United Lodge of Theosophists, London, UK

The Ancient Source: the Secret Doctrine on Methods & Standards of Research



A palm leaf manuscript undergoing restoration. Karnataka, India, 2017.

[Although the First Item of the SD (called the Ancient Source in study groups) is a very short text, it both describes where Theosophy came from and important facts on the methods of research employed by its custodians, the trans-Himalayan Mahatmas.

This method is principally one of impartial peer review and consistent reproducibility. The Mahatmas, whose most senior figures are known as ‘Masters of Wisdom’ (or ‘Buddhas’, generically) use this method because of the rigour needed when investigating the fields of research such as psychic and astral phenomena, fields whose effects can be very illusory and difficult to quantify and reproduce, and which therefore require careful testing and double-checking so that reliable and accurate results are obtained.

But this was not well understood in the ranks of the TS in the years after the passing of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge, and in the early 1900s this weakness led to the Besant-Leadbeater era of widely accepted but quite unsubstantiated pronouncements and declarations which threw the Theosophical Movement into confusion and caused many of its best members, including almost all those who had been esoteric students of Mme Blavatsky, to leave it. The reason for mentioning it is not to criticise those figures, but to point to the danger from departing from what’s tried and tested in this area of research which will be unfamiliar to all but the adept.

Their process of research and its careful disciplines that are similar in many respects to the modern ‘peer-review’ process of academic scholarship and are one of the most important concepts to grasp for prospective students of the philosophy.

Therefore your careful and critical attention is invited in the study of this text, while at the same time to keep in mind the ethics of universal unity and human solidarity, two of the four links in the Golden Chain that bind humanity into one family.]

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 Purânas. 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 on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs. [see SD 1:4-5, 1:19, 1:22 etc]

The flashing gaze of those seers has penetrated into 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 [evolution of the cosmos]. 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 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 Race, 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, and 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 organisations 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.

The Secret Doctrine, 1:272-3

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