The Ālaya-vijñāna Verse from the Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra

By David Reigle on November 30, 2015 at 4:49 am

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra is regarded as the primary source of the Yogācāra teachings given in the words of the Buddha. The ālaya-vijñāna (“foundational consciousness,” or “storehouse consciousness”) is described in its chapter 5 (Tibetan translation) or chapter 3 (Chinese translation). This prose chapter concludes with a verse spoken by the Buddha to highlight some important aspects of the ālaya-vijñāna. In this verse, the ālaya-vijñāna is referred to as the ādāna-vijñāna, the “appropriating consciousness.” This refers to its role of “appropriating” or “taking” a body at the time of birth.

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra remains lost in the original Sanskrit, and is now available only in its Chinese and Tibetan translations. Its verse on the ālaya-vijñāna or ādāna-vijñāna has been quoted in a number of Yogācāra texts, also now mostly available only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations. The original Sanskrit of this verse was first recovered as quoted in Sthiramati’s commentary on Vasubandhu’s Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi Triṃśikā, verse 15, by way of Sylvain Lévi’s pioneering 1925 Sanskrit edition of the Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi. Only long afterwards would we learn that Lévi had silently “corrected” the readings found in the Sanskrit manuscript he used. The manuscript readings turned out to be correct except for one, bālā. Lévi’s “corrections” only added new errors. Lévi gave this verse as follows (p. 34, here transliterated from his devanāgarī script):

ādānavijñānagabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālā eṣāmapi na prakāśite mohaiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

Not long after this was published Louis de la Vallée Poussin, recognizing the problems with the portion “bālā eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva,” emended it on the basis of its Tibetan translation (and a Sanskrit parallel in the Mahāvastu for mā haiva). Poussin gave his emended version in his 1928 French translation, Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-tsang, as follows (vol. 1, p. 173):

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo

ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi(to)

mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

In this emended form (accepting prakāśi) it was given by Étienne Lamotte in his 1935 French translation of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra (p. 58), in his 1936 French translation of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa (p. 247), and in his 1938 French translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (p. 14).

In 1989 reproductions of the original Sanskrit manuscript as well as the transcript of it used by Sylvain Lévi for his 1925 edition became available inThree Works of Vasubandhu in Sanskrit Manuscript., edited by Katsumi Mimaki, Musachi Tachikawa and Akira Yuyama. These showed that bālā is indeed in the manuscript and its transcript, but that Lévi had “corrected” their “eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva” to “eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva.” These confirmed Poussin’s emendations, except for bālāna.

Hartmut Buescher in his 2007 critical edition of Sthiramati’s Triṃśikāvijñaptibhāṣya (p. 104) gave the correct readings from the manuscript, and accepted Poussin’s emendation bālāna, as well as prakāśi rather than the manuscript’s prakāśito. He explained in footnotes that for metrical and grammatical reasons he adopted bālāna, a genitive plural form in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (see Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 8.117 ff.), rather than the manuscript’s bālā (regarding his comment that bālā looks more like bānā in the manuscript, to me it looks like bālā). He also explained that he adopted the aorist verb prakāśi (Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 32.47 ff.), since the manuscript’s prakāśito gives one too many syllables for the verse. He gives this verse as follows, essentially the same as Poussin’s emended version:

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyur [||] iti |

A second source for the original Sanskrit of this verse became available in 2013. It is quoted in Sthiramati’s Pañcaskandhakavibhāṣā, edited by Jowita Kramer, 2 volumes, and published in the important new series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In volume 2, the diplomatic edition, essentially a transcript of the manuscript, this verse appears as follows (p. 85):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā varttati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

As we see, Poussin’s emendation of bālā to bālāna is confirmed. The proposed emendation prakāśi is not supported by this manuscript. Like the manuscript of Sthiramati’s other text, this manuscript reads prakāśito, despite being one syllable more than the meter should have. In volume 1, the critical edition, this verse appears as follows (p. 94):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījaḥ |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

The editor had little choice but to retain prakāśito. This verse may be translated as follows:

“The appropriating consciousness, deep and subtle, flows with all its seeds like a current. This was not taught by me to the immature, so that they would not imagine it as a self.”


Category: Alaya, Samdhinirmocanasutra, Yogacara | No comments yet


dhātu = ātman

By David Reigle on July 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Not long after the Sanskrit text of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was first published (1950), V. V. Gokhale published a note (ratnagotravibhaga_1.52_=_bhagavadgita_13.32_gokhale_1955) calling attention to the parallel between its verse 1.52 and Bhagavad-gītā verse 13.32. Both verses give a comparison with space (ākāśa) in the same words. The Bhagavad-gītā verse speaks of the ātman, the “self,” while the parallel Ratna-gotra-vibhāga verse speaks of the dhātu, the “element.”

Bhagavad-gītā 13.32:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthito dehe tathâtmā nôpalipyate || 13.32 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so the ātman, everywhere established in the body, is not tainted.

Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.52:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthitaḥ sattve tathâyaṃ nôpalipyate || 1.52 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so this [the dhātu], everywhere established in the living being, is not tainted.

The pronoun “this” (ayam) refers back to the dhātu in the preceding verse 1.49:

sarvatrânugataṃ yadvan nirvikalpâtmakaṃ nabhaḥ |
citta-prakṛti-vaimalya-dhātuḥ sarvatra-gas tathā || 1.49 ||

Just as space, whose nature is non-conceptual, is everywhere-pervading, so the dhātu, which is the purity of the nature of mind, is everywhere-pervading.

If these two parallel verses are representative, the dhātu in the teachings of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga holds the same place as the ātman holds in the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā.

Category: Dhatu, Ratnagotravibhaga | 2 comments


The Sacred Four and the Emanation of the Primordial Seven

By Ingmar de Boer on January 1, 2015 at 6:00 pm


In the commentary on stanza IV śloka 2 (SD I, 88), it is described that, out of the sacred four, the primordial seven are produced:

The […] “Primordial” […] seven […] are the Ray and direct emanation of the first “Sacred Four,” the Tetraktis, that is, the eternally Self-Existent One […]. The first “Primordial” are the highest Beings on the Scale of Existence. They are the Archangels of Christianity, […]

They are the eternal tathāgatas or dhyāni buddhas of tantric Buddhism, or, as they are called most often in the SD, dhyān chohans. Note that the term dhyān chohan is also used in the SD in a broader sense, meaning deva or elemental spirit. In Buddhism the tathāgatas are eternal and unevolving. In SD I, 88 it is stated that they are latent in pralaya, and active during manvantara.

The Tetraktys

The sacred four are described as the tetraktys, the “holy tetrad”. In The Universal Over-Soul we have found that the sacred four are the four highest universal principles taken together. They are also called the self-existent one, svāyambhuva, or nārāyaṇa. Further, in the context of Kabbalism, they are called the tetragrammaton, which is the Hebrew four letter word IHVH, and Adam Kadmon, the heavenly man. (SD II, 595) In the note in SD I, 99n we find:

Adam Kadmon or Tetragrammaton is the Logos in the Kabala; […]

The word Logos is generally used by HPB for the manifested Logos, which is what we have called earlier the Second Logos. Further, in SD II, 599 we find:

Tetragrammaton, or the Tetractys of the Greeks, is the Second logos, the Demiurgos.

Two Possible Misunderstandings

Later in the SD however, the tetragrammaton is identified with the “lower quaternary”. In CW X, 357 (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge), we find:

The Tetraktys by which the Pythagoreans swore, was not the Tetragrammaton, but on the contrary, the higher or superior Tetraktys.

We must conclude that the term tetragrammaton is not used consequently in the SD. Whenever it is used we must ask ourselves whether it refers to the “higher” or the “lower” quaternary.

In the same location (CW X, 357), the tetraktys is seemingly identified with the First Logos:

The true Pythagorean Tetraktys was the Tetraktys of the invisible Monad, which produces the first Point, the second and the third and then retires into the darkness and everlasting silence; in other words the Tetraktys is the first Logos.

In this case we can see that this passage does not describe the unmanifested logos which we have called the First, but the sacred four, the tetraktys, which manifests itself and retires at the end of the manvantara, which is indeed our Second Logos.

The Cube Unfolded and the Double Quaternary

In the SD, HPB does not provide an exact mechanism of how the primordial seven are produced from the sacred four. Two different symbolic connections between the four and the seven are given, one of which refers to the 1875 work of J. Ralston Skinner, Key to the Hebrew-Egyptian Mystery in the Source of Measures. On p. 50 of this work is described that when a cube is folded open, a cross may be formed consisting of one bar of 3 squares and another bar of 4 squares. One square, common to the horizontal and vertical bars, may be counted twice. So we have the cube folded open symbolically representing the equation 6 = 3 + 4.

menorahA similar symbolic representation is given on p. 51 of the same work, where the menorah (mənorāh) of the Jewish temple is described as having four arms on each side, the middle arm being in common to both sides, or projected onto itself, so representing the equation 4 + 4 = 7.

The other symbolic connection between the four and the seven, HPB gives in SD II, 599, apparently quoting Johannes Reuchlin, from his 1517 work De Arte Cabalistica:

[…] and the tetrad doubled or unfolded makes the hebdomad (the septenary).

doublequaternaryHere we have the equation 4 x 2 = 7. A representation of this can be seen in the following diagram. We can see that there is an equivalence between the double square and the symbol of the “seal of Solomon”, the centre principle being projected onto itself.

It seems however, that HPB quoted a large passage from the 1875 work of George Oliver, The Pythagorean Triangle, and not directly from Reuchlin. Oliver fails to provide the right page reference, and I have not been able to find the passage in De Arte Cabalistica. On p. 104 of The Pythagorean Triangle, we find:

[…] and the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad.

Both Oliver and Reuchlin are quoting from Hierocles on this matter. If we go back to Hierocles’ Commentary on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, in the 1853 edition of F.G.A. Mullachius, we find on p. 128, line 9, the quote on the “arithmetical mean” of the monad and the heptad, being the tetrad. (SD II, 599)
What follows (in lines 17-18) is

καὶ ὁ η´ ἐκ τοῦ δὶϛ δ [sic],

“and the eight from the twice four” (2 x 4 = 8), instead of “the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad”. In this edition, the ‘ is missing after the δ.

In SD II, 599 there is another quote, also with a faulty page reference, apparently from Plutarchus’ De Animae Procreatione. This quote is also used in William Wynn Westcott’s work Numbers, their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, which was published as a book in 1890, but written in 1883. In Wynn Westcott’s work the passage looks like:

Plutarch, “De Anim. Procr.” 1027 [sic], says the world consists of a double Quaternary; 4 of the intellectual world, T’Agathon, Nous, Psyche and Hyle; that is Supreme Wisdom of Goodness, Mind, Soul, Matter and four of the Sensible World, forming the Kosmos of Elements, Fire, Air, Earth and Water; pur, aer, gē and πυρ, αῃρ, υδωρ.

So the two most significant elements concerning the double quaternary as yet prove to be unfounded: the Pythagorean world being a double Quaternary, and the hebdomad being a tetrad doubled. Returning to the equations, the 6 = 3 + 4, the 4 + 4 = 7 and the 4 x 2 = 7: in this context they all seem to express the same idea, that the primordial seven are “emanated” by the sacred four, so that, on the moment the fourth aspect comes into existence, the three eternals together with the fourth principle become a manifested tetrad, that is the Second Logos. The three are “mirrored” to become a new triad, while the fourth principle is unchanged, or, from a different perspective, the tetrad is mirrored to become a new tetrad, while the fourth principle is “counted double”, or projected onto itself.

The Ten and Seven Sefiroth

In the note in SD I, 99*, we find:

Adam Kadmon or Tetragrammaton is the Logos in the Kabala; therefore this triad answers in the latter to the highest triangle of Kether, Chochmah and Binah,

and in SD I, 98:

The esoteric Kabalists, however, following the Eastern Occultists, divide the upper Sephirothal triangle from the rest (or Sephira, Chochmah and Binah), which leaves seven Sephiroth.

From these two quotes, we may derive that in kabbalistic terms, in the tree of life, the three eternals are the three highest sefiroth (ISO 259: səp̄irōṯ), kĕṯĕr (səp̄irāh), ḥoḵəmāh and bināh. These three are emanated to become three manifested principles, being the three middle sefiroth, ḡəḇurāh, ḥĕsĕd and ṯip̄əʾĕrĕṯ. They are apparently mirrored (or transposed) downward to form the three lower sefiroth, hōd, nĕṣah and iəsōd. The lowest sefirah, maləkuṯ, corresponds to our fourth principle, according to HPB.
The Four and Seven Elements and Their Atoms

In SD II, 587 it is stated that the sacred four are identical to the four elements:

[…] the Four Elements, the “Sacred Four,” in their mystical, and not alone in their cosmical meaning;

Also in HPB’s quote from Wynn Westcott (above), attributed to Plutarchus, the “second quaternary” represents the “sensible world”, forming the Pythagorean “kosmos” of the four elements. In SD I, 82 we find how the first four principles should relate to the four elements:

Primordial matter, then, before it emerges from the plane of the never-manifesting, and awakens to the thrill of action under the impulse of Fohat, is but “a cool Radiance, colourless, formless, tasteless, and devoid of every quality and aspect.” Even such are her first-born, the “four sons,” who “are One, and become Seven,” — the entities, by whose qualifications and names the ancient Eastern Occultists called the four of the seven primal “centres of Forces,” or atoms, that develop later into the great Cosmic “Elements,” […] The four primal natures of the first Dhyan Chohans, are […]

The “primal centres of Forces” are called atoms, or aṇu in Sanskrit literature. They later become the elements in the sense that the atoms are the bases of the four and seven different types of matter in the universe. They are all meta-physical except the seventh, which is the domain of present-day physics. Its primal centre of force is the ultimate physical atom.

In SD I, 216, in a quote from the ancient “Commentary”, the elements are summed up alongside the various hierarchies of elemental entitities:

“The first after the ‘One’ is divine Fire; the second, Fire and AEther; the third is composed of Fire, AEther and Water; the fourth of Fire, AEther, Water, and Air.”* […] “The ‘First-Born’ are the LIFE, […],”** as said in the Commentary.

Four-Faced Brahmā

BrahmaAs is noted in the SD in several places (f.e. SD I, 542), Aṇu, the Sanskrit word for atom, is also a name of Brahmā. In an earlier article On the Eternal Germ we have been looking at quotes from various versions of the story of the birth of four-faced Brahmā, the universe, born from the navel of Viṣṇu. In Bhāgavat Purāṇa 3.8.16 (GRETIL) for example, we find:

tasyāṃ sa cāmbho-ruha-karṇikāyām avasthito lokam apaśyamānaḥ
parikraman vyomni vivṛtta-netraś catvāri lebhe ‘nudiśaṃ mukhāni

An English rendering of Eugène Burnouf’s 1840 French translation (t. 1, p. 191-192) would be something like:

Sitting in the centre of that plant, from where he did not see the world, his look wandering about the sky, Brahmâ took on four faces, each answering to one of the points of the horizon.

In this verse, a connection is made between the faces and the cardinal directions. In SD II, 464, the four faces are identified with the higher tetragrammaton. In Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge (TBL, cf. CW X), on p. 71-72, most of the connections we have found so far in this article are summarised, and in the 2010 edition by Michael Gomes, The Secret Doctrine Commentaries, on p. 390, we also find that four-faced Brahmā is identified with the (higher) tetragrammaton:

[…] the four-faced Brahmā, the one who manifests on our plane and who is identical with the tetragrammaton also.

Summary of the Four and Seven Universal Principles

Enumerating all concepts (tetrads) we have found to be related, or analogous, to the sacred four, we have: the (higher) tetraktys, the self-existent one, the first four dhyān chohans (four sons, four first-born), the four highest universal principles (7th-4th), the (higher) tetragrammaton (IHVH), Adam Kadmon (heavenly man), the Second Logos, the demiurg, the higher quaternary, the four faces of Brahmā, and the four cardinal directions.

Enumerating all the sevenfolds we have found to be related to the sacred four, we have: the primordial seven, the seven dhyān chohans (tathāgatas, dhyāni buddhas, archangels, sons, fighters), seven universal (cosmic) principles, arms of the menorah of the Jewish temple, the double quaternary, the elements, sefiroth, seven primal centres of forces, atoms, aṇu, the seven types of matter in the universe, and the seven planes of the universe.

We have not been able to trace here, the individual correspondences for each of these in the SD, but some individual items are listed reliably. In Esoteric Instruction I in CW XII, 658, the universal principles are also listed, as “macrocosmic states of consciousness”, and “elements of manifested macrocosm”. They are added here, in the following table.

  Universal Principles Macrocosmic States Elements
  SD II, 596 CW XII, 658 SD I, 216
7 The Unmanifested Logos Ātmic Fire
6 Universal (latent) Ideation Alayic AEther
5 Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Mahātic Water
4 Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy Fohatic Air  
3 Astral Ideation, reflecting terrestrial things Jīvic  
2 Life Essence or Energy Astral  
1 The Earth Prakṛitic  

Category: Atom (anu), Brahma, Dhyan Chohans, Elements, Mahat, Sefiroth, Tetragrammaton, Tetraktys | 1 comment


Fohat and Devī Prakṛti

By David Reigle on November 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Fohat is spoken of several times in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan. The term fohat has not yet been identified, nor can the idea that it represents be readily identified in extant cosmogonic texts. We were therefore happy to find that, after T. Subba Row in his lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā equated fohat with daivī prakṛti (which he called the light of the Logos), the hitherto secret Praṇava-vāda emerged giving a full explanation of devī prakṛti. This book was dictated from memory by the blind pandit Dhanarāja to Bhagavan Das and two associates in 1900-1901. In 1910 to 1913 a summarized English translation of the Praṇava-vāda made by Bhagavan Das was published in three volumes, and in 1915 and 1919 two volumes of the Sanskrit text were published (we still await the third). While the term daivī prakṛti can be found in the Bhagavad-gītā (chapter 9, verse 13), it is not there used in a cosmogonic sense, as it is used in the Praṇava-vāda, and as fohat is used in the Book of Dzyan. A full translation of the explanation of devī prakṛti from the Praṇava-vāda will be of considerable use in understanding fohat in the Book of Dzyan.

Bhagavan Das, in his preface to his summarized translation of the Praṇava-vāda, tells us that this book was written in an obscure and archaic form of Sanskrit. Referring to the blind pandit Dhanarāja who later dictated this book from memory to Bhagavan Das and his two associates, he writes: “At my further request, he repeated a paragraph in the middle of which occurred, like an islet in a stream, the four words recognisable to me [aham etan nāsmi], while on both sides thereof were masses of what was to me then entirely unintelligible language.” (vol. 1, p. lii). “As the writing proceeded my understanding of the archaic Samskṛt improved, . . .” (p. liv). “Although, on repeated reading, the language of the work becomes, generally speaking, intelligible, yet the precise sense remains often obscure and indefinable.” (p. lvii). For obvious reasons, then, my full translation of the Sanskrit text of the passage on devī prakṛti draws heavily on the summarized translation by Bhagavan Das. Because of the unique value of this material, it was thought worthwhile to provide a complete translation of it, following the Sanskrit as closely as English would allow.

As may be seen, the explanation of devī prakṛti in the Praṇava-vāda closely matches Blavatsky’s explanation of fohat in The Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky refers to fohat as dynamic energy and as guiding power. Both energy and power are common translations of the Sanskrit word śakti, used to define devī prakṛti in the Praṇava-vāda. I have chosen “power” to translate śakti throughout, while Bhagavan Das more often translates it as “energy.” I have usually translated the same Sanskrit word with the same English word. So virodha is always “opposition” in my full translation, while in the summarized translation by Bhagavan Das he has the freedom to use “contradiction” or “opposition” in different settings. Blavatsky speaks of the opposite poles of spirit and matter, linked by fohat, as aspects of the one unity. For the one unity, the Praṇava-vāda uses the term aikya, which is translated by both Bhagavan Das and myself as “unity.” For spirit and matter, the Praṇava-vāda here uses the terms pratyag-ātman, “inner self,” and mūla-prakṛti, “root substance,” respectively. These are identified with aham, “I,” and etat, “this,” respectively, of the mahā-vākya or great saying, aham etan na, “I this not.” The na, “not,” refers to the relation between the “I” and the “this,” which is one of negation. These three words correspond to the “a,” “u,” and “m” that make up the sacred syllable “om,” the praṇava. This brief saying describes the entire world-process, and its three elements are the three aspects found in many cosmogonies. The idea of devī prakṛti is something in addition to these three, resulting from the necessity (āvaśyaka) of the opposition or contrast between the two poles of the one unity when the universe comes into manifestation.


The Secret Doctrine on Fohat

[The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. 16.]

But just as the opposite poles of subject and object, spirit and matter, are but aspects of the One Unity in which they are synthesized, so, in the manifested Universe, there is “that” which links spirit to matter, subject to object.

This something, at present unknown to Western speculation, is called by the occultists Fohat. It is the “bridge” by which the “Ideas” existing in the “Divine Thought” are impressed on Cosmic substance as the “laws of Nature.” Fohat is thus the dynamic energy of Cosmic Ideation; or, regarded from the other side, it is the intelligent medium, the guiding power of all manifestation, the “Thought Divine” transmitted and made manifest through the Dhyan Chohans, the Architects of the visible World. Thus from Spirit, or Cosmic Ideation, comes our consciousness; from Cosmic Substance the several vehicles in which that consciousness is individualised and attains to self—or reflective—consciousness; while Fohat, in its various manifestations, is the mysterious link between Mind and Matter, the animating principle electrifying every atom into life.


The Praṇava-vāda on Devī Prakṛti

[Note: All five published volumes of the Praṇava-vāda, the three volumes of the summarized English translation and the two very rare volumes of the Sanskrit edition, have been scanned by me and posted here with the Sanskrit Texts, under Suddha Dharma Mandala Texts. The following is translated from the Sanskrit volume 2, pp. 210-211, with reference to the summarized English volume 2, pp. 234-235.]

. . . Thus, everything is to be understood as included in the letter “a,” the letter “u,” and the letter “m,” which are conjoined with “I,” “this,” “not.”

So also, as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “I” and “this,” there is devī prakṛti (the “shining nature”). This is the power (śakti) described as the letter “i” dwelling between the letter “a” and the letter “u” [of aum]. It may be seen that the opposition of two things rooted in one is a matter of necessity, because the unnecessary is non-existent; and because this is non-existent, all is necessity. In accordance with this explanation, therefore opposition comes into existence, and this coming into existence is necessity. As thus indicated, the power in the form of the opposition of those two is devī prakṛti. In that is the manifestation/light (prakāśa) of the inner self (pratyag-ātman) and of root substance (mūla-prakṛti). Therefore:

“Included in deva-prakṛti is root substance, and included in that is the inner self; and that [deva-prakṛti] is the necessity of the two in the form of the power manifesting/illumining everything.”

. . . and so on goes the traditional statement. Devī is the power by which [something] is illumined (dīvyate). Prakṛti is inherent nature (svabhāva). Prakṛti is that by which coming-into-existence (bhavana) is very much by its own effort. Prakṛti is doing/acting (prakaraṇa), its own doing/acting (svakaraṇa). It is from the verb-root “kṛ” plus the affix “ti.” An action (karaṇa) for all is an action for itself (svakaraṇa). This is in accordance with the explanation that, due to the unity of all, itself is all. Because it is a necessity for all, its name is devī prakṛti. Therefore it is said:

“Prakṛti is twofold. Of these, one is devī prakṛti, and the second is mūla-prakṛti (root substance). The nature of mūla-prakṛti is the subject-matter of ‘this’ [etat, in the great saying, aham etan na, ‘I, this, not.’].”

. . . and so on. The double nature of devī prakṛti is to be known as necessity. It is the conjunction (yoga) of the inner self and root substance. This [conjunction] is the result of the opposition of the unity. From the Yoga-sūtra:

“In unity there is no manifestation/illumination (prakāśa) of the conjunction, etc., the conjunction being the illumining (avabhāsamāna) of object and subject, like darkness and light (prakāśa).”

As being the necessity of that conjunction, it is yoga-māyā (conjunction-illusion). As being the necessity of the manifestation/illumination of that opposition, it is māyā (illusion). That is devī prakṛti, which lights up (abhidyotayati) the inner self and root substance. Devī prakṛti is to be understood as dwelling between the two in the form of the letter “i.” That by which the manifestation/light (prakāśa) of the inner self (pratyag-ātman) and of root substance (mūla-prakṛti) occurs, the experience of the many, is to be known under the name “devī.” This devī prakṛti is māyā. Of them, the difference is as follows: When speaking of the transcendent and universal, it is māyā. When speaking of saṃsāra, the world-process, as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “I” and “this,” and as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “this” and “I,” it is devī prakṛti.

Category: Daiviprakriti, Fohat | 1 comment


Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 3

By David Reigle on July 31, 2014 at 9:53 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 Orthography of Dgyu or Dzyu

By Ingmar de Boer on March 5, 2014 at 11:31 pm

1. Why would we want to know the orthography of dgyu?

On the one hand the term fohat is the most enigmatic of the technical terms used in The Secret Doctrine (SD), and on the other, it is crucial to the esoteric philosophy presented in the work. There are only a few locations in the SD where fohat is unambiguously connected to other concepts, one of which is in SD I, 31 (stanza V, śloka 2):


This is a strong statement, most probably referring to the moment when the universe is evolving from the state of pralaya, where fohat is connected to “THE DZYU”, as it is spelled in the SD. Defining this concept DZYU, or dgyu as it is spelled in another location, would take us very close to exactly defining and understanding the mysterious concept of fohat and its workings.

2. How does HPB describe dgyu?

The only location in the SD where dgyu is described, is SD I, 108, where HPB comments on stanza V, śloka 2:

Dzyu is the one real (magical) knowledge, or Occult Wisdom; which, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes, becomes almost omnipotence when applied in the right direction. Its antithesis is Dzyu-mi, that which deals with illusions and false appearances only, as in our exoteric modern sciences. In this case, Dzyu is the expression of the collective Wisdom of the Dhyani-Buddhas.

The term dgyu is not found in the TG. In the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary published by the Theosophical University Press, Dzyu is identified as a Senzar word, referring to SD I, 108, but there is no clue to be found in HPB’s writings to indicate that it would be indeed Senzar.

3. Cosmological Notes

Prior to 1885 the term fohat was not used in theosophical literature. The oldest document in which it was used are the “Cosmological Notes”, containing written instructions from Mahātma M. to A.O. Hume, handed down to us by A.P. Sinnett, and published both in ETM and BL. In the Cosmological Notes (BL p. 376) we find a similar affirmation as in SD I, stanza V, śloka 2:

Dgyu becomes Fohat when in its activity – active agent of will – electricity – no other name.

All technical terms in the Notes seem to be Sanskrit or Tibetan, so we might assume that Dgyu is also a Tibetan, as it has a structure looking like a Tibetan syllable.

An interesting detail in the manuscript of the Cosmological Notes is the fact that the first time they are mentioned, the terms dgyu and dgyu mi both carry an umlaut (Dgyü). In ML 35 (written by KH), dgyu is spelled as dgiü, also with umlaut.

BL Mss - Appendix II

4. The Syllable Dgyu: the Rime

The IPA /y/ sound in standard Tibetan is only realised when a syllable ends in -ud or -us. This would narrow down considerably the possibilities for the orthography of dgyu.

Some of the umlauts in the text seem to have been added later, perhaps at the same time the annotations were interscribed, including the underlined title “Appendix II” on top of page 2. The annotations do not seem to be in the same handwriting as the original notes. Compare for example, the capital A of the word Appendix with the capital A’s in the manuscript text. In The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett (BL) the Notes appear as Appendix II. It is therefore entirely possible that the annotations and also the umlauts are the handwriting of the transcriber/compiler of the book, A.T. Barker. This would be consistent with the spelling in the ML edited by Barker. The umlauts on Dgyü and Dgyü Mi however, are not reproduced in BL. In Jinarajadasa’s edition (ETM) of the Notes, the umlauts are absent as well.

5. The Syllable Dgyu: the Onset

In Jinarajadasa’s edition, a remark of Sinnett is added, telling that M. himself “wrote out” the table of correspondences between Man and Universe. This means that Sinnet has copied the table from the handwriting of M., instead of interpreting the words from hearing. Interestingly, in the table, Linga Sharira is called Ling Sharir in line 3, we also have Bhut, Purush, Brahm, dropping the final a’s, as in the Sanskrit pronounciation typical of speakers of modern Hindi. Apparently M’s concern was that the words were written as they were pronounced, as opposed to how they were written in the original language. The rendering of the Tibetan terms is therefore presumably also a phonetic transcription for an English target audience.

In that case, the d in dgyu could not have been a silent letter. Also, English has two sounds associated with the letter g (besides /ŋ/ in “thing”), the plosive /g/ and the affricate /dʒ/. The dg-combination does not exist with a plosive /g/-sound in English, so our dgy-combination would probably be the affricate /dʒ/, the g-sound in “gin”, or something close to it. This is consistent with HPB’s spelling DZYU, for example in SD I, 108. The /dʒ/, and phonemes very close to it, are listed in the following table.

Possible phonemes for the onset, and their Tibetan Wylie transliteration, in approximate order of distance from /dʒ/:

1. palato-alveolar /dʒ/ = pya, bya, …
2. alveolo-palatal /dʑ/ or /ndʑ/ = mja, ‘ja
3. alveolo-palatal /ɽ/ = ra
4. retroflex /dʐ/ or /ndʐ/ = ‘dra, ‘gra, …
5. palatal /nj/ = ‘gya
6. palatal /c/ with deep tone = brgya, bsgya, dgya, bgya, rgya, sgya, …
7. palatal /ch/ with deep tone = gya

6. Dictionaries

Combining the ideas on onset and rime, we could try finding some matching candidates for dgyu, using a lexicon. In the following table all combinations are summed up, with the entries found in common dictionaries marked bold.




pya, bya, …

pyud, byud, …

pyus, byus, …


mja, ‘ja

mjud, ‘jud

mjus, ‘jus






‘dra, ‘gra, …

‘drud, ‘grud, …

‘drus, ‘grus, …






brgya, bsgya, dgya, bgya, rgya, sgya, …

brgyud, bsgyud, dgyud, bgyud, rgyud, sgyud, …

brgyus, bsgyus, dgyus, bgyus, rgyus, sgyus, …





Elements we may look for in the translation are “real (magical) knowledge, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes” (SD I, 108), and the negation dgyu mi, or min or med, “illusion and false appearances only” (SD I, 108).

One of the most valued translators of Tibetan to English is Jeffrey Hopkins, who prepared a Tibetan-Sanskrit-English Dictionary, which was also published in digital form by the Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taipei in 2011.

a. Under rus we find there:

(translation-san) asthi
(translation-san) {C} gotra
(translation-san) {C} jāti
(translation-san) {MSA} keng rus = saṃkalikā
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} bone; lineage; family
(translation-eng) {C} lineage; birth; species; kind; different varieties

b. Under ‘grus we find:

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} zeal; enthusiasm; diligence

c. Under brgyud pa we find:

(translation-san) {LCh,MSA} para

(translation-san) {LCh} pāramparya
(translation-san) {MSA} pāra

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} indirect; lineaged

d. Under rgyud we find:

(translation-san) {L,MSA,MV} sa

(translation-san) {MSA} sa

(translation-san) tantra
(translation-san) prabandha
(translation-san) {C} jāti
(translation-san) {C} va

(translation-san) {MSA} anvaya
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} continuum; mental continuum; life continuum; tantra
(translation-eng) {C} birth; species; kind; different varieties; lineage;{GD:515} indirect (as opposed to direct, dngos)
(comments) Comment: See rgyun.

e. Under rgyus we find:

(translation-san) {C} nidāna
(translation-san) {C} etan-nidānā
(translation-san) {C} kim nidānam
(translation-san) {C} tan-nidānam
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} familiar;
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} familiar; familiar with
(translation-eng) {C} linked with; foundation; for the sake of; Origins; because; wherefrom; and for what reason?; that link; as a result of
The items marked {C} are based on Edward Conze’s 1973 Materials for a Dictionary of the Prajñāpāramitā Literature. The item Hopkins added himself is the translation “familiar”.

Under rgyus med we find:

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} having no knowledge; having no familiarity
(translation-eng) {C} so as to get acquainted with

In the older dictionary of Jäschke (1881) the lemma rgyus first refers to rgyu, and secondly gives “notice, intelligence, knowledge”. Rgyus is the instrumental case of rgyu: cause, or because.

Under rgyu we find:

(translation-san) {LCh,L,MSA,MV} hetu
(translation-san) {C,MV} hetutva
(translation-san) {LCh,MSA,MV,C} kāra

(translation-san) {C,MSA,MV} upani

(translation-san) {C} (=hetu-bhāva)
(translation-san) {MSA} anvaya
(translation-san) {MSA,MV} nimitta
(translation-san) {MSA} nimittatva
(translation-san) {C} nidāna
(translation-san) {C} etan-nidānā
(translation-san) {C} ki

(translation-san) {C} tato nidānam
(translation-san) {C} tan-nidānam
(translation-san) {C} pracāra
(translation-san) {C} pravartate (=pravartayati)
(translation-san) {MSA} smig rgyu = marīci
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} cause; (as verb): wander; move; go; (following a verb, indicates): to be done
(translation-eng) {C} comparison; reason; for the sake of; linked with; foundation; Origins; because; wherefrom and for what reason?; on the strength of that; as a result of; that link; observation; performance; proceeds; takes place; move forward; spread;causality
(definition-bod) mtshan nyid 1 skyed byed/ 2 phan ‘dogs byed/
(definition-eng) Def.: (1) producer; (2) benefitter
(division-bod) sgras brjod rigs kyi sgo nas dbye ba/ 1 byed rgyu 2 lhan cig byung ba’i rgyu 3 skal mnyam gyi rgyu 4 mtshungs ldan gyi rgyu 5 kun ‘gro’i rgyu 6 rnam smin gyi rgyu
(division-eng) Terminological Div.: (1) creative cause; (2) co-arisen cause; (3) cause of equal/similar lot; (4) associational cause; (5) omnipresent cause; (6) fruitional cause
(comments) Comment: rgyu is used to make a verbal object noun as in bsgrub rgyu which means the same as bsgrub bya (that which is to be accomplished/achieved/practiced) or, in spoken Tibetan, bsgrub ya.

Literature used in preparing the diagram Joachim Grzega, Bezeichnungswandel: Wie Warum, Wozu?, Winter, Heidelberg, 2004 2. Andreas Blank, Prinzipien des Lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1997 3. Tibetan and related dictionaries: Conze (1973), Das (1902), Jäschke (1881), Hopkins (2011), Mahavyutpatti (nos. 7625, 7199), Matisoff (STEDT, online), Rangjung Yeshe (online), Starostin (Starling, online), etc.

Literature used in preparing the diagram
1. Joachim Grzega, Bezeichnungswandel: Wie Warum, Wozu?, Winter, Heidelberg, 2004
2. Andreas Blank, Prinzipien des Lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1997
3. Tibetan and related dictionaries: Conze (1973), Das (1902), Jäschke (1881), Hopkins (2011), Mahavyutpatti (nos. 7625, 7199), Matisoff (STEDT, online), Rangjung Yeshe (online), Starostin (Starling, online), etc.

7. Orthography

Of the matching Tibetan terms, rgyus might be a realistic candidate for dgyu, fitting HPB’s description in the sense that we find the two elements of “knowledge” and “primal causes” from the description in SD I, 108 associated with the term rgyu, which is, in its turn, closely related to rgyus. The spelling dgyü, with an umlaut, following A.T. Barker, would then be justified.

In an earlier post entitled “Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause” we have argued that dgyu being the (manifested) “propelling force” which “sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution”, is kāraṇa, the “force” resulting in cosmic motion, or the principle of abstract motion. (cp. SD I, 109-110) In Hopkins’ dictionary we find nidāna under rgyus, a term which is used by HPB as a synonym for kāraṇa, and the term kāraṇa itself under rgyu.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Causeless Cause, Cosmological Notes Manuscript, Fohat, Great Breath, Karana, Mahatma Letters, Motion, Nidana | No comments yet


The Universal Over-Soul

By Ingmar de Boer on October 5, 2013 at 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


The Three Svabhāvas in The Secret Doctrine

By Ingmar de Boer on September 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Central to the ontology of the Yogācāra school of thought, is the philosophy of the three svabhāvas. One of the terms used in HPB’s rendering of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan referring implicitly to the Yogācāra school, is pariniṣpanna, in stanza 1 śloka 6 and in stanza 2 śloka 1 respectively, which is one of these three. All three svabhāvas are discussed in HPB’s commentary to stanza 1 śloka 9. The page numbers of all locations, all in SD I, are:

pariniṣpanna absolute existence 23, 42 (27), 42, 48, 53 (28) and 54
paratantra dependent existence 48 (2x) and 49
parikalpita imaginary existence 48 (2x)

In SD I, 42 a mystery is presented to the reader:

Up to the day of the Yogacharya school the true nature of Paranirvana was taught publicly, but since then it has become entirely esoteric; hence so many contradictory interpretations of it. It is only a true Idealist who can understand it. Everything has to be viewed as ideal, with the exception of Paranirvana, by him who would comprehend that state, and acquire a knowledge of how Non Ego, Voidness, and Darkness are Three in One and alone Self-existent and perfect.

What exactly are these “Three in One, Self-existent [sva-bhāva] and perfect”, or Non Ego, Voidness and Darkness?

Non Ego

Non Ego, the first of the Three in One, is described by HPB in SD I, 48 as parikalpita, imaginary existence:

Parikalpita (in Tibetan Kun-ttag) is error, made by those unable to realize the emptiness and illusionary nature of all; who believe something to exist which does not — e.g., the Non-Ego.

Non Ego could be HPB’s rendering of the Buddhist term anātman.


Voidness, the second of the Three in One, is described as personified by ālaya, according to the yogācāra’s, in SD I, 48:

Thus, while the Yogacharyas (of the Mahayana school) say that Alaya is the personification of the Voidness, and yet Alaya (Nyingpo and Tsang in Tibetan) is the basis of every visible and invisible thing, and that, though it is eternal and immutable in its essence, it reflects itself in every object of the Universe “like the moon in clear tranquil water”; other schools dispute the statement.

In part II of the article Ālaya in the Lakāvatārasūtra, we have argued that ālaya might be viewed as tri-une, in HPB’s words having two “Manvantaric” aspects and one “Non-Manvantaric”. In its Non-Manvantaric aspect it is “eternal and immutable in its essence”. In (one of) its Manvantaric aspects it would be the personification of Voidness which is the ultimate “basis of every visible and invisible thing”, having a “dependent or causal connection” with “every visible and invisible thing”. On paratantra, dependent existence, we find in SD I, 48:

And Paratantra is that, whatever it is, which exists only through a dependent or causal connexion, and which has to disappear as soon as the cause from which it proceeds is removed — e.g., the light of a wick. Destroy or extinguish it, and light disappears.

Undoubtedly, Voidness is a rendering of the Mahāyāna term śūnyatā, which is voidness, or emptyness.


Darkness, the third of the Three in One, is a term used in the Book of Dzyan in relation to pariniṣpanna. When the universe is in the state of pralaya, all that “was” or “will be” can be thought of as being in darkness. In SD I, 28 for example, the builders are said to be in darkness, which is (their) pariniṣpanna:


In SD I, 53, HPB identifies parinirvana with pariniṣpanna, absolute existence:

Paranishpanna, remember, is the summum bonum, the Absolute, hence the same as Paranirvana.

This points to a relation to the whole “Three in One” of SD I, 42, or SPACE, which is the First (unmanifested) Logos, which is forever in the state of pariniṣpanna.


The solution of the mystery of SD I, 42 would then be:

Non-ego anātman parikalpita
Voidness śūnyatā paratantra
Darkness   pariniṣpanna

Category: Darkness, Paratantra, Parikalpita, Parinirvana, Parinishpanna, Yogacara | 1 comment


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part II

By Ingmar de Boer on August 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm

The Yogācāra system is presenting us with 8 vijñāna’s, evolving from one basic form of consciousness, which is the ālayavijñāna. A common translation of vijñāna in the context of Yogācāra Buddhism would be “consciousness”, however, the concept of vijñāna as part of the epistemology of Yogācāra Buddhism, is a specific type of consciousness, a faculty of the mind, which is the counterpart of a specific source of knowledge. The basic principles of this epistemology are comparable to the Saṃkhya philosophy, where every organ of perception has its counterpart in a specific faculty of the mind.

In Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki’s Studies in the Lankavatarasutra (p. 186), three modes or aspects (lakṣaṇa) of vijñāna are presented:

1. jāti: remaining in its original nature
2. pravṛtti: evolving
3. karman: producing effects

In the state of pralaya, which we could think of as the state before the beginning of the evolution of a human entity, the vijñāna’s are absorbed in ālayavijñāna, which is then in its jāti state, its “original nature”. (cp. Suzuki, The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, p. xvii-xviii) When the human entity starts to evolve, the vijñānas arise from ālayavijñāna, which is then at the same time in another state, called pravṛtti, i.e. evolving. In yoga philosophy, the terms pravṛtti and nirvṛtti (or nivṛtti) are connected with evolution and involution, pravṛttimārga and nirvṛttimārga being the outward and inward arc of an evolutionary cycle. They indicate cyclic development, first directed outward, where the entity expresses itself through form, and then inward, where the entity gradually becomes a master of its form, and eventually becomes independent of it. The cycle has a turning point in the middle, where development starts turning inward, which in the Laṅkāvatāra is called parāvṛtti, which is litterally “turning back”. (cp. The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, p. xvii) At this point of revolution, there is an opportunity for the deep mystical realisation of the relation of the entity with its form. This realisation takes place, according to the Laṅkāvatāra, “in the Ālaya, which is the basis of all things”, as Suzuki formulates it. (Studies p. 184)

eandinvolution - 5
In Suzuki’s Studies (p. 186-187) we find:

The Pravṛttivijñāna is a collective name for all the particular Vijñānas that evolve out of Ālaya, when they are considered from the point of view of evolution, while the Ālaya is the Vijñāna or Citta that remains undisturbed in its native abode.

To make sure that we understand correctly, the Laṅkāvatāra firmly underlines its standpoint concerning ālaya on p. 34-35:

[…] there is no cessation [of Ālaya] in its original form. Therefore, Mahāmati, what ceases to function is not the Ālaya in its original self-form, but is the effect-producing form of the Vijñānas. […] If, however, there is the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna [in its original form], this doctrine will in no wise differ from the nihilistic doctrine of the philosophers.

If we translate the first sentence of this fragment more in the light of our understanding of the cyclic process, the result could be something like:

[…] and there is no cessation in its aspect of self-origination (svajāti). That which ceases, Mahāmati, is not the aspect of self-origination, but it is the aspect of activity (karman) of the Vijñānas.

[…] sa ca na bhavati svajātilakṣaṇanirodhaḥ | tasmānmahāmate na svajātilakṣaṇanirodho vijñānānāṃ kiṃ tu karmalakṣaṇanirodhaḥ |

The term used here for self-origination is svajāti, own-birth or self-birth, not jāti, birth, indicating the idea of auto-creation and auto-re-creation, showing a quite profound universal philosophical concept. Interestingly, that which is said to “cease” is the karman aspect and not the pravṛtti aspect. In the Book of Dzyan it is stated that evolution never ceases, and that pralaya and the birth of the new universe are just phases of the ever moving evolutionary process. (Note, that in this case the term pravṛtti would have a slightly different meaning than when it is seen as the complement of nivṛtti.)

In SD I, 49 we see that HPB recognized different aspects to the term ālaya:

What are the doctrines taught on this subject by the Esoteric “Buddhists”? With them “Alaya” has a double and even a triple meaning.

In SD I, 48, at least two aspects (our jāti and pravṛtti) are spoken of:

Again in SD I, 48, following Emil Schlagintweit (Buddhism in Tibet, p. 39), we have the jāti and pravṛtti aspects (or perhaps even the jāti and karman aspects):

[…] the basis of every visible and invisible thing, and that, though it is eternal and immutable in its essence, it reflects itself in every object of the Universe “like the moon in clear tranquil water” […]

These paradoxes show ālaya remaining in its original nature, and at the same time evolving. This principle explains the phrase in the Book of Dzyan, why in the cosmic night “the alaya of the universe was in paramartha”, in SD I, 47 (stanza 1 śloka 9):

BUT WHERE WAS THE DANGMA WHEN THE ALAYA OF THE UNIVERSE (Soul as the basis of all, Anima Mundi) WAS IN PARAMARTHA (a) (Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness) AND THE GREAT WHEEL WAS ANUPADAKA (b)?

In HPB’s commentary between brackets, we see that she defines ālaya as the “Soul”, “the basis of all” (Tibetan: kun gzhi), which she identifies with the Anima Mundi. This term refers to Hellenistic philosophy, and connects our investigation into ālaya directly to the third “fundamental proposition” of The Secret Doctrine. Again in SD I, 48, we find:

Alaya is literally the “Soul of the World” or Anima Mundi, the “Over-Soul” of Emerson, and according to esoteric teaching it changes periodically its nature.

The third fundamental proposition, in the Proem, SD I, 17 under (c), states:

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. [etc. etc.]

Here we also have the other two aspects, pravṛtti and karman, as Cyclic and Karmic Law. In the case of the universal over-soul, being “an aspect” of the unknown root, we can ask ourselves which aspect of the unknown root (SPACE) it is. Is it a manifested or unmanifested, or even a manifesting or unmanifesting aspect of the Logos? This is not sufficiently clear from this fragment. In the Theosophical Glossary under Alaya, we find the following definition:

Alaya (Sk.) The Universal Soul (See Secret Doctrine Vol. I. pp. 47 et seq.). The name belongs to the Tibetan system of the contemplative Mahâyâna School. Identical with Âkâsa in its mystic sense, and with Mulâprâkriti, in its essence, as it is the basis or root of all things.

Here we see that ālaya is identified with the First Logos (mūlaprakṛti) in its essence, “as it is the basis or root of all things” (Tibetan: kun gzhi).

In CW XII, 635 (ES Instruction III), we read:

Alaya, the Universal Soul, of which the Manvantaric aspect is Mahat.

and in CW XII, 607:

[…] Buddhi is a ray of the Universal Spiritual Soul (ALAYA).
We might derive from these two statements, that the cyclic (“Manvantaric”) aspect of ālaya, which we have called pravṛtti, in cosmic terms is mahat, and in individual terms buddhi. Earlier (in The Three Logoi (3)) we have identified Mahat as the Second Logos. The Universal Soul is apparently in this case the “non-Manvantaric” aspect of ālaya or what we have called the jāti aspect, which must be the First Logos. Then the karman aspect must be the Third Logos. Now we can set up the following table:

Aspect of ālaya

Corresponds to


1. jāti

remaining in its original nature

First Logos

2. pravṛtti


Second Logos

[Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi] Mahat, [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal Soul]

3. karman

producing effects

Third Logos


Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Lankavatarasutra, Logos, Mahat, Sutras, Universal Mind | 1 comment


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part I

By Ingmar de Boer on August 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The term ālaya is a key term in The Secret Doctrine, which is connected to Yogācāra and Zen Buddhism. HPB uses it as the “basis of everything”, reflecting the Tibetan equivalent kun (all) gzhi (basis), apparently based on the paragraph “The contemplative Mahāyāna (Yogāchārya) system” in Emil Schlagintweit’s 1863 work Buddhism in Tibet. (p. 39-41) Schlagintweit refers to “the Gandavyūha, the Mahāsamaya, and certain others”. Those works will be interesting objects of study, to see exactly how the term ālaya is used there. In one of the most important Yogācāra scriptures, the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, ālaya is also used in the sense of the “basis of everything”, and it is certainly interesting to see how the term is used there, as we might do in the following article, first from a philological perspective, in part I, and secondly from a philosophical perspective, in part II.

The Laṅkāvatārasūtra was written (or consolidated) around 350-400 CE. Apart from a compiled Sanskrit version, we have three different Chinese translations and two different Tibetan translations. In 1932 the first English translation was made by Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki. He sees the terms ālaya and ālayavijñāna primarily as the “storehouse consciousness” where karmic remains, the vāsana’s, are stored as latent karmic seeds, until some time in the future, when they are reactivated to initiate actual karma. We can now go through all the different translations to see how the term ālaya is rendered in each case.

The Sanskrit Version

The Sanskrit word ālaya is composed of the preposition ā- (from) and the verbal element laya, which can be traced back to the root lī, to cling. A common meaning of ālaya is a “house” or “dwelling”. (Monier-Williams) Derived senses are “receptacle” and “asylum”. These may all be consistent with “storehouse”. As a noun, laya means a place of rest, residence, house, dwelling. It also means rest, repose, a pause, and lying down, cowering. According to Monier-Williams, the verb from the root lī basically means to adhere, to cling, to press closely, to lie, to recline, to settle. This root lī might be connected to another Sanskrit root, lip/limp/rip, to smear, which is related to the English “to leave” in the sense of “leave behind”. We can imagine that the sense of “house” has evolved from the basic sense “to cling”.

The Chinese Tripitaka

The earliest extant Chinese translation is that of Guṇabhadra, dating back to 443 CE, labelled Sung (Song) by Suzuki, after the ruling dynasty at that time. The other two translations are analogically labelled Wei and T’ang. Suzuki has prepared a Sanskrit-Chinese-Tibetan index of terms used in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra. From this index we can learn that the three Chinese versions all have 藏 (zàng) for ālaya, but only Wei and T’ang have in some places phonetic renderings.

The Chinese interpretation 藏 (zàng) simply means storehouse, depository. So, the common interpretation of ālaya, cf. Suzuki, as “storehouse”, is following the Chinese interpretation.

The Dūnhuáng Findings

There are also a number of Chinese fragments of the Laṅkāvatāra among the Dūnhuáng findings, of the Song and T’ang editions. In some of these we can see that at least since the early 11th century, which was when the Mògāo cave complex at Dūnhuáng was sealed off, the T’ang manuscript was very faithfully copied. The first occurence of the character 藏 (zàng) in the T’ang manuscript is identifiable in some of the fragments, for example in Or.8210/S.6:

Lank - Tang - Dunhuang Mss Or.8210 - S.6 - 2

In the fragments of the Song edition, quite a few characters are different from the text in the Taishō edition of the Chinese Tripitaka. The Taisho text (T16n670) of the Song edition seems to be a modernised version, though at first glance textually it seems to be as faithfully copied as the T’ang version. Also in these fragments we can verify the use of the character 藏 (zàng), for example in Or.8210/S.5311:

Lank - Song - Or 8210 S 5311 - alaya - 2

According to the International Dunhuang Project database, this manuscript (Or.8210/S.5311) dates back to the 7th century. In connection with the Tibetan translation by chos grub, who based his Tibetan translation on the Song edition, it is interesting to know that the same rendering of ālaya was used in earlier Song manuscripts.

The Tibetan Versions

In his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra (1930), Suzuki already mentioned that there are two different Tibetan translations. (pp. 12-15)

The Tibetan “version 1”, which is published in the Tibetan Tripitaka Peking edition (TTPE), Vol. 29 No. 775. It seems to be translated directly from Sanskrit. In the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) we find a text from the Lhasa Kanjur, still not completely entered, labelled KL0107, corresponding to Vol. 29 No. 775 from the Peking Tripitaka catalogue. In this Tibetan version the terms ālaya and ālayavijñāna are rendered kun gzhi and kun gzhi rnam par shes pa.

The Tibetan “version 2” was translated by “the monk chos grub” on the basis of the Chinese Song version, around the beginning of the 9th century. It can be found, for example, in the digital library of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC). This version also renders ālaya and ālayavijñāna as kun gzhi and kun gzhi rnam par shes pa.

The Mahāvyutpatti Sanskrit-Tibetan glossary was probably composed between 800 and 838, which is around the same time the Chinese Song edition was translated into Tibetan by chos grub (version 2). Here, ālaya (entry 2017) is also connected to kun gzhi.

The primary sense of the word gzhi is ground, foundation, original cause, exciting cause, or even axiom. Another sense however is residence, abode. (Jäschke) Perhaps this combination has motivated the Tibetan translators to choose kun gzhi, the “basis of everything”, instead of a compound with, for example, the element khang, house, or mdzod, storehouse. Most probably they were familiar with the Sanskrit term as well, which, like the Chinese term, contains the element of house, abode, storehouse etc., which makes their choice for kun gzhi even more significant.

The Tibetan word gzhi, or gzhi ma, might be traced back to the reconstructed Proto-Sino-Tibetan root *ƛăj, meaning earth or ground, cf. the Starling Database, established by the late Sergei Starostin. Tibetan gzhi would then be related to the modern Chinese word 地 (dì), meaning earth.

At the time the Tibetan translation was made by chos grub, Buddhism in Tibet was still in the process of becoming what we now call Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism. The developing religious culture may have already used the term gzhi, or kun gzhi, to indicate its “ground of being”, which became an important concept in the rDzogs Chen subschool of the rNying Ma lineage. For the Chinese translators the Tibetan situation was of course not a force to reckon with, so the interaction between Buddhism and the existing substratum might provide an explanation for the difference, between the semantic fields of Sanskrit ālaya and Chinese 藏 (zàng) on the one hand, and Tibetan kun gzhi on the other.

For completeness we should mention that Schlagintweit, in his Buddhism in Tibet (p. 39) presents yet another Tibetan word for ālaya, which is snying po, which generally means heart or essence. HPB, following Schlagintweit (p. 39), also presents “Nyingpo” and “Tsang” as Tibetan renderings of ālaya, in The Secret Doctrine (SD I, 48), where tsang evidently corresponds to our Chinese character 藏 (zàng).


The above data relating to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra are summarized in the following table.

Edition Language Date Translator Form Meaning
Nanjio Sanskrit ca. 350-400 ālaya
SongTaishō 670 Chinese 443 Guṇabhadra 藏 (zàng) 藏: storehouse; depository
WeiTaishō 671 Chinese 513 Bodhiruci 藏 (zàng), 阿黎耶, 黎耶 (both phonetic)
T’angTaishō 672 Chinese 700-704 Śikṣānanda 藏 (zàng), 阿賴耶, (phonetic)
TTPE Vol. 29 no. 775 Tibetan unkown date, from Sanskrit unknown kun gzhi kun gzhi: basis of all
TTPE Vol. 29 no. 776 Tibetan 9th c., from Chinese Song ed. zhu chen gyi lo tsa ba ‘gos chos grub (fǎ chéng) kun gzhi
English 1932 Suzuki storage house, all conserving


Category: Alaya, Lankavatarasutra, Sutras | 1 comment


Avalokiteśvara, Kuan-yin, and Kuan-shih-yin

By David Reigle on May 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm

In the translation of Book of Dzyan, stanza 6, verse 1, Kuan-yin is distinguished from Kuan-shih-yin: “By the power of the Mother of Mercy and Knowledge — Kwan-Yin — the “triple” of Kwan-shai-Yin, residing in Kwan-yin-Tien, Fohat, the Breath of their Progeny, the Son of the Sons, having called forth, from the lower abyss, the illusive form of Sien-Tchang and the Seven Elements:*” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 32). Note that the spellings Kwan-Yin and Kwan-shai-Yin were adopted by Blavatsky from Samuel Beal’s 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, before the Wade-Giles system of transcription for Chinese became standard, in which the spellings are Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin (today the pinyin system has become standard, in which the spellings are Guanyin and Guanshiyin, although the Wade-Giles system is still used in many books and for many words). Then in a chapter titled, “On Kwan-Shi-Yin and Kwan-Yin” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. 470-473), Blavatsky further distinguished Kuan-yin from Kuan-shih-yin, concluding: “To close, Kwan-Shi-Yin and Kwan-Yin are the two aspects (male and female) of the same principle in Kosmos, Nature and Man, of divine wisdom and intelligence.”

As is well known, Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin are Chinese translations of the name Avalokiteśvara, taken as Avalokita-svara. On Avalokiteśvara versus Avalokita-svara, this is another question for another time. The Chinese word kuan translates the Sanskrit word avalokita, “seen,” and the Chinese word yin translates the Sanskrit word svara, “sound.” The Chinese word shih in the longer name, Kuan-shih-yin, means “world.” Thus, Kuan-yin means “Perceiver of sounds,” and Kuan-shih-yin means “Perceiver of the sounds of the world.” The reason for the addition of the word shih to the name of this bodhisattva is obvious, to make clear what sounds are perceived; namely, the cries of the world. The names Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin, then, refer to the same bodhisattva, being no different than Helena Blavatsky and Helena P. Blavatsky. These have been used interchangeably from the earliest translations of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Chinese, starting near the end of the second century C.E., right up to the present in China.

No one doubts that the male bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara transformed into a female deity in China. This occurred around the beginning of the second millennium C.E., as can be traced in his/her representations in art or iconography and in written texts. No one knows why or how this happened. About four theories for this have been proposed, and are described in what is now the standard work on this subject, Chün-fang Yü’s 2001 Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara. However, it is not the case that the name Kuan-shih-yin was and is used for the male deity, while the name Kuan-yin was and is used for the female deity. They are both names of the same deity, whether first as a male, or later as a female. As stated in Chün-fang Yü’s opening sentence of her Introduction, “Kuan-yin (Perceiver of Sounds), or Kuan-shih-yin (Perceiver of the World’s Sounds) is the Chinese name for Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who has been worshiped throughout the Buddhist world.” Then in her chapter on Scriptural Sources (p. 36), “Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin, therefore, were names used interchangeably in the earliest translations.” The fact that the male and female forms or aspects of the deity are to be distinguished is not in question. There is, however, a significant error in the terms used by Blavatsky to make this distinction. Her use of the name Kuan-shih-yin for the male and Kuan-yin for the female is erroneous.

Category: Avalokiteshvara, Book of Dzyan, Kwan-Yin | 1 comment


The Orthography of Sien-Tchan

By Ingmar de Boer on May 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

In the “Chinese section” of the Book of Dzyan (see SD I, 136-139), in stanza 6, ślokas 1 and 2 we find the term SIEN-TCHAN, in śloka 2 spelled TSIEN-TCHAN, and on page 32 alternatively spelled as SIEN-TCHANG. According to HPB the term refers to “our universe”.

Locations and spellings in the SD:

I, 136 SIEN-TCHAN (our Universe)
I, 137 Sien-Tchan
I, 139 Sien-Tchan (the “Universe”)

In SD III, 393, cf. CW XIV, 408 we have the spelling Sien-chan, as David and Nancy Reigle noticed in Blavatsky’s Secret Books, in p. 64n1. In this same article, entitled An Unpublished Discourse of Buddha, in a note on the same page, Sien-Chan seems to be identified with Nam-Kha, which is Tibetan for sky, heaven:

* The Universe of Brahmâ (Sien-Chan; Nam-Kha) is Universal Illusion, or our phenomenal world.

In SD I, 23 we have another spelling, in the “night of Sun-chan”, which seems to refer to the night of Brahmâ (SD I, 41), the night of the universe, which is pralaya, see also the post and comments here.

In the Würzburg pre-version of the SD we find still another spelling, “sien-tchen (one universe)”. (e.g. SD Adyar Ed 1993 vol. III, p. 518)

In The Early Teachings of the Masters ed. by Jinarajadasa we also find the spelling Sien-chan, representing the Tibetan word sems can, as the “animated universe”. In the version of this text in Cosmological Notes we find the spelling Sem chan. Sems can is “animated”, or “animated beings”, “sentient beings”, literally meaning something like “having a mind”. It corresponds to the Sanskrit term sattva.

Summing up: we have here already eight different spellings of Sien-Tchan, and most of these look like Chinese words. However, the only spelling which seems to shed some light on this, having a corresponding meaning, is a Tibetan word.

In the Boris de Zirkoff edition of the SD, the spelling of Sien-Tchan is interpreted as Hsien-chan, adding a ninth spelling to our collection. De Zirkoff interpreted this term as Chinese, and converted it to the Wade-Giles standard, apparently without explicit justification. Still, his idea on this might be right, while the connection with Tibetan sems can is wrong.

De Zirkoff’s spelling hsien chan corresponds to pīnyīn spelling xian zhan. Modern dictionaries do not seem to include any words with this combination of syllables, or in fact any other clues, which does not give us any reason to abandon the Tibetan interpretation as “sems can”, however unlikely this interpretation may seem at first sight.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Sien-Tchan | No comments yet


The Orthography of Kwan-Yin-Tien

By Ingmar de Boer on at 3:41 pm

In SD I, 136 (stanza 6, śloka 1), the Boris de Zirkoff edition has Kuan-yin-T’ien for Kwan-Yin-Tien in the original 1888 edition. HPB in her days did not use a standardized spelling for Chinese words, and in the Boris de Zirkoff edition the terms are converted to the Wade-Giles transliteration standard. For example the syllable kwan is spelled kuan according to Wade-Giles. This representation is still ambiguous because the tone information is missing, and furthermore the corresponding character is not uniquely determined. A digit might be placed after the syllable to specify the tone, but a better representation would be to specify the exact the character, to enable the reader to verify the terms using a dictionary.

It is easy to verify the spelling of Kwan Yin, as it is such a widespread term. HPB in SD I, 137 defines Kwan-Yin-Tien as “the melodious heaven of Sound”, the abode of Kwan Yin, and we can derive that the syllable tien signifies “heaven”. De Zirkoff’s rendering t’ien for heaven can be found in a modern dictionary as the character 天, and as a Wade-Giles spelling it seems to be correct.

The modern transliteration standard used in the People’s Republic of China is pīnyīn, which in 1979 has become an ISO standard. The pīnyīn representation would be guān yīn tiān, in modern characters 觀音天.

Category: Avalokiteshvara, Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Kwan-Yin | No comments yet


On the eternal Germ

By Ingmar de Boer on April 18, 2013 at 6:46 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, Space | 2 comments


Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause

By Ingmar de Boer on March 31, 2013 at 5:24 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


On the Summary to the First Fundamental Proposition

By Ingmar de Boer on March 20, 2013 at 12:22 am

In the summary in SD I, 16, a clearer idea of is given of the subject of the first fundamental proposition. This proposition is stating an “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE”. The summary is meant as a clarification of the text in SD I, 14-16 under (a).

The following summary will afford a clearer idea to the reader.

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

The Absolute, Parabrahman.

(2.) The first manifestation, the impersonal, and, in philosophy, unmanifested Logos, the precursor of the “manifested.” This is the “First Cause,” the “Unconscious” of European Pantheists.

The unmanifested Logos, which is apparently different from the Absolute here. We have called this the First Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

(3.) Spirit-matter, LIFE; the “Spirit of the Universe,” the Purusha and Prakriti, or the second Logos.

Literally the Second Logos.

(4.) Cosmic Ideation, MAHAT or Intelligence, the Universal World-Soul; the Cosmic Noumenon of Matter, the basis of the intelligent operations in and of Nature, also called MAHA-BUDDHI.

In our earlier analysis we have identified the Universal World-Soul with the Third Logos.

Confusingly, we found Mahat to correspond to the Second Logos.

The Cosmic Noumenon of Matter is mentioned as “noumenon of matter” in SD I, 84

The expanding and contracting of the Web — i.e., the world stuff or atoms — expresses here the pulsatory movement; for it is the regular contraction and expansion of the infinite and shoreless Ocean of that which we may call the noumenon of matter emanated by Swabhavat, which causes the universal vibration of atoms.

The noumenon of matter is the web

In this passage we can safely assume that “universal vibration of atoms” corresponds to “pulsatory movement”, which is apparently the “expanding and contracting of the Web”. What causes this vibration is not entirely clear from the text. Syntactically “which” could refer either to

1. the regular contraction and expansion
2. the infinite and shoreless Ocean
3. that which we may call the noumenon of matter
4. Swabhavat

Logically, it could not be 1, as the cause of vibration could not be itself. From “for it is the regular…” we can again safely conclude that by the “infinite and shoreless Ocean” is meant the Web. It could therefore not be 2, because the Web apparently does not vibrate by itself. Is the noumenon emanated or the matter? The Ocean apparently consists of the “noumenon of matter”. Therefore the Ocean is still unmanifested, and it is the noumenon that is emanated by Swabhavat, not matter. As the noumenon is itself the substance of the Ocean, Swabhavat will be the cause of its vibration. The alternative would be that the noumenon is the cause of vibration, which means that the Web vibrates because of its substance.

If we return to śloka 10 in stanza III:


Here Swabhavat is identified with the substance of the web. Because the substance is twofold in itself, the vibration is an inherent quality of the web, as we can see from śloka 11 in stanza II:


This means both solutions 3 and 4 could be acceptable, and consequently the “Cosmic Noumenon of Matter” is the Father-Mother substance of the Web, alternatively Swabhavat. As for now it is unclear to me if this might be related to the Second, or the Third Logos.

The “basis of intelligent operations in and of Nature” might be interpreted either way, but seems closer to our idea of the Third Logos than to the Second.

As for mahabuddhi, we can sum up some other relevant passages here.

1. One location is SD I, 451:

Mahat (or Maha-Buddhi) is, with the Vaishnavas, however, divine mind in active operation, or, as Anaxagoras has it, “an ordering and disposing mind, which was the cause of all things,” — [[Nous o diakosmonte kai panton aitios]].

We identified Anaxagoras’ concept of nous as the Third logos, and also the “divine mind in active operation” is exactly what we have defined as the Third Logos. In this quote, mahat (mahabuddhi) is defined differently, not as the Second Logos but as the Third, apparently following “the Vaishnavas”.

The quote “Nous [estin] ho diakosmon te kai panton aitios” is taken from Plato’s Phaedo, 97c, “νοῦς ἐστιν ὁ διακοσμῶν τε καὶ πάντων αἴτιος“, “it is the mind that arranges and causes all things”, in the translation of Harold North Fowler.

2. A second is SD I, 572:

Esoterically the teaching differs: The divine, purely Adi-Buddhic monad manifests as the universal Buddhi (the Maha-buddhi or Mahat in Hindu philosophies) the spiritual, omniscient and omnipotent root of divine intelligence, the highest anima mundi or the Logos.

Here we have mahat (mahabuddhi) as the Second Logos, which is the Logos proper, and HPB’s Anima Mundi.

Mahat is used in different meanings, though it seems to be in a consistent way. Apparently in the summary of the first fundamental proposition, mahat is used conform SD I, 451.

Returning to the structure of the summary, it seems to be

(1) Parabrahman, the Absolute
(2) First Logos
(3) Second Logos
(4) Third Logos

If we try to put this in a diagram, instead of something like

absolute - 0

the structure would become something like

absolute - 1

Today I consulted the 1893 “Third Revised Edition” of The Secret Doctrine, which – fascinatingly – has a slightly altered summary text, on p. 44 (different page numbering):

(1.) Absoluteness: the Parabrahman of the Vedântins or the One Reality, Sat, […]
(2.) The First Logos: the impersonal […]
(3.) The Second Logos: Spirit-Matter […]
(4.) The Third Logos: Cosmic Ideation […]

This would mean that the Adyar edition also has this version of the summary, as it is based on the 1893 revised edition. This version of the summary does “afford a clearer idea to the reader”, as opposed to the 1888 summary…


Category: Anima Mundi, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Parabrahman, Svabhavat, World Soul | 1 comment


Two Aspects of the Absolute

By Ingmar de Boer on March 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Studying the first fundamental proposition in The Secret Doctrine, we see that the “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE” postulated in SD I, 14 is the Rootless Root of “all that was, is, or ever shall be”, Parabrahman, the Absolute.

Two aspects of the Absolute are then described, which are absolute abstract Space and absolute abstract Motion, the latter symbolized in the Book of Dzyan as The Great Breath.

The Great Breath is seen by HPB as precosmic Ideation, while the other aspect of the Absolute is seen as precosmic root-substance (Mūlaprakṛti). Both these are underlying manifested Consciousness and manifested Matter respectively, or Spirit and Matter, Subjectivity and Objectivity in the manifested universe.

These two aspects are obviously referred to in the last sentence of the passage, after the summary, “The ONE REALITY; its dual aspects in the conditioned Universe.”

Mūlaprakṛti: the Veil over Parabrahman

In this context HPB refers to ‘Mr. Subba Row’s four able lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, “Theosophist,” February, 1887.’

In the first of these lectures, on page 304 of The Theosophist Vol. VIII, we find some explanation about the relationship between Parabrahman and Mūlaprakṛti:

From its objective standpoint, Parabrahman appears to it as Mulaprakriti.

The “it” in this sentence is the ego “having an objective consciousness of its own”.

Parabrahman is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it. Parabrahman cannot be seen as it is.

What is said here, is that Parabrahman is the Absolute, and Mūlaprakṛti is an aspect of it, only in the sense that we cannot see more of it than that. Mūlaprakṛti is not a component, “aspect” or principle in itself, either separate from or united with Parabrahman. This is different from HPB’s interpretation in her description of the first fundamental principle, as two aspects, pre-Cosmic Ideation and pre-Cosmic Substance.

On page 305 of The Theosophist Vol. VIII, “the highest Trinity that we are capable of understanding” is mentioned, being Mūlaprakṛti, Īśvara (the Logos) and the “conscious energy of he Logos” (i.e. HPB’s fohat). This is the trinity we have defined as the First, Second and Third Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

In SD I, 14 we find:

Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is this metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS — symbolised by finite intelligence as the theological Trinity.

On page 305, Subba Row describes the “conscious energy of he Logos” as the “Holy Ghost of the Christians”. This confirms that Subba Row thought of this trinity as the “theological Trinity”.

Although HBP does not give any indication which trinity she is referring to, from these correspondences between her description and Subba Row’s, we can assume that she refers to the Trinity that we have defined as the First, Second and Third Logos, which she sees as “symbolising” the “metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS”, which is the “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE” postulated in SD I, 14.

This same problem appears in SD I, 15:

Considering this metaphysical triad as the Root from which proceeds all manifestation, […]

“This” seems to refer to:

Spirit (or Consciousness) and Matter are, however, to be regarded, not as independent realities, but as the two facets or aspects of the Absolute (Parabrahm), […]

Again the only possible interpretation here seems the Absolute itself, together with its two aspects. A more fitting interpretation would be though, that the Root is the Parabrahman which she sees as a “metaphysical triad” in itself, or the triad “symbolising” Parabrahman.

Category: Logos, Mulaprakriti, Parabrahman | 2 comments


The footnote in SD I, 14-15

By Ingmar de Boer on at 6:55 pm

In SD I, 14 we find

Herbert Spencer has of late so far modified his Agnosticism, as to assert that the nature of the “First Cause,”* which the Occultist more logically derives from the “Causeless Cause,” the “Eternal,” and the “Unknowable,” […]

where the asterisk refers to the following footnote:

* The “first” presupposes necessarily something which is the “first brought forth, the first in time, space, and rank” — and therefore finite and conditioned. The “first” cannot be the absolute, for it is a manifestation. Therefore, Eastern Occultism calls the Abstract All the “Causeless One Cause,” the “Rootless Root,” and limits the “First Cause” to the Logos, in the sense that Plato gives to this term.

The “First Cause” is the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, “in the sense Plato gives to this term”, which is the Second Logos, as we have shown earlier. (See The Three Logoi)

So the “Abstract All”, the “Causeless One Cause”, the “Rootless Root” is the unmanifested Logos, which we have called the First Logos.

Category: Causeless Cause, First Cause, Logos, Rootless Root | 1 comment


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

By admin on September 19, 2012 at 9:05 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


The Three Logoi (3)

By Ingmar de Boer on July 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm

4. Analysis

As we have seen, HPB associates Mahat, the Universal Mind or Intelligence, with the Second Logos. As Cosmic Ideation, we would associate it with the Nous and the world of Ideas of the Plotinic model, corresponding to the Second Logos. The Nous as the creative principle of the universe on the other hand, may be associated with the third aspect, not the second. In the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation the Nous is the creative Mind, corresponding to the Third Logos, Divine Activity. Therefore in this model the Demiurge is associated with the Third Logos, again because the third is the “creative aspect”. Notably, in both models the Dhyan Chohans are connected with the third aspect.

These different views, as we have seen, can be traced to the Plotinic interpretation of the three logoi by HPB, versus the interpretation of Damascius, and subsequently Mead in his Orpheus, and Besant and Leadbeater. Another source for Mead however, was The Secret Doctrine, as it was, naturally, for Besant and Leadbeater. Did Mead, Besant and Leadbeater make a conscious choice to deviate from HPB’s interpretation? We do not have an argumentation from any of them for doing so. Maybe they did not think they were so far removed from HPB’s interpretation? In SD I, 256 we find:

For MAHAT is the first product of Pradhana, or Akasa, and Mahat — Universal intelligence “whose characteristic property is Buddhi” — is no other than the Logos, for he is called “Eswara” Brahma, Bhava, etc. (See Linga Purana, sec. lxx. 12 et seq.; and Vayu Purana, but especially the former Purana — prior, section viii., 67-74). He is, in short, the “Creator” or the divine mind in creative operation, “the cause of all things.”

Pradhāna is associated with he First Logos, cp. Mūlaprakṛti. The first product of pradhāna is the Second Logos. Universal intelligence is the Logos, Īśvara, Brahmā, again the Second Logos, not the Third. In the next phrase the problem becomes apparent: he is the “Creator”, “the divine mind in creative operation”, which could easily be interpreted as the third aspect. It is, confusingly, about the Second Logos, the Divine Mind or Wisdom, and not about fohat, its force, i.e. the Third Logos.

We can see that the cause of misunderstanding here is, that the description of the Second and Third Logoi is not unambiguous. This quote from SD I, 256 is only one example, but this ambiguity occurs repeatedly through the whole text of the SD, making it difficult to reconstruct the model of the triad as it was intended.

5. Synthesis

When we combine the correspondences between the two interpretations, we might come to the following three “definitions”.

1. The First Logos is the ever unmanifest Logos, Divine Will.
2. The Second Logos is the manifested Logos, Divine Wisdom.
3. The Third Logos is described by HPB as the “light of the Logos”, Divine Activity.

I will summarize here, the model presented in The Secret Doctrine, suppleted with the terminology from The Ancient Wisdom and other correspondences found, leaving out the differences which are based on problems of interpretation, as we have been able to show, I hope convincingly, in these posts on the Three Logoi.

1. First Logos, the One, the Ever Unmanifest, represented by Mūlaprakṛti, the Plotinic and Orphic Hen, Hyparxis, Universal Good, the Christian Father-aspect, Divine Will.

2. Second Logos, the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, the Verbum, the Plotinic Nous, the Demiurge, HPB’s Anima Mundi, Universal Soul, Creative Intelligence, Mahat, Universal Mind, Universal Intelligence, Divine Mind, Divine Wisdom, the Son-aspect, the Christ, Brahmā, Īśvara, Avalokiteśvara (manifested).

3. Third Logos, the Light of the Logos, Fohat, Daiviprakṛti, the Plotinic Psuchē, the Nous of Anaxagoras, Divine Activity, the Holy Ghost.


Category: Anima Mundi, Avalokiteshvara, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Daiviprakriti, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Universal Mind, World Soul | 5 comments


The Three Logoi (2)

By Ingmar de Boer on at 4:59 pm

2. The three logoi in The Secret Doctrine

What comes closest to a definition of the logoi in The Secret Doctrine, is a quote from the 1885 lecture of T. Subba Row, published under the title Notes on the Bhagavad Gita. In SD I, 429 we find:

Metaphysicians explain the root and germ of the latter, according to Mr. Subba Row, as the first manifestation of Parabrahmam, “the highest trinity that we are capable of understanding,” which is Mulaprakriti (the veil), the Logos, and the conscious energy “of the latter,” or its power and light*; or — “matter, force and the Ego, or the one root of self, of which every other kind of self is but a manifestation or a reflection.”

So we have as the triad, according to Subba Row (Notes…, TUP 2nd ed., p. 22):

1. Mulaprakriti,
2. Eswara or Logos,
3. conscious energy of the Logos, which is its power and light.

Subba Row describes Mūlaprakṛti as a “veil over parabrahman”. He identifies the third aspect with the concept of Daiviprakṛti as used in the Bhagavad Gīta, and notes that it “is called fohat in several Buddhist books”.

HPB and Subba Row’s interpretation seems to correspond to Plotinus, who is considered the main representative of the Neo-Platonic system. In this model the Nous is the second hypostasis:

1. To Hen (The One)
2. Ho Nous (Intellect, Spirit, Universal Mind)
3. Hē Psuchē (The World Soul)

Mead in his work on Plotinus (p. 26 and 28) also describes the Nous as the second principle. Proclus, in his Metaphysical Elements, follows Plotinus in this respect: Proposition XX: The essence of soul [Hē Psuchē] is beyond all bodies [To Sōma], the intellectual na­ture [Ho Nous] is beyond all souls, and The One [To Hen] is beyond, all intel­lectual hypostases.

In the Christian tradition, for example in Augustinus’ De Trinitate, we find the same triad:

1. Father, cp. To Hen
2. Son, the Christ, the Word, the Logos, cp. Ho Nous
3. Holy Ghost, cp. the Anima Mundi, World Soul, Hē Psuchē

Contrary to Plotinus however, who identified the Nous with the Demiurge, in the Christian tradition the Father-aspect is identified with the Creator God, as formulated in the first line of the Nicene Creed of 325 (tr. Philip Schaff):

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

3. The three logoi in The Ancient Wisdom

The introduction to Besant’s The Ancient Wisdom we find a clue as to the origin of the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation. On page 28, reference is made to Orpheus, a study by G.R.S. Mead of 1896 on the theogony of the Orphic religion. In Orpheus the creation of the universe begins with The One. The One Existence is called thrice unknown darkness in the Orphic system. From the darkness comes the primordial triad, with its three hypostases:

1. Universal Good (super-essential),
2. World Soul (self-motive essence),
3. Intellect (Mind).

These three hypostases “appear”, in AW p. 34-35, as the Christian Trinity where the First Logos is the Father, the “fount of all life”, the Second Logos the Son, and the Third Logos the Holy Ghost, the “creative Mind”. The creative Mind, the “noetic” aspect, is presented here as the third aspect.

From Orpheus (p. 93) we learn that the essential characteristics of the Orphic triads are defined by Plato as

1. Bound (hyparxis)
2. Infinite (power)
3. Mixed (noesis, fr. Nous)

In Plato’s dialogue Philebus, these characteristics are summed up by Socrates in a different order: 1. infinite (apeiron), 2. finite (peras) and 3. mixed (meikton). In SD I, 426, HPB states that Porphyry shows that the Monad and the Duad of Pythagoras are identical with Plato’s infinite and finite in “Philebus” — or what Plato calls the ἄπειρον and πέρας, confirming this order. The noetic, μεικτόν, is again in third position.

Mead in his turn in Orpheus refers to Neo-Platonist authors Proclus and Damascius. Damascius’ Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles seems to be Mead’s main source concerning the Orphic metaphysical system. Moreover, HPB has also read this work, and refers to it as “πρώτων ἀρχῶν“. In the First Principles, for example in the French translation of Edouard Chaignet of 1898, we find in § 55 that the third principle, which is the Nous, “is called mixed by Plato” and by “Philolaus and the pythagoreans”. The Three Universal Principles, the proenōma, are called

1. Father, Patēr
2. Power, Dunamis
3. Reason, Nous

We can see that Damascius’ interpretation of the Primordial Triad goes back to Plato’s Philebus. Even earlier, Anaxagoras (and later Aristotle) used the term Nous to denote purely the creative principle in the universe. As such, it could of course also be associated with the third principle.

Continued in part 3

Category: Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Darkness, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mulaprakriti, Nous | 4 comments


The Three Logoi (1)

By Ingmar de Boer on at 4:48 pm

H.P. Blavatsky (HPB), in The Secret Doctrine uses the term Logos throughout the text (with capital “L”, and without prior ordinal), usually indicating the so called Second Logos. In The Secret Doctrine each of the three logoi is attributed consistently to one of the three aspects, the hypostases, of what may be called the first cosmological triad of our system. Studying the three logoi in The Secret Doctrine can easily lead to confusion, not only because the subject matter itself is prone to confusion, but also because HPB’s style of writing can at times be very confusing.

In the oevres of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater on the other hand, the three logoi are more clearly defined, but unfortunately they do not in every respect correspond to the logoi in The Secret Doctrine. In many later theosophical works, and also in many other modern works in the area of spirituality, the three logoi are often introduced without any attempt to definition, while implicitly referring to the relevant works of Besant and Leadbeater.

We could ask ourselves what is the origin of the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation, and how does it correspond to HPB’s version of the logoi? Can we explain the differences? Could we perhaps formulate new air-tight definitions for the three logoi?

1. Some Examples of Differences

There are some clear differences in interpretation, which we could discuss here, illustrated with examples from both Besant’s The Ancient Wisdom (AW) and HPB’s The Secret Doctrine (SD), before trying to go deeper into the foundations of the models.

Example 1: Mahat

In SD II, 468 we have:

[…] it is the Logos Demiurge (the second logos), or the first emanation from the mind (Mahat), […]

Instead, in AW, p.112, we find:

[…] the Great Mind in the Kosmos.  (Mahat, the Third LOGOS, or Divine Creative Intelligence, the Brahmâ of the Hindus, the Mandjusri of the Northern Buddhists, the Holy Spirit of the Christians.) 

HPB in the SD associates Mahat with the Second Logos, Divine Wisdom, the Brahmā of the Hindus, the Son-aspect of the Christians, instead of the Third.

Example 2: Mahat, the Demiurge and Avalokiteśvara

In SD I, 572 we have:

[…] universal Buddhi (the Maha-buddhi or Mahat in Hindu philosophies) the spiritual, omniscient and omnipotent root of divine intelligence, the highest anima mundi or the Logos.

The “Logos” here is the manifested or Second Logos. HPB in the SD identifies the Universal Mind (Mahat) with the Second Logos.

Further in SD I, 110 we have:

Simultaneously with the evolution of the Universal Mind, the concealed Wisdom of Adi-Buddha — the One Supreme and eternal — manifests itself as Avalokiteshwara (or manifested Iswara), which is the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Heavenly Man of the Hermetic philosopher, the Logos of the Platonists, and the Atman of the Vedantins.* 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.

The Logos of the (Neo-) Platonists is the Plotinic Second Logos. It is the Demiurge and Avalokiteśvara, and corresponds to Mahat. In SD I, 72n we have, to be sure that HPB does not mean the Third Logos:

But there are two Avalokiteshwaras in Esotericism; the first and the second Logos.

Instead, in AW p. 42 we find:

Then the Third LOGOS, the Universal Mind, […]

Note that in the quotation from SD I, 110, the Anima Mundi (Second Logos), is not equivalent to the Anima Mundi, the World Soul, of the Neo-Platonists, which is the third aspect. This is, of course, to make things easier for us…

Example 3: Brahmā

In SD I, 381n we have:

In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, […]

HPB in the SD identifies Brahmā with the Second Logos.

Instead, in AW p. 14-15 we find:

The LOGOS in His triple manifestation is : [..]the Third, Manjusri – “the representative of creative wisdom, corresponding to Brahmâ.”

We could now take a closer look at the “definitions” of the three logoi in both these works, in the next post.


Category: Anima Mundi, Avalokiteshvara, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Creation Stories, Darkness, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet


Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya, part 3

By David Reigle on April 22, 2012 at 9:33 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.

Category: Dhatu | No comments yet


Dharmadhâtu = Buddha Nature = Clear Light

By Jacques Mahnich on April 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm

The Chittamatra tradition of the Middle Way teaches, according to the Shentong tradition, that the Dharmadhâtu is the same as the Clear Light and the same as the Buddha Nature (Tathagatagarbha).

From “A Treatise on Buddha Nature” by Rangjung Dorje (excerpt from : “On Buddha Essence by Khenchen Thrangu”)

– p.21 : « The element has no creator, but it is given this name, because it retains its own characteristics. It (the element) is different from all other things in that it possesses its own characteristics, and while being empty and not having any true reality, it also has the nature of luminosity. »

p.47 : « It (the dharmadhâtu) could also be called the union of wisdom and space, where space is the aspect of emptiness and wisdom is the aspect of clarity. »

p.62 : « The aspect of space is emptiness, that is, the absence of any true reality . Since beginningless time, phenomena have been without any reality , and the nature of our mind has also been without any reality. This is the space or emptiness phenomena, or we could say the dharmadhâtu. »

p.76 : « The dharmadhâtu and the buddha nature are the same ; they cannot be separated…When talking about the emptiness aspect we say dharmadhâtu, and when talking about the luminosity aspect we say buddha nature. »

It is confirmed by other scriptures : From “Yoga of the Guhyasamajatantra – Alex Wayman”

p.188 : from the Pancakrama II,29 commentary : The great Science (mahavidyâ) is the Dharmadhâtu, the Clear Light.

p.193 : from Tson-kha-pa commentary on the Caturdevîparipricchâ : « The three vijnânas proceed from the the 18-fold dharmadhâtu which is the Clear Light of Death. »

p.201 : from the school of Buddhajnânapâda – Vitapâda’s Muktitilaka-nâma-vyâkhyâna : « The self-existence of the non-duality of the Profound and the Bright has the nature of pervading all states (bhâva) and is not included in the dharmas of samsâra ; it is called Dharmadhâtu. »

Category: Dhatu | No comments yet


Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya, part 2

By David Reigle on April 11, 2012 at 5:26 am

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter in the Perfection of Wisdom texts shows us that we may substitute the wider Buddhist term dharmatā for the specifically Yogācāra Buddhist term pariniṣpanna in verse 6 of stanza 1 of the Book of Dzyan. As we see from The Secret Doctrine, we could also substitute the Advaita Vedānta term pāramārthika for it (vol. 1, p. 356): “Says a ‘Gupta Vidya’ Sūtra: ‘In the beginning, a ray issuing from Paramārthika (the one and only true existence), it became manifested in Vyavahārika (conventional existence) which was used as a Vahan to descend into the Universal Mother, and to cause her to expand (swell, brih)’.” In Advaita Vedanta we also have a listing of the three modes of existence that would correspond to the three svabhāvas of Yogācāra Buddhism, and to the three aspects taught in the “Questions of Maitreya.” These are: pāramārthika, “ultimate”; vyāvahārika, “conventional”; and prātibhāsika, “false appearance,” i.e., “illusory.”

We are seeking a Book of Dzyan, which, as said before, must necessarily use some set of terminology. From the indications we have, at least some of its terminology is distinctive Yogācāra Buddhist terms. Nonetheless, other formulations of the same ideas would be possible; and according to the above quotation from a “Gupta Vidya” or “Hidden Knowledge” Sūtra, do in fact exist. This quotation uses distinctive Advaita Vedānta terms. Despite the fact that these systems combat each other exoterically, their teachings are considered identical in the Secret Doctrine. It makes no difference that those who are regarded in the Secret Doctrine as being high initiates, when giving their exoteric teachings, argue against each other. The great Advaita Vedānta teacher Śaṅkarācārya refutes the Buddhists, and the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsongkhapa refutes his fellow Buddhist Jonangpas, precisely because their doctrine is too much like that of Advaita Vedānta! On this issue, see the important paragraph spanning pp. 636-637 of vol. 2 of The Secret Doctrine. So we proceed with bringing in parallel terms and ideas that have historically linked the Yogācāra teachings and the Perfection of Wisdom or Madhyamaka teachings, from Haribhadra to Dolpopa.

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras in 18,000 and 25,000 lines has been translated into English by Edward Conze in his 1975 book, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, pp. 644-652 (attached as Questions of Maitreya-English-Conze). He and Shotaro Iida had previously edited and published the original Sanskrit text in their 1968 article “‘Maitreya’s Questions’ in the Prajñāpāramitā,” in Melanges D’Indianisme a la Memoire de Louis Renou, pp. 229-242 (attached as Questions of Maitreya-Sanskrit-Conze Iida). The late Edward Conze was practically the sole translator of the massive Perfection of Wisdom texts throughout his lifetime, and every student of these texts in English translation owes him a large debt of gratitude. Conze’s translations have been criticized by Robert Thurman in his Foreword to Lex Hixon’s 1993 Mother of the Buddhas, p. xvi, as follows:

“His translations thus resemble cookbooks full of recipes translated with a dictionary by someone who has no idea what the foods and spices are, who has never cooked or never eaten such a meal. I have assigned his translations to classes of students, decade after decade, with the invariable result that they feel confused, mystified, and shut out of the real message of the text.”

While what he reports about his students being confused by Conze’s translations is no doubt true, the reason he assigns for this is unlikely, and is unfair to Conze. The earlier part of this paragraph associates “basic preconceptions of nihilism” with Conze, says that he “did not himself practice the yoga of transcending wisdom,” and that “He never found the liberating logic of what might superficially appear to be meaningless paradoxes or irreconcilable contradictions.” This is not the impression that I get of Conze from his various journal articles and books, as well as oral information from former students of his. In fact, Conze had a difficult time in academia for the same reason that Thurman did at the beginning: He was a believer in Buddhism at a time when it was thought that scholars could not remain objective if they believed in what they studied.

The difficulty with Conze’s translations is not that they are dictionary translations by someone who does not know what the text is talking about, but rather that he used stock translations of technical terms that are not normal English (such as “own-being” for svabhāva), and never stopped to give notes explaining their meaning. Conze had a huge amount of material to translate, and he did not write extensive explanatory notes like his colleague Etienne Lamotte was famous for. Thurman concludes: “Prajnaparamita still cries out for a completely revised presentation.” I agree, but not because of thinking that Conze seriously misunderstood the material.

I will give a new translation of the definitions of the three ways in which dharmas are to be seen, from the “Questions of Maitreya,” shortly. In the meantime, one can try to understand Conze’s translation of them, found on p. 648 (attached above). He here translates dharmatā as “dharmic nature.” There are several significant misprints in this book, such as “earth” for “death” on p. 644, that further hinder one’s understanding. Although I regard writing in books as a cardinal sin, I have here made an exception and have written in pencil in the margins a few corrections.

Category: Dhatu | No comments yet


Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya

By David Reigle on April 9, 2012 at 5:36 am

In our investigation of the dhātu (“element, basic space”) and its synonyms as a central idea in the system of the Book of Dzyan, the term dharmatā (“true nature”) has been brought in as the definition of svabhāva (“inherent nature”), when svabhāva is used in its highest meaning. The Yogācāra school of Buddhism speaks of the three svabhāvas: (1) parikalpita svabhāva, the “imagined nature”; (2) paratantra svabhāva, the “dependent nature”; and (3) pariniṣpanna svabhāva, the “perfect nature”. In the Prajñā-pāramitā or Perfection of Wisdom texts, a similar listing is found in the chapter known as the “Questions of Maitreya” (maitreya-paripṛcchā, chapter 72 of the version in 25,000 lines, and chapter 83 of the version in 18,000 lines). There, dharmatā (“true nature”) is the third and highest, corresponding to the pariniṣpanna svabhāva (“perfect nature”).

So verse 6 of stanza 1 of the Book of Dzyan could just as well say that the universe was immersed in dharmatā as in pariniṣpanna. The same is true for verse 1 of stanza 2. It is just a matter of which term is used in which class of texts. The fact that pariniṣpanna (Tibetan yongs grub) is given among the technical terms found in the Book of Dzyan (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 23) tells us that this book used Yogācāra terms rather than terms from the Perfection of Wisdom texts.

The Yogācāra texts have formed the basis not only of the Cittamātra or “mind-only” school, but also of the so-called “Great Madhyamaka” school. There they are understood differently than in the Cittamātra school. There they cross over directly to the Perfection of Wisdom texts, the primary sourcebooks of all Madhyamaka schools. This cross-over was made possible by the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter found in two of the large Perfection of Wisdom texts. In this chapter, the Buddha replies to Maitreya’s questions, telling him that all dharmas can be understood as parikalpita (kun brtags), “[falsely] imagined”, vikalpita (rnam par brtags), “conceptualized”, and by way of their dharmatā (chos nyid), “true nature”, obviously corresponding to the three svabhāvas of the Yogācāra texts.

Category: Dhatu | No comments yet


The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna

By David Reigle on April 6, 2012 at 6:10 am

Jacques has called our attention to what is the single most important text by Nāgārjuna for the so-called “Great Madhyamaka” tradition, the Dharmadhātu-stava. The dharma-dhātu is the “dhātu of dharmas”; i.e., the “element” or “basic space” or “realm” of the dharmas, the “elements of existence” or “phenomena” or “factors” that make up our world. A stava, also called a stotra, is a “hymn” or “song” or “praise.” As might be expected, the stavas by Nāgārjuna are not typical songs of praise; they are full of philosophical ideas. Here he speaks of something that cannot be directly described in words, or reasoned about like the topics of his other writings, so he just sings his praises of it.

The Sanskrit original has not yet been published, and was presumed lost. However, it is reported to have been found among the Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in Tibet, only recently becoming accessible to scholars. In the meantime, until this is edited and published, we have six verses of the original Sanskrit that were quoted in Nāropā’s Kālacakra commentary, the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. These are given below, quoted from the excellent 2006 edition prepared by Francesco Sferra (Serie Orientale Roma, vol. XCIX, p. 188). I have also compared the pioneering 1941 edition by Mario E. Carelli (Gaekwad’s Oriental Series, vol. XC, p. 66). The only significant difference is the superior reading “agni-śaucaṃ” in verse 20a in the 2006 edition, rather than the reading “agniḥ śaucaṃ” in the 1941 edition.

Also given below is an English translation of these verses made from the Tibetan translation by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., found in the 2004 book he edited, Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin), pp. 467-468. Jacques has already informed us of the 2007 translation by Karl Brunnholzl with full commentary. Another translation by Jeffrey Hopkins of these verses (but not the whole text) may be found in Mountain Doctrine (2006), pp. 102-105, where they were quoted by Dolpopa. Of these, note especially verse 22, which is of much significance. A fairly literal translation of Nāgārjuna’s verse from the original Sanskrit is: “Whichever (ye kecid) sūtras (sūtrāḥ) that bring in (āhārakāḥ) emptiness (śūnyatā) were spoken (bhāṣitāḥ) by the Jinas (jinaiḥ), by all those (sarvais taiḥ) the afflictive emotions are turned back (kleśa-vyāvṛttir). Not at all (naiva) is the dhātu destroyed (dhātu-vināśanam).”


nirmalau candra-sūryau hi āvṛtau pañcabhir malaiḥ |

abhra-nīhāra-dhūmena rāhu-vaktra-rajo-malaiḥ || 18 ||

evaṃ prabhāsvaraṃ cittam āvṛtaṃ pañcabhir malaiḥ |

kāma-vyāpāda-middhena auddhatya-vicikitsayā || 19 ||

agni-śaucaṃ yathā vastraṃ malinaṃ vividhair malaiḥ |

agni-madhye yathāksiptaṃ malaṃ dagdhaṃ na vastratā || 20 ||

evaṃ prabhāsvaraṃ cittaṃ malinaṃ rāgajair malaiḥ |

jñānāgninā malaṃ dagdhaṃ na dagdhaṃ tat-prabhāsvaram || 21 ||

śūnyatāhārakāḥ sūtrā ye kecid bhāṣitā jinaiḥ |

sarvais taiḥ kleśa-vyāvṛttir naiva dhātu-vināśanam || 22 ||

pṛthivy-antarhitaṃ toyaṃ yathā tiṣṭhati nirmalam |

kleśair antarhitaṃ jñānaṃ tathā tiṣṭhati nirmalam || 23 ||

“Although the sun and moon are stainless, they are blocked by the five obstacles, such as clouds, mist, smoke, eclipses and dust. (18)

“In the same way, the mind of clear light becomes blocked by the five obstructions: desire, enmity, laziness, agitation and doubt. (19)

“When a fireproof garment, stained by various stains, is placed in fire, the stains are burned but the garment is not. (20)

“In the same way, the mind of clear light is stained by desire. The stains are burned by the fire of wisdom; just that clear light is not. (21)

“All the sūtras setting forth emptiness spoken by the teacher turn back the afflictions; they do not impair the element. (22)

“Just as the water in the earth remains untainted, wisdom is within the afflictions, yet remains unstained. (23)”

Category: Dhatu | 2 comments


The Dharmadhâtu in Buddhist Scriptures

By Jacques Mahnich on April 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm


The Dharmadhâtu in Buddhist Scriptures

Going to the sources for esoteric subjects is always a challenge, as explained many times by David.

The Dharmadathu,  is of such importance for our quest, that all tracks sould be explored, together with the risk of misunderstanding. If we operate as researchers do, we will try to identify as many different sources, together with their environment , when they were taught, written, translated, commented, in order to extract, when possible, a commun understanding.

Nagarjuna wrote a treatise on it – the Dharmadhâtustava – in his collection of praises. It seems a not-very-well-known text with a few commentaries. The most extant is the one written by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. These were translated and published recently (2007) by Karl Brunnhölz – In Praise of Dharmadhâtu by Nagarjuna, Commentary by the IIIrd Karmapa – ISBN 1-55939-286-X.

Before that, D. Seyfort Ruegg wrote an article on it, and it can be a good introduction to the subject. Here are the main ideas which can be of interest for our purpose.

First, an overview of Nagarjuna history may help putting the texts in perspective.

According to Bu ston and Târanâtha, Nagarjuna was born 400 years after the Buddha nirvana in the Vidarbha province (Berâr).During the first part of his life, he worked for the goodness of the people. This was called the First Promulgation of the Law (chos kyi sgra chen po). He mainly worked at cleaning the then-current degenerated practices in the monasteries.

Then, he moved to the Naga world where he got the Prajnâpâramitâsûtras, brought them back, and spend the second part of his life writing scolastic works (rigs tshogs) to explain the meaning of the sutras. It is called the Second Promulgation of the Law, dedicated to the teaching of sunyata.

Then he traveled again, to spend years in Uttarakuru. From there, he brought back scriptures like the Mahâbherîsûtra and the Mahâmeghasûtra. To explain these sutras, he then wrote a group of hymns (bstod tshogs). It is called the Third Promulgation of the Law.

The Dharmadhâtustava is considered as one of the most important hymn According to ‘Jam dbyans bzad pa, the author of the Grub mtha’ chen mo, this last Promulgation main theme is the existence of the spiritual Element (khams=dhâtu) of the buddha in all animated beings. ‘Jam dbyans bzad pa considers the Dharmadhâtustava doctrine in conformity with the teachings of the Dhâranisvararâjasûtra and the Ratnagotravibhâga.

At first, the philosophical vocabulary found inside the Dharmadhâtustava is far different from the one used inside the Mûlamadhyamakakârika, as already identified by E. Frauwallner in his « Philosophie des Buddhismus » ; together with some other words like pâramitâ, bodhicitta, etc. But some other texts (Niraupamyastava – 6.21, Acintyastava – fol 90a7, and the Paramârthastava -8 are using the dharmadhâtu and the dharmata words.

Candrakirti quote seven stanzas which are related to the dharmadhâtu in his Madhyamakâvatâra self-commentary :


in which one can find : « Exempt from destruction and birth, the world is equivalent to the dharmadhâtu… »

Two similar stances can be found inside the Prasannapadâ of Candrakirti (26.2 in La Vallée Poussin translation), and also inside the Niraupamyastava.

The Dharmadhâtustava in Sanskrit is no more available, and there are no indian commentaries known.. A chinese version was written around 980 AD, and a tibetan translation was made by Krishna Pandita and Nag tsho lo tsâ ba Tshul khrims rgyal ba (born in 1011).

This first post was to help substantiating the fact that the dharmadhâtu is an integral part of the Nagarjuna teachings.

Category: Dhatu | 1 comment


From Svabhāva to Dharmatā to Dhātu, continued

By David Reigle on at 5:47 am

As just seen at the end of the previous quotation, Candrakīrti wonders who would ask if such a svabhāva (“inherent nature”) exists or not. If it did not, what would be the purpose of all the strivings of bodhisattvas? Now we must wonder why Tsongkhapa, followed by his Gelugpa order, is commonly understood to deny all svabhāva (other than that something’s “inherent nature” is that it has no “inherent nature”). With Candrakīrti we are not speaking of some Indian Madhyamaka writer who is only partially accepted by Tsongkhapa; we are speaking of the very one who is fully accepted by Tsongkhapa as giving the authoritative interpretation of the writings of Nāgārjuna. The information necessary to answer this question was given in a quotation from Jeffrey Hopkins posted by Jacques in an earlier discussion of the Stanzas of Dzyan (at Theosophy.Net on October 22, 2010):

“Since in Prāsaṅgika emptiness—the absence of inherent existence (svabhāvasiddhi, rang bzhin gyis grub pa)—is the nature (svabhāva, rang bzhin) of all phenomena, it should not be thought that svabhāva is refuted in all its meanings. Svabhāva meaning svabhāvasiddhi or ‘inherent existence’ is refuted, but svabhāva as ‘final nature’ or just ‘character’ (such as heat and burning as the character of fire) is not refuted.” (Meditation on Emptiness, 1983, pp. 391-392)

Tsongkhapa agrees with what Candrakīrti says here, as may be seen in his quotation of this passage from Candrakīrti in his Lam rim chen mo. Tsongkhapa specifically says that such a svabhāva exists. But the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo, apparently following the Gelugpa exegesis in the Four Interwoven Annotations, makes it look like what he says exists is some “nature” other than svabhāva, “intrinsic nature”/“inherent nature” (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, vol. 3, pp. 197-198, attached as Lam rim chen mo on svabhāva). The Tibetan rang bzhin (Sanskrit svabhāva) is normally translated as “intrinsic nature” in this book.* In this section, however, rang bzhin (svabhāva) is translated as “nature” in some places and as “intrinsic nature” in other places, and even as “final nature.” Thus, Nāgārjuna speaks only of a “nature” in the two verses quoted by Candrakīrti, also quoted by Tsongkhapa (p. 195). Candrakīrti is asked only if this “nature” exists, and says it does, and Tsongkhapa agrees (pp. 197-198). Then Tsongkhapa denies only an “intrinsic nature” (p. 198). A concluding quote is added, where Candrakīrti accepts only a “final nature” (p. 198). In all of these places, as may be seen in the Tibetan quoted below, the word being translated is only rang bzhin (Sanskrit svabhāva), “inherent/intrinsic nature.”

Being given Gelugpa interpretations of a Gelugpa text will not be a reason for surprise. Nor would there be much reason for doubting that these interpretations reflect what Tsongkhapa meant. The problem here is that readers are being given interpretations, and not being told that these are interpretations rather than direct translations. Tsongkhapa’s text has many quotations of Sanskrit texts. The interpretative translations occur within these quotations as well. This was never allowed when these Sanskrit texts were translated into Tibetan to form the Tibetan Buddhist canon, the Kangyur and Tengyur. When the Sanskrit original had the term svabhāva, it was translated into Tibetan as rang bzhin or its synonym ngo bo nyid. These are what were allowed. Throughout the whole Kangyur and Tengyur, we do not find interpretive translations of svabhāva such as “nature” in one place, “inherent/intrinsic nature” in another place, and “final nature” in a third place. The texts had to be translated as they were found, and let the interpretations come later.

The meaning “final nature” for svabhāva was mentioned in the paragraph that Jacques quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins’ 1983 book, Meditation on Emptiness. Although that book has a glossary, “final nature” is not in it. However, it is found in the fuller glossary of Elizabeth Napper’s 1989 book, Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, which adopted the translation terminology used by Jeffrey Hopkins. There “final nature” is listed as translating rang bzhin mthar thug. In the passage from the Lam rim chen mo under discussion (p. 198), “final nature” is given in a quotation from Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā. But Candrakīrti’s text, and Tsongkhapa’s quotation of it, has only rang bzhin, not rang bzhin mthar thug (quoted below). Its Sanskrit original has only svabhāva, with no qualifiers (Poussin Skt. ed., p. 264, line 2). The “final” (mthar thug) is an interpretation, coming from the Four Interwoven Annotations (see: The Nature of Things: Emptiness and Essence in the Geluk World, by William Magee, p. 216, where the Four Interwoven Annotations paraphrase Candrakīrti’s rang bzhin as rang bzhin mthar thug). These Annotations were written by four Gelugpa writers who lived a couple centuries after Tsongkhapa (on Ba-so being a later Ba-so, see Napper’s Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, pp. 219-220).

Earlier in the Lam rim chen mo translation (p. 173), “final nature” again occurs in a quotation from Candrakīrti, from his own commentary on his Madhyamakāvatāra. Again, Candrakīrti’s text, and Tsongkhapa’s quotation of it, has only rang bzhin, not rang bzhin mthar thug (Poussin Tib. ed., p. 107, line 15). In both of these cases, this occurs in a prose commentary by Candrakīrti, where he could have easily added a qualifier such as “final” to svabhāva if he wanted to. He did not add one. Neither did Tsongkhapa when citing it. But the English translators, following the Tibetan annotators, did. The interpretive translation “final nature” completely obscures the fact that Candrakīrti, and Tsongkhapa citing him, has here only svabhāva, elsewhere translated in this book as “intrinsic nature.”

When the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo uses “intrinsic nature” for svabhāva in the passage under discussion (p. 198), in contradistinction to its use of just “nature” for svabhāva in this passage, it refers to “inherent existence” as mentioned in the paragraph that Jacques quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins’ book, Meditation on Emptiness. Jeffrey explains that the meaning “inherent existence” for svabhāva/rang bzhin takes it in the sense of rang bzhin gyis grub pa (p. 438), and Tsongkhapa here adds the qualifier grub pa, “established,” to rang bzhin (quoted below). This means that something’s existence is “established by svabhāva,” i.e., “established by [its] inherent/intrinsic nature.” But no dharmas, no phenomena, have a svabhāva, an inherent/intrinsic nature. Their existence cannot by established by something that they do not have. To say, then, that they are without an “inherent/intrinsic nature” (svabhāva) means that they are without an “inherent existence.” In this way, svabhāva may be used to “establish” (grub pa) something’s ultimate existence or lack thereof.

As alluded to in previous posts, this pertains to how Tsongkhapa narrowed down the meaning of svabhāva, “inherent/intrinsic nature,” to “inherent existence,” and made this the standard meaning in philosophical discourse in Tibet. If something is rang bzhin gyis grub pa, “established by [its] svabhāva,” it truly or inherently exists. This Tibetan phrase would be in Sanskrit svabhāva-siddha, “established by svabhāva,” or svabhāva-siddhi, “establishment by svabhāva.” However, such a term is not used in the Indian Buddhist Madhyamaka texts. They use only svabhāva. The addition of the qualifier “established,” grub pa (hypothetical Sanskrit *siddha or *siddhi), is a Tibetan development. This is not at all to suggest that this meaning does not occur in Indian texts, for it certainly does. It is to say that taking this meaning as “the” meaning is an interpretation, which may not be applicable to texts written prior to the time of Tsongkhapa. This would include the Book of Dzyan. Indian writers on Madhyamaka were not necessarily always thinking “inherent existence” when they used the term svabhāva. They could apply the term svabhāva to ultimates such as the dharmatā, “true nature,” or dhātu, “element, basic space,” without any need to differentiate its meaning (as “nature” or as “inherent/intrinsic nature”) or qualify this svabhāva as “final nature.”

It is when “inherent existence” is taken as “the” meaning of svabhāva that we see the denial of all svabhāva. But this makes it difficult to see or even know that what may be called something’s “final nature” is in fact just the very same word, svabhāva. Moreover, as we have seen, this greatly influences the translations of these texts. I had earlier quoted Candrakīrti’s statement, translated by William Ames, that: “Ultimate reality (don dam pa, paramārtha) for the Buddhas is svabhāva itself.” This same sentence was translated in Jeffrey Hopkins’ valuable 2008 book, Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Exposition of Wisdom, (p. 254) as: “The ultimate for Buddhas is just the nature.” Who would know that “nature” here is svabhāva?

Candrakīrti is quoted in the passage under discussion from the Lam rim chen mo, asking if such a svabhāva exists. He answers that it is the dharmatā, “dharma-ness” or “true nature,” citing the catechism-like phrase saying that it exists whether the Tathāgatas arise or not. The next question asks what this dharmatā is. The answer given, as translated by William Ames, is: “The svabhāva of these [dharmas], such as the eye.” The answer given, as translated by William Magee (The Nature of Things, p. 185), is: “It is the final mode of abiding of these phenomena, eyes, and so forth.” Here, svabhāva disappears without a trace, behind “final mode of abiding.” There is not even a “nature” to give a clue that svabhāva is the word used here by Candrakīrti. From other sources, we learn that “mode of abiding,” also “mode of subsistence,” translates the Tibetan term gnas lugs. It has no Sanskrit equivalent; it is a technical term found only in Tibetan treatises on Buddhism. Here in this sentence it is a gloss of rang bzhin/svabhāva, coming from the Four Interwoven Annotations.

Magee helpfully translates separately these Annotations on this section of the Lam rim chen mo. Two of its relevant headings here are (pp. 204, 206): “In our system the nature possessing the three attributes is the mode of subsistence, emptiness”; and “Though the nature refuted formerly and the nature which is the mode of subsistence of things have the same name, the meaning is different.” These tell us that the two meanings given to svabhāva (here translated as “nature”), an “inherent existence” and a “final nature” or “mode of subsistence,” are used “in our system,” i.e., in the Gelugpa system. These interpretations of what Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti meant by svabhāva may not be accepted in other systems. Even if they do correctly represent what Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti meant but did not say about svabhāva, readers have the right to know that they are being given interpretations rather than direct translations.

However excellent the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee is, for questions like this it is still necessary to consult other translations when possible, if not the Tibetan text itself. The passage under discussion should be compared with Alex Wayman’s more literal translation, however faulty it may be in other respects, found in Calming the Mind and Discerning the Real, pp. 255-256 (also included in the attached “Lam rim chen mo on svabhāva”). Wayman here either retains the term svabhāva (rang bzhin) in his translation, or translates it as “self-existence,” which he gives in his glossary. This makes much clearer what is actually being said in Tsongkhapa’s Tibetan text. Interpretations from the Four Interwoven Annotations (Wayman’s Mchan or Ja, see p. 71) are given only in notes (e.g., note 139 referring to p. 233, corresponding to p. 173 of the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee translation, where occurs the second example of “final nature” that I discussed above). For grub pa, “established,” Wayman uses the translation “accomplished.” So for “established by svabhāva,” Wayman gives “accomplished by self-existence.”

Here follows the Tibetan passage corresponding to the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee’s English translation, vol. 3, p. 197, last six lines, to p. 198, first thirty-one lines (attached above). I have added some English words in blue to help with following the text. As occurring in this translation, I have inserted the words “nature,” “intrinsic nature,” and “final nature” in red after the Tibetan term it translates, also putting these in red. The Tibetan word that these three translate is the same: “rang bzhin,” Sanskrit svabhāva. I have also put in green the qualifier grub pa (“established”), added by Tsongkhapa in one of the paragraphs, since this was not translated separately.

As said above, and now can be seen, the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee here departs from its usual translation of rang bzhin as “intrinsic nature,” and translates it several times as only “nature.” These occur in quotations from Nāgārjuna (p. 195, Tibetan not given here) and Candrakīrti, where we know that the original Sanskrit word is svabhāva, and where in earlier quotations from these writers it was translated as “intrinsic nature” (see footnote below). Then it switches back to “intrinsic nature” when Tsongkhapa added the qualifier grub pa to rang bzhin. Then again, it uses “final nature,” in a quotation from Candrakīrti where we know that he only had svabhāva, and Tsongkhapa’s text citing him has only rang bzhin. This interpretive translation came from the later Four Woven Annotations. Lastly, in following this passage, we must also know that when svabhāva is defined as dharmatā (Tib. chos nyid), dharmatā is here translated as “reality.”










*For example, rang bzhin is translated as “intrinsic nature” in these places: pp. 131, 137, 147, 191, quoting Nāgārjuna’s Vigraha-vyāvartanī, verses 1, 22, 26cd, 26, respectively, and pp. 143, 149, quoting Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā 17.30, 24.11, respectively, and p. 157, quoting Catuḥśataka-ṭīkā 13.21 or 321. These Sanskrit texts are extant, and svabhāva can be seen in them.

Category: Dhatu | No comments yet


From Svabhāva to Dharmatā to Dhātu

By David Reigle on March 30, 2012 at 5:52 am

In my post titled “Notes on the Denial of Svabhāva in Mahāyāna Buddhism,” Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā (chapter 15, verse 2) was quoted saying that svabhāva, “inherent nature,” is ultimately only in the range of the āryas (those who have achieved the “path of seeing”). Candrakīrti had earlier quoted this same verse and the preceding one from Nāgārjuna, in his Madhyamakāvatāra-bhāṣya. Here in his commentary a questioner asks Candrakīrti if the kind of svabhāva accepted by Nāgārjuna exists. He replies that it is the dharmatā, literally, “dharma-ness,” often translated as “true nature.” In giving this reply, Candrakīrti quotes the famous catechism-like phrase, “Whether Tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this dharma-ness [dharmatā] of dharmas remains.”

As noted in the introductory post to the “key subject” of dhātu, titled “Basic Space, the One Element, the dhātu,” this phrase more often says that the dhātu remains. But the dharmatā is a common variant. They are used as synonyms in this phrase. So we have this ultimate svabhāva, “inherent nature,” defined as dharmatā, “true nature,” which is here the same as dhātu, “element,” or “basic space.” Here is Candrakīrti’s passage, again as accurately translated by William L. Ames, in “The Notion of Svabhāva in the Thought of Candrakīrti” (previously linked), p. 163. Candrakīrti begins by quoting Nāgārjuna’s two verses:

“The arising of svabhāva through causes and conditions is not right. A svabhāva arisen from causes and conditions would be artificial (kṛtaka). (15-1)

“But how will svabhāva be called artificial? For svabhāva is non-contingent (akṛtrima) and without dependence on another. (15-2)

“[Question:] But does there exist a svabhāva of the sort defined by the ācārya [Nāgārjuna] in the treatise [Mūlamadhyamakakārikās], which is accepted by the ācārya? [Answer:] What is called dharma-ness (chos nyid, dharmatā) exists, regarding which the Blessed One said, “Whether Tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this dharma-ness of dharmas remains,” etc. [Question:] But what is this which is called dharma-ness? [Answer:] The svabhāva of these [dharmas], such as the eye. [Question:] But what is their svabhāva? [Answer:] That which these have which is non-contingent and without dependence on another; [it is their] intrinsic nature, which is to be comprehended by cognition free from the ophthalmia of misknowledge. Who [would] ask whether that exists or not? If it did not exist, for what purpose would bodhisattvas cultivate the path of the perfections? Because [it is] in order to comprehend that dharma-ness [that] bodhisattvas undertake hundreds of difficult [actions].”

Category: Dhatu | 2 comments


Notes on the Denial of Svabhāva in Mahāyāna Buddhism

By David Reigle on March 20, 2012 at 3:24 am

The sympathy toward the Gelugpa order of Tibetan Buddhism shown by the Theosophical teachers in their writings has long been well-known among students of Theosophy. The fact that Gelugpas deny that anything in the universe has any svabhāva has in the last few decades become well-known in the world outside of Tibet. If the term svabhāva and its idea in fact play a central role in the Book of Dzyan, we have a conflict of ideas that will be of considerable interest to students of Theosophy to follow out. We may look at a few selected items pertaining to the idea of svabhāva and how it was perceived over the centuries, drawn from the many sources that have now become available.

The Gelugpa understanding that Tsongkhapa’s denial of svabhāva applies to absolutely everything is nicely summed up by Thupten Jinpa, longtime translator for the Dalai Lama: “First and foremost, he [Tsongkhapa] wants to make it clear that the Mādhyamika’s rejection of svabhāva ontology must be unqualified and absolute. . . . The negation of svabhāva, i.e., intrinsic being, must be absolute and universal . . . .” (Attached: “Delineating Reason’s Scope for Negation: Tsongkhapa’s Contribution to Madhyamaka’s Dialectical Method,” p. 297.) The last sentence goes on to say, “yet it should not destroy the reality of the everyday world of experience.” When the Mahāyāna schools denied the svabhāva of the dharmas as taught in the so-called Hīnayāna schools, this denied the reality of the dharmas, which make up the world. Tsongkhapa wanted to preserve the conventional existence of the world. To do this, he taught that one must distinguish the svabhāva, understood as the ultimate existence of something, from that thing’s conventional existence. So when its ultimate existence is denied, its conventional existence is not denied. Things exist, but they do not inherently exist. He taught that clinging to any idea of ultimate existence prevents one from achieving enlightenment. Thus, there is only conventional existence, but nothing ultimately existing behind it. Conventional existence is the only reality. Nothing in the universe has “inherent existence.”

Today we hear much from Tibetan lamas about everything’s lack of “inherent existence,” which translates Tibetan ngo bo nyid or rang bzhin, which translates Sanskrit svabhāva. This meaning of svabhāva was singled out and made standard in philosophical discourse in Tibet by Tsongkhapa. The more basic meaning of svabhāva as “inherent nature” was eclipsed by it. In this way, the word svabhāva (in its Tibetan translations) became a charged term in philosophical discourse in Tibet. Noted scholar of Madhyamaka Buddhism David Seyfort Ruegg, in his appreciation of Tsongkhapa’s contributions, describes this narrowing down of the meaning of svabhāva to the idea of “inherent existence,” or as he translates it, “self-nature/self-existence”: “Sometimes, moreover, Tsoṅ kha pa has narrowed down the meaning of a word, making, e.g., raṅ bźin/ṅo bo ñid (Skt. svabhāva) regularly and systematically denote ‘self-nature/self-existence’, and bracketing out other, less technical, usages of this word even though attested in Nāgārjuna’s text (e.g. Madhyamakakārikās xv.1-2) and, occasionally, in his own literal comments.” (Attached: “The Indian and the Indic in Tibetan Cultural History, and Tsoṅ kha pa’s Achievement as a Scholar and Thinker: An Essay on the Concepts of Buddhism in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism,” p. 338.)

This means that for writers who preceded Tsongkhapa, including the Jonangpa teacher Dolpopa, svabhāva did have all the implications that it acquired as “inherent existence,” and it did not have the emotional charge in philosophical discourse that it later acquired. In Dolpopa’s major work, the extensive Mountain Doctrine, it is rarely used (only in about nine places, as opposed to, for example, hundreds of occurrences of “emptiness”), and it is used casually (none of these put it forth pointedly, and four of these are in quotations of other texts). The translator, Jeffrey Hopkins, recognized this difference in meaning and implication, and here switched from what had been his usual translation, “inherent existence,” to “inherent nature.” It was up to later Jonangpa writers, when the thought climate in Tibet had changed, to argue for it philosophically.

This is equally true for Indian Buddhist writers, who of course all preceded Tsongkhapa. We have already seen that Haribhadra, who Tsongkhapa regarded as the foremost commentator on the Perfection of Wisdom texts, spoke of the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu (however he may have understood this). The Madhyamaka writer who Tsongkhapa relied on above all, Candrakīrti, was willing to say in his Madhyamakāvatāra-bhāṣya, as accurately translated by William L. Ames: “Ultimate reality (don dam pa, paramārtha) for the Buddhas is svabhāva itself. That, moreover, because it is nondeceptive is the truth of ultimate reality. It must be known by each of them for himself (so so rang gis rig par bya ba, pratyātmavedya).” (Attached: “The Notion of Svabhāva in the Thought of Candrakīrti,” p. 162. The quotation is from Candrakīrti’s own commentary on his Madhyamakāvatāra, chapter 6, verse 28. The Tibetan edition that William Ames refers to has for this: sangs rgyas rnams kyi don dam pa ni rang bzhin nyid yin zhing | de yang bslu ba med pa nyid kyis don dam pa’i bden pa yin la | de ni de rnams kyi so so[r] rang gis rig par bya ba yin no.)

While Candrakīrti differed radically from his Buddhist Sarvāstivāda compatriots, in that he totally denied any svabhāva in any existent thing (bhāva), his last sentence just quoted apparently agreed with them: “It must be known by each of them for himself (pratyātmavedya).” In ultimate reality, svabhāva can only be personally known (pratyātmavedya) by the buddhas. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, here representing the Sarvāstivāda position, says about nirvāṇa, as accurately translated by K. Dhammajoti: “Its self-nature [svabhāva] can only be personally realized [pratyātmavedya] by the ārya.” (Attached: “The Sarvāstivāda Conception of Nirvāṇa,” p. 348. The quotation is from Vasubandhu’s own commentary on his Abhidharmakośa, chapter 2, verse 55. The Sanskrit from P. Pradhan’s 1975 edition, p. 92, lines 2-3, is: āryair eva tat-svabhāvaḥ pratyātma-vedyaḥ.)

Candrakīrti returns to this idea in his explanation of svabhāva in his Prasannapadā commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā, chapter 15, verse 2. There he again says that svabhāva is ultimately only in the range of the āryas (translated by William Ames, ibid., p. 169): “This is what has been said: The whole class of entities is apprehended through the power of the ophthalmia of misknowledge. With whatever nature [that class] becomes an object — by means of non-seeing — for the āryas, [who are] free from the ophthalmia of misknowledge, just that intrinsic nature is determined to be the svabhāva of these [entities].”

In the whole of the Sanskrit Buddhist writings known to me, quite the clearest and fullest explanation of this svabhāva that is accessible only to the āryas (the buddhas and bodhisattvas) is found in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi. This text is part of the massive Yogācāra-bhūmi, attributed by Chinese tradition to Maitreya, and attributed by Tibetan tradition to Asaṅga. There, in its “Reality” (tattvārtha) chapter, the inexpressible (nirabhilāpya) inherent nature (svabhāva) of all dharmas is described. Several pages from this chapter were translated into German by Erich Frauwallner and published in his 1956 book, Die Philosophie des Buddhismus. This book was translated into English and published in 2010 as The Philosophy of Buddhism. These pages from the Bodhisattvabhūmi on inexpressible svabhāva in English translation are attached. The sphere or object of the knowledge or wisdom of the buddhas and bodhisattvas is there translated as “the inexpressible nature [svabhāva] of all factors [dharmas].”

We may note that the Bodhisattva-bhūmi speaks of the inexpressible svabhāva of all dharmas, not of the dharma-dhātu, or of nirvāṇa. As we know, the Mahāyāna schools, both Madhyamaka and Yogācāra, denied that the dharmas have svabhāva, as was taught in the so-called Hīnayāna schools, such as the Sarvāstivāda. It may be this inexpressible svabhāva of the dharmas that the Sarvāstivāda school was originally referring to, and they did so by teaching that the svabhāva of the dharmas always exists. We may prefer to accept that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu, as the Mahāyāna writer Haribhadra said. Then insofar as a dharma, an attribute or property, is not different from what it is an attribute or property of, what can be said about one can be said about the other. That is, we can just as well speak of the inexpressible svabhāva of the dharmas as of the dharma-dhātu. By the time of the Sarvāstivāda writings we have, this school taught that the many dharmas each had an individual svabhāva of its own, and this Nāgārjuna felt obliged to deny. Yet the original understanding of svabhāva by the earliest Sarvāstivādins may not have differed from the inexpressible svabhāva taught by Maitreya/Asaṅga, or even from the svabhāva that can only be personally known (pratyātmavedya) by the āryas accepted by Nāgārjuna according to Candrakīrti.

The fact is that, despite all the affirmations of all the Mādhyamika Buddhists on earth that we do, we do not know for sure what Nāgārjuna meant in his Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā. This is because his own commentary thereon is inexplicably lost. Similarly, we do not know for sure what Maitreya meant in his Abhisamayālaṃkāra, because the commentary thereon by Asaṅga (who he taught it to), is inexplicably lost. The Theosophical Mahatmas claim to have all such lost texts. The idea of svabhāva found in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan may not conflict with the idea of svabhāva found in these texts. We can only hope that, as our habitual tendencies toward sectarian biases slowly subside, these texts will again be made available.

Category: Svabhavat | 4 comments


The Svâbhâvakâya or Svâbhâvikakâya in Mahayana Teachings

By Jacques Mahnich on March 10, 2012 at 1:09 am


Most of the Tibetan Buddhism Schools have teachings about a svabhavakâya or svabhavikakâya, named either the third or fourth kaya, sometimes described as the sum of the other ones, sometimes as the basis for the other ones.

1) Nyingma School

From « The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel : The Practice of Guru Yoga According to the Longchen Nyingthig Tradition  (Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa)» :

« Receiving the Four Enpowerments – This fourth or word initiation is the introduction to the natural state of all phenomena ; through it we become a proper vessel for the practice of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection…It is the ultimate buddhahood, the indivisibility of the three kayas, or the svabhavikakaya, the body of the true nature.

2) Kagyu Schools
From « Mahamudra and related instructions  – Core Teachings of the Kagyu Schools» :

The Svabhavakaya : This is great peace and is the nature of all phenomena. It is attained through the power of the dharmakaya, through realisation. The vajrayana calls this the body of great bliss (mahâsukhakâya) because its distinctive quality is supreme, unchanging bliss. Ârya Nâgârjuna has said : « I pay homage to that which is free from the activity of the three realms ; which is the equality of space ; which is the nature of all things ;… Praise to the Three Kâyas (Kayâtrayastotra), Toh 1123, Tengyur, bstod tshogs,ka,70b3.

Other references to the svabhavakâya (from the same book) :

« The svabhavakâya is the dharmakaya of the tathâgatas, because it is the locus of power over everything. » Asanga – Mâhâyanasamgraha, Toh 4048, Tengyur, sems tsam, ri, 37a4. The Tibetan adds the word « phenomena » to make « power over all phenomena »

«  The categories of the kâyas of the buddhas : There is the svabhava, the sambogha, and the other kâya is the nirmâna. The first is the basis for the other two. » Sûtrâlamkâra 10:60,11a7.

« The svabhavakâya is equal and subtle. » Sûtrâlamkâra 10:62,11b1. The Dergé Tengyur has « Rang bzhin sku ni mnyam pa dang »

« The first kâya (svabhavakaya) has the qualities of liberation, such as the powers and so on ». Sublime Continuum, 3:2,65b2

From Jamgön Kongtrul – The Treasury of Knowledge :

Talking about the results of practice : « The uncommon transformation is that the physical channels transform into the nirmanakaya, the channel syllabes into sambhogakaya, the constituent elixir into dharmakaya and great bliss, and the core energy current of pristine awareness transform into the svabhavikakâya. »

« … svabhavikakâya is characterized as emptiness, which is to say, the nature of all phenomena, a nature that is free of all elaboration and completely pure ; »

«  There are four kayas when one adds the svabhâvikakâya (enlightened dimension of the very essence of being itself) of innate presence, or mahâsukhâya, to the three kayas.

3) Sakya Schools

From the Vajra Lines of the Path with the Results (Virupa) – Explication of the Treatise for Nyak :

« The naturally spontaneous, utterly pure svâbhâvikakâya essence body is achieved. The result is perfected. »

«  The fourth initiation dissolves the pulsations of the vital winds…The vital winds are transformed and ‘omnipresent enlightened body, speech, and mind, the svâbhâvikakâya essence body’, is actualized. »


These descriptions , root texts and commentaries are supporting the idea highlighted about the principle of svabhava in Mahayana Buddhism, as not relative to a permanent quality, but rather as an essence. It is often described as the nature of the phenomena, as a basis, never as eternal.


Category: Svabhavat | 1 comment


The Connection to a Svabhāva Teaching in Buddhism

By David Reigle on March 9, 2012 at 6:08 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: http://www.jonangpa.com/node/1235). 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.

Category: Svabhavat | 3 comments


A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?, part 3

By David Reigle on March 5, 2012 at 5:25 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.

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?, part 2

By David Reigle on March 4, 2012 at 6:02 am

Despite the early dominance of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism, we no longer hear of the Sarvāstivāda doctrine, because only schools of Buddhism that opposed it exist at present. Neither current books on Buddhism nor modern Buddhist teachers tell us that Buddhism once taught, “all exists” (sarvam asti). The early schools of Buddhism were all in general agreement that the dharmas are real, real existents or substances (dravya), and thus that they each have a svabhāva, an inherent nature. For, as put by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti (Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, p. 65), “What is real is what has a svabhāva.” But while the Sarvāstivādins taught that the dharmas exist throughout the three time periods, the early schools who opposed them taught that the dharmas, although real, do not exist for more than a moment, much less throughout the three time periods. The dharmas along with their svabhāvas arise, exist, and perish, all in a moment. This is the doctrine we find today in the Theravāda school, which has survived up to the present in Southeast Asian countries.

The basic teaching of the early Buddhist schools, that the dharmas are real and thus have a svabhāva, was then denied by the Mahāyāna schools. For the Mahāyāna schools, the dharmas are not real existents or substances (dravya). This was denied by denying that the dharmas have svabhāva. Thus, we have their famous statements that all dharmas or phenomena are empty of or lack svabhāva, an inherent nature or inherent existence. To the often repeated statements of one of these schools that no svabhāva is ultimately findable anywhere, the Sarvāstivādins would reply that the svabhāva of a dharma is, in ultimate truth, exactly what IS findable, and the only thing that is findable. This is clearly stated in the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya by Vasubandhu, chapter 6, verse 4. Vasubandhu introduces this verse by asking what is the definition of the two truths, conventional truth and ultimate truth (or relative truth and absolute truth). The verse concisely states these (translated by Poussin and Pruden): “The idea of a jug ends when the jug is broken; the idea of water ends when, in the mind, one analyzes the water. The jug and the water, and all that resembles them, exist relatively. The rest exist absolutely.” The bhāṣya or commentary explains as follows, skipping to the explanation of ultimate or absolute truth (translated directly from Sanskrit by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, p. 67; words in single brackets are his, while words in double brackets have been added by me):

“Absolute truth (paramārthasatya) is other than this [[conventional or relative truth]]. Therein, even when [a thing] has been broken, the cognition of it definitely arises and likewise, even when its [constituent] dharma-s are removed mentally—that is [to be understood as] an absolute existent (paramārthasat). For instance rūpa: for, therein, when the thing is broken into the atoms (paramāṇuśaḥ), and when the [constituent] dharma-s taste, etc., have been removed mentally, the cognition of the intrinsic nature [[svabhāva]] of rūpa definitely arises. Vedanā, etc., are also to be seen in the same way. This is called absolute truth as the existence is in the absolute sense (etat paramārthena bhāvāt paramārthasatyam iti).”

After analyzing a jug and water and mentally removing the imputations of jug and water, we see that the jug and water only exist in conventional or relative truth. But then, in ultimate or absolute truth, “the cognition of the intrinsic nature [svabhāva] of rūpa definitely arises” (rūpasya svabhāva-buddhir bhavaty eva). This ultimate or absolute truth, Vasubandhu goes on to tell us, is cognized by supramundane or trans-worldly knowledge (lokottara-jñāna), or by the kind of mundane knowledge (laukika-jñāna) that is obtained immediately following upon (tat-pṛṣṭha-labdha) an experience of supramundane knowledge in meditation. This, he reports, is the teaching of the ancient masters (pūrvācārya).

The very same criterion for ultimate or absolute truth is accepted by the Mahāyāna schools. One must then wonder why some āryas who have the capacity of supramundane knowledge are reported to cognize svabhāva, while other āryas who have the capacity of supramundane knowledge are reportedly unable to find any svabhāva. This puts the now forgotten Sarvāstivāda doctrine on an equal footing with the now prevalent Mahāyāna doctrine. The fact of the Theosophical associations with Tibet, and that Tibet is a Mahāyāna country, does not oblige us to follow the Mahāyāna criticisms of Sarvāstivāda (which, as shown by Ryotai Fukuhara in his article, “On Svabhāvavāda,” sometimes misrepresent the Sarvāstivāda position). What we know is that the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan use the word svabhāva, that the Mahatma K.H. advised A. O. Hume to study the doctrines of the Svābhāvikas, that HPB in an 1877 letter said that her teacher “is a Buddhist, but not of the dogmatic Church, but belongs to the Svabhavikas” (The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, vol. 1, p. 353), and that in another 1877 letter she said about herself that “I am a Shwabhavika, a Buddhist Pantheist, if anything at all” (p. 370). We have more to learn about the svabhāva doctrine of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism.

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?

By David Reigle on March 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm

As already discussed here, the alleged Svābhāvika school of Buddhism in Nepal that is spoken of in many books on Buddhism, and also in Theosophical writings, turned out not to exist. Brian H. Hodgson had described this and three other alleged schools of Buddhism in Nepal in an article published in Asiatic Researches in 1828, later reprinted with other articles in his book, Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (London, 1874). The excerpts translated from Buddhist texts that he gave in support of this school (1874 ed., pp. 73-76) are also elusive, only a few of them yet having been traced from his early and expectedly faulty translations. The facts of the situation did not fully emerge until 161 years later, through 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). I was able to verify for myself what Gellner found, when in 1995 Nancy and I could study with Gautam Vajracharya, who comes from a prominent Buddhist teacher family in Nepal. But as we have often seen, even though references in Theosophical writings may be quite wrong, the ideas that these references are used to support may accurately represent the ideas intended by the Theosophical teachers.

The Mahatma letters were often written by chelas such as H. P. Blavatsky at the behest of the Theosophical Mahatma teachers, much like when an executive today may tell a secretary to write such and such in a letter to someone. The secretary may have to draw upon currently available reference books when doing this. This explains many of the erroneous references that we find in these writings. But the ideas given are in a different category. These must be separated out. One of the most important Theosophical statements on the Svābhāvikas was given in Mahatma letter #22, by or on behalf of Mahatma K.H., writing to A. O. Hume in 1882: “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.”

The reference to “the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India” is a bit incongruous in reference to Svābhāvikas in Nepal. As I have suggested earlier (Book of Dzyan Research Report #3, 1997, p. 6), this may actually refer to the Sarvāstivāda school in old India (see also Book of Dzyan Research Report #4, 1997, pp. 2-3, 24). Today we have an important source on these early Buddhists, titled Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, by Bhikkhu K. L. Dhammajoti (Colombo, 2002; 2nd rev. ed. 2004; 3rd rev. and enl. ed., Hong Kong, 2007; 4th rev. ed. 2009). Although there has not been any Buddhist school in India for about a thousand years, the Sarvāstivāda school was once “the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India.” In the book, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, we read (4th ed., p. 56): “The Sarvāstivāda remained the most powerful and influential school in north-western India from around the beginning of the Common Era to about the 7th century C.E.” Moreover (p. 60), “According to the *Samayabhedoparacanacakra, most of the early Buddhist sects had accepted the doctrine of sarvāstitva, even though they seem to have disputed endlessly on what it really meant for them in each case.” The distinctive Sarvāstivāda doctrine is that “all exists” (sarva asti, sarvāsti, sarvāstitva). This means that all dharmas, all the factors of existence, exist in the past, the present, and the future. They do this by way of their svabhāva, their inherent nature, which remains the same throughout the three time periods. In this sense, the Sarvāstivādins may be considered Svābhāvikas, and their doctrine has been described as a svabhāvavāda (Ryotai Fukuhara, “On Svabhāvavāda”), although neither they nor other Buddhist schools called them Svābhāvikas.

(to be continued)

Category: Svabhavat | 1 comment


Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 2

By David Reigle on February 27, 2012 at 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.

Category: Svabhavat | 6 comments


Svabhâva in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ

By Jacques Mahnich on February 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Sri Aurobindo, in his “Essays on the Gîtâ”, use the Svabhâva term to comment on different verses , and one verse includes the use of “svabhavo” :

– comments on VII.7 : “It is the supreme nature of the Spirit, the infinite powerful consciousness of his being,…this supreme quality is the essential power, stable, original, the svabhâva….In this divine relationship of the divine bhava to svabhâva, et from svabhâva to bhava, …”

– comments on VII.8 : “It is the essential quality in its spiritual power which make the svabhâva [of Prakriti]…”

– comments on VII.10 : “The Dharma, says also the Gîta, is action driven by the svabhâva, the essential of each nature”

Verse VIII.3 uses the term svabhavo :

“śrī bhagavān uvāca

akṣaraṁ brahma paramaṁ

svabhāvo ‘dhyātmam ucyate



Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda

By David Reigle on at 9:01 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)

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


Why the Form Svabhavat in Theosophical Writings

By David Reigle on February 23, 2012 at 5:50 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.

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


The Meaning of Svabhāva

By David Reigle on February 22, 2012 at 4:18 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.

Category: Svabhavat | 2 comments


The Svabhāva Teaching Not to Be Attributed to Buddhism Today

By David Reigle on February 20, 2012 at 9:21 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: http://www.easterntradition.org/foundations%207.pdf). 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.

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


Svâbhâvat, Swâbhâvat or Svâbhâva

By Jacques Mahnich on February 18, 2012 at 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)

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet


Svābhāvat, svabhāvāt, and svabhāva

By David Reigle on February 17, 2012 at 4:56 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.

Category: Svabhavat | No comments yet