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Studies in The Secret Doctrine
[First Series] 

by B. P. Wadia 

© 2001 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö 

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WE have seen that The Secret Doctrine establishes two kinds of Knowledge, Absolute and Relative, and bridges the chasm between these by Esoteric Knowledge; on the other hand Agnosticism (in its true sense of course) obscures all Knowledge and plunges relative Knowledge in the depths of Nescience. Avidya, Apara Vidya, Gupta Vidya and Para Vidya have been the four factors of study for us.

Leaving aside Agnosticism, Nescience, Avidya, let us say a word or two about Relative Knowledge, Apara Vidya. It is said to deal with illusions, non-realities. Hasty inferences are very commonly indulged in, and we should guard ourselves against them. The Doctrine of Maya has worked havoc among the followers of the Brahmanical creed: it has been misunderstood and wrongly applied, with the result that individual, national and racial catastrophes have resulted. This highly philosophical doctrine can be truly comprehended by the mystic, but to do so he must possess the necessary adequate knowledge of several propositions of the Esoteric Science, one of which pertains to the subject-matter now under consideration.

Maya or Illusion caused by Avidya or Agnosticism is very different from that caused by Apara Vidya or Relative Knowledge.

The illusion of Agnosticism and that of Relative Knowledge are clearly referred to in The Secret Doctrine. It speaks of how the doctrine of illusion is misunderstood and ”perverted by Western schools” and says:

All that which is, emanates from the ABSOLUTE, which, from this qualification alone, stands as the one and only reality – hence, everything extraneous to this Absolute, the generative and causative Element, must be an illusion, most undeniably. But this is only so from the purely metaphysical view.... Everything is relative in this Universe, everything is an illusion. But the experience of any plane is an actuality for the percipient being, whose consciousness is on that plane; though the said experience, regarded from the purely metaphysical standpoint, may be conceived to have no objective reality. (Volume I, 295-6.)
Alongside with this let us ponder over the following:

The Universe is called, with everything in it, MAYA, because all is temporary therein, from the ephemeral life of a fire-fly to that of the Sun. Compared to the eternal immutability of the ONE, and the changelessness of that Principle, the Universe, with its evanescent ever-changing forms, must be necessarily, in the mind of a philosopher, no better than a will-o'-the-wisp. Yet, the Universe is real enough to the conscious beings in it, which are as unreal as it is itself. (Volume I, 274.)
When The Secret Doctrine says that the ”spark journeys through the Seven Worlds of Maya,” it does not refer to the illusions of Nescience but to the unfoldment of the spark into the Flame by the very necessary illusions of relative knowledge. It is said:

Maya or illusion is an element which enters into all finite things, for everything that exists has only a relative, not an absolute, reality, since the appearance which the hidden noumenon assumes for any observer depends upon his power of cognition.... Nothing is permanent except the one hidden absolute existence which contains in itself the noumena of all realities. The existences belonging to every plane of being, up to the highest Dhyan-Chohans, are, in degree, of the nature of shadows cast by a magic lantern on a colourless screen; but all things are relatively real, for the cogniser is also a reflection, and the things cognised are therefore as real to him as himself.... Whatever plane our consciousness may be acting in, both we and the things belonging to that plane are, for the time being, our only realities. As we rise in the scale of development we perceive that during the stages through which we have passed we mistook shadows for realities, and the upward progress of the Ego is a series of progressive awakenings, each advance bringing with it the idea that now, at last, we have reached ”reality;” but only when we shall have reached the absolute Consciousness, and blended our own with it, shall we be free from the delusions produced by Maya. (Volume I, 39-40.)
From this we see that the worlds of Maya are the worlds of relative knowledge. Our experiences are ”inextricably bound up with the relativity of human knowledge.” This is the ”Maya of phenomenal existence.” Says The Secret Doctrine:

...according to our teaching which regards this phenomenal Universe as a great Illusion, the nearer a body is to the UNKNOWN SUBSTANCE, the more it approaches reality, as being removed the farther from this world of Maya. (Volume I, 145-6.)
Absolute knowledge also is Absolute Reality. That which lies buried and hidden in the silence of Gupta Vidya is a mystery. Under the guidance of Nature and her laws we are initiated into the mysterious workings of her being, and from one aspect and factor of Relative Knowledge we go to a succeeding one. To make a deliberate and conscious effort to realize what is hidden is to be a practical Theosophist – an earnest student of Gupta Vidya; is to be initiated into Perceptive Mystery to which The Secret Doctrine refers as shown in our third study.

Manifestations of Noumenal Knowledge produce phenomenal knowledge which we have designated relative. It may be called Typal Knowledge and is comparable to the shadows of the One Noumenal Reality – Absolute Knowledge. The shadows resemble, and in a sense represent, the substance. But typal-knowledge is begotten of Archetypal Knowledge, which may be compared to an Image. Noumenal or Absolute Knowledge reproduces itself, as an image – Archetypal or Esoteric Knowledge, and the latter reflects itself causing shadows of phenomenal knowledge.

When we busy ourselves with shadows regardless of the image in which they are rooted, we mistake them for substance, invest them with spurious values, and generally lose ourselves in the mazes of phenomenalism, falling into the pit of Avidya – Agnosticism. On the other hand when we discriminate between aspects and factors of Relative Knowledge, in terms of different and successive phases of evolution through which we pass, we are able to recognize them as valuable helps, leading towards the Image-Source, and finally to the Ultimate Reality referred to in one of the above quotations from The Secret Doctrine.

This valuable help is always available for the earnest and sincere man who seeks for Truth and is not satisfied with a creed, who demands Knowledge and rejects mere belief, who follows the faith of his Inner God and not of the father of his body. It is said that the Word of the Wisdom and the Voice of the Masters always abide in the world.

We have compared Apara Vidya or Relative Knowledge to Manas, but, like Manas in the human constitution, Relative Knowledge, has a triple aspect – (1) Higher, (2) Lower, and (3) Antaskarana, or the bridge between the two. This bridge is Apara Vidya distinct from Avidya which is Manas influenced, energized and ensouled by Kama, or lower Manas. Antaskarana has a relation to Higher Mind – the Word of the Wisdom to be seen in the world, the Voice of the Master to be heard in the world, the ray of the Sun of Gupta Vidya – Archetypal Knowledge which we have compared to Buddhi.

Thus between Relative Knowledge and Archetypal Knowledge is Theosophy, written, spoken, made public – the Exoteric Wisdom-Religion. It is from the same source as the Heart Doctrine of the Buddha, the Parables of the Christ, the secret teachings spoken by guru to chelas, the real and true Revelations or Shruti.

H.P.B. reiterates the fact of the existence of the Original Doctrines from which all others emanate. The Tree of Knowledge has many branches with manifold leaves, buds, blooms, flowers and fruits – but the Root is one. To this she gives the name of Bodhism, ”which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhartha Sakyamuni”; nay, antedates the Vedas themselves. (Isis Unveiled, II, 143.) Says The Secret Doctrine:

But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised. (Volume I, viii.)

A little more definite information about the Wisdom-Religion or Bodhism is conveyed in the following passage:

We can assert, with entire plausibility, that there is not one of all these sects – Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included – but sprung 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. (Isis Unveiled II, 123 and 142.)
A careful study of Mme. Blavatsky's views on the subject reveals to us the important fact that there is sufficient material extant in sacred works, little studied and less understood, to prove a universal basic system of thought which gave birth to all true religious philosophies, which explains all phenomena of a mystical and occult nature, and which is man's only true and reliable guide in this world of Agnosticism and relative knowledge. His real salvation lies in being initiated into that Perceptive Mystery which is now forgotten, and which is the Soul of that basic system of thought. An illuminating passage on the subject will be found in Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 99.

Thus we begin to realize the significant and important fact that in relative knowledge can be found sure indicators to the Gupta Vidya or Archetypal Knowledge. If we clear away the debris of Avidya-Agnosticism and cleanse the Apara Vidya, Relative Knowledge, of the forgeries, vandalism and general craftiness of priesthoods and their victims, human ignorance, superstition and credulity, we arrive at a basic and fundamental Revelation or Shruti in the light of which all Laws and Traditions or Smriti assume a universal and true aspect. These are the types whose parent and source is the Esoteric Science, Gupta Vidya or Archetypal Knowledge, to be obtained by initiation into the Perceptive Mystery.

Spiritual exploitation has taken place in reference to this fact of the existence of a true Shruti or Revelation. Like other sacred truths this one also has been distorted. Priests are exploiters of spiritual patriotism as politicians are of national, and that has been so for ages past from China to Peru. Sri Krishna's injunction in the Gita (XVI, 34) to act according to ”what is declared in Holy Writ” has been wrongly interpreted by the orthodox Brahmanical priesthood, as the Western Church has exploited for its own purposes verses 18-19 of Revelation about adding to ”the prophesy of this book” or taking away from ”the book of this prophesy.” In more than one Upanishad serious injunction is issued to study the Vedas, to follow their advice, to practise their teachings, to obey their doctrines. In the Svetasvataropanishad (VI, 18) it is said that He who creates Brahma also delivers the Vedas to Brahma, and therefore Maitriopanishad (VII, 10) issues a warning against the state of false or non-Vedic doctrine, and points out the necessity of studying the right Vedas. What is meant thereby is of course this real Shruti-Revelation of the universal basic Wisdom-Religion to which we have referred.

Similarly, the Laws of the Prophets and Traditions or Smriti have a universal aspect and basis. That is why the Chhandogyopanishad says that the pure nature of the Soul arises out of pure nourishment and in the pure nature Smriti [ Max Müller and more than one Hindu translator have rendered Smriti as Memory. Dr. Robert Hume seems to us to have caught the real spirit of the original in rendering it as ”the traditional doctrines.”] becomes firmly fixed. Race Memory in the form of immemorial tradition is the Reminiscence of which The Key to Theosophy speaks.

This universality and impersonality make the Vedas – Shruti-Revelation, constant and consistent. It is said that the Vedas are svatah-pramana, that is, self-evident, and Apurushya, universal, in the sense that they are not the inventions of any particular persons and therefore are also impersonal. Every Spiritual Teacher of the Wisdom from Sri Krishna to Muhammad has affirmed – ”Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfil.” From the Vedas of ancient Aryavarta down to H.P.B.'s Secret Doctrine, all proclaim the existence, immortal and immemorial, of ”the same ancient wisdom-doctrine, one and identical.” [Isis Unveiled, II, p. 99.] But priests are the enemies of the prophets, advocates and upholders of the letter that killeth and destroyers of the Spirit that giveth life.

We find ourselves between the Scylla of believing fanaticism in distorted scriptures which are put forward as Shruti-Revelation, and the Charybdis of modern and existing priesthoods now engaged in the distortion of the ancient Secret Doctrine; the former evoke the authority of immemorial traditions while the latter claim, in the name of tolerance and advancing knowledge, acceptance of false doctrines, whose genesis and origin is allegorically described in the Maitriopanishad (VII, 10). Let us protect ourselves from that ”very different doctrine” upon which ”fools here live their life ... destroying the saving raft and praising what is false. They see the false as if it were true as in jugglery.”

In the light of the above the reader is invited to peruse with care the following extracts from an article entitled ”What is Truth,” in Lucifer, Vol. I, February, 1888, p. 625:

Is there such a thing as absolute truth in the hands of any one party or man? Reason answers, ”there cannot be.” There is no room for absolute truth upon any subject whatsoever, in a world as finite and conditioned as man is himself. But there are relative truths, and we have to make the best we can of them.

In every age there have been Sages who had mastered the absolute and yet could teach but relative truths. For none yet, born of mortal woman in our race, has, or could have given out, the whole and the final truth to another man, for every one of us has to find that (to him) final knowledge in himself. As no two minds can be absolutely alike, each has to receive the supreme illumination through itself, according to its capacity, and from no human light. The greatest adept living can reveal of the Universal Truth only so much as the mind he is impressing it upon can assimilate, and no more. Tot homines, quot sententiae – is an immortal truism....

...though absolute truth is not on earth and has to be searched for in higher regions ... there still are, even on this silly, ever-whirling little globe of ours, some things that are not even dreamt of in Western philosophy.

To return to our subject. It thus follows that, though ”general abstract truth is the most precious of all blessings” for many of us, as it was for Rousseau, we have, meanwhile, to be satisfied with relative truths. In sober fact, we are a poor set of mortals at best, ever in dread before the face of even a relative truth, lest it should devour ourselves and our petty little preconceptions along with us. As for an absolute truth, most of us are as incapable of seeing it as of reaching the moon on a bicycle. Firstly, because absolute truth is as immovable as the mountain of Mahomet, which refused to disturb itself for the prophet, so that he had to go to it himself. And we have to follow his example if we would approach it even at a distance. Secondly, because the kingdom of absolute truth is not of this world, while we are too much of it....

To sum up the idea, with regard to absolute and relative truth, we can only repeat what we said before. Outside a certain highly spiritual and elevated state of mind, during which Man is at one with the UNIVERSAL MINDhe can get nought on earth but relative truth, or truths, from whatsoever philosophy or religion. Were even the goddess who dwells at the bottom of the well to issue from her place of confinement, she could give man no more than he can assimilate. Meanwhile, every one can sit near that well – the name of which is KNOWLEDGE – and gaze into its depths in the hope of seeing Truth's fair image reflected, at least, on the dark waters. This, however, as remarked by Richter, presents a certain danger. Some truth, to be sure, may be occasionally reflected as in a mirror on the spot we gaze upon, and thus reward the patient student. But, adds the German thinker, ”I have heard that some philosophers in seeking for Truth, to pay homage to her, have seen their own image in the water and adored it instead.”

In the above we decipher the several aspects of Knowledge or Vidya we have been studying. Absolute Knowledge is a matter of illumination, which follows the search in higher regions, and during which ”man is at one with the Universal Mind,” which as we have seen before is Sophia, Shakti, Daiviprakriti. On the other hand there is the danger of our being caught up in the maze of Avidya and worshiping the wisdom of our own creation. 

The earnest student will do well to ponder the extracts which follow in connection with those which have gone before. If in the above are to be found references to Noumenal Knowledge and typal Knowledge and Agnosticism, in what follows will be found traces of Archetypal Knowledge in both its aspects, exoteric and esoteric.

What constitutes real knowledge? The question lies at the very threshold of occult study. It is, in actual practice, the first put before a regular student of occultism who is taken in hand by the teachers of the occult world. And the student is taught – or is led to see – that there are two kinds of knowledge, the real and the unreal; the real concerned with eternal verities and primal causes, the unreal with illusory effects. ... there is but one eternal verity, and, in pursuit of that, thought is forced to travel along one road.... But can the eternal verity be reached? Even if hard facts be acknowledged as illusion so far as they are transitory, is not that which is exempt from change removed from observation? Must we not follow up the theoretical admission of the possibility of real knowledge, by the practical admission that no human being can ever have anything to do with it? ... Who possesses the real knowledge as contradistinguished from the unreal? the student of occultism is asked, and he is taught to reply – that which we have shown to be the only possible reply – ”The adepts alone possess the real knowledge, their minds alone being en rapport with the universal mind.” [A Modern Panarion, pp. 450-452.]
The Knowledge of the Adepts is Archetypal Knowledge – Gupta Vidya, the Buddhi, which is the Vehicle of Atma – Para Vidya. This Archetypal Knowledge has a revealed aspect – the Universal and Impersonal Wisdom-Religion, and an esoteric one into the mysteries of which one has to be initiated.

”He whom the Eternal Word condescendeth to teach is disengaged at once from the labyrinth of human opinions.”


THEOSOPHY, Vol. 11, No. 6, April, 1923, pages 257-263;
(Number 6 of a 25-part series)


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