KH’s Quotation from the Ratnagotravibhāga

By Ingmar de Boer on August 30, 2018 at 10:50 pm

1. What is so interesting about the Ratnagotravibhāga?

In the process of writing The Secret Doctrine, HPB started out writing a short history of occultism to show that that in different times a “universal secret doctrine” was known to many “philosophers and initiates”, and to describe the mysteries and some rites. This became a “large introductory volume”, and in a second and third volume, she described the evolution of cosmos and man respectively. In a letter to A.P. Sinnett (BL p. 195, letter LXXX dated March 3, 1886) she wrote that every section of the book started with a page of translation from the Book of Dzyan and the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha”. The initial “first” volume was not published until 1893, after HPB’s death, as a third volume to The Secret Doctrine, but in that volume there are also no translations to be found from this Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha”. In the final 1888 version of The Secret Doctrine, we find indeed fragments from the Book of Dzyan, but not from the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha”.

From the letter to Sinnett we can derive that the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha” is an unknown version of the so-called “five books of Maitreya”. One of the known “five books” of Maitreya is the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV), otherwise known as the Uttaratantra. Finding a reference to any of these five books would be interesting since at some point during the conception of The Secret Doctrine apparently the Mahātmas found the secret versions of these books of similar importance as a source for The Secret Doctrine (SD) as the Book of Dzyan itself.

2. A description of KH’s note

In the collection of Western Manuscripts in the British Library, in the seventh and last volume of the “Mahatma Papers” (Add MS 45289 B) we find a small note, folio number 268b, which was, according to A. Trevor Barker (ML p. xlvii), enclosed together with Mahātma Letter number XCII (96). (The Barker number is set in Roman style, followed by the chronological number of Vic Hao Chin Jr. in Arabic style between parentheses.) In their work Blavatsky’s Secret Books (p. 106), David and Nancy Reigle describe the text as a quotation from the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV chapter I verse 21), identified as such by the Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche. This is an colour impression of the note on the basis of ML p. xlvii:

The size is about 3-3.5 cm (1.25″) high, and 11.5 cm (4.5″) wide. At the bottom it is cut off with scissors or a sharp knife. The paper looks like part of an envelope. The verso side shows a monogram BLR or BRL on top of a ribbon bearing the appropriate text “Knowledge is power”, perhaps the logo of the paper or envelope manufacturer. Thin rice paper or librarian’s tape is attached to it. The paper was folded in three after it was cut off. It was written on after it was cut off.

The first line is unmistakably in KH’s “large script” handwriting. There is a horizontal line in the middle from left to right, which is part of the note, in blue pencil. Note that this line is not reproduced in the image, above.

Moreover, in ML (p. xlvii), Barker mentions that the note was enclosed with letter XCII (96), but in the manuscript book in the British Library there is an envelope with the note having folio numbers 268a and 268b, suggesting that the note was in a separate envelope. These folio numbers were assigned by a library employee at a later date. It is therefore unclear what was in envelope 268a.

The note shows three different scripts:

  1. The first script is in KH’s handwriting, in blue pencil. The two lines are a phonetic rendering of the second line, which is in Tibetan.
  2. The second script is Tibetan dbu can script. dBu can is not so much used for handwriting, as it is for printing or artwork. It is written in an uncoordinated manner, as if by someone who did not use this script on a daily basis. Perhaps the line was copied from a dpe cha leaf.
  3. The third is a small roman script handwriting, representing an English translation of the second line. Although the last line is written in the same pencil colour as the other lines, comparison shows that the third line is not the same handwriting. It could perhaps be KH’s, but it is very different from the script used in the top line. It is definitely not HPB’s or Sinnett’s.

Transcribing the three lines, we have:

1. Tampö tön-tu dau = wa yin Kyab ni Sang-gye nyag chik yin

2. Tibetan text

3. The only refuge for him who aspires to true perfection is Buddha alone

3. Analysis of the Tibetan text

Comparing the Tibetan line with the Tibetan version of the RGV, we can see one difference: the first “yin” is rendered “yi” in the RGV. A Wylie transliteration from the RGV in I.21 would be:

dam pa’i don du ‘gro ba yi, , skyabs ni sangs rgyas nyag gcig yin, ,

An English translation of the RGV from Tibetan by Eugene Obermiller has been published in 1931 (The Sublime Science […], Acta Orientalia IX, pp. 81-306):

In the absolute sense, the refuge
Of all living beings is only the Buddha.

This translation is not exactly the same as the one in KH’s note. Interestingly the main difference is in the phrase ‘gro ba yin, translated as “for him who aspires”. On the basis of ‘gro ba yi, instead of ‘gro ba yin, the most obvious translation would be “of living beings”. The primary meaning of ‘gro ba is “going” or “moving”, and from there the meaning of living or transmigrating beings is derived.

In 1935 and 1937, the discovery by the famous Rahul Sāṃkṛtyāyan of two partial Sanskrit manuscripts of the RGV was made public.

Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, vols. XXI, p. 31 (III. Ṣalu monastery, vol. XI-5, No. 43) and XXIII, p. 34 (VII. Ṣalu monastery, vol. XIII-5, No. 242):

No. 43 Mahāyānottaratantra (author “Maitreyanātha”) in Śāradā script, 202/3×21/3 ‘, Incomplete

No. 242 Mahāyānottaratantra-ṭīkā (author “Asaṅga”?) in Māgadhī script 121/2×17/8 ‘, 54 leaves, Incomplete

In Sanskrit, the first half of verse I.21 is:

jagaccharaṇamekatra buddhatvaṃ pāramārthikam /

We might translate this as:

Ultimately, Buddhahood is the only refuge of living (transmigrating) beings,

where the Sanskrit equivalent of ‘gro ba is jagat, derived from the root gam, “to go”, and also meaning “that which is alive”, “living beings”, “the world”.

Perhaps there is a Tibetan manuscript of the RGV to be found, or a Tanjur edition, where the phrase ‘gro ba yin is erroneously used instead of ‘gro ba yi.

The transcription at the beginning of the note may be used to find an indication for the Tibetan dialect used. At first sight it looks like Central Tibetan, the dialect of the province of dbus gcang, which in the present time could be considered “standard Tibetan”.

4. The circumstances of letter XCII (96)

The text “KH’s three words” on the envelope of letter XCII (96) is not in KH’s typical handwriting. If KH would have written this, it would have been strange that he addresses himself in the third person. It is similar to Sinnett’s handwriting, therefore the date on the envelope, November 23, 1882, may represent the date of reception.

In the chronological edition on p. 335, Vicente Hao Chin Jr. tells us that in November 1882, Sinnett was given notice of termination of his services as editor of The Pioneer. This corresponds to p. 34 of Sinnett’s autobiography, published in 1986. In the chronology in the Readers’ Guide to the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett (Linton and Hanson, 2nd ed. 1988, note: this chronology is different from the 1st ed. 1972), we can see that on March 30, 1883, the Sinnetts set sail for England.

In the letter XCII (96) itself, three passwords are given for the purpose of being able to authenticate future communication with the Mahātmas, and it is mentioned that Sinnett would need the passwords in London. This means that on November 23, 1882, it was known to KH that Sinnett would go to London.

Letter XCII (96) is actually only a postscript to letter LXXII (95). Of this letter it is also unclear when exactly it was received, but it is plausible that it was received in November 1882.

According to the “Reader’s Guide” it was received in (early) November 1882. According to Margaret Conger in the “Combined Chronology”, it was received in Allahabad in March 1882. However in the letter is spoken of a meeting which was held in December 1882, which makes it more likely that it was sent in November. Further, the envelope of the postscript is dated November 23, and there many other letters sent from KH to Sinnett from March to November. In this case it would have been a postscript to letter XCI. The KH-letters received by Sinnett in November were according to Conger: CXIX (ML p. 451), LXXIX (ML p. 382) (>= Nov. 17th), LXXX (ML p. 383) (>= Nov. 17th), XCIa (ML p. 415), XCIb (ML p. 416), and XCII (ML p. 419). In the chronological numbering only letters 95 (Barker LXXII) and 96 (Barker XCII) were received in November. This seems quite a difference! I have not taken the time to investigate this further.

Why was letter XCII (96) sent as a postscript and not as a separate letter? Letter LXXII (95) does not reflect the knowledge of Sinnett’s imminent leaving for England. The postscript mentions: “be prepared for it [that is forging of the handwritings of the Mahātmas] in London”. The topic of the letter, what went on in the lodge in Allahabad, has now become less relevant for Sinnett, because he has decided to leave India. We can imagine therefore, that the information of Sinnett’s leaving has reached KH just after he wrote the letter, prompting the need for a postscript.

Why was the note written, and why was it sent to Sinnett in the envelope of letter XCII? It was written because the author, KH, had this text in written Tibetan and wished to know for himself or someone else how it was pronounced, perhaps to memorise it or use as a mantra. The note was sent, most probably by KH, to be of use to Sinnett. It was already clear to KH that their relationship would change drastically when Sinnett would move to London. It seems that sending this line from the RGV is a gesture, a token of sympathy and brotherly support. We can use this text ourselves as a mantra for the purpose of realising the quality of taking refuge in only in the ultimate truth.

Epilogue: more on KH’s note

Antonios Goyios has discovered that the Tibetan phrase is taken not from the Tanjur, but from a Western book, A Manual of Tibetan, written by T.H. Lewin, published in 1879 in Calcutta. Goyios published his discovery already in his 2009 article entitled Tracing the Source of Tibetan Phrases Found in Mahatma Letters #54 and #92 to be found on Daniel Caldwell’s web site “Blavatsky Archives”:


On p. 134 of A Manual of Tibetan (exercise 97, example 11) we find the following:


For our “Tampö tön-tu dau = wa yin Kyab ni Sang-gye nyag chik yin” we find “Tàm-pö tön-tu dau-wa yin kyab ni sang-gye nya chi yin”, which is close. In the margin, the words newly introduced are listed, and dau-wa (‘gro ba) is listed as “animal”, which is not found in the translation. The Tibetan text as well as the transcription have yin instead of yi.

In a footnote Goyios remarks: “It should perhaps be noted at this point that the part of example 11 preceding the quotation found on Mahatma letter #92, although apparently in mutual context with it’s latter part (which seems like a natural continuation), is not to be found in the vicinity of Ratna-gotra-vibhaga, chapter 1, verse 21 (or 20). Whether it is to be found in another part of the same work remains to be known, although it appears that example 11 as found in “Manual of Tibetan” is a compilation from more than one particular source.”

It may also be interesting to know that the lama who cooperated in making the Manual, came from the monastery of “Pemiongchi”, or Pema Yangtse (pa dma yang rtse), which is located in Sikkim, not too far North of Darjeeling. (at 27°18’19”.00 N 88°15’6″.87 E) HPB had met KH in Sikkim early November. She was staying in Darjeeling, and they had met in Phari Dzong (phag ri, around 29°45′ N 89° 10’ E), again, not too far from Darjeeling and Pema Yangtse, across the border in Tibet. (103 km/64 miles as the crow flies) Still the line is very beautiful and can be used as a mantra, albeit not one directly from the Ratnagotravibhāga, but from A Manual of Tibetan… •




Category: Five Books of Maitreya, Mahatma Letters, Ratnagotravibhaga | 3 comments


The Signature of Koot Hoomi in Mahatma Letter IV

By Ingmar de Boer on June 26, 2018 at 10:26 pm

In “The Orthography and Pronunciation of ‘Koot Hoomi’”1 we have derived a Sanskrit orthography of the name, as kuthumi or kuṭhumi, written in devanāgarī as कुथुमि or कुठुमि.2 There is however another source for the orthography of the name, in Mahatma Letter IV (Chronologically No. 5).3 KH’s signature is written there, besides in roman script, in devanāgarī:

The first thing we may notice looking at the signature, is that it is not a rendering of Sanskrit, but of a modern Indian language like Hindi, where the implicit a- or shwa-sound in consonants is dropped under specific circumstances. Without accounting for this shwa deletion, the signature would read kuṭhahūmī lālasiṅha. There are some peculiarities to the letters, probably due to the specific hand of KH, but if we interpret the signature, rendering it in standard devanāgarī, it is written कुटहूमी लालसिंह, and, accounting for shwa deletion, it would read kuṭhūmī lālsiṅh in roman (IAST) transliteration.

There are three differences to what we have found earlier:

  1. The ṭh sound in “Koot Hoomi” is not written using the single consonant ṭha, but using the two consonants ṭa and ha. Perhaps this might suggest a different origin than the Sanskrit kuthumi/kuṭhumi, contrary to the reference to the Viṣṇupurāṇa in The Theosophist.1, 2
  2. The u-sound in “Hoomi” is long instead of short, making the accent shift to the syllable “Hoo”, in accordance with the common pronunciation.
  3. The i-sound in “Hoomi” is long instead of short.

There are other signatures of KH in the Mahatma Letters in other interesting-looking scripts, and perhaps more information on the orthography and correct pronunciation is to be derived from those.


  1. http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/the-orthography-and-pronunciation-of-koot-hoomi/
  2. R. Ragoonath Row, “The Puranas on the Dynasties of the Moryas and the Koothoomi” in The Theosophist Vol. V No. 3 (December 1883), p. 99, later published in “Five Years of Theosophy” p. 482-484, and still later in CW VI, 40-42
  3. The Theosophy Wiki: http://theosophy.wiki/en/Mahatma_Letter_No._5



Category: Mahatma Letters | 3 comments


Mahatma Letters Problems in Transmission

By David Reigle on June 30, 2017 at 11:15 pm

As explained by Blavatsky, the vast majority of the Mahatma letters were written by chelas who functioned as amanuenses for the Mahatma author.1 This ranged from taking direct dictation from the Mahatma (usually telepathically), to clothing the ideas given by the Mahatma in the words of the chela, to the chelas themselves providing the ideas when given only a general directive. Naturally, this led to problems when the chela amanuensis was unfamiliar with the subject matter, such as when a Hindu chela had to write on a Buddhist subject.

An example of this may be seen in Mahatma letter #9, chronological #18, which was discussed here in the post, “A Mahatma Letters Puzzle” (March 31, 2017). In that Mahatma letter we read (3rd edition, p. 47): “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds—into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” In The New American Cyclopaedia entry on which this was based we read (p. 66): “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” The English of this latter sentence, taken by itself, is somewhat ambiguous. It is possible to take “rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way” as a unit. This is apparently how the chela amanuensis of the Mahatma letter took it, so that he or she could speak of the “‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds.” However, this is not what the New American Cyclopaedia writer meant, nor is what Buddhism teaches.

As written earlier in this article by the New American Cyclopaedia writer (p. 65), Buddhism teaches these six gatis or ways of rebirth, those of: 1. the devas or gods; 2. men; 3. the asuras or bad genii; 4. animals; 5. pretas or monsters of hunger and thirst; 6. the denizens of hell. There is no “‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds” as the chela amanuensis understood it. The sentence by the New American Cyclopaedia writer should have been understood as “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth [pause] into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” This is an example of a problem in transmission apparently caused by a chela amanuensis who was not familiar with the Buddhist teachings. The Theosophical teachings may well hold that “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds,” but this is not “into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” The latter is not one of the six gatis or ways of rebirth taught in Buddhism.

At the conclusion of the post, “Some Mahatma Letters Sources” (April 30, 2017), I had written: “The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters are therefore often inaccurate on two counts: They are quotations from early and often unreliable translations; they are often altered to bring in esoteric teachings that are not stated in the Buddhist texts themselves.” To this we can add a third cause of inaccuracy: problems in transmission by chela amanuenses who are not familiar with the subject being discussed, and who therefore sometimes misunderstand the available sources that they are drawing upon.


  1. See Blavatsky’s letter and other related materials assembled in this file: Mahatma Letters, on writing of, HPB, etc.

Category: Mahatma Letters | No comments yet


Some Mahatma Letters Sources

By David Reigle on April 30, 2017 at 11:59 pm

The previous post, “A Mahatma Letters Puzzle,” ended with the statement: “The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters almost always come from then existing books, and therefore cannot be relied upon for accuracy.” This statement should be substantiated by more than just the one example given in that post (nirira namastaka = nirvva namastaka = nirvvānamastaka = nirvāṇa-mastaka, a ghost word). For this purpose we may look at the long and doctrinally important Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, called the “devachan letter” because it is the primary source for the Theosophical teachings on the after-death states including devachan (Tibetan, bde ba can).

Before the days of digital books and electronic searches, Doss McDavid noticed many parallels between the devachan letter and passages in an 1871 book by Samuel Beal, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese. He found that the quotations of Buddhist scriptures given in this letter come from this book. There would be no reason for the Mahatma to translate these passages himself. These letters were personal correspondence, not scholastic treatises, and were often written in haste. The Mahatma simply drew upon what was already available in order to help make his point.

From Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, 2nd ed. pp. 99-100, 3rd ed. pp. 97-98, chronological ed. pp. 189-190:

(1) The Deva-Chan, or land of “Sukhavati,” is allegorically described by our Lord Buddha himself. What he said may be found in the Shan-Mun-yi-Tung. Says Tathâgata:—
“Many thousand myriads of systems of worlds beyond this (ours) there is a region of Bliss called Sukhavati. . . . This region is encircled with seven rows of railings, seven rows of vast curtains, seven rows of waving trees; this holy abode of Arahats is governed by the Tathâgatas (Dhyan Chohans) and is possessed by the Bodhisatwas. It hath seven precious lakes, in the midst of which flow crystaline waters having ‘seven and one’ properties, or distinctive qualities (the 7 principles emanating from the ONE). This, O, Sariputra is the ‘Deva Chan.’ Its divine Udambara flower casts a root in the shadow of every earth, and blossoms for all those who reach it. Those born in the blessed region are truly felicitous, there are no more griefs or sorrows in that cycle for them. . . . Myriads of Spirits (Lha) resort there for rest and then return to their own regions.1 Again, O, Sariputra, in that land of joy many who are born in it are Avaivartyas . . .”2 etc., etc.


1. Those who have not ended their earth rings.
2. Literally—those who will never return—the seventh round men, etc.

From Beal’s Catena, pp. 378-379:

[Translated from the Chinese version of Kumârajîva, as it is found in the Shan-mun-yih-tung.] At this time Buddha addressed the venerable Sariputra as follows:—

“In the western regions more than one hundred thousand myriads of systems of worlds beyond this, there is a Sakwala named Sukhavatî. Why is this region so named? Because all those born in it have no griefs or sorrows: they experience only unmixed joys; therefore it is named the infinitely happy land. Again, Sariputra, this happy region is surrounded by seven rows of ornamental railings, seven rows of exquisite curtains, seven rows of waving trees—hence, again, it is called the infinitely happy region. Again, Sariputra, this happy land possesses seven gemmous lakes, in the midst of which flow waters possessed of the eight distinctive qualities . . . .

“Again, Sâriputra, the land of that Buddha ever shares in heavenly delights (or music), the ground is resplendent gold, at morning and evening showers of the Divine Udambara flower descend upon all those born there, at early dawn the most exquisite blossoms burst out at their side: thousand myriads of Buddhas instantly resort here for refreshment, and then return to their own regions, and for this reason, Sâriputra, that land is called most happy. . . .

“Again, Sâriputra, in that land of perfect joy all who are born, are born as Avaivartyas (never to return), . . .”

We notice that, or order to make his point, the Mahatma emphasized certain parts of this quotation by underlining (italics in the printed version), such as the word seven. But he also changed the quotation in order to make his point, changing Beal’s “eight distinctive qualities” to “‘seven and one’ properties, or distinctive qualities (the 7 principles emanating from the ONE).” Beal’s “at morning and evening showers of the Divine Udambara flower descend upon all those born there” became “Its divine Udambara flower casts a root in the shadow of every earth, and blossoms for all those who reach it.” Beal’s “all those born in it have no griefs or sorrows” was moved down and became “there are no more griefs or sorrows in that cycle for them.” Beal’s “thousand myriads of Buddhas instantly resort here for refreshment, and then return to their own regions” became “Myriads of Spirits (Lha) resort there for rest and then return to their own regions.1,” with the footnote “1. Those who have not ended their earth rings.” Beal’s “Again, Sâriputra, in that land of perfect joy all who are born, are born as Avaivartyas (never to return),” became “Again, O, Sariputra, in that land of joy many who are born in it are Avaivartyas . . .2,” with the footnote “2. Literally—those who will never return—the seventh round men, etc.”

As may be seen, all of these changes made by the Mahatma in the quotation brought in teachings about devachan that the Mahatma was giving to his correspondent, A. P. Sinnett. It may be thought that these changes made by the Mahatma are simply more accurate translations of the Buddhist text. They are not. They are less accurate translations, but bring in esoteric interpretations of the Buddhist text. We learn what the Shan-mun-yih-tung is from Samuel Beal’s article, “Translation of the Amitâbha Sûtra from Chinese” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1866, pp. 136-144). Beal begins his translation by saying: “The Amitâbha Sûtra. Extracted from the work called ‘Shan Mun Yih Tung,’ or Daily Prayers of the Contemplative School of Priests” (p. 140). He had a few pages earlier introduced it as follows: “The following translation of the Amitâbha Sûtra is made from the Chinese edition of that work, prepared by Kumârajîva, and bound up in a volume known as the ‘Daily Prayers of the Buddhist Priests belonging to the Contemplative School’ (Shan-mun)” (p. 136). So what we have from Beal in his 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese is actually a translation of the Amitābha Sūtra. As is well known, the Amitābha Sūtra is a popular name for the shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra.

The original Sanskrit text of the shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra was recovered and first published by F. Max Müller in his article, “On Sanskrit Texts Discovered in Japan” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1880, pp. 153-188). It was reprinted along with the larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra in the book, Sukhāvatī-vyūha: Description of Sukhāvatī, the Land of Bliss, edited by F. Max Müller and Bunyiu Nanjio (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1883). So we can compare the original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word for the first change, “eight” to “seven and one,” is aṣṭa, “eight.” The Sanskrit word for the second change, “showers” to “shadow,” is pravarṣati, “showers.” Further, the Sanskrit does not have “Udambara flower” here, but rather has “māndārava flower.” The third change, the addition of “in that cycle,” is not in the Sanskrit. The fourth and fifth changes are a little more complex. Beal’s translation from the Chinese does not quite match the Sanskrit, but neither do the changes introduced by the Mahatma. Of course, the added footnotes by the Mahatma bring in esoteric teachings, not found in the exoteric text.

For those who wish to pursue this in English translations, both the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras were first translated from the original Sanskrit by F. Max Müller in Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, Part II (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1894), = Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49. This was a pioneering translation, when the meaning of a number of Sanskrit Buddhist terms was not yet established. Both the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras were again translated from the original Sanskrit by Luis O. Gómez, and published in Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996). This book also includes separate translations of these two texts from the Chinese translations. The shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra was translated from the Tibetan translation by Georgios T. Halkias, and published in Luminous Bliss: A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013).

References to the rest of the quotations from Buddhist texts in Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, the “devachan letter,” in Beal’s Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, are, in sequence: pp. 117, 86, 85, 90, 120, 64. Perhaps more about these and others can be posted later.

In summary, the Mahatma letters teach esoteric Buddhism. Being letters, they used then available translations of Buddhist texts for their quotations. They often altered these quotations to show the esoteric teachings. The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters are therefore often inaccurate on two counts: They are quotations from early and often unreliable translations; they are often altered to bring in esoteric teachings that are not stated in the Buddhist texts themselves.

Category: Mahatma Letters | 1 comment


A Mahatma Letters Puzzle

By David Reigle on March 31, 2017 at 11:05 pm

The term “Nirira namastaka” is found in all editions of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions, p. 44, letter #9; chronological edition, p. 62, letter #18). The context may be seen in the following quotation (quoted from the 3rd edition):

“When our great Buddha—the patron of all the adepts, the reformer and the codifier of the occult system, reached first Nirvana on earth, he became a Planetary Spirit; i.e.—his spirit could at one and the same time rove the interstellar spaces in full consciousness, and continue at will on Earth in his original and individual body. For the divine Self had so completely disfranchised itself from matter that it could create at will an inner substitute for itself, and leaving it in the human form for days, weeks, sometimes years, affect in no wise by the change either the vital principle or the physical mind of its body. By the way, that is the highest form of adeptship man can hope for on our planet. But it is as rare as the Buddhas themselves, the last Khobilgan who reached it being Tsong-ka-pa of Kokonor (XIV Century), the reformer of esoteric as well as of vulgar Lamaism. Many are those who ‘break through the egg-shell,’ few who, once out, are able to exercise their Nirira namastaka fully, when completely out of the body. Conscious life in Spirit is as difficult for some natures as swimming is for some bodies.”

It appears to be an important technical term, pertaining to advanced Buddhist metaphysics. However, no such term could be identified in the 93 years since the Mahatma letters were published, even with the availability in recent decades of large numbers of primary Buddhist texts. Since photographic images of the Mahatma letters have become available, it has become possible to see if there is another way to read this term in the handwriting of the letter (http://theosophy.wiki/ML/18-12_6117.jpg). Daniel Caldwell did this last year (April, 2016), and saw that it could be read as “Nirvva namastaka.” If we now break the word differently, we find the familiar Buddhist term, “nirvvana”; i.e., “nirvana” (nirvāṇa). Daniel could then search the internet for “nirvvanamastaka.” Sure enough, as Daniel informed me, it turned up in the entry on “Buddhism and Buddha” in The New American Cyclopaedia, vol. 4, 1869 and 1870, p. 66.

Just as the similarly long unidentified phrase “Kam mi ts’har” found in the Mahatma letters was copied directly from a book existing at that time, as shown by Antonios Goyios (http://www.blavatskyarchives.com/kammitshar/kammitshar.htm), so with this term. It is even found hyphenated at the end of a line in The New American Cyclopaedia at exactly where it was wrongly broken in the Mahatma letter: Nirvvā-namastaka. There can be no doubt that this is the source from which it was taken by the Mahatma or his chela amanuensis. As Daniel pointed out, the Mahatma letter also has: “Many are those who ‘break through the egg-shell,’ few who, once out, are able to exercise their Nirira namastaka fully, when completely out of the body.” The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66): “He who breaks its fetters, ‘breaks through the eggshell’ and escapes the alternation of births.” Later on in this Mahatma letter we also read: “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds—into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” (3rd edition, p. 47; the 1st and 2nd editions wrongly have ‘Gate’ for ‘Gati’). The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66): “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” Of course, the Mahatma letter used this term and these phrases somewhat differently, but clearly adopted them from this source.

About nirvvānamastaka, i.e., nirvāṇa-mastaka, The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66):

“The final goal of Buddhistic salvation is the uprooting of sin, by exhausting existence, by impeding its continuance; in short, by passing out of the Sansāra into the Nirvāna. The signification of the latter term is a prolific subject of discussion and speculation with the different philosophic schools and religious sects of Buddhistic Asia. Its interpreters prefer vague definitions, from fear of offending sectarians. It means the highest enfranchisement; to theists, the absorption of individual life in God; to atheists in naught. The Thibetans translate it by Mya-ngan-los-hdah-ba, the condition of one freed from pain; eternal salvation, or freedom from transmigration. Its etyma are: nir, not; van, to blow, and arrow; its orthography is Nirvvāna; its collaterals are: Nirvvānamastaka, liberation ; nirvvāpa, putting out, as a fire, &c. It is Nibbāna in Pali, Niban in Burmese, Niruphan in Siamese, Ni-pan in Chinese.”

So is nirvāṇa-mastaka, then, an important technical term pertaining to advanced Buddhist metaphysics? No. It is a ghost word, a word that appeared in a dictionary and was copied in other dictionaries, but has not been found in use in Sanskrit texts. According to my research, it first appeared in the 1832 second edition of Horace Hayman Wilson’s Sanskrit-English dictionary (A Dictionary in Sanscrit and English, Calcutta). It is there written nirvvāṇamastaka, and defined as “liberation,” with the etymology nirvvāṇa and mastaka, “head, chief” (p. 477). It was obviously copied from there by the unnamed writer of the “Buddhism and Buddha” entry in The New American Cyclopaedia. It is not found in the 1819 first edition of Wilson’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, nor is it found in the 1900 revised edition of Wilson’s dictionary. We may guess that one of Wilson’s assistants may have found it in some Sanskrit kośa, lexicons that often list words that are not found in use, and put it in the second edition of his dictionary. From there it was copied (but without doubling the “v”) in the relevant 1865 volume 4 of the massive 7-volume Petersburg Sanskrit-German dictionary (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch, by Otto Böhtlingk and Rudolph Roth, St. Petersburg), where it is followed by “!” and specifically stated as coming from Wilson (p. 209). It was retained in the relevant 1882 volume 3 of the shorter 7-volume Petersburg dictionary (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch in Kürzerer Fassung), keeping the “(!)” after it (p. 219). It was likewise copied in Monier Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, both his 1872 first edition and his 1899 enlarged edition, where it is also specifically stated as coming from Wilson. It is also found in Vaman Shivram Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, but no source is given. This typically means that Apte did not find it in any Sanskrit text, but copied it from previous dictionaries. It is even found in the Vācaspatyam Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary, where it is defined like a compound of such type would have to be construed: nirvāṇam nirvṛtir mastakam iva yatra, i.e., as nirvāṇa that is like the head. It is not, however, found in the earlier Śabda-kalpa-druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary. Nor is it found in Franklin Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary. My electronic searches of massive quantities of Sanskrit texts, now possible, have failed to yield a single occurrence of this term. I even posted a query for a “textual source for nirvāṇa-mastaka” to the Indology e-list on Jan 13, 2017, consisting of several hundred Indologists working today. No one was able to come up with a textual source for this term.

The Mahatma letter is describing a form of adeptship that is not described in any Buddhist text known to me; yet in doing this the Mahatma or his chela amanuensis used a ghost word copied from an 1869 book that was in turn copied from an 1832 dictionary. We have seen other cases of this type of copying from then existing books in the Mahatma letters, as found by Antonios Goyios in the article linked above (“Tracing the Source of Tibetan Phrases Found in Mahatma Letters #54 and #92”), and there are still others that could be cited. The relevance of this to students of Theosophy is that, due to the methods used by the Mahatmas in writing their letters, terms such as this found in the Mahatma letters may not be actual Buddhist technical terms that can be found in the Sanskrit texts. As we know from a number of statements made by the Mahatmas in their letters, their method of writing was to surround themselves with material on the topic at hand that is impressed upon the ākāśa, and to draw from it what they needed. They were not native English speakers. Their letters constitute personal correspondence, often written in haste, not articles written for publication. The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters almost always come from then existing books, and therefore cannot be relied upon for accuracy.

Category: Mahatma Letters | 6 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


K.H. and the Kadampas

By Jacques Mahnich on June 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm

The Book of Dzyan is linked to the books of Kiu-te or the Tibetan Buddhist tantras.

Specific authors and texts have been identified for the similarity of their teachings with the Secret Doctrine fundamental propositions. The Maitreya/Asanga’s works and the Jonangpa’s tradition are among them. The glimpse of the Wisdom Tradition was brought or transmitted by the Adepts in contact with the TS founders. Based on the HPB’s testimony and various letters from the Mahatmas, they were followers of Tibetan Buddhism practices, living or staying in Tibetan monastery for their practices like silent retreats. They may have been linked with one Tibetan Buddhist lineage more specifically (or maybe not). Identifying this may bring some more tracks to locate the original Book of Dzyan (or maybe not…).

In a book, first published in 1941, « The K.H. Letters to C.W. Leadbeater », C. Jinarajadasa commented at the end of the first letter :

« With this invocation to the Highest in C.W. Leadbeater to remember, and to be guided by that memory – to decide for the best – » , the letter ends with the initial « K.H. » of the name Koot Hoomi, which is not the Master’s personal name, but the title of his office as a high dignitary of the Koothoompa1 sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

(1) But pronounced Kethoomba, the Master informs Mohini Chatterje in Letter 59, The Letters from the Master of Wisdom, Second Series

This Letter 59 says : « However, the written name is Kuthoompa (disciples of Kut-hoomi), and its spelling is Kethoomba. »

Looking at the various sects and lineages in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, the closest to the Kuthoompa or Kethoomba seems to be the Kadampa (Kadam Tradition).

This specific lineage is in fact at the root, the foundation of most of the current existing lineages, and more specifically to the Gelugpa who are the « continuation » of the Kadampa.

Looking more in detail inside the history of this movement, this tradition was brought and installed in Tibet by the Bengali master Atisha Dipamkara (982-1054) and his principal disciple Dromtön Gyalwai Jungné (1005-1064). The flourishing of Avalokiteshvara and Tara in Tibet seems to be linked to this phase of their history. More specifically, quoting Thupten Jinpa – The Book of Kadam

Although Avalokiteshvara was propipiated in Tibet before the tenth century, and although the designation of the seventh-century Tibetan emperor, Songtsen Gampo, as an embodiement of Avalokiteshvara most probably predates Atisha’s arrival in Tibet, the available textual evidence points strongly toward the eleventh and the twelfth centuries as the period during which the full myth of Avalokiteshvara’s special destiny with Tibet was established.”

The Kadam school (bka’ gdams) was identified soon after Master Atisha’ death , especially after the creation of the Radreng Monastery in 1056, not far from Lhasa. Atisha organized the entire corpus of the Buddhists teachings in his Lamp for the Path to Enlightment. He was the first to propose the teachings under the form a gradual approach to the Buddhist path (lamrin), based on two divisions : the lamrim proper, and the tenrim (stages of the doctrine). Tsongkhapa’s texts will follow the same format. Atisha wrote extensively on Buddhist Vajrayana practice, including Guhyasamaja, Cakra samvara, Avalokiteshvara and Tara.

Known as Atisha and Dromtönpa’s “secret teachings” (gsang chos), is the Book of Kadam, which some excerpts were translated and published (© 2008 Institute of Tibetan Classics).

Kadampa’s lineage went on up to the end of the sixteen century where it looks like if it disappears. In fact it cease to be a distinct school , partly due to the “new Kadam School” created by Tsongkhapa, but mainly because all other Tibetan Buddhism Sects had integrated the Kadam teachings in their core teachings. There was no more need for a distinct school. Even the Nyingma School often refers  to the “Kadam Masters”.

So, the Kadam school being no more an active lineage in the 19th century, it does not help us much to know that Master K.H was a high dignitary of the “Koothoompa” sect, if it ever was the Kadampa sect who was referred to. Maybe it is only Jinarajadasa’s own comment.

However, looking at The Book of Kadam and other Atisha‘s works may be worth the “détour”.


Category: Book of Dzyan, Five Books of Maitreya, Jonangpa, Mahatma Letters, Tibetan Buddhism Traditions | 1 comment