This book was published in 1883 and probably constituted the earliest sketch of esoteric teachings given in plain language. 'Karma' and 'Reincarnation' and other such terms, almost unknown in the West, thereafter came to be used in literary and theological circles.
The author candidly acknowledges that it was the 'favour' (of the Adepts) rather than 'effort' on his part that helped the writing of the book. He received teachings from great Spiritual Teachers or Mahatmas through Madame Blavatsky.
The book gives occult details concerning the Universe and its planets, going beyond the material world.
Along with The Occult World, which preceded, and The Growth of the Soul, which followed it, the present book is a study as envisaged in the Third Object of the Theosophical Society, To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man'.
The title is somewhat misleading as the book does not refer directly to the teachings given by the Buddha.
The name of Mr A. P. Sinnett (1840-1921) will always be held in high esteem in the annals of Theosophy. He was the first person to give a broad outline of what the Ancient Wisdom teaches about God, Nature and Man. He used his knowledge to awaken the West to Theosophy and India to national life.
He was educated in London and took up journalism as a career. He served the London newspaper The Globe, The Hong Kong Daily Press in China, The Standard in London, and in 1872 he became the editor of The Pioneer, a leading English newspaper in India.
He was greatly attracted by the occult phenomena produced by H. P. Blavatsky and joined the Theosophical Society in 1879. Soon after, he began to receive letters from the Mahatmas. He served as Vice-President of the Theosophical Society three times.
He was a man of wide-ranging interests. A keen student of chemistry, he had a laboratory of his own. Besides the famous book The Occult World, he wrote novels and plays based on Theosophy. The novel Karma was very well received, as also his play: Marriage by Degrees.
Since this book was first published, in the beginning of 1883, I have come into possession of much additional information bearing on many of the problems dealt with. But I am glad to say that such later teaching only reveals incompleteness in my original conception of the esoteric doctrine - no material error so far. Indeed, I have received from the great Adept himself, from whom I obtained my instruction in the first instance, the assurance that the book as it now stands is a sound and trustworthy statement of the scheme of Nature as understood by the initiates of occult science, which may have to be a good deal developed in the future, if the interest it excites is keen enough to constitute an efficient demand for further teaching of this kind on the part of the world at large, but will never have to be remodelled or apologized for. In view of this assurance it seems best that I should now put forward my later conclusions and additional information in the form of annotations on each branch of the subject, rather than infuse them into the original text, which, under the circumstances,
I am reluctant in any way to alter. I have therefore adopted that plan in the present edition. As conveying an indirect acknowledgement of the general harmony to be traced between these teachings and the recognized philosophical tenets of certain other great schools of Indian thought, I may here refer to criticisms on this book, which were published in the Indian magazine, The Theosophist in June 1883, by 'a Brahmana Hindu'. The writer complains that, in interpreting the esoteric doctrine, I have departed unnecessarily from accepted Sanskrit nomenclature; but his objection merely is that I have given unfamiliar names in some cases to ideas already embodied in Hindu sacred writings, and that I have done too much honour to the religious system commonly known as Buddhism, by representing that as more closely allied with the esoteric doctrine than any other.
'The popular wisdom of the majority of Hindus to this day,' says my Brahmana critic, 'is more or less tinged with the esoteric doctrine taught in Mr Sinnett's book, misnamed "Esoteric Buddhism", while there is not a single village or hamlet in the whole of India in which people are not more or less acquainted with the sublime tenets of the Vedanta philosophy .... The effects of Karma in the next birth, the enjoyment of its fruits, good or evil, in a subjective or spiritual state of existence prior to the reincarnation of the spiritual monad in this or any other world, the loitering of the unsatisfied souls or human shells in the earth (Kama- Ioka), the pralayic and manvantaric periods ... are not only intelligible, but are even familiar to a great many Hindus, under names different from those made use of by the author of "Esoteric Buddhism".'
So much the better - I take leave to rejoin - from the point of view of Western readers, to whom it must be a matter of indifference whether the esoteric Hindu or Buddhist religion is nearest to absolutely true spiritual science, which should certainly bear no name that appears to wed it to anyone faith in the external world more than to another, All that we in Europe can be anxious for, is to arrive at a clear understanding as to the essential principles of that science, and if we find the principles defined in this book claimed by the cultured representatives of more than one great Oriental creed as equally the underlying truths of their different systems, we shall be all the better inclined to believe the present exposition of doctrine worth our attention.
In regard to the complaint itself, that the teachings here reduced to an intelligible shape are incorrectly described by the name this book bears, I cannot do better than quote the note by which the editor of The Theosophist replies to his Brahmana contributor. This note says: 'We print the above letter as it expresses in courteous language, and in an able manner the views of a large number of our Hindu brothers. At the same time, it must be stated that the name of "Esoteric Buddhism" was given to Mr Sinnett's latest publication, not because the doctrine propounded therein is meant to be specially identified with any particular form of faith, but because Buddhism means the doctrine of the Buddhas, the Wise, i.e. the Wisdom Religion.' For my own part, I need only add that I fully accept and adopt that explanation of the matter. It would, indeed, be a misconception of the design which this book is intended to sub serve, to suppose it concerned with the recommendation, to a dilettante of modern taste, of Old World fashions in religious thought. The external forms and fancies of religion in one age may be a little purer, in another a little more corrupt, but they inevitably adapt themselves to their period, and it would be extravagant to imagine them interchangeable.
THE teachings embodied in the present volume let in a flood of light on questions connected with Buddhist doctrine which have deeply perplexed previous writers on that religion, and offer the world for the first time a practical clue to the meaning of almost all ancient religious symbolism. More than this, the esoteric doctrine, when properly understood, will be found to advance an over- powering claim on the attention of earnest thinkers. Its tenets are not presented to us as the invention of any founder or prophet. Its testimony is based on no written scriptures. Its views of Nature have been evolved by the researches of an immense succession of investigators, qualified for their task by the possession of spiritual faculties and perceptions of a higher order than those belonging to ordinary humanity.
In the course of ages the block of knowledge thus accumulated, concerning the origin of the world and of man and the ultimate destinies of our race - concerning also the nature of other worlds and states of existence differing from those of our present life - checked and examined at every point, verified in all directions, and constantly under examination throughout, has come to be looked on by its custodians as constituting the absolute truth concerning spiritual things, the actual state of the facts regarding vast regions of vital activity lying beyond this earthly existence. European philosophy, whether concerned with religion or pure metaphysics, has so long been used to a sense of insecurity in speculations outrunning the limits of physical experiment, that absolute truth about spiritual things i hardly recognized any longer by prudent thinkers as a reasonable object of pursuit; but different habits of thought have been acquired in Asia. The secret doctrine which, to a considerable extent, I am now enabled to expound, is regarded not only by all its adherents, but by vast numbers who have never expected to know more of it than that such a doctrine exists, as a mine of entirely trustworthy know- ledge from which all religions and philosophies have derived whatever they possess of truth, and with which every religion must coincide if it claims to be a mode of expression for truth.
This is a bold claim indeed, but I venture to announce the following exposition as one of immense importance to the world, because I believe that claim can be substantiated. I do not say that within the compass of this volume the authenticity of the esoteric doctrine can be proved. Such proof cannot be given by any process of argument; only through the development in each inquirer for him of the faculties required for the direct observation of Nature along the lines indicated. But his prima facie conclusion may be determined by the extent to which the views of Nature about to be unfolded may recommend themselves to his mind, and by the reasons which exist for trusting the powers of observation of those by whom they are communicated.
Will it be supposed that the very magnitude of the claim now made on behalf of the esoteric doctrine, lifts the present statement out of the region of inquiry to which its title refers - inquiry as to the real inner meaning of the definite and specific religion called Buddhism? The fact is, however, that esoteric Buddhism, though by no means divorced from the associations of exoteric Buddhism, must not be conceived to constitute a mere imperium in imperio - a central school of culture in the vortex of the Buddhist world. In proportion as Buddhism retreats into the inner penetralia of its faith, these are found to merge into the inner penetralia of other faiths. The cosmic conceptions, and the knowledge of Nature on which Buddhism not merely rests, but which constitute esoteric Buddhism, equally constitute esoteric Brahmanism. And the esoteric doctrine is thus regarded by those of all creeds who are 'enlightened' (in the Buddhist sense) as the absolute truth concerning Nature, Man, the origin of the Universe, and the destinies towards which its inhabitants are tending. At the same time, exoteric Buddhism has remained in closer union with the esoteric doctrine than any other popular religion. An exposition of the inner knowledge, addressed to English readers in the present day, will thus associate itself ir- resistibly with familiar outlines of Buddhist teaching. It will certainly impart to these a living meaning they generally seem to be without, but all the more on this account may the esoteric doctrine be most conveniently studied in its Buddhist aspect: one, moreover, which has been so strongly impressed upon it since the time of Gautama Buddha that, though the essence of the doctrine dates back to a far more remote antiquity, the Buddhist co louring has now permeated its whole substance. That which I am about to put before the reader is esoteric Buddhism, and for European students approaching it for the first time, any other designation would be a misnomer.
The statement I have to make must be considered in its entirety before the reader will be able to comprehend why initiates in the esoteric doctrine regard the concession involved in the present disclosures of the general outlines of this doctrine as one of startling magnitude. One explanation of this feeling, however, may be readily seen to spring from the extreme sacredness that has always been attached by their ancient guardians to the inner vital truths of Nature. Hitherto this sacredness has always prescribed their absolute concealment from the profane herd. And so far as that policy of concealment - the tradition of countless ages - is now being given up, the new departure which the appearance of this volume signalizes will be contemplated with surprise and regret by a great many initiated disciples. The surrender to criticism which may sometimes, perhaps, be clumsy and irreverent, of doctrines which have hitherto been regarded by such persons as too majestic in their import to be talked of at all except under circumstances of befitting solemnity, will seem to them a terrible profanation of the great mysteries. From the European point of view it would be unreasonable to expect that such a book as this can be exempt from the usual rough-and-tumble treatment of new ideas. And special convictions or commonplace bigotry may sometimes render such treatment in the present case peculiarly inimical. But all that, though a matter of course to European exponents of the doctrine like myself, will seem very grievous and disgusting to its earlier and more regular representatives. They will appeal sadly to the wisdom of the time-honoured rule which, in the old symbolical way, forbade the initiates from casting pearls before swine.
ALL who read this book in the present day should remember that it was first published in the year 1883, and constituted the earliest sketch of esoteric teaching ever given in plain language to the world at large. Since it was written, Theosophical study and further help from the original Teachers have enormously expanded our know- ledge, and in many ways the views we are now enabled to take of human evolution and super-physical life are so much more rich in detail than the first sketch that this is seen now to be incomplete to a misleading extent. All, for instance, in this book which relates to life on the Astral Plane (or Kama-loka) is entirely out of date. My later work, The Growth of the Soul, illuminated the subject in some measure; a still later volume, In the Next World, put again a fresh complexion on the varied conditions prevailing in the sub-planes into which the vast super- physical envelope of the Earth is divided. In the same way all that relates to 'Devachan' in this book, overweighs the importance of that condition - in reality only one aspect of life on the miinasic plane, and not properly to be thought of as a goal for all humanity to aim at. Theosophy, in short, considered as spiritual science, has advanced, and is advancing, so splendidly that the earlier books are mainly interesting as recording its beginnings - an imperfect forecast of the wealth of knowledge accumulating later on our hands. The first series of Transactions of the London Lodge, published during the years 1884-1902, showed much of the progress accomplished; the new (current) series, 1913-1916, has already embodied the results of still later work.
The Ethics of Theosophy are too clear and simple to need continual revision. In its intellectual aspect Theosophy is a living science replete with infinite future possibilities. Just as the modern chemist may still look back with interest, not unmixed with amusement, to early speculation concerning 'Phlogiston' and 'Dephlogisticated air', so Theosophists, to whatever stage they may attain, will, I hope, have a kindly toleration for the many mistakes in Esoteric Buddhism, remembering that in spite of them it had the honour of inaugurating the great Theosophical movement on the physical plane of the Western world.
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