Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blavatskiana: The Secret Doctrine

The best known of Mme. Blavatsky’s books is certainly The Secret Doctrine. Copies of the first edition of 1888 are quite scarce, the second edition (or printing, in this case) even more so. There have been four-volume editions, six-volume editions, but what would be the copy for someone who is not only a collector but also a student of her works and would like to actually use the copy they purchase instead of just admiring it? In this case the Theosophical University Press 1988 two-volume cloth facsimile of the first edition would certainly be the copy, for it was issued on the centenary of the book itself. It is a tangible recognition of the enduring relevance of The Secret Doctrine. The stature of the 1988 edition has increased by the subsequent reprinting of the book by Theosophical University Press, making this edition a collector’s item.

Attendant with the publishing of the 1988 facsimile edition were a number of publications celebrating the centenary of The Secret Doctrine. Different Theosophical groups issued souvenirs, such as The Secret Doctrine Centenary Souvenir from the Adyar Lodge of the Theosophical Society in India containing a number of insightful pieces by members of that group. The Theosophical Society with International Headquarters in Pasadena, California, held a two-day conference in 1988 and issued a 121 page Report of Proceedings. Quest Books, an imprint of the Theosophical Publishing House in Wheaton, Illinois, in the U.S.A., published an expanded version of H.P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine, containing an excellent collection of 21 essays from a wide range of Theosophical scholars who had made a contribution to the study of The Secret Doctrine, such as Boris de Zirkoff, Geoffrey Barborka, Christmas Humphreys, and others. For those who find all this material, as well as The Secret Doctrine itself, overwhelming there is Michael Gomes’ recent abridgement of The Secret Doctrine published by Tarcher/Penguin in 2009. It contains a useful introduction to the ideas in the book as well as a critical edition of the stanzas that inspire the contents of the book.

Annie Besant, whose reading The Secret Doctrine led her to meet Mme. Blavatsky, and who edited the book for its third edition, has an interesting insight into the nature of the work (and only the comments of those who have actually read through the book and understand its philosophical pedigree are worth considering). She wrote in 1895: “The value of The Secret Doctrine does not lie in the separate materials, but in the building of them into a connected whole, as the value of an architect’s plan is not lessened because the building is made of bricks wrought by other hands.”

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