Review Article

Opener of the Ways

By Grace F. Knoche

When a slim volume of twelve poems appeared in 1855, religionists and men of letters were angered. Who was this unknown scribbler who had dared to see in tree-toad and brown ant the miracle of divinity that fires a star into orbit? Yet Emerson, for one, found great joy in it: "incomparable things said incomparably well," and that "courage of treatment . . . which large perception only can inspire." Leaves of Grass survived, and Walt Whitman's song of himself has become the song of the soul.

Thirty-three years later, in 1888, the world of orthodoxy again was jarred -- this time by a woman whose "large perception" and courage of purpose encompassed a philosophy that reckoned the manifestation of galaxies and atoms as part of the identic evolutionary process that returns the human soul again and again to earth-life. Who was H. P. Blavatsky, and what is the message of her masterwork, The Secret Doctrine, written by her under the inspiration of her teachers?

Fountain-Source of Occultism (Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, California, 1974; 744 pages), just published, may provide some answers, for here is a modern presentation of that same universal wisdom from which Blavatsky drew. Its author is Gottfried de Purucker, known in theosophical circles for his wide erudition and profound spiritual insight. The present work actually had its beginnings in Dr. de Purucker's youth. He had been destined for the church by his father, who was an Episcopal minister, classical scholar and linguist, and therefore was eager that his son become proficient in both Greek and Hebrew, including the history and literature of those peoples, as well as in the writings of the early church fathers. However, the seed of independent thought had already taken root, and it became clear to the lad that he would have to disappoint his father. The search for God had become a search for truth. Answers he must have, and a more compassionate and soundly philosophical explanation of human sorrow and the mysteries of birth and death than he had thus far found.

So at eighteen he left his home in Geneva, Switzerland and returned to the United States, first to New York and later on to California where he worked on different ranches in San Diego County, all the while continuing his reading and study of the literatures and philosophies and sacred scriptures of the world. Then he came upon theosophy, discovered other minds and hearts in sympathy with his, and forthwith joined the Theosophical Society. As he later recalled this contact:

You could not have kept me out; and if it had been anything less than what I expected, you could not have kept me in.... I am a lover of truth . . . and I have been searching and probing for more truth ever since, and the more I have searched and probed in our sublime teachings, the more I have found to support my first choice.

That was in 1893, and for 49 years thereafter, until hi s passing in 1942, H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine was his steadfast companion. Small wonder, then, that in a series of esoteric studies he conducted in the 1930s, shortly after he assumed the leadership of the Theosophical Society in 1929, G. de Purucker should have used the S.D. as the source of his inspiration and of his philosophical presentation. For a number of years these studies were privately circulated, but it was his expressed hope one day to prepare them for public distribution. He felt that the time would inevitably come when the minds of men would be openly receptive to the expanded perspectives offered by theosophy, and that a further exposition of its spiritual principles in their "more esoteric aspects" would be needed, to act as a counterbalance to the destructive elements in human behavior then gaining momentum:

There is literally a battle proceeding between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and it is a matter of very delicate balance as to which side of the dividing line between spiritual safety and spiritual retrogression the scales of destiny will fall. (p. 9)

One hundred years have passed since H. P. Blavatsky sowed anew the seeds of this archaic wisdom-religion. Since her time, the purposes for which she labored have borne fruit, not least in the emancipation of the consciousness of man and the deepening concern for people everywhere. However, alongside the marked advances, the tares of psychic confusion and misrepresentation have grown apace, to beguile the unwary and threaten our future progress. In no uncertain terms, Dr. de Purucker warns against the "psychical crazes which are sweeping over the world" -- not that these extranormal faculties are in themselves useless or evil, or "are not natural parts of the human constitution," but that without the safeguard of spiritual and moral control they can become highly perilous, because they can "mislead human souls."

"No chela," we learn, "is ever permitted to cultivate any psychical powers at any time, until the great foundation has been laid in the evocation of the spiritual and intellectual energies and faculties . . ." Moreover, not only is it forbidden for beginners to attempt to develop these powers, but if they should by chance happen "to be born with such awakening inner faculties [they] have to abandon their use when starting their training." (p. 30) With claimants to "occult" messages proliferating almost as fast as would-be chelas, it is timely to have more readily available the clean, bracing teachings from the fountainhead teachings that have been the guiding light of generations of earnest seekers in every age. There is here not a touch of self-seeking, not a promise offered except the noble opportunity to live the ancient honored virtues in the service of one's fellowmen.

But occultism, like many fine old words today, has lost face. Although it has a sacred history stretching back hundreds of years into the past, to a great majority it denotes anything from full-moon witchery to satanic black masses. Why, then, use the word in a volume treating of spiritual themes? Just as the counterfeit confirms the existence of gold, so the dross of spirituality attests to the existence, however obscured, of that genuine occultism which H. P. Blavatsky defined as "altruism." We quote the opening paragraph of the book:

There is but one occultism, one truth. The fountain of wisdom on this earth is the Brotherhood of adepts, the spiritual heart of the world, from which streams unceasingly a flow of inspiration and enlightenment. It is the one supreme source from which have derived all the facets of truth that the religious and philosophical systems of the world contain. From there come forth not only the great sages and teachers from time to time as the guides and instructors of men, but also envoys or messengers, whether known or unknown, who work in the world for the benefit of mankind. (p. 3)

According to Dr. de Purucker, H. P. Blavatsky was "one of the links in the serial line of teachers who come at certain stated periods for the passing on of esoteric light and truth. She came at the beginning of a new Messianic cycle and the ending of an old one, and thus was the messenger for the age to come." (p. 6)

Before we go further, it should be mentioned that in the esoteric cycle of learning and discipline, the neophyte was enjoined first to absorb as far as he was capable the ideal of self-forgetfulness and love for all beings. The way of the Hierarchy of Compassion, he was taught, is the noblest of paths, that which the Great Ones follow. Only after he had thoroughly understood that thought for others before oneself was expected to be practiced, was he permitted to direct his attention to high philosophy. The author observed the ancient discipline in all his teaching, and this is why, in the volume before us, we find the first two Sections reflecting the tone and atmosphere of the Mystery-centers of old: "live the life and you will know the doctrine." For, as he says, "all the mysteries of the universe lie latent within us, all its secrets are there, and all progress in esoteric knowledge and wisdom is but an unfolding of what is already within." (p. 19)

All growth, he reminds us over and over, is self-growth; "all initiation is self-initiation, self-awakening" (p. 56); and whereas in the higher stages of training, the teacher is there to aid and encourage, the greatest of teachers is one's higher self, "the spiritual master within, and admonitions from this source take precedence over everything." (p. 21)

Fountain-Source of Occultism is not light reading. It is a massive work, with the notes and appendices, plus an excellent index, running to a near 750 pages. It may have limited appeal on account of its largely philosophical content, and also because it presumes some basic knowledge of formal theosophic doctrine. Yet one would hope otherwise, for with the current upsurge of intensive investigation of the "inner universe of man," of "altered states of consciousness," astral projection or "out-of-body experiences," kirlian photography and its amazing 'fallout,' aura reading, acupuncture, and a host of other significant breakthroughs in recognition of mind and body relationships, there are keys here that could turn more than one lock and yield those transforming insights that would bring the shifting kaleidoscope of stray bits and pieces of the cosmic-human puzzle into a coherent harmony of meaning. Moreover, precisely because Fountain-Source takes up and clarifies one after another of the fundamental themes of The Secret Doctrine, it could well prove to be as eagerly sought after by serious students as the S.D. has come to be.

The Contents alone excite the interest, for they cover a vast spectrum of teaching, from pledge fever and the spiritual will, meditation and yoga, the initiatory cycle, to the genesis of a universal solar system; the auric egg, human and cosmic; racial cycles and time periods; sound, color and number; lokas and talas, monadic classes, to sunspots and the circulations of life-waves after death and before rebirth on earth; the origin and destiny of life-atoms; heredity, cause of disease, lost souls and the left-hand path. Death and its beneficent purposes are explored in depth, and, not least, the Hierarchy of Light in thirteen chapters in Section X illumines the compassionate role of the "Silent Watchers," bodhisattvas and buddhas; the mystery-link between Gautama and Jesus in his function as avatara; the "living buddhas" of Tibet, and Sambhala, mankind's spiritual home.

Whatever our line of interest, there is here an unfolding of theme that is compelling in its power to challenge and inspire. One comes away from a cover-to-cover reading permeated with the conviction of having actually experienced, if but momentarily, the reality of oneness -- of consciousness, of life, of mind, of matter -- one flowing stream of divinity imbodying its multiplicity of potencies in an endless variety and series of forms.

Fortunately, the author does not attempt to systematize Blavatsky. Instead, he uses her masterwork as a springboard, selecting passage after passage and, from the quoted words, draws the intuitive imagination of his readers with him so that we, almost unconsciously, make those leaps of understanding that enable us to see all things -- in our personal lives and in our relations with our associates -- from the perspective of our immortal self. The master key of analogy is turned again and again, and always to effect an expansion of viewpoint a broader awareness of our role as divinities currently housed in human temples. The gradual conviction takes hold that we human beings, despite our very present turmoil of soul, are nonetheless participants in a cosmic procession of evolutionary unfoldment that is linked irrevocably not only with the atoms of our bodies, but equally with the destiny of suns, and by that token with the heart of Infinity.

Life is endless, has neither beginning nor end; and a universe is in no wise different in essentials from a man . . .
Consider the stars and the planets: every one of them is a life-atom in the cosmic body; every one of them is the organized dwelling place of a multitude of smaller life-atoms which build up the brilliant bodies we see. Moreover, every sparkling sun which begems the skies was at one time a man, or a being equivalent to a human, possessing in some degree self-consciousness, intellectual power, conscience and spiritual vision, as well as a body. And the planets and the myriads of entities on the planets encircling any such cosmic god, any such star or sun, are now the same entities who in far bygone cosmic manvantaras [cycles of manifestation] were the life-atoms of that entity. (p. 112)

And right now, he tells us, we are "affecting the destiny of the suns and planets of the future," for when we in turn shall have become suns, "then the nebulae and the suns around us will be evolved entities who now are our fellow human beings. Consequently the karmic relations that we have with each other on earth . . . will most assuredly affect their destiny as well as our own."

Science fiction, or reality? We can respond or not, as we will, but once a vision such as this claims the soul, can it ever leave one? Banish it as we may try, it will work its alchemy in the quiet.

Clearly, in this book "incomparable things" have been said "incomparably well" and with largeness of compassion. More than all else, its underlying philosophy can be an "opener of the ways of the heart," to use an old Egyptian phrase -- an opening of the soul to renewed hope, to a strengthening of courage, and to a deeper perception of life's meaning as we seek to reclaim the wisdom that is inherently ours.

(From Sunrise magazine, March 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)