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 In this same article, entitled An Unpublished Discourse of Buddha, in a note on the same page, Sien-Chan seems to be identified with Nam-Kha, which is Tibetan for sky, heaven: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.

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