The Great Task

By Grace F. Knoche
I rest not from my great task! To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity Ever expanding . . . -- William Blake (1757-1827)

H. P. Blavatsky lived and worked in the tradition of those who labor ceaselessly to awaken the spirit of humanity to its godlike possibilities. Like Blake, she rested not from her great task to open our immortal eyes inward into the ever expanding worlds of thought and aspiration, that we might free ourselves from our "mind-forg'd manacles" that Blake so ardently fought against.

In ages long past all peoples had a natural intuitive knowledge of physical and spiritual nature and of themselves; they had a clear view of their own purposes on earth and their relationship to the worlds above and below them. But in the course of time the knowledge was forgotten or buried under ritual -- and it has happened again and again.

Whence this knowledge, this theosophia perennis or enduring god-wisdom whose mysterious source is lost in the predawn of human beginnings? One of H. P. Blavatsky's teachers, K. H., speaks of the highest Planetary Spirits appearing on earth "at the origin of every new human kind" in order to strike the "Key Note of Truth." They remain with mankind long enough -- for the eternal truths they teach to impress themselves so forcibly upon the plastic minds of the new races as to warrant them from being lost or entirely forgotten in ages hereafter, by the forthcoming generations. (The Mahatma Letters to A. P Sinnett, Letter 9, p. 41.)

These eternal truths are under the guardianship of a brotherhood of advanced human beings, a fraternity of adepts dedicated to maintaining for mankind a central source of light, of truth, and of wisdom. As H. P. B. states, generations of initiated seers have penetrated to the heart of matter and recorded "the soul of things." But the truths are not static; on the contrary, they form the core of an ever-expanding knowledge gained by a rigorous examination of every realm of nature. "No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions -- so obtained as to stand as independent evidence -- of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences." (The Secret Doctrine, I, 273) From among their number they periodically send forth one or more to teach and inspire us, their fellow humans, to wake up and "remember" the truths anciently impressed upon our inmost essence -- these are the saviors, messiahs, rishis, sages, and avataras of legend and history.

It is recorded that when the Buddha was nearing his death, in the last watch before entering into his supreme nirvana, he said to Subhadra: "Let the brethren live aright [follow the Noble Eightfold Path], and the world will not be deprived of Arhats." (Mahabarinibbana-Sutta, ch. v; arhat: worthy one; also foe-slayer.) There will always be those pointing the way to the immortal values. Around that time not only were the Mystery centers of Greece flourishing but also, both in the Orient and Occident, a galaxy of spiritual teachers appeared and their lives and teaching served as a light in succeeding centuries. The timing of their coming had particular significance in that we were entering a downward cycle, and when Jesus came we were already well into it. Still, as Christos, he was mediator of a divine energy, carrier of messianic power for the Piscean age.

The Dark Ages followed, to leave their stifling mark on the whole of Europe. Yet through those difficult times the purity of utterly dedicated individuals kept alive the pristine beauty of the Christian message. Across the world in Tibet, conditions had become so degraded in the monasteries by the 14th century that it was necessary for the Buddha to take form again. It is said he imbodied in Tsong-Kha-pa who established the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) Order, whose first Grand Lama began the succession of Living Buddhas.

H. P. Blavatsky credited the tradition that Tsong-Kha-pa enjoined his arhats to enlighten the world at a specified period every century. Certainly in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries we see the liberating influence at work in the Renaissance, in the expansion of spiritual vision and the enthusiasm with which Ficino and the Medici circle in Florence welcomed Platonic and Neoplatonic thought. Brilliant and profound minds, freed from the straitjacket of ecclesiasticism -- Pico della Mirandola, Paracelsus, Bruno, Shakespeare, among others -- gave expression to their most sacred inspirations. Scattered throughout Europe and relatively few in number, they were nonetheless linked by a common devotion to the theosophic/hermetic tradition, to qabbalah, rosicrucianism, alchemy, and the like which, like an underground stream, enriched Western thought. However, the time was not yet ripe for them to effect a marked change in the general thinking.

The next hundred years, between the 1770s and 1870s, large cracks in credalism were made with the entry of Oriental philosophy and literature into Europe and America, the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics and the cuneiform script of the Sumerians, along with the publication of Lyell's and Darwin's revolutionary findings in geology and evolution. By the final quarter of the 19th century, when another impulse toward spirituality was due, the tools were ready to hand. This time it was possible to unite a body of dedicated men and women who would nurture and sustain the spiritual impulse so that it would carry over into and through the Aquarian Age.

"Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come." The idea was there -- always had been; the timing was right, for the karma of the world demanded it. Where was the genius, the titanic spiritual force, to be the bearer of a message that would turn the world consciousness right around, and dare once again to point the way from self-seeking to altruism? It took a person of extraordinary gifts to be able to receive and transmit a vision of cosmic proportion that would restore dignity to humanhood, and show us how to live and how to die in serenity and, above all, how to live in harmony with ourselves and with one another, as individuals and as nations.

With this issue on the anniversary of her birth (August 12, 1831) we honor Helena P. Blavatsky, author/amanuensis of The Secret Doctrine, an inspired and profoundly moving statement of nature's evolutionary purpose as seen in the cyclic birth, growth, and death of universes and their manifold kingdoms of lives. The message that she brought cut through all strata, cultural, social, religious, and racial. People of any and every circumstance were electrified, ancient memories were stirred, those who had entered the stream of mindfulness in former lives recognized the call and responded. Whether or not they had the schooling to comprehend the words, the message penetrated their very being because of synchrony of response. The keynote of brotherhood had been sounded again, its reverberations gaining strength and momentum with every decade. And the philosophy: the vision of man as microcosm and macrocosm (there is no difference); that all is and all is becoming, for the one indivisible divine Intelligence "thrills throughout every atom and infinitesimal point" in the whole of Space; and of great importance, the emphasis on the ancient ideal of self-stripping, of self-naughting, the ridding of the hold of personal desire, of craving for power, of lust for approbation, the offering of the dimensionless self on the altar of service.

One origin, one destiny, one grand purpose -- this is the gauntlet that H. P. Blavatsky cast into the forum of world thought. It did not go unnoticed. Coming centuries will, we believe, regard her as the harbinger of a more humane and philosophically sound era.

Still, while serious students consider The Secret Doctrine an authentic synthesis of the "accumulated wisdom of the ages," they do not regard it as their bible. Neither theosophy -- the term modernly adopted for these primal truths, though its usage dates back at least to the 3rd century A.D. -- nor the Theosophical Society she founded, has any dogma or creed. "The very root idea of the Society is free and fearless investigation," H. P. B. declared in 1879, in the opening number of her first theosophical journal; and, whether theist or atheist, pantheist or whatever --

once that a student abandons the old and trodden highway of routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent thought -- Godward -- he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker after the eternal truth with "an inspiration of his own" to solve the universal problems. -- The Theosophist (1:1), October 1879, p. 6

That H. P. Blavatsky consistently urged individual freedom of thought and attitude is eloquently shown in Robert Bowen's record of "personal teachings" given by her in the last years of her life. We have to remember that when these private sessions began, The Secret Doctrine had only just been published and those attending them were enormously enthusiastic. In their experience nothing like it had ever appeared and they looked to H. P. B. for clear-cut answers to the ultimate questions of life, death, and the why of existence. Repeatedly she had to remind them that the teachings she was permitted to give in the SD are merely an outline, a fragment of the archaic sacred science; as such, they stimulate the intuition and develop the thinking faculty. In brief, they are not intended to provide the "final verdict on existence, but TO LEAD TOWARDS THE TRUTH."

To lead towards the truth -- as we contemplate this signal phrase alongside her challenge to abandon our rutted thinking habits and become original thinkers in our own right, we intuit something of the infinite potential of human consciousness. Everyone is as near to receiving "an inspiration of his own" as he is open to the light from his inner god. This is the pith and marrow of the gnosis or sacred knowledge universally honored from remotest times. The Path is one, but there are as many roadways leading toward it as there are individuals pursuing the timeless quest.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1985. Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press.)

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