We commemorate a century since the passing of H. P. Blavatsky. I have been privileged to have her as a friend and teacher for fifty of those years. To grasp a little of the magnitude of her mission and to express meaningful gratitude, we have to go back further than fifty years. The expression "Searcher after Truth" sometimes seems more symbolic than real; my father was such a searcher and very real!
It was my father who first brought the words of H. P. Blavatsky into the home I knew as a boy. The Secret Doctrine had caught his eye in the public library, and he borrowed it time and time again. As the ancient wisdom unfolded in his mind, he realized that after many years of searching this was what he was looking for. In the evening he would sit, quietly reading -- but then, moved as some fact hit home, he would announce to my mother and myself, "This lady hits the nail on the head. She knows what she is talking about!" How did this all come about?
Before me is a photograph dated 1902. It shows a group of young people, dressed in their Sunday best, lined up for a class picture. The school is located in a small farming community in Norway. One, like myself, can only wonder at the lives of these young people after their formal education. One of these students was my father. He wanted to "fly like an eagle." He did not want to follow in the time-honored ruts that appeared to await him. Higher education was out of the question in a community where milk, butter, and eggs passed for currency. He early learned to resent the state-sponsored clergy "who rode around in their fine carriages" and who seemed determined to accomplish two missions as ministers: to make sure that each young person "found Jesus" and was "saved." My father and a fellow student with like views planned their escape: free passage to Australia was offered by the British government to young Norwegians who would agree to stay there and work for two years.
The voyage halfway around the world was an unforgettable experience for two boys from the farm. Unskilled and not knowing the English language, arrangements were made for their employment which required them to be separated. My dad worked as cook on a sheepranch, later as handyman in a saloon -- but ever learning, as he added new skills and became at ease in the language. Sometimes the young men were able to be together and add to their circle of acquaintances -- quite often other young people of Scandinavian and British descent who were very "progressive" in their thinking. One new friend who had books to loan, offered my father Isis Unveiled but he was not ready for it and returned it unread.
It was Spiritualism that seemed to offer the open doorway: among the native peoples of Australia and the South Pacific were psychics of a high order, and the local Spiritualists took the opportunity to put them on display whenever possible. Why did Spiritualism attract some of the world's best minds? It showed that the world is not, as claimed by science, all matter, dead atoms. The phenomena made it clear that life can function in other worlds of matter unknown to us, and that intelligence can exist beyond the veil that separates the living from the dead.
My father explored every avenue of Spiritualism that was open to him and eventually came to the United States, seeking a school in the forefront of spiritual research. He enrolled at Morris Pratt Institute at Whitewater, Wisconsin, and found a friend in the school's president, Professor Weaver. World War I intervened and gave my father time to add up his progress to date. He realized that there were limitations to Spiritualism. The revelations that were expected back from those who had died never materialized -- and he realized that no real help to enlightenment could come from this avenue.
In Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine he could see the lines of direction of his life's search come together. For the seeker after truth willing to take five minutes to read page v of the Preface to her first major work, Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky forthrightly declared herself and made her position clear and simple. She submitted this work "to public judgment" as the "fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science." She claims nothing more than to be a student. Isis is not heralded as another privileged "revelation" to be foisted upon the world -- like it or not! Who shall be the judge?
HPB loved humanity because she was human herself and had fellow-feeling and understanding. If she dared to enter the embattled arena of the world with her message, it was with the confidence of knowing that man is rooted in the divine -- that man proceeds from God his creator, and is destined through the spheres of his experience to return to the godhead. In a sophisticated world that knew little of the higher and inner nature of man the veils were thinning, and a few were becoming sensitive to intimations that human life held far more potential than science or dogmatic religion envisioned. HPB could therefore state confidently that Isis is made available as an offering to those "willing to accept truth wherever it may be found, and to defend it, even looking popular prejudice straight in the face" (italics mine).
The timing was right. The forces of materialism -- greed, love of wealth and power, cant and hypocrisy -- which had ruled the world for millennia, could not quench the ever-resurgent spirit of man. For those few real seekers after truth in the world's jungle of confusion and warring claims to infallibility Isis made the attempt to aid the student (who is the one making the effort to satisfy the needs of his mind and heart) "to detect the vital principles which underlie the philosophical systems of old." It is these vital principles which have not been recognized in the West. We make "war on Nature" -- not realizing that we are as much a part of nature as any tree, animal, or rock. Also we have failed to grasp nature's higher side, the intelligent forces that give direction and purpose to all that lives.
HPB declares that Isis was written in sincerity. "It is meant to do even justice, and to speak the truth alike without malice or prejudice. . . . Toward no form of worship, no religious faith, no scientific hypothesis has its criticism been directed in any other spirit. Men and parties, sects and schools are but the mere ephemera of the world's day. TRUTH, high-seated upon its rock of adamant, is alone eternal and supreme."
Further, she asks her readers to share her vision and her hope: "Is it too much to believe that man should be developing new sensibilities and a closer relation with nature?" I believe that one having read this first page in the Preface of Isis Unveiled -- if he read carefully and understandingly -- would have a fair idea of whether theosophy was right for him or not.
I cannot imagine HPB being pleased at any one erecting a stone monument in her name. But the one institution that she worked tirelessly for, and helped to found -- The Theosophical Society, organized in New York City in 1875 -- is indeed a monument. Helena P. Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others were responsible for bringing the Society about. These people had sufficient depth of vision to realize the importance of this step. Some had backgrounds such as Spiritualism, Masonry, or Kabbalism; all possessed a high sense of purpose and idealism.
Isis Unveiled,which appeared in 1877, was dedicated to The Theosophical Society. It provided to mature individuals not only entry-level into the ancient wisdom but also painted a very clear picture of Western civilization in the 19th century. Volume I treats of science and Volume II treats of theology, placing the good side and the bad side of each in proper perspective. She quoted liberally from the best scientific, theological, and historical authorities of her time, as well as from the world's teachers and scriptures, to strengthen and prove her points. To be able to work intelligently and compassionately as a theosophist demanded first of all a true view of the world. Part of her job was to "destroy the molds of mind" -- not always somebody else's hang-ups but just as often our own: persistent little devils that cling to us no matter how hard we try to be rid of them.
The Theosophical Society was not founded to be an organization that would add one more faction to an already divided humanity. Rather, it would offer a platform which would attract people of both sexes, all races, nationalities, and cultures, possessing religious convictions or none, to come together on a higher ground of mutual interests and aspirations. None of its objectives has anything else in view than to accept each human being as he is, see the rightness of his existence, and build from there.
The object of The Theosophical Society which states "to form an active brotherhood among men," does not begin with a blank slate. It is based upon a higher knowledge than most of us are aware of: our roots are spiritual, divine. We can start with a living, intelligent universe -- a being in its own right -- from which all living entities in that system derive. The unity of all that exists, is fundamental in nature. What we have in common as humans we study and share: a knowledge of the laws of the universe; a study of our common but diversified heritage from the past -- ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy; and a sharing of what lies ahead in our destiny.
What we call ancient wisdom, the secret doctrine, or theosophy, is simply the accumulated testimony of the ages of great souls -- all having once experienced the grade of humanhood in which we are now concerned. Because of this fact, this teaching becomes meaningful and rightly applies to the lessons of our own frame of life. We get a view of a grand ladder of life extending from the most elemental forms to the most elevated and sublime we can imagine. That view of our destiny is something to live for!
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press.)