Esoteric Buddhism is a book originally published in 1883 in London; it was compiled by a member of the Theosophical Society, A. P. Sinnett. It was one of the first books written for the purpose of explaining theosophy to the general public, and was "made up of the authors correspondence with an Indian mystic." This is the most significant theosophical work of the author. According to Goodrick-Clarke, it "disseminated the basic teachings of Theosophy in its new Asian cast."
1. From history of compilation
Through the mediation of Blavatsky Sinnett began a correspondence in 1880 with the two adepts, who sponsored the Theosophical Society, the mahatmas Kuthumi and Morya. Hammer noted that between 1880 and 1884 Sinnett received from the mahatmas circa one hundred twenty letters with explanation of "occult cosmology". From this material, he attempted to formulate in his new book "the basis of a revised theosophy." By foundation of the book became "Cosmological notes" received from the Mahatma Morya together with a long series of answers to questions sent by mahatma Kuthumi during the summer of 1882. Subba Row received from his Master mahatma Morya the instruction to provide assistance to Sinnett in his work on the book, but, according to the memoirs of the author, he did it reluctantly, and what little help. The main help came from the mahatmas through Blavatsky in the form of answers to the questions referred to her by the author.
2. Contents of the book
The World Periods.
The Doctrine Reviewed.
The Planetary Chain.
The Constitution of Man.
The Progress of Humanity.
The Human Tide-Wave.
In preface to the original edition author says that exoteric Buddhism "has remained in closer union with the esoteric doctrine" than any other world religion. Thus, specification of the "inner knowledge" addressed to modern readers will be connected with the familiar features of the Buddhist teaching. Sinnett argues that esoteric teaching "be most conveniently studied in its Buddhist aspect."
2.1. Contents of the book Esoteric teachers
At the beginning of the first chapter the author makes the following statement:
"I am bringing to my readers knowledge which I have obtained by favour rather than by effort. It will not be found the less valuable on that account; I venture, on the contrary, to declare that it will be found of incalculably greater value, easily as I have obtained it, than any results in a similar direction which I could possibly have procured by ordinary methods of research."
On the question of the whereabouts of his teachers Sinnett says that for a long time in Tibet there is a "certain secret region," hitherto unknown and inaccessible to ordinary people and for those living in the surrounding mountains as well as for visitors, "in which adepts have always congregated. But the country generally was not in Buddhas time, as it has since become, the chosen habitation of the great brotherhood. Much more than they are at present, were the Mahatmas in former times, distributed about the world." But the development of civilization has led to the fact that many occultists gathered in Tibet. The system of rules and laws for them has been developed in the 14th century by Tsong-ka-pa.
2.2. Contents of the book The constitution of man
The author argues that "a complete, or perfect man" is made up of seven elements:
Spiritual Soul Buddhi.
Animal Soul Kāma Rūpa.
Vitality Prana, or Jiva.
Astral Body Linga Sharira.
Human Soul Manas.
The Physical Body Rūpa.
2.3. Contents of the book The world periods
A French philosopher Rene Guenon stated that the central place of the Theosophical doctrine proceed to Devachan, a kind of theosophical version of heaven." The analogy should not be carried overly; Sinnett argues that Devachan is a state, not a place. Then these four components divide themselves, the law of karma specifies that it will happen to them - different souls receive different devachanic experience. Only after a long stay in this state, the soul reincarnates. New incarnations on the earth plane are actually rather rare, "but re-birth in less than fifteen hundred years is spoken of as almost impossible."
Sinnett says that the mediums contact with the inhabitants of Devachan, but very rare, and in this time occurs the following:
"The spirit of the sensitive, getting odylized, so to say, by the aura of the spirit in the Devachan, becomes for a few minutes that departed personality, and writes in the handwriting of the latter, in his language and in his thoughts, as they were during his lifetime. The two spirits become blended in one, and the preponderance of one over the other during such phenomena determines the preponderance of personality in the characteristic exhibited. Thus it may incidentally be observed, what is called rapport, is, in plain fact, an identity of molecular vibration between the astral part of the incarnate medium and the astral part of the disincarnate personality."
2.4. Contents of the book Occult philosophy
Lavoie noted that in Sinnetts book there are the two major questions – "the structure of the universe and spiritual evolution." He selected "some key terms" in the book.
Avitchi is a state "of punishment reached only in exceptional cases and by exceptional natures." The usual man will work his karma out in a new incarnation. Devachan is a state of greatest bliss where "the levels of intensity and the duration of stay are based on the karma one produces in his/her lifetime." Eighth sphere is a planet associated with our planetary chain that is more materialistic than the earth. The Soul in the mean of the fifth round "can be sent to the eighth sphere for annihilation if it has developed a positive attraction to materialism and a repulsion of spirituality." Kama loca is "an unconscious state of gestation. It is here that the fourth principle the animal soul is separated from the others." The fourth component and some of the fifth component stays in Kama loca while "the rest of the principles continue on in their spiritual evolution." The Egos duration in Kama loca can last from few moments to years. Manvantara is a period of activity or manifestation. There are three different manvantaras: 1) the mahamanvantara, 2) the solar manvantara, 3) the minor manvantara. Monad is upper triad of the seven principles of man Atma-Buddhi-Manas. Pralaya is a state of nonbeing. "Pralaya is described by Sinnett as a type of sleep, rest, or a time of inactivity." There are three different pralayas: 1) the mahapralaya, 2) the solar pralaya, 3) the minor pralaya. Round is a full turnover via the seven globes. "During each round there is a maximum of 120 incarnations for each monad in each race with the average of 8.000 years between incarnations."
Man begins as a monad and dwells in seven major races on each of the seven planets. Each race takes circa one million years. Only 12.000 of those will be used for objective existence on the planets. The rest of that time will be used mainly in a subjective existence on the devachanic plane. "This meant that out of one million years – 988.000 years are spent reaping the effects of karma." A branch race is one of seven belonging to a subrace, itself one of seven belonging to a main race. "If each monad in each race incarnates once, the total number of incarnations in each globe would be 343 7 branch races x 7 subraces x 7 root races; however, each monad incarnates typically at a minimum of two times and some even more frequently." In Mahatma Letters it is said that "one life in each of the seven root-races; seven lives in each of the 49 sub-races – or 7 x 7 x 7 = 343 and add 7 more. And then a series of lives in offshoot and branchlet races; making the total incarnations of man in each station or planet 777."
2.5. Contents of the book Theosophical Buddha
The ninth chapter of Sinnetts book called "Buddha". It begins with the words:
"The historical Buddha, as known to the custodians of the esoteric doctrine, is a personage whose birth is not invested with the quaint marvels popular story has crowded round it. Nor was his progress to adeptship traced by the literal occurrence of the supernatural struggles depicted in symbolic legend. On the other hand, the incarnation, which may outwardly be described as the birth of Buddha, is certainly not regarded by occult science as an event like any other birth, nor the spiritual development through which Buddha passed during his earth-life a mere process of intellectual evolution, like the mental history of any other philosopher. The mistake which ordinary European writers make in dealing with a problem of this sort lies in their inclination to treat exoteric legend either as a record of a miracle about which no more need be said, or as pure myth, putting merely a fantastic decoration on a remarkable life."
According to Lopez, author of Esoteric Buddhism "has a broader view of the Buddha" than that of Western Buddhologists and scholars of Oriental studies. Sinnett stated that the Buddha is simply one of a row "of adepts who have appeared over the course of the centuries." Buddhas next incarnation happened approximately sixty years after his death. He appeared as Shankara, the well-known Vedantic philosopher. Sinnett noted that for the uninitiated it is known that date of Shankaras birth is one thousand years after Buddhas death, and that he was hostile to Buddhism. Sinnett wrote that the Buddha came as Shankara "to fill up some gaps and repair certain errors in his own previous teaching." The Buddha had departed "from the practice of earlier adepts by opening the path" to adeptship to men of all castes. "Although well-intentioned, this led" to a deterioration of occult knowledge when it was penetrated into ignominious hands. Sinnett wrote that to further appeared a need "to take no candidates except from the class which, on the whole, by reason of its hereditary advantages, is likely to be the best nursery of fit candidates." Sinnett claimed that the Buddhas next incarnation was as the great Tibetan adept reformer of the 14th century Tsong-ka-pa.
2.6. Contents of the book Against blind faith
In the tenth chapter Sinnett expresses as well as the Mahatmas his very negative attitude to religiosity of any kind. He argues:
"Nothing can produce more disastrous effects on human progress, as regards the destiny of individuals, than the very prevalent notion that one religion followed out in a pious spirit, is as good as another, and that if such and such doctrines are perhaps absurd when you look into them, the great majority of good people will never think of their absurdity, but will recite them in a blamelessly devoted attitude of mind."
The presence of a secret or esoteric teaching in Buddhism is "not accepted by orthodox Buddhist." For example, Rhys Davids wrote:
"In this connection, I shall doubtless be expected to say a few words on Theosophy, if only because one of the books giving an account of that very curious and widely spread movement has been called Esoteric Buddhism. It has always been a point of wonder to me why the author should have chosen this particular title for his treatise. For if there is anything that can be said with absolute certainty about the book it is, that it is not esoteric, and not Buddhism. The original Buddhism was the very contrary of esoteric."
Guenons opinion on the subject was the same. He wrote that never was genuine "esoteric Buddhism." The ancient Buddhism was substantially an exoteric teaching "serving as theoretical support for a social movement with egalitarian tendencies." According to Guenon, Sinnett, who "at the beginning probably contributed more than anybody else to make Theosophism known in Europe, was genuinely fooled by all of Mme Blavatskys tricks."
Some Theosophists did not share the views presented by Sinnett in his new work; for example, according to Kingsford, this book was very distant from the esoteric, and the main mistake of the author was that he thought about the symbols as reality.
4. New editions and translations
After its first publication in 1883 the book was reprinted several times: in the same 1883 came 2nd edition, in 1885 – 5th, 1898 – 8th. This work has been translated into several European languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian.