Is the Book of Dzyan Based on the Chinese Yu-Fu-King?

By David Reigle on December 29, 2012 at 6:03 am

Prof. Giovanni Hoffman wrote in 1909 that the origin of the Book of Dzyan is the Chinese Taoist book entitled Yu-Fu-King, or The Book of Secret Correspondences (The Theosophist, vol. 31, Oct. 1909, pp. 64-65, attached as Book of Dzyan Giovanni Hoffman). There is a typographical error in the first syllable of this title. As given by James Legge in vol. 40 of the Sacred Books of the East, The Texts of Taoism, Part II, 1891, this title is Yin Fu King, or Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen. In the Wade-Giles system of Chinese transcription, this title is Yin-fu Ching. In the currently used pinyin system it is Yinfujing, and the fuller title is Huangdi Yinfujing.

A couple of months ago a new HPB biography came out, Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality, by Gary Lachman. It mentions this idea on p. 257, where we read: “The sinologist Giovanni Hoffmann believed that the ‘Stanzas of Dzyan’ originate in the Book of the Secret Correspondences (Yu-Fu-King) of the fourth-century Taoist Ly-Tzyn.” This is referenced in a note to Wouter J. Hanegraaff’s 1996 book, New Age Religion and Western Culture, p. 453. Turning to that book, we there read:

“Karl R. H. Frick has called attention to an article by the sinologist Giovanni Hoffmann, who points to the teaching of a Taoist of the fourth century named Ly-tzyn, or Dzyan in Tibetan. His book, Yu-Fu-King or “The Book of Secret Correspondences”, was published in Florence in 1878. It seems probable that Blavatsky knew this book but incorrectly interpreted its contents as Vedic. If these suggestions are correct, Isis Unveiled was inspired by a kabbalistic source transmitted to Blavatsky in the context of Knorr von Rosenroth’s Christian kabbalah; and The Secret Doctrine by a Taoist treatise interpreted as Vedic.”

Dr. Hanegraaff is a leading scholar of western esoteric traditions, so he approached his subject from this perspective. He is not a Vedic scholar or a scholar of Chinese. I, too, am not a scholar of Chinese, but I had been studying Sanskrit for several years when I read the 1909 article from The Theosophist in the mid-1980s. That was sufficient for me to discount Prof. Hoffman’s statement made therein about Blavatsky and the Book of Dzyan that: “She has therefore the merit of having re-arranged the shapeless mass of the aphorisms of Dzyan or Tsian; but the doctrine exposed in these applies entirely to the Lao-ze School, and in no wise to the vedic, as she wished it to be believed.” So I filed the article away. Now that some attention has been called to it, I have gotten it out and scanned it and posted it here. Incidentally, the book published in Florence in 1878 is not the Yu-Fu-King or Yin Fu King as such, but rather is Il Buddha, Confucio e Lao-tse: notizie e studii intorno alle religioni dell’Asia Orientale, by Carlo Puini.

There are several English translations of the Yu-Fu-King or Yin Fu King or Yinfujing available today, and sufficient information on these is given in the Wikipedia entry, Huangdi Yinfujing. The 1891 translation by James Legge is now in the public domain and is available online. Since this is a very short text, I have here pasted in the entire translation. Readers can judge for themselves whether they think the Book of Dzyan is based on this Chinese Taoist text. I hardly need to call the attention of readers of this blog to the many Sanskrit parallels to the Book of Dzyan that have been here discussed. I would, however, like to add a word of appreciation to both Gary Lachman and Dr. Wouter Hanegraaff for their helpful and non-hostile approach to the work of Blavatsky.


Yin Fû King, or ‘Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen.’

Ch. 1. 1. If one observes the Way of Heaven 1, and maintains Its doings (as his own) 2, all that he has to do is accomplished.

p. 258

2. To Heaven there belong the five (mutual) foes 1, and he who sees them (and understands their operation) apprehends how they produce prosperity. The same five foes are in the mind of man, and when he can set them in action after the manner of Heaven, all space and time are at his disposal, and all things receive their transformations from his person 2.

p. 259

3. The nature of Heaven belongs (also) to Man; the mind of Man is a spring (of power). When the Way of Heaven is established, the (Course of) Man is thereby determined. 1

4. When Heaven puts forth its power of putting to death, the stars and constellations lie hidden in darkness. When Earth puts forth its power of putting to death, dragons and serpents appear on the dry ground. When Man puts forth his power of putting to death, Heaven and Earth resume their (proper course). When Heaven and Man exert their powers in concert, all transformations have their commencements determined. 4_1

5. The nature (of man) is here clever and there stupid; and the one of these qualities may lie hidden in the other. The abuse of the nine apertures is (chiefly) in the three most important, which may be now in movement and now at rest. When fire arises in wood, the evil, having once begun, is sure to go on to the destruction of the wood. When

p. 260

calamity arises in a state, if thereafter movement ensue, it is sure to go to ruin.

When one conducts the work of culture and refining wisely we call him a Sage. 5_1

2. 1. For Heaven now to give life and now to take it away is the method of the Tâo. Heaven and Earth are the despoilers of all things; all things are the despoilers of Man; and Man is the despoiler of all things. When the three despoilers act as they ought to do, as the three Powers, they are at rest. Hence it is said, ‘During the time of nourishment, all the members are properly regulated; when the springs of motion come into play, all transformations quietly take place.’ 1_1

2. Men know the mysteriousness of the Spirit’s (action), but they do not know how what is not Spiritual comes to be so. The sun and moon have their definite times, and their exact measures as

p. 261

large and small. The service of the sages hereupon arises, and the spiritual intelligence becomes apparent. 2_1

3. The spring by which the despoilers are moved is invisible and unknown to all under the sky. When the superior man has got it, he strengthens his body by it; when the small man has got it, he makes light of his life. 3_1

3. 1. The blind hear well, and the deaf see well. To derive all that is advantageous from one source is ten times better than the employment of a host; to do this thrice in a day and night is a myriad times better. 1_1

2. The mind is quickened (to activity) by (external) things, and dies through (excessive pursuit of) them. The spring (of the mind’s activity) is in the eyes.

Heaven has no (special feeling of) kindness, but so it is that the greatest kindness comes from It.

p. 262

The crash of thunder and the blustering wind both come without design. 2_1

3. Perfect enjoyment is the overflowing satisfaction of the nature. Perfect stillness is the entire disinterestedness of it. When Heaven seems to be most wrapt up in Itself, Its operation is universal in its character. 3_1

4. It is by its breath that we control whatever creature we grasp. Life is the root of death, and death is the root of life. Kindness springs from injury, and injury springs from kindness. He who sinks himself in water or enters amidst fire brings destruction on himself. 4_1

p. 263

5. The stupid man by studying the phenomena and laws of heaven and earth becomes sage; I by studying their times and productions become intelligent. He in his stupidity is perplexed about sageness; I in my freedom from stupidity am the same. He considers his sageness as being an extraordinary attainment; I do not consider mine so. 5_1

6. The method of spontaneity proceeds in stillness, and so it was that heaven, earth, and all things were produced. The method of heaven and earth proceeds gently and gradually, and thus it is that the Yin and Yang overcome (each other by turns). The one takes the place of the other, and so change and transformation proceed accordingly. 6_1

7. Therefore the sages, knowing that the method of spontaneity cannot be resisted, take action accordingly and regulate it (for the purpose of culture). The way of perfect stillness cannot be subjected to numerical calculations; but it would seem that there

p. 264

is a wonderful machinery, by which all the heavenly bodies are produced, the eight diagrams, and the sexagenary cycle; spirit-like springs of power, and hidden ghostlinesses; the arts of the Yin and Yang in the victories of the one over the other:–all these come brightly forward into visibility. 7_1

Category: Book of Dzyan | 1 comment

  • Jacques Mahnich says:

    A reference to the Yin-fu King can be found in a book – Le Taoïsme – published in 1892 by Leon de Rosny.

    What he says about it may be of interest here :

    ” p.18 : « Un ouvrage intitulé Yin-fou King, de beaucoup antérieur à celui de Lao-tse et renfermant un premier aperçu des idées de ce philosophe, passe pour avoir été composé par l’empereur Hoang-ti, dont les historiens chinois placent l’avènement à la fin du XXVIIéme siècle avant notre ère. Cet ouvrage, – si tant est qu’il ait jamais existé, – a été perdu, et celui que l’on possède aujourd’hui sous le même titre est considéré comme apocryphe. La composition de celui-ci remonte cependant à une époque au moins aussi ancienne que le XIIème siècle et pourrait être une production de Li-tsiouèn, auteur du VIIIème siècle, auquel on doit en outre un traité sur l’art militaire. Ce Li-tsiouèn avait-il eu à sa disposition des documents sur le Taoïsme plus anciens que le Tao-teh-King ? On l’ignore. Son livre est néanmoins considéré comme une oeuvre de mérite, et le savant exégète Tchou-hi n’hésite pas à lui accorder une place parmi les monuments de la littérature nationale de la Chine (1). Quoiqu’il en soit, ce n’est pas avec un ouvrage aussi suspect qu’il est possible de rien établir au sujet du Taoïsme primitif ; et le Yin-fou King ne cessera sans doute point d’être relégué au rang des livres apocryphes ou légendaires”.

    (1) Wylie, Notes on Chinese Literature, p. 173 ; cf Sse-kou tsiouen-chou kien-ming mouh-loh, liv. XIV, p. 57.”

    The text translates as :

    ” A book titled Yin-fou King, way older than the Lao-tse one and containing a first glimpse of the ideas of this philosopher, is supposed to have been written by the emperor Hoang-ti, whose accession to the throne is located by the chinese historians at the end of the XXVII century BC. This book – if it has ever existed – was lost, and the one we have today under the same title is considered as apocryphal. The writing of this one belongs to an era as old as the XII century and could have been produced by Li-tsiouen, writer of the VIII century, who also produced a military art book. Had this Li-tsiouen access to documents on the old Taoïsm older than the Tao-teh-King ? We do not know. Nevertheless, his book is considered as worthy, and the scholar Tchou-hi is ranking it among the monuments of the China national literature. Whatever, it is not with such a suspect book that it is possible to define anything about early Taoïsm ; and the Yin-fou King will never stop being considered as a legend or apocryphal book”.

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