On Studying the SD
- Saturday, March 09, 2002
A contemporary and friend of H P B made notes on a conversation
with her about the use and value of The SECRET DOCTRINE.
Here is a summary of those:
HPB on STUDYING the S.D. (BOWEN)
Since most of the quotes that we will discuss come from SD, I
hope the following extracts from Robert Bowen's notes of personal
teachings given by H.P.B. to private pupils during the years 1888
to 1891 on how to study SD may be of some help.
"At last we have managed to get H.P.B. to put us right on the
matter of the study of the S.D. Let me get it down while it is
all fresh in mind. Reading the S.D. page by page as one reads
any other book (she says) will only end us in confusion. The
first thing to do, even if it takes years, is to get some grasp
of the "Three Fundamental Principles" given in the Proem. Follow
that up by study of the Recapitulation -- the numbered items in
the Summing Up to Vol. I. (Part 1.). Then take the Preliminary
Notes (Vol. II.) and the Conclusion (Vol. II.)......
She talked a good deal about the "Fundamental Principle." She
says: If one imagines that one is going to get a satisfactory
picture of the constitution of the Universe from the S.D. one
will get only confusion from its study. It is not meant to give
any such final verdict on existence, but to LEAD TOWARDS THE
TRUTH. She repeated this latter expression many times.
It is worse than useless going to those whom we imagine to be
advanced students (she said) and asking them to give us an
"interpretation" of the S.D. They cannot do it. If they try, all
they give are cut and dried exoteric renderings which do not
remotely resemble the Truth. To accept such interpretation means
anchoring ourselves to fixed ideas, whereas Truth lies beyond any
ideas we can formulate or express.
Exoteric interpretations are all very well, and she does not
condemn them so long as they are taken as pointers for beginners,
and are not accepted by them as anything more. Many persons who
are in, or who will in the future be in the T.S. are of course
potentially incapable of any advance beyond the range of a common
exoteric conception. But there are, and will be others, and for
them she sets out the following and true way of approach to the
Come to the S.D. (she says) without any hope of getting the final
Truth of existence from it, or with any idea other than seeing
how far it may lead TOWARDS the Truth. See in study a means of
exercising and developing the mind never touched by other
studies. Observe the following rules:
1. No matter what one may study in the S.D. let the mind hold
fast, as the basis of its ideation to the following ideas
(a) The FUNDAMENTAL UNITY OF ALL EXISTENCE. This unity is a thing
altogether different from the common notion of unity -- as when
we say that a nation or an army is united; or that this planet is
united to that by lines of magnetic force or the like. The
teaching is not that. It is that existence is ONE THING, not any
collection of things linked together.
Fundamentally there is ONE BEING.
This Being has two aspects, positive and negative. The positive
is Spirit, or CONSCIOUSNESS. The negative is SUBSTANCE, the
subject of consciousness.
This Being is the Absolute in its primary manifestation. Being
absolute there is nothing outside it. It is All-Being. It is
indivisible, else it would not be absolute.
If a portion could be separated, that remaining could not be
absolute, because there would at once arise the question of
COMPARISON between it and the separated part. Comparison is
incompatible with any idea of absoluteness. Therefore it is clear
that this fundamental One Existence, or Absolute Being must be
the Reality in every form there is.
I said that though this was clear to me I did not think that many
in the Lodges would grasp it.
"Theosophy," she said, "is for those who can think, or for those
who can drive themselves to think, not mental sluggards." H.P.B.
has grown very mild of late. "Dumskulls!" used to be her name for
the average student.
4 Fundamental Ideas Given by HPB
(a)The Atom, the Man, the God (she says) are each separately, as
well as all collectively, Absolute Being in their last analysis,
that is their REAL INDIVIDUALITY. It is this idea which must be
held always in the background of the mind to form the basis for
every conception that arises from study of the S.D. The moment
one lets it go (and it is most easy to do so when engaged in any
of the many intricate aspects of the Esoteric Philosophy) the
idea of SEPARATION supervenes, and the study loses its value.
(b) The second idea to hold fast to is that THERE IS NO DEAD
MATTER. Every last atom is alive. It cannot be otherwise since
every atom is itself fundamentally Absolute Being. Therefore
there is no such thing as "spaces" of Ether, or Akasha, or call
it what you like, in which angels and elementals disport
themselves like trout in water. That's the common idea. The true
idea shows every atom of substance no matter of what plane to be
in itself a LIFE.
(c) The third basic idea to be held is that Man is the MICROCOSM.
As he is so, then all the Hierarchies of the Heavens exist within
him. But in truth there is neither Macrocosm nor Microcosm but
ONE EXISTENCE. Great and small are such only as viewed by a
(d) Fourth and last basic idea to be held is that expressed in
the Great Hermetic Axiom. It really sums up and synthesizes all
"As is the Inner, so is the Outer; as is the Great so is the
Small; as it is above, so it is below; there is but One Life and
Law; and he that worketh it is ONE. Nothing is Inner, nothing is
Outer; nothing is
Great, nothing is Small; nothing is High, nothing is Low, in the
Divine Economy. "
No matter what one takes as study in the S.D. one must correlate
it with those basic ideas."