Book: Blavatskian Doctrine versus Science

Blavatskian Doctrine versus Science


The Theosophical Statement on Impotence of Science

In her article ''Occult or Exact Science?'' Helena Blavatsky outlines typical Theosophical views on science. (Blavatsky 1956)[1] A religious studies scholar Arnold Kalnitsky wrote that at the beginning of this article, she distinguishes ''modern science'' from ''esoteric science,'' and argues that the methodology of the latter is preferable because it ultimately has a more practical, solid basis. In Blavatsky's opinion:

Every new discovery made by modern science vindicates the truths of the archaic philosophy. The true occultist is acquainted with no single problem that esoteric science is unable to solve, if approached in the right direction. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 55; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 155)

Thus, Blavatsky considers modern science to be a form of the ''archaic philosophy'', which, as a synthesized worldview, includes the ''esoteric science.'' According to her, this is the position of the ''true occultist,'' who can solve any problem by the proper use of esoteric methodology. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 155) A religious studies scholar Alvin Kuhn wrote that Blavatsky declared that occultism had no quarrel with so-called exact science ''where the conclusions of the latter are grounded on a substratum of unassailable fact.'' (Kuhn 1992, p. 258) A religious studies scholar Vladimir Trefilov stated: ''Without denying the positive role of science, the Theosophical theorists emphasize its limitations. The main difference between the Theosophical science and the usual modern science is seen in the fact that the latter has to do only with scraps of a whole - with physical phenomena of this and other worlds, with that that can be performed through the physical brain of man and his feeling.'' (Трефилов 1994, p. 234)

Blavatsky criticizes the perspective of modern science, by disagreeing with the idea that the manipulation of matter presents a real scientific challenge. She asserts that replacing the word ''matter'' with the term ''spirit'' would result in a greater goal.[2] She tries to show that knowledge of mere matter is not enough to provide the answers sought by science, because such knowledge does not adequately explain even the simplest phenomena of nature. Blavatsky notes that spiritualistic phenomena, with which she claims her audience would be well familiar, show the need for revising the prevailing scientific consensus. She argues that there is another form of ''proof'' of the existence of extrasensory abilities, citing the example of the use of narcotics, which allegedly had facilitated the demonstration of such abilities. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 156)[3] She writes:

No doubt the powers of human fancy are great; no doubt delusion and hallucination may be generated for a shorter or a longer period in the healthiest human brain either naturally or artificially. But natural phenomena that are not included in that ''abnormal'' class do exist; and they have at last taken forcible possession even of scientific minds. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 59; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 156)

Recognizing the potential errors inherent in relying upon imagination, and the unreliability of ''delusion and hallucination,'' Blavatsky is still trying to gain the ''stamp of legitimation'' from reputable scientific judgement that could confirm that supersensory abilities ''do exist.''[4] It was a constant aim of Theosophy, though implicit, and it was accompanied always by a distrust to the scientific approach. On the one hand, Blavatsky gives occasion for a reconciliation with the scientists, on the other - continues to denounce them.[5] Following her words demonstrate a desire to show that the scientific evidence of the extrasensory perception is quite possible. (Kalnitsky 2003, pp. 156-157)

The phenomena of hypnotism, of thought-transference, of sense-provoking, merging as they do into one another and manifesting their occult existence in our phenomenal world, succeeded finally in arresting the attention of some eminent scientists. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 59; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 157)[6]

Blavatsky demonstrates a dualistic approach in her interpretation of these phenomena, distinguishing between ''their occult existence'' and their manifestation ''in our phenomenal world.'' Apparently, this means that there is noumenal ''sphere of reality,'' which is the basis of the phenomenal world. Furthermore, the assertion that ''some eminent scientists'' had shown interest in various forms of ESP, obviously, indicates that most scientists are not interested in it, and that widely recognizing of their paranormal nature did not happen. In particular, she criticizes the findings of the doctor Charcot and some other scientists in France, England, Russia, Germany, and Italy, who ''have been investigating, experimenting and theorising for over fifteen years.'' (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 157)[7]

The sole explanation given to the public, to those who thirst to become acquainted with the real, the intimate nature of the phenomena, with their productive cause and genesis - is that the sensitives who manifest them are all hysterical! They are psychopates, and neurosists - we are told - no other cause underlying the endless variety of manifestations than that of a purely physiological character. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 59; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 157)

Limitation of the Scientific Method

The scientists, who are trying to explore the controversial paranormal phenomena, find themselves in a situation of utter helplessness, but it is not their fault. They simply do not have an appropriate set of conceptual ''tools'' for the right approach to these phenomena. Without an elementary familiarization with occult principles and the adoption, at least as a working hypothesis, the notion of the subtle worlds of nature, the science is not able to reveal the true depth and scope of the universal laws that underlie all cosmic processes. The orthodox scientists-materialists are constrained by the limitations of their sciences, and so they need a new orientation based on the attraction of occult knowledge. However, in Blavatsky's opinion, even admitting the legitimacy of the occult hypothesis, they will not be able to bring their research to the end. (Kalnitsky 2003, pp. 158-159)

Therefore, having conducted their experiments to a certain boundary, they would desist and declare their task accomplished. Then the phenomena might be passed on to transcendentalists and philosophers to speculate upon. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 71; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 159)

Turning to the consideration of conflicting opinions about the paranormal experience, Blavatsky says that the scientific recognition of the hypothesis about the nature of the psychic phenomena is not excluded, but it requires a discussion in relation to their underlying causes. She also claims that to defend the Theosophical position harder than spiritualistic, because the Theosophists categorically reject as a materialist theory so and a belief in spirits, presented in a traditional spiritualistic approach. Blavatsky classifies the spiritualists as the ''idealists'' and the scientists - as the ''materialists,'' who both fully convinced that modern science can, respectively, or to confirm, or to deny the authenticity of the kingdom of the spirits. But those who believe in the ability of a science to accept the occult presentation will be disappointed, because its modern methodology simply does not allow it. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 160)

Science, unless remodelled entirely, can have no hand in occult teachings. Whenever investigated on the plan of the modern scientific methods, occult phenomena will prove ten times more difficult to explain than those of the spiritualists pure and simple. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 77; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 160)

Blavatsky believes that modern scientific methods need to be rethought and remodeled to make it possible to study phenomena that can not be adequately explained from the materialistic standpoint.[8] She expresses her disappointment with the existing state of affairs, doubting in achieving any progress. After ten years of a careful monitoring of the debate, she does not believe in the possibility of an objective and impartial investigation of the paranormal phenomena, not to mention the real revision of the well-established scientific views and the adoption of more adequate occult theory. The few scientists who could believe in the authenticity of such phenomena do not accept the hypothesis beyond the spiritualistic representations. Even in the midst of doubt of the truth of the materialist worldview, they are unable to move from spiritualism to the occult theory. In the study of unexplained side of the nature their respect for the traditional scientific orthodoxy always prevails over their personal views. Thus, in Blavatsky's opinion, a necessary condition of objectivity is the impartiality and a change of the opinions. (Kalnitsky 2003, pp. 160-161)

Considering the methodology of science, Blavatsky understood that the inductive reasoning, based on data supplied by the physical senses, can not adequately provide a reliable way to study the abnormal phenomena. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 162)

Science - I mean Western Science - has to proceed on strictly defined lines. She glories in her powers of observation, induction, analysis and inference. Whenever a phenomenon of an abnormal nature comes before her for investigation, she has to sift it to its very bottom, or let it go. And this she has to do, and she cannot, as we have shown, proceed on any other than the inductive methods based entirely on the evidence of physical senses. (Blavatsky 1956, p. 78; Kalnitsky 2003, p. 162)

Recognizing the scientific method of research and the difficulties of its application to the abnormal phenomena, Blavatsky notes that in some cases, scientists, being not able to explain the phenomena, which are beyond their knowledge, searched a contact with the police. She writes that, for example, in Loudun, Morzine, Salem, and other locations in situations ''arising from inadequate understanding of psychic phenomena'', have intervened an organs of local police. And yet, she says, only in a few cases an objective investigation was carried out. More often the eyewitness accounts are not taken into account, recognize only an arguments of critics, because it is believed that they protect the established scientific principles. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 162)[9]

Against Ethical Materialism

The fruits of materialistic scientific worldview, reaching the sphere of practical interests of the people, shape their ethics. Blavatsky sees a direct logical connection between a faith in the soulless mechanistic universe and by the fact that is for her as a purely egoistic attitude to life. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 162)[10]

''The theoretical materialistic science recognizes nought but substance. Substance is its deity, its only God.'' We are told that practical materialism, on the other hand, concerns itself with nothing that does not lead directly or indirectly to personal benefit. ''Gold is its idol,'' justly observes Professor Butleroff (a spiritualist, yet one who could never accept even the elementary truths of occultism, for he ''cannot understand them''). – ''A lump of matter,'' he adds, ''the beloved substance of the theoretical materialists, is transformed into a lump of mud in the unclean hands of ethical materialism. And if the former gives but little importance to inner (psychic) states that are not perfectly demonstrated by their exterior states, the latter disregards entirely the inner states of life… The spiritual aspect of life has no meaning for practical materialism, everything being summed up for it in the external. The adoration of this external finds its principal and basic justification in the dogma of materialism, which has legalized it.'' (Blavatsky 1956, pp. 79-80; Kalnitsky 2003, pp. 162-163)[11]

Blavatsky clearly expresses her utter contempt for the values of ''practical materialists.''[12] She accuses the ideological foundations of theoretical materialism and its an ignoring of the spiritual dimension of reality. This aversion to the complete unspirituality of the materialism reflects her ''implicit gnostic ethical stance.'' A materialistic-physical and selfish interests are not compatible with the idealised world of the spirit and the transcendental purpose of mystical enlightenment. The practical materialists, even professing adherence to a moral code, do not cease to be by ethical materialists. In Kalnitsky's opinion, Blavatsky's ''radical gnostic dualism is allowing no room for compromise or alternative options.'' Thus, she considers the esoteric vision of reality the only viable alternative. (Kalnitsky 2003, pp. 163-164)

The science was seen in the West as the dominant category of knowledge and for the Theosophists it was not so an enemy, as a potential ally. However, the stereotypes of the materialistic thinking were one of the main obstacles to the esoteric representation of reality. Thus, at every opportunity Blavatsky tries to dispel what was for the Theosophy, as she considered, alien and wrong. It is meant to challenge to many of the basic principles that supported the materialistic basis of science. However, a neutral and objective approach of the science to the analysis of the facts seemed, for the Theosophists, trustworthy. Blavatsky's striving to apply this approach to the consideration of the paranormal and mystical phenomena pursued a goal: to achieve the legitimacy and public acceptance of the Theosophy. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 165)

A skeptical position, which was taken by Blavatsky in respect of the materialistic science, was motivated by her outrage over the ignore by the scientists the spiritual dimension of reality.[13] On the other hand, the assertion that spiritual truths can be proven from a scientific point of view, was a constant theme of Blavatsky's claims. The efforts of the Theosophists were focused on the legitimation of all forms of extrasensory and mystical experience. (Kalnitsky 2003, p. 165)[14]



According to professor Goodrick-Clarke, Blavatsky's Masters Morya and Kuthumi, and she herself often focused on modern science; more precisely, to the theories of Darwin, Geikie, Dawkins, and Fiske. (Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 223) In L. Fesenkova's opinion, Darwinism has been used as a scientific basis for atheism, and representatives of the opposite opinion, maintaining the identity of the role of these concepts, called to struggle against materialism and Darwinism. (Фесенкова 2003, p. 13) Peter Washington wrote: ''Labelled Professor Fiske after a prominent Darwinian academic, Madame Blavatsky's baboon (a scarecrow in her New York apartment) signalled her own posture in this debate as an adamant anti-Darwinian.'' (Washington 1995, p. 45)


Stanislav Grof wrote that Western materialistic science leaves no room for any type of spirituality, and that spirituality is incompatible with this scientific worldview. Modern consciousness research shows that spirituality is a natural and primordial dimension of the human psyche and the world order. (Grof 1998, Ch. 1)


''The perfections (siddhis) are attained through birth, drugs (oadhi), spells (mantras), austerity (tapas), or concentration (samadhi).'' (Radhakrishnan 2008a, p. 339) According to Grof, objective laboratory testing showed that an increase in parapsychic abilities is not permanent and standard aspect of the action of LSD. However, the states, leading to a variety of paranormal phenomena, and characterized by an unusually high percentage of ESP, are part of many mental states, which may occur under the influence of this drug. (Grof 1996)


Charles Webster Leadbeater spoke in his memoirs about several occult phenomena, which were made by Blavatsky. (Tillett 1986, pp. 138, 142)


Professor Olav Hammer claimed that Blavatsky often demonstrate how it is possible to combine the negative attitude to science with a positive. (Hammer 2003, p. 221)


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan wrote that in Indian psychology ''the psychic experiences, such as telepathy and clairvoyance, were considered to be neither abnormal nor miraculous.'' (Radhakrishnan 2008, p. 28)


''The concept of the unconscious ESP experimentally confirmed by a series of experiments, in which the super-sensible signals accepted (i.e. recorded by physiological indicators of organism) by the person, who not even aware of it… Experiments for the detection of precognition are the best proof of the existence of ESP, since any leak of the sensory information from the object that does not yet exist, can not be.'' (Козлов; Майков 2007, Ch. 3/9)


Grof wrote that the relationship between mind and matter are fundamentally different from that belief system, which imposes by the materialistic science. (Grof 1998, Ch. 4)


Arthur Conan Doyle reported that in 1876 at the police court was dealt case of the medium Henry Slade at the request of the professor Lancaster who found on seance allegedly signs of fraud. Doyle noted that for the adjudication judge used only the testimony of Lancaster and his friend, explaining it so: ''The decision should be based on the information corresponding to the known laws of nature.'' (Doyle 2008, Ch. 13)


Grof wrote that in Western science for the last three hundred years dominated a paradigm of Newton-Descartes. It portrays the universe as a gigantic machine, controlled by mechanical laws. Western science has raised matter to status of a primary source of the universe and has reduced life, consciousness, and mind to status of its accidental products. (Grof 1998, Ch. 6)


In 1871, professor Alexander Butlerov organized, ''to the consternation of many of his fellow scientists,'' the first scientific commission for the investigation of the mediumistic phenomena. (Сенкевич 2012, p. 171)


As Plato said, to believe that there is nothing beyond death would be a ''boon for the wicked.'' (Grof 1999, p. 135)


''The most pervasive notion in human history and prehistory (namely, the existence of some sort of spiritual dimension) was simply pronounced, with the thundering authority of science, put with a zeal that was inversely proportional to its believability, to be a massive collective hallucination.'' (Wilber 2000, p. 55)


Nevertheless, in professor Goodrick-Clarke's opinion, Blavatskian Theosophy had made to the Western esotericism a ''significant contribution,'' particularly in view of esoteric ideas in the context of modern science, including the theory of ''evolution, geology, anthropology, and racial theories.'' (Goodrick-Clarke 2008, p. 225)


Blavatsky H. P. 1956, ''Occult or Exact Science?'' in Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 7. Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House.

Doyle A. C. 2008, The History of Spiritualism, vol 1. ReadHowYouWant.

Goodrick-Clarke N. 2008, The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hammer O. 2003, Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age. Boston: Brill.

Kalnitsky A. 2003, The Theosophical Movement of the Nineteenth Century: The Legitimation of the Disputable and the Entrenchment of the Disreputable. Pretoria: University of South Africa.

Kuhn A. B. 1992, Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.

Grof S. 1996, Realms of the human unconscious: observations from LSD research. London: Souvenir Press.

Grof S. 1998, The Transpersonal Vision: The Healing Potential of Non-ordinary States of Consciousness. Sounds True.

Grof S. 1999, The Consciousness Revolution: A Transatlantic Dialogue. Element.

Radhakrishnan S. 2008, Indian Philosophy, vol. 1. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Radhakrishnan S. 2008a, Indian Philosophy, vol. 2. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Tillett G. J. 1986, Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934), a biographical study. Sydney: University of Sydney.

Washington P. 1995, Madame Blavatsky's baboon: a history of the mystics, mediums, and misfits who brought spiritualism to America. Schocken Books.

Wilber K. 2000, Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Shambhala.

Козлов В. В.; Майков В. В. 2007, Трансперсональный проект: психология, антропология, духовные традиции, vol 1. Москва.

Сенкевич А. Н. 2012, Елена Блаватская. Между светом и тьмой. Москва: Алгоритм.

Трефилов В. А. 1994, ''Надконфессиональная синкретическая религиозная философия'' in the textbook Основы религиоведения. Москва: Высшая школа.

Фесенкова Л. В. 2003, Теория эволюции и её отражение в культуре. Москва: ИФ РАН.

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