Search results for ‘svabhavat’

Why the Form Svabhavat in Theosophical Writings

February 23rd, 2012 — 05:50 am

From it first use in Isis Unveiled (1877), through its use in some Mahatma letters (1882), to its use in The Secret Doctrine (1888), we find the form svabhavat, with final “t” (disregarding diacritics, which vary, and the alternate transliteration “w” for “v”), rather than svabhava. This has long been a puzzle. It was finally solved by Daniel Caldwell on Oct. 13, 2009, by finding the source from which HPB had copied this word, where it was declined in the ablative case, svabhāvāt. This important discovery has not yet been written up, so it has not yet become widely known. This should be done. I have received permission from Daniel to do so, and to quote his email pertaining to it. For the historical record, here is his email that made known his discovery, sent to myself and some others:

—– Original Message —–

From: Daniel Caldwell

Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 12:47 PM

Subject: Why the final “t” in Svabhavat??

On p. 99 of BLAVATSKY’S SECRET BOOKS, David asked the question:

Why the final “t” in Svabhavat?

I would hazard the guess that HPB when writing ISIS UNVEILED simply took this word, this spelling from Max Muller’s book CHIPS FROM A GERMAN WORKSHOP, Vol. 1, p. 281 or from the article as found in this book which I believe had been previously published elsewhere.

See this spelling in Muller’s work at:

This is from the 1867 edition of this book which predates the publication of ISIS UNVEILED.



Here is my reply to it:


—– Original Message —–

From: David Reigle

Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 2:25 PM

Subject: Re: Why the final “t” in Svabhavat?? Mystery solved at last!

Dear Daniel,

At long last, you have solved the mystery of the final “t” in Svabhavat. I think there can be no doubt that this was HPB’s source for this spelling. The word swabhavat does not occur in Brian Hodgson’s Essays. Muller here extrapolated by giving it in the ablative case. The occurrences in Isis Unveiled appear to have all come from Muller and not directly from Hodgson, shown even by the change of Hodgson’s “w” to Muller’s “v”. It is easy to see how HPB could have understood Muller’s phrase, “and that this substance exists by itself (svabhavat),” to mean that svabhavat is the basic word in question, and not the word in its ablative declension. This would probably not be clear to any reader of Muller’s work who does not know Sanskrit.

This is a major find. Many thanks!

Best wishes,



Here is what Daniel found in Max Muller’s book (Chips from a German Workshop, vol. I: Essays on the Science of Religion, London, 1867, p. 281; 2nd ed., 1868, p. 282. This quotation is from Chapter XI, “The Meaning of Nirvana,” written in 1857). Muller, who himself had obviously drawn this information from Brian H. Hodgson’s writings, wrote:

“There is the school of the Svâbhâvikas, which still exists in Nepal. The Svâbhâvikas maintain that nothing exists but nature, or rather substance, and that this substance exists by itself (svabhâvât), without a Creator or a Ruler. It exists, however, under two forms: in the state of Pravritti, as active, or in the state of Nirvritti, as passive. Human beings, who, like everything else, exist svabhâvât, ‘by themselves,’ are supposed to be capable of arriving at Nirvritti, or passiveness, which is nearly synonymous with Nirvana.”

Compare what HPB wrote in Isis Unveiled (vol. 2, p. 264), later quoted in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 3):

“The Svâbhâvikas, or philosophers of the oldest school of Buddhism (which still exists in Nepaul), speculate only upon the active condition of this ‘Essence,’ which they call Svabhâvât, and deem it foolish to theorize upon the abstract and ‘unknowable’ power in its passive condition.”

In Isis Unveiled, the diacritics are exactly like in Muller’s book, svabhâvât. This is also true for the other two occurrences of svabhâvât in Isis Unveiled (vol. 1, p. 292, vol. 2, p. 266). When it was copied in The Secret Doctrine, the diacritics shifted, svâbhâvat.

Compare also what HPB wrote in an article:

“. . . of the Svâbhâvikas. ‘Nothing exists in the Universe but Substance—or Nature,’ say the latter. ‘This Substance exists by, and through itself (Svabhavat) having never been either created or had a Creator.'” (H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 13, p. 309)

These close correspondences in wording leave no doubt that she was drawing from what Max Muller wrote in this book. Muller had put svabhâva in the ablative case, svabhâvât, in order to show the meaning “by itself”; more literally, “from or due to its inherent nature.” Not knowing Sanskrit, HPB did not catch this, and simply quoted the word svabhâvât as what this “Essence” is called. This word, svabhâva, with the ablative case ending, svabhâvât, although with shift of diacritics, svâbhâvat, was then used seven times in the stanzas she quoted from the Book of Dzyan. Obviously just svabhâva was intended. That solves the longstanding mystery of the final “t” on svabhâvât/svâbhâvat in the Theosophical writings.

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February 19th, 2012 — 06:09 pm

The word Svâbhâvat occurs seven times in the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. It is a fundamental idea in the teachings of the Secret Doctrine, and plays a central role in cosmogenesis. This term has given rise to two major problems: (1) its form, ending with “t”; and (2) its meaning, given as “essence.”

Earlier discussion of these problems may be found in the third and fourth Book of Dzyan Research Reports, “Technical Terms in Stanza II,” January 1997 (, and “The Doctrine of Svabhāva or Svabhāvatā and the Questions of Anātman and Śūnyatā,” June 1997 ( Both of these were reprinted in the 1999 book, Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research (

The first of these two problems was finally solved on Oct. 13, 2009, by Daniel Caldwell, who found the source from where Blavatsky had copied this spelling, ending with “t”. It was a book by F. Max Muller, who had used the word svabhāva as declined in the ablative case, svabhāvāt. This will be further described here in this blog. A solution had been given several decades ago by Gottfried de Purucker, taking svabhavat as a present participle, but this did not prove to be correct. A suggestion made by myself, that the word may be svabhāvatā, also did not prove to be correct.

The second of these two problems remains. It pertains to the meaning of this term and its usage in known sources, especially its significance in Buddhist texts. The sources available in Blavatsky’s time, that she and everyone else writing at that time necessarily drew upon, were not very accurate. This question will be discussed in this blog.

A compilation of references to the term svabhāva in Theosophical writings was prepared by Jacques Mahnich. It is titled, Studies on Svâbhâvat. It allows us to quickly see in one place how this term was used throughout, and will be an important reference source for our research.

David Reigle



To read the posts, select Svâbhâvat in the Categories on the right side of the home page

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Svâbhâvat, Swâbhâvat or Svâbhâva

February 18th, 2012 — 12:27 am

Svâbhâvat, Swâbhâvat, or Svâbhâva, according to H.P.B. in her Secret Doctrine may deserve the same type of study that previously done for Fohat. i.e. where does it appears, with what meaning(s), according to “conventional theosophy”.
A document was started and uploaded for the sake of collecting inputs.

According to H.P.B. in her Secret Doctrine :

a) Spelling : 3 different spellings are found

  • svâbhâvat : SD – Vol I,pp.3,28,31,46,52,53,60,61,85,98,635, Vol II, p.115
  • swâbhâvat : SD – Vol I, pp.83,84,661,
  • svâbhâva : SD – Vol I, pp.571

b) What is svâbhâvat/swâbhâvat/svâbhâva :

  • the active condition of the one infinite and unknown Essence which exists from all eternity (DS – I. p.3)
  • the secondary stage of the Prabhavapyaya (DS – I. p.46)
  • the plastic essence that fills the universe, the root of all things (DS – I. p.61)
  • the Buddhistic concrete aspect of the abstraction called in Hindu philosophy Mulaprakriti (DS – I. p.61)
  • In the Ekasloka-Shastra of Nagarjuna (the Lung-shu of China) called by the Chinese the Yih-shu-lu-kia-lun, it is said that the original word of Yeu is “Being” or “Subhava,” “the Substance giving substance to itself,” also explained by him as meaning ” without action and with action,” “the nature which has no nature of its own.” . Subhava, from which svâbhâvat,is composed of two words: Su “fair,” “handsome,” “good”; Sva, “self”; and bhava, “being” or “states of being.” (DS – I. p.61)
  • svâbhâvat is the mystic Essence, the plastic root of physical Nature — “Numbers” when manifested (DS – I. p.98)
  • The name is of Buddhist use and a Synonym for the four-fold Anima Mundi (DS – I. p.98)
  • Occultists identify it with “FATHER-MOTHER” on the mystic plane (DS – I. p.98)
  • the mutable radiance of the Immutable Darkness unconscious in Eternity (DS – I. p.635)

c) What does svâbhâvat do :It emanates the noumenon of matter (DS – I. p.84)

  • Gods, Men, Gandharvas, Pisachas, Asuras, Rakshasas, all have been created by svâbhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature) (DS – I. p.571)
  • It passes, at every new rebirth of Kosmos, from an inactive state into one of intense activity; that it differentiates, and then begins its work through that differentiation. This work is KARMA. (DS – I. p.635)
  • Everything has come out of Akasa (or svâbhâvat on our earth) in obedience to a law of motion inherent in it (DS – I. p.635)

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Svābhāvat, svabhāvāt, and svabhāva

February 17th, 2012 — 04:56 pm

After standing for more than 120 years, the problem of the word svābhāvat was solved by Daniel Caldwell, and he did this without knowing Sanskrit. Ironically, it had entered The Secret Doctrine because of HPB not knowing Sanskrit. As Daniel found (on Oct. 13, 2009), HPB had copied svābhāvat from F. Max Muller, who had used it as declined in the ablative case: svabhāvāt. The word itself, undeclined, is svabhāva. This is obviously what HPB intended, especially in its seven occurrences in the stanzas that she published from the Book of Dzyan.

The word svabhāva means “inherent nature.” In its everyday use, it refers to things such as heat being the inherent nature of fire. But it has come to be used as a technical term in Indian philosophy, for something that does not change.

So there remained the problem of why this word would be used in the Book of Dzyan, since the idea of svabhāva as an unchanging essence has long been rejected in Buddhism. Yet the Mahatma K.H. recommended to A. O. Hume that he study the doctrines of the Nepalese Svābhāvikas. This school turned out not to exist. But the Mahatma’s reference to it, as “the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India,” could well refer to the once dominant Sarvāstivāda school. In recent years accurate information about this long defunct school has emerged, thanks above all to the researches of K. L. Dhammajoti. His book, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, may well provide a satisfactory answer to this problem.

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The Book of Dzyan: Some Themes Related to Chinese Traditional Religion

October 24th, 2023 — 10:04 pm

1. Introduction on Shenism

In a previous article, On the Etymology of the Term Fohat, I have identified with reasonable certainty the syllable “fo” in the term “fohat”. H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) mentions in an editorial note to an article in The Theosophist entitled Theosophy and the Avesta (see also CW IV, 242-243), a number of terms from Chinese traditional religion and their corresponding principles as part of the “septenary division of man”. In the same note she refers to the 1847 work A Dissertation on the Theology ofthe Chinese by Walter Henry Medhurst (1796-1857)1, where the Chinese syllable 魄 (pò) was found2, corresponding to the syllable “fo” of The Secret Doctrine (SD). Further research exposed quite a few interesting connections between the text of the stanzas of volume one of the SD, and elements of Chinese Traditional Religion and the literature connected with it, which I will describe in the following paragraphs of this article.

Chinese traditional religion or Chinese folk religion is usually defined as the syncretic forms of the three great religions of China, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, and the veneration of the shén and the ancestors. All of these components occur in Chinese traditional religion, mixed in different proportions, varying with time in different social settings. This multidimensional and dynamic religious complex was first called “shenism” by the anthropologist Allan J.A. Elliott in his 1955 work Chinese spirit-medium cults in Singapore.3

Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, several forms of divination and astrology, and also several forms of martial arts and their derivatives are connected to shenism, to various degrees. Japanese Shinto has strong parallels with shenism, and the syllable shin in the word shinto (神道, Chin. shén dào, the way of the shén) is cognate with shén (神). The shén (神) themselves are called kami (神, the same character) in Japanese. According to scholars in the field, the veneration of the shén is very ancient, however it would have evolved particularly strong during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Today, shenism is still very popular in China and according to some researchers it is the most important religion in mainland China, with more than a quarter of the Chinese population being considered shenist. That would amount to more than 375 million people.4

2. The Divine Breath

Medhurst explores in his dissertation the meaning of the word shîn (神, pīnyīn: shén, spirit), summing up different occurrences of this word in Chinese dictionaries and classical works. To theosophists, the shén are most easily explained as the dhyan chohans in the SD. The same term dhyan chohans is used for the seven great lords of meditation as well as for the hierarchies of beings under their rule, while similarly the word shén is also used to denote both of these in the context of Chinese religion.

On p. 7 of his dissertation, Medhurst translates and paraphrases several definitions from the famous Kāng Xī dictionary (康熙, 1716 CE) appearing under shîn (神, shén, spirit), one of which explains the relations between shîn (shén), kweì (guǐ), hwăn (hún), pĭh (HPB’s Pho, 魄, pò), the life breath k’he (qí, 祇), and the fundamental concepts of 隂 (yīn) and 陽 (yáng)5:

In the next definition of Shîn, given in the Dictionary, we meet with 鬼神 kweì shîn, under which the writer says, 陽魂爲神隂魄爲鬼 the soul of the male or superior principle of nature [陽, yáng] is called shîn, and the anima of the female or inferior principle of nature [隂, yīn] is called kweì; again, lest we should suppose that anything really divine is intended by the hwăn and pĭh, he says 氣之伸者爲神屈者爲鬼 the expanding quality of the breath or spirit of nature [祇, qí] is the shîn, and its contracting quality the kw.

We could compare this text to śloka 10 and 11 of stanza III (SD I, 83):



The “breath of fire” in this comparison corresponds to shîn and the “breath of the mother” correpsonds to kweì. The “fire”, or “father”, matches the “superior principle of nature” (yáng) and the mother the “inferior principle of nature” (yīn). Father-Mother is the unity of yīn and yáng. This is a thought that we might have had when we first read these ślokas, but here we have it layed out for us. Mencius calls the “breath or spirit of nature” qí, which is generally known from traditional Chinese medicine and other fields of interest, often spelled “chi” or “ki”. The soul of the male or superior principle of nature (yáng) is actually called hún in Medhurst’s text, and the anima of the female or inferior principle of nature (yīn) is called pò. The hún and pò are called shén and guǐ since their “qualities” of expanding and contracting are shén and guǐ respectively.

In śloka 11 the sons expand and contract, being under the influence of the qualities of the breath (qí). The sons are the (seven) elements, but they have (seven) corresponding powers or intelligences. Elsewhere in the SD, the sons are called the sons of fohat, who are also his brothers. Fohat is himself one of the sons (powers), or the “synthesis” of these powers. (SD I, 293) The sons expand and contract “through their own selves and hearts”, because they are forces which are intrinsically of expanding (shén) or contracting (guǐ) quality. As we know, in the summary to the first part of the first volume of the SD (I, 269-299), they are described as six primary forces, or śakti’s, and as the six hierarchies of dhyan chohans (dhyāni buddhas).

On p. 5 Medhurst continues to cite from the Kāng Xī dictionary:

[…] for 申卽引也 to expand […] means to lead forth; for 天主降氣以感萬物 heaven manages or directs the sending down of the k’he or breath of nature to influence all things, 故言引出萬物 therefore it is said, lead forth all things. […] It is Heaven that sends down its breath or spirit to influence or lead forth all things, and Shîn is the spirit thus employed.

We may compare these passages to śloka 12 (SD I, 85):


On p. 15 in Medhurst’s dissertation we find also the element of the “web”, here a “net”, spun between heaven and earth, or spirit and matter in the Book of Dzyan:

Betwixt heaven and earth there is nothing so great as this breath of nature; that which enters into every fibre and atom is the male and female principle of nature, and that which incloses heaven and earth as in a net, is this male and female principle of nature.

This fragment is, according to Medhurst, a commentary to a quote from Confucius (孔子, Kǒng Zǐ, 551-479 BCE), but I have as yet not been able to find original texts of the quote or its commentary. I think however, that the correspondence with the already cited ślokas 10 and 11 is evident.

3. Father-Mother

In the Shū jīng (書經), the Book of Documents, originally written before or at the beginning of the Han dynasty, we find again the theme of heaven and earth as the basis of all subsequent phenomena. In Legge’s 1879 translation in volume 3 of the Sacred Books of the East series (p. 125), we find for example about the emperor:

Heaven and earth is the parent of all creatures; and of all creatures man is the most highly endowed. The sincerely intelligent (among men) becomes the great sovereign; and the great sovereign is the parent of the people.

In the first phrase of this quotation we read the word “parent”, a word we know is used in the first śloka of the Book of Dzyan as it is presented in the SD. Interestingly, in the English sentence by Legge, heaven and earth are plural, but are translated as singular. We have here an example of “heaven-earth”, a nominal compound in the Chinese source text, translated by Legge as a single noun. The word parent however, is also a nominal compound in the source text, namely 父母 (fù mǔ), which is litterally “father-mother”.

At the time HPB wrote the SD, there was at least one translation which rendered fù mǔ literally as father-mother. In the 1770 French translation by sinologists Joseph de Guignes and Antoine Gaubil (Le chou-king, un des livres sacrés des Chinois, p. 150), the same quotation from Confucius is as follows:

Le Ciel & la terre ſont le pere & le mere de toutes choſes. L’homme, entre toutes ces choſes, eſt le ſeul qui ait un raiſon capable de diſcerner; mais un Roi doit l’emporter par ſa droiture & pas ſon diſscernement; il eſt maître des hommes, il eſt leur pere & leur mere.

Heaven and earth are the father and mother of all things. Man, among all these things, is the only one who has a rationality capable of discerning; but a King must prevail by his righteousness and not his discernment; he is master of men, he is their father and their mother. [tr. IdB]

Much later, that is after the SD was written, sinologist William Edward Soothill actually uses the compound father-mother in his English translation (1913, The Three Religions of China, p.196):

Heaven and earth are the father-mother of all creatures, and of all creatures men are the most intelligent. The sincere, wise, and understanding among them becomes the great sovereign, and the great sovereign is the father-mother of the people.

Without unambiguously identifying the source of HPB’s use of father-mother in śloka 10 and 11 of stanza III and other places, we can imagine that this characteristic grammatical feature of the Book of Dzyan as given by HPB might be based upon the Chinese nominal compound.

4. Being is Non-Being

One of the ideas we come across in the Book of Dzyan is the “identity of opposites”, in particular when it comes to Being and Non-Being. HPB herself calls it a paradox or a “contradiction in terms”. We find it in several places in the first stanza, for example in SD I, 42:


We find HPB’s commentary on 6 in SD I, 43 under (c):

(c) By “that which is and yet is not” is meant the Great Breath itself, which we can only speak of as absolute existence, but cannot picture to our imagination as any form of existence that we can distinguish from Non-existence.

In SD I, 44 we find:


The commentary on 7 we find in SD I, 45 under (b) (the page header of p. 45 is “BEING AND NON-BEING”):

(b) The idea of Eternal Non-Being, which is the One Being, will appear a paradox to anyone who does not remember that we limit our ideas of being to our present consciousness of existence; […] In our case the One Being is the noumenon of all the noumena which we know must underlie phenomena, and give them whatever shadow of reality they possess, but which we have not the senses or the intellect to cognize at present.

In SD I, 47 paramārthasatya (absolute truth) and saṃvṛttisatya (relative truth) are contrasted:

9. […] Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness […]

This idea of the “identity of opposites” is also found in Lao Tze’s well-known classic Tao Te Ching (道德经, dào dé jīng). In the Introductory to the SD (I, xxv), the “Tao-te-King” is mentioned, and its 1842 translation into French by Stanislas Julien. This translation was the first translation of the Tao Te Ching into a Western language, and an outstanding piece of scholarly work. The idea of identity of opposites is presented in chapters I and II of the Tao Te Ching: in chapter I the concept of Tao itself is explained, while in chapter II the unity of opposites is discussed. In chapter II we find in Julien’s text:


C’est pourquoi l’être et le non-être naissent l’un de l’autre.

That is why being and non-being are born from each other. [tr. IdB]

An example of a more modern English translation of the same passage would be that of John C.H. Wu (1961):

Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other.

The terms hidden and manifest may be closer to the SD, but they are not literal translations.

On p. 8 in Julien, in the comments of the later editors, we find in “edition B” from the Song era:

The non-being produces the being; the being produces the non-being. These beings, not being able to subsist eternally, end by returning to the non-being. [tr. IdB]

We can see here, that being and non-being are described as co-originated and interdependent. They create, complement and shape each other. We may associate this with yin and yang as complementary factors in the universe. The Book of Dzyan however goes one step further, in saying that they are identical, or that they are one and the same noumenon.

A different source of the SD on this topic is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik. In SD II, 449n we find:

* The Hegelian doctrine, which identifies Absolute Being or “Be-ness” with “non-Being,” and represents the Universe as an eternal becoming, is identical with the Vedanta philosophy.

and in SD I, 16 we find a similar sentence:

The ABSOLUTE; the Parabrahm of the Vedantins or the one Reality, SAT, which is, as Hegel says, both Absolute Being and Non-Being.

and in SD II, 490:

A thing can only exist through its opposite — Hegel teaches us […]

For comparison: in Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik we find for example in Vol. I p. 12:

Der Anfang enthält alſo beydes, Seyn und Nichts; iſt die Einheit von Seyn und Nichts; — oder iſt Nichtseyn, das zugleich Seyn, und Seyn, das zugleich Nichtseyn iſt.

The beginning therefore contains both, Being and Nothing; is the Unity of Being and Nothing; — or is Non-Being, which is at the same time Being, and Being, which is at the same time Non-Being. [tr. IdB]

and on Becoming out of Non-Being and Being, Vol. I. p. 23:

Ihre Wahrheit iſt also dieſe Bewegung des unmittelbaren Verſchwindens des einen in dem andern; das Werden;

Its truth is therefore this movement of the immediate disappearance of the one in the other; the becoming; [tr. IdB]

Here it is clear that there is an actual identity of opposites, which is perhaps a deeper level of insight which may be associated with the so-called yin and yang symbol. The black and white dots may be thought of as representing this idea. The movement suggested by the two halves may represent the eternal becoming, which is called Motion in the text of the SD, and is symbolised in the Book of Dzyan as the Great, or Divine, Breath.

5. The Great Extreme

Searching the SD for Chinese philosophy and related topics, we find Confucius and confucianism mentioned twenty-three times in volumes I and II. In these locations, we come across the “Great Extreme” several times. It is a term from neo-confucianism, but connected to the ancient philosophy of the I-Ching (易經, yì jīng), the Book of Changes. It signifies the “the commencement ‘of changes’ (transmigrations)”. (SD I, 440) Its character representation is 太極 (tài jí). Different Western scholars have used different translations of his term, ranging from “le grand faîte”, “magnus terminus”, “la grande limite” (Guillaume Pauthier), “le grand terme” (Joseph Prémare), “the Grand Terminus” (James Legge), to “the Great Extreme”, a term used by Medhurst in his already mentioned Dissertation.

HPB not only had read Medhurst’s Dissertation on this topic, but also Legge’s well-known translation of the I-Ching with its appendices. This translation was first published in 1882 as volume 16 in Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series. For instance, on p. 373 as part of Legge’s translation of the Xì Cí (繫辭) I.11, we find:

70. Therefore in (the system of) the Yî there is the Grand Terminus, which produced the two elementary Forms. Those two Forms produced the Four emblematic Symbols, which again produced the eight Trigrams.

This fragment is rendered in SD I, 440. The Yî (易, yì) is of course the I-Ching, and the two elementary forms are symbolised there by the straight and broken lines of the system of the I-Ching, which is its representation of the cosmos. With two basic lines, 26=64 hexagrams are formed, each one characterising a stage in a model process of evolution.

In a different appendix to the I-Ching, the Xù Guà (序卦), in paragraph 1 (tr. Legge, appendix VI, p. 433), we find:

When there were heaven and earth, then afterwards all things were produced. What fills up (the space) between heaven and earth are (those) all things. Hence (Qian [hexagram I, 天, qián, heaven] and Kun [hexagram II, 坤, kūn, earth]) are followed by Zhun [hexagram III, 屯, tún, sprouting].

So, from the Great Extreme, heaven and earth are produced, the “two elementary forms”, “the twofold” (兩儀, liǎng yí), which serves as a basis for all other productions.6

Just for comparison, we can read again part of stanza III śloka 10 (SD I, 83):


In SD II, 553, the Great Extreme (太極, tài jí) is identified as the “concealed unity of the secret doctrine”, and compared to parabrahman, ein-sof and equivalent concepts from different cultural backgrounds. These are however limitless, noumenal instances, while the neo-confucian philosophers generally distinguish between the Great Extreme and different varieties of infinity. The term “extreme” itself signifies a limit, and the Great Extreme, or Terminus, is defined as an upper limit of the manifested cosmos. Zhū Xī (朱熹, 1130-1200), one of the most important thinkers among the “Sung sages”, places another concept next to the Great Extreme, namely 無極 (wú jí), literally “without boundary”. We can think of it as not only without spatial boundary, but also without temporal limitations. Zhū Xī inserts between these two characters the particle 而 (ér, and) to form a new concept, 無極而太極, wú jí ér tài jí, which is symbolised by a circle. The concepts of yīn and yáng are then defined as its movement 陽 yáng and its retraction 陰 yīn. Perhaps we could think of the Great Extreme as the protogonos or Second Logos, and the Being-without-limits (wú jí) as the concealed Lord, the First Logos of the secret doctrine. Alternatively we could think of wú jí ér tài jí, the Being-with-and-without-limits, as parabrahman, represented as the “immaculate white disk within a dull black ground” in the archaic manuscript in SD I, 1.

6. Alchemy and the Human Soul

Stevan Harrell, in the opening sentences of his article The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion, states that7:

The concept of “soul” (ling-hun) [灵魂, líng hún] is central to the study of Chinese folk religion for at least three reasons. First, the idea of ling-hun underlies most notions of supernatural beings. […] Second, the loss of one’s “soul” is an extremely common explanation for many kinds of diseases and abberation, both mental and physical, that are treated by Chinese “sacred medicine.” […] Third, trance—a state common to folk practitioners in many parts of southern China—is invariably explained in terms of “soul” travel of spirit possession.

Elliott, whom we came across in the introduction, briefly describes the role of the shén (shen) and guǐ (kuei) in human psychology (op. cit. p. 28-29):

The Chinese concept of shen is closely associated with the idea of the human soul. The soul of a living man is conceived as having two components, the hun [魂] or positive component, which has three parts representing the three spiritual energies, and the p’o [魄] or negative component, which has seven parts representing the seven emotions. Shen and kuei are the ultimate spiritual influences, positive and negative respectively, which underlie the two components of the soul.

Legge in Chinese Classics Vol. I , p. 262, in his commentary to chapter 16 of The Doctrine of the Mean (中庸, zhōng yōng), formulates the same idea as follows:

[shén] signifies “spirits”, “a spirit”, “spirit”; and [guǐ] “a ghost”, or “demon”. The former is used for the animus, or intelligent soul [魂, hún], and the latter for the anima, or animal, grosser, soul [魄, pò], so separated.

In an earlier stage of this investigation into the term fohat, I had already come across an original Chinese text where the term pò (魄) is used within the broader context of traditional Chinese religion, in The Secret of the Golden Flower (太乙金華宗旨, Tài yǐ jīnhuá zōngzhǐ), a Taoist alchemical work translated by Richard Wilhelm into German, first published in 1929.

In 1931 an English translation was published, with an extensive commentary by Carl Gustav Jung. In Jung’s commentary (p. 65), a diagram may be found in which the various concepts are laid out on which the alchemical system is based. I reproduced it here in part. In this diagram we find the term pò (“anima”), and in the Chinese text the same character 魄 (pò) is used as in “fohat”.

In the diagram as it is partly reproduced here, we see Tao (dào) at the top, splitting into a masculine and a feminine spirit, yáng and yīn. The human principles hún and pò are labeled animus and anima. According to Jung’s commentary, the two human souls pò and hún, which are in conflict during the life of an individual. The terms animus and anima are the masculine and feminine meta-physical dimensions of the human being. They have a different sense than animus and anima in Jung’s writings on archetypes. At death they pass into guǐ (鬼), a ghost being, and shén (神), a spirit or god. It is clear that the same subject matter is discussed here as in HPB’s editorial note to the article Theosophy and the Avesta and in Medhursts dissertation.

If we compare the details of the model we find however, that the human principles HPB describes in her editorial note do not match those in The Secret of the Golden Flower. For example, if hún and pò are opposing principles, why do we find them related to ātman and kāma manas, which are by no means natural opposites? Perhaps we will have to conclude that the correspondence given by HPB, between the human principles and the Chinese terms is again a “blind”, and that we have to rely on our own understanding to find the actual correspondence here.

In the alchemical transformation which is described in The Secret of the Golden Flower, the opposing principles hún and pò are involved in the creation of the Golden Flower which is eventually dissolved into Tao (dào). In the commentary, Jung describes the hún and pò principles in man as logos and eros, the intellectual and passionate principles, which theosophists would perhaps call manas and kāma. He refers to chapter V of his own 1921 work Psychologische Typen, where he discusses the hún and pò souls:

Die Existenz der zwei auseinanderstrebenden, gegensätzlichen Tendenzen, die beide den Menschen in extreme Einstellungen hineinzureissen und ihn in die Welt — sei es in deren geistige, sei es in deren materielle Seite — zu verwickeln und dadurch mit sich selber zu veruneinigen vermögen, fordert die Existenz eines Gegengewichtes, welches eben die irrationale Grösse des Tao ist.

The existence of two mutually contending tendencies, both striving to drag man into extreme attitudes and entangle him in the world—whether upon the spiritual or material side—thereby setting him at variance with himself, demands the existence of a counter-weight, which is just this irrational fact, Tao. [1923 Eng. ed. p. 267, tr. H. Godwin Baynes]

So described, the process of unification is doubtlessly more than just unification of the intellectual and passionate principles in man. In the context of alchemical transformation of The Secret of the Golden Flower, the shén and guǐ apparently represent the spiritual and material in man, the heaven and earth aspects of the human entity, ultimately to be unified in Tao.


In studying the SD, and a fortiori its presentation of the text from the Book of Dzyan, one of the main questions is still “what were HPB’s actual sources”? Is the Book of Dzyan an existing text she translated from the secret books of Kiu Te, or their commentaries, from some mysterious language like Senzar, or did HPB derive her often innovative ideas from contemporary works by Medhurst, Legge and others? Was the information passed on through the Masters of Wisdom or was she perhaps only inspired by them, while getting basic information from publicly accessible literature? Without any doubt she was intensely driven by her ideas, throughout her whole life, and arguably these ideas together constitute an important framework, perhaps even more so for today’s world. That in itself may speak for her authenticity as a writer. We could argue that if there would have been no mention of books of Kiu Te, if there would have been no Masters involved, no foreign languages, that her ideas would still be have been of great value. For a serious reader however, she often made it very difficult to distinguish between different layers of message and packaging. The SD has multiple layers of interpretation, and perhaps we should not at all be surprised about that, as in esoteric literature that is often the case.

The themes of the different paragraphs of this article, “The Divine Breath”, “Father-Mother”, “Being is Non-Being”, “The Great Extreme” and “Alchemy and the Human Soul” may all be starting points for further study in the highly interesting field of Chinese traditional religion. Perhaps the esoteric world view presented in the SD can be of use as a study tool, a means to gain more insight into a world of spells, mediumship and shamanic travels. Only in the last few decades academic research in different disciplines seems to be moving in a direction where scholars are trying to understand these as cultural phenomena in their own right, rather than to depreciate them, trying to describe them as Western ideas in distorted form, as misguided religion or failed science. In the nineteenth century HPB already tried to understand religious phenomena from a universal standpoint, finding out the meaning of the elements of different religious traditions for humans in their personal lives and for humanity as a whole. It is this attitude which served as a model idea for the Theosophical Society, which only later resulted in its three objects. ■


1. Rev. Medhurst was a Calvinist (Congregationalist) missionary stationed in Malacca, Batavia, Shanghai and a few other locations in East-Asia from 1816 to 1856. His aim with this dissertation is to find a word with a meaning closest to that of the word “God” in Christianity. Moreover, Medhurst composed four dictionaries himself, including a Chinese-English dictionary, and together with other translators he was the first to translate the Bible into Chinese. The Chinese phrases in Medhurst’s text are without exception immediately followed by their English translation. In the present article, when introduced, Medhurst’s old style Chinese transliteration is each time accompanied by contemporary pīnyīn transliteration and Chinese characters in their traditional form. The word “Chinese” in connection to language refers to Mandarin Chinese.

2. Boer, Ingmar de, On the Etymology of the Term Fohat, published October 24, 2023 on the Book of Dzyan website, at

3. Elliott, Alan J.A., Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore, The Athlone Press, London & Atlantic Higlands NJ, reprinted 1990 (first published 1955), p. 27-29

4. The Dutch researcher J.J.M. de Groot wrote extensively on the different human souls, or aspects of the human soul, in shenism. In volume IV of his monumental The Religious System of China, published in 1901, he describes the different souls in human psychology, various religious ceremonies, and physical and mental pathology.

5. This definition in the Kāng Xī dictionary is a paraphrase of a quotation from a work by Mencius (孟子, Mèng Zǐ, 372-289 BCE). Within Medhurst’s quotations from dictionaries and other works, other (third) works are often quoted. Here we have four levels: myself quoting Medhurst quoting the Kāng Xī dictionary quoting Mencius.

6. In Chinese, the conjunction “heaven and earth” is also written as a nominal compound, “heaven-earth” (天地, qián kūn), in a similar way to “father-mother” in the Book of Dzyan (vol. I stanza II, śloka 10), or, if you will, like a dvandva compound in Sanskrit. Two modern translators of the I-Ching, Rudolf Ritsema & Stephen Karcher, in their 1994 translation (p. 115), render heaven and earth as “Heaven[and]Earth”, expressing the inherent unity and interdependence of the two elements.

7. Harrell, Stevan, The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3 (May, 1979), p. 519-528

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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Svabhāva as Prima Materia (v. 4)

June 24th, 2020 — 08:47 am


Several of the concepts central to the philosophy of H.P. Blavatsky’s (HPB’s) work The Secret Doctrine, may be defined in terms of “svabhâvât”. Some of these concepts will be listed in this introduction. In the following paragraphs we can have a look at some examples of the use of the term svabhâvât (svabhāva), in relevant scholarly, philosophical and religious works, to see if we can find any resemblance to the concept of svabhāva as it is presented in The Secret Doctrine.

In the Proem to The Secret Doctrine (SD I, 1), in the “archaïc manuscript”, boundless abstract space is symbolised as an immaculate white disk on a dull background. In SD I, 35, abstract space is described as unconditional, and eternal (timeless or independent of time):

“What is that which was, is, and will be, whether there is a Universe or not; whether there be gods or none?” asks the esoteric Senzar Catechism. And the answer made is — SPACE.

In the very first śloka from the Book of Dzyan as presented in The Secret Doctrine, stanza 1 śloka 1 (SD I, 35), abstract space is called the eternal parent:


The invisible robes in which the parent is “wrapped” are interpreted in stanza 1 śloka 5 as mūlaprakṛti, the one primordial substance. In stanza 1 śloka 5 (SD I, 40-41) then, abstract space is called darkness:


HPB explains in SD I, 41:

When the whole universe was plunged into sleep — had returned to its one primordial element — there was neither centre of luminosity, nor eye to perceive light, and darkness necessarily filled the boundless all.

In stanza 2 śloka 5 (SD I, 60), we find the same identification, and furthermore, darkness is called father-mother, and svabhâvât:


This applies only to the state of pralaya, the sleep of the universe, and svabhâvât may appear in at least two respective stages. The nivṛitti (also incorrectly spelled nirvṛtti) stage is also called pradhāna, when svabhâvât is in darkness, while the pravṛtti stage is called prakṛti, when svabhâvât has become the manifested matter which is at the basis of the various planes of manifestation. Not in each case in HPB’s writings the term pradhāna is used for the unmanifested root of matter, but in volumes I and II of the SD we find it used consistently in this manner. For example in SD I, 257 we find:

the former term (pradhāna) being certainly synonymous with Mulaprakriti and Akasa, […]

Here we see that ākāśa is also identified with mūlaprakṛti, the unmanifested “root of matter”.

1. The Orthography of Svabhâvât

Concerning svabhâvât, Friedrich Max Müller reported the following in 1876 in his Chips from a German Workshop Vol. I. p 278:

The Svâbhâvikas maintain that nothing exists but nature, or rather substance, and that this substance exists by itself (“svabhâvât), without a Creator or a Ruler. It exists, however, under two forms : in the state of Pravritti, as active, or in the state of Nirvritti, as passive.

Daniel Caldwell has suggested that this passage might have been HPB’s source for the term svabhâvât, and that the ending in -ât would indicate the ablative case of svabhāva, meaning “by itself”. If this is true, these two terms would be two forms of the same base word, which is spelled in the current IAST orthography as svabhāva.

2. Svabhāva: Nature or Substance

Based on this identification of svabhâvât as svabhāva, we can look up this term in common dictionaries and start reviewing what was written in the time of HPB in sources she has consulted or might have consulted, which is not always clear. In this last quotation from Müller, he distinguishes two senses of the word svabhāva: “nature” and “substance”. Perhaps he is echoing Brian Houghton Hodgson at this point. In the standard Monier-Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (MW), this second sense is not mentioned in the main lemmata for svabhāva and svabhāvāt:

m. own condition or state of being, natural state or constitution, innate or inherent disposition, nature, impulse, spontaneity

m. (…vāt or …vena or …va-tas or ibc.), (from natural disposition, by nature, naturally, by one’s self, spontaneously) ŚvetUp. Mn. MBh. &c.

A specific use of svabhāva or svabhāvāt as a philosophical term in Mahāyāna Buddhist literature as mentioned by HPB is not included in MW. In HPB’s time there were also the dictionaries by Horace Hayman Wilson (whom she held in high regard as a researcher), and later the great Sanskrit-German dictionary by Rudolf Roth and Otto von Böhtlingk, which also do not mention svabhāva as “substance”.

If we look at the Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (ŚvUp, ca. 400 BCE ±100), the oldest extant work where the term svabhāva is mentioned, in ŚvUp 1.2 we find in the discussion on the first cause of things, svabhāva as a possible first cause (tr. Robert Ernest Hume, 1921) :

kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatir yadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣeti cintyam /
saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tv ātmabhāvād ātmā hy anīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ //

Time (kāla), or inherent nature (sva-bhāva), or necessity (niyati) or chance (yadṛcchā), or the elements (bhūta), or a [female] womb (yoni), or a [male] person (puruṣa) are to be considered [as the cause]; […]

This verse answers the question “kutaḥ sma jātā”, “whence are we born?”, from the previous verse. Again we find svabhāva as “inherent nature” and not as “substance”. Moreover, from the translation it is not clear if svabhāva is intended here as 1. inherent nature of individual entitites (pluralistic) or 2. of entities in general or the universe as a whole. (monistic) In the Book of Dzyan, svabhāva is in principle a monistic concept, as we have seen in the introduction to this article.

3. HPB’s quote from the Anugītā

In the SD, HPB refers to one extant work from the context of Hinduism where svabhāva is used in the sense of “substance”. In SD I, 571 she quotes the Anugītā:

[…] Gods, Men, Gandharvas, Pisâchas, Asuras, Râkshasas, all have been created by Svabhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature), not by actions, nor by a cause” — i.e., not by any physical cause.

In the 1882 translation of the Anugītā by K.T. Telang, a work HPB has consulted on other occasions, on p. 387 we find what is presumably the source of this quotation:

Gods, men, Gandharvas, Pisâkas, Asuras, Râkshasas, all have been created by nature5, not by actions, nor by a cause.

where note 5 refers to:

5. The original is svabhâva, which Arguna Misra renders by Prakriti.

From her substitution of “nature” by “Svabhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature)” we may derive that HPB interprets svabhâva here as the term svabhâvât appearing in the Book of Dzyan, which is described as “plastic essence” (SD I, 61), the plastic root of physical Nature (SD I, 98), which in its “active condition” is called prakṛti.

Note 5 refers to the commentary to the Mahābhārata by Arjuna Miśra (16th c.), who, according to the note, renders svabhāva as prakṛti. We can read the original verse in book 14, chapter 50 (Bombay ed. 51), verse 11 of the Mahābhārata, the Anugītā being part of its Aśvamedha parvan:

devā manuṣyā gandharvāḥ piśācāsurarākṣasāḥ
sarve svabhāvataḥ sṛṣṭā na kriyābhyo na kāraṇāt || 14.50.11 ||

Indeed in this verse, “by nature” seems to be an inadequate translation for svabhāva. Although Arjuna Miśra, and HPB, have thought that in this verse svabhāva should be identified with prakṛti, it is still possible that the author has intended “inherent nature” and not “substance”. Just as in the quotation from the ŚvUp, it is not exactly clear here if svabhāva is intended as an individual (pluralistic) or a collective “cause”.

4. The Mahāvyutpatti

In the Mahāvyutpatti (Mv, Toh. 4346), the famous Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary, a work from a Buddhist context dating back to the first half of the 9th century, the Sanskrit entry for prakṛti (no. 7497) is linked to Tibetan “rang bzhin”, “rang bzhin ngo bo nyid”, and “rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin.” These three terms are expressions for svabhāva as the “inherent nature” of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The two terms rang bzhin and ngo bo nyid are derived from rang (own, self) and ngo or ngo bo (face), and therefore their primary meaning will be closer to svabhāva as “nature” than to “substance”. The next entry in the Mv, no. 7498, is indeed svabhāva, to which are linked the same three expressions.

No. Sanskrit Tibetan
7497 prakṛti rang bzhin; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin
7498 svabhāva rang bzhin; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin

This may suggest that at the time the Mv was composed, the terms svabhāva and prakṛti were seen as completely synonymous, by the team of creators of the dictionary, but also by extension by the lotsavas who considered the Mv their golden standard. However, it does not say anything about whether in the Mv svabhāva/prakṛti is considered a pluralistic or monistic concept or perhaps even both.

5. The Svabhāva Mantra

Eugène Burnouf, on p. 393 of his Introduction à l’Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien (1876), notices that “the word Nature does not render at all that which the Buddhists understand as Svabhāva” [tr. IdB]:

They see it at the same time as Nature which exists in itself, absolute Nature, the cause of the world, and as the own Nature of every existence, that which constitutes that it exists.

Here we have the two standpoints, of Mahāyānist monism and Hīnayāna pluralism, combined into one. In connection with the elusive or illusive school of the Svābhāvikas (spelled by Burnouf with the extra macron), Burnouf remarks on p. 395: “When they were asked: Where do existences come from? they answered: Svabhāvāt, ‘from their own nature’ — And where do they go after this life? — Into other forms produced by the irresistable influence of that same nature. […]”.

On pp. 572-3 Burnouf adds:

The second of the two meanings of the word Svabhāva, which I set out in my text, is perfectly demonstrated in a passage of the Pañcakramaṭippaṇī which I think is useful to cite. The yogi must, according to the text of that work, pronounce the following axiom: Svabhāva śuddhaḥ sarvadharmāḥ svabhāva śuddho ‘ham iti. ‘All conditions or all existences are produced from their own nature; I am myself produced from my own nature.’ I believe that this meaning of svabhāva is the most ancient; if, as Hodgson thought, the Buddhists understood by this term the abstract nature, this metaphysical notion may have been added to the word afterwards, of which the natural interpretation is that which is indicated by the axiom I have just cited. It may be useful to remark that taking the participle śuddha, in the sense of ‘complete, accomplished;’ is colloquial in Buddhist Sanskrit.

The ṭippaṇī in question is also known as the Piṇḍīkramaṭippaṇī, which is Parahitarakṣita’s short commentary on the first part of the tantric Nāgārjuna’s Pañcakrama. Both the Pañcakrama and the ṭippaṇī were published by Louis de la Vallée Poussin in 1896, in one volume in the series Études et textes tantriques of Ghent university. On p. 15, lines 5-7 we find this passage. (see the Sanskrit Texts division of the Book of Dzyan web site, at

Burnouf’s “axiom” is widely known as a mantra, under various names. It is called Svabhāva Mantra, Śuddha Mantra, or Śūnyata Mantra although this name is also used for another well known mantra. It is part of the sādhanas of quite a number of different traditions. Since the Pañcakrama and Piṇḍīkramaṭippaṇī are (sub-) commentaries to the Guhyasamājatantra, we might expect to find this mantra in the Guhyasamāja root text, but, searching visually several times, I have not been able to find it there. It is however a part of a commonly used daily sādhana of Guhyasamāja. In the Sādhanamālā, which is a later collection of 312 Buddhist ceremonial practices, the mantra is found 30 times. An example of a ceremony is the sādhana of Tārā, which is also studied by Stephan Beyer in The Cult of Tara. The mantra is found there as part of the Four Mandala Offering to Tara, where it is used to purify the location and attributes for the ritual, before the ceremony. (p. 180)

The mantra is also part of long and short versions of the Kālacakra sādhana, and as such it is discussed by David Reigle in his article on Sanskrit Mantras in the Kālacakra Sādhana. It was published in As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, where the mantra is found on p. 302. As a source for this mantra, Reigle refers to the Kālacakrabhagavatsādhanavidhiḥ (Toh. 1358). His translation is the following:

Oṃ svabhāvaśuddhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ svabhāvaśuddho ‘ham.

oṃ; Naturally pure are all things; naturally pure am I.

In this translation, svabhāvaśuddhāḥ is interpreted as “pure of nature”, or “pure by nature” instead of Burnouf’s “produced from its/their own nature”.

Lama Thubten Yeshe, in An Explanation of the Shunyata Mantra and a Meditation on Emptiness (in: Mandala, January/March 2009) explains the meaning of this same mantra as follows:

Also, this mantra contains a profound explanation of the pure, fundamental nature of both human beings and all other existent phenomena. It means that everything is spontaneously pure – not relatively, of course, but in the absolute sense. From the absolute point of view, the fundamental quality of human beings and the nature of all things is purity.

Svabhāva is here interpreted by Lama Yeshe as the “fundamental nature” of entities, or absolute reality, called paramārtha or pariniṣpanna in the Book of Dzyan. Ultimate reality or absolute reality is “pure” in the sense that it is the state of matter (mūlaprakṛti/prakṛti) where it is still unmanifested, or as HPB might have called it, non-manvantaric, or nivṛtti.

In the three examples presented here svabhāva is viewed also as absolute reality, paramārtha in Madhyamaka terminology, and not only as conditional reality, saṃvṛtti. Of course in any form of Buddhism, “natural purity” would be associated with “non-ego”, but in a different sense, the term svabhāva is commonly found in Madhyamaka oriented Buddhist writings. For example in the term niḥsvabhāva, often used as a synonym for nairātmya, anātman or “non-ego”, it indicates exactly the opposite, that is svabhāva only as conditional reality, or in HPB’s corresponding terminology, pravṛtti as opposed to nivṛtti.

The Book of Dzyan on the other hand explicitly describes svabhāva as going through the two different stages: 1. nivṛitti, when “darkness alone was […] svabhâvât” (“in paramārtha”, absolute reality), and 2. pravṛtti, when svabhāva is prakṛti, the basic substance of the manifested universe, that is conditional reality.

6. Hodgson’s Essays

On p. 73 of Brian Houghton Hodgson’s Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (1874) we find a list of principles from the “Svabhavika doctrine”, the first of which appears to be a translation of the Svabhāva Mantra:

All things are governed or perfected by Swabháva; I too am governed by Swabháva.

This is again a very different translation, where śuddha is taken as “governed/perfected by”. David N. Gellner responds to this in his 1989 article Hodgson’s Blind Alley? On the So-Called Schools of Nepalese Buddhism, calling it a misunderstanding of the term svabhāvaśuddha, which he translates as “free of essence”.

The “Ashta Sáhasrika” is given by Hodgson as a reference, but I have not found the mantra literally in the text of the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā. Some similar passages are to be found in the text, of which the following is an example (Edward Conze’s translation p. 250 and Sanskrit from ed. Vaidya p. 211, my (IdB’s) comments in square brackets):

Subhuti: But if, O Lord, as we all know, all dharmas [Skt. sarvadharmāḥ] are by nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtipariśuddhāḥ], […]

The Lord: So it is, Subhuti. For all dharmas [sarvadharmāḥ] are just by (their essential original) nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtyaiva pariśuddhāḥ]. When a Bodhisattva who trains in perfect wisdom […] remains uncowed although all dharmas [Skt. sarvadharmeṣu] are by their nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtipariśuddheṣu], then that is his perfection of wisdom [Skt. prajñāpāramitāyāṃ].

Here we see that instead of svabhāvaśuddha (Reigle: pure by nature) the compound prakṛtipariśuddha (Conze, 2nd ed. 1975: by nature perfectly pure) is used in the same sense, reflecting the semantic agreement between svabhāva and prakṛti.

Further, the Tibetan version in the Derge Kanjur (Toh. 12) shows how the compound was analysed by the lotsavas of the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā: it was taken as rang bzhin gyis yongs su dag pa, which is “completely pure by nature”, as opposed to “free of essence”.

7. Prasannapadā and Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

In Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā (PsP), we find a lengthy discussion of the concept of svabhāva. In the 1931 partial edition of Stanisław Schayer, Ausgewählte Kapitel…, in an extensive note on pages 55-57, four different meanings of svabhāva are distinguished (paraphrased IdB):

  1. Svabhāva as “nījam ātmīyam svarūpam”, an “essential” as opposed to “accidental” quality, like the hotness of fire. This is an idea compatible with Hīnayāna pluralism.
  2. Svabhāva as svalakṣaṇa, the own individual mark which is carried by the individual substrate of a dharma. The Hīnayānists are called Svabhāvavādins in the sense that they accept a manyfold of these individual substances (pluralism).
  3. Svabhāva as equivalent of prakṛti, of upādāna [[material cause]] and of āśraya [[basis of perception]], of the unchanging, eternal substrate of all changes. In the Hīnayāna schools, the Vaibhāṣikas accept this view, while the Sautrāntikas agree with the Mādhyamikas at this point, calling a transcendental lakṣya [[characteristic]] completely illusory. [[But being Hīnayāna schools, both of these are considered pluralist.]]
  4. Svabhāvaḥ as “svato bhāvaḥ”, the absolute being, “nirapekṣaḥ svabhāvaḥ”. The universe as “one and whole” is absolute. This idea is not compatible with Hīnayānist pluralism.

In the third and fourth points we may recognise concepts similar, both in a different way, to the svabhāva presented in the Book of Dzyan. In the text of the PsP, chapter XV § 2 (Schayer § 5 p. 63, cp. Vaidya ed. p. 116) the third point is analysed as follows (tr. from German IdB):

yā sā dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā nāma, saiva tatsvarūpam | atha keyaṃ dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā? dharmāṇāṃ svabhāvaḥ | ko ‘yaṃ svabhāvaḥ? prakṛtiḥ | kā ceyaṃ prakṛtiḥ? yeyaṃ śūnyatā | keyaṃ śūnyatā? naiḥsvābhāvyam | kimidaṃ naiḥsvābhāvyam? tathatā | keyaṃ tathatā? tathābhāvo ‘vikāritvaṃ sadaiva sthāyitā | sarvathānutpāda eva

Diese Eigenwesen [[tatsvarūpam]] ist die dharmatā der dharmas. — Und was ist die dharmatā der dharmas? — Der svabhāva der dharmas. — Und was ist dieser svabhāva? — Die prakṛti. — Und was ist diese prakṛti? — Die śūnyatā. — Und was ist diese śūnyatā? — Das naiḥsvābhāvya. — Und was is dieses naiḥsvābhāvya? — Die tathatā, d.h. die Unwandelbarkeit der wahren Beschaffenheit (tathābhāvāvikāritva), das ewige Beharren [in seinem An-sich-Sein] (sadā sthāyitā), das absolute Nicht-entstehen (sarvadānutpāda).

This own essence [[tatsvarūpam]] is the “entitiness” of entities. And what is the “entitiness” of entities? It is the svabhāva of entities. And what is this svabhāva? It is its basic material. And what is this basic material? It is emptiness. And what is this emptiness? It is the fundamental absence of svabhāva. And what is this fundamental absence of svabhāva? It is thusness, that is the unique property of the true being-thus, the eternal fixedness [in its being per se], the absolute non-origination.

To Candrakriti this line of reasoning proves that svabhāva cannot exist as a basic substance in which (or on the basis of which) change is taking place. The reasoning is based on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK) XV.8, to which this PsP passage is a commentary (tr. Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura, 2013):

yady astitvaṃ prakṛtyā syān na bhaved asya nāstitā |
prakṛter anyathābhāvo na hi jātūpapadyate ||

If something existed by essential nature (prakṛti), then there would not be the nonexistence of such a thing. For it never holds that there is the alteration of essential nature.

8. Conclusions

The examples discussed here, from the Anugītā, the Mahāvyutpatti, the Svabhāva Mantra and the Prasannapadā/Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, do not sufficiently show that the term svabhāva has been used, in original Hindu or Buddhist texts, not only in the sense of an “inherent nature”, but also in the sense of “substance”. In the Book of Dzyan it is described primarily as “substance”.

In Buddhism, pluralism is generally associated with Hīnayāna and monism with Mahāyāna. We have seen that in Buddhist texts another distinction of two senses of the word svabhāva may be recognised: in the svabhāva mantra we have found the term svabhāva as “fundamentally pure”, while the part svabhāva in the “doctrine of niḥsvabhāva” is used as exactly the opposite. We can define these two senses of the svabhāva as nivṛtti and pravṛtti respectively. In the Book of Dzyan, svabhāva is described primarily as “monistic”, but going through the nivṛtti and pravṛtti phases of manifestation. This may imply that svabhāva is in these two phases “monistic” and “pluralistic” respectively. •


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The Basic Premises behind the Book of Dzyan

July 31st, 2016 — 06:45 pm

“Before the reader proceeds to the consideration of the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan which form the basis of the present work, it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows; therefore no apology is required for asking the reader to make himself familiar with them first, before entering on the perusal of the work itself.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 13)

In this way, H. P. Blavatsky introduced the three fundamental propositions of the Secret Doctrine. When she was later asked by Robert Bowen how to study The Secret Doctrine, she reiterated this, adding the somewhat alarming words, “even if it takes years”: “The first thing to do, even if it takes years, is to get some grasp of the ‘Three fundamental principles’ given in the Proem.”

After reading the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine, “an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle,” our first reaction might be something like: “That makes sense. Of course. What else would it be?” However, I think that some of the implications of this apparently simple idea may be surprising, and this may explain why it could take years to get a clear apprehension of these fundamental propositions. In order to get these fundamental ideas as directly as possible, and with the least distortion, it will be necessary to quote the primary sources extensively.

“The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions:

“(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought—in the words of Māṇḍūkya Upanishad, ‘unthinkable and unspeakable.’

“To render these ideas clearer to the general reader, let him set out with the postulate that there is one absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested, conditioned, being. This Infinite and Eternal Cause—dimly formulated in the ‘Unconscious’ and ‘Unknowable’ of current European philosophy—is the rootless root of ‘all that was, is, or ever shall be.’ It is of course devoid of all attributes and is essentially without any relation to manifested, finite Being. It is ‘Be-ness’ rather than Being (in Sanskrit, Sat), and is beyond all thought or speculation.

“This ‘Be-ness’ is symbolized in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity, the one thing which no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself. On the other, absolute abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness. Even our Western thinkers have shown that Consciousness is inconceivable to us apart from change, and motion best symbolizes change, its essential characteristic. This latter aspect of the one Reality, is also symbolized by the term ‘The Great Breath,’ a symbol sufficiently graphic to need no further elucidation. Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is this metaphysical One AbsoluteBe-ness—symbolized by finite intelligence as the theological Trinity.”

“(b) The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically ‘the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,’ called ‘the manifesting stars,’ and the ‘sparks of Eternity.’ ‘The Eternity of the Pilgrim’ is like a wink of the Eye of Self-Existence (Book of Dzyan.) ‘The appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux.’

“This second assertion of the Secret Doctrine is the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all departments of nature. An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe.”

My comment: While no one would doubt that the law of periodicity is true, none of the known systems of philosophy and religion make it a fundamental proposition of their system.

“(c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul—a spark of the former—through the Cycle of Incarnation (or ‘Necessity’) in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term.”

My comment: Take note of the tacit acceptance of the “Universal Over-Soul,” which is by no means widely accepted in the philosophical and religious systems of the East.

“In other words, no purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle—or the over-soul—has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyāni-Buddha). The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations.”

(All of the above quotes are from The Secret Doctrine, as edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 1978, pagination the same as in the original 1888 edition, vol. 1, pp. 14-17.)

The implication of this third fundamental proposition is that one cannot attain enlightenment without going through the whole series of rebirths. So the Secret Doctrine does not accept instant or sudden enlightenment, as this is commonly understood in the philosophical and religious systems that teach it. Rather, this third fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine makes the gradual or graded path an absolute necessity.

The first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine makes the philosophical doctrine of non-duality or radical unity an absolute necessity. If there is an “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle,” there can be no real plurality. As Blavatsky explained to Robert Bowen (reported by him):

“No matter what one may study in the S.D. [Secret Doctrine] let the mind hold fast, as the basis of its ideation, to the following ideas:

“(a) The Fundamental Unity of all Existence. This unity is a thing altogether different from the common notion of unity—as when we say that a nation or an army is united; or that this planet is united to that by lines of magnetic force or the like. The teaching is not that. It is that existence is One Thing, not any collection of things linked together. Fundamentally there is One Being. This Being has two aspects, positive and negative. The positive is Spirit, or Consciousness. The negative is Substance, the subject of consciousness. This Being is the Absolute in its primary manifestation. Being absolute there is nothing outside it. It is All-Being. It is indivisible, else it would not be absolute. If a portion could be separated, that remaining could not be absolute, because there would at once arise the question of comparison between it and the separated part. Comparison is incompatible with any idea of absoluteness. Therefore it is clear that this fundamental One Existence, or Absolute Being must be the Reality in every form there is.

. . . . . . .

“The Atom, the Man, the God (she says) are each separately, as well as all collectively, Absolute Being in their last analysis, that is their real individuality. It is this idea which must be held always in the background of the mind to form the basis for every conception that arises from study of the S.D. The moment one lets it go (and it is most easy to do so when engaged in any of the many intricate aspects of the Esoteric Philosophy) the idea of separation supervenes, and the study loses its value.”

(“The ‘Secret Doctrine’ and Its Study,” cited from An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, pp. 3-4)

In The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky had stated this succinctly:

“The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyāni-Chohan to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds—this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 120)

The teaching of radical unity or non-duality has been criticized by philosophical and religious systems that do not accept it. They say that if we are all ultimately one, the implication is that we would all already be enlightened. In reply, two levels of truth are posited: one ultimate and one conventional. It is only in ultimate truth that all is one. In conventional truth, where we live our conventional lives, we are obliged to strive for enlightenment over a long series of lives.

The truth of the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine, that might have seemed so self-evident, becomes much less so when compared with the teachings of other philosophical and religious systems. Thus, an “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” is greatly at variance with God as taught in theistic religions. God is there usually transcendent, not immanent, as the word “omnipresent” would imply. Even in a non-dualistic system that posits a God who is immanent rather than transcendent, we still have a problem. God as the Creator, or a God that can be prayed to for granting favors, cannot legitimately be described as “immutable.”

How, then, can we legitimately describe this “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” without using this whole phrase each time? What can we call it with accuracy? The “esoteric Senzar Catechism,” or the “Occult Catechism,” puts the question and answer as follows:

“‘What is that which was, is, and will be, whether there is a Universe or not; whether there be gods or none?’ asks the esoteric Senzar Catechism. And the answer made is—space.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 9)

“The Occult Catechism contains the following questions and answers:

What is it that ever is?’ ‘Space, the eternal Anupapādaka.’ ‘What is it that ever was?’ ‘The Germ in the Root.’ ‘What is it that is ever coming and going?’ ‘The Great Breath.’ ‘Then, there are three Eternals?’ ‘No, the three are one. That which ever is, is one, that which ever was, is one, that which is ever being and becoming, is also one: and this is Space.’”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 11)

Seven years before these extracts from the catechism were published in The Secret Doctrine in 1888, the same thing had been said in the “Cosmological Notes” by the Mahatma Morya in 1881:

“What is the one eternal thing in the universe independent of every other thing?


(The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, Appendix 2, p. 376)

In the following year, 1882, Blavatsky had explained this in her “Notes” to T. Subba Row’s article, “The Aryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man,” using phrases from the catechism:

“Hence, the Arahat secret doctrine on cosmogony admits but of one absolute, indestructible, eternal, and uncreated unconsciousness (so to translate), of an element (the word being used for want of a better term) absolutely independent of everything else in the universe; a something ever present or ubiquitous, a Presence which ever was, is, and will be, whether there is a God, gods or none; whether there is a universe or no universe; existing during the eternal cycles of Maha Yugas, during the Pralayas as during the periods of Manvantara: and this is Space, . . .”

(H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 3, p. 423)

The consistent use of the term “space” in the primary sources from 1881 to 1888 indicates that this is what the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine describes as “an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle.” This principle can more simply be referred to as “space.” The question now is: What is space? Is this empty space?

As Blavatsky’s words were reported by Robert Bowen, spoken not long before she died in 1891:

“(b) The second idea to hold fast to is that there is no dead matter. Every last atom is alive. It cannot be otherwise since every atom is itself fundamentally Absolute Being. Therefore there is no such thing as ‘spaces’ of Ether, or Akasha, or call it what you like, in which angels and elementals disport themselves like trout in water. That’s the common idea. The true idea shows every atom of substance no matter of what plane to be in itself a life.”

(“The ‘Secret Doctrine’ and Its Study,” cited from An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, p. 4)

Blavatsky earlier had written in a footnote to T. Subba Row’s 1882 article referred to above:

“. . . Space filled with whatsoever substance or no substance at all; i.e., with substance so imponderable as to be only metaphysically conceivable.”

(Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 3, p. 405 fn.)

In The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky had quoted a secret commentary:

Extracts from a private commentary, hitherto secret:

“. . . As its substance is of a different kind from that known on earth, the inhabitants of the latter, seeing through it, believe in their illusion and ignorance that it is empty space. There is not one fingers breath (angula) of void Space in the whole Boundless [Universe]. . . . .”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 289)

No, it is not empty space. It is substance, imponderable substance, living substance. The following quotes show that this space, this imponderable living substance, is the one eternal thing, and it periodically produces the visible cosmos.

Book of Dzyan, stanza 1, verse 1:

The Eternal Parent (Space), wrapped in her ever invisible robes, had slumbered once again for seven eternities.”

Blavatsky explains this:

“Space is the one eternal thing that we can most easily imagine, immovable in its abstraction and uninfluenced by either the presence or absence in it of an objective Universe. It is without dimension, in every sense, and self-existent. Spirit is the first differentiation from That, the causeless cause of both Spirit and Matter. It is, as taught in the esoteric catechism, neither limitless void, nor conditioned fullness, but both. It was and ever will be.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 35)

Further on in The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky quotes what is apparently a commentary on the Book of Dzyan:

“‘The ever (to us) invisible and immaterial Substance present in eternity, threw its periodical shadow from its own plane into the lap of Māyā.’”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. 62-63)

Then later in a footnote, Blavatsky writes:

“‘Creation’—out of pre-existent eternal substance, or matter, of course, which substance, according to our teachings, is boundless, ever-existing space.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, p. 239 fn.)

Not only is space described as imponderable living substance, the one eternal thing, it is also called darkness in the stanzas on cosmogenesis from the Book of Dzyan (and once dark space in contradistinction to bright space, stanza 3, verse 7).

Book of Dzyan, stanza 1, verse 5:

Darkness alone filled the boundless all, . . .”

Blavatsky elsewhere quotes this verse and explains darkness as space:

“This, then, is the meaning:

“‘Darkness alone filled the Boundless All, for Father, Mother and Son were once more One.

“Space was, and is ever, as it is between the Manvantaras. The Universe in its pre-kosmic state was once more homogeneous and one—outside its aspects.”

(The Secret Doctrine, 3rd ed., vol. 3, p. 180; Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 186)

Blavatsky then quotes what is apparently a secret commentary, which uses divine substance in place of darkness or space:

“Says the Secret Doctrine:

It is called to life. The mystic Cube in which rests the Creative Idea, the manifesting Mantra [or articulate speech—Vāch] and the holy Purusha [both radiations of prima materia] exist in the Eternity in the Divine Substance in their latent state

—during Pralaya.”

(The Secret Doctrine, 3rd ed., vol. 3, p. 181; Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 187)

These three designations of the omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle, namely, space, substance, and darkness, are put together in the following quote, which uses primordial matter in place of divine substance:

Space filled with darkness, which is primordial matter in its pre-cosmic state. . . . and Space is the ever Unseen and Unknowable Deity in our philosophy.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 336 fn.)

In the recapitulation of the teachings in the “Summing Up” section of The Secret Doctrine, the centrality of the teaching of the one fundamental substance-principle is stressed:

“The fundamental Law in that system, the central point from which all emerged, around and toward which all gravitates, and upon which is hung the philosophy of the rest, is the One homogeneous divine Substance-Principle, the one radical cause.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 273)

So we have seen the terms space, substance or matter, and darkness used to designate the one fundamental principle. Blavatsky’s Mahatma teachers also called it the one element, as did Blavatsky after them:

“However, you will have to bear in mind (a) that we recognize but one element in Nature (whether spiritual or physical) outside which there can be no Nature since it is Nature itself, and which as the Akasa pervades our solar system, every atom being part of itself, pervades throughout space and is space in fact, which pulsates as in profound sleep during the pralayas, . . . (b) that consequently spirit and matter are one, being but a differentiation of states not essences, . . . (c) that our notions of “cosmic matter” are diametrically opposed to those of western science. Perchance if you remember all this we will succeed in imparting to you at least the elementary axioms of our esoteric philosophy more correctly than heretofore.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #11, 3rd ed., p. 63; chronological #65)

“Yes, as described in my letter—there is but one element and it is impossible to comprehend our system before a correct conception of it is firmly fixed in one’s mind. You must therefore pardon me if I dwell on the subject longer than really seems necessary. But unless this great primary fact is firmly grasped the rest will appear unintelligible. This element then is the—to speak metaphysically—one sub-stratum or permanent cause of all manifestations in the phenomenal universe.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #15, 3rd ed., p. 89; chronological #67)

“If the student bears in mind that there is but One Universal Element, which is infinite, unborn, and undying, and that all the rest—as in the world of phenomena—are but so many various differentiated aspects and transformations (correlations, they are now called) of that One, from Cosmical down to microcosmical effects, from super-human down to human and subhuman beings, the totality, in short, of objective existence—then the first and chief difficulty will disappear and Occult Cosmology may be mastered.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 75)

In the earlier Theosophical writings the one element was sometimes referred to as matter, before substance was chosen as a better term than matter:

“. . . the Eastern Occultists hold that there is but one element in the universe—infinite, uncreated and indestructible—matter; which element manifests itself in seven states . . . . Spirit is the highest state of that matter, they say, since that which is neither matter nor any of its attributes is—nothing.”

(Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 4, p. 602)

As in Blavatsky’s commentary on Book of Dzyan, stanza 1, verse 1, where she says, “Spirit is the first differentiation from That, the causeless cause of both Spirit and Matter,” so here she says that Spirit is the highest state of the seven states that that matter, the one element, manifests itself in. The idea of ultimate substance or matter rather than ultimate spirit or God was hard for one of the Mahatma’s correspondents to accept. In a forceful reply, Mahatma K.H. makes it clear what they mean by their teaching of the “one life,” saying that “we believe in matter alone”:

“If people are willing to accept and to regard as God our ONE LIFE immutable and unconscious in its eternity they may do so and thus keep to one more gigantic misnomer. . . .

“When we speak of our One Life we also say that it penetrates, nay is the essence of every atom of matter; and that therefore it not only has correspondence with matter but has all its properties likewise, etc.—hence is material, is matter itself. . . .

“Matter we know to be eternal, i.e., having had no beginning (a) because matter is Nature herself (b) because that which cannot annihilate itself and is indestructible exists necessarily—and therefore it could not begin to be, nor can it cease to be (c) because the accumulated experience of countless ages, and that of exact science show to us matter (or nature) acting by her own peculiar energy, of which not an atom is ever in an absolute state of rest, and therefore it must have always existed, i.e., its materials ever changing form, combinations and properties, but its principles or elements being absolutely indestructible. . . .

“In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, and which nature draws from herself since she is the great whole outside of which nothing can exist. . . .

“The existence of matter then is a fact; the existence of motion is another fact, their self existence and eternity or indestructibility is a third fact. And the idea of pure spirit as a Being or an Existence—give it whatever name you will—is a chimera, a gigantic absurdity.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #10, 3rd ed., pp. 53-56; chronological #88)

So the unceasing motion of matter or substance that is its life is what they call the one life. Thus, as stated in The Secret Doctrine’s explanation of the first fundamental proposition, we conceive of the omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle under two aspects: as absolute abstract space, and as absolute abstract motion. Either of these terms (or their synonyms) may be used to refer to this principle, because they both refer to the same thing. We in fact find both used in the Theosophical primary sources. Nonetheless, we find a clear preference for “space,” as best illustrated in the esoteric or occult catechism, quoted above. The reason for the preference for using space (or its synonyms: substance, matter, darkness, the one element) is that there can be no motion if there is not something to move. The Mahatma K.H. writes:

“Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal. But no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #22, 3rd ed., p. 139; chronological #90)

The Mahatma Morya had also addressed this in the “Cosmological Notes,” in reply to queries, again referring to motion as the life of matter:

“Your all-pervading supreme power exists, but it is exactly matter, whose life is motion, will, and nerve power, electricity. Purusha can think but through Prakriti.”

(The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, Appendix 2, p. 381)

The Mahatma K.H. explained this more fully in the article, “What is Matter and What is Force?,” using the phrase, “matter in motion”:

“Light, then, like heat—of which it is the crown—is simply the ghost, the shadow of matter in motion, the boundless, eternal, infinite space, motion and duration, the trinitarian essence of that which the Deists call God, and we—the One Element; Spirit-matter, or Matter-spirit, . . .”

(Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 4, p. 220)

The same phrase, “matter in motion,” was repeated in The Secret Doctrine by Blavatsky:

“. . . we must seek for the ultimate causes of light, heat, etc., etc., in MATTER existing in super-sensuous states—states, however, as fully objective to the spiritual eye of man, as a horse or a tree is to the ordinary mortal. Light and heat are the ghost or shadow of matter in motion.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 515)

And matter or substance is always in motion:

“It is a fundamental law in Occultism, that there is no rest or cessation of motion in Nature.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 97)

“We say and affirm that that motion—the universal perpetual motion which never ceases, never slackens nor increases its speed, not even during the interludes between the pralayas, or ‘nights of Brahma,’ but goes on like a mill set in motion whether it has anything to grind or not (for the pralaya means the temporary loss of every form, but by no means the destruction of cosmic matter which is eternal)—we say this perpetual motion is the only eternal and uncreated Deity we are able to recognise.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #22, 3rd ed., p. 135; chronological #90)

“What things are co-existent with space? . . .

“(iii) Motion, for this is the imperishable life (conscious or unconscious as the case may be) of matter, even during the pralaya, or night of mind.”

(“Cosmological Notes,” The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, Appendix 2, p. 377)

Matter or substance is always in motion, even during pralaya or while asleep, because motion is its life. As its life, “the one life,” it is also referred to as its breath, “The Great Breath”:

“‘The Mother sleeps, yet is ever breathing.’”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 143, apparently quoting a secret commentary)

“This latter aspect [absolute abstract Motion] of the one Reality, is also symbolized by the term ‘The Great Breath,’ a symbol sufficiently graphic to need no further elucidation.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 14)

“It is the one life, eternal, invisible, yet Omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations, . . . Its one absolute attribute, which is itself, eternal, ceaseless Motion, is called in esoteric parlance the ‘Great Breath,’ which is the perpetual motion of the universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present space. . . . Intra-Cosmic motion is eternal and ceaseless; cosmic motion (the visible, or that which is subject to perception) is finite and periodical.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. 2-3)

That, which is neither Spirit nor matterthat is IT — the Causeless CAUSE of Spirit and Matter, which are the Cause of Kosmos. And THAT we call the ONE LIFE or the Intra-Cosmic Breath.

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 258, quoting a secret commentary)

“The ‘Breath’ of the One Existence is used in its application only to the spiritual aspect of Cosmogony by Archaic esotericism; otherwise, it is replaced by its equivalent in the material plane—Motion. The One Eternal Element, or element-containing Vehicle, is Space, dimensionless in every sense; co-existent with which are—endless duration, primordial (hence indestructible) matter, and motion—absolute ‘perpetual motion’ which is the ‘breath’ of the ‘One’ Element. This breath, as seen, can never cease, not even during the Pralayic eternities.”

(The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 55)

So motion, the unceasing motion of substance or matter, its life, is also called its breath, “The Great Breath,” the breath of the one element. Besides life and breath, this motion was referred to as svabhāva by the Mahatma K.H., and equated with force:

“Their [the Swabhavikas] plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #22, 3rd ed. p. 136; chronological #90)

The word svabhāva means the “inherent nature” of something. For example, heat is the inherent nature of fire. Here, the something that motion is the inherent nature of would of course be the one element, living substance. The inherent nature of living things is to breathe; and substance or matter, the one element, is taught in the Secret Doctrine as living. Its life or breath is its motion, and this is its inherent nature. So motion can be described as the life of the one element, or the breath of the one element, or the inherent nature of the one element. The equation of svabhāva and motion is important for understanding the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan, where the term svabhāva [svâbhâvat] occurs seven times.

We here have yet another term used for motion, namely, force. The Mahatma K.H. uses “force” very much like “the force” from the Star Wars movies. It is the sole force in the universe:

“Yes; there is a force as limitless as thought, as potent as boundless will, as subtle as the essence of life, so inconceivably awful in its rending force as to convulse the universe to its centre were it but used as a lever, but this Force is not God, since there are men who have learned the secret of subjecting it to their will when necessary. Look around you and see the myriad manifestations of life, so infinitely multiform; of life, of motion, of change. What caused these? From what inexhaustible source came they, by what agency? Out of the invisible and subjective they have entered our little area of the visible and objective. Children of Akasa, concrete evolutions from the ether, it was Force which brought them into perceptibility and Force will in time remove them from the sight of man.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #22, 3rd ed., pp. 136-137; chronological #90)

The Mahatma K.H. had begun the letter speaking of the universal mind, or infinite mind. In the next paragraph he comments:

“. . . the ‘infinite mind,’ which we name so but for agreement sake, for we call it the infinite FORCE . . .”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #22, 3rd ed., p. 134; chronological #90)

He concludes:

“The world of force is the world of Occultism and the only one whither the highest initiate goes to probe the secrets of being.”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #22, 3rd ed., p. 140; chronological #90)

In another letter the Mahatma K.H. brings many of these synonymously used but potentially confusing terms together:

“We will say that it is, and will remain for ever demonstrated that since motion is all-pervading and absolute rest inconceivable, that under whatever form or mask motion may appear, whether as light, heat, magnetism, chemical affinity or electricity—all these must be but phases of One and the same universal omnipotent Force, a Proteus they bow to as the Great ‘Unknown’ (See Herbert Spencer) and we, simply call the ‘One Life,’ the ‘One Law’ and the ‘One Element.’”

(The Mahatma Letters, letter #23B, 3rd ed., pp. 155-156; chronological #93B)

The Mahatma K.H. similarly concluded his article, “What is Matter and What is Force?,” by making it very clear that to speak of force or spirit is to speak of matter or substance, because these are in essence not two different things. Whether we speak of space or substance or matter or the one element on the one side, or motion or spirit or force or the one life on the other side, these are only different descriptions of one and the same thing. It is the same one fundamental principle symbolized in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects, the same one eternal element with its unceasing motion which is its life, the one life. The Mahatma K.H. could say that “we believe in matter alone” because spirit is the motion or life of matter or substance. Again stressing the indispensable side of the equation that is usually left out, but which cannot be separated from spirit because the two are one, he here concludes by referring to the one as indestructible matter:

“Therefore do the Occultists maintain that the philosophical conception of spirit, like the conception of matter, must rest on one and the same basis of phenomena, adding that Force and Matter, Spirit and Matter, or Deity and Nature, though they may be viewed as opposite poles in their respective manifestations, yet are in essence and in truth but one, . . . This is why . . . the Occultist . . . claims . . . that Life, whether in its latent or dynamical form, is everywhere. That it is as infinite and as indestructible as matter itself, since neither can exist without the other, . . . ‘Purush’ is non-existent without ‘Prakriti’; nor, can Prakriti, or plastic matter have being or exist without Purush, or spirit, vital energy, Life. Purush and Prakriti are in short the two poles of the one eternal element, and are synonymous and convertible terms. . . . Therefore, whether it is called Force or Matter, it will ever remain the Omnipresent Proteus of the Universe, the one element—Life—Spirit or Force at its negative, Matter at its positive pole; the former the Materio-Spiritual, the latter, the Materio-Physical Universe—Nature, Svabhavat or Indestructible matter.”

(Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 4, p. 225-226)


In summary, we are asked to get some grasp of the three fundamental propositions of the Secret Doctrine, before proceeding to the study of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan. They appear to be simple enough: (1) an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle, symbolized under two aspects: absolute abstract space, and absolute abstract motion; (2) the law of periodicity; (3) all souls are one with the universal over-soul, itself an aspect of the unknown root, and the obligatory pilgrimage for every soul throughout the whole cycle of incarnation.

When we follow this out, comb through the primary sources and put together the references, a somewhat unexpected picture emerges. As expected, we find the teaching of radical unity, or non-duality. Then when we might have expected the one omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle to be described as spirit, we instead find it described as space, as substance that is imponderable, immaterial, invisible, indestructible, and most notably, living, as darkness, as the one element, and as matter with its life which is its motion. When this one fundamental principle is symbolized under the aspect of absolute abstract motion, we do find it described as spirit, and as unconditioned consciousness, although more often as the one life, and as the great breath. Here spirit, however, is not something distinct from and above matter, but is only a way of referring to the life or motion of imponderable matter or substance.

Additionally, the motion or life or breath of substance or matter may be called the svabhāva or inherent nature of the one element. This has important philosophical ramifications. The motion of living substance may also be called force, which is the cause of light, heat, magnetism, electricity, and all other such manifestations. Modern science studies these manifestations without being able to reach their invisible cause, super-sensuous matter in motion. The philosophical and religious systems that posit ultimate reality as spirit, or pure consciousness, or the one mind, are seeing only the aspect of the one fundamental principle that is symbolized as absolute abstract motion. According to the Secret Doctrine, they are missing the aspect symbolized as absolute abstract space. There can be no spirit distinct from substance, because the two in our conceptions are actually one and inseparable.

In brief, ultimate reality as taught in the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine, an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle, is space (Sanskrit dhātu), the one element, imponderable living substance with its motion which is its life.

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet

Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 3

July 31st, 2014 — 09:53 pm

The previous two parts of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda,” posted Feb. 26 and 27, 2012, discussed the little-known kind of svabhāvavāda seen in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda, and in the Book of Dzyan. The Book of Dzyan and the Praṇava-vāda are hitherto secret texts unknown to history, while the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā is a text known to history that refers to this kind of svabhāvavāda, and accepts it as its own. The Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, however, is not on cosmogony, so it does not give us a cosmogonic account that accords with this kind of svabhāvavāda. For this, we must look elsewhere. Fortunately, such a cosmogony account is found in the Mokṣopāya, and in its later version, the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha (see the post, “The Mokṣopāya, the unrevised Yoga-vāsiṣṭha,” dated April 13, 2012). This account was translated and posted on July 1, 2012, as “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Mokṣopāya.” Here we have an actual example from a historically known text of a cosmogonic account that accords with this kind of svabhāvavāda.

As noted in that post, Mokṣopāya, book 3, chapter 12, verses 3 and 8 say that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of brahman, or pure consciousness (cit). This is like the teaching of the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā that manifestation is the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the deva, i.e., the one brahman or ātman. This is also like the teaching of the Book of Dzyan that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one element. By contrast, the svabhāvavāda that is historically known says that the world is the result of the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the elements or things that make it up. The things that make up the world are caused by themselves, and nothing else. Ramkrishna Bhattacharya has distinguished from this another historically known svabhāvavāda that rejects causality. In his 2007 article, “What is Meant by Svabhāvaṃ Bhūtacintakāḥ?” (attached), he writes that svabhāva also came to be understood as “chance” or “accident,” the same as the Sanskrit term yadṛcchā. Especially in the moral sphere is svabhāva used in two opposing ways, as causality and as chance. As chance, things occur without a cause; hence, effort is useless.

For the past thousand years and more, svabhāvavāda has been associated with the Cārvāka or Lokāyata school of thought, the so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics of ancient India. Both this school, and svabhāvavāda, the doctrine of svabhāva, have been looked down upon. V. M. Bedekar in his article, “The Doctrines of Svabhāva and Kāla in the Mahābhārata and Other Old Sanskrit Works,” writes (pp. 5-6): “The thorough-going determinism of these doctrines is based on crass materialism, according to which everything in the world including human life is the product of the Material Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space) which come together and go off at the behest of Svabhāva, Kāla etc.” (link given in part 1 of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda”). The idea that human effort is in vain, as what the doctrine of svabhāva leads to, can be clearly seen in the verses from Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddha-carita on this (quoted in part 1 of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda”), e.g.: “Some explain that good and evil and existence and non-existence originate by natural development [svabhāvāt, ablative]; and since all this world originates by natural development [svābhāvika], again therefore effort is vain.” (chapter 9, verse 58). Ramkrishna Bhattacharya distinguished this type of svabhāvavāda, svabhāva as chance or accident, from the other type of svabhāvavāda, svabhāva as causality, saying that svabhāva as causality should be associated with the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, not svabhāva as chance or accident.

My speaking of “prehistoric svabhāvavāda” is to distinguish between two kinds of svabhāva as causality. The historically known svabhāvavāda as causality holds that everything arises from its own inherent nature (svabhāva). What I have called prehistoric svabhāvavāda holds that everything arises from the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one, whether this be called the one brahman or ātman, the deva (the shining one), cit (pure consciousness), or the one element. This is the meaning of svabhāva found in the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given in The Secret Doctrine, and in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda. To distinguish it from the historically known svabhāvavāda as causality, as well as from svabhāva as chance or accident, I have called it “prehistoric svabhavavada,” even though reference to it can still be found in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, and it can still be seen in the cosmogony of the Mokṣopāya and its later form, the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha.

Category: Svabhavat | 2 comments

The Universal Over-Soul

October 5th, 2013 — 10:13 am

The third fundamental proposition of the secret doctrine (SD
I, 17) postulates “the fundamental identity of all Souls
with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being an aspect
of the Unknown Root”. We might ask ourselves, what exactly
is this Over-Soul, and how can we relate it to other known
concepts in the philosopy of The Secret

1. The Over-Soul

The term Over-Soul refers to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay
The Over-soul, first published in 1841, in which he
describes the Over-soul as the source of higher inspiration in
man. From the essay:

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past
and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is
that great nature in which we rest as the earth lies in the soft
arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which
every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all
other; that common heart of which all sincere conversation is the
worship, to which all right action is submission; that
overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and
constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from
his character and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends
to pass into our thought and hand and become wisdom and virtue
and power and beauty. We live in succession, in division, in
parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the
whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every
part and particle is equally related; the eternal

In the third fundamental proposition, it is stated that the
Universal Over-Soul is “an aspect of the Unknown
Root”. The Unknown Root is what we have identified with the
Absolute, or space, symbolised by the plane or circumference of
the circle, i.e. the circle without a central point, the
immaculate white disk from the archaic palmleaf manuscript
described in SD I, 1. An aspect of the Root will be one of three
aspects. On the same page the Universal Over-Soul is described as
the “pure Essence of the Universal Sixth
principle”, while the seventh principle is the Root
itself. The principles are counted here from “dense”
to “fine”. On page 19 this sixth principle is
identified with brahmā. On page 13 (footnote), a
fifth universal principle is mentioned, under the name of
āśa, “to which
corresponds and from which proceeds human Manas”.

2. The Universal Soul

The statements on the Universal Soul in The Secret
are very confusing, to say the least. In the third
fundamental proposition we find that the Over-Soul is the sixth
universal principle. In another location in the Proem, SD I, 9-10
we find:

The Occultist […] regards the Adi-Sakti
[…], in her A’kasic form of the Universal Soul — as
philosophically a Maya, and cause of human Maya. But this view
does not prevent him from believing in its existence so long as
it lasts, to wit, for one Mahamanvantara; nor from applying
Akasa, the radiation of Mulaprakriti,* to practical purposes,
connected as the World-Soul is with all natural phenomena, known
or unknown to science.

From this we can distill that the Universal Soul is not the
First unmanifested Logos, but the Second. In SD I, 420 we find a
more unequivocal statement on the Universal Soul:

UNIVERSAL SOUL is not the inert Cause of
Creation or (Para) Brahma, but simply that which we call the
sixth principle of intellectual Kosmos, on the manifested plane
of being. It is Mahat, or Mahabuddhi, the great Soul, the vehicle
of Spirit, the first primeval reflection of the formless CAUSE

It is clear from this quotation that the Universal Soul is
identical to the Second Logos, the sixth universal principle,
Mahat, the “Universal Mind”. This means that the
Universal Soul is none other than the “Universal
Over-Soul” of Emerson.

3. The Anima Mundi or World Soul

In SD I, 365 and the first footnote on that page, we find
evidence that this principle, which we call here the Second Logos
(here referred to as Brahma), is also identical with Anima Mundi
or the World Soul:

In the Hindu Katakopanishad, Purusha, the
divine spirit, already stands before the original matter, “from
whose union springs the great soul of the world,” Maha-Atma,
Brahma, the Spirit of Life,* etc., etc.**[…]

* The latter appellations are all identical
with Anima Mundi, or the “Universal Soul,” the astral light of
the Kabalist and the Occultist, or the “Egg of

Then in SD I, 49 (and other locations), we find the statement
that ālaya is the Universal Soul and Anima

In the Yogacharya system of the contemplative
Mahayana school, Alaya is both the Universal Soul (Anima Mundi)
and the Self of a progressed adept.

Whenever HPB uses ālaya, she refers to the Second Logos
(unless otherwise indicated), although on the same page (SD I,
49) she states that the word ālaya has “two or even
three meanings”. In our discussion on Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II
, we have argued
what the two or three meanings might be, namely the jāti,
pravṛtti and karman aspects of ālaya.

4. Corrections to Earlier Findings

So, we have to correct two errors in our earlier posts. Part
of the table in Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II


Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal
Spiritual Soul]
, Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima

with the remark: “It may be noted that these conclusions
do not in every respect meet the ones from The Three
. The differences concern the terms Universal Soul and
Anima Mundi. It will be necessary to clear up these differences
in a later stage.” We know now, that this part of the table
should have looked like:

Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi

In the post entitled The Three Logoi (3), the Universal
Soul is categorized under the Third Logos, while it should have
been under the Second. The corrected text would

  • First Logos, the One, the Ever Unmanifest, represented by
    ūlaprakti, the Plotinic
    and Orphic Hen, Hyparxis, Universal Good, the Christian
    Father-aspect, Divine Will.
  • Second Logos, the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, the
    Verbum, the Plotinic Nous, the Demiurge, HPB’s Anima Mundi,
    Creative Intelligence, Mahat, Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
    Universal Intelligence, Divine Mind, Divine Wisdom, the
    Son-aspect, the Christ, Brahmā, Īśvara,
    Avalokiteśvara (manifested).
  • Third Logos, the Light of the Logos, Fohat,
    Daiviprakṛti, the Plotinic Psuchē, Universal Soul
    (the Plotinic Anima Mundi)
    , the Nous of Anaxagoras, Divine
    Activity, the Holy Ghost.

5. The Sacred Four

In stanza IV, śloka 5 (SD I, 98) the four highest
universal principles are described. Here, the seventh (first)
principle is called darkness, the sixth (second) adi-sanat, the
fifth (third) svâbhâvat, the fourth (fourth) the
formless square. The first three are “enclosed within the
boundless circle”, and together they are called the
sacred four or the tetraktis.

absolute - 8

In the following table, the four highest Universal
(“Cosmic”) principles are summarized, as described in
various sources.

Principle 7th 6th 5th 4th
Proem to the SD the ONE principle, the Absolute, THAT, Sat, Be-ness, SPACE,
the Root, Parabrahman, Brahman (neutrum)
Universal Over-Soul, Universal Soul,
SD I, 98 (st. IV śl. 5) darkness adi-sanat svâbhâvat formless square
SD II, 596 The Unmanfested Logos Universal (latent) Ideation Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy
Cosmological Notes in BL p. 378; spelling cf.
Blavatsky’s Secret Books, p. 64
svayambhuva nārāyaṇa yajña vāc
snyugs dkon mchog nam ‘mkha (Skt. ākāśa) ‘od (Skt. prabhā, āloka)
Latent Spirit Ensoph Universal Mind Virāj, Universal Illusion Cosmic Will
Additional terms Mother-space, the Eternal Parent, Eternal Mother (1886 Ms),
First Logos
Second Logos Father-Mother, Fire-Mist  

Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Darkness, Logos, Mahat, Rootless Root, Space, Svabhavat, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet

On the eternal Germ

April 18th, 2013 — 06:46 pm

In The Secret Doctrine, in volume I, stanza II, śloka 5-6 (SD I, 28), the Book of Dzyan speaks of a germ from which the universe is born:



In SD I, 1 we find an explanation of this twofold germ in terms of the symbols displayed on the palm leaves of the archaic document mentioned by HPB in the first lines of the Proem:

The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation. It is the Point in the Mundane Egg […], the germ within the latter which will become the Universe, the ALL, the boundless, periodical Kosmos, this germ being latent and active, periodically and by turns.

absolute - 4 - 2The central point in the circle in the second archaic symbol represents the eternal germ. This germ is one of the fundamental aspects of the unmanifested universe. In SD I, 379 we find another important clue as to the nature of the germ:

The spirit of Fire (or Heat), which stirs up, fructifies, and develops into concrete form everything (from its ideal prototype), which is born of WATER or primordial Earth, evolved Brahma — with the Hindus. The lotus flower, represented as growing out of Vishnu’s navel — that God resting on the waters of space and his Serpent of Infinity — is the most graphic allegory ever made: the Universe evolving from the central Sun, the POINT, the ever-concealed germ.

The navel of Viṣṇu is symbolic for the eternal germ, the central point in the Mundane Egg.

From SD I, 381n we learn that we might look for this allegory, or creation story, “in Indian Puranas”:

* In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, who are respectively represented, one as manifesting the lotus, the other as issuing from it.

There are several versions of the story of the birth of Brahmā, for example one of these is found in Manusmṛti chapter I, verses 10-17 and another one in the Mahabhārata book III, section 270. The Manusmṛti version is referred to by HPB in SD I, 333. In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa the story is touched upon several times. In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa however, BhP III.8.10-17, we find a fairly detailed version of the story. In verse 10 in the French 1840 translation of Eugène Burnouf, the primordial state of of the universe is presented like this:

10. Au temps où l’univers tout entier était submergé par les eaux, celui dont les yeux ne se ferment s’abandonna au sommeil, couché sur un lit formé par le Roi des serpents, solitaire, inactif, et trouvant sa dans sa propre béatitude.

We may recognize the waters as the darkness or space from the Book of Dzyan, and the bed formed by the King of serpents, as eternal duration. The serpent in this version of the story is called Śeṣa, and in some other versions it is called Ānanta, meaning endless or eternal. In SD I, 73 we have:

Sesha or Ananta, ‘the couch of Vishnu,’ is an allegorical abstraction, symbolizing infinite Time in Space, which contains the germ and throws off periodically the efflorescence of this germ, the manifested Universe….”.

Viṣṇu’s state of sleep in verse 10 represents pralaya, the tamasic state, a state of inertia. Then there are three qualities attributed to the pralayic state of Viṣṇu: 1. solitaire, 2. inactif, and 3. trouvant sa dans sa propre béatitude. The Sanskrit (see GRETIL: Gaudiya Grantha Mandira) terms here are 1. eka, 2. kṛtakṣaṇa and 3. svātmaratau nirīha:

10. udāplutaṃ viśvam idaṃ tadāsīd yan nidrayāmīlitadṛṅ nyamīlayat
ahīndratalpe ‘dhiśayāna ekaḥ kṛtakṣaṇaḥ svātmaratau nirīhaḥ

The term eka simply means “one”, a term we come across very frequently in volume I of The Secret Doctrine. It is slightly different from Burnouf’s “solitaire”, as it is a more philosophical term indicating primordial unity, rather than isolation or separateness.

Kṛtakṣaṇa would be something like “waiting for the right moment”, composed of kṛta, “done”, and kṣaṇa, “moment”. (Monier-Williams) An alternative “in leisure time”, “waiting”, “pausing”, as opposed to “inactif”, would incorporate the element of time, which is important in subsequent verses. (kāla)

Svātmaratau means “both his own self and delighting”, and nirīha is “indifferent”, “without desire”, “effortless”, or “motionless”, so svātmaratau nirīhaḥ might be translated as “remaining in unity, delighting, without effort”.

In BhP III.8.13-14 the lotus is produced from the navel of Viṣṇu:

13. L’essence subtile, renfermée au sein de celui dont le regard pénètre les molécules élémentaires des choses, agitée par la qualité de la Passion qui s’était développée sous l’influence du temps, sortit, pour créer, de la région de son nombril.

14. Elle s’éleva rapidement sous la forme d’une tige de lotus, par l’action du temps qui réveille les œuvres; ce lotus dont l’Esprit [suprême] est la matrice, éclairait, comme le soleil, de sa splendeur la vaste étendue des eaux.

The corresponding Sanskrit is:

13. tasyārthasūkṣmābhiniviṣṭadṛṣṭer antargato ‘rtho rajasā tanīyān
guṇena kālānugatena viddhaḥ sūṣyaṃs tadābhidyata nābhideśāt

14. sa padmakośaḥ sahasodatiṣṭhat kālena karmapratibodhanena
svarociṣā tat salilaṃ viśālaṃ vidyotayann arka ivātmayoniḥ

The quality of Passion, rajas, stimulates primordial matter, which rises up through the navel taking the form of the bud or stalk of a lotus. (padmakośa)

In verse 13 we have kālānugatena, which is kāla + anugata + -ena, “through acquirement with time” (cf. Monier-Williams), corresponding to Burnouf’s “qui s’était développée sous l’influence du temps”. An alternative would be “after a certain period”, “at a certain time/moment”. In verse 14 we have kālena, “by time”, or “through the workings of time”, “par l’action du temps”, and again an alternative would be the instrumental of time: “in time”, “at a certain moment” or perhaps even HPB’s more poetic “when the hour has struck”.


No. 47.110/60 1 in The National Museum, New Delhi

Returning to the enigmatic quotation from the “Occult Catechism” in SD I, 11:

“What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal Anupadaka.”* “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” [..]

The eternal germ is the principle “that ever was” because it is at any time the origin of the current world process. It is the First Logos, or as we have seen, in terms of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Viṣṇu, or more specifically the navel of Viṣṇu.


Category: Brahma, Creation Stories, Darkness, Duration, Germ, Space | 2 comments

Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause

March 31st, 2013 — 05:24 pm

In SD I, 280 we find that by HPB the “Causeless Cause of All Causes” is identified with kāraṇa:

The ever unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart — invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through “the still small voice” of our spiritual consciousness.

As we have seen in The footnote in SD I, 14-15, the “Causeless One Cause”, the “Rootless Root” is the unmanifested Logos, which we have called the First Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

In SD I, 41 (explaining stanza I śloka 5) is stated that in the period of pralaya, when the universe has returned to its “one primal and eternal cause”, that

“Karana” — eternal cause — was alone.

In SD I, 93 we find in stanza IV śloka 4 the “eternal nidana”, or nidāna, which is a Sanskrit word for cause, the first cause in particular, or the cause of existence (cf. Monier-Williams), which in stanza IV śloka 5 is identified with “’DARKNESS,’ […], ADI-NIDANA SVABHAVAT”. In the note in SD I, 93n we find an explanation of the word nidāna:

* […] but in this instance, it is a term to denote the ceaseless and eternal Cosmic Motion; or rather the Force that moves it, which Force is tacitly accepted as the Deity but never named. It is the eternal Karana, the ever-acting Cause.

Here, nidāna is identified with kāraṇa, and with the “force” resulting in cosmic motion. The concept of abstract motion is, together with abstract space and abstract duration, one of the central concepts in the esoteric philosophy presented in The Secret Doctrine. In the Book of Dzyan, this unmanifested aspect behind cosmic motion is symbolised as the great breath, while cosmic motion itself is called the divine breath.

In SD II, 46 we find out some more about kāraṇa, in a quotation from the “Commentary”:

“After the changeless (avikâra) immutable nature (Essence, sadaikarûpa) had awakened and changed (differentiated) into (a state of) causality (avayakta), and from cause (Karana) had become its own discrete effect (vyakta), from invisible it became visible. The smallest of the small (the most atomic of atoms, or aniyâmsam aniyâsam) became one and the many (ekanekárûpa); and producing the Universe produced also the Fourth Loka (our Earth) in the garland of the seven lotuses. The Achyuta then became the Chyuta.*

We see that kāraṇa itself changes into its own effect, which is called vyakta, a term generally indicating that which is manifested, or the manifested universe, but another one of its meanings (as an adjective) is visible, apparent or caused to appear.  (Monier-Williams)

In the Viṣṇupurāṇa (VP), in the 1840 translation of Horace H. Wilson, which was regularly consulted by HPB, we find in Book I chapter II page 8, in Wilson’s notes, explanations of the Sanskrit terms from the quotation of the Commentary:

2. This address to Vishńu pursues the notion that he, as the supreme being, is one, whilst he is all: he is Avikára, not subject to change; Sadaikarúpa, one invariable nature: he is the liberator (tára), or he who bears mortals across the ocean of existence: he is both single and manifold (ekánekarúpa): and he is the indiscrete (avyakta) cause of the world, as well as the discrete (vyakta) effect; or the invisible cause, and visible creation.


4. Ańíyánsam ańíyasám, ‘the most atomic of the atomic;’ alluding to the atomic theory of the Nyáya or logical school.

5. Or Achyuta; a common name of Vishńu, from a, privative, and chyuta, fallen; according to our comment, ‘he who does not perish with created things.’ The Mahábhárata interprets it in one place to mean, ‘he who is not distinct from final emancipation;’ and in another to signify, ‘exempt from decay’. A commentator on the Káśikhańd́a of the Skánda Puráńa explains it, ‘he who never declines (or varies) from his own proper nature.’

What it means that we find these terms here in one page in Wilson’s notes is, I think, open for debate.

In the text of the Viṣṇupurāṇa (VP I.II.1-5) we can try to identify the terms from the quotation of SD II, 46:

avikâra avikāra
sadaikarûpa sadaikarūpa
avayakta [sic] avyakta
karana kāraṇa
vyakta vyakta
aniyâmsam aniyâsam aṇīyāṃsamaṇīyasam
ekanekárûpa ekāneka(sva)rūpa
achyuta acyuta
chyuta cyuta

The idea of the Causeless Cause, or the cause, kāraṇa, becoming its own effect, vyakta, is formulated by Wilson in note 3 on page 8:

The world is therefore not regarded by the Pauranics as an emanation or an illusion, but as consubstantial with its first cause.

Of course much more could be said about this passage in the VP, relating to the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan, an example being that in VP I.II.4, Viṣṇu is called mūlabhūta, the root of the world (Wilson), a term found in stanza II śloka 1 (SD I, 53).

Returning to our theme here, we might turn to another location in the stanzas, in SD I, 107-108, stanza V śloka 2:


In HPB’s extensive commentary to (c) we find (in SD I, 109):

When the “Divine Son” breaks forth, then Fohat becomes the propelling force, the active Power which causes the ONE to become TWO and THREE — on the Cosmic plane of manifestation. The triple One differentiates into the many, and then Fohat is transformed into that force which brings together the elemental atoms and makes them aggregate and combine.

and (in SD I, 110):

By the action of the manifested Wisdom, or Mahat, represented by these innumerable centres of spiritual Energy in the Kosmos, the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation, becomes objectively the Fohat of the Buddhist esoteric philosopher. Fohat, running along the seven principles of AKASA, acts upon manifested substance or the One Element, as declared above, and by differentiating it into various centres of Energy, sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution, which, in obedience to the Ideation of the Universal Mind, brings into existence all the various states of being in the manifested Solar System.

Combining the phrase “THE DZYU BECOMES FOHAT “ from stanza V śloka 2 with this last quote, we must conclude that the dzyu is identical to “the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation”. Dzyu becomes fohat “when the ‘Divine Son’ breaks forth”, i.e. at the moment the universe comes into manifestation, so we can conclude that dzyu is the unmanifested principle which is at the basis of fohat, the (manifested) “propelling force” which “sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution”. This principle is of course kāraṇa, which is, as we have seen, the “force” resulting in cosmic motion, or the principle of abstract motion, in the Book of Dzyan symbolised as the great breath.


Category: Causeless Cause, Divine Breath, Fohat, Great Breath, Karana, Motion, Nidana, Root of the World, Vyakta | 2 comments

Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas

December 26th, 2012 — 05:47 am

Part 3. Tracing the Cosmogony Account from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā

If the “Book of Dzyan” is real, we may wonder why it has been kept secret until H. P. Blavatsky brought out stanzas from it on cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis. In response to this question, it will be instructive to try to trace the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. As found in the various purāṇas now extant, this account goes from an impersonal primary substance as the origin of the world and of what people call God, to primary substance being equated with God, to God creating primary substance and the world through His will. Apparently the custodians of the “Book of Dzyan” did not want this to happen to its teachings, and thus preferred to hand down this book in secret. We see that its custodians, now known as the Theosophical Mahatmas, tried to address these very same questions of God and ultimate substance when they allowed some of the teachings from the “Book of Dzyan” to be made public.

Like any busy executive, the Theosophical Mahatmas normally imparted what they wanted to say to their “secretaries,” advanced chelas such as H. P. Blavatsky, who then passed it on to the appropriate party on their behalf. One of the two Englishmen who received “Mahatma letters” in this way in the early 1880s, in attempting to write an exposition of the occult philosophy that he gathered from these letters, had drafted a chapter on “God.” At this point the Mahatma K.H. replied, apparently directly, with one of the clearest and most forceful statements of their teachings that we have. As he said about this elsewhere, “I cannot permit our sacred philosophy to be so disfigured.” This extraordinary reply, known as Mahatma letter #10, is where the Mahatma says that they deny God, and that they believe in matter (or substance) alone. Here are a few highlights from it, starting with its opening sentence:

“Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital H. . . . If people are willing to accept and to regard as God our ONE LIFE immutable and unconscious in its eternity they may do so and thus keep to one more gigantic misnomer. . . . When we speak of our One Life we also say that it penetrates, nay is the essence of every atom of matter; and that therefore it not only has correspondence with matter but has all its properties likewise, etc.—hence is material, is matter itself. . . . Matter we know to be eternal, i.e., having had no beginning. . . . As to God—since no one has ever or at any time seen him or it—unless he or it is the very essence and nature of this boundless eternal matter, its energy and motion, we cannot regard him as either eternal or infinite or yet self existing. . . . Then what do we believe in? . . . In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, and which nature draws from herself since she is the great whole outside of which nothing can exist. . . . The existence of matter then is a fact; the existence of motion is another fact, their self existence and eternity or indestructibility is a third fact. And the idea of pure spirit as a Being or an Existence—give it whatever name you will—is a chimera, a gigantic absurdity.”

The idea of ultimate reality as eternal substance rather than a Godhead was so unexpected that it was doubted even by students of Theosophy and followers of the Theosophical Mahatmas. Is this really what the Mahatma meant? Did we understand him correctly? Is the letter authentic? Was it transmitted accurately? The three most advanced chelas of the Theosophical movement, H. P. Blavatsky, T. Subba Row, and Damodar Mavalankar, all agreed that the answer to these questions is “yes.” The teaching was correctly understood. Damodar Mavalankar, when reviewing a book in 1883, reiterated this teaching, and in so doing stressed that it is a central Theosophical teaching. He wrote:

“One point, however, may be noticed, as it is found to be constantly contradicted and picked holes into, by the theists as well as by all the supporters of independent creation—viz., the ‘definition of matter.’

“‘Kapila defines matter to be eternal and co-existent with Spirit. It was never in a state of non-being, but always in a state of constant change, it is subtle and sentient,’ &c., &c., (p. 2.)

“This is what the Editor of this Journal [H. P. Blavatsky] has all along maintained and can hardly repeat too often. The article: ‘What is Matter and what is Force?’ in the Theosophist for September 1882, is sufficiently lucid in reference to this question. It is at the same time pleasant to find that our learned friend and brother, Mr. T. Subba Row Garu, the great Adwaitee scholar, shares entirely with all of us these views, which every intuitional scholar, who comprehends the true spirit of the Sankhya philosophy, will ever maintain. This may be proved by the perusal of a recent work on ‘Yoga Philosophy’ by the learned Sanskritist, Dr. Rajendra Lala Mittra, the Introduction to which has just appeared, showing clearly how every genuine scholar comprehends the Sankhya in the same spirit as we do. The ONE LIFE of the Buddhists, or the Parabrahm of the Vedantins, is omnipresent and eternal. Spirit and matter are but its manifestations. As the energising force—Purush of Kapila—it is Spirit—as undifferentiated cosmic matter, it is Mulaprakriti. As differentiated cosmic matter, the basis of phenomenal evolution, it is Prakriti. In its aspect of being the field of cosmic ideation, it is Chidakasam; as the germ of cosmic ideation it is Chinmatra; while in its characteristic of perception it is Pragna. Whoever presumes to deny these points denies the main basis of Hindu Philosophy and clings but to its exoteric, weather-beaten, fast fading out shell.

(The Theosophist, vol. 4, no. 12, September 1883, p. 318)

The article that Damodar refers to, “What is Matter and What Is Force?,” also authored by the Mahatma K.H., sums up in its conclusion:

“Therefore, whether it is called Force or Matter, it will ever remain the Omnipresent Proteus of the Universe, the one element—LIFE—Spirit or Force at its negative, Matter at its positive pole; the former the MATERIO-SPIRITUAL, the latter, the MATERIO-PHYSICAL Universe—Nature, Svabhavat or INDESTRUCTIBLE MATTER.”

In Mahatma letter #22, a follow-up to Mahatma letter #10, the Mahatma K.H. says about spirit and matter: “it is one of the elementary and fundamental doctrines of Occultism that the two are one, and are distinct but in their respective manifestations, and only in the limited perceptions of the world of senses.” In letter #10 after saying “we believe in MATTER alone,” he went on, “with its unceasing motion which is its life.” In letter #22 he explained: “Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal. But no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.” That is why he cannot accept spirit as a principle distinct from matter. Spirit, puruṣa, is the motion or life of matter, prakṛti. And that is why he would give matter as primary, saying “we believe in MATTER alone” rather than “we believe in SPIRIT alone.” There can be no motion without something to move.

Thus, understanding “matter alone” to be living matter or substance, endowed with motion or life or spirit, we have a succinct statement of ultimate reality as taught in the Wisdom Tradition now known as Theosophy. As already noted, ultimate reality, the highest (para) brahman, is clearly and unambiguously equated with primary substance (pradhāna) and substance or matter (prakṛti) in the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. This makes the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā to be of particular value for our Book of Dzyan research. It provides, in the oldest form that can be traced, of the most central sourcebooks of Hindu cosmogony, direct agreement with what is understood to be a fundamental teaching of the Wisdom Tradition that the Book of Dzyan comes from.

We may now proceed to try to trace the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā through its changes in the now extant purāṇas, and try to see how the teaching of primary substance as ultimate reality was displaced by that of God. It is a good lesson in what happens to primeval truths over time in the hands of the public. It illustrates why the custodians of the “Book of Dzyan” preferred to preserve it in secret.

Our oldest sources (the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas) report only one player here in the first verse of the creation or emanation (sarga) account derived from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, namely, the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), called primary substance (pradhāna), or substance (prakṛti). This same verse is also found with no substantial variants in the Kūrma Purāṇa (4.6) and the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa (1.77.2), and somewhat re-worded in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.2.19) and the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (45.32), but adding only the adjective “subtle” (sūkṣma) to “substance” (prakṛti). Primary substance (unmanifest, and quite non-physical, we recall) is in the following lines of the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā account described as the highest (para) brahman, ultimate reality.

In other than the oldest sources of the creation or emanation (sarga) account derived from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā we find its first verse in more or less modified form. Padma Purāṇa 1.2.8 merely summarizes that everything emanates (sṛjati) from the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), what was called primary substance (pradhāna) in the fuller verse. The “Laws of Manu,” Manu-smṛti 1.11, specifies that what emanated from this is the puruṣa (“person, male”) called Brahmā. Brahmā is the creator god (not the neuter absolute brahman). So puruṣa is here not the cosmic principle “spirit,” who would be our second major player. Rather, this Manu-smṛti verse introduces our third main player, the puruṣa (“person” or “male”) who is equivalent to the creator god Brahmā, and who is also called īśvara, “God,” or loka-bhāvana, “creator of the world(s),” in other variations of this verse.

Besides in Manu-smṛti 1.11, puruṣa is also brought into this verse as it is found in Brahma Purāṇa 1.33 or 1.34, Harivaṃśa 1.17, and Śiva Purāṇa 5.29.5. Here things get fuzzy in regard to how puruṣa is meant. Although the Manu-smṛti no doubt underwent modification, it probably did so less than most of the purāṇas did. So we may take its version of this verse as a reasonably reliable guide for comparison on this question. As already noted, its Brahmā, the creator god, or the synonyms īśvara, “God,” and loka-bhāvana, “creator of the world(s),” bring in puruṣa as our third main player, rather than puruṣa as the cosmic principle “spirit.”

In Brahma Purāṇa 1.33 or 1.34, īśvara (“God”) is the puruṣa (“person, male”), and he produces (nirmame) the universe from primary substance (pradhāna). The very same wording also occurs in Harivaṃśa 1.17, except that it has puruṣa in a grammatically different case (puruṣam rather than puruṣas), so that puruṣa is no longer īśvara. Here, if we accept this grammatically problematic reading, puruṣa may be taken as the cosmic principle “spirit” rather than as the “person” or “male.” Then to make sense of the verse we must force its construal, and have it say that īśvara (“God”) produces the universe from primary substance (pradhāna) and spirit (puruṣa). For the Harivaṃśa we have a critical edition, and we see that not all of the manuscripts accepted this reading (puruṣam rather than puruṣas). Indeed, the oldest manuscript says just the opposite, that pradhāna (primary substance) and puruṣa (spirit) produce (nirmame) this creator of the world (loka-bhāvana; i.e., Brahmā, given in the following verse).

This verse as found in Śiva Purāṇa 5.29.5 is even more grammatically problematic. Here is what the “Board of Scholars” who translated it could make of it: “Puruṣa is eternal and he is of the nature of Sat and Asat as Pradhāna and Puruṣa. The creator of the worlds created Pradhāna after becoming Puruṣa.” This would be a reversal, having puruṣa, spirit, create pradhāna, primary substance. This, of course, makes little sense when pradhāna is everywhere said to be eternal, and therefore could never be created.

So of the four sources that bring puruṣa into this verse, puruṣa is clearly the “person” or “male” as Brahmā, the creator god, in Manu-smṛti 1.11, and as īśvara (“God”) in Brahma Purāṇa 1.33 or 1.34. Because of a grammatically questionable reading in Harivaṃśa 1.17, and multiple ones in Śiva Purāṇa 5.29.5, we cannot say that these verses unambiguously bring in puruṣa as the cosmic principle “spirit.” Our second major player, puruṣa as the cosmic principle “spirit,” appears unambiguously only in the fourth verse of this account only as it is found in the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa (1.77.5). This verse may be translated as: “. . . without form, unknowable, they call this the highest (para) puruṣa. By the self (ātman) of this great self (mahātman) all this world is pervaded.” Here puruṣa, like pradhāna in its first verse, is clearly used as a synonym of the absolute brahman. However, the other purāṇas that have this account in full (Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Kūrma, and Liṅga, and also its somewhat re-worded form in the Mārkaṇḍeya) all have brahman here in this verse rather than puruṣa. So it is probable that only brahman, and not puruṣa as “spirit,” is found here in the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā.

Lastly, we get to the first verse of the creation or emanation (sarga) account as found in Liṅga Purāṇa 1.70.3. We have seen that in Manu-smṛti 1.11 puruṣa as the creator god Brahmā emanates from the unmanifest (avyakta), also called primary substance (pradhāna), and that in Brahma Purāṇa 1.33/1.34 puruṣa as īśvara (“God”) produces the universe from primary substance (pradhāna). Now in the Liṅga Purāṇa what had been merely our third player trumps our first player. Here in the preceding verse the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara), also known as Śiva, stands above substance (prakṛti) and spirit (puruṣa), and is equated with the highest self (parama-ātman). From this God (īśvarāt tasmāt) came (abhavat, “became”) the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), called primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti). Our verses now continue unchanged (except ajara for ajāta), bringing in the highest (para) brahman as a synonym of primary substance (pradhāna). But here the Liṅga Purāṇa adds “impelled by the command of God” (īśvara-ājñā-pracodita). After another unchanged verse (except aprakāśa for asāmprata), the Liṅga Purāṇa account concludes with one more dramatic change: It was “by the will of Śiva” (śiva-icchayā) that “all this [universe] was pervaded by its [brahman’s] self (ātman).” So here in a full reversal, God creates primary substance (pradhāna), rather than God emanates from primary substance.

The idea of a God who can create even primary substance, supposed to be eternal, found its way into this cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā only gradually. In the Liṅga Purāṇa version of it, primary substance is stated to have originated from God or Śiva. The Kūrma Purāṇa version of it is also preceded by a verse bringing in God, stating that the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara), also known as Śiva, is above the unmanifest (avyakta), and is the niyantṛ (regulator, controller, governor) [of the universe]. Here, however, this God may be equated with primary substance rather than being its creator, by way of the relative pronoun, yat, in the first verse of the cosmogony account proper. After the verse that precedes this account, the Kūrma Purāṇa continues with a largely unchanged version of this cosmogony account in comparison with that found in the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas.

A verse mentioning God and the great God similar to the one preceding the cosmogony account in the Kūrma Purāṇa also found its way into the Vāyu Purāṇa, in a different location (1.42 or 1.48-49), although it is not found in the corresponding Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa. Its construal with the verse that follows it, the same verse that appears in Padma Purāṇa 1.2.8 (mentioned above), is ambiguous. But in yet another location, the Vāyu (2.41.36 or 103.36) and Brahmāṇḍa ( purāṇas clearly state that the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara) arises from the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), from primary substance (pradhāna) and spirit (puruṣa), and this God is also there called Brahmā, the creator god. In other words, the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara) is there equated with our third player.

In the cosmogony account that can be recovered from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, no God is involved. The impersonal “great” (mahat) principle, also called the principle of intelligence (buddhi), emanates from primary substance, and the world emanates from the “great” principle. The “great” principle then came to be called the creator god Brahmā, or just God (īśvara), or even the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara). Once this happened, God became more and more powerful in human estimation. So as seen above, we go from no God, to God who emanates from primary substance, to God who is equated with primary substance, to God who creates primary substance. As the idea of God moved in, the teaching of ultimate primary substance faded out (see: “God’s Arrival in India”). Yet, ultimate primary substance, endowed with motion or life or spirit, is affirmed to be the original teaching of the Wisdom Tradition, and the evidence from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā strongly supports this.

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The Doctrine of ‘Nature Origination’ in the Korean Ch’an Buddhism of Chinul and Li T’ung Hsuan’s ‘Hua-yen’ – by Ken Small

September 19th, 2012 — 09:05 pm

[ ADMIN Note : The following post was provided par Ken Small as an introduction to a new discovery which is of much interest for the students of the Theosophical teachings on Svabhava. This is opening a new area for research. Thanks to him for sharing this insight with us.]


One of the most important and challenging concepts in Blavatsky’s ‘Secret Doctrine’ is the doctrine of ‘svabhava’ or ‘svabhavat’.

David Reigle in his opening to his chapter on ‘The Doctrine of Svabhava’ makes reference to works “… found in the Bodhisattva-bhumi, attributed to Asanga … or to Maitreya… . This text in its tattvartha or “reality” chapter speaks of the inexpressible svabhavata (nature or essence) of all the elements of existence … . Being beyond the range of speech, this absolute (paramarthika) svabhava of all dharmas is accessible only to non-conceptual wisdom (nirvikalpa-jnana)…” (BSB, p.106 – Reigle)

Reigle continues in this chapter of his book (Blavatsky’s Secret Books p.106) linking this svabhava doctrine to the tathagata-garbha doctrine found in Maitreya’s Ratna-gotra-vibhaga, and questions on svabhava, anatman and sunyata are delved into and a process of clarifying their relation to Blavatsky’s. A question that frequently arises is how these ideas, so harmonious with the Theosophical view, continue in living traditions today?

The Korean Ch’an (kor. Son) schools descending from the 12th century founding teacher Chinul remain currently active and in practice. Many scholars and practicioners today consider him the founder of the unified Son (Ch’an) / Kyo (doctrinal Buddhism) Korean Buddhism of today. Chinul was a unique figure that merged together both Ch’an and Hua-yen view into one school of thought and practice. While this is a large subject to cover that would require a book length text, a few points are here quoted that appear to relate closely to subjects in Blavatsky’s perennial Theosophy.


So, as I was recently studying the schools and writings that are sourced in the Avatamsaka sutra (see Cleary’s translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra and his introductory notes), I came across this Korean (Chinul) branch that appears to follow this unique approach to ‘nature’ or ‘svabhava’. It is from the Hua yen tradition through a famous layman, named Li T’ung-hsuan (635 CE – 730). His ideas of ‘nature origination’ find currency again in the Korean Ch’an/Hua yen teacher Chinul* (1158-1210). Here appears an approach to svabhava that appears similar to Blavatsky’s and is rare in Buddhism. I have noted here a few other points of potential confluence between Hua-yen and Blavatsky, including within Hua-yen the following: on the subject of universality and particularity, the one and the many, the nature of time, the identity of mutual interpenetration and identity, the One Mind, microcosm and macrocosm, equivalence of Buddha nature and emptiness, etc. All this is open for new understandings and exploration. It is of interest to also note that within Hua-yen is a unified view of sunyata and the tathagatagarbha doctrines. In what follows I will give some brief quotes from translated sources and scholarly commentary about this aspect of Hua-yen tradition. This is no attempt at even an overview of a very vast and complex subject within Hua-yen, but only to give some very introductory ideas and points of reference of areas for its further study with Blavatsky’s Theosophic perennialism.

Also, always the cautionary note, that it is often rather challenging to get the source terms correctly aligned, when going from Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Korean and then to the often barely adequate English, where one word may be used for very different ideas, or several words interchangeably for the same Buddhist term. So what follows is very preliminary.

The Korean ‘song’ or ‘songgi’ or Chinese ‘hsing-chi’ for the Sanskrit svabhava (see Odin p. 63) is translated into English as ‘nature’. (I have added some areas in bold for emphasis)

Buswell gives the source for ‘nature’ as:

prakriti, svabhava: The unchanging, absolute nature of all dharmas; contrasted with characteristics.” (CWC – Buswell p.400)

Regarding ‘nature origination’:

Chinul discovered the philosophical basis for such correlated doctrines as the primacy of faith, the primordial identification of sentient beings with Buddha, and sudden awakening, in Li T’ung-hsuan’s radical and unorthodox doctrine of nature origination. (Chi. Hsing-chi; Kor. Yuan-chi) (PMHYB p. 63 Odin)

Chinul emphasizes that whereas conditioned origination articulates reality from the perspective of multiple phenomena (shih) or dynamic function (yung), nature origination articulates reality from the perspective of principle (li) or universal essence (t’i). Where as conditioned origination requires an intermediary intellectual framework of interpenetration and mutual fusion to identify principle (li) with phenomena (shih), the more radical doctrine of nature-origination, instead emphasizes the non-production or non-origination of phenomena and requires no intermediary conceptual apparatus. (PMHYB p. 64 Odin)

The usual interpretation of faith as a belief in the possibility of becoming a Buddha through the step by step procedure of faith, understanding, practice and authentication was changed into the new idea that faith is the resolute conviction that one is already identified with Buddhahood. (PMHYB p. 61 Odin quoting Shim)

Regarding the ethic of Hua-yen, Cleary comments:

The Hua-yen doctrine shows the entire cosmos as one single nexus of conditions in which everything simultaneously depends on, and is depended on by, everything else. Seen in this light, then, everything affects and is affected by, more or less immediately or remotely, everything else; just as this is true of every system of relationships, so is it true of the totality of existence.… The accord of this view with the experience of modern science is obvious, and it seems to be an appropriate basis upon which the question of the relation of science and bioethics – an issue of contemporary concern – may be resolved. … The ethic of the Hua-yen teaching is based on this fundamental theme of universal interdependenc.

(EITI p. 3 Cleary)

Francis Cook states:

Hua-yen is certainly a type of pan-Buddhism. (HYB p.92, Cook)

We might, as a matter of fact, characterize Hua-yen as a species of tathagatagarbha thought which is in turn based on the doctrine of emptiness. Even this is not the whole truth, for it tends to distort the relationship between the two doctrines. Ultimately, sunyata and tathagatagarbha are alternate expressions for the same reality.

(HYB, p.36 Cook)

All men possess a point of numinous brightness which is still like space and pervades every region. When contrasted with mundane affairs, it is expediently called the noumenal nature. When contrasted with formations and consciousness, it is provisionally called the true mind. (CWC p. 181 Buswell quoting Chinul)

Odin comments on unity and multiplicity in Hua-yen:

The dialectical interpenetration of unity and multiplicity or subjectivity and objectivety in Hua-yen Buddhism essentially represents a microcosmic-macrocosmic model of reality wherein each dharma or event becomes a living mirror of the totality, reflecting all other dharmas—past, present, and future alike—from its own standpoint in nature … not unlike Leibniz’s theory of “monads” or perspectival mirrors in the West. (PMHYB p. 16 Odin)

Keel quoting Tsung-mi:

The original Essence of True Mind has two kinds of function: One is the original function of Self Nature, and the other is the function according to external conditions. If we compare them to copper, the quality of copper is its Essence of
Self-Nature, its brightness the function of Self-Nature, and the reflections appearing on it the Functions according to conditions … Analogously, the constant quiescence of Mind is the Essence of Self-Nature, the
constant knowing of Mind the function of Self-Nature, and to talk, to speak, and to distinguish are the Functions according to conditions. (TFKST p.87 Keel)

Nature giving rise to Characteristics (Phenomena, Functions) is called in Hua-yen doctrine Origination-by-Nature (songgi) as distinguished from Origination-by-condition (yongi). To see a phenomena from the vantage point of Origination-by-Nature means to understand it in its phenomenality, in its conditioned nature, and thus in its Emptiness. So long as a thing is seen in its Nature of Origination-by-Condition, it is Origination-by-nature at the same time. Further, so long as one sees a phenomena in this way, it is seen as a Function of the Essence of True Mind. Thus, for Chinul, the logic of Origination-by-Nature underlies the truth of the mysterious Function of True Mind. Every phenomena, seen in this way, no longer becomes an obstruction to our spiritual freedom but is affirmed plainly as it is. (TFKST p.84-85 Keel)

Buswell clarifying some implications of ‘nature origination’:

Chinul’s acceptance of the doctrine of nature origination (songgi) rather than the conditioned origination of the dharmadhatu stems from the formers superiority in the development of practice. While conditioned origination might be theoretically valid, its efficacy from a pragmatic standpoint is limited. The emphasis on nature origination had important implications for Chinul’s synthesis of the theoretical views of the Hwaom [Hua-yen] and Son [Ch’an] schools …

(CWC pp. 232-233 Buswell)

This is only a brief taste of a few key points in the ideas of Chinul and Li T’ung Hsuan. It is to be hoped that gradually as more of the writings of the Hua-yen and Korean Son (Ch’an) teachers become translated, more light on these ideas will be possible. Certainly, it can be said, that the harmonious confluences between Hua-yen and Blavatsky’s Theosophic perennialism point to a significant and dynamic confluence of views useful to deepening our study and practice in both arenas.

*The Avatamsaka’s influence continued through out the later course of Ch’an history, and is especially noticeable in the thought of Chinul (1158-1210), who during the Koryo Dynasty (937-1392) revivied the declining fortunes of the Ch’an school in Korea. Chinul was profoundly influenced by Tsung-mi … Another important influence on chnul was that of Li T’ung-hsuan (635-730), also an important Hua-yen figure. The Avatamsaka’s influence on Ch’an has been such that it has even been suggested that Ch’an is the practical expression of the profound and comprehensive teaching of the Avatamsaka.

(MTBAAS p.20 Cheng Chien Bhikshu)

References referred to and recommended for further study:

Buswell, Robert E. – The Collected Works of Chinul

Cheng Chien Bhikshu – Manifestation of the Tathagata: Buddhahood According to the Avatamsaka Sutra

Cleary, Thomas – Entry into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism

Cleary, Thomas – The Avatamsaka Sutra

Cook, Francis H. – Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

Keel, Hee-Sung – Chinul:The Founder of the Korean Son [Ch’an] Tradition

Odin, Steve – Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism

Reigle, David and Nancy – Blavatsky’s Secret Books

Category: Five Books of Maitreya, Svabhavat | 2 comments

Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Mokṣopāya

July 1st, 2012 — 03:17 am

In the Mokṣopāya, the “Means to Liberation,” we have the least mythological and most detailed account of cosmogony, especially its very early stages, found in any Sanskrit book known to me. The Mokṣopāya, as described here earlier (April 13, 2012), is an unrevised and considerably more original version of what has become known as the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. Through the kindness of a friend, I have now acquired the recently published large Sanskrit volume giving its utpatti-prakaraṇa, the section (prakaraṇa) on the origination (utpatti) of the world (Mokṣopāya, Das Dritte Buch: Utpattiprakaraṇa, Kritische Edition von Jürgen Hanneder, Peter Stephan und Stanislav Jager, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011). The fact that ultimately the world has never really arisen, according to this text, does not prevent this text from teaching cosmogony, which it here does. A large percentage of the Mokṣopāya (and Yoga-vāsiṣṭha) is teaching stories used to illustrate its ideas. Only a small percentage directly states the teachings. The core account of cosmogony is found in chapter twelve of the utpatti-prakaraṇa or third section of the Mokṣopāya. No translation of this yet exists. Martin Gansten informs me that the projected translation of this section by him, announced in The Mokṣopāya, Yogavāsiṣṭha and Related Texts (2005, p. 4), had to be abandoned years ago. Roland Steiner informs me that it is years away in the German translation that is underway by him as part of the Mokṣopāya Project, funded by two German universities. I have not heard of any English translation that is either planned or begun. I have therefore translated this chapter myself, since it is of fundamental importance for Book of Dzyan research.

An altered version of this chapter is, of course, found in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. The only complete translation of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha is that by Vihāri-lāla Mitra, published in four large volumes, 1891-1899 (Calcutta). Unfortunately, it is more of an interpretation than a translation. About this translation B. L. Atreya writes in his extensive 1936 study, The Philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha (p. 31), that it “is praiseworthy only as an effort, not as a translation. It is not reliable, being wrong at numberless places. It is altogether useless for a student of the philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha.” While it may not be useless for other purposes, so that the years of labor bestowed by Mitra on the translation were not in vain, I would agree that it is useless for those who want to study the philosophy. It is just too loose. Moreover, Mitra often adds things of his own that are not in the Sanskrit. At the same time, he often omits the more difficult terms, simply leaving them out of his translation. Thus, from his translation, a reader cannot know what is and is not in the Sanskrit text. Since his time, a few summarized and paraphrased translations of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha have been published (e.g., Vasiṣṭha’s Yoga, by Swami Venkatesananda). But for the chapter in question they are too vague and general to be of much use for comparative studies of its cosmogony.

B. L. Atreya gives a general summary of this chapter in his book, The Philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, on pp. 188-189. He then notes: “The above passages are freely rendered into English, as literal translation would appear to be unintelligible.” Intelligible or not, a literally accurate translation (as accurate as English allows) is necessary for comparative research on cosmogony, especially the detailed cosmogony of the Book of Dzyan. Atreya probably here also alludes to the fact that while it is usually possible to get the text’s general meaning, its precise meaning is often uncertain. The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha uses some unusual words whose exact meaning has not been fully ascertained. This is even more the case in the Mokṣopāya, where considerably more unusual words are found. These have often been changed into familiar words in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, sometimes changing the meaning entirely. On more common words, there are always questions about which of their several meanings are intended. These include many technical terms, whose meanings vary from one system to another. The metrical verse format means that in many cases more than one way to construe the words into sentences is possible. A verse can be taken in various ways. So while one may get the general sense well enough, the precise meaning cannot always be arrived at with certainty. Along with this is the fact that Sanskrit technical terms simply have no accurate English equivalents in many cases. The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha and Mokṣopāya use, for example, several different terms for consciousness, with varying shades of meaning. Sometimes these are used as synonyms, and sometimes they are not. Even when these shades of meaning are understood by the translator, they often cannot be rendered into English for lack of equivalents. These two facts make it difficult to produce a complete and literally accurate translation. Despite the difficulty, a literally accurate translation of chapter twelve of the third section of the Mokṣopāya must be attempted.

Sanskrit texts written in verse are normally read in India with the help of commentaries, because sentences are often somewhat abbreviated when put into verse. There exists a very helpful commentary on the Mokṣopāya, written by Bhāskara-kaṇṭha, but unfortunately we do not have it complete. It so happens that the extant fragment of this commentary on the utpatti-prakaraṇa breaks off after three and a half verses of chapter twelve (Bhāskarakaṇṭhas Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā: Die Fragmente des 3. (Utpatti-)Prakaraṇa, ed. Walter Slaje, Graz, 1995, pp. 186-187). For the construal and meaning of the remaining verses of this chapter we have little help. The commentary by Ānanda-bodhendra Sarasvatī on the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha comments on a text that differs substantially from the Mokṣopāya, and does so from the standpoint of Advaita Vedānta (which is not the standpoint of the Mokṣopāya). Nonetheless, I have consulted this commentary and taken help from it where possible. These cases have been clearly noted.

For most of this chapter of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha there is also a carefully done translation by Samvid that attempts to be literally accurate. It is found in The Vision and the Way of Vasiṣṭha (Madras: Indian Heritage Trust, 1993, pp. 141-147). This book is the Vāsiṣṭhadarśanam, 2,461 of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha’s approximately 28,000 verses, selected by B. L. Atreya as giving the philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. To Atreya’s collection, first published in Sanskrit in 1936, is here added a careful English translation by Samvid. He writes (p. xlviii): “The translator is aware that his obsession with exactitude in translation has led to complex constructions in several places and perhaps, some transgression of the normally accepted usage of the language. The translator hopes that the readers will pardon this apparent shortcoming, since the advantages of the translator’s approach outweigh those of the usual paraphrases which are presented as translations.” Where the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha and the Mokṣopāya coincide, I have found this translation to be very helpful, and have adopted some phrases from it. The extensive differences between Samvid’s translation and my translation mostly reflect the considerable differences between the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha and the Mokṣopāya, and sometimes the different possibilities for English translation of the same Sanskrit.

For the meaning of the unusual words found in the Mokṣopāya (and often in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha), and to determine as accurately as possible the meaning intended for the more common words, I have spent many hours searching for and checking other passages in which they occur in the Mokṣopāya, and for glosses of them in the extant portions of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s commentary on the Mokṣopāya (sections one through four, edited by Walter Slaje, 1993-2002). This has been made easily possible through the courtesy of Walter Slaje, in supplying a searchable electronic file of these four volumes to the GRETIL (Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages) project, available at: This searchable electronic file has allowed me to check a substantial portion of the Mokṣopāya for these terms, to a degree that was not possible with the physical printed volumes. It is never safe to attempt to translate a piece of a large work before the whole has been studied. Since it has not been possible for me to study the whole Mokṣopāya, due to its great size and also because much of it still remains unpublished, I have derived much benefit from Jürgen Hanneder’s 2006 book, Studies on the Mokṣopāya (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag). Hanneder’s book has provided a very helpful perspective on the whole text.

The Sanskrit text of this chapter has been very carefully edited, as far as I can judge. It has been a joy to work with. We have Jürgen Hanneder to thank for the extremely accurate edition of this chapter. This excellent scholarship provides a solid basis for reliable research. The translation of this chapter has likewise been done as carefully as possible, and it should provide reasonably accurate access to this important material on cosmogony. Sanskrit technical terms are given in parentheses after their English translations, which can only be approximate. Additions to what is actually stated in the Sanskrit text are given in square brackets. Sometimes they fill in what a pronoun refers to, based on its gender in Sanskrit. When explanatory material is added in brackets to make sense of a line, references to its source in other passages of the text are given in the “Translation Notes” following the translation. These are marked with asterisks. The “Translation Notes” also include some of the sources from which I derived the meaning of unusual terms not found in our Sanskrit dictionaries (or not found there in the appropriate meaning), and explain my choice of translation terms used for them.

The first several verses give an unusually detailed account of the initial stages of the arising of the world. In this text, unlike the Book of Dzyan, the ultimate (here called brahman) is equated with pure consciousness (cin-mātra). “Creation,” or more accurately and literally “emanation,” is called its radiance (kacana), which becomes a functioning consciousness (as opposed to pure consciousness). As this functioning consciousness takes on a sense of self-consciousness the world condenses into manifestation. The idea of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra) is also found in Sāṃkhya, where it is often applied to the human constitution, so has sometimes been translated as ego or egoism or egotism. In verses 13 onward we see another idea that is found in Sāṃkhya, what is usually translated as the subtle elements (tanmātra). Both here and in Sāṃkhya, the principle of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra) produces the subtle elements. The subtle elements in turn produce the great elements (mahā-bhūtas): space (or ether), air, earth, fire, and water. These latter elements are apparently used symbolically, and not as the physical elements of those names. In order to follow this chapter of the Mokṣopāya, it is necessary to know the Sāṃkhya teaching on the subtle elements and great elements. According to Gauḍapāda’s commentary on Sāṃkhya-kārikā, verse 3:

(1) the subtle element sound (śabda) generates the great element space or ether (ākāśa).

(2) the subtle element touch (sparśa) generates the great element air (vāyu).

(3) the subtle element smell (gandha) generates the great element earth (pṛthivī).

(4) the subtle element form (rūpa) generates the great element fire (tejas).

(5) the subtle element taste (rasa) generates the great element water (apas).

It seems that the Mokṣopāya is willing to refer to the subtle elements either by their own names, sound (śabda), etc., or by the names of the great elements that they produce, space (ākāśa), etc. Thus, the Mokṣopāya may refer to the subtle element of space, meaning the subtle element of sound. This must be noted to avoid confusion.


Mokṣopāya, Section 3, Chapter 12

etasmāt paramāc chāntāt padāt parama-pāvanāt |

yathedam utthitaṃ viśvaṃ tac chṛṇūttamayā dhiyā || 1 ||

1. Listen with utmost understanding to how this universe has arisen from that highest quiescent place, of the highest purity.

suṣuptaṃ svapnavad bhāti bhāti brahmaiva sargavat |

sarvam ekaṃ ca tac chāntaṃ tatra tāvat kramaṃ śṛṇu || 2 ||

2. [Just as] one who is asleep appears as dream, [so] also brahman appears as creation (“emanation”). That quiescent [brahman] is the all and the one. In regard to this [emanation of the universe], listen to the sequence in its entirety.

tasyānanta-prakāśātma-rūpasyātata-cin-maneḥ |

sattā-mātrātma kacanaṃ yad ajasraṃ svabhāvataḥ || 3 ||

tad ātmani svayaṃ kiñcic cetyatām iva gacchati |

agṛhītārthakaṃ saṃvidīhāmarśana-sūcakam || 4 ||

3-4. The radiance (that is manifestation), having the nature of the mere state of existing (sattā) of that [brahman] whose form consists of the infinite light of the jewel of all-pervading consciousness (cit), ever by its inherent nature (svabhāva), in itself, by itself, becomes to a certain extent as if cognizable. Here, no objects are apprehended in consciousness (saṃvid), and there is no indication of conscious deliberation (marśana).

bhāvi-nāmārtha-kalanaiḥ kiñcid ūhita-rūpakam |

ākāśād aṇu śuddhaṃ ca sarvasmin bhāvi-bodhanam || 5 ||

5. Through the conceiving (kalana) of future names and objects [of the universe about to be manifested], its form becomes perceived to a certain extent, being subtler and purer than space (ākāśa). This is the awakening that is about to take place in all.

tatas sā paramā sattā satītaś cetanonmukhī |

cin-nāma-yogyā bhavati kiñcil labhyatayā tayā || 6 ||

6. Then that highest state of existing (sattā), now being ready for [functioning] consciousness (cetana) [as opposed to pure consciousness, cin-mātra],* becomes fit to be called consciousness (cit) due to this attainability [in speech or thought] to a certain extent.

ghana-saṃvedanāt paścād bhāvi-jīvādi-nāmikā |

sā bhavaty ātma-kalanā yadā yāntī parāt padāt || 7 ||

7. After that, from dense [i.e., undivided] cognition (saṃvedana), [comes that consciousness (cit) which is] called future individual souls (jīva), etc. It becomes the conception (kalanā) of self (ātman) when going from the highest place.

svataika-bhāvanā-mātra-sārā saṃsaraṇonmukhī |

tadā vastu-svabhāvena tanvas tiṣṭhanti tām imāḥ || 8 ||

8. [That consciousness (cit) whose] essence is only the single ideation (bhāvanā) of its own nature (svatā) is ready for cycling in the round of rebirth. Then, through the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the substance (vastu) [i.e., brahman = consciousness (cit)], these selves (tanū) establish it [in manifestation].

samanantaram etasyāḥ kha-sattodeti śūnyatā |

śabdādi-guṇa-bījaṃ sā bhaviṣyad-abhidhārtha-dā || 9 ||

9. Immediately thereafter, from that* arises the state of existing (sattā) of space, [which state of existing of space is] emptiness (śūnyatā). It, the giver of future names and objects, is the seed of the qualities (guṇa) beginning with sound.

*jīva-sattā, “the state of existing of the individual souls,” according to the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra, which also makes sense here in the Mokṣopāya.

ahantodeti tad-anu saha vai kāla-sattayā |

bhaviṣyad-abhidhārthe te bījaṃ mukhyaṃ jagat-sthiteḥ || 10 ||

10. After that the sense of individuality (ahaṃtā, lit. “I-ness”) arises, along with the state of existing (sattā) of time. In regard to future names and objects, these are the primary seed of the subsistence (sthiti) of the world.

tasyāś śakteḥ parāyās tu sva-saṃvedana-mātrakam |

etaj jālam asad-rūpam sad ivodeti visphurat || 11 ||

11. From this highest power (śakti) comes mere self-cognition (sva-saṃvedana). Manifesting, this web in the form of the unreal (asat) arises as if real (sat).

evam-prāyātmikā sā cid bījaṃ saṅkalpa-śākhinaḥ |

tatrāpy ahaṅkāra-karas sa tat-spandatayā marut || 12 ||

12. That consciousness (cit), of such kind, is the seed of the tree of creative thought (saṃkalpa). There also is the maker of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra). That [self-consciousness], as the motion (spanda) of that [consciousness], is wind.

cid ahantāvatī vyoma-śabda-tanmātra-bhāvanāt |

svato ghanībhūya śanaiḥ kha-tanmātraṃ bhavaty alam || 13 ||

13. Consciousness (cit) possessing the sense of individuality (ahaṃtā), gradually becoming dense, as a result of the ideation (bhāvanā)* of the subtle element (tanmātra) of sound or space from itself, fully becomes the subtle element of space.

*i.e., the developing in thought.

bhāvi-nāmārtha-rūpaṃ tad bījaṃ śabdaugha-śākhinaḥ |

pada-vākya-pramāṇāḍhya-veda-vṛnda-vikāri tat || 14 ||

14. That, in the form of future names and objects, is the seed of the tree of the multitude of sounds. It has for its products the multitude of knowledge (veda), rich in the measures (pramāṇa) of words and sentences.

tasmād udeṣyaty akhilā jagac-chrīś śabda-rūpiṇaḥ

śabdaugha-nirmitārthaugha-pariṇāma-visāriṇī || 15 ||

15. From that [seed] in the form of sound will arise the entire splendor of the world, diffusing as the transformations of the multitude of objects formed by the multitude of sounds.

cid evam-parivārā sā jīva-śabdena kathyate |

bhāvi-śabdārtha-jālena bījaṃ bhūtaugha-śākhinaḥ || 16 ||

16. This consciousness (cit) having such a retinue is described by the word “individual soul” (jīva). By means of the web of future sounds and objects it is the seed of the tree of the multitude of beings.

caturdaśa-vidhaṃ bhūta-jātam āvalitāmbaram |

jagaj-jaṭhara-yantraughaṃ prasariṣyati vai tataḥ || 17 ||

17. From that will flow forth the fourteenfold class of beings [of the fourteen worlds],* whose space is enclosed [in the egg of Brahmā],* the multitude of instruments (yantra) in the womb of the world.

asamprāptābhidhā-sārā cij jīvatvāt sphurad-vapuḥ |

yā saiva sparśa-tanmātraṃ bhāvanād bhavati kṣaṇāt || 18 ||

18. The same consciousness (cit) that in its essence has not acquired names, [but that] in its form is manifesting because of being the individual soul (jīva), becomes the subtle element of touch in a moment through ideation (bhāvanā).

pavana-skandha-vistāraṃ bījaṃ sparśaika-śākhinaḥ |

sarva-bhūta-kriyā-spandas tasmāt samprasariṣyati || 19 ||

19. [The subtle element of touch is] the seed of the single tree of touch, [a seed] whose expansion is the branches that comprise [the element] air. From that will flow forth the motion (or vibrations, spanda) in the form of all beings and activities.

tatra yaś cid-vilāsena prakāśo ’nubhavād bhavet |

tejas-tanmātrakaṃ tat tad bhaviṣyad-abhidhārtha-dam || 20 ||

20. There, the light that will come into existence by the play of consciousness (cit) due to [its self-]experience* is the subtle element of fire. It is the giver of future names and objects.

tat sūryādi-vijṛmbhābhir bījam āloka-śākhinaḥ |

tasmād rūpa-vibhedena saṃsāraḥ prasariṣyati || 21 ||

21. That, through its manifestations as the sun, etc., is the seed of the tree of light. From that, through the division of forms (rūpa), the cycle of rebirth will flow forth.

bhavac caturṇām avatas tatas sata ivāsataḥ |

svadanaṃ tasya saṅghasya rasa-tanmātram ucyate || 22 ||

22. Being below the four [other subtle elements, arising] from that [principle of self-consciousness, which although actually] non-existing is as if existing,* is tasting. Of this group [of subtle elements], it is called the subtle element of taste.

bhāvi-vāri-vilāsātma tad bījaṃ rasa-śākhinaḥ |

anyo’nyāsvadanenāsmāt saṃsāraḥ prasariṣyati || 23 ||

23. That [subtle element of taste], having the nature of the manifestation (“play,” vilāsa) of future water, is the seed of the tree of taste. From that, by mutual tasting, the cycle of rebirth will flow forth.

bhaviṣyad-gandha-saṅkalpa-nāmāsau kalanātmakā |

saṅkalpātmā sa-saugandha-tanmātratvaṃ prayacchati || 24 ||

24. That called the creative thought (saṃkalpa) of future smell, consisting of conception (kalanā), having the nature of creative thought (saṃkalpa), gives forth the subtle element of smell.

bhāvi-bhū-golakatvena bījam ākṛti-śākhinaḥ |

sarvādhārātmanas tasmāt saṃsāraḥ prasariṣyati || 25 ||

25. As the future sphere of the earth it is the seed of the tree of shapes (ākṛti, i.e., the modes of appearance of all things). From that, having the nature of the support of all, the cycle of rebirth will flow forth.

citā vibhāvyamānāni tanmātrāṇi parasparam |

svayaṃ pariṇatāny antar ambunīva nirantaram || 26 ||

26. Being ideated by consciousness (cit), the subtle elements are continually transformed one by the other of their own accord within [consciousness] like [water] in water.*

tathaitāni vimiśrāṇi viviktāni punar yathā |

na śuddhāny upalabhyante sarva-nāśāntam eva hi || 27 ||

27. These [subtle elements], so being mixed, are not perceived as again distinct and pure up to the very end at the universal destruction.

saṃvitti-mātra-rūpāṇi sthitāni gaganodare |

bhavanti vaṭa-jālāni yathā bīja-kaṇāntare || 28 ||

28. Situated in the womb of space in the form of mere consciousness (saṃvitti), they are like hosts of banyan trees inside tiny seeds.

prasavaṃ paripaśyanti śata-śākhaṃ sphuranti ca |

paramāṇv-antare mānti kṣaṇāt kalpībhavanti ca || 29 ||

29. They picture progeny and manifest a hundred branches. They are contained inside an ultimate atom (paramāṇu) and in a moment become all-creating thought (kalpa).

vivartam eva dhāvanti nirvivartāni santi ca |

cid-veditāni sarvāṇi kṣaṇāt piṇḍībhavanti hi || 30 ||

30. Being without modification (vivarta) they flow [out to become] the [apparent] modification [that is the world], and experienced (or felt, vedita) in consciousness (cit) they all become solidified in a moment.

tanmātra-gaṇam etat sā sva-saṅkalpātmakaṃ citiḥ |

vedanāvasare ’ṇv-augham anākāraiva paśyati || 31 ||

31. This group of subtle elements is that consciousness (citi) consisting of its own creative thought (saṃkalpa). In the scope of experience (vedana) [that consciousness] which is quite without forms (ākāra, modes of appearance) pictures [into existence] the multitude of atoms (aṇu).

bījaṃ jagatsu nanu pañcaka-mātram asya

bījaṃ parā vyavahitā citi-śaktir ādyā |

tajjaṃ tad eva bhavatīti sadānubhūtaṃ

cin-mātram ekam ajam ādyam ato jagacchrīḥ || 32 ||

32. Surely the seed of the worlds is only the group of five [subtle elements]. The seed of that is the concealed highest primordial power of consciousness (citi-śakti). That [group of five subtle elements] indeed becomes born from that [power of consciousness]. Thus is always experienced (or known, anubhūta) the one unborn primordial pure consciousness (cin-mātra). From it [arises] the splendor of the world.


Comparison with the Book of Dzyan

The Mokṣopāya provides an account of cosmogony that is complementary to the cosmogony account given in the Book of Dzyan. The Mokṣopāya account is given from the standpoint of an ultimate consciousness, while the Book of Dzyan account is given from the standpoint of an ultimate substance. According to The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, pp. 14-15), these are the two aspects under which our finite intelligence must symbolize or conceive the one ultimate “be-ness.” A very helpful comparison of the two systems of cosmogony was made by the Advaita Vedāntin Theosophist T. Subba Row, in his article, “A Personal and an Impersonal God.” The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha has long been considered an Advaita Vedānta work, and from the terminology used by T. Subba Row, it is clear that this was his source for describing the Advaita system. He uses the term cid-ākāśa, which is not found in the standard Advaita Vedānta works of Śaṅkarācārya, etc., and also cin-mātra and cit-śakti, all of which are basic terms of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. Indeed, in T. Subba Row’s third lecture on the Bhagavad-gītā (December 29, 1886), he says about the gāyatrī that: “It is stated to be Cit-śakti by Vasiṣṭha” (T. Subba Row Collected Writings, comp. Henk J. Spierenburg, vol. 2, p. 511). In comparing the two systems of cosmogony, he refers to the system of the Book of Dzyan as the Arhat system. He concludes in this article:

“Now, it will be easily seen that the undifferentiated Cosmic matter, Purush, and the ONE LIFE of the Arhat philosophers, are the Mulaprakriti, Chidakasam and Chinmatra of the Adwaitee philosophers. As regards Cosmogony, the Arhat stand-point is objective, and the Adwaitee stand-point is subjective. The Arhat Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of the manifested solar system from undifferentiated Cosmic matter, and Adwaitee Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of Bahipragna from the original Chinmatra. As the different conditions of differentiated Cosmic matter are but the different aspects of the various conditions of pragna, the Adwaitee Cosmogony is but the complement of the Arhat Cosmogony. The eternal Principle is precisely the same in both the systems and they agree in denying the existence of an extra-Cosmic God.”

(The Theosophist, vol. 4, March 1883, pp. 138-139; reprint in Five Years of Theosophy, London, 1885, pp. 208-209; Second and Revised Edition, London, 1894, p. 133; reprint in A Collection of Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row, published by Tookaram Tatya, Bombay, 1895, pp. 97-98; reprint in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, compiled by Henk J. Spierenburg, San Diego, 2001, vol. 1, p. 127; the concluding portion of the article, including this paragraph, was mistakenly left out in the reprint in Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row, Second Edition—Revised and Enlarged, Madras, 1931, ending on p. 470; reprint, 1980)

A few points of comparison between the Mokṣopāya chapter (section 3, chapter 12) and the “Book of Dzyan” stanzas given in The Secret Doctrine may be noted:

Mokṣopāya verses 3 and 8 say that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of brahman, or pure consciousness. Similarly, the Book of Dzyan teaches that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one element.

Mokṣopāya verse 9 describes the state of existing of space as emptiness, śūnyatā. While the relatively few stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan do not explicitly mention emptiness, their use of Mahāyāna Buddhist terminology would indicate that it is part of their system. It is basic to Mahāyāna Buddhism. Note that for “space” the Mokṣopāya here uses the generic “kha,” and that this is before the manifestation of the element “space” (or “ether”), ākāśa.

Mokṣopāya verse 12, describing the principle of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra), says that as the motion (spanda) of consciousness (cit) it is wind (marut). Again, this is before the manifestation of the element wind or air. So perhaps this wind is the fohat of the Book of Dzyan, the whirlwind that hardens the atoms.

Mokṣopāya verse 11 in fact speaks of śakti (“power”), used by T. Subba Row as a synonym of fohat, and the concluding Mokṣopāya verse 32 makes it very clear that the power of consciousness, citi-śakti, is responsible for the manifestation of the worlds. This is very much like fohat as found in the Book of Dzyan.


Translation Notes:

verse 2: The “[Just as] . . . [so]” are added by me following the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra’s yathā . . . tathā. The word tāvat is glossed by the Mokṣopāya commentator Bhāskara-kaṇṭha as sākalya, “entirety,” which I have followed. The translation by Samvid in The Vision and the Way of Vasiṣṭha (p. 141, no. 406) takes the word tāvat as “first,” which is equally plausible.

verses 3-4: The word kacana, which I have translated as the “radiance (that is manifestation),” is not in the dictionaries, neither the Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionaries Śabdakalpadrumaḥ (5 vols.) and Vācaspatyam (6 vols.), nor in the Sanskrit-English dictionaries by Monier Monier-Williams and by Vaman Shivaram Apte (publication of the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles has not yet progressed to the letter “ka”). It is glossed in the Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā here as sphuraṇa. Sphuraṇa can mean vibration or pulsation, radiance or shining, emanation or manifestation, etc. In the Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā, sphuraṇa and its cognates usually gloss words meaning manifestation (e.g., bhāti, avabhāsate, udeti, bhānam, bhāsanam, pratibhānam, etc.). Nonetheless, the primary meaning of kacana seems to be radiance or shining. Two meanings of the root kac are given in the Pāṇinīya-dhātu-pāṭha: bandhana, “binding” (1.181), and dīpti, “shining” (1.182). Another meaning is given elsewhere: rava, “sounding.” The relevant one here is obviously dīpti, “shining.” This meaning of kacana can be seen in the following verses:

saṃvid-ākāśa-kacanam idaṃ bhāti jagattayā |

“This radiance of the space of consciousness appears as the world.” (Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 6.2, chapter 171, verse 1)

yathā maṇiḥ prakacati svabhāsā’vyatiriktayā |

ātmano ’nanyayā sṛṣṭyā cid-vyoma kacitaṃ tathā ||

“Just as a jewel shines by its own light not separate from it, so the space of consciousness has radiated as creation not other than itself.” (Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 6.2, chapter 171, verse 28)

yaś cin-maṇiḥ prakacati prati-deha-samudgake |

“That jewel of consciousness shines in each ‘casket’ of body.” (Laghu-Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 3, chapter 1, verse 79)

The word sattā is from the present participle sat, “being,” with the suffix tā, “-ness.” So it is literally “beingness,” or “state of being,” “state of existing.” It has usually been translated simply as “existence” or “being.” It is a technical term. To show this, and to distinguish it from other words for being or existence, I have translated it as “state of existing.”

The extant manuscript of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā commentary is missing folios here after the first three and a half verses, so we do not have his commentary for the rest of the verses of this chapter.

verse 5: The word kalana, which I have translated as “the conceiving,” is used in the Mokṣopāya in a meaning that is not given in the dictionaries. Its basic meaning, when found at the end of a compound (as it is here), is given in Vaman Shivaram Apte’s Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary as “causing, effecting.” It is here glossed by the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra as anusaṃdhāna, which in a related meaning is “planning, arranging, getting ready” (Apte, meaning no. 3). But in Advaita Vedānta, which this commentator follows, anusaṃdhāna usually means “inquiring into, examination, investigation, contemplation” (e.g., as the function of the citta in Sureśvara’s Pañcīkaraṇa-vārttika, verse 34; cp. Śaṅkarācārya’s Upadeśa-pañcaka, verse 1: bhava-sukhe doṣo ’nusaṃdhīyatām, translated by Y. Subrahmanya Sarma as “ponder deeply about the evil consequences of worldly pleasures”). He probably intends it as “contemplating.” At Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 3.13.2-4, where kalana is used five times, Ānanda-bodhendra glosses it as kalpana. Kalpana, like these and many other Sanskrit words, has multiple meanings, including “construction, fabrication, the forming, fashioning, making,” etc., often in the sense of “thought construction, forming an image in the mind, imagination,” etc. This appears to correctly reflect the meaning of kalana as found in the Mokṣopāya, as we may deduce by looking at its usage of the closely related term kalanā. Kalanā is described in Mokṣopāya 4.12.5 as saṅkalpa-rūpa, “in the form of saṃkalpa,” and is glossed in extant portions of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s commentary as saṃkalpa at least twice (1.15.7, 4.10.47). Saṃkalpa, too, has multiple meanings, including “thought, conceptual thought, conception, imagination, will, resolve,” etc. Here kalanā and saṃkalpa apparently refer to the formative thought or creative thought that forms or creates everything in the universe. I have used “creative thought” for saṃkalpa, and “conception” for kalanā. The feminine noun kalanā would refer to a particular conception, while the neuter noun kalana, which we have here, would be the act of conceiving. Hence, I have translated kalana as “the conceiving.” It would also have the sense of “the forming in thought.”

verse 6: We have in English few ways to distinguish cit, cetas, cetana, saṃvid, saṃvedana, etc., all meaning consciousness in some way.

*[functioning] consciousness (cetana) [as opposed to pure consciousness, cin-mātra]: Cetana as being lower is clearly distinguished from the ultimate cit (cin-mātra) at Mokṣopāya 3.7.2-14.

verse 8: The first word of this verse, svatā (joined with eka making svataika-), is apparently used in a meaning that is not recorded in the dictionaries. It is sva, “self, own,” plus the suffix tā, “-ness,” the state or condition of being something, in this case, itself. Svatā is found in a similar compound at Mokṣopāya (and Yoga-vāsiṣṭha) 3.3.14, svatodayaḥ, where Bhāskara-kaṇṭha glosses svatā as svabhāva, “inherent nature” (svatayā svabhāvena). Bhāskara-kaṇṭha again uses svatā (in the instrumental case, svatayā) at Mokṣopāya 4.31.32 to explain cin-mātra-svarūpe, the “essential nature of pure consciousness.” Svarūpa (“essential nature”) is practically synonymous with svabhāva (“inherent nature”). I have followed Bhāskara-kaṇṭha in understanding svatā in this way, and have translated svatā as “its own nature.”

While vastu can mean a “thing” in general, there is good reason to think that it is here used in its more specific meaning of “substance.” This is especially so when we find it in the compound, vastu-svabhāvena, “through the inherent nature of the substance,” as we have here. On this, see the section titled “Consciousness as a ‘Substance’,” in Jürgen Hanneder’s 2006 book, Studies on the Mokṣopāya, pp. 188-192. B. L. Atreya, too, in The Philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, p. 572, understands that “the Absolute Reality . . . is a distinctionless, homogeneous Substance.” Likewise, Vihāri-lāla Mitra here translated vastu as the “divine essence,” adding in parentheses, “as the fallacy of the snake, depends on the substance of the rope” (vol. 1, p. 278). This, of course, is the famous example of where the illusion of the world arises on the basis of the real brahman, like the illusion of a snake arises on the basis of a real rope, an actual substance.

I understand tanvas (feminine nominative plural of tanū, “body, self”) to refer the “individual souls” (jīva) or “self” (ātman) spoken of in the previous verse. So I have taken it in the sense of its usage as a pronoun, “selves,” rather than as the noun, “bodies.”

verse 12: The word ahaṃkāra, literally “I-maker,” is well known as a major principle in the Sāṃkhya worldview. It has often been translated as “ego” or “egoism” or “egotism.” However, as it there applies to both a person and the cosmos, I have chosen to translate it as “[the principle of] self-consciousness” in my unfinished translation of the Sāṃkhya-kārikā. Here in this chapter of the Mokṣopāya, where it is clearly a cosmic principle, it is all more appropriate to translate it as “self-consciousness.”

The word spanda means “pulsation, vibration, motion, movement.” In this text, it is often associated with wind. See, for example, Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 6.2, chapter 84, verse 3, translated by Samvid, The Vision and the Way of Vasiṣṭha, p. 299, no. 1130:

yathaikaṃ pavana-spandam ekam auṣṇyānalau yathā |

cin-mātraṃ spanda-śaktiś ca tathaivaikātma sarvadā ||

“As wind and its motion are the same and as fire and its heat are identical, even so, mere Consciousness and its power of movement are always identical in essence.”

While we may speak of the pulsation or vibration of consciousness, we must speak of the motion or movement of wind. Since wind is mentioned here in verse 12, I have translated spanda as “motion.”

verse 17: *[of the fourteen worlds]: The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra says: caturdaśa-bhuvana-bhedāc caturdaśa-vidhaṃ prāṇi-jālaṃ, “the fourteenfold group of living beings due to the division of the fourteen worlds,” which makes perfect sense here.

*[in the egg of Brahmā]: This is suggested by the following jagaj-jaṭhara, “the womb of the world.”

The word āvalita is not found in Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, and is found in Vaman Shivaram Apte’s Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary only as “slightly turned” (from the Kādambarī), which is not relevant here. In the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha it is in the compound āvalitāntaram rather than āvalitāmbaram, as we have here in the Mokṣopāya. So Ānanda-bodhendra’s gloss, khena vyāptāntarālam, “that whose interior is pervaded by space,” does not really help us. Samvid translates āvalitāntaram in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha verse as “moving all around the interior” (p. 144, no. 419), which also does not help us. We must now search for other occurrences of āvalita in the Mokṣopāya, where the meaning may be clearer, and in Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s commentary thereon.

Two occurrences where the word is clearly āvalita (and not just valita preceded by a word ending in ā) can be found in the published volumes of the Mokṣopāya with the extant portions of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā thereon, sections one through four, edited by Walter Slaje (1993-2002). These can now be easily searched, thanks to the electronic file of them that Dr. Slaje made available online through GRETIL (Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages). The first of these is in Mokṣopāya 1.19.46 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 1.20.43), where we find āvalitaṃ gunaiḥ. Here the meaning is not entirely clear. In form, āvalita is a past passive participle, usually translated by English words ending in “-ed.” This occurrence tells us only that youth is “āvalita by/with good qualities.” It could be endowed (with), accompanied (by), surrounded (by), etc.

In the second occurrence, the meaning is clear. In Mokṣopāya 4.11.63 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 4.11.64) āvalita clearly means “enclosed,” like the third meaning of valita (without the prefix “ā”) listed by Apte, “surrounded, enclosed.” Here is the verse:

yadaiva cittaṃ kalitam akalena kilātmanā |

kośa-kīṭavad ātmāyam anenāvalitas tadā ||

“When the mind (citta) is formed in thought (kalitam) by the partless self (ātman), this self is then enclosed (āvalita) by it like a pupa in a cocoon.”

Bhāskara-kaṇṭha here glosses āvalita with āvṛta, “covered, concealed, enclosed, surrounded,” giving the expected meaning.

For the compound āvalitāmbaram, since it begins with a past passive participle, we expect a bahuvrīhi compound such as: “that by which space is enclosed.” That which encloses space is the egg of Brahmā. However, this compound here appears to be an adjective describing the fourteenfold class of beings. They do not enclose space; they are enclosed by space inside the egg of Brahmā. So this meaning is not appropriate. Since we now know that āvalita means the same as valita in its meaning of “surrounded, enclosed,” we may search for the compound valitāmbaram. At Mokṣopāya 4.26.28 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 4.26.29) we find valanā-valitāmbaram. There, valitāmbaram is glossed by Bhāskara-kaṇṭha as tābhiḥ valitaṃ vṛttam ambaraṃ yasya tat, “that whose space is surrounded, i.e., encircled, by those.” It is a battle scene, between the gods and the demons. It is their individual space that is surrounded by moving armies. This shows us how the compound āvalitāmbaram is to be understood here in verse 17, “whose space is enclosed.” It is apparently enclosed in the egg of Brahmā.

The word yantra, “instrument” (also “machine”), here presumably refers, if not to the beings themselves, to their bodies, minds, and faculties. The blood, flesh, and bones that compose the body are referred to as instruments, yantra, at Mokṣopāya 1.32.32 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 1.33.35). At Mokṣopāya (and Yoga-vāsiṣṭha) 2.19.26 the faculties of action are compared to instruments (yantravat). Verse 27 speaks of the instrument of the mind (mano-yantra).

verse 20: *[its self-]experience: For the self-experience of consciousness, see Mokṣopāya 3.10.17 and its commentary by Bhāskara-kaṇṭha (same verse number in Yoga-vāsiṣṭha). See also the reference to “the inner self-experience of consciousness” from Mokṣopāya 6.230.10 given by Jürgen Hanneder, Studies on the Mokṣopāya, p. 188.

verse 22: *that [principle of self-consciousness, which although actually] non-existing is as if existing: For this idea, see verse 11.

verse 24: The Sanskrit phrase, sa-saugandha-tanmātratvaṃ, “that which has the state of the subtle element of good smell,” is a rather cumbrous way of saying “the subtle element of smell.” But it fits the meter.

verses 29, 31: The translation of the verb paśyati as “picture” is because, when creating in thought, things are “pictured,” not “observed.”

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment

Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya, part 3

April 22nd, 2012 — 09:33 pm

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter speaks not only of the dharmatā (“true nature”) and svabhāva (“inherent nature”) as mentioned in the first post on this, it also speaks of the dhātu (“element”) itself. The Perfection of Wisdom texts had spoken of the unthinkable or inconceivable element (acintya-dhātu, e.g., Edward Conze, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, pp. 123, 179, 183, 185, 188, 193, 249, 253, 277, 305, 370, 374, 376, 377). This chapter calls it the unspeakable or inexpressible element (nirabhilapya-dhātu, Conze, pp. 646-647, eleven occurrences, translated as “inexpressible realm”). Students of The Secret Doctrine will be reminded of these two adjectives, unthinkable and unspeakable, as applied to the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine, an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle (vol. 1, p. 14), which, as discussed here before, would be the dhātu, the one element. The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter is one of the most primary documents we have in relation to this fundamental teaching.

A new translation of the three key definitions from the “Questions of Maitreya” is given below. It is followed by “Translation Notes,” explaining how I understood the Sanskrit. These notes are given because Conze said that he and Lamotte have not understood an important phrase in the definition of dharmatā (p. 648, fn. 17). The notes show how I arrived at my translation of it. Also included below is the full Sanskrit text, which Conze and Iida did not give in their edition. They abbreviated what they regarded as repetitive parts of the text, giving only ellipses in their place. The full text is taken from the Sanskrit edition of the complete Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 lines, which only recently became available. It was prepared by Vijay Raj Vajracharya, and published in 3 volumes, 2006-2008 (Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies). Before giving the translation, I must do what Conze did not do, and which led to Thurman’s criticism of his translations. The technical terms used must be briefly explained.

No one expects to understand a science such as physics or chemistry without first learning its technical terms and their framework. The same is true of religio-philosophic systems such as Madhyamaka or Yogācāra Buddhism. All of Buddhism takes for granted a familiarity with the dharmas, the factors of existence that make up its worldview, often translated as “phenomena.” This is primarily a psychological worldview rather than a physical worldview, like we are accustomed to from modern science. So the dharmas are mostly states of our psychological make-up. These have been just as minutely catalogued in the Buddhist science of Abhidharma as have the physical elements in modern science. Indeed, common lists of dharmas include 75 (Abhidharma-kośa) or 100 (Yogācāra) dharmas, much like the periodic table of chemical elements.

The most basic analysis of a person is in terms of the five skandhas, the five “aggregates” that make up a person. This has been an essential feature of Buddhism from the beginning, before the development of the detailed lists of dharmas. The definitions from the “Questions of Maitreya” of the three aspects of dharmas, or ways in which dharmas are to be seen, are given in relation to the five skandhas, then going on to include all dharmas up to the highest with the phrase, “up to buddha-dharmas.” We do not yet have standardized English translations for the five skandhas or “aggregates.” Common translations for them are: (1) rūpa, “form” or “matter”; (2) vedanā, “feeling” or “sensation”; (3) saṃjñā, “perception” or “perception and conception”; (4) saṃskāra, “formations” or “mental formations” or “karma-formations” or “volitional formations” or “volitions” or “dispositions” or “conditioning forces” or “compositional factors”; (5) vijñāna, “consciousness.”

There is wide consensus that, as one of the five aggregates that make up a person, rūpa (“form”) refers to “matter.” Although this is therefore a good translation, there is also wisdom in keeping the same translation term for the same original term wherever it occurs, as we learned from the marvelously consistent Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts that comprise the Tibetan Buddhist canon. There, rūpa is translated as gzugs throughout. So I will stay with “form” for rūpa. For the second aggregate, vedanā, the translation term “sensation” is not very different from “feeling,” so I will use the more commonly used “feeling.” For the third aggregate, translators have pointed out that when saṃjñā is translated as “perception,” we must also know that “conception” is included in this skandha. The fourth skandha, saṃskārāḥ (plural), is quite the hardest to translate, as may be seen by its many renderings. I will here simply choose one of these, “conditioning forces.” The fifth skandha is translated by most translators as “consciousness” (although a few translate it as “perception” or “cognition”).

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter begins with Maitreya asking the Buddha how, if the inherent nature (svabhāva) of all dharmas is non-existence (abhāva), should a bodhisattva practicing the Perfection of Wisdom train in the bodhisattva training in regard to “form” (the first aggregate), “feeling” (the second aggregate), etc., etc. That is, if all dharmas are ultimately non-existent, how does a bodhisattva (who wishes to help others) understand the dharmas that make up the people and the world that are to be helped. The Buddha replies that the bodhisattva should understand all dharmas as just names (nāma-mātra).

Maitreya then says: when the name “form,” etc., is perceived as having substance or being real (sa-vastuka), based on it being the outward sign (nimitta) of something that is conditioned (saṃskāra), then how can a bodhisattva train in understanding “form,” etc., to be just a name. That is, since each thing we see is real in that it is produced by causes and conditions, how can we regard it as being merely a name. Maitreya here uses a phrase that is used throughout the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter, saṃskāra-nimitta, translated by Conze as “the sign of something conditioned.” This is a perfectly good translation, but it needs to be explained.

Something conditioned or compounded (saṃskāra) is something that is produced by causes and conditions, and that is put together or made of parts. This means that it is transitory or impermanent, and will not last. Everything in the phenomenal world is something conditioned or compounded (saṃskāra, saṃskṛta). So to speak of something conditioned is a way to refer to everything in the phenomenal or perceptible world. Then, we do not perceive a thing in its entirety, but we see only the outward sign or visible representation of it. This is its sign (nimitta), how we characterize or define it. It is a way to refer to something according to how we see it, which allows us to identify it, name it, etc. The Tibetan translation of nimitta used here, mtshan ma (as opposed to rgyu mtshan or rgyu meaning cause), emphasizes its meaning as something’s defining characteristic. The compound saṃskāra-nimitta, translated by Conze as “the sign of something conditioned,” thus may also be translated as “defined by being conditioned.” It refers to all dharmas except the unconditioned or uncompounded dharmas, namely, nirvāṇa, and sometimes also ākāśa (“space”), and sometimes also tathatā (“suchness”).

Maitreya goes on to point out here: if a thing that is defined by being conditioned, to which we give the name “form,” etc., actually lacked any substance or any reality, if there was really nothing there, then it would not be tenable to give it the name, “form,” etc. There would be nothing to give a name to. The Buddha replies that the name is adventitious (āgantuka), not inherent, projected onto a thing that is defined by being conditioned, such as form, etc. All along, Maitreya has been asking about the inherent nature (svabhāva) of dharmas. This reply, that the name is adventitious, leads to a discussion of whether the inherent nature of form, etc., is actually perceived. If the name is adventitious, then perhaps it is the inherent nature of form, etc., that is perceived. This is denied. If the name is perceived, then perhaps the name is the inherent nature of form, etc. This is denied.

Maitreya then wonders if form, etc., completely do not exist by way of their inherent characteristics (sva-lakṣaṇa), here used as a kind of synonym of inherent nature (svabhāva). The Buddha replies: I do not say that form, etc., completely do not exist by way of their inherent characteristics. Maitreya responds: how do form, etc., exist? The Buddha replies that they exist by worldly convention, not in reality or ultimately (paramārthataḥ).

Maitreya now brings in the inexpressible “element” (dhātu). He says that, as he understands the Buddha’s teachings, the “element” is inexpressible (nirabhilapya) ultimately. The implication is that, ultimately (paramārthataḥ), one cannot say it exists or does not exist. Students of The Secret Doctrine will here be reminded of H. P. Blavatsky’s statement, “It is ‘Be-ness’ rather than Being” (vol. 1, p. 14). Maitreya wonders, then, why the Buddha would say that form, etc., do not exist ultimately. Wouldn’t they be the same as the element, so that one could only say about their existence that it is inexpressible ultimately, rather than that they do not exist ultimately? The Buddha replies: things that are defined by being conditioned, i.e., form, etc., are neither different from the element nor not different from the element. Maitreya asks how, then, should they be understood.

The Buddha says that they should be understood under three aspects: (1) parikalpita (kun brtags), “falsely imagined,” or “imaginary”; (2) vikalpita (rnam par brtags), “conceptualized,” or “constructed by thought”; and (3) dharmatā (chos nyid), “dharma-ness” or “true nature.” Maitreya asks: which is the falsely imagined form, etc.?; which is the thought-constructed form, etc.?; which is the true nature form, etc.? The Buddha then gives the definitions of these three, where the present translation begins.

The Sanskrit text accompanying the translation is from Āryapañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā, ed. Vijay Raj Vajracharya, vol. 3, pp. 1328-1329. This corresponds to the Conze and Iida edition, p. 238, nos. 39-41 (attached earlier). The corresponding Tibetan translation from the Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 18,000 lines is found in the Collated Kangyur, vol. 31, pp. 387-388; the one from the Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 lines is found in vol. 28, pp. 775-776. In the revised Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 lines, it is found in the Collated Tengyur, vol. 51, pp. 790-791. As said before, Conze’s English translation of this passage is found in his book, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, p. 648 (attached earlier). Here is the Sanskrit text and new translation:

bhagavān āha | yā maitreya saṃskāra-nimitte vastuni rūpam iti nāma saṃjñā saṃketaḥ prajñaptir vyavahāraḥ niśritya rūpa-svabhāvatayā parikalpanedaṃ parikalpitaṃ rūpam | yan maitreya tasmin saṃskāra-nimitte vastuni vedaneti saṃjñeti saṃskārā iti vijñānam iti yāvad buddha-dharmā iti nāma saṃjñā saṃketaḥ prajñaptir vyavahāraḥ niśritya vedanā-svabhāvatayā saṃjñā-svabhāvatayā saṃskāra-svabhāvatayā vijñāna-svabhāvatayā yāvad buddha-dharma-svabhāvatayā parikalpaneyaṃ parikalpitā vedanā-saṃjñā-saṃskārā vijñānaṃ yāvad ime parikalpitā buddha-dharmāḥ |

“The Blessed One said: Maitreya, in regard to a thing that is defined by being conditioned, the false imagination as to the inherent nature of form, based on the name, notion, label, designation, or conventional expression ‘form’, is the falsely imagined form. Maitreya, in regard to this thing that is defined by being conditioned, the false imagination as to the inherent nature of feeling, as to the inherent nature of perception, as to the inherent nature of conditioning forces, as to the inherent nature of consciousness, up to as to the inherent nature of buddha-dharmas, based on the name, notion, label, designation, or conventional expression ‘feeling’, ‘perception’, ‘conditioning forces’, ‘consciousness’, up to ‘buddha-dharmas’, is the falsely imagined feeling, perception, conditioning forces, consciousness, up to the falsely imagined buddha-dharmas.”

yā punas tasya saṃskāra-nimittasya vastuno vikalpa-mātra-dharmatāyām avasthānatā[-]vikalpaṃ pratītyābhilapanatā tatredaṃ nāma saṃjñā saṃketaḥ prajñaptir vyavahāro rūpam iti vedaneti saṃjñeti saṃskārā iti vijñānam iti yāvad buddha-dharmā iti | idaṃ vikalpitaṃ rūpam iyaṃ vikalpitā vedanā iyaṃ vikalpitā saṃjñā ime vikalpitāḥ saṃskārā idaṃ vikalpitaṃ vijñānam ime yāvad vikalpitā buddha-dharmāḥ |

“Next, this thing that is defined by being conditioned is an expression dependent on the thought-construction of [its] status as to the true nature of thought-construction only. What, in regard to this, is the name, notion, label, designation, or conventional expression ‘form’, ‘feeling’, ‘perception’, ‘conditioning forces’, ‘consciousness’, up to ‘buddha-dharmas’, this is the thought-constructed form, this is the thought-constructed feeling, this is the thought-constructed perception, these are the thought-constructed conditioning forces, this is the thought-constructed consciousness, up to these are the thought-constructed buddha-dharmas.”

yā utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitaiveyaṃ dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā dharma-sthititā dharma-dhātur yat tena parikalpita-rūpeṇa tasya vikalpita-rūpasya nityaṃ nitya-kālaṃ dhruvaṃ dhruva-kālaṃ niḥsvabhāvatā dharma-nairātmyaṃ tathatā bhūta-koṭir idaṃ dharmatā rūpam iyaṃ dharmatā vedanā saṃjñā saṃskārā vijñānam ime yāvad buddha-dharmāḥ |

“Whether tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this true nature (dharmatā) of dharmas simply remains; [it is] the condition for the abiding of dharmas (dharma-sthititā), the element of dharmas (dharma-dhātu). [It is] the absence of inherent nature (niḥsvabhāva) of this thought-constructed form as [it appears as] this falsely imagined form throughout permanent, permanent time, and constant, constant time; [it is] the absence of self in dharmas (dharma-nairātmya), suchness (tathatā), the reality limit (bhūta-koṭi). This is the true nature form (dharmatā rūpa), this is the true nature feeling, perception, conditioning forces, consciousness, up to these are the [true nature] buddha-dharmas.”

Translation Notes

Before getting to the problem area, a few other translation issues should be clarified. Sanskrit regularly uses what has been called a yat-tat correlative, where the relative pronoun yat, “what, which,” is correlated with the demonstrative pronoun tat, “this, that.” This includes all forms of the Sanskrit pronouns, in any gender or any declension, and not only the forms yat and tat. Such a construction with correlating pronouns is not used in English. In our first definition above, the core sentence is: yā parikalpanā idaṃ parikalpitaṃ rūpam, where the correlating pronouns are yā, “what,” and idam, “this.” It says, literally, “what is false imagination, this is falsely imagined form.” But in English, we merely say, “false imagination is falsely imagined form.” We do not use the correlating pronouns. So my English translation of this definition purposely omits these pronouns. This same core sentence structure is used for all three definitions, beginning with yā, “what,” and ending with the correlative idam, “this.” In the second two definitions, however, the beginning part giving the “what” is lengthy, so the definition requires more than one English sentence. In the second definition, I have not omitted the “what,” but have moved it to the beginning of the third English sentence. Even though it does not make very good English, I have retained it in the translation because the correlating “this” in the ending part of the definition is repeated for each item. In the third definition, I have omitted translating the “what” in the lengthy beginning part of the definition, but I have translated the “this” at the beginning of the English sentence giving the ending part of the definition.

On specific terms: As already said, the word nimitta, often translated as “sign,” is here translated in the compound saṃskāra-nimitta as “defined by,” following the Tibetan translation of it used here, mtshan ma. The word saṃketa is also often translated as “sign.” Conze here translated it as “social agreement.” I have here translated it as “label.”

Then, the compound dharma-sthititā is not easy to understand. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates its Pali equivalent as “the stableness of the Dhamma.” Conze translates it as “the established order of dharmas.” My translation of it as “the condition for the abiding of dharmas” is based on the form of this catechism-like saying as it occurs in the Saṃyuktāgama: utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitā eveyaṃ dharmatā dharma-sthitaye dhātuḥ. Here, sthiti is declined in the dative case, “for the abiding of dharmas.” The whole sentence may be translated as: “Whether tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this true nature (dharmatā) simply remains, the element (dhātu) for the abiding of dharmas.” The Sanskrit of this text was discovered among the Turfan finds in the early 1900s. See: Funfundzwanzig Sūtras des Nidānasaṃyukta, edited by Chandrabhāl Tripāṭhī (Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden, vol. 8. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962, p. 148). The word “condition” in my translation renders the -tā suffix.

The problematic phrase is given by Conze (p. 648) as: “the absence of own-being which is characteristic eternally and through all eternity, constantly and through all time, of that discerned form because of that imagined form.” In a footnote to this, Conze refers to and partially quotes a French translation by Lamotte, concluding: “We have not understood this phrase.” The reference is given as “Lamotte II 1. p. 91.” As happens all too often, this is not listed in the abbreviations, and there is no bibliography. Paging backwards, we find on p. 583 fn. a reference to “E. Lamotte, Le traite,” but this is a different book. The reference, it turns out, is to Lamotte’s 1938 book, La somme du grand vehicule, tome II, fascicule I. There, in a long footnote quoting material from the Chinese translation of the Upanibandhana commentary, this same passage occurs. The phrase in question is: “En raison de cette matiere imaginaire (parikalpitarūpa), la matiere pensee (vikalparūpa) est eternelle et constante.” This is then summed up as: “En raison de ces attributs de Buddha imaginaires (parikalpitabuddhadharma), les attributs de Buddha penses (vikalpabuddhadharma) sont eternels et constants.” Ani Migme translates Lamotte’s French of these phrases as (p. 133): “Because of this imaginary nature (parikalpitarūpa), conceptual form (vikalparūpa) is eternal and constant”; and “Because of these imaginary attributes of the Buddha (parikalpitabuddhadharma), the conceptual attributes of the Buddha (vikalpabuddhadharma) are eternal and constant.”

As may be seen, Conze’s and Lamotte’s translations agree in saying “because of that imagined form/this imaginary nature.” One must wonder why anything eternal and constant would be because of something imagined or imaginary (I have translated this as “falsely imagined,” because the prefix “pari” gives kalpita, “imagined,” the sense of “falsely”). The “because of” is a translation of the instrumental case ending, “-ena,” on parikalpita-rūpeṇa, and its corresponding pronoun declined in the instrumental case, tena. The instrumental case is not always easy to translate, because it has more than one meaning. One of the less-known meanings of the instrumental case is “as.” It is not found in Sanskrit textbooks known to me. But it can be found in this meaning in a related text, Vasubandhu’s commentary on Maitreya’s Madhyānta-vibhāga, 3.2: tat punar daśa-vidhaṃ daśa-vidhātmagrāha-pratipakṣeṇa veditavyam, “Further, this group of ten [principles] should be understood as an antidote (pratipakṣeṇa) to the group of ten graspings of self.” It can also be found in this meaning in another old text, Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, 3.3: ātmā hy ākāśavaj jīvair ghaṭākāśair ivoditaḥ, “The ātman has arisen as individual souls (jīvair, instrumental plural), like space as the space in pots.” Indeed, this text even uses it in this meaning with the cognate verbal, vikalpita, in 2.17 and 2.19. The latter is: prāṇādibhir anantais tu bhāvair etair vikalpitaḥ, “[It] is imagined as prāṇa, etc., as these infinite existing things.” This establishes that the instrumental case can mean “as.” Does it mean “as” here?

In a text by Vasubandhu, the Tri-svabhāva-nirdeśa, the corresponding three svabhāvas taught in the Yogācāra school of Buddhism are explained. These are: (1) parikalpita svabhāva, the “falsely imagined nature”; (2) paratantra svabhāva, the “dependent nature”; and (3) pariniṣpanna svabhāva, the “perfect nature.” They are defined in verses 2-4, which I translate as follows:

yat khyāti paratantro ’sau yathā khyāti sa kalpitaḥ |

pratyayādhīna-vṛttitvāt kalpanā-mātra-bhāvataḥ || 2 ||

2. What appears is the dependent, because it functions in dependence on conditions. As it appears is the imagined, because of being imagination only.

tasya khyātur yathā-khyānaṃ yā sadāvidyamānatā |

jñeyaḥ sa pariniṣpannaḥ svabhāvo ’nanyathātvataḥ || 3 ||

3. The ever non-existence of what appears, as it appears, is to be known as the perfect nature, because it is changeless.

tatra kiṃ khyāty asatkalpaḥ kathaṃ khyāti dvayātmanā |

tasya kā nāstitā tena yā tatrādvaya-dharmatā || 4 ||

4. Of these, what appears? The imagination of what is unreal. How does it appear? In the form of duality. What is the non-existence of that as that (tena)? Their true nature without duality.

Here in verses 2 and 3, the word yathā, “as” (in the sense of “the way in which”), is twice used to define the (falsely) imagined nature (kalpita used for parikalpita to fit the meter): “as it appears.” Then in verse 4, the pronoun declined in the instrumental case, tena, clearly means “as that/this.” This is also what it means in the problematic phrase from the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter. It does not here mean “because of this/that,” as Lamotte took it in his early work (translated from a Chinese translation rather than the Sanskrit original) that he never had time to go back and revise, and as Conze also gave but responsibly added a note saying, “We have not understood this phrase.” It here means “as this falsely imagined form”; so I have translated this phrase as “the absence of inherent nature (niḥsvabhāva) of this thought-constructed form as [it appears as] this falsely imagined form throughout permanent, permanent time, and constant, constant time.” I added in brackets “[it appears as]” so that “as this falsely imagined form” would not be taken as “as also this falsely imagined form.”

Not a single one of the seven English translations of the Tri-svabhāva-nirdeśa now available took tena in verse 4 as “as that/this.” Two translations simply omitted the tena (Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyaya, The Trisvabhāvanirdeśa of Vasubandhu, 1939; and Stefan Anacker, Seven Works of Vasubandhu, 1984). Two translations took the tena as “with this/that” (Fernando Tola and Carmen Dragonetti, “with this (duality),” Journal of Indian Philosophy, 1983, p. 252; and Karl Brunnholzl, “with that [duality],” Straight from the Heart, 2007). Two seem to have taken the tena in the meaning “by this,” and then paraphrased this as “will result from” (Thomas A. Kochumuttom, A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience, 1982), or as “is the consequence of” (Jay Garfield, Empty Words, 2002, but the translation is too loose to tell for sure). One seems to have taken the tena as “in virtue of which” and placed it with the last metrical foot of the verse (Thomas E. Wood, Mind Only, 1991). Despite the yathā (“as”) in the definitions in the preceding two verses, the meaning of the instrumental case as “as” is too little known.

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The Connection to a Svabhāva Teaching in Buddhism

March 9th, 2012 — 06:08 pm

There remains the question of the missing link. The missing link is between how the term svabhāva is used in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan and a svabhāva teaching, if not a Svābhāvika school, that is represented in Theosophical writings to be Buddhist. The obvious choice for this, the Svābhāvika school of Buddhism in Nepal that was referred to in Western writings on Buddhism from 1828 to 1989, was disqualified when doubts about its existence were confirmed in 1989. The fact that a Nepalese Buddhist teacher could describe such a school of thought to Brian H. Hodgson in 1828, based on Sanskrit Buddhist texts, is nonetheless intriguing. The next candidate was not a Buddhist school called Svābhāvika, but rather the svabhāva or inherent nature doctrine held by the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism. Although some of the Theosophical references may have been to this school, its doctrine as we know it pertains to the svabhāvas of the individual dharmas, while the Theosophical references pertain to the svabhāva of a single element. The Buddhist schools denied a single existing element, and even the individual dharmas had to be impermanent (anitya) and without a self (nairātmya). Rightly or wrongly, the Sarvāstivāda school was criticized by other Buddhist schools for its doctrine that the dharmas always exist (sarvāsti) by way of their svabhāva. As stated by Y. Karunadasa: “What provoked much opposition to the theory of sarvāstitva was that it was alleged to be a veiled recognition of the substance view which is radically at variance with the Buddhist teaching on the non-substantiality of all phenomena” (Foreword to Bhikkhu Dhammajoti’s Entrance into the Supreme Doctrine; “non-substantiality of all phenomena” translates nairātmya of all dharmas). This leads us into the question of whether there can be a third candidate within Buddhism.

There has always been the dilemma of why the entire edifice of Buddhism was built on a worldview that postulates only dharmas, a word that means attributes or properties, when these are not held to be the attributes or properties of anything. This is rather like postulating that there is sunshine, but no sun. The early Buddhist schools solved this by making the dharmas real (dravya), endowing them with svabhāva, an inherent nature that gives them reality. The Mahāyāna Buddhist schools with their emptiness doctrine took this reality, this svabhāva, away from the dharmas, bringing us back to square one. We have dharmas that are not ultimately real in themselves, like attributes or properties, but no dharmin, something these attributes or properties belong to.

The dharmas are described by Vyāsa in the Hindu Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya, 3.13, as arising and disappearing in the dharmin, the substratum, an abiding substance (avasthita dravya). This same verse is where we have the parallel to the explanations of how the dharmas exist in the three periods of time, given in the Buddhist Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya by Vasubandhu. In the Hindu account, the three explanations of how change occurs are all given as true, happening side by side; while in the Buddhist account, the four explanations are given as alternatives from which one is to be chosen as correct. Vyāsa’s account appears to me to be the more original one, while Vasubandhu’s account appears to me to be adapted to the requirements of its Buddhist setting. For, like other Buddhists, the Sarvāstivādins did teach that the dharmas are impermanent (anitya). Even though they exist in the three periods of time, they come into activity only in the present moment, and thus are momentary (kṣaṇika). In the Hindu account, Vyāsa sums up by saying that ultimately (paramārthataḥ) there is only one kind of change, because a dharma or attribute is only the nature (svarūpa, a synonym of svabhāva) of the dharmin, the substratum. They are not different. In his commentary on the next verse, 3.14, Vyāsa tells us that a dharma is only the potency or power or force (śakti) of the dharmin, the substratum, distinguished by its functionality. This is just like the Mahatma K.H.’s statement that svabhāva is force or motion. In the Buddhist Sarvāstivāda account, the force (śakti) is of the individual dharmas, not of the dharmin, the substratum. An existent substratum was always rejected in Buddhist philosophy, as having too many logical problems. But what if it is beyond existence, neither existent nor non-existent?

The dharma-dhātu, the element or realm of the dharmas, is not usually regarded in Buddhism as an existent substratum or existing element. It is an ultimate that is a non-entity. Nonetheless, in the Mahāyāna Buddhist writer Haribhadra’s Āloka, a joint commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in 8,000 Lines and on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, we find it said that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu. Here are a couple examples, where he sums up the meaning of what has preceded. The Sanskrit references are given to both Unrai Wogihara’s 1932 edition, Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā, and to P. L. Vaidya’s 1960 edition, Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā.

etad uktam | rūpādīnāṃ dharma-dhātu-svabhāvatayā mahattā (Wogihara p. 176, line 3, Vaidya p. 349, line 15), “This is what was said: Form, etc. [the dharmas], are great, because they are the inherent nature [svabhāva] of the dharma-dhātu.”

etad uktam | dharma-dhātu-svabhāvatayā prajñā-pāramitāyāṃ sthitasya bodhisattvasya sarva-dharmāṇāṃ nodgraha-tyāga-bhāvanādikam iti (Wogihara, p. 185, lines 21-23, Vaidya p. 353, lines 10-11), “This is what was said: For a bodhisattva established in the Perfection of Wisdom there is no cultivation, etc., of the taking up or abandoning of all dharmas, because they are the inherent nature [svabhāva] of the dharma-dhātu.”

As will immediately be perceived, this is the idea that we have been seeking in Buddhist texts. The dharma-dhātu, or just dhātu, is the one element that is taught in Theosophical writings. That its svabhāva or inherent nature is the dharmas, the factors of existence that make up the world, is exactly the idea that would be expected based on the Theosophical sources. This idea given in Haribhadra’s writings did not seem to receive criticism from other Buddhist writers, presumably because the dharma-dhātu is not regarded as an existent substratum or existing element. In the Theosophical teachings, too, the one element is regarded as being beyond existence, neither existent nor non-existent. But neither did this idea seem to receive attention in Tibet, despite Haribhadra’s honored position there, where he was regarded by Tsongkhapa and others as the foremost Indian commentator on the Perfection of Wisdom texts. The idea that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu does not seem to have become a topic of discussion among Tibetan Buddhist writers. The idea that the dharma-dhātu has a svabhāva, however, did become a topic of debate, being regarded as heretical.

The Jonang school teaches that the ultimate, whether called the dharma-dhātu or some other synonym, has a svabhāva, an inherent nature (see, for example, “Whose Svabhāva is It?,” by Michael Sheehy, on the Jonang Foundation website: This idea received much criticism from other Buddhist schools in Tibet, especially from the Gelugpas. The idea that the ultimate has a svabhāva or inherent nature was regarded as saying that it has inherent existence, taken in the context of existence and non-existence. Svabhāva became a bad word in Tibet, and the Jonang explanations that it is beyond the duality of existence and non-existence were unable to defuse the situation. The Jonang school is the only Tibetan Buddhist school known to me that openly teaches the svabhāva of the ultimate. The Jonangpas were bold enough to espouse this unpopular idea because they believed that their tradition was the revival of the lost Golden Age Tradition (see Dolpopa’s text, the Fourth Council, translated by Cyrus Stearns in his book, The Buddha from Dolpo). The primary Jonang writer, Dolpopa, uses many synonyms for the ultimate, including the dhātu or basic element, the dharma-dhātu, the tathāgata-garbha, the dharmatā, the prabhāsvara-citta or clear-light mind, etc. A quotation from his major work, Mountain Doctrine, translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, shows one of these synonyms, ultimate mind, as having svabhāva (p. 389): “Therefore, the import is that an ultimate other-empty mind endowed with inherent nature [rang bzhin, svabhāva] always abides as the basis of the emptiness of a conventional self-empty mind.” This is quite like the “one mind” taught in The Awakening of Faith, a classic in Chinese Buddhism. The svabhāva idea taught in the Jonang school is by no means a svabhāva doctrine, a svabhāvavāda, but their writers do specifically put this idea forth, explain it, and defend it.

The fact that Haribhadra says the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu, matter-of-factly and without argument, would indicate that this idea was prevalent among Mahāyāna Buddhists in India during his time. The fact that Jonang writers teach and argue for the idea that the ultimate has svabhāva, whether we call this ultimate the dharma-dhātu or something else, shows that this idea was held by at least one Buddhist school in Tibet. These two facts provide us with the missing link between how the term svabhāva is used in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan and a svabhāva teaching in Buddhism. What is said about svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan is not found in the writings of Brian Hodgson on the alleged Svābhāvika school of Nepal. It does, however, well match the idea that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu, and that the dharma-dhātu has svabhāva, both of which are in fact found in Buddhism. That these are not standard Buddhist teachings is only to be expected, since Theosophy never claimed that it was based on known Buddhism, but quite the opposite.

We have already seen such a svabhāva teaching in the hitherto lost Praṇava-vāda, and also in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, both Hindu works. The addition of these Buddhist sources fills in the gap that had remained. We now have a much clearer picture of the meaning and usage of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan.

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A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?, part 3

March 5th, 2012 — 05:25 am

The Sarvāstivāda doctrine was unique in Buddhism in holding that the dharmas, the factors of existence, exist throughout the three periods of time, past, present, and future, and they do this by way of their individual svabhāvas, their inherent natures. The svabhāva, which makes a dharma what it is, remains the same, even though the dharma undergoes change. As put by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti (p. 134): “throughout the three periods of time, the dravya (= svabhāva) remains unchanged. This is sarvāstivāda or sarvāstitva in a nutshell.” At the beginning of this chapter (Chapter 5, “Sarvāstitva and Temporality,” the chapter that explains the distinctive Sārvāstivāda doctrine), he had concisely stated the situation (p. 117): “All said and done, sarvāstitva must imply the continuous existence of an essence in some sense. But just precisely in what sense, was something that the Ābhidharmika Buddhists—Sarvāstivādins themselves included—were unable to specify. For the Sarvāstivādins, the failure to do so is not to be considered a fault on their part. It is on account of the profound nature of dharma-s which, in the final analysis, transcends human conceptualization.”

In order to explain how a dharma could always exist (sarvāsti) throughout the three time periods, the Sarvāstivādins said “that a dharma is present when its exercises its kāritra [activity], future when its kāritra [activity] is not yet exercised, past when it has been exercised” (p. 126). What makes it possible for a dharma to exercise its activity (kāritra) and thus enter the present? Its potency or force or power (śakti) to do so. The famous Sarvāstivāda writer Saṃghabhadra explains, as translated from the extant Chinese translation by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti (p. 126): “The potencies (śakti) of dharma-s are of two kinds, activity (kāritra) and efficacy/function/capability/capacity (sāmarthya/vṛtti/vyāpāra).” This explanation of the potency or power or force (śakti) that the dharmas have according to this school is reminiscent of the Mahatma K.H.’s statement about the Svābhāvikas, “Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” Moreover, the Sarvāstivādins did not call themselves Sarvāstivādins, but rather called themselves Yuktavādins, the “advocates of logic” (Bhikkhu Dhammajoti, pp. 56, 242), or proponents of reasoning. This is because in their debates with other Buddhist schools they appealed primarily to logic or reasoning, while their opponents appealed primarily to scriptural authority (the Sautrāntikas even derived their name from taking the scriptures, the sūtras, as authority). Again, this is reminiscent of the Mahatma K.H.’s statement, “you will find them the most learned as the most scientifically logical wranglers in the world.”

It is possible that the Mahatma K.H. was here referring to the Sarvāstivādins, or perhaps more specifically to a Sarvāstivāda doctrine that preceded the Sarvāstivāda school as we know it. We may summarize the known Sarvāstivāda doctrine as follows: All dharmas have svabhāva, which remains the same throughout the three periods of time. A dharma enters the present time when, due to its potency or power or force (śakti), it comes into activity (kāritra). How this change in a dharma occurs, while its svabhāva remains unchanged, is explained in four different ways by four early Sarvāstivāda teachers. These four explanations are given by Vasubandhu in his Abhidharmakośa and his own commentary thereon, chapter 5, verses 25-27. Three almost identical positions on how change occurs, with almost verbatim explanations, are given by Vyāsa in his commentary on Yoga-sūtra 3.13 (see also 4.12), although here in this Hindu text they are of course not given as Buddhist positions. This is obviously an old teaching, which has been recorded in two different traditions, traditions having different doctrinal positions. One of these traditions, Sāṃkhya-Yoga, accepts a unitary eternal substance, while the other tradition, Buddhism, does not; yet both accepted this old teaching on how things exist in the three time periods. From Theosophical sources we learn of an original Buddhist school that would have preceded the formation of the Sarvāstivāda school, with the clear implication that the Theosophical Mahatmas follow this original school (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 5, pp. 245-248; Theosophical Glossary under Abhayagiri). Perhaps this original school accepted what I have called prehistoric svabhāvavāda.

In the Theosophical teachings there is no indication that svabhāva is the svabhāva of anything but the one element (eka-dhātu), while in the Buddhist teachings of all the early schools, including the Sarvāstivādins, there is no indication that svabhāva is the svabhāva of anything but the individual dharmas. This may be the problem, which made it so hard for the Sarvāstivādins to defend their teaching that svabhāva always exists. On this hypothesis, they would have received the original teaching that svabhāva must always exist; but being unable to speak of the one element, and in accordance with the Buddhist teaching of the multiplicity of the dharmas, they had to formulate the teaching of an always existing svabhāva in terms of the changing dharmas. This latter was an almost impossible task. Bhikkhu Dhammajoti writes, continuing the quotation from the beginning of Chapter 5 given above (p. 117):

“Once this metaphysical notion, however elusive, of an underlying essence of phenomena came to be emphasized, the debates—as to its truth or otherwise, and as to its precise implications—continued endlessly. . . . In these debates, we see the Ābhidharmikas—including the self-professed sūtra-based Sautrāntikas—utilizing logic as a tool to the utmost. At the end of the day, the Vaibhāṣikas [i.e., the Sarvāstivādins] had to be content with a form of identity-in-difference (bhedābheda) logic. In the depths of their hearts, however, it would seem that it is their religious insight and intuition—even if they happen to defy Aristotelian logic—that must be upheld at all cost.”

We see from the lengthy passage in Isis Unveiled (1877, vol. 2, pp. 264-265), quoted in The Secret Doctrine (1888, vol. 1, pp. 3-4), that from beginning to end, HPB understood the Theosophical teaching she received from her Mahatma teachers to be that svabhāva is the svabhāva of “the one infinite and unknown Essence” that “exists from all eternity.” When this “unknown essence” is, metaphorically speaking, “awake” or “active” or breathing out, the “outbreathing of the ‘unknown essence’ produces the world.” It is this “active condition of this ‘Essence’” that HPB understood as the svabhāva taught by the Svābhāvikas: “The Svâbhâvikas, or philosophers of the oldest school of Buddhism (which still exists in Nepaul), speculate only upon the active condition of this ‘Essence,’ which they call Svabhâvât, and deem it foolish to theorize upon the abstract and ‘unknowable’ power in its passive condition.” It is the inherent nature (svabhāva) of this essence (the one element, dhātu) to periodically outbreathe, and this produces what we perceive as the manifestation of the world. That svabhāva is the activity or outbreathing is fully supported by the Mahatma K.H.’s statement about the Svābhāvikas calling it force or motion: “Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” It is the motion of the one element, its inherent nature (svabhāva), that produces the world. This motion is its life, its breathing, something inherent to it. This inherent motion produces the illusion of the world, just like, in Gauḍapāda’s analogy, the motion of a firebrand produces illusory shapes. But these shapes cannot have any ultimate reality, and consequently, any svabhāva. Likewise, in agreement with Mahāyāna doctrine, the individual dharmas cannot have any ultimate reality, and consequently, any svabhāva.

We do not know exactly what the original teachings of Buddhism were, despite the claims of each now existing Buddhist school to have them just as the Buddha taught them. Buddhism appears to have been a unified tradition for the first hundred or so years of its existence. Then the first schism occurred, and in the following centuries the “eighteen schools” of early Buddhism arose. Due to absence of original sources, and conflicting information in available sources, to sort out these early schools is, in the words of Etienne Lamotte, “futile” (History of Indian Buddhism, Chapter Six, “The Buddhist Sects,” English p. 548, French p. 606). The first schism resulted in the Mahāsāṃghikas and the Sthaviravādins. The Sarvāstivādins, along with several other schools, are included in the Sthaviravādins, and at first considered themselves Sthaviravādins. As Bhikkhu Dhammajoti says about the Sarvāstivādins, “Both they, as well as their opponents—the Vibhajyavādins—seemed to continue for quite some time to assume the status of the orthodox Sthaviravādins” (Entrance into the Supreme Doctrine: Skandhila’s Abhidharmāvatāra, Colombo, 1998; 2nd rev. ed. Hong Kong, 2008, “Introduction,” pp. 18-19). The present day Theravādins, the Pali form of the Sanskrit word Sthaviravādin, also consider themselves to be the orthodox Sthaviravādins. Certainly doctrinal developments took place, such that we cannot know which doctrines were original and which were not. Bhikkhu Dhammajoti tells us that (Entrance, p. 19):

“Although in the Vijñāna-kāya-śāstra, the existence of dharma-s in the three periods of time was already explicitly asserted and argued for, we have to wait until the Jñāna-prasthāna-śāstra to find their fully developed theory of the everlasting existence of the svabhāva of dharma-s. In fact, it was the Jñāna-prasthāna-śāstra that established the Sarvāstivāda dogma in a definite form.”

All we can say is that there was a large and influential early school of Buddhism, the Sarvāstivādins, who taught the everlasting existence of the svabhāva of the dharmas. We do not know if this was an original teaching of Buddhism. The Svābhāvika school of Buddhism referred to in Theosophical writings, whose teachings were identified with the Theosophical teachings, was apparently understood to have taught the svabhāva of the one element (dhātu) rather than the svabhāva of the individual dharmas. Since this is not the teaching of the Sarvāstivādins, and the alleged Svābhāvika school in Nepal does not exist, we are left with the idea that in Theosophical writings the Svābhāvika school of Buddhism refers to what is taken to be the original teachings of Buddhism preserved by the Theosophical Mahatmas.

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Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 2

February 27th, 2012 — 10:59 pm

As is well known, the philosophical teaching of The Secret Doctrine is a non-dualism or monism. For this reason, outside observers have more often associated Theosophy with Hinduism than with Buddhism. The Hindu Upaniṣads teach an absolute brahman, described as “one alone, without a second” (ekam eva advitīyam, Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.2.1), and brahman is understood fully non-dualistically in the Advaita Vedānta school. Since this fundamental teaching in Theosophy is crucial for trying to understand the svabhāva teaching of the Book of Dzyan, it will be worthwhile to review a few statements on it.

“Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is the metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE—BE-NESS . . . .” (SD 1.14)

“The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyani-Chohan to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds—this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.” (SD 1.120)

“The FUNDAMENTAL UNITY OF ALL EXISTENCE. This unity is a thing altogether different from the common notion of unity—as when we say that a nation or an army is united; or that this planet is united to that by lines of magnetic force or the like. The teaching is not that. It is that existence is ONE THING, not any collection of things linked together. Fundamentally there is ONE BEING.” (notes on how to study The Secret Doctrine given by HPB to Robert Bowen)

This fundamental Theosophical teaching, then, is directly comparable to the Hindu teaching of the one brahman as understood non-dualistically in Advaita Vedānta.

Near the beginning of the 1900s a hitherto secret Sanskrit book, the Praṇava-vāda by Gārgyāyaṇa, was dictated from memory by a blind pandit named Dhanaraj to Bhagavan Das and a few others. According to Bhagavan Das, who prepared a summarized English translation of it, its language is very archaic. Highly significantly for our inquiry, this book says that prapañca, manifestation, is the svabhāva or inherent nature of brahman, the one (English translation, vol. 3, p. 75). This is also what the Book of Dzyan says about svabhāva, that it brings about manifestation. Since “the one” cannot act, svabhāva is there shown as bringing about manifestation. The Praṇava-vāda specifically tells us that this is the svabhāva of the one brahman. In the Book of Dzyan we are not specifically told what the svabhāva it speaks of is the inherent nature of. We can only infer that it is the inherent nature of “the one.”

In stanza 1.5, prior to manifestation, “the one” is termed “darkness”: “Darkness alone filled the boundless all.” In stanza 2.1, still prior to actual manifestation, svabhāva is first mentioned, where svabhāva “rested in the bliss of non-being.” In stanza 2.5 svabhāva is identified with darkness: “Darkness alone was father-mother, Svābhāvat; and Svābhāvat was in darkness.” In stanza 3, actual manifestation occurs, with the phrase, “Darkness radiates light.” Later in The Secret Doctrine we see that this refers to svabhāva, where svabhāva is described as “the mutable radiance of the Immutable Darkness unconscious in Eternity” (SD 1.635), and this is confirmed in stanzas 3.10 and 3.12. So while The Secret Doctrine does not explicitly say that the svabhāva or inherent nature it speaks of is the svabhāva of “the one,” it would be quite incongruous in a non-dualistic system to understand it as being the svabhāva of anything else. The exact parallel with the Praṇava-vāda, where svabhāva is also manifestation (prapañca) and this is explicitly said to be the svabhāva of the one brahman, makes this practically certain. Here are a few quotations from that book (for fuller information, see especially vol. 3, pp. 74-80):

“. . . this prapañcha is verily Self-established by Its own nature, the Sva-bhāva, the Self-being, of Absolute Brahman, . . .” (Praṇava-vāda, vol. 3, p. 75)

“. . . sva-bhāva which is declared everywhere to be the cause of the world, having no cause of its own.” (vol. 3, p. 77)

“There is no duality, no unity, no manyness—All is Sva-bhāva and Sva-bhāva only.” (vol. 2, p. 329)

“All ‘becoming’ whatsoever, every event in the World-process, tiniest or most enormous, is brought about by the Universal Necessity of the Absolute Nature, Sva-bhāva.” (vol. 2, p. 31)

At this point, we have references from one hitherto secret book, the Praṇava-vāda, helping to explain the svabhāva teaching of another hitherto secret book, the Book of Dzyan. Both of these books are said to be from a time that predates known history; they are prehistoric. Can we trace this teaching to any known text? Yes, the same teaching is briefly given by Gauḍapāda in his Māṇḍūkya-kārikā. It was soon interpreted away, but it is there. Like in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, Gauḍapāda reviews various proposed causes of the world. Here are his verses 1.6-9 (translated by Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya):

“6. The settled opinion of sages is that all things have their origin. (Some hold that) the Breath, the Puruṣa (self), creates all—the rays of the mind, differently.

7. Other theorisers about creation assert dogmatically that the creation (of the world) is (his) expansion, while others imagine that creation is of the nature of dream and magic.

8. Those who are assured about creation say that creation is the mere volition of the Lord, and those who theorise about Time consider the creation of beings to be from Time.

9. Some (say) that the creation is for the sake of (his) enjoyment, while others (are of opinion) that it is for the sake of his sport. It is, however, the nature of the Shining One, for how can desire be in one for whom every object of desire is (already) secured.”

In the latter half of the last verse Gauḍapāda gives his own position, that creation (sṛṣṭi) or manifestation is the nature (svabhāva) of the Shining One (deva). In the next verse he tells us that the shining one (deva) is the turya, the fourth of the four conditions taught in the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. This is ātman or brahman.

“10. The Turya ‘fourth one’ is said to be all-pervading, efficient in removing all miseries, the shining one, changeless, and of all things without a second.”

It is the one without a second. Lest there be any doubt, he again equates the shining one (deva) with ātman in 2.12 and 2.19. So Gauḍapāda’s position is exactly the same as what was said in the Praṇava-vāda, that creation or manifestation is the svabhāva or inherent nature of the one, ātman or brahman. We have already seen the direct parallel of what was said in the Praṇava-vāda to what the Book of Dzyan says about svabhāva, that it brings about manifestation. So in addition to the direct parallel to the hitherto secret Praṇava-vāda, we now have historical evidence, in the form of a direct parallel to a known text (Gauḍapāda’s), that the svabhāva spoken of in the Book of Dzyan is the svabhāva or inherent nature of “the one.” This is a very different kind of svabhāva teaching or svabhāvavāda than that which is historically known, so I have called it prehistoric svabhāvavāda.

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Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda

February 26th, 2012 — 09:01 pm

Svabhāvavāda, the doctrine of svabhāva or inherent nature, as the cause of the world, is old. It is referred to, for example, in the Hindu Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (1.2), in the Jaina Sanmati-tarka (3.53), and in the Buddhist Buddha-carita (9.58-62). But there is an even older svabhāvavāda, very different from the one described in these texts, that I will call prehistoric svabhāvavāda. It is seen in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda, and in the Book of Dzyan. In brief, the svabhāvavāda that was already historical in the time of the classical Sanskrit texts says that the world is the result of the inherent nature of the elements or things that make it up. The diverse world is the result of the inherent natures of a plurality of diverse things. In the prehistoric svabhāvavāda, there is only one thing (or non-thing) in the universe. The world and all its diversity can only result from the inherent nature of that, the one and only.

Over the years, I have collected pages full of references to svabhāva in Sanskrit texts. A small book, or a very long article, could be written based on them. Here I will try to give a brief digest of this gathered information. We may start with the statement of possible causes of the world from the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. This text begins in verse 1.1 by asking questions including whether brahman is the cause (kāraṇa) of the world. In verse 1.2 it lists six alternatives to this as the source (yoni) of the world: kāla, “time”; svabhāva, “inherent nature”; niyati, “fate, necessity, destiny”; yadṛcchā, “chance”; bhūtāni, “the (five) elements”; puruṣa, “spirit.” The commentary on this text attributed to Śaṅkarācārya does not say who holds these various teachings. But this line of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad is quoted by Nīlakaṇṭha in his commentary on the Mahābhārata (Bombay edition, 12.183.6), and he does say. According to him, those who hold that svabhāva is the origin of the world (loka-sambhava) are the Buddhists and the Lokāyatikas (the worldly so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics).

In the case of the Buddhists, Nīlakaṇṭha would be referring to the early Buddhist Abhidharma teaching that all dharmas, all the factors of existence, each have svabhāva, an inherent nature of their own. This is not the same as what is usually referred to as svabhāvavāda, even though it is similarly pluralistic. The svabhāvavāda usually referred to is also referred to in Buddhist sources, where it is regarded by them as a non-Buddhist teaching (Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddha-carita, chapter 9, verses 58-62), and is refuted by them (Śāntarakṣita’s Tattva-saṃgraha, chapter 4, verses 110-127). We here recall that what was called the Svābhāvika school of Nepalese Buddhism turned out not to exist. It was based on a mistaken assumption made in very early Buddhist studies (see blog post: “The Svabhāva Teaching Not to Be Attributed to Buddhism Today”). After an account of this and three other alleged Buddhist schools written by Brian H. Hodgson was published in 1828, he obtained from his Buddhist teacher/informant passages from Buddhist texts in support of these schools and published these in 1836. The passages that were intended to prove the existence of the Svābhāvika school and to illustrate its svabhāva teaching (1874 ed., pp. 73-76) included verses from the passage of the Buddha-carita just referred to. In this passage, however, it is actually a non-Buddhist teaching that is being described. In fact, this passage describes the historical svabhāva teaching, a teaching that was sometimes attributed to the Lokāyatikas and sometimes attributed to the demons (asuras, daityas). It was refuted not only by Buddhists but also by Hindus (e.g., Gautama’s Nyāya-sūtra 4.1.22-24) and Jainas (e.g., Malayagiri’s commentary on the Nandī-sūtra, Āgama-suttāṇi ed., vol. 30, pp. 217-218, in his summary of the contents of Sūtrakṛtāṅga).

The Lokāyatikas referred to by Nīlakaṇṭha, those who follow the Lokāyata teaching, also called the Cārvāka teaching, are the worldly so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics of ancient India. Their own texts have for the most part disappeared, but their teachings are found in works that refute them. The doctrine of svabhāva or svabhāvavāda is often associated with them. This doctrine is that there is no other cause for things to be what they are than their individual svabhāvas or inherent natures. A thorn is sharp because the inherent nature of thorns is to be sharp. Then in the Mahābhārata, this svabhāvavāda is associated with the demons, as a teaching that they follow (see: V. M. Bedekar, “doctrines_svabhava_kala_mahabharata”). The passage from the Buddha-carita that describes this teaching is here given (translated by E. H. Johnston; I have inserted some Sanskrit terms in brackets):

“58. Some explain that good and evil and existence and non-existence originate by natural development [svabhāvāt, ablative]; and since all this world originates by natural development [svābhāvika], again therefore effort is vain.

59. That the action of each sense is limited to its own class of object, that the qualities of being agreeable or disagreeable is to be found in the objects of the senses, and that we are affected by old age and afflictions, in all that what room is there for effort? Is it not purely a natural development [svabhāva]?

60. The oblation-devouring fire is stilled by water, and the flames cause water to dry up. The elements, separate by nature, group themselves together into bodies and, coalescing, constitute the world.

61. That, when the individual enters the womb, he develops hands, feet, belly, back and head, and that his soul unites with that body, all this the doctors of this school attribute to natural development [svābhāvika].

62. Who fashions the sharpness of the thorn or the varied nature of beast and bird? All this takes place by natural development [svabhāvataḥ]. There is no such thing in this respect as action of our own will, a fortiori no possibility of effort.”

As indicated by these verses, the historically known doctrine of svabhāva is associated with determinism and the negation of human effort, and consequently with the negation of moral responsibility. Things are what they are because of their various svabhāvas or inherent natures, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. The lack of moral responsibility that this doctrine led to is why it was refuted by all three of the religions of old India. This historically known svabhāvavāda is not at all something that Theosophy would wish to be associated with. The favorable references in Theosophical writings to the Svābhāvika school of Buddhism would be to something else, despite the problematic sources (Hodgson and those following him) describing an alleged Svābhāvika school in Nepal that does not exist. More importantly, the seven occurrences of svabhāva in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan must refer to a different svabhāva teaching, now largely unknown.

(to be continued)

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The Meaning of Svabhāva

February 22nd, 2012 — 04:18 am

The meaning of svabhāva given in The Secret Doctrine, drawing from the compilation prepared by Jacques, is the “essence,” the “self-existent plastic essence and the root of all things,” the “‘plastic essence’ that fills the universe,” the “root of all things,” the “mystic essence,” and the “plastic root of physical nature.” In referring to svabhāva as an “essence,” HPB was apparently following the writers of her time, such as Samuel Beal. But she was well aware of the inadequacy of this term. In the “Summing Up” section of the SD, her third statement, referring to the “Substance-Principle” spoken of in her second statement, says:

“(3.) The Universe is the periodical manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence. To call it “essence,” however, is to sin against the very spirit of the philosophy. For though the noun may be derived in this case from the verb esse, “to be,” yet It cannot be identified with a being of any kind, that can be conceived by human intellect.” (SD 1.273)

Although this refers to the “Substance-Principle,” the same idea applies to its first remove or secondary stage, svabhāva. We may now refine the meaning of svabhāva. If you try to find or search for svabhāva under the translation “essence” in books published in the last hundred years, you will not likely have much success. The meaning “essence” is not found for svabhāva in the standard Sanskrit-English dictionaries (Monier Monier-Williams and Vaman Shivaram Apte), or in the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary (Franklin Edgerton). I see that it is given in Wikipedia, but it is there likely copied from an online Theosophical glossary.

As literally as normal English allows, svabhāva means “self-nature.” Some translators use the literal “own-being,” but this is not normal English. Another very close, but somewhat more idiomatic translation is “inherent nature,” or “intrinsic nature.” Of these two synonymous phrases, I have adopted “inherent nature” over “intrinsic nature” because of its verbal similarity to “inherent existence.” Inherent existence is another translation of svabhāva that is widely used in the Madhyamaka Buddhist context of the denial of svabhāva; e.g., the “emptiness of inherent existence” (svabhāva-śūnyatā). A thing’s “inherent nature” is something that always remains the same; so in this philosophical context it has come to mean something’s “inherent existence.” The basic meaning of svabhāva is shown in the often-used example that heat is the “inherent nature” of fire.

As may be seen, svabhāva is the inherent nature of something, whatever that something may be. In Buddhism, it is normally the inherent nature of the dharmas, the factors of existence that make up the world. It is not a stand-alone essence. One can call it the essence of something, but one would not normally call it an essence per se. Of course, if it is the inherent nature of something that is itself an essence, then as being indistinguishable from that essence, svabhāva, too, could be called an essence. This appears to be what is happening in the Theosophical writings. Although as HPB noted above, it is philosophically incorrect to refer to the one “Substance-Principle” as an essence, it is nonetheless done for expedience. When doing so, one can then also expediently use essence for svabhāva. Even if this is adopted from other writers where it is incorrect in relation to Buddhism (because Buddhism does not teach an essence), it would not in this way be incorrect for Theosophy. It would refer to the inherent nature of something that can loosely be called an essence.

A careful study of the Theosophical references will show that the term svabhāva is used in two different ways. It is used more loosely and more precisely. It is loosely referred to as an essence, while more precisely it is called force or motion or radiance. This latter fits in well with the basic meaning of svabhāva, inherent nature. The inherent nature of the one Substance-Principle is force or motion or radiance. Put another way, motion is the inherent nature of the one element, the dhātu. It always remains, fitting the definition of svabhāva as something that is unchanging, because unceasing motion is the imperishable life of eternal, living, superphysical substance, the one Substance-Principle (see Cosmological Notes and Mahatma Letter #10).

Svabhāva is force or motion:

“Study the laws and doctrines of the Nepaulese Swabhavikas, the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India, and you will find them the most learned as the most scientifically logical wranglers in the world. Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” (Mahatma Letter #22)

Svabhāva is radiance:

“Throughout the first two Parts, it was shown that, at the first flutter of renascent life, Svâbhâvat, “the mutable radiance of the Immutable Darkness unconscious in Eternity,” passes, at every new rebirth of Kosmos, from an inactive state into one of intense activity; that it differentiates, and then begins its work through that differentiation.” (SD 1.635)

This also fits in well with how svabhāva is used in the Book of Dzyan. The meaning of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan is indicated by its usage, where svabhāva:

  1. is the root of the world (stanza 2.1)
  2. is father-mother (stanza 2.5)
  3. was in darkness (prior to manifestation) (stanza 2.5)
  4. is the two substances (spirit and matter) made in one (stanza 3.10)
  5. sends fohat to harden the atoms (at the time of manifestation) (stanza 3.12)
  6. is the ādi-nidāna (first cause) (stanza 4.5)
  7. is the voice of the word (not lord, as misprinted on p. 31) (stanza 4.5) (this is the voice that emanates the word; see The Secret Doctrine Commentaries, p. 341)

The meaning of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan appears to be the inherent nature of the dhātu, the one element, and this inherent nature is its life or motion. This motion is what brings about the manifestation of a cosmos. So the cosmogenesis teaching of the Book of Dzyan can accurately be called svabhāva-vāda. No known system teaches this any longer, but it is referred to as an ancient teaching in all three of the religions of old India, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. From these writings, we see that there is more than one kind of svabhāva-vāda. These will be the subject of further research here.

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The Svabhāva Teaching Not to Be Attributed to Buddhism Today

February 20th, 2012 — 09:21 pm

On the introductory page to Svābhāvat under “Key Subjects” I have referred to two major problems with this term: its form and its meaning. Relating to the latter is its usage. The most immediate problem with the teaching of svabhāva as it is found in H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, is its attribution to Buddhism. Buddhist studies were then just beginning, and at that time Western writers on Buddhism attributed the teaching of svabhāva to Buddhism. As Buddhist studies progressed in the next century, it was seen that this is incorrect; and in the case of Mahāyāna or Northern Buddhism, it is quite the opposite. The central Mahāyāna Buddhist teaching of emptiness (śūnyatā) is, in full, the emptiness or absence of svabhāva, inherent nature. So the following statements from The Secret Doctrine on the teaching of svabhāva in relation to Buddhism are incorrect, and should be updated. I quote them from the very helpful compilation made by Jacques.

“The Svâbhâvikas, or philosophers of the oldest school of Buddhism (which still exists in Nepaul), speculate only upon the active condition of this “Essence,” which they call Svâbhâvat, . . .” (SD 1.3)

“It is, in its secondary stage, the Svabhavat of the Buddhist philosopher, . . .” (SD 1.46)

“Svâbhâvat is, so to say, the Buddhistic concrete aspect of the abstraction called in Hindu philosophy Mulaprakriti.” (SD 1.61)

“Svâbhâvat is the mystic Essence, . . . The name is of Buddhist use . . . .” (SD 1.98)

“. . . the infinite Substance, the noumenon of which the Buddhists call swâbhâvat . . . .” (SD 1.671)

The idea that Buddhists teach svabhāva came from the writings of Brian H. Hodgson, British Resident in Nepal from 1821 to 1843. He began publishing articles in Asiatic Researches in 1828, which were later collected into a book, Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (London, 1874, with an earlier Indian edition in 1841; for relevant excerpts, see: Since Nepal was then closed to foreign travelers, no one could check Hodgson’s information until Sylvain Levi’s trip there in 1898, and Buddhist scholars accepted Hodgson’s account of the Svābhāvika Buddhists of Nepal until well into the twentieth century. It was not fully abandoned by scholars until David N. Gellner’s 1989 article, “Hodgson’s Blind Alley? On the So-Called Schools of Nepalese Buddhism” (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 12). No Svābhāvika school of Buddhism was found in Nepal. Its existence was based on a mistaken assumption, due to inadequate information, at that very early stage of Buddhist studies.

Other early and erroneous sources on the teaching of svabhāva in Buddhism, influenced by Hodgson, include Rev. Samuel Beal’s 1871 book, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese. He there writes (p. 11): “Both these [Chinese] writers adopted the teaching of the Swābhāvika school of Buddhism, which is that generally accepted in China. This school holds the eternity of Matter as a crude mass, infinitesimally attenuated under one form, and expanded in another form into the countless beautiful varieties of Nature.” The equation of matter with the dharmas, which make up the Buddhist worldview, is adopted directly from Hodgson (1874 ed., p. 72): “Dharma is Diva natura, matter as the sole entity, invested with intrinsic activity and intelligence, the efficient and material cause of all.” Beal continues, on the next page (p. 12): “The expression ‘Fah-kai’ is a well-known one to signify the limits or elements of Dharma (dharma dhatu), where Dharma is the same as Prakriti, or Matter itself. Much confusion would have been avoided if this sense of Dharma, when used by writers of the Swābhāvika school, had been properly observed.” In fact, the dharmas are not at all the same as matter, and this has caused much confusion in early Western writings pertaining to Buddhism, including those by Blavatsky.

In relation to svabhāva Beal frequently uses the phrase, “universally diffused essence” (pp. 11, 12, 13, 14, 29, etc.), which he later (p. 373) equates with dharmakaya (cp. Mahatma Letter #15, 3rd ed. pp. 88-89). Blavatsky writes:

“As for Svâbhâvat, the Orientalists explain the term as meaning the Universal plastic matter diffused through Space, . . .” (SD 1.98 fn.)

The orientalist she is referring to is Samuel Beal, who she frequently draws material from.

Another orientalist who she draws material from is Rev. Joseph Edkins. From his 1880 book, Chinese Buddhism, pp. 308-309 (also p. 317), she copied the following erroneous information:

“Svâbhâvat, the “Plastic Essence” that fills the Universe, is the root of all things. Svâbhâvat is, so to say, the Buddhistic concrete aspect of the abstraction called in Hindu philosophy Mulaprakriti. . . . Chinese mystics have made of it the synonym of “being.” In the Ekasloka-Shastra of Nagarjuna (the Lung-shu of China) called by the Chinese the Yih-shu-lu-kia-lun, it is said that the original word of Yeu is “Being” or “Subhava,” “the Substance giving substance to itself,” also explained by him as meaning ” without action and with action,” “the nature which has no nature of its own.” Subhava, from which Svâbhâvat, is composed of two words: Su “fair,” “handsome,” “good”; Svâ, “self”; and bhâva, “being” or “states of being.”” (SD 1.61)

This has been misunderstood by Edkins, who in 1857 when he translated the Ekasloka-sastra could hardly have been expected to do any better. No reliable information was then available in Western sources about Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna was the most articulate of all Buddhist writers in formulating the teaching of the emptiness or absence of svabhāva in all dharmas. The word given by Edkins, subhava, is wrong, and should be svabhāva, as HPB perceived. But the etymology of subhava, copied by HPB, is erroneous for svabhāva. We have to “clear the deck” of all these extraneous and erroneous references before we can proceed to try to find out the meaning and significance of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan.

There was in fact an early school of Buddhism that taught the eternal existence of the svabhāva of the dharmas. So the teaching of svabhāva can correctly be attributed to them. But this school, the Sarvāstivāda, has not existed for more than a thousand years, and its teaching has been refuted by the other schools of Buddhism.

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Key Subjects

February 19th, 2012 — 06:23 pm

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February 13th, 2012 — 12:46 am

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