An article by Geoffrey Farthing

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White Lotus

In her will, HPB suggested that her friends might gather together on the anniversary of her death (May 8, 1891) and read from Sir Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia and from The Bhagavad Gita. Lotuses grew in unusual profusion one year later. Hence, May 8 became known as White Lotus Day.

ONE of the symbolic figures for the Dual creative power in Nature (matter and force on the material plane) is Padma, the water lily of India. The Lotus is the product of heat (fire) and water (vapour or Ether); fire standing in every philosophical and religious system as a representation of the Spirit of Deity, the active, male, generative principle; and Ether, or the Soul of matter, the light of the fire, for the passive female principle from which everything in this Universe emanated. Hence, Ether or Water is the Mother, and Fire is the Father. Sir W. Jones (and before him archaic botany) showed that the seeds of the Lotus contain -- even before they germinate -- perfectly formed leaves, the miniature shape of what one day, as perfect plants, they will become: nature thus giving us a specimen of the preformation of its production ...the seed of all phanerogamous plants bearing proper flowers containing an embryo plantlet ready formed.

The Lotus, or Padma, is, moreover, a very ancient and favourite simile for the Kosmos itself, and also for man. The popular reasons given are, firstly, the fact just mentioned, that the Lotus-seed contains within itself a perfect miniature of the future plant, which typifies the fact that the spiritual prototypes of all things materialised on Earth. Secondly, the fact that the Lotus plant grows up through the water, having its root in the Ilus, or mud, and spreading its flower in the air above. The Lotus thus typifies the life of man and also that of the Kosmos; for the Secret Doctrine teaches that the elements of both are the same, and that both are developing in the same direction. The root of the Lotus sunk in the mud represents material life, the stalk passing up through the water typifies existence in the astral world, and the flower floating on the water and opening to the sky is emblematical of spiritual being. (The Secret Doctrine I, 57-58.)


hp blavatsky

In this year [1981] when we are commemorating the death of H.P.B. we could perhaps refresh our memories of what an extraordinary woman H.P.B. was and of what she achieved during her relatively short but tremendously rich and eventful life.  Her main achievement was, through her voluminous writings, to introduce Theosophy to the world.  Of her writings, Boris de Zirkoff, who edited her Collected Writings, said: "They constitute in their totality one of the most astounding products of the creative human mind.  Considering their unequalled erudition, their prophetic nature and their spiritual depth, they must be classed by friend and foe alike, as being among the inexplicable phenomena of the age.  Even a cursory survey of these writings discloses their monumental character".  (C.W.I, Preface vii).  It is also mainly to H.P.B.  that we owe the founding of the Theosophical Society.  There is not much doubt that she was brought together with Col. Olcott, W.Q. Judge and others by the Masters with this express purpose in mind.  There is also not much doubt that, because of her close association with the Masters, who themselves were then very closely associated with the Movement, she was the centre of its spiritual inspiration and life. 

Without an extensive study of the literature, a proper impression of her most unusual character, evident from a very early age, and of her later towering greatness as an Occultist, cannot be gained.  Stories of her childhood and adolescence keep us enthralled.  Her relations with not only her own Teacher but also with other Masters of the Wisdom were unique and as is indicated above, so too was her literary output and the theosophical doctrines which through it were then made available for the first time to the world at large.  Her labours in that field were herculean.

H.P.B.'s Early Life

Numerous stories are told of her childhood and of how from the earliest age she would not submit to control.  According to her sister,
"Helene .. was a precocious child, and from her earliest youth attracted the attention of all with whom she came in contact.  Her nature was quite intractable to the routine demanded by her instructors.  She rebelled against all discipline, recognised no master but her own good will and her personal tastes.  She was exclusive, original and at times bold even to rudeness." [Neff, p 17]

In another place she was described as:
"the strangest girl one has ever seen, one with a distinct dual nature ... mischievous, combative, and obstinate - in every way graceless; the other as mystical, and metaphysically inclined ...  No schoolboy was ever more uncontrollable or full of the most unimaginable pranks and espiegleries than she was.  At the same time, when the paroxysm of mischief-making had run its course, no old scholar could be more assiduous in his study; and she could not be prevailed upon to give up her books, which she would devour night and day as long as the impulse lasted.  The enormous library of her grandparents seemed then hardly large enough to satisfy her craving."

Her influence on the other children was truly amazing:
"It was her delight to gather round herself a party of us younger children at twilight and after taking us into the large dark museum, to hold us there, spellbound, with her weird stories.  Then she narrated to us the most inconceivable tales about herself; the most unheard of adventures of which she was the heroine, every night, as she explained.  Each of the stuffed animals in the museum had taken her in turn into its confidence, had divulged to her the history of its life in previous incarnations or existences."
At that time no one knew where she had got the idea of reincarnation. 

And so the stories go on.  Another one illustrating her indomitable will was when as a teenager she was being made to go to a ball to which she did not want to go relates how, her protests not being listened to, when she was supposed to be dressing for the occasion she deliberately plunged her foot and leg into a kettle of boiling water and held it there till nearly boiled raw, scalding it horribly.  She had to remain at home for six months. 

Her Master

Her associations with her Master began in early childhood when clairvoyantly she saw the "majestic figure of a Hindu in a white turban, always one and the same.  She knew him as well as she knew her own relative and called him her Protector, saying it was he who saved her in dangers." - "One of these accidents happened when she was thirteen years old.  A horse she rode became frightened and ran away.  The child was unseated and, getting entangled in the stirrup hung on to it; instead of being killed, however, she felt around her body somebody's arms, which supported her till the horse was stopped." [Neff, p 15]

Middle Years and Marriage

Her early adult life was spent in travelling to all sorts of obscure places and meeting many gifted people. She particularly sought out those with 'occult' knowledge.  She was attracted always to matters magical and spiritual.  At a very early age she made a disastrous marriage to Nikifor V. Blavatsky, Vice Governor of Verivan, who was many years her senior, and from whom she ran away.

She went to Tibet where she met the Master whom she had known astrally all her life in the flesh and received her occult instruction at his hands. Seemingly this period was one of intense training and many of her mediumistic powers were rendered subject to her will.  While in Tibet she also made direct contact with other Masters of the Hierarchy. 

Founding of the Theosophical Society

She had previously been earmarked for the great role that she was destined to play in the grand attempt to enlighten humanity and was specifically sent out into the world to fulfil her mission.  This was twofold: the founding of the Theosophical Society and the presentation of Theosophy.  It started with the meeting with Col. Olcott in America from which the Theosophical Society came into being.  At that time H.P.B. was concerned with the extensive spiritualistic phenomena then taking place, particularly in the United States.  She gave out explanations of these phenomena in terms of her occult knowledge.  These explanations and the data on which they were based were eventually incorporated into the theosophical doctrines published later. 

Her Writing Career

In the early days of the Society she produced Isis Unveiled which evinced an almost superhuman knowledge, both in depth and extent.  Geoffrey Barborka gives a figure of 1339 other works, some of them of a great antiquity and obscurity, which she quoted from.  We have her own account of the writing of Isis in letters which she wrote to her sister Vera.  The story is truly remarkable; she writes:

"When I wrote Isis I wrote it so easily that it was actually no labour but a real pleasure.  Why should I be praised for it?  Whenever I am told to write, I sit down and obey, and then I can write easily upon almost anything, metaphysics, psychology, philosophy, ancient religions, zoology, natural sciences, or whatnot.  I never put myself the question: 'can I write on this subject?' or 'am I equal to the task?' but I simply sit down and write.  Why?  Because somebody who knows all dictates to me.  My Master and occasionally others whom I knew in my travels years ago.  Please do not imagine that I have lost my senses.  I have hinted to you before now about Them and I tell you candidly that whenever I write upon a subject I know little or nothing of, I address myself to Them and one of them inspires me, that is he allows me simply to copy what I write from manuscripts and even printed matter that passes before my eyes in the air, during which process I have never been unconscious one single instant.  It is that knowledge of his protection and faith in his power that have enabled to me become mentally and spiritually so strong ...  And even He [the Master] is not always required for during his absence on some other occupation he awakens in me his substitute in knowledge ..  At such times it is no more I who write but my inner Ego, my luminous self who thinks and writes for me".  [Neff, p 278]

Col. Olcott who was with H.P.B. at the time of writing Isis Unveiled used to sit opposite her and on many occasions he noticed the changes which came over her appearance according to the Master who was then writing through her.

There is not much doubt but that a similar process was used when H.P.B. was writing The Secret Doctrine.  Not all of it of course was so dictated or made known to her but obviously much of it was.  This is instanced by those people who were close to her during the writing of it, notably the Countess Wachtmeister.  Again in The Secret Doctrine many hundreds of other books are quoted from so that that book demonstrates an erudition far beyond what could have been gained in the course of even the most gifted and prolonged scholarship.

In addition to her two monumental works, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, H.P.B. wrote massively for various magazines including her own Lucifer and The Theosophist.  These writings have been collected together and edited by Boris de Zirkoff and comprise some fourteen volumes of which most members of the Theosophical Society will be aware.

In 1889 H.P.B. to some extent summarized her great teachings in The Key to Theosophy, and for those mystics in the Society she gave The Voice of the Silence.  In themselves these are inexaustible gems of literature which would amply have justified her existence had she written nothing else.

Her Influence on Helpers and Students

As to her impact on her associates and particularly those who were close to her, both as helpers and students, we now have a remarkable collection of appreciations of her by some twenty-seven of them, now available to us in a single volume, a reprint of one published in 1891.  The general tenor of these appreciations is primarily one of love and secondarily of gratitude. They all evince a degree of admiration for the unique woman whom they had by Karma been privileged to know.  Many of them were quite aware during her lifetime of the extent of that privilege.  She was amazingly generous to, and greatly caring for, those less fortunate than herself.  Another aspect of her character which was truly remarkable was her fortitude: firstly because she suffered ill-health seriously and painfully at times, but nevertheless managed to overcome crippling and debilitating bouts during which time she still worked prodigiously.  On top of what she suffered physically she also suffered greatly by reason of the attacks which were made upon her by those who could not possibly appreciate what she was trying to do and who very much resented and feared what she was doing.  All sorts of accusations were made against her personally, including those of immorality and fraud.  All these charges have been sufficiently repudiated, either by herself or by others.

A sample of what was said of her real qualities is the following:

"What phenomenon could be be greater than the production of H.P.B.'s monumental works, in a language and country foreign to her, unless it were the union in one individual of such great knowledge, such spiritual wealth, with so much geniality and consideration for the meanest brother or sister who showed aspiration for truth or goodness, so much sympathy and ready help in difficulties of every kind, material as well as physical and spiritual? When I consider how few of the teachings of Theosophy as since given to the world were then unfolded, I am amazed to think how one mind could contain them all without making them known."

This last was said in respect of knowledge which H.P.B. so obviously possessed but about which she was at that time reluctant to talk.  Later some of it was included in The Secret Doctrine.  That same tribute continues with the words:

"what tribute to the power of spirit can be greater than the declaration that inspite of every adverse influence being brought to bear, hers in the end became paramount and is destined to sway those who came under its influence to the end of time." [Emily Kisslingbury 13]

What She Taught

In the space of an article such as this it would be impossible to give any meaningful outline of the vast doctrines which were the subject of H.P.B.'s writings but in the Preface to The Secret Doctrine she said, "The aim of this work may be thus stated: to show that Nature is not "a fortuitous concurrence of atoms, and to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the universe; to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions; to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all sprang; finally, to show that the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilisation.

This was written just over 100 years ago and whilst Science has made some strides, particularly in its searches into the nature of matter, and is speculating on the holistic nature of the universe, it still has not arrived at any cognizance of the occult side of Nature.

In view of the prevalence of the idea that Theosophy is a matter of opinion, the following extract from the summing-up of Part I of Book I of The Secret Doctrine is very relevant:

"The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system: e.g. even in the exotericism of the Puranas.  But such is the mysterious power of occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded in a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs.  The flashing gaze of those seers has penetrated in the very kernel of matter and recorded the soul of things there, where an ordinary profane, however, learned, would have perceived but the external work of form.  But modern science believes not in the "soul of things", and hence will reject the whole system of ancient cosmogony.  It is useless to say that the system in question is no fancy of one or several isolated individuals.  That it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of seers, whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed on orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of humanity.  That for long ages, the "Wise Men" of the Fifth Face, of the stock saved and rescued from the last cataclysm and shifting of continents, had passed their lives in learning, not teaching.  How did they do so?  It is answered: by checking, testing, verifying in every department of Nature the traditions of old, by the independent visions of great adepts; i.e., men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic and spiritual organizations to the utmost possible degree.  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."

These explorations into the nature of things were done by Seers, high Initiates, using faculties far transcending what we have come to know as clairvoyance.  The findings of later clairvoyants, particularly as they relate to some 'theosophical' subjects, such as the after-death states, etc., are the findings of single individuals and are uncorroborated.
Something also that we should take particular note of is the reference to man's position in the universe.  This subject is very fully treated in H.P.B.'s writings, wherein we learn of our essential spiritual nature and our veritable unity with the whole cosmic scheme.  The implications of this are immense and must be discovered by each of us but the teaching is that we all have the necessary faculties for so doing even though at this time in most of us they are quite latent.  It is, however, in the development of these faculties where lies the salvation of mankind.  This message of hope is H.P.B.'s grand legacy to us.  For this transcendent knowledge of the vast cosmic process and our inseparable relationship to it and all that this means in our long-term evolutionary development, the name Theosophy was chosen, but other terms were often used, viz. the Wisdom Religion, Esoteric Science, the Secret Doctrine, Occultism, etc.  Some would regard these teachings as dogma, something to be compulsorily believed, but can they be dogma when noone requires their belief and noone could possibly impose them on another?  They can only be comprehended by those who are ready to do so.

In many places the clear distinction between this everlasting knowledge and the Theosophical Society was often made, notably in The Key to Theosophy. One such passage reads as follows:

"Theosophy is the shoreless ocean of universal truth, love and wisdom, reflecting its radiance on the earth, while the Theosophical Society is only a visible bubble on that reflection.  Theosophy is divine nature, visible and invisible, and its Society human nature trying to ascend to its divine parent.  Theosophy, finally, is the fixed eternal sun, and its Society the evanescent comet trying to settle in an orbit to become a planet, ever revolving within the attraction of the sun of truth.  It was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities." [Key To Theosophy, p 57, Original Ed.]

It is to the extraordinarily gifted, indefatigable and much loved H.P.B. that we owe the founding of our Theosophical Society and what is available to us of the Ancient Ageless Wisdom latterly known as Theosophy.  Gratitude seems a quite inadequate word to express what we owe her.


The main source of biographical information for this article is Mary K. Neff's Personal Memoirs of H.P. Blavatsky, a book which draws on many other sources, notably Col. Olcott's Old Diary Leaves and A.P. Sinnett's Incidents in the Life of H.P. Blavatsky.The Blavatsky Trust 2012

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