through various forms of matter, endowed at best with instinct and consciousness on a different plane, now becomes a journey of the "pilgrim-soul" through various states of not only matter but Self-consciousness. The pilgrim has descended into matter and identified himself with collective humanity, which he has made in his own image, and now has to struggle upwards again through the martyrdom of self-conscious existence, back to the source. In the words of The Secret Doctrine (I, 17), the acquirement of individuality is no longer by natural impulse but by self-induced and self-devised efforts, checked by Karma.
Manas gains mastery over man's mind and the other lower instruments by the power of Will and the faculty of intelligent discernment. Will is the energy of Atma, and Manas is like the flame which, fed by this energy, performs the sacrificial action of consuming dust to make it shines in splendour. The culmination of this work is a Self-Conscious Pure-Buddhi-Being—Wisdom-Incarnate, Lord of Contemplation.
As is to be expected in The Secret Doctrine, however, the goal of the cycle of incarnation is restated many times in different terms. For example, Madame Blavatsky reiterates the theme that the soul must rid itself of Maya, or the perceptive faculty that leads it to consider itself a unit separate from, and independent of, the One infinite and eternal Reality, by assimilating the merit of manifold existences devoted to the whole living and sentient Universe. Then, again, on page 280 of the Summing Up she writes that "man ought to be ever striving to help the divine evolution of Ideas, by becoming to the best of his ability a co-worker with nature in the cyclic task." Study closely such statements as these before turning to The Voice of the Silence, and the common origin of the two books will at once be recognized.
We shall consider just one more feature of the first part of the book. The essence of things as opposed to their appearance, or the world of noumena as opposed to that of phenomena, is likened to the atoms of gold dispersed through the quartz. They are invisible to the eyes of ordinary mortals, yet they alone give the quartz its value. "Alone the Initiate, rich with the lore acquired by numberless generations of his predecessors, directs the 'Eye of Dangma' towards the essence of things in which no Maya can have any influence" (I, 45). Much of the book is devoted to the existence of the "predecessors" and their vital lore, and we end by quoting from a passage on page 208 which describes the "Root-Base" from which all Initiates may claim spiritual descent.
He is the "Initiator," called the "GREAT SACRIFICE." For, sitting at the threshold of LIGHT, he looks into it from within the circle of Darkness, which he will not cross; nor will he quit his post till the last day of this life-cycle. Why does the solitary Watcher remain at his self-chosen post? Why does he sit by the fountain of primeval Wisdom, of which he drinks no longer, as he has naught to learn which he does not know—aye, neither on this Earth, nor in its heaven? Because the lonely sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth-Life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, though but a few Elect may profit by the GREAT SACRIFICE.
The body is cleansed by water, the internal organ is purified by truthfulness, the individual soul by sacred learning and austerities, the intellect by true knowledge.