by Renée Tillotson
One of the greatest spiritual teachers in my life has been Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, born in Ukraine in 1831. A lioness of courage, she also possessed the most compassionate, benevolent heart. As we watch with awe the brave people of Ukraine in the face of Goliah-like aggression, I’d like to tell you a bit about this Ukrainian heroine and some of the impact she has had on the world and on me.
I first heard about Mme. Blavatsky when I was in college, and her life and writings have inspired me ever since. I love how she exemplified rigorous freedom of thought in every direction. And I love how her teaching helps me to understand that every human soul and indeed every speck of life in the universe is on a grand evolutionary journey through aeons of time to higher stages of consciousness.
Everything about her work in the world was expansive. Her broad and penetrating mind has impacted the world’s thinkers and history ever since.
From her earliest days, she recounted heroic tales to the nearby peasant children who gathered around her. Helena Blavatsky dedicated herself to the uplift of humanity. Her primary goal was to create “a nucleus of human brotherhood,” which the world sorely needs at this moment. Her teachings directly illuminated such impactful people as Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, and Albert Einstein.
Born into aristocracy, Helena was well-tutored and self-educated in her grandfather’s extensive library, fluent in many European languages. To enrich our understanding, she introduced Sanskrit terms, such as karma and mahatma, to the Western world, translated important ancient texts from the Pali language, and made frequent references in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. She was a storehouse of information on topics from chemistry to astronomy to philosophy to religious tracts to world mythology to sacred geometry. Her encyclopedic knowledge astonishes even those of us with access to the internet today.
HPB, as Mme. Blavatsky came to be known by her writing, approached life from the premise that the highest religion, philosophy, and science is TRUTH. Convinced that wise women and men from the earliest times have understood much of the deep workings of the universe, she set out alone to travel to ancient centers of wisdom to learn their archaic teachings.
Living without personal luxuries did not phase Helena. Once when she was about to board a ship from Havre, France to New York, USA, Helena met a distraught young mother of two little children who had been swindled out of the tickets her husband had managed to send her so that the family could join him in America. Without a moment’s hesitation, Helena exchanged her first-class ticket for 4 ‘steerage’ tickets for herself and the little family, consigning herself to weeks of miserable travel below deck in foul-smelling, unsanitary conditions.
So, here’s a daring woman traveling solo in the 1800s across deserts into Egypt, high into the Himalayas of Tibet, making long sea crossings to visit the mysterious statues of Easter Island and ancient temples in the Andes, and crossing America by covered wagon. She was even found injured and unconscious on a battlefield in Italy, where she was likely tending to the wounded of the volunteer army of General Giuseppe Garibaldi, the world-famous Italian advocate of universal human rights.
In her foresightful short story “Karmic Visions” written in 1888, we glimpse that “thousands of mangled corpses covered the ground, torn and cut to shreds by the murderous weapons devised by science and civilization…. Not a wife or mother, but is haunted in her dreams by the black and ominous storm-cloud that overhangs the whole of Europe. The cloud is approaching . . . It comes nearer and nearer . . . I foresee once more for earth the suffering I have already witnessed.” World War I started just 23 years after her death, followed by WW II.
As someone who saw “the utter uselessness of war and the blindness of those who glorify it or who use it as a means to achieve power over others”, Helena instead advocated each of us fighting our own internal battle against our egotism, selfishness, pride, and ignorance.
HPB asked us to be both rational and intuitive. She struggled mightily against every close-minded system of belief – religious, scientific or psychic – that sought to limit humanity’s access to great truths, or that demeaned the nobility of being human. This meant that she tirelessly took on every dogmatic religion that divides the world into sects and claims exclusive access to God. She instead espoused the Eternal Religion of the ages, taught by great teachers from every time and every land. Secondly, she argued ferociously against the materialistic science of her age that basically said that anything we can’t
see, hear or touch does not exist. Her writings foreshadowed the astro-physics and quantum-physics of our age, and Einstein kept her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, on his nightstand. Her expansive views of human evolution (18.75 million years of thinking humanity) dwarfed Darwin’s theories and continue to be substantiated, bit by bit, by modern science.
And on a third front, she set out to expose the fraud of the so-called “Spiritualists” of her time who dabbled dangerously in seances and other nefarious psychic practices with no beneficent intent. She instead pointed to a true spiritual life as being able to see into the essence of things so as to know our unity with one another and with the great universe itself.
Needless to say, fighting these battles for the freedom of the human mind, heart, and soul on three fronts won Helena many enemies, but she never backed down from sharing what she knew to be true and beneficial. Indeed, her extensive writings found their way into the hands of the American Transcendentalists, as well as the scientists, philosophers and religious leaders of her day up to the present.
Mme. Blavatsky always pointed beyond herself to her teachers: mahatmas recognized as “great souls” in India. As she
began sharing the ancient learning of India, she restored in its people a recognition of the majesty of their own heritage, which had been greatly disparaged under colonial rule for centuries. HPB became an important bridge between the East and West, between ancient and contemporary understanding. She passed on the teachings she had garnered in vast, world-traveling studies, under the name of Theosophy, translated as “divine wisdom”. In the late 1800s, Theosophical societies dotted the world, and tens of thousands of people were reading her writings.
Fearless and unstoppable, Mme. Blavatsky many times outlived every doctor’s dire diagnosis of her ill-health. By the end of an amazingly varied life of traveling, learning and then teaching, she used her remaining life-force energy to pen a legacy of universal wisdom: The Secret Doctrine, on the evolution of the cosmos and of humanity, and her small potent book of guidance on the spiritual path, The Voice of the Silence. Throughout this period of intense writing day and night in her late fifties, she entertained questions from seekers and students in her parlor long into the evening.
While her philosophical clarity has done much to deepen my understanding of the universe, Helena has most profoundly touched me with her compassion and courage. Through her writing and her life’s example, she taught the bodhisattva path, the path of renunciation. Like Christ and Buddha, she courageously lived for others. She counted her own suffering as nothing in the effort to raise up the heart-mind of the human race.
Let thy Soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun. Let not the fierce Sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye. But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain; nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.
– The Voice of the Silence by Helena Blavatsky
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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