Approaching the Secret Doctrine: Its Teachings and Practical Application

Approaching the Secret Doctrine: Its Teachings and Practical Application

Pablo Sender, Ojai, Calif.: Fohat, 2022. xxiv + 313 pp., paper, $26.95.

H.P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine has always been a rebarbative work. Its enormous length as well as its enormous detail, not always well organized, have deterred many readers. Many study guides have been written over the decades, perhaps the best being Geoffrey Barborka’s 1961 book The Divine Plan.

Theosophical teacher Pablo Sender adds his own contribution to the genre with this new work (which, incidentally, only covers the first volume of The Secret Doctrine; a companion volume is coming). 

Approaching the Secret Doctrine is divided into three parts. The first discusses the nature of Blavatsky’s book, its aims, and how to study it. Chapters include excerpts from her introduction and preface that provide background, cast in a question-and-answer format; a discussion of studying the text as a form of jnana yoga, or yoga of knowledge; and some major points to keep in mind when reading. Chapter 4 is a digest of some notes allegedly by HPB’s student Robert Bowen recording her suggestions for studying the text. The attribution to Bowen is questionable, as Sender concedes, but he includes them on the grounds of their innate usefulness. (For a discussion of this topic, as well as the notes, see Quest, fall 2021.)

The second part of this book is probably the most useful. It contains a digest of the principal ideas in The Secret Doctrine, including the three “Fundamental Propositions” with which it begins, as well as an introduction to the enigmatic Stanzas of Dzyan, which HPB used as an organizing principle for her book. This section succeeds quite well in presenting the text’s basic ideas in an accessible form.

The third section “explores how these teachings may be used in daily life and in the practice of meditation.” It outlines a number of meditation exercises to give an experiential sense of the book’s main ideas. Although they are enormously comprehensive and mind-expanding, I found this the weakest of the three parts: the meditations seem somewhat overcomplicated to me, and I am not sure that many will have the patience to work through them.

All in all, Approaching the Secret Doctrine is a valuable addition to the study tools for this forbidding masterpiece. Its greatest strength probably lies in its elucidation of concepts such as Fohat, the stages of manifestation, and the birth of the creative Logos, accompanied by Sender’s enlightening paraphrases of Blavatsky’s text. I imagine that it will prove a useful study tool for both groups and individuals.

Richard Smoley