The Secret Doctrine of the Ages teaches that the universe came into existence through creative and evolutionary processes; and it demonstrates why both are necessary to explain our origins. It harmonizes the truths of science and religion, while showing that major assumptions of both Darwinism and Fundamentalist Creationism do not bear up to careful examination. By drawing our attention to the questions of why we live and die, of what is mind and substance, the Secret Doctrine helps us realize that wisdom begins with understanding how very little we really know. Yet it also affirms that the most perplexing problems can be solved; and that, as the progeny of one cosmos, we are a family who should be helping each other to discover the mystery of what we are and can become.
Evolution means unfolding and progressive development, derived from the Latin evolutio: "unrolling," specifically of a scroll or volume -- suggestively connoting the serial expression of previously hidden ideas. A climb from the bottom of the Grand Canyon reveals an unmistakable evolutionary story: of the appearance of progressively more complex species over a lengthy period of time. But how actually did this happen? The compelling evidence of nature contradicts the week-long special creation postulated by Bible literalists. Darwinian theory is also proving unsatisfactory, as a growing number of scientists are relegating its major claims to the category of "mythology."(1) Though not assenting to any metaphysical implications, Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould declared in 1980 that the modern synthetic theory of evolution, "as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy."(2) Dr. Pierre-P. Grassé, former president of the French Academy of Sciences and editor of the 35-volume Traité de Zoologie, was more forceful:
Their success among certain biologists, philosophers, and sociologists notwithstanding, the explanatory doctrines of biological evolution do not stand up to an objective, in-depth criticism. They prove to be either in conflict with reality or else incapable of solving the major problems involved.
Through the use and abuse of hidden postulates, of bold, often ill-founded extrapolations, a pseudoscience has been created. It is taking root in the very heart of biology and is leading astray many biochemists and biologists, who sincerely believe that the accuracy of fundamental concepts has been demonstrated, which is not the case.(3)
While most critics readily acknowledge that natural selection and gene changes partially explain variation in species or microevolution, they point out that Darwinism has failed spectacularly to describe the origin of life and the mechanism of macroevolution: the manner in which higher types emerge.
Textbook theory asserts that life on earth began with the formation of DNA and RNA, the first self-replicating molecules, in a prebiotic soup rich in organic compounds, amino acids, and nucleotides. Dr. Robert Shapiro, professor of chemistry at New York University, recently wrote: "many scientists now believe that neither the atmosphere described nor the soup had ever existed. Laboratory efforts had also been made to prepare the magic molecule from a simulation of the soup, and thus far had failed."(4) Even if the purported soup existed elsewhere in the universe, and DNA were brought to earth by meteorite, comet, or some other means, there remains the enigma of how it was originally synthesized.
In the first place, several mathematicians have shown the astronomical improbability of chance mutations "evolving" any organized system -- neither complex DNA molecules nor higher organisms. The 10-20 billion year time frame presently assigned to our universe is far too short a period, given known mutation rates. Moreover, nothing in empirical experience suggests that unguided trial and error -- i.e., random mutation -- will produce anything but the most trivial ends. Research biologist Michael Denton writes that to "get a cell by chance would require at least one hundred functional proteins to appear simultaneously in one place" -- the probability of which has been calculated at the negative figure 1 followed by 2,000 zeros -- a staggeringly remote possibility, to say nothing of the lipids, polysaccharides, and nucleic acids also needed to form a viable, reproducing cell.
The same reasoning applies to the extraordinary number of coordinated, immediately useful mutations required to produce "organs of extreme perfection," such as the mammalian brain, the human eye, and the sophisticated survival mechanisms (including inter-species symbiotic systems) of the plant and animal kingdoms. There is simply no justification, according to Denton, for assuming that blind physical forces will self-organize "in the finite time available the sorts of complex systems which are so ubiquitous in nature." In observing the sheer elegance and ingenuity of nature's purposeful designs, scientists like Denton can hardly resist the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, he says, but the inference is clear: nature's systems are the result of intelligent activity.(5)
Another enigmatic problem is the absence in fossil strata of finely-graded transitional forms between major groups of species, i.e., between reptiles and birds, land mammals and whales, and so forth. Darwin himself recognized this as one of the "gravest" impediments to his theory and tried to defend it by asserting "imperfection of the geologic record."(6) Yet over a century of intensive search has failed to disclose the hypothetical missing links.(7) Thus far only conjecture, or imagination, has been able to fill in how gills became lungs, scales became feathers, and legs became wings -- for the record of nature on this point is still a secret.
Darwin also worried over one of nature's most formidable barriers to macroevolutionary change: hybrid limits. Artificial breeding shows that extreme variations are usually sterile or weak. Left to themselves these hybrid varieties -- if they are able to reproduce at all -- revert to ancestral norms or eventually die out. In this sense, natural selection, environmental pressures, and genetic coding tend as much to weed out unusual novelties, as to ensure the survival of the fittest of each type -- a fact which is confirmed by the fossil record. Unquestionably, species adapt and change within natural limits; refinement occurs, too, as in flowering plants. But no one has yet artificially bred, genetically engineered, or observed in nature a series of chromosomal changes, micro or macro, resulting in a species of a higher genus. There are no "hopeful monsters," except, perhaps, in a poetic sense. Trees remain trees, birds birds, and the problem of how higher types originate has not been solved by Darwin or his successors.
We do not give up our dogmas easily, scientific or religious. Obviously, ideas should be examined for their intrinsic value, not blindly accepted because somebody tells us "Science has proven" or the "Bible says so," or again, because the Secret Doctrine teaches it. But with science's recognized ignorance of first causes and macroevolutionary mechanisms, as well as the failure of scriptural literalism to provide satisfactory explanations, there remain the questions about our origins, purpose, and destiny. The answers to these questions are, in a sense, nature's secret doctrines. Her evolutionary pattern suggests, however, that they are not hopelessly beyond knowing. Just as from the conception of a human embryo to a fully-developed adult, so from the first burst outward of the primordial cosmic atom, the progressive unfolding of intelligence is a natural and observable process. The whole universe seems bent on discovering itself and its reason for being.
The concept of the universe evolving for purposes of self-discovery and creative expression is found not only in modern European philosophy, such as Hegel's, but also in ancient myths the world over, some of which sound surprisingly up-to-date. The Hindu Puranas, for example, speak of our universe as Brahma, and of alternating periods of cosmic activity and rest as the Days and Nights of Brahma, each of which spans over four billion years -- an oscillating universe reminiscent of modern cosmological theory. In each "creation" Brahma attempts to fashion an ever-more perfected mankind, in the process of which he serially evolves from his own consciousness and root substance all of nature's kingdoms: atoms, minerals, plants, animals, and so forth. Conversely, the stories allude also to the striving of mankind and, for that matter, of all sentient beings, to become Brahma-like in quality -- i.e., to express more and more of the hidden mind pattern of the cosmos.(8)
We often look down on ancient traditions as moldy superstitions. While this judgment may well apply to the rind of literalism and later accretions, concealed within and giving life to every religion are core ideas which bear the hallmark of insight. Biblical Genesis also, when read allegorically as is done in gnostic and kabbalistic schools, yields a picture of evolutionary growth and perfectibility, both testaments clearly implying that we are sibling gods of wondrous potential.(9) But are the secret doctrines spoken of in these older traditions expressions of truth or simply romantic wish-fulfilling fantasy? Can they teach us anything relevant about our heritage and our future? It is to such questions that the modern book entitled The Secret Doctrine addresses itself.
Published in 1888, the SD is not put forward as a revelation but, according to its author, H. P. Blavatsky, it is only a "partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students." Drawing upon the Stanzas of Dzyan, these two volumes outline the archaic wisdom-teachings on cosmic and human genesis, a system said to derive from the matured experience of generations of adept seers, and "higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity." A challenging statement -- but among the many unusual features of the SD, the one which lifts it far above any other of its kind, is the extent to which it offers supporting evidence.
The Secret Doctrineinvites serious consideration for several reasons. First, because many of its teachings can be tested by anyone, such as the existence of a coherent esoteric tradition, known and taught the world over and forming the heart of every major religion. It provides interpretive keys which help unlock often abstruse myths, thus enabling the student to discern the underlying thread-doctrine uniting them.
Second, in the area of science, a careful reading of the work discloses astonishing insights, many of which have been confirmed only in this century. For example, while 19th century scientists postulated solid impenetrable atoms, the Secret Doctrine taught "the infinite divisibility of the atom" (1:520) and that the mineral kingdom was light (energy), "crystallized and immetallized" (2:169); it warned also of the terrible power of intra-atomic forces which could "reduce to ashes 100,000 men" (1:563). This was written in 1888 when such ideas were considered idle nonsense; the first breakthrough in physics' hard shell of materialism came in 1897 and the release of atomic energy was decades away. While scientific orthodoxy believed the sun was a solid globe in combustion the SD repudiated the idea, stating instead that the sun was "glowing most undeniably, but not burning" (1:591). It also taught that there were more planets in our solar system than the eight then known (1:152n, 164; 2:488-9n). In The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (170) one of HPB's teachers predicted that "Science will hear sounds from certain planets before she sees them" -- a clear reference to radio astronomy long before it became a reality. Further examples could be cited, all of which leave an unmistakable impression that H. P. Blavatsky's sources possessed advanced scientific knowledge.
Third, and no less important, the book merits attention because its fundamental teachings satisfy our deepest ethical and spiritual instincts -- its appeal is universal and unselfish; it claims no monopoly on truth and is presented undogmatically, inviting study and reflection, questioning and testing. In H. P. Blavatsky's words, the SD is not meant to give a final verdict on existence, but "to lead towards the truth."(10) The Secret Doctrine offers an inspired vision of life. It recognizes no such thing as dead or blind matter, teaching that everything in the universe is alive, "endowed with a consciousness of its own kind and on its own plane of perception" (1:274). The ascending scale of beings in every kingdom from the smallest particle to the largest supergalaxy are so many expressions of the universal Oversoul, which itself is rooted in the boundless, eternal All. No anthropomorphic being, this immutable source is the origin "of force and of all individual consciousness, and supplies the guiding intelligence in the vast scheme of cosmic Evolution" -- spiritual, intellectual, and physical (1:15, 181).
Yet, paradoxically, "Man" has always existed, he never was not. Humanities from previous world imbodiments have left their impress on the mind fabric of nature, providing the architectural forces shaping not only modern man, but all developing life. As an evolving species, man has existed since the beginning of the present cycle; and from his early prototypal forms all the lesser kingdoms which populate our earth have diverged and evolved. It is for this reason that he is said to be the parent and repository of all physical lives, the root and trunk of the Tree of Life, if not the tree itself -- a microcosm in the macrocosm. This is a teaching echoed in traditions all over the globe, and we must pause to wonder why.
Impulsed by divinity and guided by karma (cause and effect), each of us has been periodically manifesting since eternity through all the kingdoms, from sub-mineral through human, earning our way to the next realm and beyond. Although seeded with godlike potential, we are not irrevocably fated to an unsought destiny. Karma is a philosophy of merit, and within our power is the capacity to choose -- to evolve and create -- our own future. We give life and active existence to our thoughts and, to a very large extent, we become what we think we are, or would like to be. This affects ourselves for good or evil, and it affects all others -- profoundly so.
These are but a few of the SD's main teachings about evolution and creation. They are among those which can be seen and talked about -- what is called in Buddhist phraseology the "Eye-Doctrine": the intellectual formulation of the cosmic principles of life. But there is another Secret Doctrine, one that cannot be formulated in words, or expressed in symbols, or in any outer way communicated. Born from an increasing realization of the oneness of life, the "Doctrine of the Heart" is that intuitive wisdom which recognizes the need of another and knows how to respond, regardless of personal sacrifice. It is not taught in any book, or by any person; it cannot be purchased or bargained for. It remains forever a secret to selfishness, but becomes known to those who embody compassion and who work with nature in the ever-creating, ever-creative symphony of universal life.
1. "Science Contra Darwin: Evolution's founding father comes under new attack," Newsweek, April 8, 1985, pp. 80-1. (Return to text)
2. "Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?" Paleobiology, 6 (1), 1980, p. 120. (Return to text)
3. Evolution of Living Organisms: Evidence for a New Theory of Transformation, Academic Press, New York, 1977, pp. 202, 6. (Return to text)
4. Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Summit Books, New York, 1986, p. 20. (Return to text)
5. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, Bethesda, 1985, ch. 13-14. (Return to text)
6. On the Origin of Species, Facsimile of the First Edition, Introduction by Ernst Mayr, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1964, pp. 5, 171ff, 279ff. (Return to text)
7. Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, The Myths of Human Evolution, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982, p. 46. See also Eldredge, Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985, pp. 21-2. (Return to text)
8. See Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas, Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen, eds. and trans., Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1987. (Return to text)
9. Cf. Gen 6:2-4, Psalms 82:6, John 10:34, 14:12, Gal 4:19. On biblical esotericism, cf. Zohar, 111, 152, Origen, De Principiis, IV, i, 16, Mark 4:10-12, etc. (Return to text)
10. Cf. Robert Bowen, "The 'Secret Doctrine' and Its Study," Sunrise, August/September 1985, p. 200. (Return to text)
SUGGESTED ADDITIONAL READING:
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Theosophical University Press)