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.

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