Reflections on H. P. Blavatsky

Ina Belderis-Rijken Van Olst
[From an address delivered on October 6, 1984 at a General Meeting of Her Theosofisch Genootschap (Pasadena) at Hotel "de Keizerskroon," Apeldoorn, The Netherlands]

H. P. Blavatsky attracted a great deal of attention in her own time and still does, but in considering the many striking aspects of her nature we must not confuse her personality with her philosophy and teachings. Although in her youth she was extraordinarily rash, self-willed, and stubborn, in the course of her early adult life she was largely successful in gaining control of both herself and the occult powers that worked through her. Subsequent years of travel worldwide brought her into contact with individuals of spiritual and psychic endowment and through this her character was shaped and refined.

The importance of H. P. Blavatsky lies not in her personality or in her time-bound opinions, and certainly not in the phenomena she was able to produce. It rests on the fact that this impetuous individual was destined by her teachers to serve as a messenger, as the instrument for restoring the ancient wisdom, the esoteric philosophy, to a prominent place in the thought life of the world. Her mission was in no way enviable. After all, she wasn't born with a working knowledge of theosophy. She had to gain that through enormous effort, and her formal education was far from suited to her task. She had to learn to write in English and much of what she wrote had to be corrected by people who were often in no position to understand what she was talking about. Yet even under such unfavorable circumstances she succeeded in elucidating a voluminous amount of esoteric teaching in the period between 1875 and 1891. In all of these writings one finds a treasure of thoughts and ideas -- so many in fact that a single lifetime is not enough to grasp or understand them.

There are three general principles that stand out in her work which are not only useful in the study of esoteric philosophy, but also in daily life. They are relativity, flexibility, and responsibility. Seeing how things relate one to another is possible only when you have a certain flexibility of mind. Both are essential for perceiving the full scope of responsibility.

Relativity: H. P. Blavatsky continually warns against blindly believing anything on the authority of another, for truth, or rather our perception of it, is relative. Each person should mentally and intuitively examine any doctrine before accepting it as true and always be prepared to change it for a deeper insight and a larger perspective. This applies to everything in life, particularly to our concept of theosophy. For instance, in the introduction to The Secret Doctrine (1) H.P.B. states that she is giving only an outline of the teachings and that this doesn't even cover one-hundredth of the real esoteric doctrine. So even if we could master The Secret Doctrine in its written form, we would still have an incomplete vision of life. This means that what we encounter there is not the last word, for one person's truth can never be absolute; there is always more to the picture.

Flexibility: Then there is the so-called ring-pass-not which encourages us to be intellectually flexible and not create fixed images spiritually or mentally. This is a kind of outer limit that belongs to any level of consciousness, beyond which one cannot at any certain moment go. Every kingdom in nature has this, and also every human being. It is self-evident that our understanding is always incomplete, bounded by a ring-pass-not, and that with every ring-pass-not we penetrate we expand our comprehension of truth. All the more reason, then, to be flexible and not to let thought patterns form permanent molds within our minds.

Responsibility: Everyone is responsible for discovering truth for himself. Of course, others can point the way, but spiritual truth is worth while only if it speaks to our hearts and minds. Trying to force our own vision of theosophy on others is foolish, for each person's mental constitution is different, and each of us experiences life differently.

H. P. Blavatsky was writing a hundred years ago. One hundred years is not very long, but in these ten decades so many awesome changes have taken place. She foresaw that her books would be better understood in this century and that discoveries in many fields would support the theosophic teachings. She was not mistaken. For example, in the physical sciences a revolution is taking place. Consciousness is emerging as the only factor which can explain many heretofore unexplainable phenomena. Discoveries in physics show striking similarities with the insights of ancient Mystics (Itzhak Bentov, Stalking the Wild Pendulum, 1977; Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, 1976; Zukav, Gary, The Dancing Wu Li Masters,1979). A revolutionary theory in biology postulates the existence of morphogenetic spheres of influence, structured energy fields which form the metaphysical basis for physical manifestations (Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life,1983.) The evolution theory of development along one line is being abandoned in favor of the view that evolution proceeds along parallel lines (Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin,1977). Continued DNA research shows promise of leading to the theosophic idea that man came first, and that the ape derived from man. We would then cease viewing ourselves as an "ape-plus" and start viewing the ape as "man-minus."

Outside of the sciences there are other indications that the climate is now more favorable for the clarification and dissemination of the esoteric philosophy. The present age is characterized by a new spiritual impulse and a renewal of interest in esotericism. Admittedly, much of this interest is focused on psychic phenomena and the pseudo-occult. It is often difficult to find the jewels of wisdom among all that supernaturally glitters. Scores of so-called spiritual movements are springing into existence, book dealers are stocking a profusion of "esoteric" works, while the film industry is bombarding our senses with mystic powers and manifestations.

In this respect theosophy becomes a most effective instrument for sharpening our discriminative faculties. Finding points of correspondence with other movements is not only an exercise in discrimination, but can also be a source of illumination. And so is the recognition of non-correspondence, limitation, or distortion. As pointed out, there are trends of thought in modern science which are proving empirically a number of statements made in the nineteenth century by H. P. Blavatsky and her teachers. Certain ideas, labeled as nonsense a hundred years ago, have turned out to have more truth in them than people realized. Many researchers are being pushed, through their findings, in a more mystical direction, and just as they are discovering certain spiritual principles, so theosophists can learn much from them. They offer us terms, definitions, and expressions with which we can clarify our exposition of the esoteric philosophy.

Our understanding of theosophy can actually be enlarged by the study of other movements, as long as they are approached with the same openness and discrimination that should be applied to the study of any science, philosophy, and religion. This discrimination and openness relates directly to the three points mentioned before, which are worth repeating:

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

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