Published by Blavatsky Archives

Esoteric Teaching

by A.P. Sinnett

[Reprinted from The Path (New York), September 1893, pp. 166-172.]

Some recent references in the PATH to portions of the original esoteric teachings embodied by me in Esoteric Buddhism seem to call for remarks on my part in reply.  The line of criticism in question has culminated in an article [by W.Q. Judge] which appears in the PATH for July, entitled “Mars and Mercury”. (1)

The point at issue is this: --- In the original teaching which I received from the Masters I was definitely informed that the planets Mars and Mercury formed part of the septenary chain to which our own world belongs.  The question is one which, on its own merits, will only be of interest within the area of serious Theosophic study; but the controversy that has now arisen really involves some of the deepest questions affecting the future well-being of the Theosophical Society and the progress of the movement.  It is for this reason that I now feel bound to take it up.

For a long time after the publication of Esoteric Buddhism the statement concerning Mars and Mercury remained unchallenged.  It scarcely seemed possible that any one imbued with respect for the Masters’ teaching could challenge it, because, as has been publicly stated, after the publication of Esoteric Buddhism the great Adept who gave me the information wrote to me declaring explicitly that it constituted a correct exposition of his teaching.  His words were: --- “Be certain that with the few undetectable mistakes and omissions notwithstanding, your Esoteric Buddhism is the only right exposition, however incomplete, of our occult doctrines.  You have made no cardinal, fundamental mistakes, and whatever may be given to you hereafter will not clash with a single sentence in your book, but, on the contrary, will explain away any seeming contradiction.”  In later years when the Secret Doctrine was published by Madame Blavatsky, I found to my great surprise that she had asserted a new view of the planetary chain, altogether at variance with that previously given out, and had represented the seven planets of that chain as seven different states of this earth, making out Mars and Mercury to be in no way associated with the evolution of our human family, but simply to be themselves the objective planets, corresponding to the earth, of other chains.  On the basis of this declaration some Theosophical students have felt bound by their loyalty to Madame Blavatsky to put aside the earlier teachings of the Masters conveyed through myself, and to argue that I misunderstood my instructions.  This view is emphasized with great vigor in the PATH, --- in the article above referred to, signed by Mr. Judge, --- and the really important point developed by the controversy has to do with the question, What was Madame Blavatsky’s position really in the occult world, and what kind of authority should be attached to the writings she has left behind her?

I hope no one will take the explanation I am now forced to give as implying any abandonment by me of the position respecting Madame Blavatsky I have always maintained.  I showed in the fragmentary biography I put together at her own wish, with the assistance of herself and members of her family, under the title Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, that she was truly in close relations with the great Masters of esoteric wisdom.  That she was one of their partially initiated disciples was also unquestionable for anyone who has been in independent touch with the realities of the occult world.  She was what she always called herself, a chela, or pupil of the Masters, generally described by them by the term upasika, well-known in the East as signifying a female chela; and when the teaching first came to me in preparation for the book which I ultimately wrote, Madame Blavatsky eagerly perused the letters I received in reply to my elaborate questions, assuring me constantly that the information they contained was almost as new to her as it was to me, except in so far as a part of it was vaguely present to her mind without having ever been formulated with precision.  Through her it was in the first instance undoubtedly that I came into communication with the Masters, and in many ways for many years, during some of which she had few other friends, I endeavored to show my appreciation of the debt of gratitude, in this respect, I owed her.  But the matter we have now to deal with has nothing to do with personal relationships.  I have to defend the teaching of which I was made the exponent, and now that the subject has been forced so prominently to the front, I cannot leave Theosophists to suppose I acquiesce in the claims that have been made to correct my faithful exposition of the occult doctrine.

It is not business here to offer hypotheses to account for the strange misapprehensions into which Madame Blavatsky fell when writing the Secret Doctrine, not merely as regards these questions of Mars and Mercury, but also in regard to some other points which have not yet attracted attention.  That Madame Blavatsky was capable of making mistakes when endeavoring to amplify and expand the occult teaching of the Masters is the all-important conclusion to which I think all unbiassed minds in the Theosophical Society must be brought by a consideration of the matter under discussion.  In endeavoring to show, on p. 163, vol. I of the Secret Doctrine, that I misunderstood the teaching in reference to Mars and Mercury, Madame Blavatsky quotes a question which I put to the Master, K.H., and his reply.  Here I must add a few words of explanation of the circumstances under which the correspondence in question came to be available for quotation.  When I returned to England in 1883 and published Esoteric Buddhism --- long before Madame Blavatsky ever thought of returning to this country --- the most earnest Theosophists of that day were exceedingly eager to see the original papers on the basis of which that volume had been written.  I used to read portions of the correspondence at meetings of the Society, and many members pressed me eagerly for permission to take copies of them.  I referred the matter to the Master himself, and in the first instance he distinctly expressed disapproval of the idea.  The letters, as he pointed out, were written to me, to inform my own mind, in order that I might in turn put out their substance in a suitable literary shape.  They would not be intelligible to others unfamiliar with the course of the correspondence on both sides, and so on.  The urgent desire, however, of certain Theosophists made me feel as though I were selfishly withholding from them documents which we all reverenced very sincerely, and at a later date --- to my lasting regret --- I was induced to apply a second time to the Master for leave to have some of these letters copied.  He gave me that leave then, enjoining me to take a solemn pledge from persons to whom I gave the copies that they would never be made use of in any way without my permission.  Under these conditions the great bulk of my correspondence with the Mahatmas, in so far as it related to Theosophical teaching, was copied and treasured for a time by the persons to whom I gave it.  Several years later, when Madame Blavatsky was living in this country, she naturally acquired overwhelming influence over a great many members of the Society.  She desired one of these to give up to her the copies that had been received from me.  The member in question conceived her orders to over-ride the original pledge, and gave them up.  They have since been scattered about the world, so that I have seen extracts from them in the PATH and elsewhere, and for want of the interpretation that would have been suggested if the original letters of enquiry from me had also been printed, provoking misapprehensions on the part of those who only in this way read half the correspondence.

Now, the original question relating to Mars was as follows: --- “What planets of those known to ordinary science, besides Mercury, belong to our system of worlds?” (2) The question took that form because information concerning the association of Mercury with our chain of worlds as the next planet on which this body of humanity was destined to evolve, had been given to me previously.  The answer was: --- “Mars and four other planets, of which astronomy knows nothing.  Neither A, B, nor Y, Z are known, nor can they be seen through physical means, however perfected.”  (3) The answer is incorrectly quoted in the Secret Doctrine, and is made to run, --- “Mars, etc., and four other planets . . .” (4) The interpolation of this “etc.” lends color to the view Madame Blavatsky was at the time maintaining, viz., that while I had intended to ask a question concerning our chain, the Master thought I meant to ask a question about the solar system at large.  This idea is a strange one for an occultist to have accepted.  An Adept dealing with his pupil could not make such a mistake about his meaning.  But internal evidence makes it obvious that no such mistake was made.  If the question had related to the solar system, it would have been absurd.  “What planets besides Mercury belong to the solar system?”  The question would have been ridiculous in that form --- the answer almost more so, --- “Mars and four others . . .” invisible to telescopes.  What about Jupiter and Saturn, and all the invisible planets of the other world systems?  Madame Blavatsky, as all who knew her intimately are well aware, was capable of making any imaginable mistake in matters relating to physical science.  Her mind was out of tune with all such matters.  But how the friends who helped her with the proofs of the Secret Doctrine, even without having their eyes opened by knowing that the “etc” was an interpolation, could have let this passage pass, is very surprising.  Finally, be it observed that “A, B, and Y, Z,” were the names assigned by agreement at that period of my correspondence with the Master to the first, second, sixth, and seventh globes of our chain.  The notion that there could be any ambiguity about my question or the answer, in the circumstances, is an insult to common sense, --- not to speak of Adept wisdom.  I am entitled to add that at a very recent date, within the last few months since this subject has been under discussion, the Master himself in communication with me made the following comment on the situation: --- “If I had been capable of paltering with the truth, and playing with words in the way which has been attributed to me, not one line of all the manuscript of mine in your possession would have been worth the paper it is written on”.

Few persons in touch with the principles of occultism will be surprised to hear me quoting recent words addressed to me by the Master.  Relations like those which were established between my humble self and Him in days gone by are of a kind that do not come to an end except through the misconduct or faithlessness of the pupil.  During Madame Blavatsky’s lifetime my privileges of communication with the Master through channels of which she knew nothing were private and personal, and I was precluded from speaking of them.  That prohibition has since been removed.  Madame Blavatsky disliked anything that savored of interference with her rights as founder of the Theosophical Society, and while she lived no one else would have been allowed to speak on behalf of the Masters to the Society at large.  But it will be obvious on reflection that unless the whole design of occult teaching is a delusion also, fresh neophytes as time goes on must come within the scope of the personal teaching of the Masters.  In this respect we are moving forward now in a new era.  I should be the last person to claim any monopoly --- such as Madame Blavatsky in a certain sense enjoyed while she lived --- of the honor of conveying teaching from the Masters.  No one now left in the Society, I should think, could be so unwise as to make claims of that nature.  But as it has been my duty in the past to put the teaching of the Mahatmas before the world, so it looks probable that such tasks will present themselves again, and on this account it is that I am bound at the present crisis to speak rather more plainly than inclination in other circumstances would have prompted.  For many Theosophists, I know, Madame Blavatsky represented the whole movement, but, great as she was, the movement is something much greater.  For many such persons Madame Blavatsky may have been the only teacher from whom they received occult enlightenment.  Immense as my respect is for her attainments, for her industry and devotion to the work she undertook, it is, nevertheless, a fact that I myself did not receive my Theosophic teaching directly from her, but in the way described; and long before her death my relations with the Master were carried on through the intermediation of one of his chelas, quite outside the range of Madame Blavatsky’s connexions.  It ought to be for all earnest workers in the Theosophical movement a matter of great satisfaction that this is so, because in this way an entirely independent line of confirmation is provided for much that Madame Blavatsky has taught, for the bona fides of her position in its broadest aspects, and for the much-discussed existence of the Masters.

Following the quotation from my letter given in the Secret Doctrine as above described, comes a letter (5) as printed in that volume with many passages omitted, in which Madame Blavatsky seems to give a correction, derived by her from the Master himself, confirming her view of the planetary chain.  Here, again, minute comment upon the entangled situation is very difficult.  I can only say that the omitted passages would materially alter the interpretation the letter seems to bear, and that some words obviously put in by Madame Blavatsky in parentheses must not be understood to have existed in the original.

Of course it matters very little for most people in this country first awakening to the significance of Theosophic teaching, whether Mars and Mercury are connected with this earth in the manner described or not; but what is of immense importance --- in order that the movement, carried on loyally and rationally, shall always continue a healthy living organization, in touch with higher wisdom --- is that all persons interested in its progress should shun the disastrous mistake of stereotyping the utterances of Madame Blavatsky --- or of anyone else outside of the Masters --- as the final word of esoteric teaching, and an infallible testimony to constitute a new body of dogmatic scripture and lead the human understanding once more into the quagmires of bigotry and sectarianism.

A few words must be given in conclusion to some points in Mr. Judge’s recent article.  When he says the two Masters who have had to do with Esoteric Buddhism and the Secret Doctrine have decided distinctly, first, that no other globes of the earth chain are visible from its surface, etc., etc., and that “Mr. Sinnett misunderstood them when he thought they meant to say Mars and Mercury were two of the six fellow-globes of the earth”, I can only affirm for the guidance of those who may be able to feel that I speak with some claim to be listened to in such a matter, that I am quite sure Mr. Judge entirely mistakes, and that the Masters in question never said anything of the sort.  The argument which endeavors to draw a correspondence between the organization of the septenary chain and the seven principles of man is one which rests on an entirely false analogy.  It would be as reasonable to attempt to trace an analogy between the seven principles of man and the seven days of the week.  There is an analogy between the principles of man and the principles of the earth --- or of any other individual planet, visible or invisible, --- but seven is a terrible stumbling-block for Theosophical students who know there is something in it without knowing very much more.

Finally, in quoting from one of the letters to me by the Master which were got at under the circumstances I have described above, Mr. Judge represents him as saying, “You are putting me questions pertaining to the highest initiation.  I can give a general view, but I cannot and dare not enter upon details.”  It was scarcely fair of Mr. Judge to bring in the passage quoted, as though it bore on the matter in hand.  It related to enquiries which had nothing to do with Mars and Mercury, but to a totally different question.


BAO Editorial Notes:

(1)  See also Mr. Judge's reply to what Mr. Sinnett wrote in this "Esoteric Teaching" article.  See Judge's rebuttal article titled "How to Square the Teachings".

(2)  See Mahatma Letter No. 23a, Mr. Sinnett's Question (23).

(3) See Mahatma Letter No. 23b, Koot Hoomi's Answer (23).

(4) See The Secret Doctrine, Volume I, p. 163, bottom of page.

(5)  Sinnett may be referring to the letter from the Master which is found on p. 165, Volume I of The Secret Doctrine.  There is also another letter from the Master on p. 166.