On the Book of Dzyan

By David Reigle on September 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm

“Book of Dzyan” is the name given to a hitherto unknown book that is said to contain the secret wisdom of the world. It is supposed to have been written in Senzar, a lost sacred language that preceded Sanskrit. Stanzas on the genesis of the cosmos and the origin of humanity were allegedly translated from it to form the basis of H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine. Our only source of information about the “Book of Dzyan” is what Blavatsky wrote. The information she gives sometimes disagrees, so that it appears to describe two different books. In fact, she does speak of “Books of Dzyan” in the plural (e.g., SD, vol. 2, p. 46). It will be worthwhile to try to sort out this information.

The Secret Doctrine opens with a description of what is presumably the “Book of Dzyan” (volume 1, page 1):

“An Archaic Manuscript—a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific unknown process—is before the writer’s eye. On the first page is an immaculate white disk within a dull black ground. On the following page, the same disk, but with a central point. The first, the student knows to represent Kosmos in Eternity, before the re-awakening of still slumbering Energy, the emanation of the Word in later systems. 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 (see Part II., ‘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. The one circle is divine Unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns. Its circumference—a forcibly limited symbol, in view of the limitation of the human mind—indicates the abstract, ever incognisable PRESENCE, and its plane, the Universal Soul, although the two are one. Only the face of the Disk being white and the ground all around black, shows clearly that its plane is the only knowledge, dim and hazy though it still is, that is attainable by man. It is on this plane that the Manvantaric manifestations begin; for it is in this SOUL that slumbers, during the Pralaya, the Divine Thought, wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony and Theogony.”

Blavatsky goes on to describe further symbols, the disk with a diameter, and then with the diameter crossed by a vertical line, etc. (pp. 4-5):

“The first illustration being a plain disc [figure], the second one in the Archaic symbol shows [figure], a disc with a point in it—the first differentiation in the periodical manifestations of the ever-eternal nature, sexless and infinite ‘Aditi in THAT’ (Rig Veda), the point in the disc, or potential Space within abstract Space. In its third stage the point is transformed into a diameter, thus [figure]. It now symbolises a divine immaculate Mother-Nature within the all-embracing absolute Infinitude. When the diameter line is crossed by a vertical one [figure], it becomes the mundane cross. Humanity has reached its third root-race; it is the sign for the origin of human life to begin. When the circumference disappears and leaves only the [figure] it is a sign that the fall of man into matter is accomplished, and the FOURTH race begins. . . .”

Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, published eleven years earlier (1877), likewise opens with a description of what is presumably the “Book of Dzyan” (volume 1, page 1):

“There exists somewhere in this wide world an old Book—so very old that our modern antiquarians might ponder over its pages an indefinite time, and still not quite agree as to the nature of the fabric upon which it is written. It is the only original copy now in existence. The most ancient Hebrew document on occult learning—the Siphrah Dzeniouta—was compiled from it, and that at a time when the former was already considered in the light of a literary relic. One of its illustrations represents the Divine Essence emanating from Adam* like a luminous arc proceeding to form a circle; and then, having attained the highest point of its circumference, the ineffable Glory bends back again, and returns to earth, bringing a higher type of humanity in its vortex. As it approaches nearer and nearer to our planet, the Emanation becomes more and more shadowy, until upon touching the ground it is as black as night.”

*Corrected in Mahatma letter #9 to Adam emanating from the Divine Essence.

This paragraph from Isis Unveiled is quoted in the “Introductory” to The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. xlii), introducing it with “Volume I. of ‘Isis’ begins with a reference to ‘an old book’—‘So very old that . . . .” The Secret Doctrine then continues (p. xliii):

“The ‘very old Book’ is the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled. Not only this latter and the Siphrah Dzeniouta but even the Sepher Jezirah, the work attributed by the Hebrew Kabalists to their Patriarch Abraham (!), the book of Shu-king, China’s primitive Bible, the sacred volumes of the Egyptian Thoth-Hermes, the Puranas in India, and the Chaldean Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch itself, are all derived from that one small parent volume. Tradition says, that it was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manushis, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races.”

The book that Blavatsky has so vividly described is clearly a book of pictorial symbols. She confirms this when describing the language that it is apparently written in (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, p. 574):

“We have now to speak of the Mystery language, that of the prehistoric races. It is not a phonetic, but a purely pictorial and symbolical tongue. It is known at present in its fulness to the very few, having become with the masses for more than 5,000 years an absolutely dead language.”

We would naturally assume that this book of pictorial symbols is the “Book of Dzyan” from which she said she translated the stanzas that form the basis of The Secret Doctrine. But is it? Apparently not. We notice that nowhere in these descriptions has she called this picture book the “Book of Dzyan.” Elsewhere she provides the information that allows us to distinguish the two. This information is given in “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan,” a chapter that was originally intended by her to precede the stanzas in The Secret Doctrine, but upon the advice of the Keightleys was moved to volume 3 of that book. Volume 3 was not published until 1897, six years after her death, where this chapter is found on pp. 405-406. This chapter is now also found in her Collected Writings, vol. 14, pp. 422-424. It begins:

“The Book of Dzyan . . . is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers. Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed ‘The Popularised Version’ of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds, and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand—with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World—contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences.”

As may be seen, the book of pictorial symbols that she described would be what is here called “the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World.” This “one small archaic folio” is the “one small parent volume” (SD 1.xliii), the “Archaic Manuscript” (SD 1.1), the “old Book” (IU 1.1), the “very old Book . . . the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled” (SD 1.xliii), here further described as “the seven secret folios of Kiu-te.” The Book of Dzyan that she translated stanzas from is the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on this book of pictorial symbols, not the symbol book itself. This is, I think, clear. Yet her prominent descriptions of the book of pictorial symbols have made such an impression that most readers today regard this symbol book as the Book of Dzyan that she translated stanzas from. Since this is so widely accepted, it will be worthwhile to pursue this further, and to cite the evidence at some length.

In addition to her statement differentiating the two books, there is much evidence indicating that the Book of Dzyan from which she translated stanzas is a commentary written in phonetic language rather than in pictorial symbols. In brief, this evidence is: (1) Blavatsky refers several times to the words of the Book of Dzyan, phonetic words and names; (2) she says that she has tried to give a verbatim or word for word translation; and (3) she refers several times to verses and to specific numbers of verses in the original Book of Dzyan that she has omitted. These, of course, would be phonetic verses, consisting of phonetic words, not pictorial symbols. This evidence may be found in The Secret Doctrine itself, and was fully confirmed in The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions, first published in 2010. Before citing this evidence, we must take note of Blavatsky’s statements showing Senzar as a phonetic language, and not just a language of pictorial symbols.

Contrasting her statement quoted above that the Mystery language “is not a phonetic, but a purely pictorial and symbolical tongue,” she tells us in her Notes on the Esoteric Papers that Senzar has an alphabet consisting of letters, obviously phonetic letters: “The Senzar and Sanskrit alphabets, and other Occult tongues, besides other potencies, have a number, colour, and distinct syllable for every letter, . . .” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 3, p. 530; Adyar edition, vol. 5, p. 505). In describing the development of language, she tells us that what is “now the mystery tongue of the Initiates” is “the inflectional speech,” which was the first language of the fifth root-race (SD 2.200). It was preceded by the monosyllabic speech that arose at the close of the third root-race, and the agglutinative languages that developed in the fourth root-race (2.198-199). The inflectional speech is, of course, phonetic language, language that had developed past the monosyllable stage, and past the stage of agglutinating or putting monosyllables together to form words, to the stage wherein the words themselves undergo change in order to give grammatical information. This is usually done by the addition of inflectional endings, namely, verb conjugations and noun declensions. Thus Senzar is not only a language of pictorial symbols but also a developed phonetic language. We may now proceed to the quotations.


1. References to words and names in the Book of Dzyan:

SD 1.22-23: “. . . the archaic phraseology of the original, with its puzzling style and words.” (in full: “The Stanzas which form the thesis of every section are given throughout in their modern translated version, as it would be worse than useless to make the subject still more difficult by introducing the archaic phraseology of the original, with its puzzling style and words.”)

SD 1.23: “. . . using the Sanskrit and Tibetan proper names whenever those cannot be avoided, in preference to giving the originals. The more so as the said terms are all accepted synonyms, . . .” (followed by: “Thus, were one to translate into English, using only the substantives and technical terms as employed in one of the Tibetan and Senzar versions, Verse I would read as follows: — ‘Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan-Kam not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not; Dharmakaya ceased; Tgenchang not become; Barnang and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna), &c., &c.,’ which would sound like pure Abracadabra.”)

SD 1.23: “The untranslateable terms alone, incomprehensible unless explained in their meanings, are left, but all such terms are rendered in their Sanskrit form.” (followed by: “Needless to remind the reader that these are, in almost every case, the late developments of the later language, and pertain to the Fifth Root-Race. Sanskrit, as now known, was not spoken by the Atlanteans, and most of the philosophical terms used in the systems of the India of the post-Mahabharatan period are not found in the Vedas, nor are they to be met with in the original Stanzas, but only their equivalents.”)

SD 1.32 fn.: “Verse 1 of Stanza VI. is of a far later date than the other Stanzas, though still very ancient. The old text of this verse, having names entirely unknown to the Orientalists would give no clue to the student.”

SD 1.237 fn.: “Useless to repeat again that the terms given here are Sanskrit translations; for the original terms, unknown and unheard of in Europe, would only puzzle the reader more, and serve no useful purpose.”

SD 1.471: “Of course the name given in the archaic volume of the Stanzas is quite different, . . .”

SD 1.478: “A great number of names referring to chemical substances and other compounds, which have now ceased to combine together, and are therefore unknown to the later offshoots of our Fifth Race, occupy a considerable space. As they are simply untranslateable, and would remain in every case inexplicable, they are omitted, along with those which cannot be made public.”

SD 2.34 fn.: “The term Pitris is used by us in these Slokas to facilitate their comprehension, but it is not so used in the original Stanzas, where they have distinct appellations of their own, besides being called ‘Fathers’ and ‘Progenitors.’”

SD 2.401 fn.: “For the Stanzas call this locality by a term translated in the commentary as a place of no latitude (niraksha) the abode of the gods.”


2. Statements by Blavatsky that she is translating verbatim or word for word:

SD 2.1: “As far as possible a verbatim translation is given; . . .” (in full: “The Stanzas, with the Commentaries thereon, in this Book, the second, are drawn from the same Archaic Records as the Stanzas on Cosmogony in Book I. As far as possible a verbatim translation is given; but some of the Stanzas were too obscure to be understood without explanation. Hence, as was done in Book I., while they are first given in full as they stand, when taken verse by verse with their Commentaries an attempt is made to make them clearer, by words added in brackets, in anticipation of the fuller explanation of the Commentary.”)

SD 2.15 fn.: “Not every verse is translated verbatim. A periphrasis is sometimes used for the sake of clearness and intelligibility, where a literal translation would be quite unintelligible.”

SD Comm. pp. 30-31: “I cannot go and invent things; I am obliged to translate just as the stanzas give it in the book.”

SD Comm. p. 31: “How can I put that it was not? I am obliged to translate as it is, and then to give all the commentaries. I didn’t invent them. If I were inventing it, I might put it otherwise.”

SD Comm. p. 33: “I cannot put things out of my own head; I just translate as it is.”

SD Comm. p. 141: “I limit myself to that in the commentaries. Not in the stanzas, because I have rendered them just as they are.”

SD Comm. p. 203: “These are the words, I do not know how to translate better— . . .” (the 2013 online edition has “no” for “know,” p. 195; the 2010 edition omits this word)

SD Comm. p. 233: “I tried to translate as well as I could, you know, as close to the original as possible.”

SD Comm. p. 278: “It is translated word for word, this, and it is all certainly figurative, and metaphorical, and so on, therefore you must not take in the literal sense everything; because you must allow something for the Eastern way of expressing it.”

SD Comm. p. 279: “I try to translate word for word.”

SD Comm. p. 301: “You must make some allowance for the Eastern mode of expression. I tell you I have been translating word for word.”

SD Comm. p. 325: “. . . (why it should be weight, I do not know; I simply translate you what is said in the occult books), . . .”


3. References to verses and to specific numbers of verses omitted:

SD 1.152: “Among the eleven Stanzas omitted . . . .”

SD 1.478: “A gap of 43 verses or Slokas has to be left between the 7th (already given) and the 51st, which is the subject of Book II., though the latter are made to run from 1 et seq. for easier reading and reference.”

SD 2.15 fn.: “Only forty-nine Slokas out of several hundred are here given.”

SD 2.46: “Thus the only reference to it is contained in one verse of the volume of the Book of Dzyan before us, where it says: . . .”

SD Comm. pp. 33-34: “There are many, many verses that come between, that I have left out altogether.”

SD Comm. p. 38: “I have just taken two or three just to show the general idea, and then skipped over whole stanzas and came to the point. I have said there are some 60 stanzas passed over.”

SD Comm. p. 114: “There are breaks of forty stanzas, and there are stanzas that I would not be permitted to give.”

SD Comm. p. 141: “. . . after that, where I come and say that so many stanzas are left out, then it begins with the solar system.” (apparently referring to SD 1.151-152: “With these verses—the 4th Sloka of Stanza VI.—ends that portion of the Stanzas which relates to the Universal Cosmogony after the last Mahapralaya or Universal destruction, . . . All the Stanzas and verses which follow in this Book I. refer only to the evolution of, and on, our Earth. . . . Among the eleven Stanzas omitted . . . .”)

SD Comm. p. 342: “But you forget I have been skipping an innumerable number of times not only lines, but whole stanzas.”

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