Changing The Secret Doctrine

/Changing The Secret Doctrine
Changing The Secret Doctrine2018-12-07T20:17:32+00:00

Changing The Secret Doctrine

How, in the 1890s, the Adyar Society Adopted an Illegitimate Editorial Policy

“Theosophy has to fight intolerance, prejudice, ignorance, and selfishness, hidden under the mantle of hypocrisy. (…..) Theosophy (…..) has to tell the TRUTH to the very face of LIE; to beard the tiger in its den, without thought or fear of evil consequences, and to set at defiance calumny and threats.”

(A Master of Wisdom) [1]

Part of the authentic SD Manuscript, with HPB’s handwriting.

These sentences appear at Volume II, pp. 577-578 of the SD.

[Source: Pasadena Theosophical Society.]

Taking into consideration all literature now available which has been produced in the last two or three thousand years, “The Secret Doctrine” stands as a true masterpiece of esoteric philosophy. It was in London that the two volumes of its original edition were published, in 1888. In the Preface to the first volume, H. P. Blavatsky referred to the intended third and fourth volumes: “The third volume is entirely ready; the fourth almost so.” [2]

In a later part of the book, H.P.B. added strength to this announcement. She said: “In Volume III of this work (the said volume and the IVth being almost ready) a brief history of all the great adepts known to the ancients and the moderns in their chronological order will be given (…..). This could not find room in the present work. Volume IV will be almost entirely devoted to Occult teachings.” (Vol. II, p. 437)

Dr. Archibald Keightley – who helped H.P.B. finish the originals of the first two volumes – had this to say in 1889: “The third volume of ‘The Secret Doctrine’ is in manuscript ready to be given to the printers. It will consist mainly of a series of sketches of the great occultists of all ages, and is a most wonderful and fascinating work. The fourth volume, which is to be largely hints on the subject of practical occultism, has been outlined, but not yet written. It will demonstrate what occultism really is …” [3]

Based on this safe information, many students thought at the time that the publication of a four-volume “The Secret Doctrine” (SD) would be certainly completed in the near future. Few among them paid real attention to the closing lines of the second volume. In that final paragraph the “Old Lady” announced that the actual publication of volumes III and IV would “entirely depend” on the reception given to volume I and volume II by Theosophists and Mystics. She closed the SD with a rather mysterious statement: “These two volumes only constitute the work of a pioneer who has forced his way into the well-nigh impenetrable jungle of the virgin forests of the Land of the Occult. A commencement has been made to fell and uproot the deadly upas tree of superstition, prejudice, and conceited ignorance, so that these two volumes should form for the student a fitting prelude for Volumes III and IV.”

At this point we see the final warning: “Until the rubbish of the ages is cleared away from the minds of the Theosophists to whom these volumes are dedicated, it is impossible that the more practical teaching contained in the Third Volume should be understood. Consequently, it entirely depends upon the reception with which Volumes I and II will meet at the hands of Theosophists and Mystics, whether these last two volumes will ever be published, though they are almost completed. Satyât Nâsti paro dharmah. THERE IS NO RELIGION HIGHER THAN TRUTH.” [4]

Such a warning was already present, though almost imperceptible, in H.P.B.’s Preface to the first volume, where she had written: “Should the present volumes meet with a favourable reception, no effort will be spared to carry out the scheme of the work in its entirety.” (Vol. I, p. VII)

It seems the reception of the SD was not favourable enough, for volumes III and IV never appeared. Unfortunately, this was not all. A few years after H.P.B.’s death, two facts took place which were far worse than the disappearance of volumes III and IV. First, the existing work was adulterated. After that, a third volume was illegitimately published by Adyar leaders.

Referring to the editorial policy followed by the Adyar Society, the Publishers’ Preface to the SD 1947 facsimile edition – published by the Theosophy Co.- makes the following description of the whole process in subsequent decades:
“Besides the original edition of 1888 – the only one authorized by Madame Blavatsky – several other editions of this work have appeared. One of these, the so-called ‘Third and Revised Edition’ of 1893, is marred by many thousands of alterations, some of them trivial, some actual mutilations of the original text. Included in later printings of this so-called ‘Revised Edition’ is a spurious ‘Third Volume’ of THE SECRET DOCTRINE, issued in 1897, six years after the death of H.P. Blavatsky. Compiled from miscellaneous papers found among her effects, this volume forms no part of the original SECRET DOCTRINE written by H.P.B.”

And the Preface goes on: “The ‘Third and Revised Edition’ was followed by another in 1938, this time in six volumes, called the ‘Adyar Edition’. Except for additional indexes, a biographical sketch of the author, various typographical changes, and the inclusion of material attempting to justify publication of the spurious ‘third volume’, this Adyar edition is substantially the same as the earlier ‘revised’ edition.” [5]

As time passed , such a view of Annie Besant’s version of the SD has been almost unanimously accepted in the theosophical movement as a whole. Mrs. Alice Cleather, a member of the “Inner Group” of esoteric students in London during the last years of H.P.B.’s life, wrote a first-hand testimony. After mentioning that Annie Besant claimed to have been in charge of “safeguarding” H.P.B’s texts for the third volume, Alice Cleather added:

“Those who were responsible for the so-called Volume III, had a strange and unusual conception of the meaning of the word ‘safeguarding’. It so happens that while it was being set up I was able actually to peruse one or two of the familiar long foolscap sheets which H.P.B. always covered with her small fine handwriting. They were mutilated almost beyond recognition, few of her sentences remaining intact ; and there were ‘corrections’ not only in the handwritings of the editors, Mrs. Besant and Mr. [G.R.S.] Mead, but also in that of others which I was able to identify. More than this I can not say without abusing confidence ; but the wrong done to my Teacher compels me to say this much.” [6]

Acknowledging the illegitimacy of Besant’s SD has become a matter of common sense for nearly everyone in the esoteric movement. Boris de Zirkoff, the compiler of H. P. Blavatsky’s “Collected Writings” – which were published by Adyar T.P.H. itself – , wrote this, referring to H.P.B.: “The real Volume III having vanished without a trace, her explanations of such methods [of ancient divination] have never appeared in print.” [7]

The “volume III” unwisely published by Annie Besant is examined in a thorough way by Boris de Zirkoff in his introduction to the Volume XIV of HPB’s “Collected Writings”.

Geoffrey Barborka, another significant researcher and author of the 20th century, wrote this in a book also published by Adyar Society: “Along with a revision of The Secret Doctrine (which became known as the Third and Revised Edition) was added an additional volume which was entitled Volume III of The Secret Doctrine. This was published posthumously in London in 1897 with a preface written by Annie Besant. It should be understood, however, that this volume is not the third volume contemplated by H.P.B.” [8]

Not all of the movement adhered to Annie Besant’s pattern of editorial procedures. But it took some time for the truth to be better known. The first facsimile edition of “The Secret Doctrine” was published in 1925 by associates of the United Lodge of Theosophists (U.L.T.). It started the general trend to restore respect for the authentic 1888 edition. Later on, a similar edition was published by the Point Loma / Pasadena Theosophical Society.

The Publishers’ Preface in the 1947 Theosophy Co. (U.L.T.) edition said: “The genuine SECRET DOCTRINE has only two volumes. While, as originally written, THE SECRET DOCTRINE was to be published in four volumes, only two volumes were given to the printer by H.P.B. The remaining two volumes, although complete, or nearly complete, were withheld by her for reasons indicated in the close of the second volume of the original edition (p.798).” [9]

Those reasons are expressed in the fact that the “reception” of the first two volumes was not good enough. Time showed the evaluation was correct, for now the two volumes were even being tampered with. Yet – sooner of later – truth always prevails, and in the late 1970s, the very Adyar Society finally decided to abandon Besant’s edition of the SD. It adopted then a legitimate edition of the work, prepared by Boris de Zirkoff and published by the T.P.H. in 1979. It was, at last, an implicit yet clear confession that Annie Besant had tampered with the main written work of H.P. Blavatsky, and that the Besant edition of “The Secret Doctrine” was worse than useless.

The view expressed by Theosophy Company with regard to Annie Besant’s so-called “third volume” of the SD is essencially the same as the view of every HPB student. Since the 1970s, as long as we know, no Theosophical group and no Publishing House re-edits or works with the third volume of Annie Besant in English language.[10]

The Pasadena Theosophical Society, the Point Loma Societies, the United Lodge of Theosophists, the Edmonton Theosophical Society and more recently even the Adyar Theosophical Society – all use and promote but the original text of the SD. This is, no doubt, a step forward on the part of Adyar, which is still the biggest theosophical organization in the world. It is also a success story. Yet the same disastrous editorial policy created by Annie Besant has gone on, in a way, and has been emerging again and again in different occasions, under one form or another.

During the 21st century, it is the duty of earnest theosophists to TRY and help face the problem in a more effective way. Karma Law has not been cancelled. It is still operating, and as long as Adyar uses the name “Theosophy” and keeps portraits of H.P.B. in its walls, it must show respect for truth – and for the founder of the movement.


  1. “Some Words on Daily Life”, by a Master of Wisdom. The text was first published by H.P. Blavatsky in her “Lucifer” magazine, London, volume I, January 1888, pp. 344-346. See p. 345. The term “Lucifer” is an ancient, pre-Christian word meaning “Light-Bearer”. It designates the Star of the Morning, planet Venus. The word was distorted by Christian medieval theologians.
  2. “The Secret Doctrine”, Helena P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, 1982, volume I, Preface, p. VII.
  3. Archibald Keightley’s statements are in an interview given to the New York “Times” and reproduced by “The Theosophist”, Adyar, India, in July 1889, almost two years before H.P.B.’s death. It was later published by THEOSOPHY magazine, Los Angeles, August 1950, pp. 436-444. It is from THEOSOPHY magazine that I quote these words. See especially p. 439.
  4. “The Secret Doctrine”, Theosophy Co., volume II, pp. 797-798.
  5. “The Secret Doctrine”, Theosophy Co., volume I, first page of the Publishers’ Preface.
  6. “H.P. Blavatsky, a Great Betrayal”, by Alice Leighton Cleather, Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta, 1922, republished under the auspices of the H.P.B. Lending Library, c/o M. Freeman, Canada, 96 pp., see p. 75.
  7. “The Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky”, T.P.H., volume VII, p. 226, footnote.
  8. “H.P. B., Tibet and Tulku”, Geoffrey A. Barborka, T.P.H., Adyar, first edition, 1966, third reprint, 1986, 476 pp., see p. 159.
  9. “The Secret Doctrine”, Helena P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., volume I, second page of Publishers’ Preface.
  10. As the present text is ready for publication in June 2010, the original edition of the SD is still not available in Spanish or Portuguese languages.