The three great Perfections in The Voice of the Silence

By admin on August 7, 2018 at 3:21 pm

The Voice of the Silence – verse 103 says :“The Path are two ; the great Perfections three ; six are the Virtues that transform the body into the Tree of Knowledge.”

The question is : what are these three great Perfections which are listed separately from the six Virtues (pāramitās) ?

Note 34 of verse 306 of The Voice of Silence identifies the Sambhogakaya as the same as Nirmanakaya, “ but with the additional lustre of the ‘three perfections,’ one of which is entire obliteration of all earthly concerns,” therefore identifying one of these “great perfections” as “obliteration of all earthly concerns”.

Schlagintweit (Buddhism in Tibet, 1863) has a similar understanding about Sambhogakaya as : “the body of bliss and the reward of fulfilling the three conditions of perfection.”

So, from these statements, the great Perfections called in The Voice of Silence are not Paramitas, but maybe the path of practice of the Paramitas. And if we consider that each set of practices brings a specific result, it would explain the statement for one of them about “obliteration of all earthly concerns”. Then we need to understand why this path is triple and what it encompasses.

Hermann Oldenberg says something similar to the Voice of Silence : “The primary demand made upon the monk is : thou shall separate thyself from this world1. He added later (p.288) : “Still we find in the sacred texts expressions which point to a definite path of thought traversing the wide range of moral action and passion, a distribution of all that tends to happiness and deliverance under certain leading. Above all there recur continually three categories, to some extent like the headings of three chapters on ethics : uprightness, self-concentration, and wisdom2.

In the narrative of Buddha’s last addresses, the discourse in which he places before his followers the doctrine of the path of salvation, is time after time couched in the following words : This is uprightness. This is self-concentration. This is wisdom.

Here, Oldenberg refers to the Mahâparinirvâna Sutra – The Great Passing Discourse, where we can read : “2.4 Then the Lord, while staying at Koțigâma, gave a comprehensive discourse: This is morality, this is concentration, this is wisdom. Concentration, when imbued with morality, brings great fruit and profit. Wisdom, when imbued with concentration, brings great fruit and profit. The mind imbued with wisdom becomes completely free from the corruptions, that is, from the corruption of sensuality, of becoming, of false views and of ignorance.”3

One of the renowned Tibetan Buddhism Traditions Holder from the 19th century, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé has a clear explanation : “ That the paramitas are definitively six is derived from the fact that when all the dharmas that the boddhisattvas practice are condensed, they are contained within the three trainings.4 The Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras5 explains:

The Victor perfectly elucidated the six pāramitās in the context of the three trainings. Three [pāramitās belong to] the first [training]; the last two are the [other] two forms [of training]; and one [pāramitā] accompanies all three [trainings].

Because the Six Pāramitās are usually listed in a specific order : “[The Pāramitās] are presented in this order because the latter ones arise on the basis of the earlier ones; they [progress from] inferior to superior, and [grow] from coarse to subtle.6, starting with Generosity, Ethical Conduct, Patience, Diligence, Meditative Concentration and Wisdom, we can deduct that :

– Generosity, Ethical Conduct and Patience may belong to the first training path,

– Diligence is the second training path

– Meditative Concentration is the third training path

All these pāramitās are endowed by the sixth one [Wisdom].

So, according to these concordant sources, the three great Perfections as stated in The Voice of Silence could mean the three Paths to the great Perfections, one of them [probably the first training path] leading to the “obliteration of all earthly concerns”.

1 BUDDHA: His Life, His Doctrine, His Order Chapter III. The Tenet of the Path to the extinction of suffering, p.287 from the English translation of William Hoey, Luzac 1928)

2 The Pâli expressions are : sîla, samâdhi, pannâ

3 The Long Discourses of the Buddha, translated from the Pali, Wisdom Publications, 1987, p.240

4 The three trainings (shikșhā, bslab pa) are the training in ethical conduct (shilashikșhā , tshul khrims kyi bslab pa), the training in samādhi (samādhishikșhā, ting nge ‘dzin gyi bslab pa), and the training in wisdom (prajñāshikșhā, shes rab kyi bslab pa).

Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, Chapter 17, verse 7. Toh. 4020, f. 21b2-3; Dg. T. Beijing 70:851

6 Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, Chapter 17, verse 14. Toh. 4020, f. 21b7; Dg. T. Beijing 70:851

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Book of the Golden Precepts in Tibetan?

By David Reigle on January 31, 2018 at 11:33 pm

In my “Report on a Search for the Book of the Golden Precepts in Kalimpong, March 1998,”1 I quoted Anthony Elenjimittam saying that he, with the help of a Tibetan Lama, had compared the original (apparently Tibetan) of The Voice of the Silence, the “Book of the Golden Precepts,” with Blavatsky’s English translation, in Kalimpong around 1950:

“In my return to Kalimpong I stayed in the Tibetan monastery, taking part in their choral office and learning various branches of Mahayana and Tantrism. It was in that monastery that I first read with Lama Ping the Voice of Silence, the Book of Golden Precepts, with the English translation by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. With the help of the Tibetan Lama I could compare the English translation made by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with the original, taking notes from the interpretation given by the Lama.”2

Some years later (around 1965), he published an edition of The Voice of Silence in Bombay, with his own commentary. From the late 1990s until last month I had been unable to consult this edition, to see if he said anything more in it about the original. The only copy of this book listed on WorldCat (OCLC) is held by the British Library. They were not willing to lend it through interlibrary loan or to photocopy it or scan it. Finally, with the help of intermediaries Robert Hütwohl and Leslie Price, arrangements were made for Janet Lee to visit the British Library and see it in person. She was able to photograph all of its pages with her smartphone, and she kindly sent them to me. So at last I was able to see what is in this book.

The WorldCat listing, apparently provided by the British Library, is as follows:

The Voice of Silence. Translated from the Tibetan by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky [or rather, written by her]. With a commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam. Bombay: Aquinas Publications, [1965?].

From this, it seemed that the bracketed “[or rather, written by her]” was included by Anthony Elenjimittam in the title. This would contradict his statement quoted above, made in 1983. In fact, access to his book showed that this bracketed material is not on his title page, but is an addition apparently made by the person who catalogued the book for the British Library. This is quite irregular for librarians to do, which is why it seemed that the bracketed material in the listing was on the title page and was put there by Elenjimittam himself. Instead, what we find in his book is:

On the cover: “Voice of Silence, English Translation by Helena P. Blavatskey, with a Commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam”

On the title page: “The Voice of Silence, Translated from the Tibetan by Helena Petrovna Blavatskey, With a Commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam”

From Anthony Elenjimittam’s Introduction, dated 1964, p. ii: “. . . THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE, or fragments from the Book of the Golden Precepts which has been beautifully translated by Helena Petrovna Blavatskey from the original Tibetan, . . .” “While preserving the original translation of the text from Tibetan by H.P.B., . . .”

From Elenjimittam’s “commentary and annotations,” pp. 35-36: “A Tibetan Lama with whom I first read the VOICE OF SILENCE in the original Tibetan and in its English translation . . . .”

As may be seen, he consistently reported that he had compared this with the original Tibetan. No one has yet found a Tibetan original for the “Book of the Golden Precepts,” part of which was allegedly translated into English by Blavatsky as The Voice of the Silence. This is despite the fact that huge numbers of Tibetan books have become available in recent decades. As I wrote in my 1998 Report, Lama Ping (actually named Lama Tinley) was from Bhutan, and went back there some time after working with Elenjimittam. The presumption was that he had the Tibetan book with him, and took it back to Bhutan when he returned there. He died in 1985. So we still seek a Tibetan original of the “Book of the Golden Precepts.”



  1. Published in Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research, 1999, pp. 151-153 (attached as: report_search_golden_precepts_kalimpong).
  2. This statement is found in his book, Cosmic Ecumenism via Hindu-Buddhist Catholicism: An Autobiography of an Indian Dominican Monk, p. 270. Bombay: Aquinas Publications, [1983].

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Boris de Zirkoff’s edition of The Voice of the Silence

By David Reigle on December 7, 2015 at 3:50 am

The Voice of the Silence is said by H. P. Blavatsky to be chosen fragments translated by her from the “Book of the Golden Precepts.” The Book of the Golden Precepts, she tells us in her Preface, “forms part of the same series as that from which the ‘Stanzas’ of the Book of Dzyan were taken, on which The Secret Doctrine is based.” The Voice of the Silence clearly portrays the bodhisattva ideal of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and in fact was the first book to bring this teaching to the West (see: “The Voice of the Silence: Bringing the Heart Doctrine to the West,” by Nancy Reigle). It was published in 1889, while the Sanskrit text of the Bodhicaryāvatāra was first published in 1890 in a Russian oriental journal, and the first translation of the Bodhicaryāvatāra into a Western language, a French translation by Louis de la Vallée Poussin, was published in 1907. The Voice of the Silence was well received when it came out, and it has remained a classic of the path ever since, both inside and outside of Theosophical circles.

The late Boris de Zirkoff spent much of his life collecting and editing the Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky. Her many articles have been published in 14 numbered volumes, with a cumulative index as a 15th volume. Blavatsky’s books, The Secret Doctrine, Isis Unveiled, and From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, have been published in this series as unnumbered volumes. Boris had hoped to include The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence as an unnumbered volume in this series. He prepared an edition of The Voice of the Silence in his usual careful manner, laboriously verifying references and quotations, correcting the spelling of foreign terms (including diacritics on Sanskrit words), adding some explanatory notes, adding a historical introduction, and adding a comprehensive index.

This edition of The Voice of the Silence prepared by Boris de Zirkoff was typeset for publication by the Theosophical Publishing House, London, in 1973. Despite taking it to the proof stage, they did not publish it, but instead stayed with the older version. The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, published their second Quest edition in 1992, intended as a 1991 centenary edition to remember the one-hundredth anniversary of Blavatsky’s death in 1891. This included the new introduction written by Boris, slightly edited, and an adaptation of the index prepared by him, but gave the uncorrected original version of the main text rather than his corrected edition. Although intended to also remember the tenth anniversary of Boris de Zirkoff’s death in 1981, the resulting mismatch did him little honor (see my review published in The Eclectic Theosophist, n.s. vol. 21, no. 3, Fall 1992, pp. 21-22).

Here is one example. In The Voice of the Silence on p. 21, original 1889 pagination, four truths are given. For two of these a foreign term is given: Tsi for the second, and Tau for the fourth. In note 43 on p. 80, the four are given as: Ku, Tu, Mu, Tau. We already see that for the second one, Tsi or Tu, there is a discrepancy, obviously due to the typesetter reading the similar cursive handwriting differently. These words must refer to the four noble truths of Buddhism, and since they are not Sanskrit or Pali or Tibetan, they must be Chinese. So in 2007 I wrote to an expert in Buddhist Chinese about these terms, sending him only the terms without saying where they came from. He replied: “Who gave you the Chinese? A cook in a Chinese restaurant?” He then gave me their correct form according to the currently used pinyin system of transliteration: ku, ji, mie, dao. Boris in his unpublished edition had corrected these according to the then used Wade-Giles system of transliteration: K’u, Chi, Mieh, Tao. As a comparison with the wording of her note 43 on p. 80 will show, Blavatsky had copied these from Rev. Joseph Edkins’ 1880 book, Chinese Buddhism, p. 23, fn., where they are given as: Ku, Tsi, Mie, Tau. Back then there was no standard transliteration system for Chinese in use, and she had little choice but to use what was available. We thus see that in her note, both Tsi and Mie were erroneously typeset from her cursive handwriting as Tu and Mu. This is to say nothing of the long obsolete transliteration then used. These errors, perpetuated from 1889 to the present, honor neither Boris, nor Blavatsky, nor the secret teachings that she brought out under the name Theosophy. They bring her revered teachers, supposedly highly learned adepts in and custodians of a hidden Wisdom Tradition, down to the mundane level of a cook in a Chinese restaurant.

To this day, the edition of The Voice of the Silence carefully prepared by Boris de Zirkoff remains unpublished. This is a very unfortunate loss. I have therefore scanned the corrected proofs of his edition that was going to be published by Theosophical Publishing House, London, in 1974, kindly provided to me by Dara Eklund, who worked closely with Boris for many years. I now post them here. Also included is his typescript index. Its page numbers are to the original 1889 edition, which pagination he intended to keep, not to the pagination of the 1973 typeset proofs. As may be seen, an editor for the Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, began inserting the uncorrected spelling of Sanskrit terms as found in the 1889 edition in front of the corrected spelling used by Boris, to make his index match the uncorrected version of the text. Thus, for example, the uncorrected agnyana was added before the corrected ajñāna used by Boris. In 1889 there was no standard transliteration system in use for Sanskrit; in 1991 there was, and had been for a long time. The rest of the added words were not written on these typescript index sheets, such as the uncorrected Tibetan word Narjol added before the corrected Naljor used by Boris (like the obvious error “revelant” for “relevant”). The book titled Jñāneśvarī must here be looked up in the index under “d” not “j”: Dhyaneśwari, Dnyaneshwari. The incomprehensible Dhâsena (p. 80, n. 41), clearly a typographical error for Dhāraṇā, continues to be printed uncorrected in edition after edition. Today, educated readers are not edified by reading agnyana for ajñāna, Narjol for Naljor, etc., etc., even if these are found in an inspiring work that uses poetical language. It is unfortunate that all editions of The Voice of the Silence now in print are of the uncorrected original version, especially when the carefully corrected edition by Boris de Zirkoff has been completed and ready for publication since 1973.

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