The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism

By David Reigle on April 29, 2015 at 1:08 am

The long-awaited English translation of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s 1973 French book, L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien, has just been published, and is now available at Amazon.com. As stated in the book’s description:

“The thesis of this book is nothing less than epoch-making. While no one doubts that the Buddha denied the ātman, the self, the question is: Which ātman? Buddhism, as a religion, has long taken this to be the universal ātman taught in the Hindu Upaniṣads, equivalent to brahman. What we find in the Buddha’s words as recorded in the Buddhist scriptures, however, is only a denial of any permanent self in the ever-changing aggregates that form a person. In decades of teaching, the Buddha had many opportunities to clearly deny the universal ātman if that was his intention. He did not do so. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s research is the most important study of this fundamentally important question to have appeared. Other studies of this question exist, coming to the same conclusion, but in general they have not been taken seriously. Bhattacharya’s research, because of the high level of his scholarship, has to be taken seriously. One may disagree with it, but it cannot be dismissed or ignored.”

Professor Bhattacharya’s thesis, as stated in his Preface, is: “the Buddha does not deny the Upaniṣadic ātman; on the contrary, he indirectly affirms it, in denying that which is falsely believed to be the ātman.”

How, one may wonder, could such a fundamental teaching be misunderstood for so long? He writes in his Preface:

“The one request I would make of such eminent scholars as have devoted their lives to the study of Buddhism is that they adopt a genuinely Buddhist attitude and read this book before saying, ‘That is impossible.’”

Category: Noteworthy Books | 4 comments


Ratna-gotra-vibhāga: A Review

By David Reigle on February 28, 2015 at 11:59 pm

(keywords: Ratnagotravibhāga, Ratnagotravibhaga)

A new English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga has now appeared in When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Snow Lion, 2014, released by the publisher in Jan. 2015 and at Amazon in Feb. 2015). This volume includes a translation of the accompanying Indian commentary, essential for correctly understanding the verses that comprise the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga or Uttara-tantra. It is the third English translation that includes this commentary, each of which was a major step forward. The first translation, by E. Obermiller published in 1931 (posted on this website under “References”), was competently made from the Tibetan translation before the Sanskrit original was discovered. This pioneering translation was a remarkable achievement, making this text available to the outside world for the first time, and doing so in a generally accurate manner. The second translation, by Jikido Takasaki published in 1966 (posted here under “References”), was the first to be made from the Sanskrit original. It, too, was a remarkable achievement, and well illustrates the improvements in understanding that the Sanskrit original makes possible. The third translation, just published, makes another major step forward. Despite being about transcendental subjects, the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga is an analytical treatise using many technical terms in a precise manner. Translation terminology has advanced considerably in the last few decades, with the publication of so many Buddhist texts. Taking nothing away from the previous two translations, the use of more accurate and precise translation terminology in the third translation makes possible a much clearer understanding of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga.

The translation of the term dhātu, the most central term of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, is a prime example. Obermiller translated its Tibetan translation (khams) in verse 1.1 as the “Germ (of Buddhahood).” “Germ [of the Buddha]” was used by Takasaki for the term gotra (e.g., p. 288). Takasaki translated dhātu in verse 1.1 as the “Essence [of the Buddha].” “Essence of the Buddha” was used by Obermiller for the term tathāgata-garbha (e.g., p. 89). Brunnhölzl translates dhātu as “basic element,” similar to another translation of it used by Obermiller, “fundamental element.” The central meaning of dhātu is “element.” To distinguish it from its common usage as applied to other elements, the word “basic” was added for its use as a technical term applying to the one element. Translation terminology typically starts with what we may call “ball park” translations, translations that are somewhere within the range of meanings of a particular term. They are thus “in the ball park,” a large playing field. As more and more texts become available, and the particular term can be seen in more and more different settings, it becomes possible to get closer and closer to the central meaning of the term. Brunnhölzl very often uses translations that reflect the central meaning of a term rather than a peripheral meaning, as seen in his choice of “basic element” for the term dhātu.

As a sample, we may look at a passage on the one basic element (eka-dhātu) found in the accompanying Indian commentary on Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.12 in the three translations, preceded by the Sanskrit and Tibetan:

evam eṣāṃ bālānām anuśayavatāṃ nimitta-grāhiṇām ārambaṇa-caritānām ayoniśo-manasikāra-samudācārāt kleśa-samudayaḥ | kleśa-samudayāt karma-samudayaḥ | karma-samudayāj janma-samudayo bhavati | sa punar eṣa sarvâkāra-kleśa-karma-janma-saṃkleśo bālānām ekasya dhātor yathā-bhūtam ajñānād adarśanāc ca  pravartate |

de ltar na byis pa bag la nyal dang ldan pa mtshan mar ’dzin pa can | dmigs pa la spyod pa de dag la tshul bzhin ma yin pa yid la byed pa kun ’byung ba las nyon mongs pa kun ’byung ngo || nyon mongs pa kun ’byung ba las ni las kun ’byung ngo || las kun ’byung ba las ni skye ba kun ’byung bar ’gyur ro || byis pa rnams kyi* nyon mongs pa dang las dang skye ba’i kun nas nyon mongs pa’i rnam pa ’di thams cad kyang khams gcig yang dag pa ji lta ba bzhin ma shes pas rab tu ’jug go || 

*kyis in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions; Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1003.

“Thus the ordinary worldly beings, possessed of the residues and seeds of the defiling forces and clinging to the reality of separate entities, are directed toward the (illusionary worldly) objects. Accordingly this gives rise to the wrong appreciation which is the origin of the passions. The latter in their turn call forth the deeds and these are the cause of (repeated) births. All these different forms of defilement peculiar to the worldlings, those of passions, deeds and repeated birth, manifest themselves in this world owing to the ignorance of the unique Germ (of Buddhahood) in its true character.” (Obermiller, p. 136)

“Thus these people, having tendencies [of Desire, Hatred and Ignorance], regarding the [unreal] characteristic [as real], and making it the basis of cognition, [affectionally] hanging on it, produce the Irrational Thought, from which consequently arises Defilement. Because of origination of Defilement, there arises Action; from the origination of Action, there arises Rebirth. And all kinds of impurity (saṃkleśa) of these Defilements, Action, Rebirth, etc. come forth because people do not know, nor perceive the one [real] essence as it is.” (Takasaki, p. 170)

“In this way, improper mental engagement manifests in naive beings who possess those latencies, grasp at [certain] characteristics, and engage in them as their focal objects. From that, the afflictions arise. From the arising of the afflictions, actions arise. From the arising of actions, there is the arising of birth. So all aspects of the afflictiveness of afflictions, karma, and birth of naive beings operate by virtue of not realizing and not seeing the single basic element in just the way it is in true reality.” (Brunnhölzl, p. 344)

As may be seen, the term dhātu, Tibetan khams, appears in Obermiller’s translation as the “Germ (of Buddhahood),” in Takasaki’s translation as the “[real] essence,” and in Brunnhölzl’s translation as the “basic element.” For the technical term kleśa, Tibetan nyon mongs pa, Obermiller uses “passions,” Takasaki uses “Defilement,” and Brunnhölzl uses “afflictions.” The latter, “affliction,” has now become widely used by translators of Buddhist texts, because it accords with the etymological meaning of kleśa. Of course, translators choose what seems best to them, and Brunnhölzl’s choices of translation terms do not always coincide with what is widely used. The key term in this literature, tathāgata-garbha, for which Obermiller had used both “Essence of Buddhahood/the Buddha” and “Germ of the Buddha,” and for which Takasaki used “Matrix of the Tathāgata,” is translated by Brunnhölzl as “tathāgata heart.” Most translators use words such as “matrix” or “embryo” for garbha in this compound. Elsewhere the word garbha commonly means “womb.” The meaning “heart” comes from snying po, the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit garbha here in this compound. The Tibetan word snying po also frequently translates the Sanskrit word sāra, meaning “essence.” It is apparently in the sense of “essence” that snying po was chosen for garbha in this compound by the early Tibetan translators, and it is apparently in the sense of “essence” that “heart” was chosen by Brunnhölzl (see p. 53).

Brunnhölzl tells us in his Preface that he has translated this text “from the Sanskrit and Tibetan” (p. xi). He had there noted that Obermiller’s translation was made “from the Tibetan,” and Takasaki’s translation was made “from the Sanskrit and Chinese.” Actually, Takasaki’s translation was made from the Sanskrit, under the guidance of V. V. Gokhale during Takasaki’s stay in India from August 1954 to January 1957, as Takasaki tells us in his Preface (p. xi). He certainly used the Chinese translation thoroughly, as may be seen in his many footnotes, and he also used the Tibetan translation thoroughly, as may also be seen in his many footnotes. Takasaki’s translation, however, was made from the Sanskrit. Brunnhölzl’s translation, as he tells us, was made from the Sanskrit and Tibetan. In many places his translation is clearly based on the Tibetan translation rather than on the Sanskrit original. Of course, he made full use of the Sanskrit original in conjunction with the Tibetan translation.

Brunnhölzl’s translation has also made full use of all the advancements in our understanding of this unique text since the publication of the Sanskrit original in 1950, edited by E. H. Johnston (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” along with Nakamura’s 1961 Sanskrit edition with the Chinese translation, his corresponding edition of the Tibetan translation, and his two multi-lingual indexes). This includes all the corrections and proposed emendations to the published Sanskrit text. Johnston used for his edition photographs of two old Sanskrit manuscripts discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by Rāhula Sāṅkṛityāyana, one of which was missing more than half of its leaves, and the other “does not reach the standard of accuracy of most Nepali MSS. of its period,” in Johnston’s words (p. vii). Johnston used both the Tibetan and Chinese translations in helping to establish the Sanskrit text. Johnston’s edition was seen through the press after his death by T. Chowdhury, who provided the first corrections and emendations (pp. i-iii, xvi). Takasaki in the course of preparing his 1966 translation noted many more, listing them in an appendix, pp. 396-399 (see also the corrigenda to that book, here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, A Study on, Takasaki, corrigenda). Then J. W. de Jong in a 1968 review of Takasaki’s translation provided another large group of corrections and emendations (here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, A Study on, Takasaki, review by de Jong). After that, Lambert Schmithausen in a long German article published in 1971 provided yet another large group of corrections and emendations (here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, Philologische Bemerkungen zum, Schmithausen 1971). He was able to use photographs of the Sanskrit manuscripts for these. In 1985 the Sanskrit Mahāyānottara-tantra-ṭippaṇī by Vairocana-rakṣita was published, edited by Zuiryū Nakamura (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”). It provides many glosses on selected words and phrases, helpful for establishing both the meaning and the correct readings. Brunnhölzl used a later edition of it found in Kazuo Kano’s unpublished 2006 PhD dissertation. Brunnhölzl gives glosses from it in the notes to his translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. Yet another page of corrections to the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was given in Kano’s 2006 dissertation that Brunnhölzl acknowledges using (p. 1060, n. 1106). Kano recently informed me that he is preparing a new Sanskrit edition of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. This will bring together all these many needed corrections, as Brunnhölzl laboriously did for his careful translation, and more.

Brunnhölzl includes a translation of one more Sanskrit text in this book. In 1974 and 1975 Takasaki published the Sanskrit text of a brief upadeśa or “pith instruction” in 37 verses by Sajjana on the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, also discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by Rāhula Sāṅkṛityāyana (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”). Brunnhölzl’s translation of this utilized a fuller Sanskrit edition including the interlinear glosses, found in the unpublished 2006 PhD dissertation by Kazuo Kano, and is based on Kano’s unrevised and uncorrected preliminary draft translation. Kano will be publishing a revised and corrected translation of this text shortly.

Brunnhölzl’s translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga is also informed by several Tibetan commentaries. Two of these are included in English translation in this 1334-page book. Valuable as these commentaries are, this review is limited to the Sanskrit materials, as was my review of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra posted here on Dec. 31, 2014. Suffice it to say that the first of these Tibetan commentaries is a very early one apparently written by an anonymous student of the translator Mar pa do pa chos kyi dbang phyug (1042-1136). According to its colophon, it gives Mar pa do pa’s teachings and those of the Indian pandit Parahitabhadra. It is “A Commentary on the Meaning of the Words of the ‘Uttaratantra’.” Its English translation occupies pp. 473-694. The other one is by the Karma Kagyu teacher (B)dud mo bkra shis ’od zer (15th-16th century). It incorporates the otherwise unavailable topical outline of the Uttara-tantra written by the Third Karmapa, Rang ’byung rdo rje (1284-1339). It occupies pp. 695-776. Following this are translations of six short Tibetan texts pertaining to the Uttara-tantra, four of which are by the Kadampa teacher Skyo ston smon lam tshul khrims (1219-1299). 

In conclusion, Brunnhölzl has provided us with what is quite the most accurate English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga and its essential accompanying Indian commentary now available. Takasaki’s 1966 translation has deservedly held the field for nearly fifty years, and remains a necessary reference with its many grammatical notes. Brunnhölzl has fully utilized all the refinements of the Sanskrit text that have been published in the interim, has fully utilized the wide Tibetan exegetical tradition, and has employed more accurate and precise translation terminology that the intervening years have made possible.

Category: Noteworthy Books | 1 comment


The Sacred Four and the Emanation of the Primordial Seven

By Ingmar de Boer on January 1, 2015 at 6:00 pm


In the commentary on stanza IV śloka 2 (SD I, 88), it is described that, out of the sacred four, the primordial seven are produced:

The […] “Primordial” […] seven […] are the Ray and direct emanation of the first “Sacred Four,” the Tetraktis, that is, the eternally Self-Existent One […]. The first “Primordial” are the highest Beings on the Scale of Existence. They are the Archangels of Christianity, […]

They are the eternal tathāgatas or dhyāni buddhas of tantric Buddhism, or, as they are called most often in the SD, dhyān chohans. Note that the term dhyān chohan is also used in the SD in a broader sense, meaning deva or elemental spirit. In Buddhism the tathāgatas are eternal and unevolving. In SD I, 88 it is stated that they are latent in pralaya, and active during manvantara.

The Tetraktys

The sacred four are described as the tetraktys, the “holy tetrad”. In The Universal Over-Soul we have found that the sacred four are the four highest universal principles taken together. They are also called the self-existent one, svāyambhuva, or nārāyaṇa. Further, in the context of Kabbalism, they are called the tetragrammaton, which is the Hebrew four letter word IHVH, and Adam Kadmon, the heavenly man. (SD II, 595) In the note in SD I, 99n we find:

Adam Kadmon or Tetragrammaton is the Logos in the Kabala; […]

The word Logos is generally used by HPB for the manifested Logos, which is what we have called earlier the Second Logos. Further, in SD II, 599 we find:

Tetragrammaton, or the Tetractys of the Greeks, is the Second logos, the Demiurgos.

Two Possible Misunderstandings

Later in the SD however, the tetragrammaton is identified with the “lower quaternary”. In CW X, 357 (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge), we find:

The Tetraktys by which the Pythagoreans swore, was not the Tetragrammaton, but on the contrary, the higher or superior Tetraktys.

We must conclude that the term tetragrammaton is not used consequently in the SD. Whenever it is used we must ask ourselves whether it refers to the “higher” or the “lower” quaternary.

In the same location (CW X, 357), the tetraktys is seemingly identified with the First Logos:

The true Pythagorean Tetraktys was the Tetraktys of the invisible Monad, which produces the first Point, the second and the third and then retires into the darkness and everlasting silence; in other words the Tetraktys is the first Logos.

In this case we can see that this passage does not describe the unmanifested logos which we have called the First, but the sacred four, the tetraktys, which manifests itself and retires at the end of the manvantara, which is indeed our Second Logos.

The Cube Unfolded and the Double Quaternary

In the SD, HPB does not provide an exact mechanism of how the primordial seven are produced from the sacred four. Two different symbolic connections between the four and the seven are given, one of which refers to the 1875 work of J. Ralston Skinner, Key to the Hebrew-Egyptian Mystery in the Source of Measures. On p. 50 of this work is described that when a cube is folded open, a cross may be formed consisting of one bar of 3 squares and another bar of 4 squares. One square, common to the horizontal and vertical bars, may be counted twice. So we have the cube folded open symbolically representing the equation 6 = 3 + 4.

menorahA similar symbolic representation is given on p. 51 of the same work, where the menorah (mənorāh) of the Jewish temple is described as having four arms on each side, the middle arm being in common to both sides, or projected onto itself, so representing the equation 4 + 4 = 7.

The other symbolic connection between the four and the seven, HPB gives in SD II, 599, apparently quoting Johannes Reuchlin, from his 1517 work De Arte Cabalistica:

[…] and the tetrad doubled or unfolded makes the hebdomad (the septenary).

doublequaternaryHere we have the equation 4 x 2 = 7. A representation of this can be seen in the following diagram. We can see that there is an equivalence between the double square and the symbol of the “seal of Solomon”, the centre principle being projected onto itself.

It seems however, that HPB quoted a large passage from the 1875 work of George Oliver, The Pythagorean Triangle, and not directly from Reuchlin. Oliver fails to provide the right page reference, and I have not been able to find the passage in De Arte Cabalistica. On p. 104 of The Pythagorean Triangle, we find:

[…] and the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad.

Both Oliver and Reuchlin are quoting from Hierocles on this matter. If we go back to Hierocles’ Commentary on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, in the 1853 edition of F.G.A. Mullachius, we find on p. 128, line 9, the quote on the “arithmetical mean” of the monad and the heptad, being the tetrad. (SD II, 599)
What follows (in lines 17-18) is

καὶ ὁ η´ ἐκ τοῦ δὶϛ δ [sic],

“and the eight from the twice four” (2 x 4 = 8), instead of “the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad”. In this edition, the ‘ is missing after the δ.

In SD II, 599 there is another quote, also with a faulty page reference, apparently from Plutarchus’ De Animae Procreatione. This quote is also used in William Wynn Westcott’s work Numbers, their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, which was published as a book in 1890, but written in 1883. In Wynn Westcott’s work the passage looks like:

Plutarch, “De Anim. Procr.” 1027 [sic], says the world consists of a double Quaternary; 4 of the intellectual world, T’Agathon, Nous, Psyche and Hyle; that is Supreme Wisdom of Goodness, Mind, Soul, Matter and four of the Sensible World, forming the Kosmos of Elements, Fire, Air, Earth and Water; pur, aer, gē and πυρ, αῃρ, υδωρ.

So the two most significant elements concerning the double quaternary as yet prove to be unfounded: the Pythagorean world being a double Quaternary, and the hebdomad being a tetrad doubled. Returning to the equations, the 6 = 3 + 4, the 4 + 4 = 7 and the 4 x 2 = 7: in this context they all seem to express the same idea, that the primordial seven are “emanated” by the sacred four, so that, on the moment the fourth aspect comes into existence, the three eternals together with the fourth principle become a manifested tetrad, that is the Second Logos. The three are “mirrored” to become a new triad, while the fourth principle is unchanged, or, from a different perspective, the tetrad is mirrored to become a new tetrad, while the fourth principle is “counted double”, or projected onto itself.

The Ten and Seven Sefiroth

In the note in SD I, 99*, we find:

Adam Kadmon or Tetragrammaton is the Logos in the Kabala; therefore this triad answers in the latter to the highest triangle of Kether, Chochmah and Binah,

and in SD I, 98:

The esoteric Kabalists, however, following the Eastern Occultists, divide the upper Sephirothal triangle from the rest (or Sephira, Chochmah and Binah), which leaves seven Sephiroth.

From these two quotes, we may derive that in kabbalistic terms, in the tree of life, the three eternals are the three highest sefiroth (ISO 259: səp̄irōṯ), kĕṯĕr (səp̄irāh), ḥoḵəmāh and bināh. These three are emanated to become three manifested principles, being the three middle sefiroth, ḡəḇurāh, ḥĕsĕd and ṯip̄əʾĕrĕṯ. They are apparently mirrored (or transposed) downward to form the three lower sefiroth, hōd, nĕṣah and iəsōd. The lowest sefirah, maləkuṯ, corresponds to our fourth principle, according to HPB.
The Four and Seven Elements and Their Atoms

In SD II, 587 it is stated that the sacred four are identical to the four elements:

[…] the Four Elements, the “Sacred Four,” in their mystical, and not alone in their cosmical meaning;

Also in HPB’s quote from Wynn Westcott (above), attributed to Plutarchus, the “second quaternary” represents the “sensible world”, forming the Pythagorean “kosmos” of the four elements. In SD I, 82 we find how the first four principles should relate to the four elements:

Primordial matter, then, before it emerges from the plane of the never-manifesting, and awakens to the thrill of action under the impulse of Fohat, is but “a cool Radiance, colourless, formless, tasteless, and devoid of every quality and aspect.” Even such are her first-born, the “four sons,” who “are One, and become Seven,” — the entities, by whose qualifications and names the ancient Eastern Occultists called the four of the seven primal “centres of Forces,” or atoms, that develop later into the great Cosmic “Elements,” […] The four primal natures of the first Dhyan Chohans, are […]

The “primal centres of Forces” are called atoms, or aṇu in Sanskrit literature. They later become the elements in the sense that the atoms are the bases of the four and seven different types of matter in the universe. They are all meta-physical except the seventh, which is the domain of present-day physics. Its primal centre of force is the ultimate physical atom.

In SD I, 216, in a quote from the ancient “Commentary”, the elements are summed up alongside the various hierarchies of elemental entitities:

“The first after the ‘One’ is divine Fire; the second, Fire and AEther; the third is composed of Fire, AEther and Water; the fourth of Fire, AEther, Water, and Air.”* […] “The ‘First-Born’ are the LIFE, […],”** as said in the Commentary.

Four-Faced Brahmā

BrahmaAs is noted in the SD in several places (f.e. SD I, 542), Aṇu, the Sanskrit word for atom, is also a name of Brahmā. In an earlier article On the Eternal Germ we have been looking at quotes from various versions of the story of the birth of four-faced Brahmā, the universe, born from the navel of Viṣṇu. In Bhāgavat Purāṇa 3.8.16 (GRETIL) for example, we find:

tasyāṃ sa cāmbho-ruha-karṇikāyām avasthito lokam apaśyamānaḥ
parikraman vyomni vivṛtta-netraś catvāri lebhe ‘nudiśaṃ mukhāni

An English rendering of Eugène Burnouf’s 1840 French translation (t. 1, p. 191-192) would be something like:

Sitting in the centre of that plant, from where he did not see the world, his look wandering about the sky, Brahmâ took on four faces, each answering to one of the points of the horizon.

In this verse, a connection is made between the faces and the cardinal directions. In SD II, 464, the four faces are identified with the higher tetragrammaton. In Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge (TBL, cf. CW X), on p. 71-72, most of the connections we have found so far in this article are summarised, and in the 2010 edition by Michael Gomes, The Secret Doctrine Commentaries, on p. 390, we also find that four-faced Brahmā is identified with the (higher) tetragrammaton:

[…] the four-faced Brahmā, the one who manifests on our plane and who is identical with the tetragrammaton also.

Summary of the Four and Seven Universal Principles

Enumerating all concepts (tetrads) we have found to be related, or analogous, to the sacred four, we have: the (higher) tetraktys, the self-existent one, the first four dhyān chohans (four sons, four first-born), the four highest universal principles (7th-4th), the (higher) tetragrammaton (IHVH), Adam Kadmon (heavenly man), the Second Logos, the demiurg, the higher quaternary, the four faces of Brahmā, and the four cardinal directions.

Enumerating all the sevenfolds we have found to be related to the sacred four, we have: the primordial seven, the seven dhyān chohans (tathāgatas, dhyāni buddhas, archangels, sons, fighters), seven universal (cosmic) principles, arms of the menorah of the Jewish temple, the double quaternary, the elements, sefiroth, seven primal centres of forces, atoms, aṇu, the seven types of matter in the universe, and the seven planes of the universe.

We have not been able to trace here, the individual correspondences for each of these in the SD, but some individual items are listed reliably. In Esoteric Instruction I in CW XII, 658, the universal principles are also listed, as “macrocosmic states of consciousness”, and “elements of manifested macrocosm”. They are added here, in the following table.

  Universal Principles Macrocosmic States Elements
  SD II, 596 CW XII, 658 SD I, 216
7 The Unmanifested Logos Ātmic Fire
6 Universal (latent) Ideation Alayic AEther
5 Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Mahātic Water
4 Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy Fohatic Air  
3 Astral Ideation, reflecting terrestrial things Jīvic  
2 Life Essence or Energy Astral  
1 The Earth Prakṛitic  

Category: Atom (anu), Brahma, Dhyan Chohans, Elements, Mahat, Sefiroth, Tetragrammaton, Tetraktys | 1 comment


Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra: A Review

By David Reigle on December 31, 2014 at 11:59 pm

(keywords: Mahayana-sutralamkara, Mahayanasutralamkara)

A new English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra came out last month (November, 2014): Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras: Maitreya’s Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, translated by Dharmachakra Translation Committee (Boston & London: Snow Lion, 2014). It was preceded by two other English translations of this text: (1) Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra by ‘Asaṅga,’ Sanskrit Text and Translated into English by Dr. (Mrs.) Surekha Vijay Limaye (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1992); and (2) The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature (Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra), By Maitreyanātha/Āryāsaṅga, Together with its Commentary (Bhāṣya), By Vasubandhu, Translated from the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese by L. Jamspal, R. Clark, J. Wilson, L. Zwilling, M. Sweet, R. Thurman (New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2004). The new translation has been hailed as the most readable one now available. While readability is important, even more important is accuracy. It will be worthwhile to compare the existing translations using this criterion.

The 2014 English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is a translation of a translation, being made from the Tibetan translation in the Derge edition (Translators’ Introduction, note 12, p. 964), without reference to the Sanskrit original. This allows us to see how this text was understood in Tibet, as do the two accompanying commentaries written in Tibet in comparatively recent times. The value of this is that the Buddhist tradition has been lost in India, its homeland, for about a thousand years now. Thus, as I have noted elsewhere,1 the 1992 English translation made in India from the published Sanskrit text (without reference to the Tibetan translation) is quite unreliable. The obviously sincere and well-meaning translator acknowledges the help of her teacher and of her supervisor (Introduction, p. xxiii), who clearly were unfamiliar with the Buddhist teachings. The common Buddhist phrase, śaraṇa-gamana, “going for refuge,” is here translated as “recourse to surrender” (p. 24); the term pudgala, used throughout Buddhism to mean “person,” is here translated as used throughout Jainism to mean “matter” (e.g., pp. 244, 441, 447, etc.); the phrase giving the fundamental Buddhist doctrine, ātma-dṛṣṭi, “(false) view of self,” is here translated as “one’s own view point” (p. 69). The Tibetan tradition regards itself as having preserved the Indian tradition intact, giving the original meaning of the text unchanged. A welcome window into the Tibetan exegesis of this text is provided by the new translation. For the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra itself, however, modern scholarship must question whether a translation of a translation, however competently done, can take the place of a translation of the original, competently done.

The prior 2004 English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra was also made from the Tibetan translation, but was then clarified and corrected by comparison with the published Sanskrit text, and with some reference to the early Chinese translation. When a text goes from a language having a very large vocabulary, such as Sanskrit, into a language having a much smaller vocabulary, such as Tibetan, something is inevitably lost. While the Tibetan tradition has no doubt correctly preserved the meaning of the Sanskrit text in general, to expect it to have captured every particular is unrealistic. Therefore, the translators of the 2004 translation felt the need to utilize the Sanskrit text. Because the Tibetan vocabulary is smaller than the Sanskrit vocabulary, one Tibetan word must translate more than one Sanskrit word. For example, in verse 6.3d (Sanskrit edition and 2004 English translation) or 7.3d (Tibetan translation and 2014 English translation), the Sanskrit word dharmamayaḥ was translated by the Tibetan words chos kyi rang bzhin. The Sanskrit word dharma is always translated by the Tibetan word chos, and is here used in its meaning, “the elements of existence” or “phenomena.” The Tibetan word rang bzhin most often translates the Sanskrit word svabhāva, “inherent nature.” This allowed the Tibetan words to be understood as the very common phrase used in philosophy, “the inherent nature of phenomena.” Thus, the 2014 translation has: “This is the nature of phenomena.” Here, however, the Tibetan word rang bzhin translates the Sanskrit suffix, -maya, “consisting of.” The verse is talking about people (Skt. janaḥ, Tib. skye bo), saying that they “consist of phenomena”; it is not making a statement about the nature of phenomena. Accordingly, the 2004 translation has: “they [beings] . . . are objective,” where by “objective” we are to understand that they are “objects,” “things,” “phenomena” (dharma-s).

Similarly, when putting teachings into metrical verses, which the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is composed of, words must often be altered or substituted to fit the meter. In Sanskrit texts, these words are usually restored in the accompanying commentary. In the Tibetan translations of these metrical verses, syllables must often be dropped to fit the Tibetan meter, which is regulated by the number of syllables per line of verse. Sometimes these omitted syllables are ones that provide necessary information, such as the declension or number of a word. Declensional endings, separate syllables in Tibetan, tell the reader how to take the word in the sentence. Without them, the reader is left to guess at the construal and intended meaning. For example, in verse 6.6c or 7.6c, the Sanskrit word dharmeṣu (locative declension, plural number) was translated by the Tibetan word chos la (accusative, dative, or locative declension, singular number). The syllable showing the plural number (rnams) was dropped to fit the meter. This allowed the word dharma or chos to be taken in the Tibetan translation in the singular, as “the Dharma,” i.e., the Buddhist teachings, rather than as the dharma-s, the “elements of existence” or “phenomena” or “things.” Thus, the 2014 translation has: “The bodhisattva contemplates the Dharma in a most decisive way”; while the 2004 translation has: “a bodhisattva becomes decisive in her judgment about things.”

The Tibetan translations are deservedly renowned for their high degree of accuracy in following the Sanskrit originals very closely. The Tibetan translations are much more literal than the great majority of English translations today. This literal accuracy has resulted in the most precise transferal of a body of religious knowledge from one language to another known to history. Because the Tibetan translations follow the Sanskrit originals so closely, their style is closer to Sanskrit than to native Tibetan. This at times can present a challenge in understanding them, and in translating these translations into English. When the Sanskrit text is available, ambiguities in the Tibetan translation can usually be clarified by reference to it. For example, the 2014 translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, made only from the Tibetan, erroneously has (verse 2.7): “Because of its [the Great Vehicle’s] vastness and profundity, maturation and nonconceptuality, its teaching is twofold.” The 2004 translation, clarified by comparison with the Sanskrit, has (verse 1.7, or verse 1.13 in the Sanskrit edition): “From the magnificent and the profound come evolutionary development and nonconceptual (wisdom). (The universal vehicle) teaches both, . . .” The verse does not say, “Because of its . . . maturation and nonconceptuality,” but rather speaks of its twofold teaching of vastness and profundity, saying that maturation comes from vastness, and nonconceptuality comes from profundity. This is unmistakable in the Sanskrit. Many more errors of this type could be cited, that would have easily been avoided by reference to the Sanskrit.

The long lost Sanskrit text of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra and its accompanying commentary (bhāṣya) was discovered in 1898 in Nepal by Sylvain Lévi. It was then edited by him and published in Paris in 1907 (posted on this website under “Sanskrit Texts”), followed by his pioneering French translation in 1911. Lévi’s edition was based on a transcript made for him of a single manuscript,2 a paper manuscript written in 1677-1678 as we now know,3 and such manuscripts are notoriously full of scribal errors. Lévi’s edition became the basis of the 1970 edition by S. Bagchi, helpful because it corrects many misprints and other errors in Lévi’s edition (see Bagchi’s forty-page corrigenda), and these two became the basis of the 1985 edition by Dwarika Das Shastri. Lévi’s edition also became the basis of the 1992 translation by way of Bagchi’s edition, and was the Sanskrit text used for comparison for the 2004 translation. Lévi made many corrections to his 1907 Sanskrit edition in his 1911 French translation, and in 1958 Gadjin Nagao published eleven pages of corrections to Lévi’s edition, including those made by Lévi.4 Nagao’s corrections were based primarily on the Tibetan and Chinese translations and on Sthiramati’s sub-commentary (in Tibetan translation), and also on two additional Sanskrit manuscripts that were brought to Japan and are kept in the Ryukoku University Library.5 Accordingly, the 2004 translation says that “There are three known Sanskrit texts of the MSA” (Introduction, p. xxxiii), and the 2014 translation repeats this, referring to “the three extant Sanskrit manuscripts” (Translators’ Introduction, note 12, p. 964). In fact, additional Sanskrit manuscripts of this text exist in the Nepal National Archives.6 In 1985, Naoya Funahashi published chapters 1, 2, 3, 9, and 10 of a much needed revised edition, based on these additional manuscripts, and in 2000, a revised edition of chapter 11.7

The 2004 translation is the result of a longstanding effort involving several scholars, who produced a completed draft already by the end of the 1970s. So by 1980 the Sanskrit text had already been compared. Thus, the corrections by Lévi (1911) and Nagao (1958, as well as his later personal input) were utilized, but the revised editions by Funahashi (1985, 2000) were not utilized. Nor were the many corrections that Lévi had written in his personal copy of his edition, published only in 2001 thanks to the efforts of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, filling eight printed pages.8 In the last few years, Kazuo Kano has been publishing the edited Sanskrit text of eight folios of a very old palm-leaf manuscript of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra and bhāṣya found at the Ngor monastery in Tibet.9 While these include valuable corrections, they also show that the Sanskrit text we have, disregarding scribal errors, is essentially the same as the one translated into Tibetan long ago. The 2004 translators shied away from referring to the “Sanskrit original” (Preface, p. x), because of the many errors in the comparatively late Sanskrit manuscripts found in Nepal (on one of which Lévi’s edition was based), but we can now certainly do so. The Tibetan translation, too, has numerous scribal errors, as may be seen by comparison between the various Tengyur editions.

A translation of the very helpful Sanskrit commentary that accompanies the verses, the bhāṣya by Vasubandhu, is included in full in the 2004 translation (and also in the 1992 translation, but this translation is simply too unreliable to take into account). The Tibetan translation of this commentary was, in effect, abridged by Khenpo Shenga (1871-1927), and was thus partially included in the 2014 translation by way of his commentary. Thus, good explanations of the often too brief verses are found in both the 2004 and 2014 translations. Sometimes the verses are not explained (or not fully explained) in the accompanying commentary, which is comparatively brief, so a larger commentary must then be consulted. In India, this larger commentary is the sub-commentary by Sthiramati, so far still lost in Sanskrit, but preserved in its Tibetan translation. In Tibet, the larger commentary by Ju Mipham (1846-1912) drew heavily upon the commentary by Sthiramati. A translation of Mipham’s lengthy commentary is included in full in the 2014 translation, bringing the page count of this translation to 929 pages. For the 2004 translation, Lobsang Jamspal read through the entire Sthiramati sub-commentary and adapted that translation accordingly.

The dust jacket of the 2014 translation quotes scholars describing it as an “outstanding translation,” and saying that “the translators have rendered this text . . . into the most accessible and readable English now available.” This is a polite way of adverting to the English of the 2004 translation as being less accessible and readable. An American longtime Buddhist put it more bluntly in an email reply to me shortly after the 2004 translation was published: “You are too kind to Thurman. I am disgusted that he took the serviceable version by ?? (forgot which Tibetan did it) [Lobsang Jamspal] and plugged in his ‘evolution,’ ‘genius’ and other ludicrous thurmanisms. I have tried to read it, but simply do not know what many of the thurmanisms correspond to. So it sits on the shelf. Thirty years wait and this is what we get! And he has no Tibetan-Thurman glossary so one could match up his goofy translation choices.” The English terminology in the 2004 translation is avowedly experimental (Preface, p. x), and Thurman’s translation choices for these terms were mostly adopted later in the joint translation process. Besides “evolution” or “evolutionary action” for karma, “evolutionary maturity” for paripāka (translated as “full maturation” in the 2014 translation), and “genius” for dhīmat (a common epithet of a bodhisattva, translated as “wise individual” in the 2014 translation), the 2004 translation employs translations such as “addictions” (or “mental addictions”) for kleśa. This basic term in Buddhism had long been translated as “defilements,” and more recently as “afflictions” (or “mental afflictions”), as it is in the 2014 translation. The 2004 translation also switches back and forth between “his” and “her” pronouns throughout, even though the original text does not, in deference to modern sensibilities about respect to women. Even the title was a last-minute change, translating alaṃkāra as “literature” rather than as “ornament” (Introduction, p. xiii, fn. 3).

From Thurman’s lifelong work and publications, I have no doubt that his translation choices are motivated by the bodhisattva ideal of benefiting all sentient beings. With these new translation terms, he is apparently trying to reach a wider public. As an unintended consequence, the 2004 translation is harder to use by students of Buddhism who are accustomed to more standard translations of Buddhist terms, and who may well make up the book’s largest readership. Ironically, 27 years earlier in 1977, Thurman had rather harshly reviewed the translation of Longchenpa’s text, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, made by Herbert Guenther, who has become well-known for his unique choices of translation terms: “Unfortunately, Guenther ruins the whole thing, shrouding the jewel of the original with his own intellectual obscurities so that we catch only an occasional glint of its brilliance.”10 It is certainly true that a glossary would have helped the 2004 translation immensely, and one will no doubt be added in a future edition. As the first volume in the Tanjur Translation Initiative, this book was published under more difficult circumstances than normal, and subsequent volumes in this series do have glossaries.

We may now turn to a few example verses from the two translations. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya picked out verse 9.23 (or 10.23) as a key verse with which to open his book, L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien (The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism). This verse pertains to the question of the ātman or “self,” whose denial is considered to be one of the defining characteristics of Buddhism. The Sanskrit is given below from Lévi (1907) as corrected by Nagao (1958) and Funahashi (1985), and also in a footnote in the 2004 translation. As noted by Bhattacharya (2001, p. 6), it turns out that the incorrect Sanskrit reading found in Lévi’s 1907 edition, nairātmyānmārgalābhataḥ, is a silent emendation by Lévi himself. His manuscript had it correct except for a missing “r” (a small stroke under the “ga”), which threw him off the right track. Bhattacharya reproduces the actual manuscript folio that Lévi used, showing the reading, nairātmyātmāgalābhataḥ (at the very beginning of that folio). The Tibetan is given below from the Comparative Tengyur published in China (vol. 70, 2001, p. 823, lines 4-5, text of the verses only, having the present form ’gyur for the last syllable, and pp. 1196-1197, text of the verses with commentary, having the past form gyur for the last syllable, which I adopt in agreement with the Sanskrit past form gata).

śūnyatāyāṃ viśuddhāyāṃ nairātmyâtmâgra-lābhataḥ |
buddhāḥ śuddhâtma-lābhitvāt gatā ātma-mahâtmatām || 9.23 ||

stong pa nyid ni rnam dag na || bdag med mchog gi bdag thob pas ||
sangs rgyas dag pa’i bdag thob phyir || bdag nyid chen po’i bdag tu gyur ||

9.23. In pure voidness buddhas achieve the supreme self of selflessness, and realize the spiritual greatness of the self by discovering the pure self. (2004 translation)

10.23. Within pure emptiness,
The buddhas achieve the supreme self of selflessness.
Thus they achieve the pure self,
And are hence the self of great beings. (2014 translation)

First, we see that both translations use “selflessness” for nairātmya (Tib. bdag med). The word selflessness in English has always meant unselfishness or altruism. Here it has been employed to mean something very different, the Buddhist teaching of the “absence of a self” in persons (pudgala-s), and according to Mahāyāna Buddhism, also in things or phenomena (dharma-s). If you are “in the loop,” if you are among those who have read a number of modern books on Buddhism, you will know this meaning and usage of the word selflessness. If you are not in the loop, this translation of nairātmya will make little sense.

Another translation of this verse, one that follows the Sanskrit very closely, was made by Paul Griffiths in a 1990 article (p. 52):11

“In pure emptiness,
By obtaining the supreme self which is without self,
Buddhas arrive at the great-selfed self
As a result of obtaining the pure self.”

The 2014 translation says that the buddhas “are hence the self of great beings.” While the Tibetan translation allows this English translation, the Sanskrit, both of the verse and of the commentary, does not. In the Tibetan words bdag nyid chen po, taken as “great being,” the nyid actually translates the Sanskrit abstract suffix -tā, “-ness,” on mahātmatā, literally “great-self-ness,” or “great-selfed” in the Griffiths translation, or just “greatness” in the 2004 translation.

Vasubandhu’s commentary tells us that this verse is about the highest self (paramâtman) of the buddhas in the uncontaminated (anāsrava) realm (dhātu, here Tib. dbyings, and also may be translated as space or element). Vasubandhu also tells us that it is the self (ātman) of the buddhas in the sense of “inherent nature” (svabhāva), important because both ātman and svabhāva are otherwise denied in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Unless we know that “intrinsic reality” translates svabhāva in the 2004 translation, as a glossary would tell us, we would miss this. Here is Vasubandhu’s commentary on this verse as found in the 2004 translation, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Funahashi’s edition, with one missing diacritic restored by me, otherwise agreeing with Lévi’s edition) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1197, showing five variant readings, of which I cite only one):

tatra cânāsrave dhātau buddhānāṃ paramâtmā nirdiśyate | kiṃ kāraṇaṃ | agra-nairātmyâtmakatvāt | agraṃ nairātmyaṃ viśuddhā tathatā sā ca buddhānām ātmā svabhāvârthena tasyāṃ viśuddhāyām agraṃ nairātmyam ātmānaṃ buddhā labhante śuddhaṃ | ataḥ śuddhâtma-lābhitvāt buddhā ātma-māhātmyaṃ prāptā ity anenâbhisaṃdhinā buddhānām anāsrave dhātau paramâtmā vyavasthāpyate |

zag pa med pa’i dbyings de la sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag nyid kyi mchog ston te | ci’i phyir zhe na | bdag med pa mchog gi bdag nyid kyi phyir ro || bdag med pa mchog ni de bzhin nyid rnam par dag pa’o || de yang ngo bo nyid kyi don gyis sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag yin no || de rnam par dag na sangs rgyas rnams kyis bdag med pa mchog gi bdag nyid dag pa ’thob po || de bas na sangs rgyas rnams kyi dag pa’i bdag thob pa’i phyir bdag nyid chen po’i bdag tu gyur pa yin te | dgongs pa ’di* ni zag pa med pa’i dbyings la sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag gi mchog rnam par ’jog go ||

*’dis in the Peking and Narthang editions.

“This shows the supreme self of the buddhas in the uncontaminated realm. Why? Because hers is the self of supreme selflessness. Supreme selflessness is completely pure suchness, and that is a buddha’s ‘self,’ in the sense of ‘intrinsic reality.’ When this is completely pure, buddhas attain superior selflessness, a pure self. Therefore, by attaining a pure self buddhas realize the spiritual greatness of self. Thus it is with this intention that buddhas are declared to have a supreme self in the uncontaminated realm.”

Khenpo Shenga’s commentary is here quite brief, extracting only a couple of points from Vasubandhu’s commentary. As found in the 2014 translation, Khenpo Shenga’s commentary on this verse follows. Words quoted from the verse itself are put in bold, a helpful feature.

Within pure emptiness, the buddhas achieve the suchness that is the supreme self of selflessness. Thus they achieve the supremely pure self, and hence they are the self that is the realization of great beings.”

Ju Mipham’s commentary is also comparatively brief here, making up less than half a page in the 2014 translation. Sthiramati’s commentary on this verse makes up two full pages in the English translation of chapter 9 of this commentary that is included in Cuong Tu Nguyen’s 1990 Harvard PhD. thesis (attached, see link in footnote).12 As a comparison of these commentaries on this verse will show, Mipham here takes little from Sthiramati, but instead comments more in accordance with the “Great Madhyamaka” ideas that form the basis of the Ri-mé or “non-sectarian” movement. Mipham was one of the major teachers of this late nineteenth-century movement in Tibet. Here is Mipham’s commentary on this verse as found in the 2014 translation:

“The pure and natural luminosity of emptiness is completely free from the self-manifestation of the adventitious defilements. In the absence of the twofold self of persons and phenomena, this is the actual nature of things, the supreme nature of the abiding reality, the intrinsic nature or essence itself. In achieving this, the buddhas have achieved a nature that is of complete purity. Thus, [to actualize] the suchness that is the unmistaken way things are is to be ‘the self of great beings.’ This self is not the same as the conceived object that is involved when apprehending the twofold self because such a self has no bearing on things as they are. The buddhas, however, have actualized the unmistaken abiding reality, which is the suchness of the twofold selflessness, free from the extremes of existence and nonexistence. That is the supreme self—‘the self of great beings.’”

The next example is from the third chapter (or fourth in the Tibetan translation). This is the first chapter on a Buddhist doctrinal topic, after the introductory chapter(s) and the chapter on going for refuge. Its topic is the gotra (Tib. rigs), a term that is very hard to translate adequately into English. David Seyfort Ruegg has distinguished three main meanings in Buddhist usage: 1. mine, matrix; 2. family, clan, lineage; 3. germ, seed.13 It is translated as “spiritual gene” in the 2004 translation, although in a 1979 draft of this translation that I have access to, it was translated as “heritage.” It is translated as “potential” in the 2014 translation. (It is left untranslated in the 1992 translation.) Verse 4 of this chapter gives its defining characteristics. The Sanskrit is given from Funahashi’s edition, agreeing with Lévi’s edition. The Tibetan is given from the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 810, lines 6-8, where the text of only the verses has a variant reading, and from vol. 70, p. 1152, lines 9-11, where the text of the verses with commentary has another variant reading. I have ignored a third variant reading that is obviously an error.

prakṛtyā paripuṣṭaṃ ca āśrayaś câśritaṃ ca tat |
sad asac câiva vijñeyaṃ guṇôttāraṇatârthataḥ || 3.4 ||

rang bzhin dang ni rgyas pa dang || de ni rten dang brten pa dang ||
yod med nyid* dang yon tan ni** || sgrol ba’i don du shes par bya ||

*gnyis in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions of the text of the verses with commentary.

**dang in the Peking and Narthang editions of the text of the verses only.

3.4 “Natural, developed, support, supported, existent and nonexistent; it is to be understood in the sense of “delivering excellences.” (2004 translation)

4.4 “The natural and the developed
Are the support and the supported.
Present while not present,
It should be known to mean “freeing qualities.” (2014 translation)

Vasubandhu’s commentary explains this verse, as found in the 2004 translation, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Funahashi’s edition, with one missing diacritic restored by me, otherwise agreeing with Lévi’s edition) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1152, ignoring two variant readings that are obvious scribal errors):

etena catur-vidhaṃ gotraṃ darśayati | prakṛti-sthaṃ samudānītam āśraya-svabhāvam āśrita-svabhāvaṃ ca tad eva yathā-kramaṃ | tat punar hetu-bhāvena sat phala-bhāvenâsat | guṇôttāraṇârthena gotraṃ veditavyaṃ guṇā uttaranty asmād uddhavantîti kṛtvā |

’dis ni rigs rnam pa bzhi ston te | rang bzhin du gnas pa dang | yang dag par bsgrubs pa dang | rten gyi ngo bo nyid dang | brten pa’i ngo bo nyid de de dag nyid dang go rims bzhin no || de ni rgyu’i dngos por yod do || ’bras bu’i dngos por med do || rigs ni yon tan sgrol ba’i don du yang rig par bya ste | ’di las yon tan sgrol zhing ’byung ba’i phyir ro ||

“This shows the spiritual gene to be fourfold: existing by nature, being developed, having the nature of a support, and having the nature of the supported, respectively. It exists as a cause, it does not exist as an effect. The spiritual gene is to be understood in the sense of ‘delivering excellences’; because excellences are delivered—that is, emerge—from it.”

The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra chapter and Vasubandhu’s commentary thereon, consisting of thirteen verses, give the gotra teachings briefly. They are given more extensively, and in prose, in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi, where they form the first chapter. Thurman writes in his Introduction (p. xxxv): “The BBh [Bodhisattva-bhūmi] follows the pattern of the MSA [Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra] very closely, which is why I consider it to be Asaṅga’s own ‘meaning-’ or ‘depth-commentary’ (Tib. don ’grel) on the text.” It certainly does give the teachings in more depth. This is especially true of the tattvārtha or “reality” chapter. This is the sixth chapter (or seventh in the Tibetan translation) of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, consisting of only ten verses. It is the fourth chapter of the Bodhisattva-bhūmi, consisting of twenty-one pages in the 1937 Unrai Wogihara edition (pp. 37-57), and of fifteen pages in the 1966 Nalinaksha Dutt edition (pp. 25-39) (both posted on this website under “Sanskrit Texts”). The central theme of this chapter in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi is the vastu, the “thing” in itself. The vastu is not even mentioned in this chapter of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra. H. P. Blavatsky in a private letter of 1886, describing The Secret Doctrine that she was then writing, linked the “Book of Dzyan” with the secret book of Maitreya Buddha. By contrast, she referred to the known five books of Maitreya, which are written in verse, as blinds:

“I have finished an enormous Introductory Chapter, or Preamble, Prologue, call it what you will; just to show the reader that the text as it goes, every Section beginning with a page of translation from the Book of Dzyan and the Secret Book of ‘Maytreya Buddha’ Champai chhos Nga (in prose, not the five books in verse known, which are a blind) are no fiction.”14

Blavatsky’s description of the known verse works of Maitreya, including the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, as a “blind” seems to be fitting when we compare it to the much more detailed teachings in the prose Bodhisattva-bhūmi. Nonetheless, even a “blind” (if it is such), contains important teachings, however brief. The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra in this tattvārtha chapter speaks of the dharma-dhātu beyond mind in verses 7-8. These are key verses for the Yogācāra school of Buddhism, often held to teach “mind-only” (citta-mātra). Here are these verses in the two translations, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Lévi’s edition, transliterated and hyphenated by me) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 816, lines 6-11, ignoring one variant reading, and p. 1174, lines 4-9, also ignoring one variant reading, a different one). Note that dharma-dhātu is translated in the 2004 translation as the “ultimate realm,” and in the 2014 translation as the “basic field of phenomena.”

arthān sa vijñāya ca jalpa-mātrān saṃtiṣṭhate tan-nibha-citta-mātre |
pratyakṣatām eti ca dharma-dhātus tasmād viyukto dvaya-lakṣaṇena || 6.7 ||

nâstîti cittāt param etya buddhyā cittasya nâstitvam upaiti tasmāt |
dvayasya nâstitvam upetya dhīmān saṃtiṣṭhate ’tad-gati-dharma-dhātau || 6.8 ||

de yis brjod pa tsam du don rig nas || der snang sems tsam la ni yang dag gnas ||
de nas chos dbyings gnyis kyi mtshan nyid dang || bral ba mngon sum nyid du rtogs par ’gyur ||

sems las gzhan med par ni blos rig nas || de nas sems kyang med pa nyid du rtogs ||
blo dang ldan pas gnyis po med rig nas || de mi ldan pa’i chos kyi dbyings la gnas ||

6.7. And once aware that objects are mere verbalizations she securely dwells in the realm of mind alone with such (objective) appearance. Then she realizes intuitively that the ultimate realm is (immanently) present, free of the nature of duality.

6.8 Realizing intellectually that there is nothing apart from mind, she understands then that mind (itself) has no (ultimate) existence. Understanding that duality has no existence, such a genius dwells in the ultimate realm which has no (duality). (2004 translation)

7.7 Hence, knowing objects to be mere expressions,
The bodhisattva recognizes that such appearances are mind only,
And then realizes the basic field of phenomena,
Free from the characteristics of duality, in direct perception.

7.8 Becoming aware that there is nothing apart from the mind,
The bodhisattva also realizes that the mind does not exist at all.
Having seen that the two do not exist, the intelligent one abides
In the basic field of phenomena, which does not contain them. (2014 translation)

As we see, following upon the idea that nothing exists other than mind (nâstîti cittāt param), these verses say the bodhisattva realizes that the mind does not exist (cittasya nâstitvam). The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is a fundamental text of the Yogācāra school, a school that is widely held to teach the existence of “mind-only” (citta-mātra), and thus is also called the Cittamātra school. The “Great Madhyamaka” tradition claims the five treatises of Maitreya as its source texts, saying that these texts do not teach “mind-only”; but rather they teach that mind, like all other phenomena, does not ultimately exist. These verses from the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra would be an important source reference in support of this assertion. Interestingly, although Mipham as a Ri-mé teacher is a major exponent of the Great Madhyamaka tradition, he does not bring out this point in his commentary on these verses.

The example verses quoted so far were chosen to illustrate important ideas found in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra. They have not much illustrated the differences between the two translations in translation terminology. For this, we may look at verse 9.9 (or 10.9). Before doing so, we must note that the Tibetan translation of this verse differs from Lévi’s Sanskrit edition in two places. Neither Lévi in his corrections published long posthumously in 2001 nor Nagao in his corrigenda published in 1958 suggested emendations to this Sanskrit verse. So we are glad to see that the 2004 translation in a footnote (p. 76, fn. 16) gives emendations to this Sanskrit verse in three places, even though none of these three emendations fit the meter, and the third of these is unnecessary.15 The second of these emendations concerns the word ’jig tshogs found in the Tibetan translation. This is the standard translation of the Sanskrit word satkāya, which is not found in Lévi’s Sanskrit edition. However, Funahashi in his 1985 revised edition of this chapter shows that five Nepalese manuscripts do have satkāya here. The words sarvarakṣāpayānaṃ in Lévi’s edition thus should be sarvasatkāyayāna as in Funahashi’s edition. This also fits the meter. I give his revised text of this verse below. The remaining emendation to this Sanskrit verse is not so easy to ascertain.16 I give the Tibetan from the text of only the verses in the Comparative Tengyur (vol. 70, p. 821, lines 13-16), which has one significant variant reading, and two insignificant ones that I have ignored. Likewise the text of the verses with commentary has two variant readings that I have ignored (vol. 70, p. 1192, lines 18-21).

śaraṇam anupamaṃ tac chreṣṭha-buddhatvam iṣṭaṃ janana-maraṇa-sarva-kleśa-pāpeṣu rakṣā |
vividha-bhaya-gatānāṃ sarva-satkāya-yāna-pratata-vividha-duḥkhâpāya-nôpāya-gānāṃ || 9.9 ||

sangs rgyas nyid de skyabs ni dpe med mchog tu ’dod ||
sna tshogs ’jigs gyur ’jig tshogs kun dang theg pa dang ||
ngan song rnam mang sdug bsngal thabs min song ba rnams ||
skye dang ’chi dang nyon mongs ngan song* kun las srung || 

*las rnams in the Peking and Narthang editions of the text of the verses only.

9.9 Supreme buddhahood is accepted as the incomparable refuge. It grants protection amidst births and deaths, amidst all addictions and hellish migrations, for all those who have fallen into various dangers, materiality, (inferior) vehicles, unremitting suffering of various kinds, hellish rebirths, and unliberating arts. (2004 translation)

10.9 The refuge of buddhahood is held to be incomparably supreme,
For it protects against the different fears, all of the transitory collection, the vehicles,
The numerous sufferings of the lower realms, the pursuit of nonmethods,
Birth, death, afflictions, and the lower realms. (2014 translation)

We notice in the 2004 translation three unique translation terms:

(1) “addictions” for kleśa-s (Tib. nyon mongs), translated as “afflictions” in the 2014 translation. As said above, “afflictions” (or “mental afflictions”) has now become a frequent translation for kleśa-s in Buddhist texts, as has “afflictive emotions.” I have also seen “mental and moral afflictions.” These translations are based on the etymological and literal meaning of kleśa as “affliction.” Interestingly, “affliction” was also the earliest English translation of kleśa, found in James R. Ballantyne’s 1852 and 1853 translation of Yoga-sūtra books 1 and 2 (where they are enumerated at 2.3), and adopted by many other translators of this Hindu text up to the present. In previous translations of Buddhist texts this term was often given more descriptive translations such as “defilements,” “moral defilements,” “defiled emotions,” “passions,” etc. The kleśa-s are desire, hatred, delusion, pride, ignorance, wrong views, doubt, etc.

(2) “materiality” for sat-kāya (Tib. ’jig tshogs), translated as “the transitory collection” in the 2014 translation. The term “transitory collection” is not uncommon in English translations made from the Tibetan, since it is a translation of the Tibetan translation, ’jig tshogs, which in turn is a literal translation of the Sanskrit term, sat-kāya, as it is explained in Buddhist texts.17 This term is associated with the basic Buddhist teaching of ātma-dṛṣṭi, the “(false) view of self.” The transitory or perishable collection or aggregation refers to the body, feelings, thoughts, etc. (the skandha-s), that together make up a person, and which is falsely regarded as a permanent self. This term is therefore often given more descriptive translations. Thus, it is translated as “false views of self” in Cuong Nguyen’s translation of Sthiramati’s commentary on this verse (p. 359). Incidentally, Sthiramati takes the word “all” (sarva) with it in this verse, “all false views of self.”

(3) “unliberating arts” for na upāya (here used in a compound for anupāya in order to fit the meter, Tib. thabs min), translated as “nonmethods” in the 2014 translation. From the term “nonmethods” we can easily derive “methods,” a common translation of upāya, which is also often translated as “means.” Likewise, from “unliberating arts” we can derive “liberating arts,” which is used throughout the 2004 translation for upāya. This term is frequently seen with prajñā in the contrasting and complementing pair, “wisdom and means.” It is also frequently seen with kauśalya in the phrase, “skill in means.”

Another unique translation term found in the 2004 translation is “theology” for tarka (Tib. rtog ge), translated as “logic” in the 2014 translation and elsewhere. Thus, we read in verse 1.12 (Lévi Sanskrit edition) or 1.6 (2004 translation) or 2.6 (2014 translation):

1.6. Theology is dependent, indefinite, non-comprehensive, superficial, tiresome, and the resort of the naïve. Thus, this (universal vehicle) is not within its scope. (2004 translation)

2.6. Logic is dependent, uncertain,
Incomprehensive, relative, and tiresome.
It is held to be reliable by the childish,
And this is, therefore, not within the domain. (2014 translation)

As noted above, the anomalous use of “selflessness” has become accepted Buddhist jargon for those in the know. In combination, this leads to another unique translation term found in the 2004 translation, one that may take more than being in the loop to understand. In Vasubandhu’s commentary on verse 4.14 we read, “there is equanimity towards all things due to the understanding of objective selflessness.” In normal English, “objective selflessness” would mean “unbiased altruism” or “impartial unselfishness,” and this is something we might expect from a bodhisattva who has equanimity towards all things. Now that we are in the loop, however, we know that “selflessness” here means “absence of self,” not “altruism” or “unselfishness.” So we next need to determine what “objective absence of self” might mean. To do this, we must have studied Mahāyāna Buddhism long enough to know that it teaches two kinds of “absence of self”: that of persons and that of phenomena or things. We can then see that “objective selflessness” must mean “absence of self in objects,” i.e., in things or phenomena. Without such a background, I do not think that this phrase would be understood to mean this. This phrase is found in the 2014 translation as “selflessness of phenomena.” The word “phenomena,” too, has become accepted Buddhist jargon. A Christian theologian pursuing interfaith studies may not find either of these translations to be very comprehensible.

While the 2014 translation normally uses translation terminology that has now come in to common use, it does use a few uncommon or unique translation terms. These are, perhaps, harder to recognize in this translation because they are unexpected there. For example, it uses “intrinsic nature” for dharmatā (Tib. chos nyid), a translation term that elsewhere almost always translates svabhāva (Tib. ngo bo nyid, rang bzhin). Thus, in verse 2.5 (= 1.11 in the Lévi Sanskrit edition), we read: “It [the Great Vehicle] does not conflict with the intrinsic nature”; while in the 2004 translation (= 1.5) we find, “it [the universal vehicle] does not run counter to actual reality.” The term “actual reality,” like “true reality,” is within the norm for dharmatā, whose most common translation is “true nature.”

Also unexpected in the 2014 translation is the translation of saṃjñā (Tib. ’du shes) as “identification.” There we read in verse 10.47: “When the identification of space has transformed, whatever is wished for manifests.” In the 2004 translation we find a more common translation of saṃjñā as “conception” in verse 9.47: “In the transmutation of the conception of space, highest mastery is attained.”

Likewise the translation of vijñapti (Tib. rnam par rig pa) as “awareness” in the 2014 translation is unexpected and therefore apt to be confusing. There we read in verse 12.24: “The causes of delusion and delusion are held to be awareness of form and awareness without form.” In the 2004 translation we find a more common translation of vijñapti as “idea” in verse 11.24: “The cause of error and error itself are considered to be the idea of matter and the idea of nonmateriality (respectively).”

These few unusual translation terms in the 2014 translation are very much the exception, and I call attention to them for the reason that they are unexpected there. The vast majority of the translation terms in the 2014 translation are ones that would be expected. Moreover, it does have a glossary, even though such glossaries are necessarily selective. Thus, for example, it leaves out “transcendence of suffering,” for nirvāṇa. Also, the English-Tibetan Glossary, through some glitch, omits all the words starting with “s”.

In one case, both translations use uncommon or unique translation terms. For jñāna (Tib. ye shes), common translations are “knowledge,” “wisdom,” “gnosis,” etc. The 2004 translation uses “intuition” for it, and the 2014 translation uses “wakefulness” for it. While such translations can provide helpful insights into the meaning of the original term, they can also make it harder to get the intended meaning, as may be seen in the following verse:

9.34. Just as clouds and so forth are thought to obscure the rays of sunlight, so the deficiencies of beings obscure the buddhas’ intuitions. (2004 translation)

10.34. It is held that the rays of the sun
Are obscured by things such as clouds.
In the same way, the wakefulness of the buddhas
Is obscured by the flaws of sentient beings. (2014 translation)

Both of these translations give the impression that the deficiencies or flaws of sentient beings interfere with the insights or awareness that the buddhas would otherwise have. Of course, the intended meaning is that the deficiencies or flaws of sentient beings interfere with their own realization of the wisdom or knowledge or gnosis possessed by the buddhas. This is clear in the translation of this verse by Cuong Nguyen:

9.34. Just as clouds and the like obstruct the sunlight, so the faults of sentient beings block the Buddhas’ wisdoms. (1990 thesis, p. 393)

The renowned accuracy of the Tibetan translations in very closely following the Sanskrit originals goes hand in hand with their use of standardized translation terminology. This was implemented quite early by royal decree, and was used throughout the entire body of Buddhist texts. This standardized translation terminology allowed Tibetans to know that chos is always dharma, for example, no matter in what text or who translated it. We do not have this in our English translations today, nor are we likely to, because of our individualistic natures. Thurman has noted that the śāstra texts comprising the Tengyur, of which the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is one, are scientific treatises (pp. ii, vii, xvii). While their primary field is not the physical realm, as is that of the modern sciences of biology, chemistry, physics, etc., what they expound are similarly sciences that require the use of precise technical terms. Lacking standardized translation terms that all can agree on, we are obliged to add glossaries, or to add the Sanskrit terms in parentheses (as done by Étienne Lamotte in his valuable translations), or even to add the whole Sanskrit text (as is now frequent in translations of Hindu texts published in India). Things were different when the Buddhist texts were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. The use of standardized translation terminology, along with the literal accuracy of the Tibetan translations, together resulted in the most precise transferal of a body of religious knowledge from one language to another known to history.

In conclusion, the two translations of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra complement each other in important ways. The use of more standard translation terminology makes the 2014 translation more understandable, while the use of the Sanskrit original makes the 2004 translation more accurate. No serious student can afford to be without either of them.



1. The Works of Maitreya: English Translations, p. 7. Eastern Tradition Research Institute Bibliographic Guides, 2007: http://easterntradition.org/etri%20bib-maitreya.pdf.

2. See Sylvain Lévi’s Avant-propos to his 1907 Sanskrit edition. This edition is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts,” then Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: mahayana_sutralamkara_1907.pdf. An English translation of this Avant-propos was made by Umesh Jha and published, along with the French, as “A Rendition of Lévi’s Preface to the Sūtrālaṃkāra,” Bulletin of the Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, Darbhanga, Vols. IV-VI, Sept. 1968-Sept. 1970, pp. 202-209, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara, Levi’s Preface, Eng. The relevant portion is also quoted in French and translated into English by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya in his 2001 article, pp. 5-6 and fn. 5; for the full title and link, see note 8 below.

3. As Kazuo Kano informs us in his 2012 article, “Eight Folios from a Sanskrit Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya from Ngor Monastery: Diplomatic and Critical Editions on X.9-XI.3,” p. 33. See note 9 below for link.

4. Gadjin M. Nagao, “Corrigenda of the Text Edited by Professor Sylvain Lévi,” in Index to the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra (Sylvain Lévi Edition), Part One: Sanskrit-Tibetan-Chinese, pp. xi-xxii (Tokyo, 1958), here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara corrigenda Nagao 1958.

5. The two additional Sanskrit manuscripts that were brought to Japan and are kept in the Ryūkoku University Library were first reported on and studied by Shōko Takeuchi in his Japanese language article, “On Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra—brought by Ōtani Mission,” Ryūkoku Daigaku Ronshū, no. 352, Aug. 1956, pp. 72-87, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara brought by Otani Mission, Takeuchi 1956. Besides being consulted by Nagao, these two manuscripts were also used by Takanori Umino, in his English language article, “Corrections of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra XI. 35,” Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, Dec. 1973, pp. 513-508 (20-25), here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara Corrections of XI.35, Takanori 1973.

6. Two of these additional Sanskrit manuscripts from the Nepal National Archives were compared with Lévi’s edition by Risho Hotori, who published a “Concordance of the Sanskrit Edition and Two Manuscripts of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra,” in Tetsugaku Nempō, no. 43, Feb. 1984, pp. 83-90, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara Concordance Two Manuscripts, Hotori 1984. These two manuscripts were used by Gadjin Nagao, along with the two from the Ryūkoku University Library, for his English translation of chapter 17, verses 29-64, with revised Sanskrit edition and list of corrections to Lévi’s edition, published as “The Bodhisattva’s Compassion Described in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra,” in Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding (University of Hawai’i Press, 2000), pp. 1-38, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara 17.29-64 Eng. Skt. Nagao 2000.

7. Naoya Funahashi, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (Chapter I, II, III, IX, X), Revised on the basis of Nepalese manuscripts (Tokyo, 1985). This is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts,” then Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: mahayana_sutralamkara_partial_1985.pdf.

8. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, “For a New Edition of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, Journal of the Nepal Research Centre, vol. XII, 2001, pp. 5-16, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara, For a New Edition of, Bhattacharya 2001.

9. Kazuo Kano has kindly posted his many valuable articles at Academia.edu (https://koyasan-u.academia.edu/KazuoKano). This is very helpful because Japanese academic publications are not easily accessible here in the U.S.A., for example. Besides his article listed in note 3 above, his three other articles on the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra are: “Palm-leaf Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra from Ngor Monastery—Folio 27: XI.14-27—,” “The Sanskrit Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya from Ngor Monastery: Diplomatic Edition on XVII.37-39,” and “Vairocanarakṣita’s Glosses of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya Chapter 17.” In his article listed in note 3 above (pp. 36-37) he gives information about other Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra manuscripts in Tibet. As access to these becomes possible, we may hope to eventually have a very accurate Sanskrit edition of this text. From access to an incomplete related text, the Sūtrālaṃkāra-paricaya, Ye Shaoyong was able to recover three verses, 2.9-11, that are absent in Lévi’s edition due to a missing folio: “Three Verses of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra Missing in Sylvain Lévi’s Edition,” Journal of Sino-Western Communications, vol. 5, no. 1, July 2013, pp. 218-224, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara, three missing verses.

10. Robert A. F. Thurman, review of Herbert V. Guenther, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, June 1977, pp. 222-228, here attached as: Thurman review of Guenther Kindly Bent to Ease Us.

11. Paul J. Griffiths, “Painting Space with Colors: Tathāgatagarbha in the Mahāyānasūtrâlaṅkāra-Corpus IX.22-37,” in Buddha Nature: A Festschrift in Honor of Minoru Kiyota, pp. 41-63 (Tokyo, 1990), here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara 9.22-37, Tathagatagarbha in, Griffiths 1990.

12. Cuong Tu Nguyen, Sthiramati’s Interpretation of Buddhology and Soteriology, Harvard University PhD. thesis, 1990, pp. 379-383, including verse 9.23, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara Sthiramati comm. 9.23 Nguyen trans.

13. D. Seyfort Ruegg, “The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 39, 1976, p. 354. This article is posted here under “References,” then “Studies,” then “Dhatu — Gotra (Eleven articles),” of which it is the fifth article, pp. 28-40 of that PDF.

14. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, London, 1925, p. 195.

15. The third emendation to this Sanskrit verse given in a footnote in the 2004 translation (p. 76, fn. 16) is pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyānupāgānāṃ for Lévi’s pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyanopāyagānāṃ. Apparently this emendation is itself a typographical error, since it lacks a syllable and eliminates the word upāya, for which we have its standard translation thabs in the Tibetan text. Probably the intended emendation was pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyānupāyagānāṃ. In any case, it is unnecessary. The use of the Sanskrit word “na” in a compound in order to fit the meter, here nopāya instead of anupāya, is not uncommon.

16. The remaining emendation to this Sanskrit verse concerns the word pāpa (in kleśapāpeṣu), for which the Tibetan translation (in the Der-ge edition used in the 2004 translation, signified by “D” but not in the list of abbreviations) has ngan song, the standard translation of the Sanskrit word apāya. Since the letter “p” looks almost like the letter “y” in Sanskrit manuscripts, this allows the apparently easy emendation kleśāpāyeṣu, as given in the 2004 translation footnote. However, the long “ā” resulting from merging kleśa and apāya goes against the meter. The printed reading, kleśapāpeṣu, fits the meter, and is apparently found in all of the several Nepalese manuscripts collated by Funahashi. Since apāya is mentioned later in this verse, there would be no need to also have it here. Then, there is a variant reading in the Tibetan translation of this verse in the text giving the verses alone (but not in the text giving the verses and commentary together, Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1192, lines 18-21). For ngan song in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions, the Peking and Narthang editions have las rnams (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 821, line 16). The Tibetan word las translates the Sanskrit word karma (the rnams is the plural marker). This indicates that the Sanskrit manuscript(s) used for the Peking/Narthang edition had kleśakarmeṣu here. This also fits the meter. The Tibetan translation of Sthiramati’s commentary here has ngan song, seeming to confirm apāya, but it explains las, karma, in conjunction with nyon mongs, kleśa, the “mental/moral afflictions.” So we do not know whether Maitreya here spoke of protection from pāpa, “sins,” apāya, “bad rebirths,” or karma, “actions.”

17. The Sanskrit term sat-kāya looks like it should mean “real body,” or “truly existing body.” However, as explained in Buddhist texts such as the Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya (5.7), here sat means sīdati. That is, it comes from the root sad, meaning “to break, decay, perish.” It is not the present participle or noun sat from the root as, meaning “existing, truly existing, real.” Also, here kāya is taken in its meaning, “assemblage, aggregation, collection” rather than “body.” The Tibetan ’jig tshogs is a literal translation of this, meaning “disintegrating collection,” and thus is taken as “transitory collection.”

Additional note: A four-language electronic edition of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is available at the University of Oslo Bibliotheca Polyglotta website. It includes Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and French. It is very convenient, but must be used with caution at present. This is because, judging by the many typographical errors, it does not seem to have been proofread. It can be found at: http://www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/index.php?page=fulltext&view=fulltext&vid=85&cid=182062&mid=283928&level=1

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Fohat and Devī Prakṛti

By David Reigle on November 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Fohat is spoken of several times in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan. The term fohat has not yet been identified, nor can the idea that it represents be readily identified in extant cosmogonic texts. We were therefore happy to find that, after T. Subba Row in his lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā equated fohat with daivī prakṛti (which he called the light of the Logos), the hitherto secret Praṇava-vāda emerged giving a full explanation of devī prakṛti. This book was dictated from memory by the blind pandit Dhanarāja to Bhagavan Das and two associates in 1900-1901. In 1910 to 1913 a summarized English translation of the Praṇava-vāda made by Bhagavan Das was published in three volumes, and in 1915 and 1919 two volumes of the Sanskrit text were published (we still await the third). While the term daivī prakṛti can be found in the Bhagavad-gītā (chapter 9, verse 13), it is not there used in a cosmogonic sense, as it is used in the Praṇava-vāda, and as fohat is used in the Book of Dzyan. A full translation of the explanation of devī prakṛti from the Praṇava-vāda will be of considerable use in understanding fohat in the Book of Dzyan.

Bhagavan Das, in his preface to his summarized translation of the Praṇava-vāda, tells us that this book was written in an obscure and archaic form of Sanskrit. Referring to the blind pandit Dhanarāja who later dictated this book from memory to Bhagavan Das and his two associates, he writes: “At my further request, he repeated a paragraph in the middle of which occurred, like an islet in a stream, the four words recognisable to me [aham etan nāsmi], while on both sides thereof were masses of what was to me then entirely unintelligible language.” (vol. 1, p. lii). “As the writing proceeded my understanding of the archaic Samskṛt improved, . . .” (p. liv). “Although, on repeated reading, the language of the work becomes, generally speaking, intelligible, yet the precise sense remains often obscure and indefinable.” (p. lvii). For obvious reasons, then, my full translation of the Sanskrit text of the passage on devī prakṛti draws heavily on the summarized translation by Bhagavan Das. Because of the unique value of this material, it was thought worthwhile to provide a complete translation of it, following the Sanskrit as closely as English would allow.

As may be seen, the explanation of devī prakṛti in the Praṇava-vāda closely matches Blavatsky’s explanation of fohat in The Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky refers to fohat as dynamic energy and as guiding power. Both energy and power are common translations of the Sanskrit word śakti, used to define devī prakṛti in the Praṇava-vāda. I have chosen “power” to translate śakti throughout, while Bhagavan Das more often translates it as “energy.” I have usually translated the same Sanskrit word with the same English word. So virodha is always “opposition” in my full translation, while in the summarized translation by Bhagavan Das he has the freedom to use “contradiction” or “opposition” in different settings. Blavatsky speaks of the opposite poles of spirit and matter, linked by fohat, as aspects of the one unity. For the one unity, the Praṇava-vāda uses the term aikya, which is translated by both Bhagavan Das and myself as “unity.” For spirit and matter, the Praṇava-vāda here uses the terms pratyag-ātman, “inner self,” and mūla-prakṛti, “root substance,” respectively. These are identified with aham, “I,” and etat, “this,” respectively, of the mahā-vākya or great saying, aham etan na, “I this not.” The na, “not,” refers to the relation between the “I” and the “this,” which is one of negation. These three words correspond to the “a,” “u,” and “m” that make up the sacred syllable “om,” the praṇava. This brief saying describes the entire world-process, and its three elements are the three aspects found in many cosmogonies. The idea of devī prakṛti is something in addition to these three, resulting from the necessity (āvaśyaka) of the opposition or contrast between the two poles of the one unity when the universe comes into manifestation.


The Secret Doctrine on Fohat

[The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. 16.]

But just as the opposite poles of subject and object, spirit and matter, are but aspects of the One Unity in which they are synthesized, so, in the manifested Universe, there is “that” which links spirit to matter, subject to object.

This something, at present unknown to Western speculation, is called by the occultists Fohat. It is the “bridge” by which the “Ideas” existing in the “Divine Thought” are impressed on Cosmic substance as the “laws of Nature.” Fohat is thus the dynamic energy of Cosmic Ideation; or, regarded from the other side, it is the intelligent medium, the guiding power of all manifestation, the “Thought Divine” transmitted and made manifest through the Dhyan Chohans, the Architects of the visible World. Thus from Spirit, or Cosmic Ideation, comes our consciousness; from Cosmic Substance the several vehicles in which that consciousness is individualised and attains to self—or reflective—consciousness; while Fohat, in its various manifestations, is the mysterious link between Mind and Matter, the animating principle electrifying every atom into life.


The Praṇava-vāda on Devī Prakṛti

[Note: All five published volumes of the Praṇava-vāda, the three volumes of the summarized English translation and the two very rare volumes of the Sanskrit edition, have been scanned by me and posted here with the Sanskrit Texts, under Suddha Dharma Mandala Texts. The following is translated from the Sanskrit volume 2, pp. 210-211, with reference to the summarized English volume 2, pp. 234-235.]

. . . Thus, everything is to be understood as included in the letter “a,” the letter “u,” and the letter “m,” which are conjoined with “I,” “this,” “not.”

So also, as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “I” and “this,” there is devī prakṛti (the “shining nature”). This is the power (śakti) described as the letter “i” dwelling between the letter “a” and the letter “u” [of aum]. It may be seen that the opposition of two things rooted in one is a matter of necessity, because the unnecessary is non-existent; and because this is non-existent, all is necessity. In accordance with this explanation, therefore opposition comes into existence, and this coming into existence is necessity. As thus indicated, the power in the form of the opposition of those two is devī prakṛti. In that is the manifestation/light (prakāśa) of the inner self (pratyag-ātman) and of root substance (mūla-prakṛti). Therefore:

“Included in deva-prakṛti is root substance, and included in that is the inner self; and that [deva-prakṛti] is the necessity of the two in the form of the power manifesting/illumining everything.”

. . . and so on goes the traditional statement. Devī is the power by which [something] is illumined (dīvyate). Prakṛti is inherent nature (svabhāva). Prakṛti is that by which coming-into-existence (bhavana) is very much by its own effort. Prakṛti is doing/acting (prakaraṇa), its own doing/acting (svakaraṇa). It is from the verb-root “kṛ” plus the affix “ti.” An action (karaṇa) for all is an action for itself (svakaraṇa). This is in accordance with the explanation that, due to the unity of all, itself is all. Because it is a necessity for all, its name is devī prakṛti. Therefore it is said:

“Prakṛti is twofold. Of these, one is devī prakṛti, and the second is mūla-prakṛti (root substance). The nature of mūla-prakṛti is the subject-matter of ‘this’ [etat, in the great saying, aham etan na, ‘I, this, not.’].”

. . . and so on. The double nature of devī prakṛti is to be known as necessity. It is the conjunction (yoga) of the inner self and root substance. This [conjunction] is the result of the opposition of the unity. From the Yoga-sūtra:

“In unity there is no manifestation/illumination (prakāśa) of the conjunction, etc., the conjunction being the illumining (avabhāsamāna) of object and subject, like darkness and light (prakāśa).”

As being the necessity of that conjunction, it is yoga-māyā (conjunction-illusion). As being the necessity of the manifestation/illumination of that opposition, it is māyā (illusion). That is devī prakṛti, which lights up (abhidyotayati) the inner self and root substance. Devī prakṛti is to be understood as dwelling between the two in the form of the letter “i.” That by which the manifestation/light (prakāśa) of the inner self (pratyag-ātman) and of root substance (mūla-prakṛti) occurs, the experience of the many, is to be known under the name “devī.” This devī prakṛti is māyā. Of them, the difference is as follows: When speaking of the transcendent and universal, it is māyā. When speaking of saṃsāra, the world-process, as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “I” and “this,” and as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “this” and “I,” it is devī prakṛti.

Category: Daiviprakriti, Fohat | 1 comment


Sanskrit Texts Listings

By David Reigle on November 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

It has come to my attention that the Sanskrit texts posted on this site are not being found by web searches without using diacritics. So, for example, a search for the Vimalaprabha does not find the Vimalaprabhā volume posted here, and a search for Nagarjuna does not find the Sanskrit texts by Nāgārjuna that are posted here. To remedy this situation, I have inserted in brackets the Sanskrit names without diacritics in the listings.

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Critical Editions of the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on August 31, 2014 at 11:57 pm

In the post dated May 5, 2012, attention was called to the critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, edited by M. M. Pathak, and published in two volumes, 1997 and 1999 (Vadodara: Oriental Institute). A comment on that post called attention to three previously published critical editions of purāṇas: The Vāmana Purāṇa (1967), The Kūrma Purāṇa (1971), and The Varāha Purāṇa (2 vols., 1981), all edited by Anand Swarup Gupta, and published by the All-India Kashiraj Trust, Varanasi. Two more critical editions of purāṇas have been published, the Bhāgavata-purāṇa and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa. Their bibliographic data is:

The Bhāgavata [Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa]: Critical Edition, edited by H. G. Shastri, et al., 4 vols. in 6 parts, Ahmedabad: B. J. Institute of Learning and Research, 1996-2002 (vol. 1, skandhas 1-3, ed. by H. G. Shastri, 1996; vol. 2, skandhas 4-6, ed. by Bharati K. Shelat, 1999; vol. 3, skandhas 7-9, ed. respectively by H. G. Shastri, B. K. Shelat, and K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 1, skandha 10, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1997; vol. 4, part 2, skandhas 11-12, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 3, Epilogue, by K. K. Shastree, 2002).

The Critical Edition of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇam, edited by M. L. Wadekar, 2 vols., Vadodara: Oriental Institute, 2011 (vol. 2, adhyāyas 76-88, is the Devīmāhātmyam).

Besides these critical editions of six of the eighteen major purāṇas, three volumes (in four parts) of a critical edition of an earlier and more original version of the massive Skanda-purāṇa have been published (to be completed in about ten volumes):

The Skandapurāṇa, vol. I, adhyāyas 1-25, edited by Rob Adriaensen, Hans T. Bakker, and Harunaga Isaacson, 1998; vol. IIa, adhyāyas 26-31.14, ed. by Hans T. Bakker and Harunaga Isaacson, 2005; vol. IIb, adhyāyas 31-52, ed. by Hans T. Bakker, Peter C. Bisschop, and Yuko Yokochi, 2014; vol. III, adhyāyas 34.1-61, 53-69, ed. by Yuko Yokochi, 2013. Supplement to the Groningen Oriental Studies, Groningen: Egbert Forsten, and Leiden: Brill.

An earlier and more original version of the Agni-purāṇa has also been published, although not in a critical edition. Its discovery was announced by R. C. Hazra in his 1956 article, “Discovery of the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa” (attached). It was published as:

Vahni-Purāṇam, also referred to as Āgneya-Purāṇam, edited by Anasuya Bhowmik. Bibliotheca Indica Series, no. 336. Kolkata: The Asiatic Society, 2012 (includes as an Introduction the extensive 2-part article by Rajendra Chandra Hazra titled, “Studies in the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa alias Vahni-Purāṇa,” originally published in 1953 and 1954).

Additionally, we have a critical edition of the Harivaṃśa, a purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata. It was edited by Parashuram Lakshman Vaidya, and published in 1969, with an additional large volume of Appendices in 1971 (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute).

We anxiously await the publication of the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa, which is underway at the Oriental Institute, Vadodara. The Vāyu-purāṇa is, by general consensus, considered to be the oldest of the extant purāṇas. It, too, like all the others, has undergone revision and alteration, additions and subtractions. But it retains more of the core, presumably the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, than the other extant purāṇas do (see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 1. On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā,” dated Aug. 14, 2012).

For purposes of research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, the Vāyu-purāṇa is of most importance. Of similar importance is its twin, somewhat more expanded version, the extant Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa. Of the thousands of verses shared in common between these two purāṇas, hundreds have been found in the extant Matsya-purāṇa, and in the Harivaṃśa. The contents of these verses are often found in the extant Viṣṇu-purāṇa and Bhāgavata-purāṇa, but condensed and re-written. Thus, the traces of Prakrit found in the Sanskrit of these ancient verses have disappeared in these re-written condensations, even though the basic information remains. Besides these purāṇas containing ancient material, the archaic character of the extant Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa has been noted since the beginning of purāṇa studies by Western investigators, and has been fully confirmed by the investigations of purāṇa specialist, Rajendra Chandra Hazra.

In his still standard 1940 book, Studies in the Purānic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, R. C. Hazra took a different approach than the historical approach taken by F. E. Pargiter and S. P. L. Narasimhaswami. Hazra carefully evaluated the authenticity of the major purāṇas on the basis of quotations from them found in the smṛti-nibandhas, works on Hindu rites and customs, and on the basis of descriptions of their contents found in the other purāṇas. He found that only seven of the now extant purāṇas can legitimately claim to be the major purāṇas known to the smṛti-nibandha writers and described in the other purāṇas, while the remaining eleven of the eighteen major purāṇas are either extensive alterations or complete substitutions. The seven more or less authentic extant major purāṇas are the Mārkaṇḍeya, Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Viṣṇu, Matsya, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma, while the eleven erstwhile major purāṇas that must now be regarded as minor purāṇas are the extant Vāmana, Liṅga, Varāha, Padma, Nāradīya, Agni, Garuḍa, Brahma, Skanda, Brahma-vaivarta, and Bhaviṣya. He also regards the extant Śiva-purāṇa, usually classed as one of the eighteen (or nineteen) major purāṇas, as a minor purāṇa, based on its content. Hazra’s findings agree with the findings of previous investigators as to which are the oldest purāṇas now extant, adding to these only the Kūrma-purāṇa, and that with considerable qualifications (see his book, pp. 57-75).

There are, then, seven extant purāṇas that are of much importance for research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. These are the Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Matsya, Mārkaṇḍeya, Viṣṇu, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma. Similarly important is the purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata, the Harivaṃśa. Of these eight texts, we now have critical editions of five: the Harivaṃśa (1969-1971), the Kūrma-purāṇa (1971), the Bhāgavata-purāṇa (1996-2002), the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, (1997-1999), and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa (2011). Once the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa is published, we will be in a position to undertake research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā with the hope of reasonably reliable results.

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Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 3

By David Reigle on July 31, 2014 at 9:53 pm

The previous two parts of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda,” posted Feb. 26 and 27, 2012, discussed the little-known kind of svabhāvavāda seen in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda, and in the Book of Dzyan. The Book of Dzyan and the Praṇava-vāda are hitherto secret texts unknown to history, while the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā is a text known to history that refers to this kind of svabhāvavāda, and accepts it as its own. The Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, however, is not on cosmogony, so it does not give us a cosmogonic account that accords with this kind of svabhāvavāda. For this, we must look elsewhere. Fortunately, such a cosmogony account is found in the Mokṣopāya, and in its later version, the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha (see the post, “The Mokṣopāya, the unrevised Yoga-vāsiṣṭha,” dated April 13, 2012). This account was translated and posted on July 1, 2012, as “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Mokṣopāya.” Here we have an actual example from a historically known text of a cosmogonic account that accords with this kind of svabhāvavāda.

As noted in that post, Mokṣopāya, book 3, chapter 12, verses 3 and 8 say that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of brahman, or pure consciousness (cit). This is like the teaching of the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā that manifestation is the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the deva, i.e., the one brahman or ātman. This is also like the teaching of the Book of Dzyan that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one element. By contrast, the svabhāvavāda that is historically known says that the world is the result of the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the elements or things that make it up. The things that make up the world are caused by themselves, and nothing else. Ramkrishna Bhattacharya has distinguished from this another historically known svabhāvavāda that rejects causality. In his 2007 article, “What is Meant by Svabhāvaṃ Bhūtacintakāḥ?” (attached), he writes that svabhāva also came to be understood as “chance” or “accident,” the same as the Sanskrit term yadṛcchā. Especially in the moral sphere is svabhāva used in two opposing ways, as causality and as chance. As chance, things occur without a cause; hence, effort is useless.

For the past thousand years and more, svabhāvavāda has been associated with the Cārvāka or Lokāyata school of thought, the so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics of ancient India. Both this school, and svabhāvavāda, the doctrine of svabhāva, have been looked down upon. V. M. Bedekar in his article, “The Doctrines of Svabhāva and Kāla in the Mahābhārata and Other Old Sanskrit Works,” writes (pp. 5-6): “The thorough-going determinism of these doctrines is based on crass materialism, according to which everything in the world including human life is the product of the Material Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space) which come together and go off at the behest of Svabhāva, Kāla etc.” (link given in part 1 of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda”). The idea that human effort is in vain, as what the doctrine of svabhāva leads to, can be clearly seen in the verses from Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddha-carita on this (quoted in part 1 of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda”), e.g.: “Some explain that good and evil and existence and non-existence originate by natural development [svabhāvāt, ablative]; and since all this world originates by natural development [svābhāvika], again therefore effort is vain.” (chapter 9, verse 58). Ramkrishna Bhattacharya distinguished this type of svabhāvavāda, svabhāva as chance or accident, from the other type of svabhāvavāda, svabhāva as causality, saying that svabhāva as causality should be associated with the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, not svabhāva as chance or accident.

My speaking of “prehistoric svabhāvavāda” is to distinguish between two kinds of svabhāva as causality. The historically known svabhāvavāda as causality holds that everything arises from its own inherent nature (svabhāva). What I have called prehistoric svabhāvavāda holds that everything arises from the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one, whether this be called the one brahman or ātman, the deva (the shining one), cit (pure consciousness), or the one element. This is the meaning of svabhāva found in the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given in The Secret Doctrine, and in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda. To distinguish it from the historically known svabhāvavāda as causality, as well as from svabhāva as chance or accident, I have called it “prehistoric svabhavavada,” even though reference to it can still be found in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, and it can still be seen in the cosmogony of the Mokṣopāya and its later form, the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha.

Category: Svabhavat | 2 comments


Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript Errata

By David Reigle on June 27, 2014 at 11:51 pm

A list of eighteen possible errata to this book has kindly been sent to me by Vladimir Sova. The first of these corrections had previously been sent to me by Jacques Mahnich. Sixteen pertain to the Würzburg Manuscript portion of the book, and the last two pertain to the appendix on chronology.

Of these sixteen, the third (“has epoch” for “his epoch”), the seventh (“Kabalstic” for “Kabalistic”), and the twelfth (“Vertical Atoms” for “Vortical Atoms”) are our typographical errors. For the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, the text given in the book is as found in the Würzburg manuscript. Except for two of these, they are scribal errors of the copyists. These errors should be corrected.

The thirteenth (“Uncreate”) and sixteenth (“000,000,000”) are not errors. See The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. 250, and vol. 2, p. 696, where these same two passages occur.

The seventeenth (“predilictions” for “predilections”) is a misspelling that is found in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 88. The eighteenth (“London, when” for “London, where”) is our scribal error. The source has “where,” not “when.”

Many thanks to Vladimir for finding and sending these errata. Much appreciated.




Should be

page 11, line 20 from above

amende hons rable

amende honorable

page 20, line 9 from above

as night! Two

as night, two

page 32, line 2 from below

has epoch;

his epoch;

page 40, line 12 from below

non demonstrated

now demonstrated

page 76, line 11 from below

subtlety and casuisty

subtlety and casuistry

page 95, footnote, line 11

Didna Astarte

Diana Astarte

page 128, line 8 from below

Kabalstic names

Kabalistic names

page 148,  line 10 from above

its Karma. All the

its Karma, all the

page 162, line 1 from above

motion. “Darkness”

motion. (3) “Darkness”

page 162, line 7 from below


(7) Kala-hansa

page 176, line 1 from below



page 194, line 6 from below

Vertical Atoms

Vortical Atoms

page 226, line 7 from above



page 230, line 6 from above



page 253, line 8 from below

without break or flow

without break or flaw

page 255, line 5 from below


100,000,000 [or some other valid number]

page 263, line 18 from above



page 334, line 16 from above

London, when

London, where



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Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript digital

By David Reigle on June 22, 2014 at 3:29 am

The Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript book in digital or electronic format can now be downloaded free of charge from the Eastern Tradition Research Institute website: http://www.easterntradition.org/SD%20Wurzburg%20ms.%20complete%20book%20bc.pdf.

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Buddhica Britannica Series Continua

By David Reigle on May 31, 2014 at 6:50 pm

An important but not well enough known series of Buddhist books is published by the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Tring, U.K. The Buddhica Britannica Series Continua includes considerable material pertaining to the Buddhist tantras (rgyud sde, earlier phoneticized as kiu-te). Behind this series is Dr. Tadeusz Skorupski, who succeeded Dr. David Snellgrove in teaching Buddhist Studies and Tibetan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. As is well known, Dr. Snellgrove produced the first ever English translation of a Buddhist tantra, The Hevajra Tantra (1959), accompanying his Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of it. Dr. Skorupski has continued this work on the Buddhist tantras in an exemplary manner. He, too, produced an English translation of a Buddhist tantra, The Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra (1983), accompanying his Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of it. In the Buddhica Britannica Series Continua he has provided an abridged English translation of another tantric text, the Kriyāsaṃgraha (2002), a compendium of Buddhist rituals. The most recent publication in this series is the Vajrāvalī of Abhayākaragupta (2 vols., 2009), edited in Sanskrit and Tibetan by Masahide Mori, which began as a PhD thesis under Dr. Skorupski. This famous but hitherto unedited text is an extensive compendium of tantric maṇḍalas, including the Kālacakra maṇḍala (pp. 207 ff., 299 ff.). A brief listing of the currently available texts in this series follows:

BBI The Buddhist Heritage, ed. T. Skorupski, 1989, £20

BBBII Indo-Tibetan Studies, ed. T. Skorupski, 1990, £25

BBBIII The Rishukyō, I. Astley-Kristensen, 1991, £27

BIV The Cult of the Deity Vajrakīla, M. Boord, 1993, £21

BBV The Bodhisattvapiṭaka, U. Pagel, 1995, £40

BBVIII Tales of an Old Lama, C. R. Bawden, 1997, £14.50

BBIX The Six Perfections, T. Skorupski, 2002, £12.50

BBX Kriyāsaṃgraha, T. Skorupski, 2002, £19.50

BBXI Vajrāvalī of Abhayākaragupta, ed. Masahide Mori, 2 Vols., 2009, £50

BFVI The Buddhist Forum, Volume VI, 2001, £17.50

Institute of Buddhist Studies

36 King Street, Tring, Herts, HP23 6BJ, U.K.

Phone 01442 / 890 882

email: ts1@soas.ac.uk

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Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript

By David Reigle on May 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

The Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript has now been published. It includes H. P. Blavatsky’s first translations of stanzas from the Book of Dzyan with her unrevised commentaries on them. Only the stanzas from the Würzburg manuscript had been published until now, not her unrevised commentaries on them. These comprise cosmogenesis, and a few on anthropogenesis. The Würzburg manuscript also includes a large introductory section, comprising about half the book. Most of the chapters in this introductory section were later published in the 1897 third volume of The Secret Doctrine. As with the commentaries on the stanzas, here we have her unrevised versions.

The so-called Würzburg manuscript is a partial copy of Blavatsky’s early manuscript of The Secret Doctrine, written while she was staying at Würzburg, Germany, and then at Ostende, Belgium, in 1885 and 1886. Her manuscript of the almost completed Secret Doctrine was copied by two or more scribes to send to India for revision by T. Subba Row, which revision did not occur. Only part of this copy has been found. What we have is estimated to be about a fourth or a third of the whole that was sent to India. Fortunately, it includes the whole cosmogenesis section, all seven stanzas and their commentaries.

The book is available at Lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?type=Print+Products&keyWords=secret+doctrine+wurzburg+manuscript&x=15&y=9&sitesearch=lulu.com&q=

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vaiśeṣika System

By David Reigle on May 7, 2014 at 9:58 pm

The Vaiśeṣika system, one of the six Hindu darśanas (worldviews or schools of philosophy), is not known for its cosmogony. It is known as an ancient Indian system of atomism. The cosmogony it has is the manifestation and dissolution of the four great elements (mahā-bhūta) that form the world (earth, water, fire, and air), and these are made up of ultimate atoms (paramāṇu). Here we find one of its most interesting teachings. Its ultimate atoms, which are apparently not atoms of physical matter, do not dissolve when the cosmos dissolves, but rather remain in a dissociated state. Such an idea has recently been brought to the attention of some modern scientists when the present Dalai Lama spoke of it at the Mind-Life Conferences. In these dialogues, he presented a Buddhist view of cosmogony, including empty ultimate atoms that remain when the cosmos goes out of manifestation.1 This idea comes from the Buddhist Kālacakra system, without cognizance of its parallel and possible origin in the more ancient Vaiśeṣika system. Such an idea is apparently also found in the allegedly even more ancient “Book of Dzyan,” according to a phrase from a commentary on it brought out by H. P. Blavatsky in 1888. She writes of “MOTION, which, during the periods of Rest ‘pulsates and thrills through every slumbering atom’ (Commentary on Dzyan)” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 116).

The idea of eternal ultimate atoms, which remain in existence even when the cosmos goes out of existence, does not present a problem for the Vaiśeṣika system. This is because the Vaiśeṣika system is regarded as pluralistic, so there can more than one thing or category of things that is eternal. Thus, besides eternal ultimate atoms, the Vaiśeṣika system also teaches eternal selves or souls (ātman), etc. The idea of eternal ultimate atoms also does not present a problem for Jainism, in which it is also found. The Jaina teaching on these atoms is similar to that of Vaiśeṣika, although according to Jainism the cosmos never goes out of manifestation. Jainism, too, is regarded as pluralistic. The idea of eternal ultimate atoms does, however, present a problem for the Buddhist Kālacakra and for Theosophy, neither of which are regarded as pluralistic systems. While early or southern Buddhism is regarded as pluralistic, Kālacakra is part of Mahāyāna or northern Buddhism, which is not. Early Buddhism, like Vaiśeṣika Hinduism and like Jainism, teaches the existence of ultimate atoms; but unlike in Vaiśeṣika and in Jainism, the ultimate atoms in early Buddhism are not eternal. They do not remain when the cosmos dissolves. The non-eternal aspect of this idea was acceptable to the Mahāyāna Buddhist schools, but these schools specifically refuted the early Buddhist atomism on the basis of its plurality. Likewise, the non-dual Advaita Vedānta school of Hinduism specifically refuted the Vaiśeṣika atomism on the basis of its plurality.

Like Advaita Vedānta, Theosophy is non-dualistic. This was stated in unmistakable terms by Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 120): “The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyāni-Chohan to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds—this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.” We therefore do not expect to find a commentary on the Book of Dzyan speaking of “slumbering atoms” during the period of rest of the cosmos. Is this phrase merely metaphorical, just poetic license? Apparently not. Seven years before Blavatsky published this extract from a commentary on the Book of Dzyan, her teacher, the Mahatma Morya, explained this idea to A. O. Hume in the so-called “Cosmological Notes” (published as Appendix II in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, 1925, pp. 376-386). He was asked, “And is cosmic matter non-molecular?” His reply surprisingly spoke of the seventh principle, equivalent to the non-dual ātman taught in Advaita Vedānta, as molecular:

“Cosmic matter can no more be non-molecular than organised matter. 7th principle is molecular as well as the first one, but the former differentiates from the latter, not only by its molecules getting wider apart and becoming more attenuated, but also by losing its polarity. Try to understand and realise this idea and the rest will become easy.” (pp. 379-380)

The Mahatma Morya then explained this with reference to eternal ultimate atoms, which remain in existence even when the cosmos goes out of existence. As summarized by the recipient of these teachings, A. O. Hume:

“The night of the solar system, the pralaya of the Hindus, the Maha bar do or great night of mind of the Tibetans, involves the disintegration of all form and the return of that portion of the universe occupied by that system, to its passive unmanifested condition, space pervaded by atoms in motion. Everything else passes away for the time, but matter which these ultimate atoms represent (though at times objective, at times potential or subjective, now organised, now unorganised) is eternal and indestructible, and motion is the imperishable life (conscious or unconscious as the case may be) of matter. Even therefore during the night of mind, when all other forces are paralysed, when Chyang—omniscience, and Chyang mi shi kon—ignorance, both sleep, and everything else rests, this latent unconscious life unceasingly maintains the molecules in which it is inherent in blind . . . motion inter se [“among themselves”].” (p. 384)

This unusual idea, of eternal ultimate atoms remaining when the cosmos goes out of manifestation, was preserved in the Vaiśeṣika system. I say “preserved” because the early Vaiśeṣika commentaries known to have once existed, such as the Vaiśeṣika-Kaṭandī, the Ātreya-bhāṣya, the Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya, the Bhāradvāja-vṛtti, etc., are all lost.2 Even the primary Vaiśeṣika-sūtras themselves, by Kaṇāda, had not been preserved intact, and their original readings were only recovered when two intermediate-age commentaries were discovered and published in 1957 and 1961.3 The Vaiśeṣika-sūtras, as now extant, do not include cosmogony. The Vaiśeṣika account of cosmogony is found in the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha, written by Praśastapāda, so also called the Praśastapāda-bhāṣya, the “Commentary by Praśastapāda.” It is not, however, a direct commentary on the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras, but rather is a compendium (sagraha) of the Vaiśeṣika teachings. This compendium became the most influential work on Vaiśeṣika, overshadowing even the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras. It is early enough that it certainly preserved a number of teachings from the older and now lost Vaiśeṣika commentaries. The cosmogony account is apparently one of these, since it and its idea of ultimate atoms remaining during dissolution is cited in the Buddhist Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya (chapter 3, verse 100) from about the fourth century C.E. But it also includes a very influential teaching that, according to the Yukti-dīpikā (a hitherto lost Sāṃkhya commentary that was discovered and published in 1938), is an innovation.

The Vaiśeṣika system in association with its sister Nyāya system jointly became known in India as proponents and upholders of the God idea. This is despite the fact that the term īśvara, “God,” is not found in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras, and that it is only once mentioned in the Nyāya-sūtras along with other possible causes of the world that are there rejected in favor of karma. The absence of the teaching of God in the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika source texts provides evidence that the God idea is in fact an invention or innovation (upajñam), as the Yukti-dīpikā says (see: “God’s Arrival in India,” pp. 22-26). Its first known occurrence in the Vaiśeṣika system is in the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha by Praśastapāda, the very text that is our source for the Vaiśeṣika account of cosmogony. So we will see God playing a role in this cosmogony account. An attentive reading will show that God can be omitted from this account without any loss of coherence in the account. Cosmogony can occur on the basis of adṛṣṭa alone, the automatically acting “unseen” force produced by karma, without any help from God.

Indeed, the great Advaita Vedānta teacher Śaṅkarācārya summarizes the very same Vaiśeṣika account of cosmogony, but without God, in his Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya (2.2.11 to 2.2.17). In fact, one of the main reasons given by Śaṅkarācārya for refuting the Vaiśeṣika account of ultimate atoms as the cause of the world is that it contradicts the Vedic scriptures that teach God as the cause of the world (īśvara-kāraṇa-śruti-viruddhatvāt). In the early Vaiśeṣika account summarized by Śaṅkarācārya, the characteristic Vaiśeṣika teaching of adṛṣṭa is alone the unseen force that impels the ultimate atoms, and this had to be refuted by Śaṅkarācārya who believed in a conscious, thinking God as the cause of the world. Later Vaiśeṣika agreed with Śaṅkarācārya on God as the cause of the world, but not the early Vaiśeṣika text that Śaṅkarācārya drew upon. According to two sub-commentaries on Śaṅkarācārya’s text (the Prakaṭārtha-vivaraṇa by Anubhūtisvarūpa and the Ratna-prabhā by Govindānanda), Śaṅkarācārya drew his Vaiśeṣika account from the Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya, one of the now lost early Vaiśeṣika commentaries.4 From the above we may conclude that: (1) the early Vaiśeṣika system did include cosmogony; and (2) the early Vaiśeṣika cosmogony did not include God.

The Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account as we now have it, including God, here follows. The Padārtha-dharma-sagraha that it comes from is of unknown date, but is estimated to be from around the middle of the first millennium C.E. This text was translated into English by Gaṅgānātha Jhā and published serially, 1903-1915, and his translation of its cosmogony account is given here with slight modifications.5 Gaṅgānātha Jhā, 1871-1941, was one of the foremost translators of Sanskrit darśana texts into English, and his translations of this difficult material are widely respected. I fully share this respect for them. He worked at a time when translations were not as literal as has now become expected. I have made no attempt to modify this aspect of his translation. He had to pioneer the translation choices for many technical terms. It is here that I have made my few modifications. These are: (1) changing his translation of mahā-bhūta from “ultimate Material Substances” that he used in some places, or “gross elements” that he used in other places, to the more literal “great elements”; (2) changing his translation of au in its first occurrence from “material atom” to just “atom,” as he also used thereafter; (3) changing his translation of paramāṇu (parama aṇu) from just “atom” to “ultimate atom” (he did not distinguish au from paramāṇu, but translated them both as “atom”—they are usually used synonymously in the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika texts). I have also changed his frequent capitalization of common nouns, such as Earth, Water, Fire and Air, to lower case. Lastly, I have inserted a number of Sanskrit terms in brackets, and have added one footnoted clarification in brackets.

The Sanskrit text is given from the 1895 edition of the Praśastapāda-bhāṣya prepared by Vindhyeśvarīprasāda Dvivedin, pp. 48-49, which is the one used by Gaṅgānātha Jhā for his 1903-1915 translation. I have compared it with the 1971 edition by Jitendra S. Jetly (Kiraṇāvalī, pp. 60-64), with the 1983-1984 edition by Gaurinath Sastri (Vyomavatī, vol. 1, pp. 95-96), and with the 1991 edition by J. S. Jetly and Vasant G. Parikh (Nyāyakandalī, pp. 134-139). The few variant readings do not change the meaning, and I have therefore not cited them.


ihedānīṃ caturṇāṃ mahā-bhūtānāṃ sṛṣṭi-saṃhāra-vidhir ucyate |

“We are now going to describe the process of the creation and destruction of the four great elements [mahā-bhūta].”

brāhmeṇa mānena varṣa-śatānte vartamānasya brahmaṇo ‘pavarga-kāle saṃsāra-khinnānāṃ sarva-prāṇināṃ niśi viśrāmārthaṃ sakala-bhuvana-pater maheśvarasya saṃjihīrṣā-sama-kālaṃ śarīrendriya-mahābhūtopanibandhakānāṃ sarvātmagatānām adṛṣṭānāṃ vṛtti-nirodhe sati maheśvarecchātmāṇu-saṃyogaja-karmabhyaḥ śarīrendriya-kāraṇāṇu-vibhāgebhyas tat-saṃyoga-nivṛttau teṣām ā-paramāṇv-anto vināśaḥ |

“When a hundred years, by the measure of Brahmā are at an end, there comes the time for the deliverance of the Brahmā existing at that time; and then, for the sake of the resting at night, of all living beings wearied by their ‘wanderings,’ there arises in the mind of the Supreme Lord [maheśvara], the Ruler of all worlds, a desire to reabsorb (all creation); and simultaneously with this desire, there comes about a cessation of the operations of the unseen potential tendencies [adṛṣṭa] of all souls [ātman] that are the causes of their bodies, sense-organs and great elements [mahā-bhūta]. Then out of the Supreme Lord’s desire [icchā] and from the conjunction [sayoga] of the souls [ātman] and the atoms [au], there come about certain disruptions [vibhāga, “disjunction”] of the atoms constituting the bodies and sense-organs. These disruptions destroy the combinations [sayoga, “conjunction”] of those atoms; and this brings about the destruction of all things [bodies and sense-organs]6 down to the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu].”

tathā pṛthivy-udaka-jvalana-pavanānām api mahā-bhūtānām anenaiva krameṇottarasminn uttarasmin sati pūrvasya pūrvasya vināśaḥ |

“Then there comes about a successive destruction or reabsorption of the great elements [mahā-bhūta], earth, water, fire, and air, one after the other.”

tataḥ pravibhaktāḥ paramāṇavo ‘vatiṣṭhante dharmādharma-saṃskārānuviddhā ātmānas tāvantam eva kālam |

“After this, the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu] remain by themselves in their isolated [pravibhakta] condition; and simultaneously with these there remain the souls [ātman] permeated with the potencies [saṃskāra] of their past virtues [dharma] and vices [adharma].”

tataḥ punaḥ prāṇināṃ bhoga-bhūtaye maheśvara-sisṛkṣānantaraṃ sarvātmagata-vṛtti-labdhādṛṣṭāpekṣebhyas tat-saṃyogebhyaḥ pavana-paramāṇuṣu karmotpattau teṣāṃ paras-para-saṃyogebhyo dvyaṇukādi-prakrameṇa mahān vāyuḥ samutpanno nabhasi dodhūyamānas tiṣṭhati |

“Then again, for the sake of the experiences to be gained by living beings, there arising in the mind of the Supreme Lord a desire for creation, there are produced, in the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu] of air, certain actions or motions [karma], due to their conjunctions [sayoga] under the influence of the unseen potential tendencies [adṛṣṭa] that begin to operate in all souls. These motions bringing about the mutual contact [sayoga] of the air ultimate atoms, there appears, through the dyad [dvyauka], triad, etc., finally the ‘great air,’ [mahān vāyu, i.e., mahā-vāyu] which exists vibrating in the sky.”

tad-anantaraṃ tasminn eva vāyāv āpyebhyaḥ paramāṇubhyas tenaiva krameṇa mahān salila-nidhir utpannaḥ poplūyamānas tiṣṭhati |

“After this, in this great air, there appears, in the same order, out of the ultimate atoms of water, the great reservoir [nidhi] of water, which remains there surging.”

tad-anantaraṃ tasminn eva pārthivebhyaḥ paramāṇubhyo mahā-pṛthivī saṃhatāvatiṣṭhate |

“In this reservoir of water, there appears, out of the earth ultimate atoms, the great earth which rests there in its solid form.”

tad-anantaraṃ tasminn eva mahodadhau taijasebhyo ‘ṇubhyo dvyaṇukādi-prakrameṇotpanno mahāṃs tejo-rāśiḥ kena-cid anabhibhūtatvād dedīpyamānas tiṣṭhati |

“Then, in the same water reservoir, there appears, in the same order, out of the fire atoms, the great mass of fire; and not being suppressed by anything else, it stands shining radiantly.”

evaṃ samutpanneṣu caturṣu mahā-bhūteṣu maheśvarasyābhidhyāna-mātrāt taijasebhyo ‘ṇubhyaḥ pārthiva-paramāṇu-sahitebhyo mahad aṇḍam ārabhyate | tasmiṃś catur-vadana-kamalaṃ sarva-loka-pitāmahaṃ brahmāṇaṃ sakala-bhuvana-sahitam utpādya prajā-sarge viniyuṅkte | sa ca maheśvareṇa viniyukto brahmātiśaya-jñāna-vairāgyaiśvarya-sampannaḥ prāṇināṃ karma-vipākaṃ viditvā karmānurūpa-jñāna-bhogāyuṣaḥ sutān prajāpatīn mānasān manu-deva-rṣi-pitṛ-gaṇān mukha-bāhūru-pādataś caturo varṇān anyāni coccāvacāni bhūtāni ca sṛṣṭvāśayānurūpair dharma-jñāna-vairāgyaiśvaryaiḥ saṃyojayatīti ||

“The four great elements having thus been brought into existence, there is produced, from the mere thought (mental picturing) [abhidhyāna] of the Supreme Lord, the great egg, from out of the fire atoms mixed up with the ultimate atoms of earth; and in this egg having produced all the worlds and the Four-faced Brahmā, the Grand-father of all creatures, the Supreme Lord assigns to him the duty of producing the various creatures. Being thus engaged by the Supreme Lord, Brahmā, endowed with extreme degrees of knowledge, dispassion and power, having recognised the ripeness for fruition of the karmic tendencies of the living beings, creates, out of his mind, his sons, the Prajāpatis, as also the Manus and the several groups of the gods, ṛshis, and pitṛs,—and out of his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet, the four castes, and the other living beings of all grades high and low,—all these having their knowledge and experience ordained in accordance with their previous deeds; and then he connects them with virtue, knowledge, dispassion, and powers, according to their respective impressional potencies [āśaya].”


As we see in the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account given by Praśastapāda, the dissolution of the great elements follows the expected sequence: First earth dissolves, then water dissolves, then fire dissolves, and then air dissolves. The manifestation of the great elements, however, does not follow the expected sequence: First comes air, as expected. But then comes water, not fire. After water comes earth. Then comes fire. This is quite unusual. Then from fire together with earth comes the great egg, the cosmic egg in which all the worlds and all their creatures appear. Most unusual, though, is that the ultimate atoms remain after the dissolution of the cosmos:

“After this, the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu] remain by themselves in their isolated [pravibhakta] condition; . . .” When it says that the ultimate atoms remain in their “isolated” condition, this means disjoined or dissociated. That is, these ultimate atoms are no longer conjoined in pairs to produce dyads, nor are these dyads conjoined to produce triads. It is only the triads that produce the actual manifested elements: earth, water, fire, and air. So what is the nature of the ultimate atoms? The ultimate atoms are regularly described in the texts with two adjectives. They are eternal (nitya), so they can never be destroyed, even when the cosmos is dissolved; and they are without parts (niravayava). As a corollary to being without parts, they are described as having no magnitude (mahattva), in the sense of size. This differentiates them from the atoms or atomic particles known in modern science. As explained by Jagadisha Chandra Chatterji (The Hindu Realism, being An Introduction to the Metaphysics of the Nyâya-Vaisheṣhika System of Philosophy, 1912):

“Paramāṇus have been translated as atoms, which is most misleading. For atoms as conceived by Western chemistry are things with some magnitude, while Paramāṇus are absolutely without any magnitude whatever and non-spatial.” (p. 19).

“For there is no reason to suppose that the ultimate parts must be things of some magnitude, however minute—of some length, breadth and thickness. . . . On the contrary, if there is any violation of principles, and arbitrariness, even inconsistency, anywhere, it is to be found, not in the idea of Paramāṇus, but in the view which regards the ultimate constituents of the sensible and discrete things as particles with magnitude. Such particles are a violation of a principle, inasmuch as they, being of limited magnitude, are yet considered unbreakable into simple parts; while all other sensible things having also limited magnitude are recognised as produced and capable of being broken up into simpler components. . . . Finally, if the ultimate constituents of sensible things were composed of solid, hard and extended particles with magnitude, however small, then Âkâsha or Ether could not really be all-pervading as we shall see it must be. For all these reasons, we must conclude that the ultimate factors of the discrete things of sense-perception are of the measure of pure points, without any magnitude whatever, that is, without any length, breadth or thickness. They are in other words Paramāṇus. As they are without any magnitude whatever, the Paramāṇus, as such, can never be perceived by the senses. They are, therefore, super-sensible or transcendental (Atîndriya). They are super-sensible, not in the sense that, while they are too small to be perceived by the unassisted senses, or with the aid of any instruments which have been so far invented, they could be perceived by the senses if we had, let us say, ideally perfect instruments to aid us in our sense-observation. They are super-sensible, rather, in the sense, that they can never be perceived by the senses, not even with the aid of the most perfect instruments imaginable. That is to say, they lie altogether beyond the range of the senses and are transcendental.” (pp. 31-33).

“The Paramāṇus are like pure points.” (p. 47).

In other words, the ultimate atoms taught in Vaiśeṣika are apparently not atoms of physical matter. When we are obliged to use terms such as “atoms” and “matter,” we must recognize that they may mean one thing in physics, and another thing in metaphysics. Vaiśeṣika, with its nine classes of ultimate realities (dravya, “substance”) that along with ultimate atoms include selves (ātman) and minds (manas),7 is essentially metaphysics. Its ultimate atoms, being altogether beyond the range of the senses (atīndriya), are said to be accessible only to the mind (Chatterji, op. cit., pp. 33, 159). So when modern writers call them indivisible, based on being without parts (niravayava), this does not mean that they are units of physical matter so tiny that they can no longer be divided. As pointed out by Chatterji (op. cit., p. 24):

“Unlike many, if not most, schools of Realism in the West, there is no Hindu system of realistic thought, which has ever held that the essential basis of the sensible world is a something or somethings which must have magnitude and extension. . . . it is possible to be a thorough-going realist and yet maintain, as the Hindu Realists of all shades have always maintained, that the ultimate constituents of sensible things are indeed real, self-subsisting, and independent of all percipients, but they are not solid, hard particles with any magnitude, however small.”

The Vaiśeṣika ultimate atoms, then, are like metaphysical or mathematical points. Indeed, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika explanation of how things with no magnitude can produce things with some magnitude, given by Chatterji (op. cit., pp. 29-30), is based on geometry. Two separate points, having no magnitude and being imperceptible, can result in a geometrical line, still remaining imperceptible. Three or more lines, here forming a prism shape rather than a triangle, can result in something that is perceptible. Thus can something without magnitude produce something with magnitude. The points correspond to the Vaiśeṣika ultimate atoms (paramāṇu), two of which form a dyad. The lines correspond to the dyads (dvyauka), three or more of which form a triad. The prism shape corresponds to the triads (tryauka or trasareu), which form the great elements: earth, water, fire, and air.

The Theosophical explanation of how things with no magnitude can produce things with some magnitude pertains to its teaching of the various planes of existence. As evolution proceeds, things existing on higher planes become more dense and manifest on lower planes. Thus, the ultimate atoms referred to in Theosophy exist on higher planes and proliferate onto lower planes, and this is how manifestation occurs. This explanation fits in with the Hindu metaphysical systems, and may well be what is meant by the Vaiśeṣika teaching. It is noteworthy that the ultimate atoms are specifically referred to in Theosophy as “mathematical points,” and we will return to this below.

We also see in the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account that motion (karma, “action”),8 which figures so prominently in the Dzyan Commentary’s statement about the slumbering atoms (“MOTION, which, during the periods of Rest ‘pulsates and thrills through every slumbering atom’”), is brought in only for the re-manifestation of the cosmos. Does motion exist during dissolution (pralaya), as it does in the Theosophical Mahatma Morya’s description given in the Cosmological Notes? Once again, we may be limited by what is preserved in the Vaiśeṣika sources that are still extant. Neither the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras nor the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha speak of this. However, a later Nyāya treatise by Udayana does speak of this, the Nyāya-kusumāñjali. Rather ironically, it is this treatise that laid out proofs for the existence of God, and firmly established the joint Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system as staunch proponents of the God idea from that time forward. According to a sub-commentary by Padmanābha-miśra on another work by Udayana (the Kiraṇāvalī commentary on the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha), Udayana still had access to the Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya, the same now lost early Vaiśeṣika commentary that was apparently used by the Advaita Vedānta teacher Śaṅkarācārya.9 As noted above, the earlier Vaiśeṣika that Śaṅkarācārya refutes is not the later theistic Vaiśeṣika, as is taught by Udayana. Yet Udayana does preserve in his Nyāya-kusumāñjali the otherwise unknown Vaiśeṣika teaching of the motion of the ultimate atoms during dissolution (pralaya), possibly from the lost Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya.

Udayana in his Nyāya-kusumāñjali predictably brings in God in his brief statement regarding the motion of the ultimate atoms during dissolution (pralaya). Although the Theosophical Mahatmas do not accept the existence of God (see Mahatma letter #10), students of Theosophy will be pleasantly surprised by Udayana’s statement. For Udayana likens this motion during pralaya to the breathing of God, very much like The Secret Doctrine’s poetic description of the absolute abstract motion that exists even during pralaya as the “Great Breath” (vol. 1, p. 14). The Book of Dzyan speaks of this (Stanza 2, verse 2): “. . . Where was silence? Where the ears to sense it? No, there was neither silence nor sound; naught save ceaseless, eternal breath, which knows itself not.” So if we look at the one existing complete English translation of the Nyāya-kusumāñjali, students of Theosophy will be happy to read, regarding the motion that exists during pralaya: “This motion is often described as God’s inhalation and exhalation.”10 If we look at the Sanskrit, however, we find that this “translation” is an embellished paraphrase, which the unsuspecting reader who must rely on these so-called translations would never know. Udayana says only that this motion is “breathed out by God,” īśvara-niḥśvasita, nothing more. This is nonetheless enough to bring in the image of the breath in relation to the motion that exists during pralaya.

Udayana’s statement is given below, followed by my fairly literal translation. I have been much helped in this by an accurate translation of the first two chapters of the Nyāyakusumāñjali made by C. Kunhan Raja, alias Swami Ravi Tirtha.11 I have made a more literal translation of this statement only because we need to know what Udayana says about this motion as precisely as possible. Udayana’s Nyāya-kusumāñjali is a very terse work that presupposes full familiarity with the philosophical ideas prevalent among the learned in his time. Much of what Udayana took for granted in his readers is spelled out in the very helpful commentary on it by Varadarāja, the Kusumāñjali-Bodhanī, which has also been of much use to me. Udayana is giving the reason for rejecting the opponent’s statement that the Nyāya position cannot be correct, so it is actually one long “because” sentence. I have omitted the “because,” coming from the ablative ending on the final word, anuvṛtteḥ, and have broken his one sentence into two sentences at the suffix –vat, “like,” on the word anuvṛtti, “continuity,” in its first occurrence. Three technical terms, requiring explanation, have been given in parentheses in the translation. Two are explained below, and the third, pracaya, in a note.12 Udayana follows this statement by answering the question of how long pralaya lasts. The Sanskrit text is given from the 1957 edition of the Nyāyakusumāñjali published in the Kashi Sanskrit Series, no. 30, pp. 304-305.

śarīra-saṃkṣobha-śrama-janita-nidrāṇāṃ prāṇinām āyuḥ-paripāka-krama-sampādanaika-prayojana-śvāsa-santānā’nuvṛttivan mahābhūta-saṃplava-saṃkṣobha-labdha-saṃskārāṇāṃ paramāṇūnāṃ manda-tara-tamā”di-bhāvena kālāvacchedaika-prayojanasya pracayākhya-saṃyoga-paryantasya karma-santānasyeśvara-niḥśvasitasyā’nuvṛtteḥ |

“For living beings in whom sleep has arisen from fatigue and the impact (saṃkṣobha) on the body, the continuity of the series of breaths has the sole purpose of accomplishing the stages of the maturing of life. Like this, for the ultimate atoms in which impulses (saṃskāra) have been acquired from the impact of the disintegration of the great elements, the continuity of the series of motions breathed out by God has the sole purpose of demarcating time, as being slow, slower, slowest, etc., culminating in the conjunction called grouping (pracaya).”

Just as God can be omitted from the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account given by Praśastapāda without any loss of coherence, so God can be omitted from the account of the motion of ultimate atoms during dissolution (pralaya) given by Udayana without any loss of coherence. The Vaiśeṣika teaching of adṛṣṭa, the automatically acting “unseen” force produced by karma, is quite enough to explain how cosmogony occurs, without any need for God. Here, too, God is not necessary for the motion of the ultimate atoms during pralaya, which motion is explained as being due to their saṃskāras. The saṃskāras are karmic “imprints” or “impressions” that become “conditioning forces” (as Bhikkhu Dhammajoti well translates this word in Buddhist texts), leading to “tendencies” (as Anantalal Thakur translates it in Vaiśeṣika texts). Ganganatha Jha translated this word as “potencies” in the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account given above. I have used “impulses” here. The ultimate atoms acquire these saṃskāras from the saṃkṣobha, “impact,” that occurs when the great elements disintegrate into their component ultimate atoms at the time of the dissolution of the cosmos. About this, Umesha Mishra explains that “before an object is destroyed a kind of shock (saṅkṣobha) is given to that object and then the object is destroyed” (Conception of Matter according to Nyāya-Vaiçeṣika, 1936, p. 197). Similarly, Sadananda Bhaduri says about this: “It is only as the result of a violent shaking or impact that a body is dissolved” (Studies in Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika Metaphysics, 1946, p. 147). The term saṃkṣobha is glossed in the Kusumāñjali-Bodhanī commentary by Varadarāja as abhighāta, which means “striking, impact.” So due to this impact (saṃkṣobha) at the time of the disintegration of the great elements, the ultimate atoms acquire saṃskāras, “impulses,” which result in a continuous series of motions that last throughout the time of the dissolution (pralaya) of the cosmos. The idea that God breathed out these motions is not necessary to the Vaiśeṣika system.

In the Theosophical system, the motion that is symbolically called the “Great Breath” is not the breath of God, but rather is the breath of the one existence, which is the one element, also called space. Blavatsky writes: “Its one absolute attribute, which is ITSELF, eternal, ceaseless Motion, is called in esoteric parlance the ‘Great Breath,’ which is the perpetual motion of the universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present SPACE” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 2). She explains further (vol. 1, p. 55): “The ‘Breath’ of the One Existence is used in its application only to the spiritual aspect of Cosmogony by Archaic esotericism; otherwise, it is replaced by its equivalent in the material plane—Motion. The One Eternal Element, or element-containing Vehicle, is Space, dimensionless in every sense; co-existent with which are—endless duration, primordial (hence indestructible) matter, and motion—absolute ‘perpetual motion’ which is the ‘breath’ of the ‘One’ Element. This breath, as seen, can never cease, not even during the Pralayic eternities.”

According to the Theosophical teachings, the breath of the one element is its life. The one existence may therefore be called the one element or the one life, and is equivalent to living matter or living substance. The breath of the one element is the same as the perpetual motion of matter, and this motion is its inherent life. The Mahatma K.H. makes this clear (Mahatma letter #10): “When we speak of our One Life we also say that it penetrates, nay is the essence of every atom of matter; and that therefore it not only has correspondence with matter but has all its properties likewise, etc.—hence is material, is matter itself. . . . Rejecting with contempt the theistic theory we reject as much the automaton theory, teaching that states of consciousness are produced by the marshalling of the molecules of the brain; . . . we believe in . . . the pulsations of inert matter—its life. . . . In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, . . .”

It follows that every atom is alive, and each atom is a life. Blavatsky explains: “The Second idea to hold fast to is that THERE IS NO DEAD MATTER. Every last atom is alive. It cannot be otherwise since every atom is itself fundamentally Absolute Being. Therefore there is no such thing as ‘spaces’ of Ether, or Akasha, or call it what you like, in which angels and elementals disport themselves like trout in water. That’s the common idea. The true idea shows every atom of substance no matter of what plane to be in itself a LIFE.”13

This life remains, even when the cosmos goes out of manifestation, and it is this that keeps the eternal ultimate atoms in motion during pralaya, like in sleep. This is because, as the Mahatma Morya said in the “Cosmological Notes,” quoted above, motion is the imperishable life of matter. At that time there is only “space pervaded by atoms in motion. Everything else passes away for the time, but matter which these ultimate atoms represent . . . is eternal and indestructible, . . .” (p. 384). The remainder of this quotation had been re-stated earlier in the “Cosmological Notes”: “Motion . . . is the imperishable life (conscious or unconscious as the case may be) of matter, even during the pralaya, or night of mind. When Chyang or omniscience, and Chyang-mi-shi-khon—ignorance, both sleep, this latent unconscious life still maintains the matter it animates in sleepless unceasing motion.” (p. 377).

It is here that the Vaiśeṣika teachings as we now have them differ from the Theosophical teachings. Vaiśeṣika does not teach that the ultimate atoms are alive; their motion is therefore not inherent in them. In Theosophy, motion is the inherent life of the ultimate atoms. This difference between the two teachings is, of course, hardly surprising. The distinctive teaching of eternal ultimate atoms has defined the Vaiśeṣika system to such an extent that Vaiśeṣika has come to be known as a system of atomism. By contrast, Theosophy is not at all known as a system of atomism, or even as teaching atomism, because of its teaching of the one existence. Indeed, Theosophy has the maxim: “It is on the doctrine of the illusive nature of matter, and the infinite divisibility of the atom, that the whole science of Occultism is built.” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 520). Vaiśeṣika, on the other hand, has been known in the West for teaching eternal ultimate atoms that are indivisible, although the Sanskrit term for this in fact means “without parts” (niravayava) rather than “indivisible.” Just as we had to determine what kind of atoms are without parts in Vaiśeṣika, so we must determine what kind of atoms are infinitely divisible in Theosophy, along with what kind of matter is illusive. For we have just been reading about matter that is eternal and atoms that are eternal.

The Theosophical teaching on the eternal ultimate atoms was considerably clarified in 2010, with the publication of the lost “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge,” discovered in 1995 by Daniel Caldwell.14 It was clarified thanks to Blavatsky being persistently questioned about the atoms that she spoke of too briefly in The Secret Doctrine. In her replies, Blavatsky called the atoms taught in Theosophy “mathematical points” more than a dozen times, just like Chatterji called the atoms taught in Vaiśeṣika “pure points.” Just like the Mahatma Morya surprisingly spoke of the seventh or highest principle as being molecular, i.e., atomic, Blavatsky several times defined the atom as the seventh principle of a molecule, existing on the seventh or highest plane. This true atom, then, is not physical, not the atom of modern science, as she said many times. Each molecule, appearing as a single atom, is composed of an infinity of finer molecules; and these comprise the six lower principles of the true atom, being the infinitely divisible manifested atoms. Some of these statements had appeared already in the Transactions that were published in 1890 and 1891. But in the newly published Transactions there are more of these statements, leading to greater clarification of the Theosophical teaching on the eternal ultimate atoms that remain even during pralaya. It will be worthwhile to quote some of these statements.

The following quotations, when they occur in both the 1890-1891 and 2010 versions, are given from the earlier published Transactions, as reprinted in the Blavatsky Collected Writings, volume 10. Blavatsky had a chance to edit the earlier version. For these quotations, references to the 2010 unedited and often differing version are also included in parentheses.

“Thus the Egg, on whatever plane you speak of, means the ever-existing undifferentiated matter which strictly is not matter at all, but, as we call it, the Atoms. Matter is destructible in form while the Atoms are absolutely indestructible, being the quintessence of Substances. And here, I mean by ‘atoms’ the primordial divine Units, not the ‘atoms’ of modern Science.” (p. 353; cp. 2010 ed., p. 137)

“Question. Is the Radiant Essence, Milky Way, or world-stuff, resolvable into atoms or is it non-atomic?
Answer. In its precosmic state it is of course non-atomic if by atoms you mean molecules; for the hypothetical atom, a mere mathematical point, is not material or application [applicable?] to matter, nor even to substance. The real atom does not exist on the material plane. The definition of a point as having position, must not, in Occultism, be taken in the ordinary sense of location; as the real atom is beyond space and time. The word molecular is really applicable to our globe and its plane, only: once inside of it, even on the other globes of our planetary chain, matter is in quite another condition, and non-molecular. The atom is in its eternal state invisible even to the eye of an Archangel; and becomes visible to the latter only periodically, during the life cycle. The particle, or molecule, is not, but exists periodically, and is therefore regarded as an illusion.” (p. 370; cp. 2010 ed., pp. 210-211)

“An atom is simply a mathematical point with regard to matter. It is what we call in occultism a mathematical point.” (2010 ed., p. 210)

“Question. But what is an atom, in fact?
Answer. An atom may be compared to (and is for the Occultist) the seventh principle of a body or rather of a molecule. The physical or chemical molecule is composed of an infinity of finer molecules and these in their turn of innumerable and still finer molecules. Take for instance a molecule of iron and so resolve it that it becomes non-molecular; it is then, at once transformed into one of its seven principles, viz., its astral body; the seventh of these is the atom. The analogy between a molecule of iron, before it is broken up, and this same molecule after resolution, is the same as that between a physical body before and after death. The principles remain minus the body. Of course this is occult alchemy, not modern chemistry.” (pp. 370-371; cp. 2010 ed., pp. 211-213)

“Brahmâ is called an atom, because we have to imagine it as a mathematical point, which, however, can be extended into absoluteness. Nota bene, it is the divine germ and not the atom of the chemists.” (p. 385; cp. 2010 ed., p. 277)

“It is the infinitesimally small and totallic Brahmā. It may be the unknown limited quantity, a latent atom during Pralaya, active during the life cycles, but one which has neither circumference or plane, only limitless expansion.” (2010 ed., p. 277)

Mr. A. Keightley: Question 6. Are the atoms—in the occult sense of the term—eternal and indestructible, like the Monads of Leibniz, or are they dissolved during Pralaya?
Mme. Blavatsky: Now look at this question, if you please. This proves that the atoms are in your conceptions somethings, when there is no such thing in this world as atoms, except as mathematical points, as I say. The atoms, whether representing the Monads of Leibniz or the eternal and indestructible mathematical points of substance which our occult doctrine teaches, can neither be dissolved during Pralaya nor reform during Manvantara. The atoms do not exist as appreciable quantities of matter on any plane. They are mathematical points of unknown quantity here. And whatever they are or may be on the seventh plane, each is and must be logically an absolute universe in itself, reflecting other universes and yet it is not matter and it is not spirit. . . . The atom is and is not. The atom is the mathematical point, the potentiality in space; and there is not, I suppose, a space in this world that is not an atom.” (2010 ed., p. 347-348)

“Atoms confined to our world system are not what they are in space, or mathematical points. These latter are certainly metaphysical abstractions, and can only be considered in such terms; but what we know as atoms on this plane are gradations of substance, very attenuated. This will be easily understood by those who think over the occult axiom which tells us that spirit is matter, and matter spirit, and both one.” (2010 ed., p. 366)

Mr. B. Keightley: That question of atoms is consistently cropping up in The Secret Doctrine.
Mme. Blavatsky:
It does. And I had the honor of telling you what I meant by atoms, that I used them in that sense of cosmogenesis. I said they were geometrical and mathematical points.” (2010 ed., pp. 398-399)


Vaiśeṣika is an ancient system, and only remnants of its teachings have been preserved. The teaching on ultimate atoms is given only very briefly in its primary text, the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras (4.1.1-7, Thakur edition).15 More is given in the primary text of its sister system, the Nyāya-sūtras (4.2.16-25). Some more was preserved in the Padārtha-dharma-saṃgraha by Praśastapāda, including an account of cosmogony. In what has been preserved in this compendium we have the unusual teaching that the eternal ultimate atoms remain in existence even when the cosmos goes out of manifestation. This teaching is also found in Theosophy. It is found elsewhere only in the Buddhist Kālacakra system. Even though Jainism also teaches eternal ultimate atoms, according to Jainism the cosmos never goes out of manifestation. The ultimate atoms taught in early Buddhism are not eternal, so they do not remain during the dissolution of the cosmos. The teaching that eternal ultimate atoms remain during pralaya has been little studied in Vaiśeṣika, and it has been little studied in Theosophy. Yet it is an essential part of the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony, necessary for the ultimate atoms to be eternal, and it is an essential part of the cosmogony given in the Book of Dzyan. Blavatsky summarizes what stanza 3 of the Book of Dzyan teaches, at the same time indicating how the one existence and the many eternal ultimate atoms or mathematical points need not be contradictory (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 21):

“Stanza III. describes the Re-awakening of the Universe to life after Pralaya. It depicts the emergence of the ‘Monads’ from their state of absorption within the ONE; the earliest and highest stage in the formation of ‘Worlds,’ the term Monad being one which may apply equally to the vastest Solar System or the tiniest atom.”

This stanza of the Book of Dzyan concludes with the following verse:

“Then Svabhāva sends Fohat to harden the atoms. Each is a part of the web. Reflecting the ‘Self-Existent Lord’ like a mirror, each becomes in turn a world.”



1. The phrase “empty ultimate atom” translates the original Sanskrit śūnya-paramāṇu. Its Tibetan translation is stong pa rdul phra rab. This Tibetan term, or a close variant, was used by the Dalai Lama in his dialogues and translated as “space particle” or “empty particle” in his books: Consciousness at the Crossroads, 1999, pp. 49, 51; The New Physics and Cosmology, 2004, pp. 85, 87-88, 94, 96, 183, 209; and The Universe in a Single Atom, 2005, pp. 85-90.

2. See: “The Problems of the Vaiśeṣika system and the lost Vaiśeṣika literature,” by Anantalal Thakur, pp. 9-17 in his “Introduction” to Vaiśeṣikasūtra of Kaṇāda, with the Commentary of Candrānanda, edited by Muni Jambuvijayaji, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1961, posted here with the Sanskrit texts. We do not know if the Vaiśeṣika-Kaṭandī is the Ātreya-bhāṣya.

3. These two are: Vaiśeṣikadarśana of Kaṇāda, with an Anonymous Commentary, edited by Anantalal Thakur, Darbhanga: Mithila Institute, 1957; and Vaiśeṣikasūtra of Kaṇāda, with the Commentary of Candrānanda, edited by Muni Jambuvijayaji, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1961.

4. See: “Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya,” by S. Kuppuswami Sastri, Journal of Oriental Research, Madras, vol. 3, 1929, pp. 1-5, attached.

5. Padārthadharmasangraha of Praçastapāda, with the Nyāyakandalī of Çrīdhara, translated by Ganganatha Jha, serialized in The Pandit, 1903-1915; reprint, Benares, 1916; photographic reprint as: Padārthadharmasagraha of Praśastapāda, with the Nyāyakandalī of Śrīdhara, translated by Gaṅgānātha Jhā, Varanasi, 1982, pp. 108-111.

6. Gaṅgānātha Jhā’s “of all things” translates the pronoun teṣām, “of these/those,” where he has supplied the unstated “all things” as the referent for the pronoun. There are three main commentaries on the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha. All three commentaries supply the “bodies and sense-organs” as the referent for the pronoun: teṣāṃ śarīrendriyānām (Vyomavatī by Vyomaśiva, edited by Gaurinath Sastri, 1983, p. 97, line 27; Nyāyakandalī by Śrīdhara, edited by Vindhyeśvarīprasāda Dvivedin, 1895, p. 51, line 13; edited by J. S. Jetly and Vasant G. Parikh, 1991, p. 136, line 12; Kiraṇāvalī by Udayana, edited by Narendra Chandra Vedantatirtha (fasc. 4), 1956, p. 315, line 2; edited by Jitendra S. Jetly, 1971, p. 62, line 10). They are here listed in chronological order: Vyomavatī, Nyāyakandalī, and Kiraṇāvalī.

7. The nine classes of ultimate realities, called dravya, which is usually translated as “substances,” are: (1-4) the ultimate atoms (paramāṇu) of earth, water, fire, and air; (5) ākāśa, which in Vaiśeṣika is not the fifth element, but rather is space as the medium in which things exist; (6) kāla, time; (7) dik, literally “direction,” as in north and south, so refers to space as the directions of space, and has sometimes been translated as relative position; (8) ātman, selves or souls (9) manas, minds.

8. The word for motion used in Vaiśeṣika is karma, “action,” as may be seen, for example, in its usage in Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 1.1.6 (or 1.1.7 in earlier editions), translated by Anantalal Thakur as: “Throwing upwards, throwing downwards, contracting, expanding and moving are the (five) actions.” (See note 15 below for his Sanskrit edition and translation.) Therefore many writers on Vaiśeṣika translate karma as “motion.”

9. Udayana in his Kiraṇāvalī commentary on the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha refers to the very extensive (ativistara) commentary on the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras that he apparently had access to (Kiraṇāvalī, ed. Śiva Chandra Sārvvabhouma, fasc. 1-3, Bibliotheca Indica, work no. 200, Calcutta, 1911-1912, p. 34). Padmanābha-miśra in his Kiraṇāvalī-Bhāskara sub-commentary says that this very extensive commentary was written by Rāvaṇa (ed. Gopi Nath Kaviraj, Benares, 1920, p. 12: rāvaṇa-praṇīta); i.e., it is the lost Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya. (Reference: Anantalal Thakur, “Introduction” to Vaiśeṣikasūtra of Kaṇāda, with the Commentary of Candrānanda, p. 13, repeated in Origin and Development of the Vaiśeṣika System, p. 166.)

10. Nyāyakusumāñjali of Udayanācārya, translated by N. S. Dravid, Vol. 1, New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1996, p. 202. The full statement in this translation, actually an embellished paraphrase, is: “(The proper explanation of the re-emergence of the creative process is this): During sleep which is induced by fatigue in the living body the process of exhalation and inhalation—whose sole object is the gradual dissipation of the span of life of the body—goes on (as long as the body is destined to live). Likewise the motion of the atoms (which are the ultimate constituents of the universe) generated by the impact of the disintegrating process on the four major elements of the universe, has as its sole object the determination of the duration of annihilation. The atomic motion taking place during annihilation is of the nonproductive kind and it increases or decreases accordingly as the annihilation-process is near or far from its end. This motion is often described as God’s inhalation and exhalation.”
The translation of the Kusumāñjali made by E. B. Cowell and published in 1864 is of Udayana’s verses only, along with a commentary by Hari Dasa Bhattacharya. It does not include Udayana’s extensive prose portions that make up most of his book.

11. The Nyāyakusumāñjali of Udayanācārya, translated by Swami Ravi Tirtha, Vol. 1, Books 1 and 2, Adyar Library, 1946, pp. 99-100, paragraph 176. The full statement in this more accurate translation is: “If it be so said, it is not so; for there is continuity for the breathing of God in the form of a succession of activity of ultimate atoms, of the nature of lesser and still lesser intensity, which end with the contact designated pracaya (i.e. mere coming together without creating volume) and whose sole purpose is to demarcate time, (of ultimate atoms) which have obtained a residue from the agitation of the break up of the great elements (i.e., the five elements), (just) like the continuity of the succession of breaths, whose sole purpose is to secure the process of the fruition of life for the living beings who have obtained sleep derived from the fatigue of some agitation of the body.”
This book is quite rare, so I have scanned it and posted it here with the Sanskrit texts. Swami Ravi Tirtha is a pseudonym for C. Kunhan Raja, as noted by George Chemparathy (An Indian Rational Theology: Introduction to Udayana’s Nyāyakusumāñjali, 1972, p. 190).

12. The term pracaya, “grouping,” is defined by Candrānanda in his commentary on Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 7.1.16 as a “loose conjunction”: praśithilaḥ saṃyogaḥ pracayaḥ. The same gloss is given by Praśastapāda in his Padārtha-dharma-sagraha, where it is further explained: 1895 edition (Praśastapāda-bhāṣya), pp. 130 ff.; 1971 edition with Kiraṇāvalī commentary, pp. 136 ff.; 1983-1984 edition with Vyomavatī commentary, vol. 2, pp. 50 ff.; 1991 edition with Nyāyakandalī commentary, pp. 327 ff.; G. Jha translation, pp. 284 ff.

13. “The ‘Secret Doctrine’ and Its Study” (notes of personal teachings given by H. P. Blavatsky to Robert Bowen), cited from An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, 1994, p. 4.

14. The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions, by H. P. Blavatsky, transcribed and edited by Michael Gomes, The Hague: I.S.I.S. Foundation, 2010. These have also been published in April, 2014, as The Secret Doctrine Dialogues, Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company (not yet seen by me).

15. The Sanskrit edition and English translation of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras prepared by Anantalal Thakur is by far the most definitive edition and translation available today. It is based primarily on the readings found in the anonymous commentary that he published in 1957 and found in the text as commented on by Candrānanda that was published in 1961 (see note 3 above). It was published in Origin and Development of the Vaiśeṣika System, 2003, pp. 24-121. It completely supersedes the editions and translations of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras as commented on by Śaṅkara-miśra that had long been the standard.

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The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence

By David Reigle on March 16, 2014 at 1:57 am

An article titled, “The Book of Dzyan, The Current State of the Evidence,” was published in Brahmavidyā: The Adyar Library Bulletin, Supplement, 2013, pp. 87-120.* Because of its direct relevance to the purpose of this blog, it is posted here, and may be accessed by clicking on the title. The Brahmavidyā Supplement is a special issue “Commemorating the 125th year of publication of The Secret Doctrine by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,” which includes the following articles:

1. Why Study The Secret Doctrine? by Radha Burnier.
2. Cosmogony in the Stanzas of Dzyan, by Pablo Sender.
3. Reading the Book of Knowledge, by Doss McDavid.
4. The Secret Doctrine in the 21st Century, by Shirley J. Nicholson.
5. Keys to The Secret Doctrine, by Chris Bartzokas.
6. The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence, by David Reigle.
7. The Essence of The Secret Doctrine, by Harvey Tordoff.
8. The Secret Doctrine: To Be Read Wholly, by John Algeo.
9. Beyond the Sevenfold Schemes, by Dara Eklund.
10. Annie Besant and The Secret Doctrine, by Pedro Oliveira.
11. Interpreting The Secret Doctrine, by Joy Mills.

Brahmavidyā: The Adyar Library Bulletin was started in 1937. Since the mid-1950s it has been solely an Indological journal, not a Theosophical journal. This Supplement is the first of its kind.

* A pre-publication version of my article, without the inevitable typos incident to publication, is also available here: “The Book of Dzyan, The Current State of the Evidence, pre-pub.

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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


Searching for the Sources of the Book of Dzyan – Archives

By admin on March 3, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The quest for the sources of the Book of Dzyan as a public project started before this blog, on another blog, with many contributors. Almost two years of studies were recorded there. This represents a valuable contribution to the project, and it was deemed useful to give access to these records. A compilation of the contributors who created this current blog (The Book of Dzyan) was made, together with a lexical index.
Unfortunately, all these posts were deleted from the first blog, and therefore, all links and references to it will not be active.
The document is available here :    2010-2012 Book of Dzyan Studies

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Prabhāsvara in the Canonical Texts and in Cosmogony

By David Reigle on February 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

updated June 5, 2015

“The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras,” the previous “Creation Stories” posting, shows the world arising from prabhāsvara, “luminosity” or the “clear light.” We do not read about prabhāsvara in standard sourcebooks on Buddhism. We must try to get a clearer picture of what it is by finding the passages on it in the Buddhist canonical texts, the sūtras and tantras, and the treatises explaining them. Although it is found in the early Buddhist sūtras, it is not a teaching that is featured in them. In the Buddhist tantras, however, prabhāsvara is a prominent teaching. The Buddhist tantras are regarded by modern scholars as a late development in Buddhism, because they do not appear in historical sources until the latter portion of the first millennium C.E. Tibetan Buddhist tradition explains this fact by saying that the tantras were kept secret for many centuries after the time of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni. Even after their existence became publicly known, they have been regarded as teachings to be kept secret from those who have not received initiation into them. It is only in the last decades of the twentieth century C.E. that this traditional restriction has started to be lifted. This fact helps to explain why prabhāsvara, especially in its role in cosmogony, has remained largely unknown.

The Sanskrit word prabhāsvara was translated into Tibetan as ’od gsal, meaning literally “clear (gsal) light (’od).” Thus, thanks to the many translations of Buddhist texts from Tibetan into English in recent decades, prabhāsvara has come to be known in English as “clear light” via its Tibetan translation ’od gsal. Translators working directly from the Sanskrit texts have usually preferred to translate prabhāsvara with words such as “luminosity” or “luminous,” for a couple of reasons. In standard Sanskrit, prabhāsvara was only known as an adjective, defined by Monier-Williams as “shining forth, shining brightly, brilliant,” and by V. S. Apte as “brilliant, bright, shining.” As we can see, the Tibetan translation ’od gsal, “clear light,” is a noun. It is hard to make “clear light” into an adjective if needed (although not impossible), while “luminosity” can easily be made into the adjective, “luminous.” Another reason would be that prabhāsvara is not a compound term in Sanskrit, like “clear (gsal) light (’od)” is in Tibetan. It consists of the main part, bhāsvara, which by itself means the same as prabhāsvara, plus the prefix pra. While prefixes such as pra obviously add something to the meaning of a word, what they add, more often than not, is not enough to require an additional word in the translation.

How, then, did prabhāsvara come to be translated into Tibetan as ’od gsal, “clear light”? One of the many meanings of the prefix pra when added to nouns, according to the Gaṇa-ratna-mahodadhi by Vardhamāna as cited by Vaman Shivaram Apte in The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, is “purity,” giving the example, prasannaṃ jalam, which means “pure water” or “clear water.” This shows us why ’od gsal, “clear light,” was chosen long ago as the standardized Tibetan translation of prabhāsvara, rather than just ’od, “light.” Yet the related Sanskrit word prabhā was translated into Tibetan as just ’od, “light,” even though it has the prefix pra. In prabhā, as is more usual, the prefix pra does not change the meaning from “light” to “clear light.” An example of an actual compound term in Sanskrit is the title Vimala-prabhā, meaning “stainless (vimala) light (prabhā).” It seems, then, that the addition of gsal, “clear,” to ’od, “light,” serves to distinguish ’od gsal, “clear light,” as a technical term. So there is good reason to translate prabhāsvara either as “clear light” or as “luminosity” when used as a noun. A translator must choose one or the other, and the choice may come down to nothing more than indicating whether the translation was made from the Sanskrit directly or from a Tibetan translation.

In the following translations of the selected Sanskrit passages, I will translate prabhāsvara with the adjective “luminous” or with the noun “luminosity,” for which one can substitute the “clear light.” 

What is perhaps the most frequently quoted passage on prabhāsvara from the sūtras is from the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in Eight Thousand Lines. It begins with a statement that is characteristic of the Perfection of Wisdom or Prajñā-pāramitā writings, “That mind is no mind.” Then it explains why:1

tac cittam acittam | prakṛtiś cittasya prabhāsvarā

“That mind is no mind. The nature of mind is luminous.”

This idea, and this term in its Pali form, pabhassara, is not absent from the sūtras or suttas of the Pali Buddhist canon. A passage from the Aṅguttara-nikāya collection tells us the same thing, that “This mind is luminous.” Then it adds a necessary qualification that we will see again and again:2

pabhassaram idaṃ bhikkhave cittaṃ tañ ca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ

“This mind is luminous, O monks, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.”

Almost the same wording is found in Sanskrit in the Jñānālokālakāra-sūtra, usually classified as one of the ten tathāgata-garbha or buddha-nature sūtras. The original Sanskrit text of this sūtra was only recently discovered in Tibet, and was published for the first time in 2004. Its passage is:3

prakṛti-prabhāsvaraṃ cittaṃ tac cāgantukair upakleśair upakliśyate

“This mind is luminous by nature, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.”

This same statement that we see in prose in the sūtras was put into verse form for easier memorization in the treatises explaining them. Dharmakīrti, one of the most famous Indian writers on reasoning, in his Pramāṇa-vārttika has the following verse line of sixteen syllables:4

prabhāsvaram idaṃ cittaṃ prakṛtyāgantavo malāḥ

“This mind is luminous by nature; the impurities are adventitious.”

This same line is the first line of a verse quoted as summarizing the Buddhist Vijñāna-vāda view, the view that everything is consciousness only. The second line of this verse is not found in Dharmakīrti’s treatise. This verse is quoted in a Hindu text, the commentary by Jayaratha on the Tantrāloka by Abhinavagupta, to represent the Buddhist view:5

prabhāsvaram idaṃ cittaṃ prakṛtyāgantavo malāḥ |

teṣām apāye sarvārthaṃ taj jyotir avinaśvaram ||

“This mind is luminous by nature; the impurities are adventitious. Upon their disappearance, everything is that imperishable light.”

Here we have the stated equivalence of luminous, prabhāsvara, and light, jyotis, in agreement with the Tibetan translation of prabhāsvara as the noun, ’od gsal, “clear light.” The Buddhist Vijñāna-vāda school holds that everything is consciousness only, vijñāna-mātra, or mind only, citta-mātra. Since the nature of mind is luminous, prabhāsvara, it follows that everything is this nature of mind, and this nature of mind is luminosity or light. Thus, when the adventitious impurities disappear, there is nothing left but luminosity, and “everything is that imperishable light.”

In Buddhism, the cosmos is described as consisting of the dharmas, the “elements of existence,” or “phenomena,” as this term is often translated. So to say that everything is mind only, and the mind is luminous by nature, is to say that all dharmas are mind only, and the dharmas are luminous by nature. This is just what is said in the Guhyasamāja-tantra, one of the most important of the so-called highest yoga tantras:6

prakṛti-prabhāsvarā dharmāḥ suviśuddhā nabhaḥ-samāḥ

“The dharmas are luminous by nature, pure, and equal to space.”

That everything is prabhāsvara or luminous by nature is understood to be ultimate truth. In the tantric writings, prabhāsvara comes to be used as a noun, luminosity or clear light. The Indian writer Candrakīrti in his Pradīpoddyotana commentary on the Guhyasamāja-tantra says:7

prabhāsvaram paramārtha-satyam

“Luminosity is ultimate truth.”

This is why Nāgārjuna can say in his Pañcakrama that the cause of the world is prabhāsvara, luminosity, as posted earlier in “The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras”:

asvatantraṃ jagat sarvaṃ svatantraṃ naiva jāyate |

hetuḥ prabhāsvaraṃ tasya sarva-śūnyaṃ prabhāsvaram || 3.15 ||

“The entire world is dependent [on a cause], for something independent can never arise. Its [the world’s] cause is luminosity (prabhāsvara); luminosity is the universal void (sarva-śūnya).”

The origination of the world from prabhāsvara is found not only in Buddhist tantric texts, but also in the Ratnagotra-vibhāga, attributed by Tibetan tradition to Maitreya. The central topic of that book is the dhātu, the element, the one element distinguished from all other elements by calling it the buddha-element (tathāgata-dhātu). This pure element (vaimalya-dhātu) is equated with the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti) in chapter 1, verse 49, saying that it is found everywhere, like space. There follows a description of the buddha-element in verses 52-63 using comparisons, where it is said that phenomenal life arises from and returns to the nature of mind (cittasya prakti). This nature of mind is then said to be prabhāsvara in the concluding verses of this group:8

na hetuḥ pratyayo nāpi na sāmagrī na codayaḥ |
na vyayo na sthitiś citta-prakṛter vyoma-dhātuvat || 1.62 ||

cittasya yāsau prakṛtiḥ prabhāsvarā na jātu sā dyaur iva yāti vikriyām |

“The nature of mind, like the space element, has no cause, nor condition, nor coming together [of causes and conditions], no arising, no perishing, no remaining. This nature of mind is luminous; like space, it never undergoes change.”

Here in the Ratnagotra-vibhāga, like elsewhere, the canonical texts consistently say that prabhāsvara is the nature (prakṛti) of mind (citta), not mind per se. This refers to the true nature (dharmatā) mind, not any other mind. As stated in the Mahāyāna-sutrālakāra, a fundamental Yogācāra or Vijñāna-vāda text attributed to either Maitreya or Asaṅga:9

mataṃ ca cittaṃ prakṛti-prabhāsvaraṃ sadā tad āgantuka-doṣa-dūṣitaṃ |
na dharmatā-cittam ṛte ‘nya-cetasaḥ prabhāsvaratvaṃ prakṛtau vidhīyate || 13.19 ||

“Mind is held to always be luminous by nature; it is polluted by adventitious faults. Apart from the true nature mind, it is taught, no other mind is luminous in [its] nature.

Indeed, the Jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra, an explanatory tantra associated with the Guhyasamāja-tantra, tells us that mind arises from prabhāsvara. This is mind as consciousness (vijñāna), the consciousness we are familiar with. The Sanskrit original of this tantra is lost, but the relevant passage is quoted in the Caryāmelāpaka-pradīpa by Āryadeva, as follows:10

yat prabhāsvarodbhavaṃ vijñānaṃ tad eva cittaṃ mana iti | tan-mūlāḥ sarva-dharmāḥ saṃkleśa-vyavadānātmakāḥ | tataḥ kalpanā-dvayaṃ bhavaty ātmā paraś ceti | tad vijñānaṃ vāyu-vāhanam |

“The very consciousness that is arisen from luminosity is mind (citta), thought (manas). All dharmas, having the nature of defilement and purification, have that [luminosity] as their root. From that [luminosity] come the two [false] conceptions, self and other. That consciousness has wind as its vehicle.”

As the last sentence indicates, the mind that arises from prabhāsvara always has a subtle wind (vāyu) as its vehicle or mount. This is a fact in tantric cosmogony, a fact used in tantric practice. The Tibetan teacher Tsongkhapa, quoting an earlier Tibetan scholar in his major treatise on advanced Guhyasamāja practice titled A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, writes (as translated by Gavin Kilty, 2013):11

“Until you gain control over the horse-like winds, the mount of the mind, you will not gain control over the rider-like mind.”

This, as noted in the posting, “The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras,” is apparently the same teaching given in Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, verse 2: “Fohat is the steed and the thought is the rider.” Here we have even the same terms used in the analogy. These two work together to produce the phenomenal world. The present Dalai Lama has put this hitherto secret tantric teaching on cosmogony in contemporary language in his 1997 book, The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, translated by Alexander Berzin:12

“. . . Tsongkapa has mentioned that the inanimate environment and the animate beings within it are all the play or emanation of subtlest consciousness and subtlest energy-wind—in other words, simultaneously arising primordial clear light mind and the subtlest level of energy-wind upon which it rides.”

“. . . In other words, when the subtlest energy-wind causes movement from the sphere of clear light, the coarser levels of mind that emerge, from the three most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds onwards, produce the appearances of all phenomena of the environment . . .

“. . . This is the Buddhist explanation for what is called the creator in other traditions.”

The Book of Dzyan account of cosmogony says poetically, stanza 3, verse 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” We have already seen that fohat must correspond to the winds on which mind rides. We now note that svabhāva, “inherent nature,” is a synonym of prakṛti, “nature,” here presumably the nature of mind, which is prabhāsvara, luminosity or the clear light.



1. Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, chapter 1, P. L. Vaidya edition, 1960, p. 3, line 18. This is quoted in the Vimalaprabhā, vol. 1, 1986, p. 23, lines 12-13.

2. Aṅguttara-nikāya, 1.5.9-10 and 1.6.1-2, Pali Text Society edition, vol. 1, pp. 8-9.

3. Jñānālokālakāra-sūtra, edited by Takayasu Kimura, Nobuo Otsuka, Hideaki Kimura, and Hisao Takahashi, in Kukai no shisoto bunka: Onozuka kichohakushi koki kinen ronbunshu (Kobodaishi Kukai’s Thought and Culture: Felicitation Volumes on the Occasion of Dr. Kicho Onozuka’s 70th Birthday), 2004, p. 49. See also pp. 55, 66 (all used in defining bodhi).

4. Pramāṇa-vārttika, Pramāṇa-siddhi chapter, verse 208ab, or 210cd in the Ram Chandra Pandeya edition, 1989. This line is quoted in the Abhayapaddhati of Abhayākaragupta, 2009, p. 29. The same idea can also be seen in “The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna” (posting dated April 6, 2012), where verses 19 and 21 speak of the prabhāsvaraṃ cittam.

5. Jayaratha’s commentary on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka, chapter 4, verse 30, Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies edition, vol. 3, 1921, p. 33. This reference was given in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition and translation of The Āgamaśāstra of Gauḍapāda, 1943, pp. cxli, 70.

6. Guhyasamāja-tantra, chapter 2, verse 7ab, quoted from the Yukei Matsunaga edition, 1978. See also chapter 7, verses 34, 35.

7. Pradīpoddyotana, by Candrakīrti, edited by Chintaharan Chakravarti, 1984, p. 33, repeated on p. 71. This reference was given in Bauddha Tantra Kośa, vol. 1, 1990, p. 77.

8. Ratnagotra-vibhāga, chapter 1, verses 62-63ab. Within the block of verses 52-63, the nature of mind is referred to in verses 57, 59, and 60, and the specific statement saying that phenomenal life arises from and returns to it is in verse 61. This is glossed as the origination of the world in the commentary following verse 64.

9. Mahāyāna-sutrālakāra, by Maitreya (Tibetan tradition) or Asaṅga (Chinese tradition), chapter 13, verse 19. For prabhāsvara in another Yogācāra text, see Madhyānta-vibhāga, chapter 1, verse 23 (22 in Gadjin Nagao edition), explaining śūnyatā, emptiness.

10. Jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra, quoted in Āryadeva’s Caryāmelāpakapradīpam, Janardan Shastri Pandey edition, 2000, p. 41; Christian K. Wedemeyer edition, in Āryadeva’s Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa), 2007, p. 401.

11. A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, by Tsongkhapa, translated by Gavin Kilty, 2013, p. 155. This passage is found in Robert Thurman’s translation of this text, Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp of the Five Stages, 2010, p. 169.

12. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, by the Dalai Lama, translated by Alexander Berzin, 1997, pp. 123, 252-253. The first part of the quote is: “The latter [the clear light mind] is similar to Tsongkapa’s explanation in Precious Sprout, Deciding the Difficult Points of [Chandrakirti’s] ‘An illuminating Lamp [for ‘The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra’].’ In the prologue section, commenting on a quotation from Nagarjuna’s The Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage], . . .”

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras

By David Reigle on December 25, 2013 at 11:57 pm

The standard Buddhist account of cosmogony shows the world arising from the collective karma or actions of living beings in the form of a primordial wind (vāyu). This account is based on the Buddhist sūtras, and was formulated in the Abhidharma texts. Another account, based on the Buddhist tantras, shows the world arising from the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara, ’od gsal), which is the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti). The Book of Dzyan is said to be the first volume of commentaries on the secret Books of Kiu-te (rgyud sde), i.e., the Buddhist tantras. So we might expect its cosmogony account to be closer to that from the known Buddhist tantras than to that from the Buddhist sūtras. In the Book of Dzyan (stanza 3, verse 3), the actual moment of manifestation is described with the words, “darkness radiates light.” In the Buddhist tantras, too, the world arises from light, the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara). This cosmogony was concisely formulated by Āryadeva in only four verses. These were often quoted in other tantric texts as what seems to have become the standard account of cosmogony and dissolution from the Buddhist tantras, specifically the so-called “highest yoga” tantras.

Āryadeva is regarded as the spiritual son of Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna wrote the Pañca-krama, the “Five Stages,” describing the completion stage practices of the Guhyasamāja-tantra. The Guhyasamāja-tantra is one of the most central of the “highest yoga” tantras in Buddhism. The third of its five completion stage practices is called svādhiṣṭhāna, “self-blessing” or “self-consecration.” On this, Āryadeva wrote a short treatise called the Svādhiṣṭhāna-krama-prabheda, or just Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda. The four verses giving the Buddhist tantric account of cosmogony are verses 18-21 of this treatise. The original Sanskrit text of the Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda was found and was first published in Dhīḥ: A Review of Rare Buddhist Texts, vol. 10, 1990, pp. 20-24. It was reprinted along with its Tibetan translation in Bauddhalaghugrantha Samgraha, edited by Janardan Pandey, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1997, pp. 169-194. The four verses on cosmogony were quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, a Kālacakra work: 1941 edition by Mario E. Carelli, pp. 51-52; 2006 edition by Francesco Sferra, pp. 150-151. As there noted by Sferra, they were also quoted in the Amtakaikodyota commentary on the Mañjuśrī-nāma-sagīti, edited by Banarsi Lal, 1994, p. 165, and in the Pañcakrama-ippaṇī of Muniśrībhadra, edited by Zhongxin Jiang and Toru Tomabechi, 1996, p. 58.

From these texts I have prepared a Sanskrit edition of Āryadeva’s four verses on cosmogony, giving variant readings, and have translated these verses into English. They explain more fully what was said in a verse from the svādhiṣṭhāna chapter of Nāgārjuna’s Pañcakrama, which I cite and translate first. There are no variants for this verse in the three Sanskrit editions: the 1896 edition by L. de la Vallée Poussin, the 1994 edition by Katsumi Mimaki and Tōru Tomabechi, and the 2001 edition by Ram Shankar Tripathi. It is Pañcakrama, chapter 3, verse 15:

asvatantraṃ jagat sarvaṃ svatantraṃ naiva jāyate |

hetuḥ prabhāsvaraṃ tasya sarva-śūnyaṃ prabhāsvaram ||

“The entire world is dependent [on a cause], for something independent can never arise. Its [the world’s] cause is luminosity (prabhāsvara); luminosity is the universal void (sarva-śūnya).”

Āryadeva’s four verses on cosmogony from the Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda that explain this more fully are:

prabhāsvarān mahā-śūnyaṃ tasmāc copāya-sambhavaḥ |

tasmād utpadyate prajñā tasyāḥ pavana-sambhavaḥ || 18 ||

18. From luminosity (prabhāsvara) [arises] the great void (mahā-śūnya), and from that is the arising of means (upāya). From that, wisdom (prajñā) is arisen. From that is the arising of air.

pavanād agni-sambhūtir agneś ca jala-sambhavaḥ |

jalāc ca jāyate pṛthvī sattvānām eṣa sambhavaḥ || 19 ||

19. From air is the arising of fire, and from fire is the arising of water; and from water, earth is born. This is the arising of living beings.

bhū-dhātur līyate toye toyaṃ tejasi līyate |

tejaś ca sūkṣma-dhātau ca vāyuś citte vilīyate || 20 ||

20. The earth element dissolves in water. Water dissolves in fire, and fire in the subtle element [air]. Air dissolves in mind (citta).

cittaṃ caitasike līyetāvidyāyāṃ tu caitasam |

sāpi prabhāsvaraṃ gacchen nirodho ’yaṃ bhava-traye || 21 ||

21. Mind will dissolve in the mental derivatives (caitasika), and the mental derivatives in ignorance (avidyā). This, too, will go to luminosity (prabhāsvara). That is the cessation of the triple world.


As may be deduced from the fact that these verses are given or quoted in “highest yoga” tantra texts, this account of the creation and dissolution of the world from and into prabhāsvara, luminosity or clear light, is correlated to advanced yogic practice. Āryadeva’s concise four verses provide what seems to have been taken as the most representative statement on cosmogony as understood in the Buddhist “highest yoga” tantras. This cosmogony was discussed further in a number of other tantric texts from the standpoint of tantric practice. Very few of these texts have yet been translated into English.

The cosmogony account showing the world arising from the collective karma or actions of living beings in the form of a primordial wind (vāyu), based on the Buddhist sūtras, and the cosmogony account showing the world arising from the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara, ’od gsal) that is the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti), based on the Buddhist tantras, need not be taken as conflicting alternative accounts. The latter account can be seen as simply going a little further back. According to Buddhism, karma is not just action per se but rather is volitional action, and there can be no volitional action without mind. So the nature of mind, luminosity, must be there for karma to occur.

Furthermore, the tantric texts that discuss this cosmogony of the luminosity or clear light nature of mind normally do so in association with the subtle winds or airs. The teaching is that mind or consciousness rides on the winds as its mount (vāhana). This is apparently the same teaching given in Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, verse 2: “Fohat is the steed and the thought is the rider.” Fohat, the “fiery whirlwind,” is closely parallel to the primordial wind that forms the world in the karmic wind cosmogony. The two Buddhist cosmogony accounts appear to be the two parts of a single cosmogony, much like the one given more fully in the Book of Dzyan.

Variant readings:

18b: śūnyāc for tasmāc, SṬ1, SṬ2, AKU.

18c: upāyāj jāyate prajñā, AKU.

19b: ca is omitted, PKṬ.

19c: jalāj jāyate pṛthivī, SṬ1, SṬ2.

19d: bhavāṅgānām ayaṃ nayaḥ, AKU.

20a: pṛthivī līyate toye, AKU.

20b: toyas tejasi, SP1, SP2.

21a: cittaś caitasike, SP1, SP2.

21ab: līyed avidyāyāṃ, AKU, PKṬ.

21b: cetasam for caitasam, SP1, SP2, AKU.

21c: so ’pi for sāpi, SP1, SP2.


AKU = Amtakaikodyota.

PKṬ = Pañcakrama-ippaṇī of Muniśrībhadra.

SP1 = Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda, 1990 edition.

SP2 = Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda, 1997 edition.

SṬ1 = Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, 1941 edition.

SṬ2 = Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, 2006 edition.

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Catalogue of the Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) 2011 edition

By David Reigle on December 3, 2013 at 11:53 pm

A listing of all the Tibetan titles in the 2011 edition of the Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) is here attached (Dolpopa Collected Writings Catalogue). In compiling this, I have included and translated the source statement for each text. This indicates whether the particular text is based primarily on newly available sources, or solely on the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition, which is in turn based primarily on the ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition. The ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition did not become available to the outside world until 1992, while the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition followed several years later. The 2011 edition was additionally able to draw upon sources that became available even more recently. These are old texts that had been sealed away in the Nechu temple at Drepung monastery since the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). Also used occasionally were old texts from Dza-’go, and a few other old texts. Approximately half of the content of the 2011 edition is based primarily on these old sources.

All of Dolpopa’s writings that are found in the ’Dzam-thang editions are included in the 2011 edition. Further, the thirty-two part biography of Dolpopa that includes his past lives, written by his disciple Kun spangs chos grags dpal bzang po, is found in all three editions. The ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition, however, includes three additional biographical texts on Dolpopa that are not found in the 2011 edition or in the ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition.

The 2011 edition includes thirteen newly found texts that are not found in the ’Dzam-thang editions. These comprise volume 13. This is stated by the editors in the introductory material given in volume 1, after saying that the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition in eight volumes contains about 200 texts (p. 6): da lan yang nged dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang gis gsar rnyed kyi chos tshan 13 bsnan te | deb grangs bcu gsum du bgos nas |. The introductory material is dated in two places, both giving 2007, although all of the volumes are dated 2011, and they did not become available until 2013. So at the time this edition was prepared, 2007 or before, these thirteen newly found texts could well be described as newly found. However, the two largest of these, Dolpopa’s annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, and Dolpopa’s abbreviated meaning of the Kālacakra-tantra commentary, were published in 2007 and 2008 in the Jonang Publication Series. Moreover, Michael Sheehy has noted that some of the other eleven had previously been published in the one volume of The Collected Works of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa that was published from Bhutan in 1984. This volume was apparently not used by the editors of the new edition.

The thirteen texts published in volume 13 as newly found are listed below. When any of these texts were published elsewhere, the references have been added. Some texts with similar titles, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, have also been noted. The source statements of these thirteen texts may be seen in the attached catalogue listing.

1. theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa thogs med kyis mdzad pa, annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, pp. 1-188. Previously published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 2, Rgyud bla’i ṭīkka, 2007, pp. 1-128.

2. dpal ldan dus ‘khor rgyud ‘grel gyi || bsdus don yongs ‘du lta bu, abbreviated meaning of the Kalacakra-tantra commentary, pp. 189-264. Previously published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 17, Dus ’khor rgyud mchan by Phyogs las rnam rgyal, 2008, pp. 227-283. A manuscript of this in cursive script was reproduced in Dus ’khor ’grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 1 {11} (1/7/2), 2007, pp. 487-539.

3. dus ‘khor gyi lha ‘dabs ‘ga’, pp. 265-291.

4. kun gzhi’i rab tu dbye ba khyad ‘phags, pp. 292-308. This is a considerably longer work than kun gzhi rab dbye, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 159-161 (kun gzhi’i rab tu dbye ba). This longer work is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 105-130.

5. stong nyid kyi rab tu dbye ba, pp. 309-314. This is a considerably shorter work than stong nyid kyi rab tu dbye ba khyad ‘phags, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions (and in the 1984 Bhutan volume), and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 162-177.

6. don dam dbyings rig dbyer med la bstod pa, pp. 315-321. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 480-489.

7. dpal phyag rgya chen po la bstod cing phyag ‘tshal ba rin chen ‘byung gnas, pp. 322-325. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 490-495.

8. mdo rgyud zab mo kun gyi spyi ‘grel, pp. 326-329. This is different from bka’ mdo rgyud zab mo kun gyi spyi ‘grel, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 243-244.

9. slob dpon blo gros seng ge’i dris lan, pp. 330-343.

10. gsol ‘debs kyi rgyal po, pp. 344-346.

11. spang blang gi chos ngos bzung ba sogs, pp. 347-349.

12. sku ‘bum chen po grub dus btab pa’i smon lam, pp. 350-352. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 462-466.

13. lo gsar pa bkra shis par byed pa’i thabs gsum pa, pp. 353-354. This is a third version among two other versions of this title that are found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 12, pp. 336-338 and 339-341.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Abhidharmakośa

By David Reigle on November 17, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The Abhidharma-kośa has long been the standard sourcebook on early Buddhism in use among Mahāyāna Buddhists, and is studied by them up to the present. It presents the entire Buddhist worldview, skillfully condensed by Vasubandhu into 600 terse verses, which are explained by him in his own detailed commentary (bhāṣya) on them. It is an encyclopedic work, reflecting the wide knowledge of educated Buddhists in the fourth to fifth centuries C.E. prevalent in Kashmir, the famous center where these Buddhist teachings were preserved and cultivated and taught. For this reason, it proved to be exceptionally challenging to translate into a Western language. Although this text was known to Western scholars since the mid-1800s, its translation was not attempted until the second and third decades of the 1900s. The fact that the Sanskrit original of the Abhidharmakośa and its own commentary (bhāṣya) by Vasubandhu was then lost made this task doubly difficult. These texts could at that time be studied only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations, with the help of a Sanskrit sub-commentary by Yaśomitra that had been found in Nepal. Not until later was the Sanskrit original discovered in Tibet by Rahula Sankrityayana.

The difficult task of translating the Abhidharmakośa and the bhāṣya thereon was accomplished by Louis de la Vallée Poussin, whose annotated French translation was published in six volumes, 1923-1931. He devoted the latter half of his life to it, after in the first half of his life mastering all four Buddhist canonical languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan. His translation, then necessarily made from the Chinese and Tibetan translations, has not so far been superseded. This is because of his detailed annotations, drawing on a wide range of Buddhist texts in all four canonical languages. His French translation was translated into English in four volumes by Leo M. Pruden, 1988-1990, and translated again into English in four volumes by Lodrö Sangpo, 2012, with many additional annotations. Yet, since the discovery of the Sanskrit original in the mid-1930s, everyone knew that a new translation made directly from it will be required. The Sanskrit Abhidharmakośa was published in 1946, edited by V. V. Gokhale, while the Sanskrit bhāṣya thereon was published in 1967, edited by P. Pradhan (both posted here in the Sanskrit texts section). We do not yet have a translation of the Sanskrit original. We have instead two English translations of a French translation of Chinese and Tibetan translations of the Sanskrit original. Errors in these are inevitable, as will be seen in the passages given below, which I translate from the Sanskrit original.

Chapter 3 of the Abhidharmakośa is titled loka-nirdeśa, “exposition of the world.” This chapter includes a description of the sattva-loka, the “world of living beings,” followed by a description of the bhājana-loka, the “receptacle world.” The receptacle world is the vessel or container or receptacle for the living beings, the house as distinguished from its occupants. So after the kinds of living beings are described, the world in which they live is described. This is the receptacle world. What this chapter describes, however, is not limited to our visible world. It is an entire world-system, a loka-dhātu, more fully a “triple-thousand-great-thousand” (tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra) world-system (loka-dhātu). Below the human realm are eight hell realms, and above the human realm are twenty-seven heaven realms, where dwell twenty-seven classes of gods (deva). That these beings are invisible to us is taken for granted; it is not stated. Likewise, besides our continent, Jambū-dvīpa, there are three other continents in the cardinal directions, a central mountain named Meru or Sumeru, seven surrounding rings of mountains, seven intervening oceans, etc. From the fact that most of the inhabitants of our world-system are invisible to us, it would logically follow that most of the receptacle world would also be invisible to us. But this, too, is not stated; and the continents and mountains and oceans have usually been understood as features of our visible world. The discrepancies between what is described and what physically exists have caused many modern Buddhists to reject the Abhidharma teachings on cosmology.

The description of the receptacle world, the bhājana-loka, starts with verse 45 of chapter 3. It is here that we find what little cosmogony is given. Vasubandhu’s description given in his commentary begins at the bottom (adhas) of the receptacle world with the vāyu-maṇḍala, the “circle of wind,” saying that this is situated in or supported on space (ākāśa-pratiṣṭha), and came into manifestation (abhinirvṛtta) as a result of the karma or actions of living beings (sattva).

ākāśa-pratiṣṭham adhastād vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvṛttaṃ sarva-sattvānāṃ karmādhipatyena | (Skt., p. 158, lines 1-2; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, lines 6-7)1

“Below, supported in or on space, the circle of wind came into manifestation through the power of the actions (karma) of all living beings.”

The karma that had been latent during the period of twenty intermediate eons (antara-kalpa), when the cosmos was out of manifestation, now brings about the manifestation of the circle of wind. Despite the name “wind” (vāyu), this circle or disk (maṇḍala) is described as being “solid” (dṛḍha). We are given no details as to how the circle of wind or vāyu-maṇḍala arises, which forms the base and basis of the receptacle world. The first half of the next verse, 46ab, brings in the circle of water. Vasubandhu in his commentary explains what happens.

tasmin vāyu-maṇḍale sattvānāṃ karmabhir meghāḥ saṃbhūyākṣa-mātrābhir dhārābhir abhivarṣanti | tat bhavaty apāṃ maṇḍalam | . . . tāś ca punar āpaḥ sattvānāṃ karma-prabhāva-saṃbhūtair vāyubhir āvarttyamānā upariṣṭāt kāñcanī-bhavanti pakva-kṣīra-śarī-bhāva-yogena | (Skt., p. 158, lines 6-11 or 6-12; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, lines 11-19)2

“Clouds, having arisen through the actions (karma) of living beings, rain on this circle of wind in streams the size of a pole. This becomes the circle of water. . . . Then these waters, being set into circular motion by the winds arisen through the power of the actions (karma) of living beings, become gold on top, like the forming of a skin on cooked milk.”

Two things here require comment. First, what is the strange-sounding rain in streams the size of a pole? We don’t know for sure, and possibly neither did the commentators. This is perhaps rain so heavy that it comes down in continuous streams rather than in drops. Earlier in this chapter, commenting on verse 3, Vasubandhu quotes a sūtra that says: īṣādhāre deve varṣati nāsti vīcir vā antarikā vā antarikṣād vāri-dhārāṇāṃ prapatantīnām,3 “When the god Īṣādhāra rains there is no break or gap in the streams of water falling from the sky.” Now in English we say, “it is raining,” without ever specifying what “it” is that is raining. In Sanskrit they often say, “the gods rain,” or a particular god rains, as we have here. The sub-commentator Yaśomitra explains that Īṣādhāra means: īṣā-pramāṇa-varṣā-dhāraḥ,4 whose “streams of rain are the measure of a pole.” Elsewhere another relevant sūtra is quoted, as noted by Poussin, this one in the Śikṣā-samuccaya by Śāntideva. I give the Sanskrit, from chapter 14, followed by my translation:

vivartamāne khalu punar loke samantād dvātriṃśat-paṭalā abhra-ghanāḥ saṃtiṣṭhante | saṃsthāya sarvāvantaḥ tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasraṃ loka-dhātuṃ chādayanti | yataḥ pañcāntara-kalpān īṣādhāro devo varṣati | (Skt., Bendall ed., p. 247, lines 5-7, Vaidya ed., p. 132, lines 16-18; Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1335, line 19, to p. 1336, line 3)5

“Then, when the world is coming into manifestation, thirty-two masses of thick clouds gather from all sides. Having gathered, they cover the entire triple-thousand-great-thousand world-system. From them, the god Īṣādhāra rains for five intermediate eons.”

After that three other gods also rain for five intermediate eons each. Altogether the rains occur for twenty intermediate eons, constituting the larger eon of formation.

The other thing here requiring comment is the last phrase, where these waters become gold on top, “like the forming of a skin on cooked milk.”6 There is a small error in the French translation here, that only got worse in the two English translations. Poussin has, “comme le lait cuit devient de al crème,” literally, “like cooked milk becomes cream.” The small error is the word “crème,” meaning “cream.” While the Sanskrit word śara can mean “cream,” this is not the meaning intended here. Cooked milk does not become cream, but a skin or film or scum does form on it. Pruden, perhaps seeing this problem and trying to address it, introduced a second error in his 1988 English translation: “as churned milk becomes cream.” However, the French word “cuit” means “cooked,” not “churned.” Then, Sangpo in his 2012 English translation apparently followed Pruden in this, giving: “in the way that churned milk becomes cream.” The original Sanskrit word pakva means “cooked,” as does the Tibetan translation bskol ba. The analogy given here is not to cream, which rises to the top without the milk being cooked (or churned, which produces butter, not cream). The analogy is to the forming of a crust on the surface of the water like the forming of a skin or film or scum on milk that is cooked. The parallel text in the Saṅghabhedavastu makes this even clearer, by adding that the cooked milk “has become cool” (śītī-bhūta) when this occurs.

tena khalu samayeneyaṃ mahāpṛthivī ekodakā bhavaty ekārṇavā | yaḥ khalu [ekodakāyā] mahāpṛthivyā ekārṇavāyā upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti tadyathā payasaḥ pakvasya śītībhūtasya upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti | evam ekodakāyā mahāpṛthivyā ekārṇavāyā upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti | (Skt., Gnoli ed., p. 7, lines 18-23; Tib., collated Kangyur, vol. 3, p. 620, lines 9-15)7

“At that time this great earth was only water, a single ocean. On top of the great earth that was only water, a single ocean, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across, just like, on top of cooked milk that has become cool, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across. In this way, on top of the great earth that was only water, a single ocean, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across.”

After several verses giving descriptions of the mountains and continents and seas and hells and their measures, we come to the next snippet that is apparently on cosmogony (bhāṣya on verse 59cd). For we read in both English translations of “the winds which create (nirmā) the moon, the sun and the stars” (matching the French, “des vents qui créent (nirmā) . . . la lune, le soleil et les étoiles”). When we read the Sanskrit, however, this is not what we find. Poussin notes here that the two Chinese translations, by Paramārtha and by Hiuan-tsang (Hsüan-tsang, Xuanzang), differ; perhaps meaning that he here followed the Tibetan translation. Unfortunately, the Tibetan translation that he used, the Peking edition or the Narthang edition, has a serious misprint here that misled him. The Peking and Narthang editions have ’phrul ba here, rather than the correct ’phul ba as in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions. With his wide linguistic knowledge acquired by comparing many Sanskrit texts with their Tibetan translations, acquired without the benefit of the Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries that we now have, he knew that the Tibetan ’phrul ba often translates the Sanskrit nirmā, meaning “create” (i.e., the prefix nir plus the root , making words such as nirmāṇa and nirmita). But, as he could not know, this is only a typographical error.

That the correct Tibetan word here is ’phul ba would now be a simple matter to verify by comparison with the original Sanskrit text that was discovered, except that the sole known manuscript has a corruption at this very place. The learned editor, P. Pradhan, corrects the unintelligible vocāraḥ of the manuscript to vordhvacāraḥ, which means, “or the going upward.” However, this does not match the normally literal Tibetan translation, ’phul bar byed pa (nor does it match the erroneous reading, ’phrul bar byed pa). So we do not know what the original Sanskrit term is. Nor is it found in the Sanskrit sub-commentary by Yaśomitra, or in the fragmentary Sanskrit Abhidharmadīpa, which is missing most of this chapter. It took the more clearly worded version in the Tibetan translation of the important but neglected commentary by Saṅghabhadra to verify this.8 In this version, ’phul ba is the main verb, rather than a verbal in a dependent clause like in Vasubandhu’s commentary; and in all four editions this text has ’phul (not ’phrul).9

The Tibetan-English Dictionary by Sarat Chandra Das gives as the second meaning for ’phul ba, “to press, to drive, to push.” But we must verify that this meaning is found in canonical Tibetan. The Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary by J. S. Negi (vol. 8, 2002, p. 3653) shows that ’phul ba translates the Sanskrit nutta in the famous Sanskrit lexicon, the Amarakośa. The word nutta, a past passive participle from the verb-root nud, is defined in Liṅgayasūrin’s commentary thereon as nudyate, preryate, i.e., “is pushed or driven, is impelled.” Thus, ’phul ba in this canonical text does mean “to drive,” and is the correct word here rather than ’phrul ba, “to create.” Thanks especially to the Tibetan translation of the commentary by Saṅghabhadra, we are now in a position to accurately translate this Sanskrit passage (3.59cd), despite the corrupt word(s) at the end of it.

athemau candrārkau kasmin pratiṣṭhitau | vāyau | vāyavo ’ntarīkṣe sarva-sattva-sādhāraṇa-karmādhipatya-nirvṛttā āvartavat sumeruṃ parivartante | candrārka-tārāṇāṃ vordhva-cāraḥ ? (ms. vocāraḥ) | (Skt., p. 165, lines 10-11 or 12-14; Tib., vol. 79, p. 365, lines 10-14)

“Now, on what are these two, the moon and the sun, supported? On the wind. The winds in space, originated through the power of the general karma of all living beings, revolve around Sumeru like a whirlpool, driving the moon, the sun, and the stars.”

So this passage does not say that the winds create the moon, the sun, and the stars, but rather that the winds drive them in their circular orbits. We may here recall Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, śloka 1: “The Primordial Seven, the first seven Breaths of the Dragon of Wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating Breaths the Fiery Whirlwind.” The verb used with winds is parivartante, which I have translated as “revolve around,” but it could just as well be translated as “circumgyrate.”

The sun and the moon, or at least their underlying crystal disks, are in fact said a few lines later to be created or brought into manifestation by the karma of living beings. We see again and again in these cosmogonic passages that karma is the creator of the cosmos, not God as in many other creation stories.10 In the Yogācārabhūmi (Skt., p. 43, lines 2-3) the sun disk is said to be made of fire-crystal, sūrya-maṇḍalaṃ tejaḥ-sphaṭika-mayam, and the moon disk is said to be made of water-crystal, candra-maṇḍalaṃ udaka-sphaṭika-mayam. Here in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (3.60b), a fiery (taijasam) crystal disk (sphaṭika-maṇḍalam) is said to be below the celestial palace (vimāna) of the sun, and a watery (āpyam) crystal disk is said to be below the celestial palace of the moon.

sūrya-vimānasyādhastāt bahiḥ sphaṭika-maṇḍalaṃ taijasam abhinirvṛttaṃ tāpanaṃ prakāśanaṃ ca | candra-vimānasyādhastād āpyaṃ śītalaṃ bhāsvaraṃ ca | prāṇināṃ karmabhir | (Skt., p. 165, lines 18-19 or 20-22; Tib., vol. 79, p. 365, line 20, to p. 366, line 2)

“Outside, below the celestial palace of the sun, through the actions (karma) of living beings a fiery crystal disk came into manifestation, heating and illumining. Below the celestial palace of the moon, a watery [crystal disk came into manifestation], cold and radiant.”

We notice in this passage an unusual and curious phrase that is also found in the Dzyan commentary and catechism, “cold and radiant” (śītalaṃ bhāsvaraṃ ca). It seems contradictory for something to be both cold and radiant at the same time, since radiance is normally associated with heat. The “Occult Catechism” uses this phrase in reference to the “Breath which is eternal,” as follows (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 12): “It expands and contracts [exhalation and inhalation]. When it expands the mother diffuses and scatters; when it contracts, the mother draws back and ingathers. This produces the periods of Evolution and Dissolution, Manvantara and Pralaya. The Germ is invisible and fiery; the Root [the plane of the circle] is cool; but during Evolution and Manvantara her garment is cold and radiant.” Then, the “Commentary” on Book of Dzyan, stanza 6, śloka 4, says (S.D., vol. 1, p. 144): “The Breath of the Father-Mother issues cold and radiant and gets hot and corrupt, to cool once more, and be purified in the eternal bosom of inner Space.”

The most connected account of cosmogony found in the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, although still very brief, occurs when the kinds of eons (kalpa) are described. The eon of the coming into manifestation (vivarta-kalpa) of the cosmos is described in verse 90cd and the commentary (bhāṣya) thereon. In the early Buddhist cosmogony accounts, which are well restated here, the genesis of the cosmos begins with the primordial wind.

3.90cd: vivarta-kalpaḥ prāg-vāyor yāvan naraka-saṃbhavaḥ ||

prathamād vāyoḥ prabhṛti yāvan narakeṣu sattva-sambhavaḥ eṣa kālo vivarta-kalpa ity ucyate | tathā saṃvṛtte hi loka ākāśa-mātrāvaśeṣaś ciraṃ kālaṃ tiṣṭhati yāvat punar api sattvānāṃ karmādhipatyena bhājanānāṃ pūrva-nimitta-bhūtā ākāśe manda-mandā vāyavaḥ syandante | tadā yad ayaṃ loko viṃśatim antara-kalpān saṃvṛtto ’sthāt tan niryātaṃ vaktavyam | yad viṃśatim antara-kalpān vivarttiṣyate tad upayātaṃ vaktavyam | tatas te vāyavo vardhamānā yathoktaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalaṃ jāyate | tataḥ śanair yathokta-krama-vidhānaṃ sarvaṃ jāyate ap-maṇḍalaṃ kāñcanamayī mahā-pṛthivī dvīpāḥ sumerv-ādayaś ca | prathamaṃ tu brāhma-vimānam utpadyate | tato yāvat yāmīyaṃ tato vāyu-maṇḍalādīni | iyatā’yaṃ loko vivṛtto bhavati yad uta bhājana-vivartanyā | (Skt., p. 179; Tib., vol. 79, p. 385, line 20, to p. 386, line 13)

“The eon of coming into manifestation extends from the primordial wind to birth in the hells.”

“This time beginning from the first wind up to the birth of living beings in the hells is called the eon of coming into manifestation. So, [as already described,] when the world has gone out of manifestation, what remains is only space (ākāśa). [This situation] lasts for a long time; until once again, through the power of the actions (karma) of living beings, very light winds that are the preceding heralds of the receptacle [worlds] arise in space. At that time, this world has remained out of manifestation for twenty intermediate eons, which [period] is to be described as finished. [It] will come into manifestation for twenty intermediate eons, which [period] is to be described as started. Then, those winds increasing, the circle of wind arises as stated. Then gradually, in the sequence and manner as stated, all arises, the circle of water, the great earth made of gold, the continents, and Sumeru, etc. But first the celestial palace of Brahmā is generated, then down to that of the Yāma [gods], then the circle of wind, etc. This world becomes manifested to this extent, namely, the manifestation of the receptacle [world].”

Such is the classical Buddhist cosmogony.



1. I quote from the Sanskrit edition by P. Pradhan, Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, giving page and line numbers from the 1967 first edition (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”) followed by line numbers from the 1975 second edition when different. It is also necessary to compare the Tibetan translation, which provides, in effect, a word by word gloss. For this I use the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, which gives the text as found in the Der-ge edition and variant readings from the Peking, Narthang, and Co-ne editions. Our texts are found in vol. 79, 2001. Sometimes, like here, I have corrected the placement of the daṇḍa in the Sanskrit according to the Tibetan translation. My fairly literal translation of the Sanskrit, made in comparison with the Tibetan, then follows.

2. For the phrase, akṣa-mātrābhir dhārābhir abhivarṣanti, the Tibetan translation is, char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam ’bab pa (Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, line 12; the Peking and Narthang editions have the insignificant variant reading bab for ’bab). The Tibetan term gnya’ shing tsam usually translates the Sanskrit name īṣādhāra.

3. For this sentence, īṣādhāre deve varṣati nāsti vīcir vā antarikā vā antarikṣād vāri-dhārāṇāṃ prapatantīnām, the Tibetan translation is, char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam ’bab pa na bar snang las chu’i rgyun ’bab pa rnams kyi mtshams sam bar med (Skt., p. 113, lines 23-24 or 25-27; Tib., vol. 79, p. 274, lines 1-2; also repeated in Yogācārabhūmi, Skt., p. 44, lines 10-11).

Akira Hirakawa in his very valuable word-index to the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (posted here in the “Sanskrit texts” section) in this case erroneously (or at least incompletely) gives char gyi rgyun for the cloud or god īṣādhāra. As the Tibetan translations of the passages quoted here show, this should be gnya’ shing tsam. However, with deva, the whole phrase is translated as char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam. In this case, deva is not translated as lha, like it usually is in Tibetan. The whole phrase is somewhat paraphrased, making it hard to know exactly what translates what. But in Yaśomitra’s gloss (see note 4 below), īṣādhāra is clearly just gnya’ shing tsam.

4. For this definition, īṣādhāra iti īṣā-pramāṇa-varṣā-dhāraḥ, the Tibetan translation is, gnya’ shing tsam zhes bya ba ni char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing gi tshad tsam ni gnya’ shing tsam mo (Skt., Wogihara ed., vol. 1, p. 259, Dwarikadas ed., vol. 2, p. 388; Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 80, p. 583, lines 2-3, variant reading in Peking and Narthang editions: gyis, in char gyi rgyun).

5. For the last sentence, yataḥ pañcāntara-kalpān īṣādhāro devo varṣati, the Tibetan translation is, de las bskal pa bar ma lnga’i bar du gshol mda’ tsam gyi char gyi rgyun ’bab po (Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1336, lines 2-3, variant reading in the Peking and Narthang editions: tsam gyis char for tsam gyi char). Here we have gshol mda’ tsam rather than gnya’ shing tsam for īṣādhāra, although the meaning is the same. Note that there is also a mountain named īṣādhāra, which is translated into Tibetan as gshol mda’ ’dzin, “bearing a pole” (such as the pole of a plough). The spellings of the Sanskrit name īṣādhāra, whether of the god as a raincloud or of the mountain, vary. The first part may be found as either īṣā or īśā, although this probably is due primarily to the meaningless interchanging of the sibilants that is common in Sanskrit Buddhist texts. The standard spelling of this word is īṣā. It means a “pole” or “shaft,” as in the pole of a carriage or a plough. In the Loka-prajñapti we find this as shing rta’i srog shing, the axle of a carriage (collated Tengyur, vol. 78, p. 769, lines 15-16). The second part may be found as either dhāra or dhara. Here the meaning differs. While dhāra can mean the same as dhara, namely, “holding, bearing,” it also means “streaming, flowing,” and as a noun can refer to a downpour of rain. Its feminine form dhārā means a “stream” of something such as water. By contrast, dhara keeps more to its basic meaning, “holding, bearing,” and as a noun can mean a “mountain.” Its feminine form dharā means the “earth.” So according to the meaning, the god as a raincloud should be spelled īṣādhāra, while the mountain should be spelled īṣādhara.

The Śikṣā-samuccaya was long ago translated into English by Cecil Bendall and W. H. D. Rouse, with the additional help of Louis de la Vallée Poussin, before we had the resources that are now available. This 1922 translation was carefully done, and is very helpful to refer to for the general meaning. For precise meanings, however, it cannot be relied on, as shown by the advances of current scholarship in knowledge of Buddhist terms and ideas. A few lines after the passage that I have newly translated above, for example, this older translation refers to “when this world arises” (p. 229). The text goes on to speak of the appearance of seven suns. This occurs prior to the dissolution of the cosmos, and the phrase “when the world arises” must be translated as “when the world is destroyed.” The verb here is saṃvartate (Skt. ed., p. 247, line 10), which is opposite of vivarta. This Buddhist usage caused problems for others as well. Franklin Edgerton notes in his 1953 Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary under vivarta (p. 499) that the Pali-English Dictionary published by the Pali Text Society (1921-1925) precisely inverts the meanings of the corresponding Pali vivaṭṭa and saṃvaṭṭa. J. J. Jones had made a similar observation in his translation of the Mahāvastu, vol. 1, 1949, p. 43 fn. 3.

In the passage that I translated above, the word sarvāvantaḥ is clearly taken in the Tibetan translation with tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasraṃ loka-dhātuṃ, not with the banks of clouds as its declension would indicate. The meaning also would require taking it with the world system (loka-dhātuṃ). So I have translated it accordingly. Here we also have another example of a word whose meaning in Buddhist Sanskrit was not known to the translators Bendall and Rouse. They take it in the standard Sanskrit meaning, translating it as “containing everything” (and construing it with the “palls of cloud”), while in Buddhist Sanskrit it means “entire.”

6. For this phrase, pakva-kṣīra-śarī-bhāva-yogena, the Tibetan translation is, ’o ma bskol ba spris ma chags pa’i tshul du (Skt. reading kṣīra, as in Yaśomitra’s vyākhyā, rather than kṣīrī, as in the sole extant manuscript of the bhāṣya; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, line 19).

7. For a link to the relevant portion of the Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu, see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi.” The whole text is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts.” Among the eight collated editions of the Kangyur, seven have grangs pa for śītī-bhūta, while the Zhol or Lhasa edition corrected this to grang ba, “cool, cold,” to avoid confusion with grangs, “number, enumeration.” The parallel text in the Pali Aggañña-sutta also has a word for “cooling” here, nibbāyamānassa. Likewise in the Tibetan translation of the Loka-prajñapti there is a word for “cooling” here, bsgrangs pa (collated Tengyur, vol. 78, p. 769, line 21).

8. While checking for something else I happened to notice that the opening few pages of Saṅghabhadra’s commentary, also called a bhāṣya, matched Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya almost verbatim. Wondering about this, I then saw that the author’s name, ’Dus bzang, is the Tibetan translation of Saṅghabhadra. Saṅghabhadra is thought in Tibetan tradition to have been Vasubandhu’s teacher, who liked his Abhidharmakośa because it gave the teachings of the Vaibhāṣika (Sarvāstivāda) school so well, but disliked portions of his commentary (bhāṣya) thereon in which Vasubandhu criticized some of the teachings of the Vaibhāṣika school. So Saṅghabhadra wrote two extensive critiques of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya. These are now extant only in Chinese translation. I then checked Collett Cox’s introduction to her translation of a portion of one of these, the Nyāyānusāra (Disputed Dharmas: Early Buddhist Theories on Existence, Tokyo, 1995), to see if there is any tradition of him writing what we have here: a shorter version of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, wherein presumably the offensive passages were removed by him.

She says about this commentary, which is only extant in its Tibetan translation (p. 59): “Though initially assumed to be Saṅghabhadra’s shorter work, this Tibetan commentary would appear to be simply a brief summary of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośakārikā and Bhāṣya.” A note thereon (note 31, p. 62) sources this to a personal communication from Alex Wayman, a scholar of Tibetan (Collett Cox is a scholar of Chinese). The late Alex Wayman was not a scholar of Abhidharma, and it would seem that he did little more than glance at this Tibetan text. I next checked the 1998 book, Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Scholasticism. The relevant portion of this book is by Collett Cox, and simply repeats (p. 243 fn. 308) what she wrote in her 1995 book. There is nothing more about this text here.

After that I checked the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. 9: Buddhist Philosophy from 350 to 600 A.D. Here we do not find this book under Saṅghabhadra’s name, but rather under Vinītabhadra (p. 370, see also p. 281). This is a Sanskrit re-translation of the Tibetan ’Dul bzang, almost certainly a typographical error for ’Dus bzang, that is found in the Peking and Narthang editions of the Tengyur. The correct ’Dus bzang is found in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions (see the collated Tengyur, vol. 79, p. 1366, where ’Dus bzang is given in the colophon of this text, and the relevant note on p. 1405 gives the variant reading ’Dul bzang from the Peking and Narthang editions). This Encyclopedia was published in 2003, while the Tohoku Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons, cataloging the Der-ge (sde dge) edition and so giving the correct ’Dus bzang (no. 4091, p. 622), was published in 1934. The authorship of this text really should have been corrected in this Encyclopedia.

This Encyclopedia’s brief entry gives us little more than what Wayman gave us. After saying that “The original Sanskrit is lost; what survives is the Tibetan translation,” and giving the reference to the Peking edition, it tell us only: “This is a simple rehash of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, which shortens Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika objections to the Vaibhāṣika system, and, aside from the invocatory verses, adds absolutely nothing new.” It is not necessarily the case that readers are seeking something new. The need for a shorter presentation of Abhidharma than is given in Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya has long been felt. Readers get bogged down in the various positions presented there, which often lead to establishing the Sautrāntika position against the Vaibhāṣika position. This commentary is approximately half the size of Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya (434 pp. versus 794 pp. in the collated Tengyur), yet it retains all the material that the Abhidharmakośa was originally written to present; namely, the Abhidharma system as understood by the Sarvāstivāda Vaibhāṣikas of Kashmir.

We finally get some real information about this commentary in Marek Major’s 1991 book, Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa and the Commentaries Preserved in the Tanjur, pp. 29-38, and this book was even referred to in a footnote to the Encyclopedia entry. It is unfortunate that what Marek Major found has not yet been assimilated by Buddhist scholars, and that this important commentary has remained neglected. There is no real reason to doubt that what we have here is by Saṅghabhadra, a contemporary of Vasubandhu (probably not his teacher as the Tibetan tradition holds, since the older Chinese tradition does not say this). Even if, as Marek Major hypothesizes, Saṅghabhadra’s text was abridged by the Tibetan translator (or perhaps by some earlier Indian writer), this does not take away its value. It closely follows Vasubandhu’s text, leaving out only what many think is non-essential. In the particular case at hand, it seems that while preserving what was in Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya, this commentary only slightly reworded it in order to make it clearer.

9. Saṅghabhadra’s commentary has: gang nyi ma dang zla ba ’di gnyis ci la gnas she na | rlung la ste sems can thams cad las kyi dbang gis ’byung ba’i rlung gling bzhi [var. bzhin du, Pek. Nar.] ri rab yongs su ’khor zhing nyi ma dang zla ba dang skar ma rnams ’phul lo | (collated Tengyur, vol. 79, p. 1067, lines 7-9). Vasubandhu’s commentary has: yang nyi ma dang zla ba ’di dag ci la brten zhe na | rlung la ste | sems can thams cad kyi thun mong gi las kyi dbang gis bar snang la nyi ma dang | zla ba dang | skar ma rnams ’phul [var. ’phrul, Pek. Nar.] bar byed pa’i rlung dag grub ste | ri rab la rlung gi ’khor lo bzhin du ’khor ro | (vol. 79, p. 365, lines 10-14). As may be seen, Saṅghabhadra made ’phul the primary verb and ’khor the verb of the dependent clause, while Vasubandhu made ’phul the verb of the dependent clause, and ’khor the primary verb.

10. Buddhism, of course, does not accept the existence of a creator God, but on the contrary denies the existence of such a being. Like in Jainism and in the original Nyāya school of logic in Hinduism, the law of karma reigns supreme. There can be no God who is able to override or interfere with it. The universe is without beginning, and any new cosmos would be the result of the collective karma of the living beings of the previous cosmos. On the absence of God in the original Nyāya school in Hinduism, see my article, “God’s Arrival in India” (at www.easterntradition.org).

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment


Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) new edition

By David Reigle on November 10, 2013 at 10:21 pm

A new edition of the Tibetan language collected writings (gsung ’bum) of Dolpopa was published in 13 volumes in 2011, although it does not seem to have become available until 2013. It was published in China in western style book format (paperbound). Dolpopa’s collected writings first became available to the world in 1992 with the publication of The ’Dzam-thang Edition of the Collected Works (gsung ’bum) of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab-rgyal-mtshan, collected and presented by Matthew Kapstein (Delhi: Shedrup Books, 1992, 7 volumes in 10). This first publication was a reproduction of a print of a set of manuscripts in dbu med (cursive or “headless”) script. Several years later a blockprint ’Dzam-thang edition was published in 8 volumes, in dbu can (block letter or “having heads”) script. The new edition is also in dbu can script, and is newly typeset. It is therefore easier to read; and since it is an edition rather than a reproduction, it has eliminated most typographical errors.

In its arrangement it is based on the ’Dzam-thang editions, which are the only extant collections. It includes all of Dolpopa’s texts found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, plus some new texts that are not found in those editions (these comprise vol. 13). As for the editing of its texts, roughly half of them are taken from the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition as the only source. The other roughly half of its texts are based primarily on newly available sources, supplemented by the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition. These are mostly from the major find of rare Tibetan texts long hidden away in private libraries at Drepung Monastery (see the posts on “Rare Tibetan Texts” at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center website: http://about.tbrc.org/tag/drepung/). In particular, almost all of them are from the Nechu (gnas bcu) temple at Drepung Monastery.

Its contents are, very briefly:

vol. 1: biography of Dolpopa, including past lives;

vol. 2: Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, the “Mountain Doctrine”;

vol. 3: commentary on Maitreya’s Uttaratantra, plus three shorter works, including an annotated edition of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stotra;

vol. 4: commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, plus one shorter work;

vol. 5: commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 100,000 lines;

vol. 6: commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 and in 18,000 lines, plus six shorter works;

vol. 7: bKa’ bsdu bzhi pa’i don bstan rtsis chen po, the “Fourth Council,” its commentary, its summary, and twenty other works;

vol. 8: dPon byang pa’i phyag tu phul ba’i chos kyi shan ’byed, “Analysis of Dharma for the Ruler of Jang,” and five other works;

vol. 9: short Kālacakra works, etc., thirty in all;

vol. 10: Kālacakra sādhana (full), and ten other works;

vol. 11: thirty-eight short miscellaneous texts, many of which are supplications (gsol ’debs), including the bsTan pa spyi ’grel, “General Commentary on the Doctrine”;

vol. 12: seventy-four short miscellaneous texts, including advice or instruction (gdams pa), replies to queries (zhus lan), songs of praise (bstod pa), aspirational prayers (smon lam), etc.;

vol. 13: annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, abbreviated meaning of the Kālacakra-tantra commentary, and eleven shorter works.

As may be seen, it does not include his annotated editions of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimalaprabhā commentary, which still remain lost.

Here are the particulars. The title of this set is: Jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ’bum. It was compiled and edited by the Paltsek institute in Lhasa: dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ’jug khang (approximately, “Pal-tsek Old Tibetan Books Research Institute”), and published in 13 vols. in their series, Mes po’i shul bzhag (something like, “Legacy of the Forefathers”), vols. 196208. It was published by the China Tibetology Publishing House in Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011, ISBN 978-7-80253-437-7. Prior to this the collected writings of the later Jonang writer Tāranātha were published in 45 volumes in this same series, vols. 43-87, 2008.

It may be noted that we also have newly typeset editions in dbu can (block letter or “having heads”) script of three of Dolpopa’s major works in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 1-3, 2007. These are:

vol. 1: Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, the “Mountain Doctrine”;

vol. 2: rGyud bla’i ṭīkka, commentary on Maitreya’s Uttaratantra (this volume also includes his annotated edition of the Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon);

vol. 3: Phar phyin mdo lugs ma, commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra (the short title given on the cover and spine, Phar phyin mdo lugs ma, could cause confusion with his commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtras, until one refers to the full title given on the title page, Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan gyi rnam bshad mdo’i don bde blag tu rtogs pa).

Moreover, we have newly typeset editions in dbu can script of the annotated editions by Chogle Namgyal (phyogs las rnam rgyal) of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimalaprabhā commentary in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 17-20, 2008. His annotations no doubt include much from Dolpopa, his teacher. We also have Chogle Namgyal’s full Kālacakra sādhana. It is included in the Jonang Publication Series vol. 23 (2010), which is given the short title on the cover and spine, bsTan ’gyur dkar chag (from which one would not know that this volume includes his full Kālacakra sādhana, although it is added on the title page, dang dus ’khor sgrub thabs). It will be interesting to compare this in detail with Dolpopa’s full Kālacakra sādhana. Likewise, Dolpopa’s annotated edition of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stotra may be compared with the commentary on this text by his disciple Tshal Minpa Sonam Zangpo (mtshal min pa bsod nams bzang po). This commentary was included in the Jonang Publication Series vol. 11 (2008), which is given the short title on the cover and spine, ’Dul ba bdud rtsi’i nying khu (from which one would not know that this volume includes his commentary on the Dharmadhātu-stotra, and indicated on the title page only by the word sogs, “etc.”).

Maitreya’s Uttaratantra or Ratnagotravibhāga was much commented on in Tibet, and was especially favored by the Jonangpas. Besides Dolpopa’s commentary, five other commentaries on it have been published in the Jonang Publication Series. In volume 31 (2010) is the early commentary on it by Rinchen Yeshe (rin chen ye shes), from whom Dolpopa received the five books of Maitreya, according to Tāranātha. In volume 31 is also the later commentary on it by Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje). Volume 13 (2008) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Sazang Mati Panchen (sa bzang mati paṇ chen blo gros rgyal mtshan). Volume 15 (2008) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Zhangton Sonam Drakpa (zhang ston bsod nams grags pa). In volume 30 (2010) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Gharungpa Lhai Gyaltsen (gha rung pa lha’i rgyal mtshan). This volume has the short title on the cover and spine, bsTan pa spyi ’grel gyi ’grel ba (from which one would not know that this volume includes his commentary on the Uttaratantra, although it is added on the title page, dang theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa). No doubt these three commentaries by Dolpopa’s disciples include some of his teachings on the Uttaratantra.

Category: Noteworthy Books | 1 comment


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi

By David Reigle on October 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

The Yogācārabhūmi is a massive sourcebook of the Buddhist Yogācāra school. In the second section of this book, titled manobhūmi, occurs an account of cosmology that includes cosmogony. It is similar to, but more detailed than, the standard Buddhist Abhidharma account of cosmology given in the Abhidharmakośa (chapter 3). The Sanskrit original of the Yogācārabhūmi was discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by the indefatigable Rahula Sankrityayana, and was both transcribed and photographed by him. Its first five sections were edited from this transcript and these photographs by Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, in comparison with the Tibetan translation (Narthang edition), and published in 1957 (I have posted this here: yogacarabhumi_chapters_1-5_1957.pdf). Very little of the Yogācārabhūmi has so far been published in English translation. We are fortunate to have a translation of its account of cosmology, made by the late Yūichi Kajiyama and published in 2000 (posted here: Buddhist cosmology, Yogacarabhumi, Eng. 2000). This translation was competently made from the Sanskrit in comparison with the Chinese and Tibetan translations. Paragraphs pertaining to cosmogony have been selected from this account of cosmology and given below, the Sanskrit from Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition, and the English from Yūichi Kajiyama’s translation. The brackets are theirs. Also given below for comparison are page references to the Tibetan translation found in the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, vol. 72, 2001.

When the world is regenerated after its periodic destruction by wind (more extensive than by fire or by water), beings from the fourth or highest dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the third dhyāna heaven. Then beings from the third dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the second dhyāna heaven; and beings from the second dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the first or lowest dhyāna heaven. At this point our account continues (Sanskrit, p. 37, line 12; Tibetan, p. 712, line 18; English, p. 191):

tataḥ paścād iha tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra-[loka-dhātu]-pramāṇaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvartate tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasrasya [lokasya] pratiṣṭhā-bhūtam avaimānikānāṃ sattvānāṃ [ca] | tat punar dvi-vidham | uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca | yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?) | tatas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyena kāñcana-garbhā meghāḥ sambhavanti | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpo vāyu-maṇḍale santiṣṭhante | tato vāyavaḥ sambhūyāpaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti | sā bhavati kāñcanamayī pṛthivy ūrdhvañ cādhaś codaka-vimarda-kṣamatvāt || tasyāṃ vivṛttāyāṃ punas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyād eva nānā-dhātu-garbho meghaḥ sambhavati | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpaḥ kāñcanamayyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ santiṣṭhante | tathaiva ca punar vāyavaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti |

“Thereafter a whirlwind as large as the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] arises here and becomes the support of the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] as well as of sentient beings having no palaces [i.e., gods of the two lowest worlds of desire and sentient beings on and under the earth]. It is of two kinds: the whirlwind stretching itself upwards and that stretching itself on the flank of the world, which prevent water [on the wind] from leaking out downwards and sideways. And then clouds containing gold appear above these [whirlwinds] by the influence of [sentient beings’] karma. Rains fall from the [clouds]. The water [of the rains] is sustained on the whirlwind. Then, wind blows and condenses and hardens the water. It is called the earth made of gold as it withstands upward and downward agitations of water. When the [earth] is regenerated, clouds containing various kinds of elements are produced above the earth by virtue of the influence of karma [made by sentient beings]. Rains fall from the clouds, and the water stays on the golden earth. Again, in the same way [as above] wind condenses and hardens [the water].”

The account goes on to say that the best elements produce Mount Sumeru, the middle class elements produce the seven mountain ranges that surround Mount Sumeru, and the inferior elements produce the four great continents, the eight mid-islands, and the surrounding Cakravāḍa Mountain. So we see that the wind hardens the water containing the various elements. Compare Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, śloka 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” The so far unidentified fohat is described in stanza 6, śloka 1, as “the breath of their progeny,” and stanza 5, śloka 1, tells us that: “The primordial seven, the first seven breaths of the dragon of wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating breaths the fiery whirlwind,” i.e., fohat. So in the Book of Dzyan it is fohat, the breath, the fiery whirlwind, that hardens the atoms. It should be noted that Kajiyama’s “whirlwind” translates vāyu-maṇḍala, which is often translated elsewhere as “wind circle,” or “wind disk.”

After further descriptions of the continents, the mountain ranges, the oceans, etc., the Yogācārabhūmi account proceeds to the topic of the origin of humanity, or anthropogenesis (Sanskrit, p. 41, line 17; Tibetan, p. 717, line 11; English, p. 196):

evam abhinirvṛtte bhājana-loka ābhāsvarād deva-nikāyāt sattvāś cyutvehotpadyante | pūrvavad eva prathama-kalpa-saṃvedanīyena karmaṇā | tac ca param agryaṃ śreṣṭhaṃ kāmāvacaraṃ karma | tadaiva ca tasya karmaṇaḥ phalābhinirvṛttir nānyadā | te ca sattvās tasmin samaye prathama-kalpakā ity ucyante | te ca bhavanti rūpiṇo manomayā ity anusūtram eva sarvaṃ |

“When the material world (bhājanaloka) has been accomplished in this way, beings among the heavenly class of Ābhāsvara die there and are born here [in this world], as stated before, because of their karma which should be recognized as leading to (saṃvedanīya), the first kalpa [of the regeneration of the world]. It is the superior, first, excellent karma belonging to the world of desire (kāmāvacara), and the karma completes its effect only at this time [when the world is regenerated], and not at other times. And those sentient beings in this very time are called ‘belonging to the first kalpa’ (prathamakalpaka). They have beautiful forms and are ‘made of will’ (manomaya). All of this is described according to Buddhist sūtras.”

The beings of the first kalpa, or age, are given in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya by Vasubandhu (chapter 3, verses 8-9) as examples of humans (manuṣya) who are self-born or parentless or spontaneously generated (upapāduka). Buddhaghosa says the same in his Pali commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya, using Pali opapātika in place of Sanskrit upapāduka (Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, p. 82 fn. 1). This is the first root-race described in The Secret Doctrine. The Mahāvastu (see below) tells us that: “These beings are self-luminous, move through space, are made of mind [manomaya], feed on joy, abide in a state of bliss, and go wherever they wish.” (J. J. Jones translation, vol. 1, p. 285). In the next paragraph, the Yogācārabhūmi account shows the first appearance of food. We take up where the sentient beings of that time begin to eat it, by which they lose their spiritual powers and their bodies become more dense (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 5; Tibetan, p. 718, line 3; English, p. 196).

tatas te sattvās tat-parigrahe sandṛśyante | tatas teṣāṃ sattvānāṃ rasādi-paribhogād daurvarṇyaṃ prādurbhavati | prabhāvaś cāntardhīyate | yaś ca prabhūtataraṃ bhuṅkte sa durvarṇataro bhavati guruka-kāyataraḥ |

“Thereupon those sentient beings are seen seizing [these foods]. Then, due to their consumption of [earth] nectar and the rest, those sentient beings become ugly (daurvarṇya), and their supernatural powers disappear. The more one eats, the uglier he becomes, and the heavier his body gets.”

This brings us through the period of the second root-race described in The Secret Doctrine, and into the third root-race. In the middle of the third root-race occurs the separation of the sexes. The Yogācārabhūmi account now describes this (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 9; Tibetan, p. 718, line 10; English, p. 196).

tato ’nyonyaṃ cakṣuṣā cakṣur upanidhyāya prekṣante | tataḥ saṃrajyante | tataḥ strī-puruṣa- saṃvartanīyena karmaṇaikatyānāṃ strīndriyaṃ prādurbhavati ekatyānāṃ puruṣendriyaṃ | tato vipratipadyete dvaya-dvaya-samāpattitaḥ |

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

After this, says the Yogācārabhūmi account, the idea of possession or ownership arises, with the result that theft and fighting begin. Then arises the need to establish a king to help prevent these things, and the need to allot different tasks to different people, which results in the establishment of the four castes. This brings us up to the present. From the time of the separation of the sexes onward, the mode of birth for humans would be what we know today, birth from a womb. Of the four modes of birth for humans described in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya (chapter 3, verses 8-9), we have now seen two: the womb-born (jarāyuja) as at present, and the spontaneously generated (upapāduka) as in the first kalpa or age. For the sweat-born (sasvedaja) and the egg-born (aṇḍaja), Vasubandhu’s Bhāṣya gives examples from mythology. No extant Buddhist text that I know of places these in the earlier humanities, as does The Secret Doctrine, after the appearance of food when their bodies lose their spiritual powers and become denser.

The Yogācārabhūmi is attributed to Maitreya by Chinese tradition, and is attributed to Asaṅga by Tibetan tradition, although in both traditions Maitreya taught Asaṅga. Modern scholarship sees the Yogācārabhūmi as a composite text, having various strata, some of which are quite old. Other early Buddhist texts pertaining to cosmology and cosmogony and anthropogenesis may give some portions more briefly and some portions more extensively. The Loka-prajñapti, an early Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text, gives the appearance of food and what followed upon this more extensively. Although a number of leaves of the Lokaprajñapti in the original Sanskrit have been discovered, its cosmogony portion is not among these (see: Siglinde Dietz, “A Brief Survey on the Sanskrit Fragments of the Lokaprajñaptiśāstra,” attached as: Lokaprajnapti, Survey on Sanskrit Fragments, Dietz 1989). On the basis of the Tibetan translation (Peking edition attached: Lokaprajnapti, Tibetan, Peking edition), however, Siglinde Dietz found that the cosmogony and anthropogenesis account that begins the Saṅgha-bheda-vastu of the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya corresponds closely to that of the Lokaprajñapti. We have a good Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu prepared by Raniero Gnoli and T. Venkatacharya (2 vols., 1977, 1978; relevant portion, pp. 7-16, attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanghabhedavastu, Skt. 1977). Its description of the separation of the sexes, for example, is found on p. 11, line 5 ff., which I quote and translate literally:

tatas teṣām indriya-nānātvaṃ prādurbhūtam | ekeṣāṃ strīndriyam ekeṣāṃ puruṣendriyam |

“Then, for them, difference of organs appeared. For some, female organs; for some, male organs.”

The Lokaprajñapti account, like the Yogācārabhūmi account, is based on Buddhist sūtras. The Lokaprajñapti, unlike the Yogācārabhūmi, gives at the end of each section a quotation from one particular sūtra that it drew upon for this section, and names this sūtra. For the cosmogony section, it quotes the gNas ’jog dang ba ra dva dza lung bstan pa, which would be in Sanskrit, Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This sūtra, as stated by Siglinde Dietz, corresponds to the Pali Aggañña-sutta from the Dīgha Nikāya. The Aggañña-sutta has long been known as the Buddhist “Book of Genesis,” since its 1921 publication in English translation by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids with this title (Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, pp. 77-94, attached: Agganna sutta, Eng. 1921). Its rather brief account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in its paragraphs 10 and 11. In paragraphs 12 and 13 people begin to eat and consequently their bodies become dense. In paragraph 16 the separation of the sexes occurs. This text provides us with an account in Pali (attached: Agganna sutta, Pali, 1889). Besides this and the Yogācārabhūmi and Saṅghabhedavastu accounts in Sanskrit, we have also a parallel account in the Mahāvastu. This large text is the major representative still extant that is written fully in what Franklin Edgerton calls “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit,” including even the prose, and not just the verses. Its account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in É. Senart’s Sanskrit edition, vol. 1, 1882, pp. 338-348 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Skt. 1882). In the English translation of this by J. J. Jones, this account is found in vol. 1, 1949, pp. 285-293 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Eng. 1949). There is also a parallel account in the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Vibhaṅga. Its Sanskrit original has not yet been recovered. Its Tibetan translation (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Vinaya-vibhanga, Tib. Peking ed.) was used by Ernst Waldschmidt to restore a closely parallel fragment on cosmogony discovered in central Asia from an otherwise lost sūtra, possibly the Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This was published in Sanskrit and English in 1970 as, “Fragment of a Buddhist Sanskrit Text on Cosmogony” (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanskrit Fragment, Waldschmidt 1970).

As noted by Kajiyama (p. 183): “. . . the cosmology as presented in the Yogācārabhūmi shows a transmission different from that in the Abhidharmakośa. It gives many particular accounts which we do not find in the Abhidharmakośa, although the two are in general similar.” Likewise, the Yogācārabhūmi account differs from the account found in the Aggañña-sutta, the Saṅghabhedavastu, and the Mahāvastu. It gives a somewhat more detailed cosmogony, while those texts give a more detailed anthropogenesis. They have together preserved for us enough to form a skeleton view of what is given much more fully in the Book of Dzyan.

Grammatical notes:

First paragraph quoted above:

śayaṃ (in the sentence, uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca), in the Tibetan translation is gnas, and in Kajiyama’s English translation is “stretching itself.”

yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?), question mark by the editor, Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, for this whole phrase. In the Tibetan translation it is: des chu de dag thad kar yang mi ’bo la | thur du yang mi ’dzag go |

saṃmūrchayanti, second occurrence, is misprinted as saṃmūrchayāṃnta in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition. He notes that the manuscript has saṃkarchayanti, which he corrected to saṃmūrchayanti.

Please note that Kajiyama gives, preceding his translation, an important list of corrections to Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition of the Sanskrit text for this section. A major new study of the Yogācārabhūmi was published in 2013: The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet, edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh, Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 75. Martin Delhey in his contribution to this volume, p. 516 fn. 80, corrects one of Kajiyama’s corrections, saying that sa eca on p. 31, line 17, should be sa ca rather than sa eva as Kajiyama proposed.

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment


The Universal Over-Soul

By Ingmar de Boer on October 5, 2013 at 10:13 am

The third fundamental proposition of the secret doctrine (SD
I, 17) postulates “the fundamental identity of all Souls
with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being an aspect
of the Unknown Root”. We might ask ourselves, what exactly
is this Over-Soul, and how can we relate it to other known
concepts in the philosopy of The Secret

1. The Over-Soul

The term Over-Soul refers to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay
The Over-soul, first published in 1841, in which he
describes the Over-soul as the source of higher inspiration in
man. From the essay:

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past
and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is
that great nature in which we rest as the earth lies in the soft
arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which
every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all
other; that common heart of which all sincere conversation is the
worship, to which all right action is submission; that
overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and
constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from
his character and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends
to pass into our thought and hand and become wisdom and virtue
and power and beauty. We live in succession, in division, in
parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the
whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every
part and particle is equally related; the eternal

In the third fundamental proposition, it is stated that the
Universal Over-Soul is “an aspect of the Unknown
Root”. The Unknown Root is what we have identified with the
Absolute, or space, symbolised by the plane or circumference of
the circle, i.e. the circle without a central point, the
immaculate white disk from the archaic palmleaf manuscript
described in SD I, 1. An aspect of the Root will be one of three
aspects. On the same page the Universal Over-Soul is described as
the “pure Essence of the Universal Sixth
principle”, while the seventh principle is the Root
itself. The principles are counted here from “dense”
to “fine”. On page 19 this sixth principle is
identified with brahmā. On page 13 (footnote), a
fifth universal principle is mentioned, under the name of
āśa, “to which
corresponds and from which proceeds human Manas”.

2. The Universal Soul

The statements on the Universal Soul in The Secret
are very confusing, to say the least. In the third
fundamental proposition we find that the Over-Soul is the sixth
universal principle. In another location in the Proem, SD I, 9-10
we find:

The Occultist […] regards the Adi-Sakti
[…], in her A’kasic form of the Universal Soul — as
philosophically a Maya, and cause of human Maya. But this view
does not prevent him from believing in its existence so long as
it lasts, to wit, for one Mahamanvantara; nor from applying
Akasa, the radiation of Mulaprakriti,* to practical purposes,
connected as the World-Soul is with all natural phenomena, known
or unknown to science.

From this we can distill that the Universal Soul is not the
First unmanifested Logos, but the Second. In SD I, 420 we find a
more unequivocal statement on the Universal Soul:

UNIVERSAL SOUL is not the inert Cause of
Creation or (Para) Brahma, but simply that which we call the
sixth principle of intellectual Kosmos, on the manifested plane
of being. It is Mahat, or Mahabuddhi, the great Soul, the vehicle
of Spirit, the first primeval reflection of the formless CAUSE

It is clear from this quotation that the Universal Soul is
identical to the Second Logos, the sixth universal principle,
Mahat, the “Universal Mind”. This means that the
Universal Soul is none other than the “Universal
Over-Soul” of Emerson.

3. The Anima Mundi or World Soul

In SD I, 365 and the first footnote on that page, we find
evidence that this principle, which we call here the Second Logos
(here referred to as Brahma), is also identical with Anima Mundi
or the World Soul:

In the Hindu Katakopanishad, Purusha, the
divine spirit, already stands before the original matter, “from
whose union springs the great soul of the world,” Maha-Atma,
Brahma, the Spirit of Life,* etc., etc.**[…]

* The latter appellations are all identical
with Anima Mundi, or the “Universal Soul,” the astral light of
the Kabalist and the Occultist, or the “Egg of

Then in SD I, 49 (and other locations), we find the statement
that ālaya is the Universal Soul and Anima

In the Yogacharya system of the contemplative
Mahayana school, Alaya is both the Universal Soul (Anima Mundi)
and the Self of a progressed adept.

Whenever HPB uses ālaya, she refers to the Second Logos
(unless otherwise indicated), although on the same page (SD I,
49) she states that the word ālaya has “two or even
three meanings”. In our discussion on Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II
, we have argued
what the two or three meanings might be, namely the jāti,
pravṛtti and karman aspects of ālaya.

4. Corrections to Earlier Findings

So, we have to correct two errors in our earlier posts. Part
of the table in Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II


Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal
Spiritual Soul]
, Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima

with the remark: “It may be noted that these conclusions
do not in every respect meet the ones from The Three
. The differences concern the terms Universal Soul and
Anima Mundi. It will be necessary to clear up these differences
in a later stage.” We know now, that this part of the table
should have looked like:

Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi

In the post entitled The Three Logoi (3), the Universal
Soul is categorized under the Third Logos, while it should have
been under the Second. The corrected text would

  • First Logos, the One, the Ever Unmanifest, represented by
    ūlaprakti, the Plotinic
    and Orphic Hen, Hyparxis, Universal Good, the Christian
    Father-aspect, Divine Will.
  • Second Logos, the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, the
    Verbum, the Plotinic Nous, the Demiurge, HPB’s Anima Mundi,
    Creative Intelligence, Mahat, Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
    Universal Intelligence, Divine Mind, Divine Wisdom, the
    Son-aspect, the Christ, Brahmā, Īśvara,
    Avalokiteśvara (manifested).
  • Third Logos, the Light of the Logos, Fohat,
    Daiviprakṛti, the Plotinic Psuchē, Universal Soul
    (the Plotinic Anima Mundi)
    , the Nous of Anaxagoras, Divine
    Activity, the Holy Ghost.

5. The Sacred Four

In stanza IV, śloka 5 (SD I, 98) the four highest
universal principles are described. Here, the seventh (first)
principle is called darkness, the sixth (second) adi-sanat, the
fifth (third) svâbhâvat, the fourth (fourth) the
formless square. The first three are “enclosed within the
boundless circle”, and together they are called the
sacred four or the tetraktis.

absolute - 8

In the following table, the four highest Universal
(“Cosmic”) principles are summarized, as described in
various sources.

Principle 7th 6th 5th 4th
Proem to the SD the ONE principle, the Absolute, THAT, Sat, Be-ness, SPACE,
the Root, Parabrahman, Brahman (neutrum)
Universal Over-Soul, Universal Soul,
SD I, 98 (st. IV śl. 5) darkness adi-sanat svâbhâvat formless square
SD II, 596 The Unmanfested Logos Universal (latent) Ideation Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy
Cosmological Notes in BL p. 378; spelling cf.
Blavatsky’s Secret Books, p. 64
svayambhuva nārāyaṇa yajña vāc
snyugs dkon mchog nam ‘mkha (Skt. ākāśa) ‘od (Skt. prabhā, āloka)
Latent Spirit Ensoph Universal Mind Virāj, Universal Illusion Cosmic Will
Additional terms Mother-space, the Eternal Parent, Eternal Mother (1886 Ms),
First Logos
Second Logos Father-Mother, Fire-Mist  

Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Darkness, Logos, Mahat, Rootless Root, Space, Svabhavat, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet


On the Name “Book of Dzyan”

By David Reigle on September 21, 2013 at 11:43 pm

The evidence shows that: (1) “Book of Dzyan” is not the actual or proper name of the book in question; (2) of the two meanings given by Blavatsky, “dzyan” would be “wisdom/knowledge” rather than “meditation”; (3) therefore the “Book of Dzyan” is a generic name signifying only “Book of Wisdom” or “Book of Knowledge.”

1. That “Book of Dzyan” is not the actual or proper name can be seen from this quotation from The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. xxii): “The Book of Dzyan (or ‘Dzan’) is utterly unknown to our Philologists, or at any rate was never heard of by them under its present name.”

2. Blavatsky gives two meanings for the word “dzyan.” The most well-known one is “meditation,” the meaning of the similar-looking Sanskrit word dhyāna. It is found in “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 3, 1897, p. 405; Adyar edition, vol. 5, p. 389; Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422):

“The Book of Dzyan—from the Sanskrit word “Dhyâna” (mystic meditation)— . . .”

The other meaning given for “dzyan” is “wisdom,” or “knowledge,” the meaning of the similar-sounding Sanskrit word jñāna. It is found in these places:

(a) Footnote to Book of Dzyan* in her French article, “Notes su «L’Ésotérisme du Dogme Chrétien» de M. l’Abbé Roca”; English translation, “Notes on Abbé Roca’s ‘Esotericism of Christian Dogma’” (Collected Writings, vol. 8, p. 361 fn.; p. 380 fn.):

“*Mot tibétain, du mot sanscrit djnyana: sagesse occulte, connaissance.”

“*A Tibetan word, the Sanskrit Jñâna, occult wisdom, knowledge.”

(b) In “‘Reincarnations’ of Buddha” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 3, 1897, p. 386; Adyar edition, vol. 5, p. 373; Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 400):

“. . . on the ‘Path of Dzyan’ (knowledge, wisdom).”

(c) In The Theosophical Glossary, under “Dzyn or Dzyan (Tib.). Written also Dzen.” (p. 107):

“A corruption of the Sanskrit Dhyan and Jnâna (or gnyâna phonetically)—Wisdom, divine knowledge.”

The last quotation, although defining dzyan as “wisdom” or “divine knowledge,” gives as equivalents both the Sanskrit words, dhyāna (meaning “meditation”) and jñāna. In another place, she combines their two meanings when giving the meaning of “dzyan” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 434):

“Says the Book of Dzyan (Knowledge through meditation)— . . .”

However, the word “dzyan” cannot be the Tibetan equivalent of both the Sanskrit dhyāna and jñāna. It must be one or the other. Fortunately, as noted in my 1983 book, The Books of Kiu-te (pp. 46-47), we do not have to guess about this. Since dhyāna is translated into Tibetan as bsam gtan, and jñāna is translated into Tibetan as ye śes, “dzyan” is not a translation; it is a transliteration. Which one is made clear by the fact that when transliterating Sanskrit words into Tibetan, the Tibetan translators always transliterated the Sanskrit letter “j” as the Tibetan letter “dz”, even though Tibetan has a letter “j” of its own. Thus, Sanskrit jñāna is transliterated into Tibetan as dzñāna.

Then, as is well known, the word jñāna is often pronounced gyana in India. Thus, for example, we find a book on Jñāna Yoga titled Gyana Yoga. The palatal “ñ”, a “nya” sound, disappears after the initial “j”, leaving a “y” sound. So phonetically, we now have dzyāna. Lastly, in North Indian pronunciation, a final short “a” is very frequently dropped. Thus, for example, the name Shiva Kumara is pronounced Shiv Kumar. So our dzyāna becomes dzyān. This is a reasonably good phonetic rendering of the Sanskrit word jñāna as transliterated into Tibetan letters, dznyāna, and then pronounced.

The meaning, too, can only be one or the other. As we saw, “wisdom” or knowledge” is given for “dzyan” by Blavatsky on three occasions. This is the meaning of jñāna. On one occasion she gives “meditation,” the meaning of dhyāna. In addition, she gives a combined definition, “Knowledge through meditation.” While jñāna no doubt most often arises through meditation, this is not part of its meaning. So where did Blavatsky get the meaning “meditation” for “dzyan”? Apparently from Rev. Joseph Edkins. In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky writes (vol. 1, p. xx and footnote):

“Indeed, the secret portions of the ‘Danor Jan-na’* (‘Dhyan’) of Gautama’s metaphysics—grand as they appear to one unacquainted with the tenets of the Wisdom Religion of antiquity—are but a very small portion of the whole.”

“*Dan, now become in modern Chinese and Tibetan phonetics chan, is the general term for the esoteric schools, and their literature. In the old books, the word Janna is defined as ‘to reform one’s self by meditation and knowledge,’ a second inner birth. Hence Dzan, Djan phonetically, the ‘Book of Dzyan.’”

Compare Rev. Joseph Edkins, Chinese Buddhism, 1880 (p. 129, fn.):

“The word Ch’an (in old Chinese, jan and dan), originally signifying ‘resign,’ had not the meaning to ‘contemplate’ (now its commonest sense), before the Buddhists adopted it to represent the Sanscrit term Dhyana. The word in Chinese books is spelt in full jan-na, and is explained, ‘to reform one’s self by contemplation or quiet thought.’”

Rev. Edkins further writes about what he called the esoteric schools, and their founder Bodhidharma (pp. 155-156):

“He became the chief founder of the esoteric schools, which were divided into five principal branches. The common word for the esoteric schools is dan, the Sanscrit Dhyana, now called in the modern sound given to the character, ch’an.”

The Chinese word ch’an does indeed render the Sanskrit word dhyāna, “meditation,” and this became the name of the school that made meditation primary, the Ch’an school, which in turn became the Zen school in Japan. Rev. Edkins, writing with the scanty information available before 1880, for some reason called this school and its subdivisions the esoteric schools. This is apparently how Blavatsky associated the name dan with the esoteric schools, and equated it with “dzyan.” But as we have seen, the other information given by Blavatsky shows that “dzyan” is from jñāna, not dhyāna.

3. “Book of Dzyan,” then, is a generic name signifying only “Book of Wisdom” or “Book of Knowledge.”

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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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Senzar: A Lost Sacred Language

By David Reigle on September 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Senzar is the name given to a sacred language that is now lost from public view and has become secret. Our only source on this language is the writings of H. P. Blavatsky. According to her, Senzar is the language in which the “Book of Dzyan” was recorded, from which she translated the stanzas that form the basis of her book, The Secret Doctrine. It is there described as a pictorial language of symbols, and this is how it has come to be thought of among students of Theosophy. However, in some places she also described Senzar as a phonetic language. With the publication in 2010 of The Secret Doctrine Commentaries that Blavatsky had given in 1889, but that had remained unknown for 120 years, no doubt could any longer remain. The stanzas she translated were from the phonetic form of Senzar, not the pictorial form. The idea that Senzar is solely a pictorial symbol language has hindered research on it for all these years. Once we begin looking for its phonetic form, we find clear evidence for the existence of this lost sacred language.

The “Archaic Manuscript” written in symbols that Blavatsky vividly describes at the beginning of the The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, pp. 1-5) is not the “Book of Dzyan” that she translated stanzas from. She makes this clear in another place, referring to the “one small archaic folio” as “the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World,” and describing the “Book of Dzyan” as the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on it (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422). That these fourteen volumes of commentaries are written in a phonetic form of Senzar rather than in pictorial symbols could be deduced from Blavatsky’s statements made in 1888 in The Secret Doctrine, and this was confirmed in The Secret Doctrine Commentaries published in 2010. She refers several times to the words of the “Book of Dzyan,” phonetic words; says that she has tried to give a verbatim or word for word translation; and refers several times 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.

According to The Secret Doctrine (vol. 2, p. 200), the first language of the fifth root-race was the inflectional speech, and this is “now the mystery tongue of the Initiates,” i.e., Senzar. It is there described as “the root of the Sanskrit, very erroneously called ‘the elder sister’ of the Greek, instead of its mother.” In her 1877 book, Isis Unveiled (vol. 1, p. 440), Blavatsky had described Senzar as “ancient Sanskrit.” It was described by “a Chela” in 1883 as “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” adding that “the sacerdotal speech of the initiated Brahmin, became in time the mystery language of the inner temple, studied by the Initiates of Egypt and Chaldea; of the Phoenicians and the Etruscans; of the Pelasgi and Palanquans, in short, of the whole globe” (“Was Writing Known before Panini?,” The Theosophist, vol. 5, 1883, p. 18, reprinted in Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 5, p. 298). We thus learn that Senzar was an inflectional language, described as “ancient Sanskrit,” as “the root of the Sanskrit,” and as “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” and that it was once in use as a sacred language across the whole globe.

The linguistic term “inflectional” describes languages whose words undergo change in order to give grammatical information, usually by way of inflectional endings (verb conjugations and noun declensions). These inflectional endings characterize the languages that comprise what is today known as the Indo-European language family. This family includes the ancient languages Sanskrit, Avesta, Greek, Latin, etc., and the modern languages that descended from them, Hindi, French, German, English, etc. The ancient Indo-European languages are thought to have all descended from a hypothetical Proto-Indo-European in the even more ancient past. This matches the teaching of The Secret Doctrine that the inflectional speech was the first language of the fifth root-race. Phonetic Senzar, then, would be a sacred form of what is today called Proto-Indo-European. While there is much evidence for the existence of Proto-Indo-European, is there any evidence for a sacred form of it?

Of course, the most well-attested and well-preserved ancient Indo-European language is Vedic Sanskrit, which is indeed a sacred language. Its sister language Avesta is also well-attested, again by way of a body of sacred writings. But is there any remnant or trace of a language that would be “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” as Senzar is said to be? According to Indian tradition, the Vedas were seen or heard by ancient seers, and have been preserved unchanged since then. They did not develop from anything. They had no progenitor. Such is the traditional view. An unexpected fact, however, has long been noticed. We find that many Vedic verses are repeated in the various Vedic texts, and sometimes they show variations that cannot be attributed to scribal error. Maurice Bloomfield in his 1906 Vedic Concordance presented a complete “index to every line of every stanza of the [then] published Vedic literature.” Of its about 90,000 entries, about one-third occur more than once. Of these roughly 30,000 repeated verse lines, about one-third show variants. So of about 90,000 verse lines, about 10,000 show variants. These were studied in three volumes of Vedic Variants, 1930-1934. One in nine is a lot of variants, far more than would be expected if the Vedic verses in fact had no predecessor or progenitor.

Even more disturbing to the traditional view is the finding of Prakritisms in the Ṛgveda. The Ṛgveda is the oldest, most sacred, and most perfectly preserved of the Vedas. Its language should consist entirely of sacred Sanskrit; there should be no trace of any vernacular Prakrit in it. Yet this is what modern research is finding (e.g., “Prakritism in the Ṛgveda,” by G. V. Devasthali, 1970; “About the Traces of a Prakrit Dialectal Basis in the Language of the Ṛgveda,” by T. Y. Elizarenkova, 1989; “Prakritic Wordforms in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā,” by Chlodwig H. Werba, 1992). What does this mean? First we saw clear evidence that the Vedas have predecessors or progenitors (as would be assumed by the modern linguistic theory of a Proto-Indo-European). There must have once been many more Vedic texts than are now preserved. Then, at least some of these would have been in a Prakrit or included Prakrit words, phrases, and idioms. If the Prakrit languages developed only later than Vedic Sanskrit, as has been generally assumed, it would be hard to explain the presence of Prakritisms in the Ṛgveda. The Ṛgveda has been preserved with such scrupulous accuracy that these Prakritisms are unlikely to be later modifications introduced into it, but rather were there all along.

The Prakrits are mostly thought of as vernacular or everyday languages, in contradistinction to sacred languages. There are, however, two major exceptions. The sacred canon of the Śvetāmbara Jainas is written in the Ardha-Māgadhī variety of Prakrit, and the sacred canon of the Theravāda Buddhists is written in Pali, which can linguistically be considered a variety of Prakrit. The general idea is that these are vernaculars that came to be thought of as sacred languages because the sacred books of these two traditions have come down to us in these languages. Buddhists say that the Buddha Gautama purposely taught in the vernacular language of his time and place, rather than in the sacred Sanskrit language, so that the people could understand him (e.g., Cullavagga 5.33). Śvetāmbara Jainas say that the Jina Mahāvīra taught in Ardha-Māgadhī, which was the vernacular of his time and place. It was, however, understood by the various hearers in their own language (Aupapātika-sūtra 56). Digambara Jainas say that the Jina taught using the “divine sound” (divya-dhvani), and that his gaṇadharas, his close disciples who could understand this, translated it into the vernacular of their time and place. Thus we have sacred canons written in vernacular languages that became sacred languages. In both traditions, however, there is an alternate view.

Some Buddhist and Jaina writers held that Prakrit is the original language, and that Sanskrit came from it, not vice versa. The information and sources on this were summarized in a 1993 article by Johannes Bronkhorst. He writes: “Māgadhī, we read in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, is the original language (mūlabhāsā) of all living beings, . . .” (p. 398). Māgadhī is held to be Pali by the Buddhist commentators, the language of the canon, and this is a Prakritic language. A later Buddhist writer says that “all other languages are derived from Māgadhī,” including Sanskrit (p. 399). Some Jaina writers have likewise held that their sacred language, the Ardha-Māgadhī variety of Prakrit, is the original language, and that Sanskrit comes from it (pp. 399-401). Even the Hindu writer Bhartṛhari, after noting in his Vākyapadīya that the divine language Sanskrit has been corrupted by incompetent speakers, tells us that the upholders of impermanence (apparently Buddhists) say the opposite (p. 406). That is, according to the ancient vṛtti thereon, Prakrit is the correct language and it has been altered to become Sanskrit (p. 407). Bronkhorst’s article is suggestively titled “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit – the original language,” although he did not actually make this claim. We now continue with this intriguing topic.

Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is a name coined by Franklin Edgerton to describe the language of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts. These Sanskrit texts, which include the Mahāyāna Buddhist texts, form a Buddhist canon distinct from the Pali Buddhist canon. In a 1936 article, “The Prakrit Underlying Buddhistic Hybrid Sanskrit,” Edgerton postulated a “protocanonical Prakrit” on which Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit was based. He analyzed the language of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts to determine which features distinguish it from Classical Sanskrit. He spent the rest of his life studying and describing these distinguishing features, culminating in his monumental Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary, 2 volumes, 1953. These Prakrit features that distinguish Buddhist Sanskrit from Classical Sanskrit also distinguish it from any other specific Prakrit known, including Pali (1936, pp. 509, 516). Therefore he had to postulate an earlier Prakritic language that both Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and Pali were based on. There must have existed a considerable body of canonical or sacred texts in this Prakrit (p. 502). He called this Prakrit “protocanonical”; “proto” in that it is a hypothetical language, and “canonical” specifying its use in sacred texts. So here we have a sacred form of Proto-Indo-European, perhaps the very one we were looking for.

The Prakritisms found in Vedic Sanskrit now take on a new significance for us. The possible relationship between these Prakritisms and the protocanonical Prakrit behind Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit has not yet been explored, no doubt because the Vedas are considered much older than the time of the Buddha. Theosophy, however, accepts the traditions of previous Buddhas, and therefore of a previous canon of Buddhist texts. These Prakritisms aside, Sukumar Sen noticed long ago an important fact regarding similarities between the syntax of Buddhist Sanskrit and Vedic Sanskrit, which he calls Old Indo-Aryan. In his 1928 article, “An Outline Syntax of Buddhistic Sanskrit: Being a Contribution to the Historical Syntax of Indo-Aryan,” he writes (pp. 1-2): “The third division is the Buddhistic Sanskrit properly called. It is generally known as the ‘Gāthā language,’ or as ‘Mixed Sanskrit.’ Its philological importance is of the utmost. From the syntactical point it is doubly interesting, as it retains much of the remnant of Old Indo-Aryan idioms which were lost in the classical Sanskrit, . . .” Edgerton did not deal with syntax in his Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar, and this important observation of Sen’s also remains to be fully explored (Elizarenkova devotes pp. 14-16 of her above-mentioned article to syntax).

The possible relationship between a progenitor of Vedic Sanskrit and the protocanonical Prakrit behind Buddhist Sanskrit is not the only evidence we have among the Hindu Sanskrit texts. Before Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit was labeled as such and studied, F. E. Pargiter had made a very detailed study of The Purāna Text of the Dynasties of the Kali Age (1913). He found clear evidence that in the oldest Purāṇas the verses had been Sanskritized from an earlier Prakrit. This is exactly what Edgerton later found in the Sanskrit Buddhist texts. Further, Pargiter described this Prakrit as “a literary language not far removed from Sanskrit” (p. xi). Similarly, Edgerton found that the Sanskrit Buddhist texts were not just translations or re-workings of Pali originals (as some writers had supposed, p. 502), because the Sanskrit elements in them were as original as the Prakrit elements (pp. 508-509). The protocanonical Prakrit behind the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit texts and the old literary Prakrit behind the oldest Hindu Purāṇas, the one we are looking for, would not be a Prakrit that descended from Sanskrit, i.e., not a Middle Indo-Aryan language that descended from Old Indo-Aryan as are the Prakrits now known. It would be an earlier proto-Sanskrit that had some of the features now found or retained only in the Prakrits, features that were removed from this proto-Sanskrit when it became Sanskrit, “refined,” “polished,” “perfected.”

We have now seen clear evidence for the existence of a lost sacred language that we may call Senzar. When Senzar is regarded solely as a pictorial symbol language, there is not much to find. When we look for a phonetic form of Senzar that is a precursor to Sanskrit, an inflectional language described as “ancient Sanskrit,” as “the root of the Sanskrit,” and as “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” there is much to find. We then find that what is apparently just such a language has left major traces in the Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Its features that differ from Classical Sanskrit have been analyzed by Franklin Edgerton and described at length in his Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary. To explain the observed evidence, Edgerton postulated a protocanonical Prakrit predecessor of both the Sanskrit and Pali of the Buddhist canons, that would also be close to the Ardha-Māgadhī of the Jaina canon. Such a language has left similar traces in the oldest Hindu Purāṇas. It has apparently even left traces in the ancient and sacrosanct Vedic texts. It would be a sacred form of Proto-Indo-European, just what we would expect a phonetic form of Senzar to be.

Category: Senzar | 1 comment


The Three Svabhāvas in The Secret Doctrine

By Ingmar de Boer on September 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Central to the ontology of the Yogācāra school of thought, is the philosophy of the three svabhāvas. One of the terms used in HPB’s rendering of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan referring implicitly to the Yogācāra school, is pariniṣpanna, in stanza 1 śloka 6 and in stanza 2 śloka 1 respectively, which is one of these three. All three svabhāvas are discussed in HPB’s commentary to stanza 1 śloka 9. The page numbers of all locations, all in SD I, are:

pariniṣpanna absolute existence 23, 42 (27), 42, 48, 53 (28) and 54
paratantra dependent existence 48 (2x) and 49
parikalpita imaginary existence 48 (2x)

In SD I, 42 a mystery is presented to the reader:

Up to the day of the Yogacharya school the true nature of Paranirvana was taught publicly, but since then it has become entirely esoteric; hence so many contradictory interpretations of it. It is only a true Idealist who can understand it. Everything has to be viewed as ideal, with the exception of Paranirvana, by him who would comprehend that state, and acquire a knowledge of how Non Ego, Voidness, and Darkness are Three in One and alone Self-existent and perfect.

What exactly are these “Three in One, Self-existent [sva-bhāva] and perfect”, or Non Ego, Voidness and Darkness?

Non Ego

Non Ego, the first of the Three in One, is described by HPB in SD I, 48 as parikalpita, imaginary existence:

Parikalpita (in Tibetan Kun-ttag) is error, made by those unable to realize the emptiness and illusionary nature of all; who believe something to exist which does not — e.g., the Non-Ego.

Non Ego could be HPB’s rendering of the Buddhist term anātman.


Voidness, the second of the Three in One, is described as personified by ālaya, according to the yogācāra’s, in SD I, 48:

Thus, while the Yogacharyas (of the Mahayana school) say that Alaya is the personification of the Voidness, and yet Alaya (Nyingpo and Tsang in Tibetan) is the basis of every visible and invisible thing, and that, though it is eternal and immutable in its essence, it reflects itself in every object of the Universe “like the moon in clear tranquil water”; other schools dispute the statement.

In part II of the article Ālaya in the Lakāvatārasūtra, we have argued that ālaya might be viewed as tri-une, in HPB’s words having two “Manvantaric” aspects and one “Non-Manvantaric”. In its Non-Manvantaric aspect it is “eternal and immutable in its essence”. In (one of) its Manvantaric aspects it would be the personification of Voidness which is the ultimate “basis of every visible and invisible thing”, having a “dependent or causal connection” with “every visible and invisible thing”. On paratantra, dependent existence, we find in SD I, 48:

And Paratantra is that, whatever it is, which exists only through a dependent or causal connexion, and which has to disappear as soon as the cause from which it proceeds is removed — e.g., the light of a wick. Destroy or extinguish it, and light disappears.

Undoubtedly, Voidness is a rendering of the Mahāyāna term śūnyatā, which is voidness, or emptyness.


Darkness, the third of the Three in One, is a term used in the Book of Dzyan in relation to pariniṣpanna. When the universe is in the state of pralaya, all that “was” or “will be” can be thought of as being in darkness. In SD I, 28 for example, the builders are said to be in darkness, which is (their) pariniṣpanna:


In SD I, 53, HPB identifies parinirvana with pariniṣpanna, absolute existence:

Paranishpanna, remember, is the summum bonum, the Absolute, hence the same as Paranirvana.

This points to a relation to the whole “Three in One” of SD I, 42, or SPACE, which is the First (unmanifested) Logos, which is forever in the state of pariniṣpanna.


The solution of the mystery of SD I, 42 would then be:

Non-ego anātman parikalpita
Voidness śūnyatā paratantra
Darkness   pariniṣpanna

Category: Darkness, Paratantra, Parikalpita, Parinirvana, Parinishpanna, Yogacara | 1 comment


Tohoku Catalogue Available Here

By David Reigle on August 31, 2013 at 1:54 pm

A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons (Bkaḥ-ḥgyur and Bstan-ḥgyur), the so-called “Tohoku Catalogue,” has been scanned and posted here: Tohoku Catalogue of Tibetan Buddhist Canons. It was the first complete catalogue of every text in the Tibetan Buddhist canon (Sde-dge edition), 4,569 of them, of which the first 1108 are in the Kangyur and the rest are in the Tengyur. Although published in 1934, it has remained the standard of reference for the texts of the Kanjur and Tanjur.

The Bkaḥ-ḥgyur/Kangyur/Kanjur is the collection of the Buddha’s word, found in the sūtras and tantras, while the Bstan-ḥgyur/Tengyur/Tanjur is the collection of expositions of the Buddha’s word, written by the great Indian Buddhist teachers, Nāgārjuna, Asaṅga, etc.

The Tohoku Catalogue had only been available at a comparatively few major academic libraries. Some years ago I photocopied for my own research the one held at the University of Wisconsin library. Since this fundamental reference work has not yet appeared on the web, Jacques requested that I scan my photocopy and post it here.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part II

By Ingmar de Boer on August 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm

The Yogācāra system is presenting us with 8 vijñāna’s, evolving from one basic form of consciousness, which is the ālayavijñāna. A common translation of vijñāna in the context of Yogācāra Buddhism would be “consciousness”, however, the concept of vijñāna as part of the epistemology of Yogācāra Buddhism, is a specific type of consciousness, a faculty of the mind, which is the counterpart of a specific source of knowledge. The basic principles of this epistemology are comparable to the Saṃkhya philosophy, where every organ of perception has its counterpart in a specific faculty of the mind.

In Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki’s Studies in the Lankavatarasutra (p. 186), three modes or aspects (lakṣaṇa) of vijñāna are presented:

1. jāti: remaining in its original nature
2. pravṛtti: evolving
3. karman: producing effects

In the state of pralaya, which we could think of as the state before the beginning of the evolution of a human entity, the vijñāna’s are absorbed in ālayavijñāna, which is then in its jāti state, its “original nature”. (cp. Suzuki, The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, p. xvii-xviii) When the human entity starts to evolve, the vijñānas arise from ālayavijñāna, which is then at the same time in another state, called pravṛtti, i.e. evolving. In yoga philosophy, the terms pravṛtti and nirvṛtti (or nivṛtti) are connected with evolution and involution, pravṛttimārga and nirvṛttimārga being the outward and inward arc of an evolutionary cycle. They indicate cyclic development, first directed outward, where the entity expresses itself through form, and then inward, where the entity gradually becomes a master of its form, and eventually becomes independent of it. The cycle has a turning point in the middle, where development starts turning inward, which in the Laṅkāvatāra is called parāvṛtti, which is litterally “turning back”. (cp. The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, p. xvii) At this point of revolution, there is an opportunity for the deep mystical realisation of the relation of the entity with its form. This realisation takes place, according to the Laṅkāvatāra, “in the Ālaya, which is the basis of all things”, as Suzuki formulates it. (Studies p. 184)

eandinvolution - 5
In Suzuki’s Studies (p. 186-187) we find:

The Pravṛttivijñāna is a collective name for all the particular Vijñānas that evolve out of Ālaya, when they are considered from the point of view of evolution, while the Ālaya is the Vijñāna or Citta that remains undisturbed in its native abode.

To make sure that we understand correctly, the Laṅkāvatāra firmly underlines its standpoint concerning ālaya on p. 34-35:

[…] there is no cessation [of Ālaya] in its original form. Therefore, Mahāmati, what ceases to function is not the Ālaya in its original self-form, but is the effect-producing form of the Vijñānas. […] If, however, there is the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna [in its original form], this doctrine will in no wise differ from the nihilistic doctrine of the philosophers.

If we translate the first sentence of this fragment more in the light of our understanding of the cyclic process, the result could be something like:

[…] and there is no cessation in its aspect of self-origination (svajāti). That which ceases, Mahāmati, is not the aspect of self-origination, but it is the aspect of activity (karman) of the Vijñānas.

[…] sa ca na bhavati svajātilakṣaṇanirodhaḥ | tasmānmahāmate na svajātilakṣaṇanirodho vijñānānāṃ kiṃ tu karmalakṣaṇanirodhaḥ |

The term used here for self-origination is svajāti, own-birth or self-birth, not jāti, birth, indicating the idea of auto-creation and auto-re-creation, showing a quite profound universal philosophical concept. Interestingly, that which is said to “cease” is the karman aspect and not the pravṛtti aspect. In the Book of Dzyan it is stated that evolution never ceases, and that pralaya and the birth of the new universe are just phases of the ever moving evolutionary process. (Note, that in this case the term pravṛtti would have a slightly different meaning than when it is seen as the complement of nivṛtti.)

In SD I, 49 we see that HPB recognized different aspects to the term ālaya:

What are the doctrines taught on this subject by the Esoteric “Buddhists”? With them “Alaya” has a double and even a triple meaning.

In SD I, 48, at least two aspects (our jāti and pravṛtti) are spoken of:

Again in SD I, 48, following Emil Schlagintweit (Buddhism in Tibet, p. 39), we have the jāti and pravṛtti aspects (or perhaps even the jāti and karman aspects):

[…] the basis of every visible and invisible thing, and that, though it is eternal and immutable in its essence, it reflects itself in every object of the Universe “like the moon in clear tranquil water” […]

These paradoxes show ālaya remaining in its original nature, and at the same time evolving. This principle explains the phrase in the Book of Dzyan, why in the cosmic night “the alaya of the universe was in paramartha”, in SD I, 47 (stanza 1 śloka 9):

BUT WHERE WAS THE DANGMA WHEN THE ALAYA OF THE UNIVERSE (Soul as the basis of all, Anima Mundi) WAS IN PARAMARTHA (a) (Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness) AND THE GREAT WHEEL WAS ANUPADAKA (b)?

In HPB’s commentary between brackets, we see that she defines ālaya as the “Soul”, “the basis of all” (Tibetan: kun gzhi), which she identifies with the Anima Mundi. This term refers to Hellenistic philosophy, and connects our investigation into ālaya directly to the third “fundamental proposition” of The Secret Doctrine. Again in SD I, 48, we find:

Alaya is literally the “Soul of the World” or Anima Mundi, the “Over-Soul” of Emerson, and according to esoteric teaching it changes periodically its nature.

The third fundamental proposition, in the Proem, SD I, 17 under (c), states:

The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former — through the Cycle of Incarnation (or “Necessity”) in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. [etc. etc.]

Here we also have the other two aspects, pravṛtti and karman, as Cyclic and Karmic Law. In the case of the universal over-soul, being “an aspect” of the unknown root, we can ask ourselves which aspect of the unknown root (SPACE) it is. Is it a manifested or unmanifested, or even a manifesting or unmanifesting aspect of the Logos? This is not sufficiently clear from this fragment. In the Theosophical Glossary under Alaya, we find the following definition:

Alaya (Sk.) The Universal Soul (See Secret Doctrine Vol. I. pp. 47 et seq.). The name belongs to the Tibetan system of the contemplative Mahâyâna School. Identical with Âkâsa in its mystic sense, and with Mulâprâkriti, in its essence, as it is the basis or root of all things.

Here we see that ālaya is identified with the First Logos (mūlaprakṛti) in its essence, “as it is the basis or root of all things” (Tibetan: kun gzhi).

In CW XII, 635 (ES Instruction III), we read:

Alaya, the Universal Soul, of which the Manvantaric aspect is Mahat.

and in CW XII, 607:

[…] Buddhi is a ray of the Universal Spiritual Soul (ALAYA).
We might derive from these two statements, that the cyclic (“Manvantaric”) aspect of ālaya, which we have called pravṛtti, in cosmic terms is mahat, and in individual terms buddhi. Earlier (in The Three Logoi (3)) we have identified Mahat as the Second Logos. The Universal Soul is apparently in this case the “non-Manvantaric” aspect of ālaya or what we have called the jāti aspect, which must be the First Logos. Then the karman aspect must be the Third Logos. Now we can set up the following table:

Aspect of ālaya

Corresponds to


1. jāti

remaining in its original nature

First Logos

2. pravṛtti


Second Logos

[Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi] Mahat, [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal Soul]

3. karman

producing effects

Third Logos


Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Lankavatarasutra, Logos, Mahat, Sutras, Universal Mind | 1 comment


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part I

By Ingmar de Boer on August 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The term ālaya is a key term in The Secret Doctrine, which is connected to Yogācāra and Zen Buddhism. HPB uses it as the “basis of everything”, reflecting the Tibetan equivalent kun (all) gzhi (basis), apparently based on the paragraph “The contemplative Mahāyāna (Yogāchārya) system” in Emil Schlagintweit’s 1863 work Buddhism in Tibet. (p. 39-41) Schlagintweit refers to “the Gandavyūha, the Mahāsamaya, and certain others”. Those works will be interesting objects of study, to see exactly how the term ālaya is used there. In one of the most important Yogācāra scriptures, the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, ālaya is also used in the sense of the “basis of everything”, and it is certainly interesting to see how the term is used there, as we might do in the following article, first from a philological perspective, in part I, and secondly from a philosophical perspective, in part II.

The Laṅkāvatārasūtra was written (or consolidated) around 350-400 CE. Apart from a compiled Sanskrit version, we have three different Chinese translations and two different Tibetan translations. In 1932 the first English translation was made by Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki. He sees the terms ālaya and ālayavijñāna primarily as the “storehouse consciousness” where karmic remains, the vāsana’s, are stored as latent karmic seeds, until some time in the future, when they are reactivated to initiate actual karma. We can now go through all the different translations to see how the term ālaya is rendered in each case.

The Sanskrit Version

The Sanskrit word ālaya is composed of the preposition ā- (from) and the verbal element laya, which can be traced back to the root lī, to cling. A common meaning of ālaya is a “house” or “dwelling”. (Monier-Williams) Derived senses are “receptacle” and “asylum”. These may all be consistent with “storehouse”. As a noun, laya means a place of rest, residence, house, dwelling. It also means rest, repose, a pause, and lying down, cowering. According to Monier-Williams, the verb from the root lī basically means to adhere, to cling, to press closely, to lie, to recline, to settle. This root lī might be connected to another Sanskrit root, lip/limp/rip, to smear, which is related to the English “to leave” in the sense of “leave behind”. We can imagine that the sense of “house” has evolved from the basic sense “to cling”.

The Chinese Tripitaka

The earliest extant Chinese translation is that of Guṇabhadra, dating back to 443 CE, labelled Sung (Song) by Suzuki, after the ruling dynasty at that time. The other two translations are analogically labelled Wei and T’ang. Suzuki has prepared a Sanskrit-Chinese-Tibetan index of terms used in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra. From this index we can learn that the three Chinese versions all have 藏 (zàng) for ālaya, but only Wei and T’ang have in some places phonetic renderings.

The Chinese interpretation 藏 (zàng) simply means storehouse, depository. So, the common interpretation of ālaya, cf. Suzuki, as “storehouse”, is following the Chinese interpretation.

The Dūnhuáng Findings

There are also a number of Chinese fragments of the Laṅkāvatāra among the Dūnhuáng findings, of the Song and T’ang editions. In some of these we can see that at least since the early 11th century, which was when the Mògāo cave complex at Dūnhuáng was sealed off, the T’ang manuscript was very faithfully copied. The first occurence of the character 藏 (zàng) in the T’ang manuscript is identifiable in some of the fragments, for example in Or.8210/S.6:

Lank - Tang - Dunhuang Mss Or.8210 - S.6 - 2

In the fragments of the Song edition, quite a few characters are different from the text in the Taishō edition of the Chinese Tripitaka. The Taisho text (T16n670) of the Song edition seems to be a modernised version, though at first glance textually it seems to be as faithfully copied as the T’ang version. Also in these fragments we can verify the use of the character 藏 (zàng), for example in Or.8210/S.5311:

Lank - Song - Or 8210 S 5311 - alaya - 2

According to the International Dunhuang Project database, this manuscript (Or.8210/S.5311) dates back to the 7th century. In connection with the Tibetan translation by chos grub, who based his Tibetan translation on the Song edition, it is interesting to know that the same rendering of ālaya was used in earlier Song manuscripts.

The Tibetan Versions

In his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra (1930), Suzuki already mentioned that there are two different Tibetan translations. (pp. 12-15)

The Tibetan “version 1”, which is published in the Tibetan Tripitaka Peking edition (TTPE), Vol. 29 No. 775. It seems to be translated directly from Sanskrit. In the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) we find a text from the Lhasa Kanjur, still not completely entered, labelled KL0107, corresponding to Vol. 29 No. 775 from the Peking Tripitaka catalogue. In this Tibetan version the terms ālaya and ālayavijñāna are rendered kun gzhi and kun gzhi rnam par shes pa.

The Tibetan “version 2” was translated by “the monk chos grub” on the basis of the Chinese Song version, around the beginning of the 9th century. It can be found, for example, in the digital library of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC). This version also renders ālaya and ālayavijñāna as kun gzhi and kun gzhi rnam par shes pa.

The Mahāvyutpatti Sanskrit-Tibetan glossary was probably composed between 800 and 838, which is around the same time the Chinese Song edition was translated into Tibetan by chos grub (version 2). Here, ālaya (entry 2017) is also connected to kun gzhi.

The primary sense of the word gzhi is ground, foundation, original cause, exciting cause, or even axiom. Another sense however is residence, abode. (Jäschke) Perhaps this combination has motivated the Tibetan translators to choose kun gzhi, the “basis of everything”, instead of a compound with, for example, the element khang, house, or mdzod, storehouse. Most probably they were familiar with the Sanskrit term as well, which, like the Chinese term, contains the element of house, abode, storehouse etc., which makes their choice for kun gzhi even more significant.

The Tibetan word gzhi, or gzhi ma, might be traced back to the reconstructed Proto-Sino-Tibetan root *ƛăj, meaning earth or ground, cf. the Starling Database, established by the late Sergei Starostin. Tibetan gzhi would then be related to the modern Chinese word 地 (dì), meaning earth.

At the time the Tibetan translation was made by chos grub, Buddhism in Tibet was still in the process of becoming what we now call Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism. The developing religious culture may have already used the term gzhi, or kun gzhi, to indicate its “ground of being”, which became an important concept in the rDzogs Chen subschool of the rNying Ma lineage. For the Chinese translators the Tibetan situation was of course not a force to reckon with, so the interaction between Buddhism and the existing substratum might provide an explanation for the difference, between the semantic fields of Sanskrit ālaya and Chinese 藏 (zàng) on the one hand, and Tibetan kun gzhi on the other.

For completeness we should mention that Schlagintweit, in his Buddhism in Tibet (p. 39) presents yet another Tibetan word for ālaya, which is snying po, which generally means heart or essence. HPB, following Schlagintweit (p. 39), also presents “Nyingpo” and “Tsang” as Tibetan renderings of ālaya, in The Secret Doctrine (SD I, 48), where tsang evidently corresponds to our Chinese character 藏 (zàng).


The above data relating to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra are summarized in the following table.

Edition Language Date Translator Form Meaning
Nanjio Sanskrit ca. 350-400 ālaya
SongTaishō 670 Chinese 443 Guṇabhadra 藏 (zàng) 藏: storehouse; depository
WeiTaishō 671 Chinese 513 Bodhiruci 藏 (zàng), 阿黎耶, 黎耶 (both phonetic)
T’angTaishō 672 Chinese 700-704 Śikṣānanda 藏 (zàng), 阿賴耶, (phonetic)
TTPE Vol. 29 no. 775 Tibetan unkown date, from Sanskrit unknown kun gzhi kun gzhi: basis of all
TTPE Vol. 29 no. 776 Tibetan 9th c., from Chinese Song ed. zhu chen gyi lo tsa ba ‘gos chos grub (fǎ chéng) kun gzhi
English 1932 Suzuki storage house, all conserving


Category: Alaya, Lankavatarasutra, Sutras | 1 comment


Oeaohoo and Its Parallels from the Nag Hammadi Library

By David Reigle on August 1, 2013 at 4:59 am

The term Oeaohoo is found in Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, verses 5 and 7, and stanza 4, verse 4. Despite the wide prevalence of Sanskrit texts on mantras found in India, such a term has so far not been found in any of these texts. Similar vowel terms have, however, been found in Gnostic texts from the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in 1945.

About the term Oeahoo, we read in The Secret Doctrine:

“Let it be understood that the terms Brahma and Parabrahman are not used here because they belong to our Esoteric nomenclature, but simply because they are more familiar to the students in the West. Both are the perfect equivalents of our one, three, and seven vowelled terms, which stand for the One All, and the One “All in all.”” (S.D. vol. 1, p. 20)

“Oeaohoo is rendered “Father-Mother of the Gods” in the Commentaries, or the six in one, or the septenary root from which all proceeds. All depends upon the accent given to these seven vowels, which may be pronounced as one, three, or even seven syllables by adding an e after the letter “o.” This mystic name is given out, because without a thorough mastery of the triple pronunciation it remains for ever ineffectual.” (S.D. vol. 1, p. 68)

Attached are the three relevant Nag Hammadi texts in the two or three published translations (Nag Hammadi, vowel text 1, 1977, Nag Hammadi, vowel text 1, 1987, Nag Hammadi, vowel text 1, 2007, Nag Hammadi, vowel text 2, 1977, Nag Hammadi, vowel text 2, 2007, Nag Hammadi, vowel text 3, 1977, Nag Hammadi, vowel text 3, 2007). These are:

1. The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (earlier titled: The Gospel of the Egyptians).

2. The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth.

3. Marsanes.

The references are:

The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 1977, pp. 197, 204, 294, 296, 421, 422.

The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, 2007, pp. 255, 267, 415, 417-418, 642, 643.

The Gnostic Scriptures, 1987, pp. 107, 118.

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


Quotes from the Book of Khiu-te

By Jacques Mahnich on June 3, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Quotes from the Book of Khiu-te

From the Theosophist, Vol.3 n°1 – October 1881, p.14, one can read the Editor (HPB) Notes to a text from Eliphas Levi on Death :

« To force oneself upon the current of immortality, or rather to secure for oneself an endless series of rebirths as conscious individualities – says the Book of Khiu-te Vol. XXXI ., one must become a co-worker with nature, either for good or for bad, in her work of creation and reproduction, or in that of destruction. »

This is a very accurate quote : Vol. XXXI of the Book of Khiu-te.

Knowing that the Book of Khiu-te could be the Gyut part (Tantra) of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, one would like to take a look at it. Specifically the Kanjur part, the Tanjur being more associated with what HPB call « the Commentaries ».

Many nomenclatures of the Kanjur are known and may differ from each other.

At the time of the Theosophist publication (1881), at least one was known to the public, the one Csoma de Koros put together, published in 1836 in the Asiatic Researches, and later on translated in french by Léon Feer (Annales du Musée Guimet – Tome 2).

The table of contents of the Kanjur is described as a 7 divisions treatise, which the 7th is the Gyut part in 22 sections. Therefore Volume XXXI may be the 31st book of this section.

Looking at the contents of the different sections :

Section I (KA) : 14 books

Section II (KHA) : 4 books

Section III (GA) : 7 books

Section IV (NGA) : 15 books

Vol. XXXI refered to by HPB may be the 6th book of section IV, the

Çrî-Cathur-pithâh, tib. Dpal-gdan-vji-pa ; དཔལ་གདན་བཉི་པ (folios 57-128) :

Worship of the compassionate CENRESIK (Sk. Avalokiteçvara). This is a tantric treatise on the purification of the soul and the mystical union with the supreme Being. One can find several mandalas to perform, various ceremonies to accomplish, and several mantras to repeat to reach the complete liberation.

If this book is accessible, and that the quote can be identified, maybe it is a way to confirm the global hypothesis that the Book of Khiu-te is among the Kanjur collection.

By the way, on the same page of the Theosophist referred to here, there is another quote from the Book of Khiu-te, without specific volume designation :

Bottom page note : « That is to say, they are reborn in a « lower world » which is neither « Hell » nor any theological purgatory, but a world of nearly absolute matter and one preceding the last one in the « circle of necessity » from which « there is no redemption, for there regns absolute spiritual darkness. » (Book of Khiu-te).

Category: Tibetan Buddhism Traditions | 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


Avalokiteśvara, Kuan-yin, and Kuan-shih-yin

By David Reigle on May 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm

In the translation of Book of Dzyan, stanza 6, verse 1, Kuan-yin is distinguished from Kuan-shih-yin: “By the power of the Mother of Mercy and Knowledge — Kwan-Yin — the “triple” of Kwan-shai-Yin, residing in Kwan-yin-Tien, Fohat, the Breath of their Progeny, the Son of the Sons, having called forth, from the lower abyss, the illusive form of Sien-Tchang and the Seven Elements:*” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 32). Note that the spellings Kwan-Yin and Kwan-shai-Yin were adopted by Blavatsky from Samuel Beal’s 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, before the Wade-Giles system of transcription for Chinese became standard, in which the spellings are Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin (today the pinyin system has become standard, in which the spellings are Guanyin and Guanshiyin, although the Wade-Giles system is still used in many books and for many words). Then in a chapter titled, “On Kwan-Shi-Yin and Kwan-Yin” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. 470-473), Blavatsky further distinguished Kuan-yin from Kuan-shih-yin, concluding: “To close, Kwan-Shi-Yin and Kwan-Yin are the two aspects (male and female) of the same principle in Kosmos, Nature and Man, of divine wisdom and intelligence.”

As is well known, Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin are Chinese translations of the name Avalokiteśvara, taken as Avalokita-svara. On Avalokiteśvara versus Avalokita-svara, this is another question for another time. The Chinese word kuan translates the Sanskrit word avalokita, “seen,” and the Chinese word yin translates the Sanskrit word svara, “sound.” The Chinese word shih in the longer name, Kuan-shih-yin, means “world.” Thus, Kuan-yin means “Perceiver of sounds,” and Kuan-shih-yin means “Perceiver of the sounds of the world.” The reason for the addition of the word shih to the name of this bodhisattva is obvious, to make clear what sounds are perceived; namely, the cries of the world. The names Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin, then, refer to the same bodhisattva, being no different than Helena Blavatsky and Helena P. Blavatsky. These have been used interchangeably from the earliest translations of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Chinese, starting near the end of the second century C.E., right up to the present in China.

No one doubts that the male bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara transformed into a female deity in China. This occurred around the beginning of the second millennium C.E., as can be traced in his/her representations in art or iconography and in written texts. No one knows why or how this happened. About four theories for this have been proposed, and are described in what is now the standard work on this subject, Chün-fang Yü’s 2001 Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara. However, it is not the case that the name Kuan-shih-yin was and is used for the male deity, while the name Kuan-yin was and is used for the female deity. They are both names of the same deity, whether first as a male, or later as a female. As stated in Chün-fang Yü’s opening sentence of her Introduction, “Kuan-yin (Perceiver of Sounds), or Kuan-shih-yin (Perceiver of the World’s Sounds) is the Chinese name for Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who has been worshiped throughout the Buddhist world.” Then in her chapter on Scriptural Sources (p. 36), “Kuan-yin and Kuan-shih-yin, therefore, were names used interchangeably in the earliest translations.” The fact that the male and female forms or aspects of the deity are to be distinguished is not in question. There is, however, a significant error in the terms used by Blavatsky to make this distinction. Her use of the name Kuan-shih-yin for the male and Kuan-yin for the female is erroneous.

Category: Avalokiteshvara, Book of Dzyan, Kwan-Yin | 1 comment


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.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Sien-Tchan | No comments yet


The Orthography of Kwan-Yin-Tien

By Ingmar de Boer on at 3:41 pm

In SD I, 136 (stanza 6, śloka 1), the Boris de Zirkoff edition has Kuan-yin-T’ien for Kwan-Yin-Tien in the original 1888 edition. HPB in her days did not use a standardized spelling for Chinese words, and in the Boris de Zirkoff edition the terms are converted to the Wade-Giles transliteration standard. For example the syllable kwan is spelled kuan according to Wade-Giles. This representation is still ambiguous because the tone information is missing, and furthermore the corresponding character is not uniquely determined. A digit might be placed after the syllable to specify the tone, but a better representation would be to specify the exact the character, to enable the reader to verify the terms using a dictionary.

It is easy to verify the spelling of Kwan Yin, as it is such a widespread term. HPB in SD I, 137 defines Kwan-Yin-Tien as “the melodious heaven of Sound”, the abode of Kwan Yin, and we can derive that the syllable tien signifies “heaven”. De Zirkoff’s rendering t’ien for heaven can be found in a modern dictionary as the character 天, and as a Wade-Giles spelling it seems to be correct.

The modern transliteration standard used in the People’s Republic of China is pīnyīn, which in 1979 has become an ISO standard. The pīnyīn representation would be guān yīn tiān, in modern characters 觀音天.

Category: Avalokiteshvara, Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Kwan-Yin | No comments yet


Book of Dzyan Program

By David Reigle on May 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm

June 14-16, 2013, at Ozark Theosophical Camp, Arkansas, U.S.A.


Category: Related Events | No comments yet


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on April 30, 2013 at 11:30 pm

References for Ṛg-veda 10.129

The following references are also links to the source files: 36 English translations in chronological order, 3 French translations or notes on them, and 12 German translations or notes on them. Then follow the main Sanskrit editions of this hymn: Aufrecht’s 1863 edition of the Ṛg-veda text in roman script; Max Muller’s 1892 revised edition of the text with Sāyaṇa’s commentary; Sontakke and Kashikar’s 1946 edition of the text with Sāyaṇa’s commentary, which is now the standard edition of this commentary; and Vishva Bandhu’s 1965 edition of the text with Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava’s commentary, the only other commentary on this part of the Ṛg-veda now available. Next is Ṛg-veda 10.129 as it is repeated in the three main editions the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa at 2.8.9. All three of these include Sāyaṇa’s commentary. Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s commentary is missing on this part of the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, so the 1921 edition with Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s commentary had to substitute Sāyaṇa’s commentary here. Some longer articles, a short book (Agrawala 1963), and some book excerpts follow. Lastly come the individual verses. Verse 10.129.4 is given as it is repeated in the three main editions of the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka. Here we do have Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s commentary, which proved very helpful for interpreting this verse (see translation notes). The other two editions include Sāyaṇa’s commentary.

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1805 H. T. Colebrooke

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1859 anonymous (in Muller)

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1860 pub. 1888 H. H. Wilson

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1863 John Muir

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1870 John Muir

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1875 Monier Williams

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1882 A. E. Gough

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1882 W. D. Whitney

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1886 Adolf Kaegi

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1887 H. W. Wallis

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1892 Ralph Griffith

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1899 Max Muller

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1900 A. A. Macdonell, less v. 5

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1908 M. Bloomfield, less v. 5

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1917 A. A. Macdonell

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1922 A. A. Macdonell

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1923 E. J. Thomas

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1927 M. Winternitz, 1-2, 6-7

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1933 A. Coomaraswamy

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1941 W. Norman Brown

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1956 P. D. Mehta

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1965 Franklin Edgerton

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1965 W. Norman Brown

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1966 A. C. Bose

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1966 Jan Gonda

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1969 P-E. Dumont, T.B.

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1971 Jeanine Miller

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1975 Jean Le Mee

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1975 Walter Maurer

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1976 Antonio de Nicolas

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1977 R. Panikkar

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1981 W. D. O’Flaherty

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1987 Sarasvati & Vidyalankar

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1999 Joel Brereton

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 2007 Hans H. Hock

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 2007 R. L. Kashyap

Rg-veda 10.129 Fre. 1851 A. Langlois

Rg-veda 10.129 Fre. 1956 Louis Renou

Rg-veda 10.129 Fre. 1967 Notes, Renou

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1875 Geldner & Kaegi

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1876 Alfred Ludwig

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1877 H. Grassmann

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1883 Notes, Ludwig

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1887 Lucian Scherman

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1894 Paul Deussen

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1908 Karl Geldner

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1909 Notes, Geldner

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1912 Notes, Oldenberg

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1913 Alfred Hillebrandt

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1951 Karl Geldner

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1964 Paul Thieme

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1863 Th. Aufrecht

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1892 Max Muller 2nd ed.

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1946 Sontakke & Kashikar

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1965 Vishva Bandhu

Rg-veda 10.129 T.B. Skt. 1859 R. Mitra

Rg-veda 10.129 T.B. Skt. 1898 N. Godabole

Rg-veda 10.129 T.B. Skt. 1921 Shama Sastry

Rg-veda 10.129, Edifying Puzzlement, Brereton 1999

Rg-veda 10.129, Hymn of Creation, Agrawala 1963

Rg-veda 10.129, Hymn of Creation, Miller 1971

Rg-veda 10.129, Kosmogonie van, Gonda 1966 Dutch

Rg-veda 10.129, Poet-Philosophers of the Rgveda 1963

Rg-veda 10.129, Re-examination of, Maurer 1975

Rg-veda 10.129, Reflections on, Alfred Collins 1975

Rg-veda 10.129, Sparks from the Vedic Fire 1962

Rg-veda 10.129, Theories of Creation in the Rig Veda, Brown 1965

Rg-veda 10.129.3 Heat in the Rig Veda, Blair 1961

Rg-veda 10.129.4 T.A. Skt. 1872 R. Mitra

Rg-veda 10.129.4 T.A. Skt. 1898 B. Phadake

Rg-veda 10.129.4 T.A. Skt. 1900 Sastri & Rangacarya

Rg-veda 10.129.5 Philosophical Significance, Jwala Prasad 1929

Category: Creation Stories | No comments yet


On the eternal Germ

By Ingmar de Boer on April 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

In The Secret Doctrine, in volume I, stanza II, śloka 5-6 (SD I, 28), the Book of Dzyan speaks of a germ from which the universe is born:



In SD I, 1 we find an explanation of this twofold germ in terms of the symbols displayed on the palm leaves of the archaic document mentioned by HPB in the first lines of the Proem:

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 […], 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.

absolute - 4 - 2The central point in the circle in the second archaic symbol represents the eternal germ. This germ is one of the fundamental aspects of the unmanifested universe. In SD I, 379 we find another important clue as to the nature of the germ:

The spirit of Fire (or Heat), which stirs up, fructifies, and develops into concrete form everything (from its ideal prototype), which is born of WATER or primordial Earth, evolved Brahma — with the Hindus. The lotus flower, represented as growing out of Vishnu’s navel — that God resting on the waters of space and his Serpent of Infinity — is the most graphic allegory ever made: the Universe evolving from the central Sun, the POINT, the ever-concealed germ.

The navel of Viṣṇu is symbolic for the eternal germ, the central point in the Mundane Egg.

From SD I, 381n we learn that we might look for this allegory, or creation story, “in Indian Puranas”:

* In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, who are respectively represented, one as manifesting the lotus, the other as issuing from it.

There are several versions of the story of the birth of Brahmā, for example one of these is found in Manusmṛti chapter I, verses 10-17 and another one in the Mahabhārata book III, section 270. The Manusmṛti version is referred to by HPB in SD I, 333. In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa the story is touched upon several times. In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa however, BhP III.8.10-17, we find a fairly detailed version of the story. In verse 10 in the French 1840 translation of Eugène Burnouf, the primordial state of of the universe is presented like this:

10. Au temps où l’univers tout entier était submergé par les eaux, celui dont les yeux ne se ferment s’abandonna au sommeil, couché sur un lit formé par le Roi des serpents, solitaire, inactif, et trouvant sa dans sa propre béatitude.

We may recognize the waters as the darkness or space from the Book of Dzyan, and the bed formed by the King of serpents, as eternal duration. The serpent in this version of the story is called Śeṣa, and in some other versions it is called Ānanta, meaning endless or eternal. In SD I, 73 we have:

Sesha or Ananta, ‘the couch of Vishnu,’ is an allegorical abstraction, symbolizing infinite Time in Space, which contains the germ and throws off periodically the efflorescence of this germ, the manifested Universe….”.

Viṣṇu’s state of sleep in verse 10 represents pralaya, the tamasic state, a state of inertia. Then there are three qualities attributed to the pralayic state of Viṣṇu: 1. solitaire, 2. inactif, and 3. trouvant sa dans sa propre béatitude. The Sanskrit (see GRETIL: Gaudiya Grantha Mandira) terms here are 1. eka, 2. kṛtakṣaṇa and 3. svātmaratau nirīha:

10. udāplutaṃ viśvam idaṃ tadāsīd yan nidrayāmīlitadṛṅ nyamīlayat
ahīndratalpe ‘dhiśayāna ekaḥ kṛtakṣaṇaḥ svātmaratau nirīhaḥ

The term eka simply means “one”, a term we come across very frequently in volume I of The Secret Doctrine. It is slightly different from Burnouf’s “solitaire”, as it is a more philosophical term indicating primordial unity, rather than isolation or separateness.

Kṛtakṣaṇa would be something like “waiting for the right moment”, composed of kṛta, “done”, and kṣaṇa, “moment”. (Monier-Williams) An alternative “in leisure time”, “waiting”, “pausing”, as opposed to “inactif”, would incorporate the element of time, which is important in subsequent verses. (kāla)

Svātmaratau means “both his own self and delighting”, and nirīha is “indifferent”, “without desire”, “effortless”, or “motionless”, so svātmaratau nirīhaḥ might be translated as “remaining in unity, delighting, without effort”.

In BhP III.8.13-14 the lotus is produced from the navel of Viṣṇu:

13. L’essence subtile, renfermée au sein de celui dont le regard pénètre les molécules élémentaires des choses, agitée par la qualité de la Passion qui s’était développée sous l’influence du temps, sortit, pour créer, de la région de son nombril.

14. Elle s’éleva rapidement sous la forme d’une tige de lotus, par l’action du temps qui réveille les œuvres; ce lotus dont l’Esprit [suprême] est la matrice, éclairait, comme le soleil, de sa splendeur la vaste étendue des eaux.

The corresponding Sanskrit is:

13. tasyārthasūkṣmābhiniviṣṭadṛṣṭer antargato ‘rtho rajasā tanīyān
guṇena kālānugatena viddhaḥ sūṣyaṃs tadābhidyata nābhideśāt

14. sa padmakośaḥ sahasodatiṣṭhat kālena karmapratibodhanena
svarociṣā tat salilaṃ viśālaṃ vidyotayann arka ivātmayoniḥ

The quality of Passion, rajas, stimulates primordial matter, which rises up through the navel taking the form of the bud or stalk of a lotus. (padmakośa)

In verse 13 we have kālānugatena, which is kāla + anugata + -ena, “through acquirement with time” (cf. Monier-Williams), corresponding to Burnouf’s “qui s’était développée sous l’influence du temps”. An alternative would be “after a certain period”, “at a certain time/moment”. In verse 14 we have kālena, “by time”, or “through the workings of time”, “par l’action du temps”, and again an alternative would be the instrumental of time: “in time”, “at a certain moment” or perhaps even HPB’s more poetic “when the hour has struck”.


No. 47.110/60 1 in The National Museum, New Delhi

Returning to the enigmatic quotation from the “Occult Catechism” in SD I, 11:

“What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal Anupadaka.”* “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” [..]

The eternal germ is the principle “that ever was” because it is at any time the origin of the current world process. It is the First Logos, or as we have seen, in terms of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Viṣṇu, or more specifically the navel of Viṣṇu.


Category: Brahma, Creation Stories, Darkness, Duration, Space | 2 comments


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on April 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Part 3: Comparison of Ṛg-veda 10.129 with the Book of Dzyan

Now that we have what I consider to be an adequate basis for comparison, with the translation choices and the reasons for them explained at length, we may proceed with the comparison of Ṛg-veda 10.129 with the Book of Dzyan. We should keep in mind that the Ṛg-veda hymns are poems, not philosophical or scientific treatises. About the handful of Ṛg-veda hymns that may be considered cosmogonic, C. Kunhan Raja writes (Poet-Philosophers of the Ṛgveda, 1963, p. 221):

“They are primarily poetry and they are poetry with a philosophical topic. In the other places we have poetry with a philosophical back-ground. We have only poetry in the Ṛgveda and we never have a text book on any philosophical topic.”

Among the Ṛg-veda hymns that may be considered cosmogonic, e.g., 10.90 to puruṣa, 10.121 to hiraṇya-garbha, 10.81-82 to viśva-karman, and perhaps a few others, 10.129 is unique. It gives a more or less straightforward account of cosmogony, without mythology. It therefore provides us with quite the closest comparison from the Vedas to the Book of Dzyan.

RV 10.129.1. [It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then. There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond. What moved incessantly? Where? In the abode of what? Was [it] water, dense [and] deep?

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, śloka 6: “. . . the Universe, the son of necessity, was immersed in pariniṣpanna, to be outbreathed by that which is and yet is not. Naught was.”; 1.8: “Alone the one form of existence stretched boundless, infinite, causeless, in dreamless sleep; and life pulsated unconscious in universal space, . . .”; 3.2: “. . . the darkness that breathes over the slumbering waters of life.”

In particular, we may compare Ṛg-veda 10.129.1a, “[It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then,” with the phrase in Book of Dzyan 1.6, “that which is and yet is not,” which is further clarified in the following stanza 1.7, “eternal non-being—the one being.” For Ṛg-veda 10.129.1c, “What moved incessantly?,” the “incessantly” is only an attempt to render the sense of “repeated” in the intensive verb “moved,” which sense was rendered by Geldner as “back and forth” (hin und her), by Gonda as “intermittently,” and by Hock as “kept on” moving. The parallel phrase in Book of Dzyan 1.8 is “life pulsated unconscious,” where “pulsated” well shows repeated movement. The “water, dense [and] deep” asked about in Ṛg-veda 10.129.1d may be compared with “the slumbering waters of life” that darkness breathes over in Book of Dzyan 3.2, called in 3.3 “the mother deep.”

RV 10.129.2. There was not death nor life (“non-death”) then. There was no distinguishing sign of night [or] of day. That one breathed without air by [its] inherent power. Other than just that, there was not anything else.

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 2, śloka 2: “. . . No, there was neither silence nor sound; naught save ceaseless eternal breath, which knows itself not.”

According to The Secret Doctrine, “The Great Breath” is “absolute Abstract Motion” (vol. 1, p. 14), which along with “absolute abstract Space” are the two aspects under which the one ultimate principle is symbolized. This breath or motion, the eternal cause, can also be described as force (SD 1.93 fn., speaking of the eternal nidāna or cause, the Oi-Ha-Hou): “. . . it is a term to denote the ceaseless and eternal Cosmic Motion; or rather the Force that moves it, which Force is tacitly accepted as the Deity but never named. It is the eternal kāraṇa, the ever-acting Cause.” This motion or force can also be described as svabhāva, something’s “inherent nature” (The Mahatma Letters, #22, 3rd ed. p. 136): “Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious svabhāva is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” The svadhā, “inherent power” or force by which “that one” breathed without air in Ṛg-veda 10.129.2c, is apparently the svabhāva or “inherent nature” of “that one.”

RV 10.129.3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All this was water without distinguishing sign. That one germ which was covered by the void was born through the power of heat.

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, śloka 5: “Darkness alone filled the boundless all, for father, mother and son were once more one, . . .”; 2.3: “The hour had not yet struck; the ray had not yet flashed into the germ; . . .”; 2.5: “. . . Darkness alone was Father-Mother, svabhāva; and svabhāva was in darkness.”; 2.6: “These two are the Germ, and the Germ is one. . . .”; 3.2: “The vibration sweeps along, touching with its swift wing the whole universe, and the germ that dwelleth in darkness: the darkness that breathes over the slumbering waters of life.”; 3.3: “Darkness radiates light, and light drops one solitary ray into the waters, into the mother deep. The ray shoots through the virgin egg; the ray causes the eternal egg to thrill, and drop the non-eternal germ, which condenses into the world-egg.”

To this we may add a quotation from the “Occult Catechism,” cited in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 11: “What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal aupapāduka (“parentless”).” “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” “Then, there are three Eternals?” “No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one: and this is Space.” This goes along with Book of Dzyan 3.8: “Where was the germ, and where was now darkness? Where is the spirit of the flame that burns in thy lamp, oh Lanoo? The germ is that, and that is light; the white brilliant son of the dark hidden father.”

The parallels with darkness and the germ are self-evident. The “water without distinguishing sign” spoken of here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.3b, “All this was water without distinguishing sign,” may be compared with “the great dark waters” in Book of Dzyan 3.7, “Bright Space Son of Dark Space, which emerges from the depths of the great dark waters,” as opposed to “the great waters” at the end of that stanza that are manifested. In the Book of Dzyan it is light rather than the closely related heat in Ṛg-veda 10.129.3d that produces the cosmos. But in Book of Dzyan 3.6 light is heat, “. . . radiant light, which was fire, and heat, and motion,” and in 3.9 light produces heat, which in turn yields the manifested water: “Light is cold flame, and flame is fire, and fire produces heat, which yields water: the water of life in the great mother.” The manifested water symbolizes manifested matter (SD 1.82), which constitutes the manifested cosmos.

RV 10.129.4. Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which was the first seed of mind. Sages, having searched in the heart with inspired thought, found out [desire to be] the link of the existent in the non-existent.

The parallel of “desire” (kāma) here in this cosmogonic hymn to Eros in the Greek cosmogony has long been noted by Vedic scholars. In The Secret Doctrine, what is parallel to Eros is the otherwise unknown Fohat (vol. 1, p. 109). Fohat is there described as “the mysterious link between Mind and Matter” (1.16). “Fohat, in his capacity of Divine Love (Eros), the electric Power of affinity and sympathy, is shown allegorically as trying to bring the pure Spirit, the Ray inseparable from the ONE absolute, into union with the Soul, the two constituting in Man the Monad, and in Nature the first link between the ever unconditioned and the manifested” (1.119). This is apparently what the sages found out desire to be in Ṛg-veda 10.129.4, “the link of the existent in the non-existent.” How Fohat or desire functions as the link between the non-existent or ever unconditioned and the existent or manifested is poetically pictured in Book of Dzyan 3.12: “Then svabhāva sends Fohat to harden the atoms. . . .”

RV 10.129.5. Their cord was extended across. Was there a below? Was there an above? There were seed-placers, there were powers; inherent power below, impulse above.

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 3, śloka 7: “. . . Behold him lifting the veil and unfurling it from east to west. He shuts out the above, and leaves the below to be seen as the great illusion. . . .”

RV 10.129.6. Who really knows? Who here can say? From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation? The gods are later than the manifestation of this [cosmos]. Then who knows from what [it] has come into being?

RV 10.129.7. From what this manifestation has come into being, whether [it] was made or whether not, its overseer who is in the highest heaven, he surely knows; or else [he] knows not.

As I hope will be obvious to all who read this, there are close parallels between Ṛg-veda 10.129 and the Book of Dzyan; e.g., what is neither non-existent nor existent, its breathing, darkness, etc. It is true that Blavatsky had access to the anonymous translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129 published by Max Müller in 1859, and even quoted five of its seven verses in The Secret Doctrine facing the opening of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan. However, a reader not knowing the source of either would far more likely conclude that the brief Ṛg-veda 10.129 was derived from the extensive stanzas of the Book of Dzyan than that the latter were elaborated from Ṛg-veda 10.129.

Now, what can be gained by this comparison? The fact is that the meanings of many Vedic words given in our European language Sanskrit dictionaries are guesses, and likewise the meanings of many Vedic words given in the Sāyaṇa Sanskrit commentaries on the Vedas are also guesses. Comparison with the Book of Dzyan clarifies some of these meanings, providing a new source of information that is no less helpful than guesses based on context or guesses based on late Indian tradition. Conversely, comparison with Ṛg-veda 10.129 shows us the oldest known formulation of what are obviously many of the very same ideas. These ideas, according to ancient Indian tradition, are not the speculations of fledgling philosophers, but rather are the result of the direct spiritual vision of advanced sages, coming down to us from an age of truth.

Category: Creation Stories | 2 comments


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on April 2, 2013 at 1:44 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued and concluded)

RV 10.129.6a: kó addhá̄ veda ká ihá prá vocat, “Who really knows? Who here can say?” As listed in Maurice Bloomfield’s Rig-Veda Repetitions (p. 482), this verse quarter is also found in Ṛg-veda 3.54.5a. Verse 3.54.5 is, as translated by Griffith: “What pathway leadeth to the Gods? Who knoweth this of a truth, and who will now declare it? Seen are their lowest dwelling-places only, but they are in remote and secret regions.” Other verses ask the same two questions, using mostly the same words, but with small variations. For example, Ṛg-veda 1.164.18, as translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala (Vision in Long Darkness, p. 68): “Beneath the Upper Realm and above the Lower One, who knows the father of this Calf? Who as a Sage putting his thoughts into verses has been able to declare whence hath the godlike Mind originated.”

The exact sense of indeclinables such as addhā, here translated as “really,” is sometimes hard to determine. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses it nicely as pāramārthyena, “ultimately.”

RV 10.129.6b: kúta á̄jātā kúta iyáṃ vísṛṣṭiḥ, “From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation?” The word visṛṣṭi is often translated as “creation.” I think this is a good translation as long as one sees it as creation out of something, like creating a pot out of clay. Because “creation” is often associated in Western culture as the creation of the world out of nothing, a number of translators have preferred other words, such as the more literal “emanation.” I have used “manifestation” for visṛṣṭi.

The usual form of the word for creation or manifestation is sṛṣṭi, without the prefix vi-. Gonda apparently came to regard visṛṣṭi in this verse as referring not to just “creation,” but rather to “secondary creation,” as he translated it in his 1983 article, “The Creator and his Spirit” (p. 33, fn. 138): “According to ṚV 10, 121, 9 he [Prajāpati] created earth, sky and waters, the ‘secondary creation’ (visṛṣṭi) of 10, 129, 6.” In his 1966 translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129 (p. 696), Gonda had translated visṛṣṭi as “creation-in-differentiation” and “creation (emanation)-in-differentiation.” Primary and secondary creation are distinguished in the purāṇas.

The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries understand the two occurrences of kutaḥ, “from where,” as asking from what upādāna-kāraṇa, “material cause,” and from what nimitta-kāraṇa, “instrumental cause.” These terms are often used in Indian philosophical texts, so their meaning is taken for granted in the Sāyaṇa commentaries. Using the analogy of a pot, the material cause is the clay, and the instrumental cause is the potter.

RV 10.129.6c: arvá̄g devá̄ asyá visárjanena, “The gods are later than the manifestation of this [cosmos].” The word visarjana is a synonym of visṛṣṭi, so I have also translated it as “manifestation.” We here have it in the instrumental case, visarjanena, going with arvāk, “afterwards, later.” Expressions with arvāk normally use the ablative case, but we occasionally see other cases used with it if required by the meter. I have here translated the instrumental visarjanena in the ablative sense, “than the manifestation.”

RV 10.129.6d: áthā kó veda yáta ābabhú̄va, “Then who knows from what [it] has come into being?” We here see a common feature of Vedic verse: the lengthening of final vowels in order to fit the meter. The indeclinable word atha has here become athā, just like vyoma became vyomā in 10.129.1b. That this has occurred is confirmed in the pada-pāṭha, which gives the words without the lengthened final vowel.

RV 10.129.7ab: iyáṃ vísṛṣṭir yáta ābabhú̄va yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná, “From what this manifestation has come into being, whether [it] was made or whether not.” The big question in understanding this verse pertains to the verb dadhe, “produced, made, established, upheld.” No subject is stated, and one must be supplied for it. Moreover, the intended voice of this perfect tense middle voice verb is uncertain, since the middle voice may also be used in a passive voice sense (William Dwight Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar, p. 201, paragraph 531, and p. 361, para. 998c-d; A. A. Macdonell, Vedic Grammar, p. 312, para. 410.A.a, and A Vedic Grammar for Students, p. 117, para. 121; see also Maurice Bloomfield and Franklin Edgerton, Vedic Variants, vol. I: The Verb, pp. 51-52). If taken in the middle voice sense, an object must also be supplied for this transitive verb. The whole question of the meaning and usage of the middle voice in the Ṛg-veda, and why it often appears to be used in a passive sense, was studied in detail by Jan Gonda in his 1979 book, The Medium in the Ṛgveda. His conclusion that it may best be described as an “eventive” voice will be discussed below, in relation to this verse, after considering the more immediate question of what the subject of dadhe is here.

Among 36 English translations, a majority (17) supply “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding words, iyaṃ visṛṣṭi, “this creation/manifestation.” A minority (11) supply “he” as the subject, referring to the words adhyakṣa, “overseer,” and saḥ, “he,” from the next line. A few (5) supply a generic “any one,” or “any,” or “one” as the subject, not referring either to the preceding “this” or the following “he.” A few (3) supply “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this creation came into being.” The German translation by Karl Geldner (1951) supplies “he” as the subject and takes the verb dadhe in its middle voice sense. The German translation by Paul Thieme (1964) and the French translation by Louis Renou (1956, 1967) supply “it” as the subject and take the verb dadhe in a passive voice sense. Among the three extant Sanskrit commentaries, Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava and the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary supply “he” (saḥ) as the subject. The former explains “he” as the sraṣṭṛ, the “creator,” and the latter explains “he” as paramātman, the “supreme self,” and then as īśvara, “God.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary supplies “that” (tat) as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this manifestation has come into being,” explained as the upādāna-kāraṇa, the “material cause.”

I have accepted the impersonal pronoun “it” rather than the personal pronoun “he” as the unstated subject of the verb dadhe here. This is because there is no indication in the previous verses of anything but an evolutionary process of creation or manifestation, nothing that would require the involvement or direction of a personal being as creator. I see no reason to believe that this early hymn had God under consideration as the maker of the cosmos (see my article: “God’s Arrival in India”). If the adhyakṣa, “overseer,” from the next line was the creator, one would have expected him to appear at the beginning of this hymn, not at the end. This is to say nothing of the question posed in this last verse as to whether or not even he knows from what this manifestation has come into being.

Those who supply “he” as the subject take the verb dadhe in its middle voice sense, “he produced, made, established, upheld,” and also supply an object, “it” (this creation); saying, “whether he made it or whether not.” Those who supply “any one” as the subject do the same; saying, “whether any one made it or whether not.” Those who supply “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this creation came into being,” do the same; saying, “whether it (that from which this creation came into being) made it (this creation) or whether not” (so Bose 1966: “whether It had held it together or It had not”; verbatim except for the capital letters in de Nicolás 1976; nearly the same in Panikkar 1977: “whether it held it firm or it did not”).

Those who supply “it” as the subject, referring to “this creation or manifestation,” usually take the verb dadhe in a passive sense, “it was produced, was made, was established, was upheld”; saying, “whether it was made or whether not.” No object is stated in a passive construction (since the object has become the subject). A few who supply “it” as the subject, referring to “this creation or manifestation,” take the verb dadhe in its middle voice sense, and also supply an object, “itself”; saying, “whether it made itself or whether not” (Whitney 1882; Bloomfield 1908; Edgerton 1965 only in a footnote: “perhaps, ‘established itself’”; O’Flaherty 1981: “whether it formed itself”). Here the reflexive sense of the middle (ātmane-pada) voice, where the action is directed back on itself, is expressed by the word “itself.” In the translations that supply “he” as the subject (11), or “any one” as the subject (5), or “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this creation came into being” (3), the reflexive sense of the middle voice is not expressed. The reflexive sense in these cases would be, “he made it for himself.”

When the verb dadhe is taken in a passive sense, “it was produced, made, established, upheld,” no agency is expressed in these translations (even though it could be). The action could be done automatically or by itself (saying, “it was made by itself”), or by some unspecified other (“by it” or “by him”) or a host of others (“by them”). The agentless passive reading, as stated by Maurer (1975, p. 234), “by omitting all mention of the agency, might imply either the kind of evolution which has been the principal subject of the hymn or some cosmic agency, not necessarily the overseer, however.” When the verb dadhe is taken in its middle sense, and accepting “it” rather than “he” as the subject, it pretty much has to be understood as “it made itself.” This, as already stated, expresses the reflexive sense of the middle (ātmane-pada) voice. This is apparently how W. Norman Brown took it in his two translations (1941, 1965), “whether spontaneously or not.” While I find the middle sense as “[it] made [itself]” quite plausible as what the hymn intended, I have opted for translating dadhe in an agentless passive sense, “[it] was made,” as allowing for a wider range of possibilities.

The need to translate middle voice verbs in many cases as if they were passive voice verbs has long been apparent. This led researchers to try to determine more accurately the precise function of the middle voice in ancient Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit. Jan Gonda concluded that the middle voice is best understood as an “eventive” voice. In his 1960 article, “Reflections on the Indo-European Medium,” he explains what he means by this: “The hypothesis seems to be plausible that a widespread use was already in prehistoric times made of the middle forms to indicate that something comes or happens to a person (or object), befalls him, takes place in the person of the subject so as to affect him etc., without any agens being mentioned, implied, or even known. Very often the subject is a person or other living being and the process may take place even contrary to his wishes, unintentionally, more or less automatically. In the ancient periods of the I.-E. languages this use was very frequent.” (Lingua, vol. 9, 1960, p. 49; reprinted in his Selected Studies, vol. 1, 1975, p. 126). Gonda relates this definition to the known reflexive sense of the middle voice (p. 66 or p. 143): “On the strength of the preceding considerations the hypothesis seems therefore justified that the ‘original’ or ‘essential’ function of the medial voice was not exactly to signify that the subject ‘performs a process that is performed in himself’, but to denote that a process is taking place with regard to, or is affecting, happening to, a person or a thing.”

The above-quoted study by Gonda covered middle voice verbs in the whole range of Indo-European languages, and included many examples from ancient Greek, etc., besides Sanskrit. Gonda then went on to study all the occurrences of middle voice verbs in just the Ṛg-veda. Gonda opens his 1979 book, The Medium in the Ṛgveda, by re-stating his definition of the “eventive” middle voice (pp. 1-2): “this diathesis primarily or essentially served to indicate that a process is taking place with regard to a person who, or thing which, is the subject; that it happens to a person or an object, befalls him (it), is at work in the person or thing which is subject of the sentence so as to affect (it); that that person etc. is in a definite physical or mental condition or in a certain set of circumstances etc., without any agens being mentioned, implied, or even known. Very often the subject is a person or other living being and the process may take place spontaneously, unintentionally, more or less automatically, even contrary to the subject’s wishes.” This voice is not easy for us to understand, or to express in English. This is because, as noted by Gonda partially quoting another writer (p. 3, fn. 10): “the fact that ‘the mode of thought and expression’ that is characteristic of modern English ‘which has no distinction of voices as Sanskrit and Greek possess’ often precludes ‘the possibility of thinking from the standpoint of the (ancient) Indians’.”

Among the many examples of the “eventive” character of the middle voice, Gonda gives the passage here under discussion from Ṛg-veda 10.129.7. This illustrates a way to translate the middle voice verb dadhe as an eventive. He quotes this (p. 19) from his 1966 translation: “this creation (emanation)-in-differentiation . . . , whether it is the result of an act of founding (establishing: yádi vā dadhé) or not . . .” The case that Gonda has made for the middle voice being an eventive voice is thorough and, I think, conclusive. While I fully accept Gonda’s explanation of the middle voice as an eventive voice, I have chosen to translate this phrase using an agentless English passive, “was made” (“whether [it] was made or whether not”), in order to avoid a rather lengthy paraphrase of the verb as “is the result of an act of founding.” Like the eventive, which is used without any agent being mentioned, implied, or even known, a passive can also be used without an agent. This, it seems to me, is the main point here in this verse.

RV 10.129.7c: yó asyá̄dhyakṣaḥ paramé výoman, “its overseer who is in the highest heaven.” The noun adhyakṣa is most often translated fairly literally as “overseer.” Here the prefix adhi (adhy) means “over,” and akṣa, “eye,” means “seer.” Like the English word overseer, the Sanskrit word adhyakṣa has the meanings “controller,” “supervisor,” “the one in charge,” etc. However, it may be intended here simply as “surveyor,” “one who surveys,” as some have translated it. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses it quite literally as adhidraṣṭṛ, “overseer.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses it as īśvara, “God.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses it as svāmī, “master.”

The word vyoman has been taken as a locative, as if vyomani, “in the heaven,” agreeing with the locative parame, “in the highest.” The apparently elided final “i” of vyoman as a locative is not uncommon in Vedic verse. For example, in Ṛg-veda 10.5.7, we see the same phrase, parame vyoman, “in the highest heaven.”

RV 10.129.7d: só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda, “he surely knows; or else [he] knows not.” The particle aṅga can mean “just, only,” or “indeed, surely,” and translators have to choose one or the other. Either one could be intended. It is taken as “just, only,” in Sāyaṇa’s Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary, where it is glossed as eva, while it is taken as “indeed, surely,” in Sāyaṇa’s Ṛg-veda commentary, where it is defined as prasiddhau, and glossed as api nāma. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava does not gloss it. It can also be a vocative, sometimes translated as “sir” (Kunhan Raja takes it this way here), “dear one,” etc.

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Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause

By Ingmar de Boer on March 31, 2013 at 5:24 pm

In SD I, 280 we find that by HPB the “Causeless Cause of All Causes” is identified with kāraṇa:

The ever unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart — invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through “the still small voice” of our spiritual consciousness.

As we have seen in The footnote in SD I, 14-15, the “Causeless One Cause”, the “Rootless Root” is the unmanifested Logos, which we have called the First Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

In SD I, 41 (explaining stanza I śloka 5) is stated that in the period of pralaya, when the universe has returned to its “one primal and eternal cause”, that

“Karana” — eternal cause — was alone.

In SD I, 93 we find in stanza IV śloka 4 the “eternal nidana”, or nidāna, which is a Sanskrit word for cause, the first cause in particular, or the cause of existence (cf. Monier-Williams), which in stanza IV śloka 5 is identified with “’DARKNESS,’ […], ADI-NIDANA SVABHAVAT”. In the note in SD I, 93n we find an explanation of the word nidāna:

* […] but in this instance, it is a term to denote the ceaseless and eternal Cosmic Motion; or rather the Force that moves it, which Force is tacitly accepted as the Deity but never named. It is the eternal Karana, the ever-acting Cause.

Here, nidāna is identified with kāraṇa, and with the “force” resulting in cosmic motion. The concept of abstract motion is, together with abstract space and abstract duration, one of the central concepts in the esoteric philosophy presented in The Secret Doctrine. In the Book of Dzyan, this unmanifested aspect behind cosmic motion is symbolised as the great breath, while cosmic motion itself is called the divine breath.

In SD II, 46 we find out some more about kāraṇa, in a quotation from the “Commentary”:

“After the changeless (avikâra) immutable nature (Essence, sadaikarûpa) had awakened and changed (differentiated) into (a state of) causality (avayakta), and from cause (Karana) had become its own discrete effect (vyakta), from invisible it became visible. The smallest of the small (the most atomic of atoms, or aniyâmsam aniyâsam) became one and the many (ekanekárûpa); and producing the Universe produced also the Fourth Loka (our Earth) in the garland of the seven lotuses. The Achyuta then became the Chyuta.*

We see that kāraṇa itself changes into its own effect, which is called vyakta, a term generally indicating that which is manifested, or the manifested universe, but another one of its meanings (as an adjective) is visible, apparent or caused to appear.  (Monier-Williams)

In the Viṣṇupurāṇa (VP), in the 1840 translation of Horace H. Wilson, which was regularly consulted by HPB, we find in Book I chapter II page 8, in Wilson’s notes, explanations of the Sanskrit terms from the quotation of the Commentary:

2. This address to Vishńu pursues the notion that he, as the supreme being, is one, whilst he is all: he is Avikára, not subject to change; Sadaikarúpa, one invariable nature: he is the liberator (tára), or he who bears mortals across the ocean of existence: he is both single and manifold (ekánekarúpa): and he is the indiscrete (avyakta) cause of the world, as well as the discrete (vyakta) effect; or the invisible cause, and visible creation.


4. Ańíyánsam ańíyasám, ‘the most atomic of the atomic;’ alluding to the atomic theory of the Nyáya or logical school.

5. Or Achyuta; a common name of Vishńu, from a, privative, and chyuta, fallen; according to our comment, ‘he who does not perish with created things.’ The Mahábhárata interprets it in one place to mean, ‘he who is not distinct from final emancipation;’ and in another to signify, ‘exempt from decay’. A commentator on the Káśikhańd́a of the Skánda Puráńa explains it, ‘he who never declines (or varies) from his own proper nature.’

What it means that we find these terms here in one page in Wilson’s notes is, I think, open for debate.

In the text of the Viṣṇupurāṇa (VP I.II.1-5) we can try to identify the terms from the quotation of SD II, 46:

avikâra avikāra
sadaikarûpa sadaikarūpa
avayakta [sic] avyakta
karana kāraṇa
vyakta vyakta
aniyâmsam aniyâsam aṇīyāṃsamaṇīyasam
ekanekárûpa ekāneka(sva)rūpa
achyuta acyuta
chyuta cyuta

The idea of the Causeless Cause, or the cause, kāraṇa, becoming its own effect, vyakta, is formulated by Wilson in note 3 on page 8:

The world is therefore not regarded by the Pauranics as an emanation or an illusion, but as consubstantial with its first cause.

Of course much more could be said about this passage in the VP, relating to the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan, an example being that in VP I.II.4, Viṣṇu is called mūlabhūta, the root of the world (Wilson), a term found in stanza II śloka 1 (SD I, 53).

Returning to our theme here, we might turn to another location in the stanzas, in SD I, 107-108, stanza V śloka 2:


In HPB’s extensive commentary to (c) we find (in SD I, 109):

When the “Divine Son” breaks forth, then Fohat becomes the propelling force, the active Power which causes the ONE to become TWO and THREE — on the Cosmic plane of manifestation. The triple One differentiates into the many, and then Fohat is transformed into that force which brings together the elemental atoms and makes them aggregate and combine.

and (in SD I, 110):

By the action of the manifested Wisdom, or Mahat, represented by these innumerable centres of spiritual Energy in the Kosmos, the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation, becomes objectively the Fohat of the Buddhist esoteric philosopher. Fohat, running along the seven principles of AKASA, acts upon manifested substance or the One Element, as declared above, and by differentiating it into various centres of Energy, sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution, which, in obedience to the Ideation of the Universal Mind, brings into existence all the various states of being in the manifested Solar System.

Combining the phrase “THE DZYU BECOMES FOHAT “ from stanza V śloka 2 with this last quote, we must conclude that the dzyu is identical to “the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation”. Dzyu becomes fohat “when the ‘Divine Son’ breaks forth”, i.e. at the moment the universe comes into manifestation, so we can conclude that dzyu is the unmanifested principle which is at the basis of fohat, the (manifested) “propelling force” which “sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution”. This principle is of course kāraṇa, which is, as we have seen, the “force” resulting in cosmic motion, or the principle of abstract motion, in the Book of Dzyan symbolised as the great breath.


Category: Causeless Cause, Divine Breath, Fohat, Great Breath, Karana, Motion, Nidana, Root of the World, Vyakta | 2 comments


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on at 5:29 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued)

RV 10.129.5: This verse is repeated in the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, i.e., the Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā, in both the Mādhyandina recension at 33.74, and in the Kāṇva recension at 32.6.5 (or 32.74).

RV 10.129.5a: tiraścí̄no vítato raśmír eṣām, “Their cord was extended across.” The word raśmi can mean “cord, string, rope,” or it can mean “ray,” as in a ray of light. The two Sāyaṇa commentaries accept “ray,” while most translators accept “cord” (Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava does not gloss it).  I have accepted “cord” because of parallels to two Atharva-veda hymns among the small number that pertain to this subject matter. In Atharva-veda 10.8.37-38 the phrase sūtram vitatam, “extended/stretched thread,” (in which created beings are woven) occurs twice. This phrase is directly parallel to the phrase here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5, vitato raśmi (“extended cord”), and would incline us to take raśmi as a cord rather than as a ray. In Atharva-veda 13.1.6 the supreme parameṣṭhin stretched out (tatāna) the tantu, the “thread/cord,” after rohita gave birth to heaven and earth. Here we have not only a stretched out thread or cord, but even the ideas around it are parallel.

These Atharva-veda parallels were noticed already by Lucian Scherman in his 1887 book, Philosophische Hymnen aus der Rig- und Atharva-Veda-Sanhitâ. He there (p. 10) gave a partial German translation of Atharva-veda verses 10.8.37, 13.1.6, and 2.1.5, all of which speak of an extended or stretched thread (German “Faden”). The first reference, to 10.8.37, was picked up and repeated by Hermann Oldenberg in his Ṛgveda: Textkritische und exegetische Noten (vol. 2, 1912, p. 347), by A. A. Macdonell in his Vedic Reader for Students (1917, p. 210), and also by Karl Geldner in his German translation of the Rig-Veda (vol. 3, 1951, p. 360, note on 5a). A full English translation of Atharva-veda verses 10.8.37-38 was given by Jwala Prasad in his article, “The Philosophical Significance of Ṛgveda X, 129, 5, and Verses of an Allied Nature” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1929, pp. 586-599, attached), p. 596:

“One who would know the stretched thread across which these creatures are woven; one who would know the thread of this thread, it is he who would know the great Brāhmaṇa.”

“I know the stretched thread across which these creatures are woven, I know the thread of this thread, hence (I know) that which is great Brāhmaṇa.”

Atharva-veda hymn 10.8 appears to be a continuation of the somewhat cosmological hymn 10.7 describing skambha. Skambha means “prop, support, pillar,” and is understood to be the “frame” of creation, as translated by William Dwight Whitney (1905). Hymn 10.7 is cosmological in the sense that skambha is the all, the entire universe, whose parts are its parts. Skambha is therefore in one sense the same as the ultimate brahman or ātman. The Atharvavedīya Bṛhat Sarvānukramaṇikā gives the “deity” (devatā) or subject of each hymn. For hymn 10.7 it gives “skambha or adhyātma,” and for hymn 10.8 it gives “adhyātma” (ed. Vishva Bandhu, 1966, pp. 83, 84). Adhyātma refers to the ātman or to the inner side of things. There was once an adhyātma school of Vedic interpretation (see the important article on this: “The Vedas and Adhyātma Tradition,” by Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Indian Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, Jan. 1939, pp. 285-292, attached). Atharva-veda verse 10.7.28 says that in the beginning skambha poured forth the golden germ (hiraṇya-garbha). In verse 10.7.34 wind or air is the breath of skambha. In verses 10.7.17 and 10.8.20 the “great Brāhmaṇa” spoken of in the verses 37-38 quoted above is apparently identified with skambha.

A brief English summary followed by a translation of most of Atharva-veda hymn 10.7 and part of hymn 10.8 was given by John Muir in his Original Sanskrit Texts, vol. 5, 1870, pp. 378-386, in the section titled, “Skambha and Brahma.” This preceded the first published English translation of the whole Atharva-veda by Ralph Griffith (1895-1896), and the posthumously published full translation (less chap. 20) by Whitney already mentioned (1905), both made independently of each other. Four more English translations of the Atharva-veda have been published. Three of these are connected with the Ārya Samāj and were made in accordance with the monotheistic interpretation of the Vedas put forward in the late 1800s by Svāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī. These are by Devi Chand (1982), Vaidya Nath Shastri (2 vols., 1984), and Satya Prakash Sarasvati (5 vols., 1992, less chap. 20). Devi Chand translates verse 10.8.38 as: “I know the Vast Matter, on which all these creatures are strung. I know the Efficient Cause of Matter, Who is God the Almighty.” The translation by R. L. Kashyap (6 vols., 2010-2012) was made in accordance with the psychological interpretation of the Vedas put forward by Sri Aurobindo.

What I regard as the best of the three references given by Scherman, Atharva-veda verse 13.1.6, does not seem to have been picked up by Vedic scholars. Atharva-veda hymn 13.1 is about rohita, the “red,” referring to something that is common to both fire and the sun (yet it is not either of these per se, both of which have many Vedic hymns addressed to them individually as agni (fire) and sūrya (sun), etc.). Verse 13.1.6 first says that rohita gave birth to heaven and earth, placing us in the same setting at the beginning of creation as in Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129. It then speaks of the tantu, the “thread, cord, line, web,” that the supreme parameṣṭhin stretched out (tatāna). This hymn 13.1, like hymns 10.7 and 10.8, also has adhyātma as its “deity” (devatā) or subject, and is thus about the inner or higher side of things. Interestingly, the ṛṣi or seer of Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129 is Prajāpati parameṣṭhin, explained by Sāyaṇa as Prajāpati named Parameṣṭhin; i.e., the supreme as the Lord of Progeny. This is the same term as the parameṣṭhin here in Atharva-veda 13.1.6 who stretched out the thread or cord. Verse 13.1.6 may be translated as follows:

“The red (rohita) gave birth to heaven and earth. There the supreme (parameṣṭhin) stretched out the thread (tantu). There reposed the unborn (aja) one-footed (eka-pāda). [It] established heaven and earth by [its] strength.”

I have translated this verse with reference to the eight existing English translations known to me. The verb śiśriye in 13.1.6c, like the verb dadhe in Ṛg-veda 10.129.7b (see below), is a perfect tense middle voice verb that can be understood as a passive voice verb (or better, the middle voice should be understood as what Jan Gonda calls an “eventive” voice; see below). Three translators took this verb in a passive sense: Muir (1870, “was sustained”), Whitney (1905, “was supported”), and Kashyap (2010, “was supported”) following Whitney. Like the other five translators, I did not take this verb in a passive sense. My translation, “reposed,” reflects the perfect tense (a past tense) as do those of Bloomfield (1897, “did fix himself”) and Sarasvati (1992, “has taken shelter”), and follows the meaning given by Griffith (1896, “reposeth”), and Shastri (1984, “lies”). The other translation, Chand (1982, “pervades”), is more of a paraphrase. The subject of this verb is aja eka-pāda, translated by me as the “unborn” (aja) “one-footed” (eka-pāda). Some translators take aja in its other meaning, “goat,” thus translating, “the one-footed goat.” It is because I took aja as the “unborn” rather than as a “goat” that I did not take the verb śiśriye in a passive sense.  The verb in 13.1.6d, adṛṃhat, given by me as “established” (in agreement with Muir, 1870; Griffith, 1896; Chand, 1982), can also be understood as “made firm” (Whitney, 1905; Bloomfield, 1897; Sarasvati, 1992; Kashyap, 2010), or “holds firm” (Shastri, 1984).

The third reference given by Scherman in 1887 is to Atharva-veda verse 2.1.5. Hymn 2.1 has brahmātma as its “deity” (devatā) or subject, so it is also concerned with the inner or higher side of things. Verse 2.1.5 speaks of the ṛtasya tantuṃ vitatam, the “extended/stretched thread of the cosmic order (ṛta),” that the speaker of the hymn beholds. This gives us a third parallel to the Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 phrase, vitato raśmi (“extended cord”). The rest of the verse, however, is not clear. It speaks of gods (deva), their immortality, and moving in some way in a common birthplace or origin (yoni). Because of its obscurity of meaning, I have not counted this verse as a parallel used by me. Similarly, there is a possible but uncertain parallel in the famous hymn Ṛg-veda 1.164, whose verse 5 speaks of the sages (kavi) stretching out seven threads (tantu). This verse is, as translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala (Vision in Long Darkness, 1963, p. 31):

“Immature in understanding, undiscerning in spirit, I ask where the stations of the Gods exist. When the Calf had become the yearling, the Sages [kavi] spread the Seven Threads [tantu] to form a web.”

The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries take raśmi as a “ray,” both comparing it to a ray of the sun (sūrya-raśmi). In order to comprehend what it is a ray of, we have to know how these two commentaries take the pronoun eṣām, “of them, their.” For most translators, the obvious referent for this pronoun is the sages (kavi) from the immediately preceding verse quarter. In support of this, Geldner (1951) gives references to Ṛg-veda 1.159.4 and 10.5.3d. Checking these, we see that they both refer to a thread (tantu) of the sages (kavi). In the translation by Griffith (1892), the first reference says: “They, the refulgent Sages, weave within the sky, yea, in the depths of sea, a web for ever new.” The second reference says: “they wove the Sage’s thread with insight.” Jwala Prasad in his article on this verse (1929, pp. 594-595) provides evidence that the sages or kavis referred to are the Vedic deities called the Ṛbhus. The Ṛbhus are called kavis, being skillful workmen, and according to Ṛg-veda 4.34.9 they divided the universe into heaven and earth. The Sāyaṇa commentaries, however, do not take the pronoun eṣām here as referring to the sages (kavi).

According to the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary on 10.129.5, the pronoun eṣām, “of them,” refers to avidyā-kāma-karmaṇām, “of ignorance, desire, and karma.” These three, made by beings in the previous manifestation of the cosmos, are the cause of the creation or emanation of the about to be manifested cosmos. The raśmi, “ray,” is of these; it is the ray of ignorance, desire, and karma. It is the kārya-varga, the “multitude of effects,” produced by these three causes. It is therefore the “created universe,” as paraphrased by Jwala Prasad (1929, p. 598). This Sāyaṇa commentary says: “Just as a ray of the sun, immediately upon arising, in a mere wink pervades the whole world all at once, so this ray, which is the multitude of effects, quickly pervading everything, was extended or spread out.” Here the questions asked in the next verse quarter, “Was there a below? Was there an above?,” are also being explained. Because this ray of karmic effects manifests so quickly, it is hardly possible to determine a sequence of above or below in the manifestation of the cosmos.

The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary gives us yet another take on the pronoun eṣām and the raśmi as a “ray.” It says that the ray (raśmi), the same as a ray of the sun (sūrya-raśmi-samāna), is a certain light of itself (svayam-prakāśa), something that is consciousness (caitanya-padārtha). The pronoun “of them” refers to everything that makes up the world (jagad-vastu), in the form of the elements and what is made of the elements (bhūta-bhautika-rūpa). So the ray is the paramātman or highest self, in the form of consciousness (caitanya-rūpa), that pervades everything. It is the light (prakāśa) that shines in everything. The questions asked in the next verse quarter, “Was there a below? Was there an above?,” are explained accordingly. Because the ray of the light of consciousness is shining in everything, it is not possible to speak of it in one particular place such as above or below.

Related to the idea of a “ray” of consciousness, a few translators have understood raśmi here as a “line” of thought or a “line” of vision of the mind’s eye (e.g., Maurer 1975, pp. 228, 230: “their line (of vision)”).

RV 10.129.5b: adháḥ svid āsí̄3d upári svid āsī3t, “Was there a below? Was there an above?” As noted under 10.129.1d, the questions made by interrogatives in Sanskrit can be understood in more than one way. Thus, this could also be asking, “Was [it] below? Was [it] above?,” etc. For the interpretations of the two Sāyaṇa commentaries on what these questions are asking about, see the paragraphs immediately above.

RV 10.129.5c: retodhá̄ āsan mahimá̄na āsan, “There were seed-placers, there were powers.” The two nouns in this verse quarter are etymologically clear, but exactly what they refer to is unclear. For the noun retodhāḥ, “seed-placers,” consisting of retas + dhā, the meaning of retas (“seed, semen, rain”) has been discussed under 10.129.4b. The verb-root dhā means primarily to “put” or “place.” It can also mean to “bear,” so that retodhāḥ could also be translated as “seed-bearers.” Who or what, specifically, does this term refer to? It can refer to Agni (Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, to Soma (Ṛg-veda 9.86.39), to Soma as the moon (Maitrāyaṇī-saṃhitā 1.6.9), to bulls (Ṛg-veda 5.69.2), to rain as a bull (Ṛg-veda 7.101.6), etc. It may be generic here. Retodhāḥ has also been translated as “impregnators” or as “fathers.”

The noun mahimānaḥ means literally, “greatnesses.” It can refer to “mighty forces” or “powers,” as I have translated it here, and as I have translated it or its synonym mahinā in 10.129.3d. These “greatnesses” or “powers” can also be the “mighty ones,” the “gods” (deva) of the Vedic pantheon, as for example in Ṛg-veda 1.164.50: “By means of yajña the gods [devāḥ] performed their yajña: those were the primeval ordinances. Those mighty ones [mahimānaḥ] attained the height of heaven, where the Sādhya Gods of old dwell.” (translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Vision in Long Darkness, p. 193). Indeed, the Vedic gods have long been equated with powers. See on this the 1957 book by Jan Gonda, Some Observations on the Relations between “Gods” and “Powers” in the Veda, a propos of the Phrase sūnuḥ sahasaḥ. Gonda there writes (p. 32): “It is clear that a mighty person and his specific might were—like a god and his śakti- in later times, when the latter was considered his spouse—conceived as a kind of ‘unité-dualité’, as a pair of complements forming unity.” Again, referring to names of deities such as sahasaḥ sūnuḥ, “son of power,” for Agni, Gonda writes (p. 50):

“The idea underlying these names is, irrespective of the vagueness of the conception of the divine powers, no doubt the conviction that every superhuman potency or phenomenon has two aspects, which can for the sake of simplicity be called ‘personal’ and ‘impersonal’, or—to express it otherwise—the belief that there must be sentient and rational beings ‘possessing’, supervising and representing the mighty and often dangerous powers which make their presence felt in the universe, beings which, if need be, can dispose of these powers.”

RV 10.129.5d: svadhá̄ avástāt práyatiḥ parástāt, “inherent power below, impulse above.” The word svadhā, which I have translated as “inherent power,” has been discussed above under 10.129.2.c. What is the inherent power by which the “one” breathed without air could be simply “force” below. I have retained “inherent power” for consistency of translation.

The noun prayati, tentatively taken by me as “impulse,” vies with ābhu for being the least understood word in the hymn (with svadhā being a close third). Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses prayati as yajamānānāṃ pradānam, the “offering of the sacrificers,” and glosses the preceding svadhā (which I have taken as “inherent power,” as in verse 2) as udakam, “water.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses prayati as bhoktā (bhoktṛ), the “enjoyer, eater, experiencer,” referring to the preceding svadhā, which he here glosses as anna, “food,” and this as bhogya, what is “to be enjoyed, eaten, experienced.” It may be noted that the strange-sounding glosses of svadhā as udaka, “water,” by Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava, and as anna, “food,” by Sāyaṇa, have their basis in the ancient Vedic word-list called the Nighaṇṭu, where svadhā occurs at 1.12 in a list of names for udaka, “water,” and at 2.7 in a list of names for anna, “food.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses prayati as paramātmā (paramātman), the “highest self,” in a complementary pair with the preceding svadhā, which he glosses as māyā, “illusion,” or avidyā, “ignorance,” and this as pārameśvarī śakti, the feminine “highest god power,” the power of paramātman, the “highest self.” He then compares the two of them as śakti, “power,” and paramātman, the “highest self,” to prakṛti, “matter, substance,” and puruṣa, “spirit,” respectively.

The existing English translations of prayati in this hymn are similarly diverse. Starting with the most recent, these are: Kashyap 2007, “purpose”; Hock 2007, “will”; Brereton 1999, “offering”; Sarasvati & Vidyalankar 1987, “the creator’s effort”; O’Flaherty 1981, “giving-forth”; Panikkar 1977, “forward move”; de Nicolás 1976, [not translated?, typographical error?]; Maurer 1975, “impulse”; Le Mee 1975, “the Will”; Miller 1971, “will”; Dumont 1969, “impulse”; Gonda 1966, “willingness (to give oneself)”; Bose 1966, “forward movement”; Edgerton 1965, “impellent force”; Brown 1965 and 1941, “emanation”; Kunhan Raja 1963, “activity”; Mehta 1956, “energy”; Coomaraswamy 1933, “Purpose”; Jwala Prasad 1929, “the act of offering”; Thomas 1923, “endeavour”; Macdonell 1922 and 1917, “impulse”; Müller 1899, “will”; Griffith 1892, “energy”; Wallis 1887, “the presentation of offerings”; Kaegi 1886, “striving”; Whitney 1882, “offering”; Gough 1882, “energy”; Monier-Williams 1875, “active forces that energized”; Muir 1870 and 1863, “energy”; Wilson 1860?, “the eater” [of food]; Anonymous 1859, “Power and Will”; Colebrooke 1805, “he, who heeds.” It may be noted that translations of the preceding word svadhā are equally diverse, and some of the same English words used for prayati are used for svadhā.

Etymologically, the noun prayati may be derived either from the verb-root yam, in its meaning “give, offer,” or from the verb-root yat, in its meaning “exert oneself, make effort”; these along with the prefix pra, “forth.” The first of these, yam as “offer,” may be seen in the above translations, “giving-forth,” “offering,” “the act of offering,” “the presentation of offerings.” The second of these, yat as “make effort,” may be seen in the majority of the above translations, including “effort,” “energy,” “impellent force,” “impulse,” “will,” “purpose,” “striving,” “activity,” “active forces that energized.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava takes prayati as derived from yam, “give, offer,” glossing it as pradāna, “gift, offering.” The Sāyaṇa commentaries take prayati as derived from yat, “exert oneself, make effort” (or simply “act” in some contexts). It is explained in his Ṛg-veda commentary with the noun prayatitṛ, “one who acts” (not prayantṛ, “one who offers”), as the bhoktṛ, the “enjoyer, eater, experiencer.” It is explained in his Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary with the verb prayatate and the noun prayatna. He there says that the paramātman in which that power, i.e., svadhā, exerts itself/acts (prayatate), being the basis for the exercise (prayatna) of that power, is the prayati.

For parallel passages in which prayati occurs, throughout the Vedic texts, we can now consult the monumental 16-volume Vedic Word-Concordance, by Vishva Bandhu and his assistants (Hoshiarpur: Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, 1935-1965; rev. ed. of vol. 2, parts 1 and 2, 1973; rev. ed. of vol. 1, part 1, 1976; the 2nd eds. of the other volumes are unrevised reprints). For just the Ṛg-veda, besides Hermann Grassmann’s long standard 1873 Wörterbuch zum Rig-Veda, we can now also (or instead) use the 1951 Indices volume (vol. 5) to the Vaidika Saṃśodhana Maṇḍala edition of the Ṛgveda-Saṃhitā, or the 1966 Indices volume (vol. 8) to the Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute edition of the Ṛgveda.

The noun prayati occurs in the Ṛg-veda in three other places, at 1.109.2, 1.126.5, and 8.69.18. In these places it apparently means “gift” or “offering,” and thus would be derived from the root yam. This meaning is based on context, and is also stated by the commentators. For example, 8.69.18 is (Wilson’s translation): “The Priyamedhas have reached the ancient dwelling-place of these deities, having strewed the sacred grass and placed their oblations after the manner of a pre-eminent offering [prayati].” At 1.109.2, where Skandasvāmin’s commentary is available, he writes: prayatir dānārthaḥ, “prayati has the meaning ‘gift’.” He then also glosses it with pradāna, “offering.” Both Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava and the Sāyaṇa commentary gloss prayati in all three of these places as pradāna, “offering.” The context of prayati in these three verses is, however, quite different from its context here in 10.129.5.

The noun prayati also occurs in the Yajur-veda, both in the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, and in the “black” or Kṛṣṇa Yajur-veda. In the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, called the Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā, it occurs in the Mādhyandina recension at 18.1 and 20.13, and again at 33.74 where this same Ṛg-veda verse 10.129.5 is repeated. In the Kāṇva recension these places are 19.2.1, 21.7.14, and 32.6.5 (or 32.74). In the “black” or Kṛṣṇa Yajur-veda, the verse corresponding to 18.1 is found at Taittirīya-saṃhitā, at Maitrāyaṇī-saṃhitā 2.11.2, at Kāṭhaka-saṃhitā 18.7, and at Kapiṣṭhala-saṃhitā 28.7, while the verse corresponding to 20.13 is found at Maitrāyaṇī-saṃhitā 3.11.8, and at Kāṭhaka-saṃhitā 38.4. In these two verses, 18.1 and 20.13, prayati apparently does not refer to offerings, but rather to something that is (or can be) a quality of a person.

In verse 18.1 of the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda (Mādhyandina recension) the person says (Griffith’s translation): “May my strength and my gain, and my inclination [prayati] and my influence, and my thought and my mental power, and my praise and my fame, and my renown and my light, and my heaven prosper by sacrifice.” Similarly, in verse 20.13 the person says (Griffith’s translation): “My hair is effort and attempt [prayati], my skin is reverence and approach. My flesh is inclination, wealth my bone, my marrow reverence.” The commentators do not gloss prayati in these places as “offering,” but rather with words derived from the root yat, “make effort” (e.g., Mahīdhara on 20.13: prayatanam, prayatnaḥ). They also bring in another gloss, śuddhi, “purity.”

The verse corresponding to Mādhyandina recension 20.13 is Kāṇva recension 21.7.14. It is numbered 21.111 (also 21.7.16) in the 1978 Śarmā and Śarmā edition of the latter half of the Kāṇva recension that includes a commentary said to be by Sāyaṇa (likely wrongly; see B. R. Sharma’s comments in his Introduction to his edition of the Kāṇva Saṃhitā, vol. 1, 1988, pp. vii-ix). This commentary says: mama madīyāni lomāni prayatiḥ prayatnasya śuddher vā kāraṇāni santīty arthaḥ, “My hairs are prayati, i.e., are the causes (kāraṇāni) of effort (prayatna) or of purity (śuddhi); this is the meaning.” At the verse corresponding to 18.1 in the Taittirīya-saṃhitā (, the Sāyaṇa commentary simply says: prayatiḥ śuddhiḥ, “prayati is purity (śuddhi).” A. B. Keith here translates prayati as “influence.” Mahīdhara in his commentary on this Mādhyandina Śukla Yajur-veda verse 18.1 says the same as Sāyaṇa, prayatiḥ śuddhiḥ, “prayati is purity (śuddhi).” None of the English translations of Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 take prayati as “purity.”

At Kāṇva recension verse 19.2.1, corresponding to Mādhyandina recension 18.1, the (undisputed) Sāyaṇa commentary on the first half of the Kāṇva recension glosses prayati as prakṛṣṭa-yatanam, “exertion in a high degree.” Ānandabodha’s commentary says the same: prakṛṣṭaṃ yatanaṃ prayatiḥ. I have here cited the Vaidika Saṃśodhana Maṇḍala edition of the Kāṇva Saṃhitā with commentaries, critically edited by B. R. Sharma in four volumes, 1988-1999 (vol. 5, Indices, 2009). The Sāyaṇa commentary then adds: prayatir yatna-viśeṣaḥ, “prayati is a particular kind of effort.” This phrase is not in the 1915 Madhava Sastri edition of the first half of the Kāṇva recension with the Sāyaṇa commentary (p. 169 of the relevant section). This edition has the erroneous prapati instead of prayati, and glosses prapati as prakṛṣṭa-gamanam, “going in a high degree.” The Sharma edition lists gamana as a variant reading for yatana from two of the seven manuscripts used for this commentary. The gloss gamana, “going” (rather than yatana, “exertion”), probably an error, apparently takes prayati as derived from the verb-root yam in its meaning “go.” The English translations of Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 by Bose 1966, “forward movement,” and by Panikkar 1977, “forward move,” take prayati in this meaning.

The noun prayati also occurs in the brāhmaṇas, as these texts repeat the Vedic verses to show their usage in Vedic ritual. The verse corresponding to 20.13 is repeated at Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa (Mādhyandina recension; it is not found in the Kāṇvīya recension), where Julius Eggeling translates prayati as “endeavour.” The Sāyaṇa commentary is apparently missing on this part of the Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa, and the extant commentary by Harisvāmin does not specifically gloss prayati here. This verse is also repeated at Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, where the Sāyaṇa commentary again brings in śuddhi, “purity,” to gloss prayati: madīyāni lomāni prayatiḥ śuddhi-karāṇi santu, “May my hairs be prayati, i.e., makers of purity (śuddhi-karāṇi).” The commentary by Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra is missing on this part of the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, and unfortunately also on 2.8.9, where the whole Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129 is repeated.

As we saw, the Sāyaṇa commentary on this hymn 10.129 differs substantially in the two locations (Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa). The specific verse of this hymn that includes the word prayati (10.129.5) is repeated in the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, as noted above, in the Mādhyandina recension at 33.74, and in the Kāṇva recension at 32.6.5 (or 32.74). The commentary that is (probably wrongly) attributed to Sāyaṇa on Kāṇva verse 32.74 (or 32.6.5) matches the Sāyaṇa commentary on this verse as it occurs in the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa almost word for word, such that one was apparently copied from the other. There, we recall, he glossed prayati with words derived from yat, “make effort,” and equated it with paramātman, the “highest self,” also comparing this with puruṣa, “spirit.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary had also glossed prayati with a word derived from yat (prayatitā), but there he equated it with bhoktṛ, the “enjoyer, eater, experiencer.” Mahīdhara, too, in his long commentary here (Mādhyandina recension 33.74) glosses prayati with words derived from yat (prayatate, prayatnavān, prayatnāt, prayatitā), and he equates it with bhoktṛ as does the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary. Uvaṭa, even though explaining this verse in relation to a soma sacrifice, also glosses prayati with a word derived from yat: prayatana, “effort, exertion.”

The noun prayati does not occur in the Upaniṣads. It is found in Yāska’s Nirukta only as it occurs in the Ṛg-veda verse 1.109.2, which is there quoted. In that verse it means “gift, offering,” and thus is glossed in the Nirukta (6.9) as pradāna, “offering.” The noun prayati is not used in classical Sanskrit.

What all the above tells us is that the Sāyaṇa commentaries distinguish two different nouns prayati used in the Vedas: one derived from the root yam, “give, offer”; and one derived from the root yat, “exert oneself, make effort,” with an associated meaning, “purity.” For its usage here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5, both of the Sāyaṇa commentaries derive prayati from the root yat, “make effort.” Following the method of comparing the usage of a word in all its occurrences throughout the Vedic writings, we saw that the noun prayati does indeed appear to be used in two different senses.

Karl Geldner was among the first of the third generation of Western Vedic scholars, coming after the first generation who fully used the Sāyaṇa commentaries, and the second generation who rejected Sāyaṇa and used comparative word studies instead. Geldner at first went back to Sāyaṇa fully, and then later took the approach that is still widely used today: fully consult the traditional commentaries; fully use comparative word studies; and then when they agree, accept the results; and when they disagree, choose which makes the most sense. Geldner rejected the contention of Hermann Oldenberg (a severe critic of Sāyaṇa) that prayati in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 must be derived from the root yam (Oldenberg 1912, p. 347), and agreed with the Sāyaṇa commentaries that prayati in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 is used within the range of meanings derived from yat, “make effort” (Geldner 1907, p. 118; 1908, pp. 14, 22, 32; 1909, p. 213; 1951, vol. 3, p. 360). Such a meaning appears to the majority of translators, including myself, to be intended here. Although the exact meaning of prayati remains uncertain, I think the general idea of “impulse” can be accepted as being within the range of its meanings. This would be true even if prayati did turn out to be a technical term referring to some higher principle such as paramātman, the “highest self,” or puruṣa, “spirit.”

In summary, the noun prayati is an old and rare Vedic word. By tracing out all the references to it given in the Vedic Word-Concordance, we found that it occurs in only six different Vedic verses, however many times those verses may be repeated in the various Vedic texts. In three of these verses, it fairly clearly means “gift, offering.” In two more of these verses it seems to refer to something that is (or can be) a quality of a person, something related to “effort.” Then in the remaining one of these six verses, Ṛg-veda 10.129.5, it appears as some sort of cosmogonic principle, a principle that is above, paired with another principle that is below. That it here functions as a cosmogonic principle is true even if, on analogy to a Vedic sacrifice, we take it symbolically and translate it as “offering.” We should recall that several schools of Vedic interpretation are known to have once existed, from references in the ancient Nirukta by Yāska. The tradition known to us from the now extant commentaries by Sāyaṇa and others represents only one or two of these schools of Vedic interpretation. The others are lost, and no doubt with them a more precise understanding of the meaning of the noun prayati.

Category: Creation Stories | No comments yet


On the Summary to the First Fundamental Proposition

By Ingmar de Boer on March 20, 2013 at 12:22 am

In the summary in SD I, 16, a clearer idea of is given of the subject of the first fundamental proposition. This proposition is stating an “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE”. The summary is meant as a clarification of the text in SD I, 14-16 under (a).

The following summary will afford a clearer idea to the reader.

(1.) The ABSOLUTE; the Parabrahm of the Vedantins or the one Reality, SAT, which is, as Hegel says, both Absolute Being and Non-Being.

The Absolute, Parabrahman.

(2.) The first manifestation, the impersonal, and, in philosophy, unmanifested Logos, the precursor of the “manifested.” This is the “First Cause,” the “Unconscious” of European Pantheists.

The unmanifested Logos, which is apparently different from the Absolute here. We have called this the First Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

(3.) Spirit-matter, LIFE; the “Spirit of the Universe,” the Purusha and Prakriti, or the second Logos.

Literally the Second Logos.

(4.) Cosmic Ideation, MAHAT or Intelligence, the Universal World-Soul; the Cosmic Noumenon of Matter, the basis of the intelligent operations in and of Nature, also called MAHA-BUDDHI.

In our earlier analysis we have identified the Universal World-Soul with the Third Logos.

Confusingly, we found Mahat to correspond to the Second Logos.

The Cosmic Noumenon of Matter is mentioned as “noumenon of matter” in SD I, 84

The expanding and contracting of the Web — i.e., the world stuff or atoms — expresses here the pulsatory movement; for it is the regular contraction and expansion of the infinite and shoreless Ocean of that which we may call the noumenon of matter emanated by Swabhavat, which causes the universal vibration of atoms.

The noumenon of matter is the web

In this passage we can safely assume that “universal vibration of atoms” corresponds to “pulsatory movement”, which is apparently the “expanding and contracting of the Web”. What causes this vibration is not entirely clear from the text. Syntactically “which” could refer either to

1. the regular contraction and expansion
2. the infinite and shoreless Ocean
3. that which we may call the noumenon of matter
4. Swabhavat

Logically, it could not be 1, as the cause of vibration could not be itself. From “for it is the regular…” we can again safely conclude that by the “infinite and shoreless Ocean” is meant the Web. It could therefore not be 2, because the Web apparently does not vibrate by itself. Is the noumenon emanated or the matter? The Ocean apparently consists of the “noumenon of matter”. Therefore the Ocean is still unmanifested, and it is the noumenon that is emanated by Swabhavat, not matter. As the noumenon is itself the substance of the Ocean, Swabhavat will be the cause of its vibration. The alternative would be that the noumenon is the cause of vibration, which means that the Web vibrates because of its substance.

If we return to śloka 10 in stanza III:


Here Swabhavat is identified with the substance of the web. Because the substance is twofold in itself, the vibration is an inherent quality of the web, as we can see from śloka 11 in stanza II:


This means both solutions 3 and 4 could be acceptable, and consequently the “Cosmic Noumenon of Matter” is the Father-Mother substance of the Web, alternatively Swabhavat. As for now it is unclear to me if this might be related to the Second, or the Third Logos.

The “basis of intelligent operations in and of Nature” might be interpreted either way, but seems closer to our idea of the Third Logos than to the Second.

As for mahabuddhi, we can sum up some other relevant passages here.

1. One location is SD I, 451:

Mahat (or Maha-Buddhi) is, with the Vaishnavas, however, divine mind in active operation, or, as Anaxagoras has it, “an ordering and disposing mind, which was the cause of all things,” — [[Nous o diakosmonte kai panton aitios]].

We identified Anaxagoras’ concept of nous as the Third logos, and also the “divine mind in active operation” is exactly what we have defined as the Third Logos. In this quote, mahat (mahabuddhi) is defined differently, not as the Second Logos but as the Third, apparently following “the Vaishnavas”.

The quote “Nous [estin] ho diakosmon te kai panton aitios” is taken from Plato’s Phaedo, 97c, “νοῦς ἐστιν ὁ διακοσμῶν τε καὶ πάντων αἴτιος“, “it is the mind that arranges and causes all things”, in the translation of Harold North Fowler.

2. A second is SD I, 572:

Esoterically the teaching differs: The divine, purely Adi-Buddhic monad manifests as the universal Buddhi (the Maha-buddhi or Mahat in Hindu philosophies) the spiritual, omniscient and omnipotent root of divine intelligence, the highest anima mundi or the Logos.

Here we have mahat (mahabuddhi) as the Second Logos, which is the Logos proper, and HPB’s Anima Mundi.

Mahat is used in different meanings, though it seems to be in a consistent way. Apparently in the summary of the first fundamental proposition, mahat is used conform SD I, 451.

Returning to the structure of the summary, it seems to be

(1) Parabrahman, the Absolute
(2) First Logos
(3) Second Logos
(4) Third Logos

If we try to put this in a diagram, instead of something like

absolute - 0

the structure would become something like

absolute - 1

Today I consulted the 1893 “Third Revised Edition” of The Secret Doctrine, which – fascinatingly – has a slightly altered summary text, on p. 44 (different page numbering):

(1.) Absoluteness: the Parabrahman of the Vedântins or the One Reality, Sat, […]
(2.) The First Logos: the impersonal […]
(3.) The Second Logos: Spirit-Matter […]
(4.) The Third Logos: Cosmic Ideation […]

This would mean that the Adyar edition also has this version of the summary, as it is based on the 1893 revised edition. This version of the summary does “afford a clearer idea to the reader”, as opposed to the 1888 summary…


Category: Anima Mundi, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Parabrahman, Svabhavat, World Soul | 1 comment


Two Aspects of the Absolute

By Ingmar de Boer on March 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Studying the first fundamental proposition in The Secret Doctrine, we see that the “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE” postulated in SD I, 14 is the Rootless Root of “all that was, is, or ever shall be”, Parabrahman, the Absolute.

Two aspects of the Absolute are then described, which are absolute abstract Space and absolute abstract Motion, the latter symbolized in the Book of Dzyan as The Great Breath.

The Great Breath is seen by HPB as precosmic Ideation, while the other aspect of the Absolute is seen as precosmic root-substance (Mūlaprakṛti). Both these are underlying manifested Consciousness and manifested Matter respectively, or Spirit and Matter, Subjectivity and Objectivity in the manifested universe.

These two aspects are obviously referred to in the last sentence of the passage, after the summary, “The ONE REALITY; its dual aspects in the conditioned Universe.”

Mūlaprakṛti: the Veil over Parabrahman

In this context HPB refers to ‘Mr. Subba Row’s four able lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, “Theosophist,” February, 1887.’

In the first of these lectures, on page 304 of The Theosophist Vol. VIII, we find some explanation about the relationship between Parabrahman and Mūlaprakṛti:

From its objective standpoint, Parabrahman appears to it as Mulaprakriti.

The “it” in this sentence is the ego “having an objective consciousness of its own”.

Parabrahman is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it. Parabrahman cannot be seen as it is.

What is said here, is that Parabrahman is the Absolute, and Mūlaprakṛti is an aspect of it, only in the sense that we cannot see more of it than that. Mūlaprakṛti is not a component, “aspect” or principle in itself, either separate from or united with Parabrahman. This is different from HPB’s interpretation in her description of the first fundamental principle, as two aspects, pre-Cosmic Ideation and pre-Cosmic Substance.

On page 305 of The Theosophist Vol. VIII, “the highest Trinity that we are capable of understanding” is mentioned, being Mūlaprakṛti, Īśvara (the Logos) and the “conscious energy of he Logos” (i.e. HPB’s fohat). This is the trinity we have defined as the First, Second and Third Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

In SD I, 14 we find:

Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is this metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS — symbolised by finite intelligence as the theological Trinity.

On page 305, Subba Row describes the “conscious energy of he Logos” as the “Holy Ghost of the Christians”. This confirms that Subba Row thought of this trinity as the “theological Trinity”.

Although HBP does not give any indication which trinity she is referring to, from these correspondences between her description and Subba Row’s, we can assume that she refers to the Trinity that we have defined as the First, Second and Third Logos, which she sees as “symbolising” the “metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS”, which is the “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE” postulated in SD I, 14.

This same problem appears in SD I, 15:

Considering this metaphysical triad as the Root from which proceeds all manifestation, […]

“This” seems to refer to:

Spirit (or Consciousness) and Matter are, however, to be regarded, not as independent realities, but as the two facets or aspects of the Absolute (Parabrahm), […]

Again the only possible interpretation here seems the Absolute itself, together with its two aspects. A more fitting interpretation would be though, that the Root is the Parabrahman which she sees as a “metaphysical triad” in itself, or the triad “symbolising” Parabrahman.

Category: Logos, Mulaprakriti, Parabrahman | 2 comments


The footnote in SD I, 14-15

By Ingmar de Boer on at 6:55 pm

In SD I, 14 we find

Herbert Spencer has of late so far modified his Agnosticism, as to assert that the nature of the “First Cause,”* which the Occultist more logically derives from the “Causeless Cause,” the “Eternal,” and the “Unknowable,” […]

where the asterisk refers to the following footnote:

* The “first” presupposes necessarily something which is the “first brought forth, the first in time, space, and rank” — and therefore finite and conditioned. The “first” cannot be the absolute, for it is a manifestation. Therefore, Eastern Occultism calls the Abstract All the “Causeless One Cause,” the “Rootless Root,” and limits the “First Cause” to the Logos, in the sense that Plato gives to this term.

The “First Cause” is the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, “in the sense Plato gives to this term”, which is the Second Logos, as we have shown earlier. (See The Three Logoi)

So the “Abstract All”, the “Causeless One Cause”, the “Rootless Root” is the unmanifested Logos, which we have called the First Logos.

Category: Causeless Cause, First Cause, Logos, Rootless Root | 1 comment


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on at 5:03 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued)

RV 10.129.4: This verse is repeated in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka at 1.23.1-2 (Bibliotheca Indica edition, 1871-1872, p. 142; Ānandāśrama edition, vol. 1, 1898, p. 86; both with the commentary by Sāyaṇa), or 1.23.90-91 (Mysore edition, vol. 1, 1900, pp. 137-138; with the commentary by Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra).

RV 10.129.4a: ká̄mas tád ágre sám avartatá̄dhi, “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ].” The “that” (tat) that desire came upon is taken by almost all the translators to be “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air from verse 2. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries do not take it as this, and neither do I. The “that” in this verse refers to the ābhu (“germ”) from the previous verse, in accordance with the natural grammatical sequence. How the commentaries understand the ābhu has been given above under 10.129.3cd, in the second paragraph about ābhu. Here, however, we have a decided advantage over what these late commentaries can tell us. The fact that this verse, 10.129.4, is repeated in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka (1.23.1-2) means that we have available a much older understanding of what it refers to. There this verse has been removed from the rest of the verses in hymn 10.129, so it is not preceded by the verse that speaks of the ābhu (“germ”). In place of the germ, this text in the preceding lines says that Prajāpati is what desire came upon in the beginning. Prajāpati, the “Lord of Progeny,” is so called because he produces all creatures. The whole cosmos is his progeny or offspring.

The Taittirīya-āraṇyaka (of which we unfortunately do not yet have an English translation) says in the lines preceding the verse 10.129.4 from the Ṛg-veda that [all] this was only water, just like 10.129.3b says (“All this was water without distinguishing sign”). It then says that the one (eka) Prajāpati came into being (samabhavat), just like 10.129.3cd says that the one (eka) germ (ābhu) was born (ajāyata). It says that desire (kāma) arose (samavartata) within (antar) in his mind (manas), using the same verb as used in 10.129.4, only without the auxiliary word adhi, “over, upon.” So samavartata, “became, occurred, arose,” could in this text simply be translated as “arose,” while it would be translated as “came upon” or “came over” in 10.129.4. The desire that arose in the mind of Prajāpati is put into words in the text as idam sṛjeyam, “may I create this [cosmos]” (or more literally, “may I emanate this [cosmos]”). After relating this to what a person does, the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka text then gives the whole Ṛg-veda verse 10.129.4. This directly parallel passage makes it clear that what was called the ābhu in Ṛg-veda 10.129 was called Prajāpati in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka.

The Taittirīya-āraṇyaka parallel provides us with another advantage. On this text we have an additional commentary available, by the pre-Sāyaṇa commentator Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra. While Sāyaṇa glosses Prajāpati here as jagad-īśvara, the “Lord of the World,” Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra glosses Prajāpati here much more in keeping with its Vedic context as hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ” (or “golden embryo” or “golden womb”). There is a Ṛg-veda hymn addressed to hiraṇya-garbha, 10.121. In its last verse (10.121.10), hiraṇya-garbha is specifically called Prajāpati. (The doubts about this verse being original, on which see Gonda 1983, p. 31, do not change the fact of hiraṇya-garbha’s identification with Prajāpati; e.g., they are again identified with each other at Taittirīya-saṃhitā Like hymn 10.129, hymn 10.121 is a cosmogonic hymn. It begins: “The golden germ arose (samavartata) in the beginning (agre).” Since some translators (including myself) have already arrived at a meaning such as “germ” or “potential” for ābhu by other means (see above under 10.129.3cd), there will be no difficulty in identifying the ābhu of 10.129 with hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ.”

Another cosmogonic hymn, Ṛg-veda 10.82, includes two verses describing the garbha, “germ.” This hymn is addressed to viśva-karman, “builder of all,” who is also identified with Prajāpati (for references, see Gonda 1983, p. 20). These verses, 5-6, are (as translated by Ralph Griffith, 1892): “That which is earlier than this earth and heaven, before the Asuras and Gods had being,—What was the germ primeval [garbham prathamam] which the waters received where all the Gods were seen together? The waters, they received that germ primeval wherein the Gods were gathered all together. It rested set upon the Unborn’s navel, that One [i.e., the germ primeval] wherein abide all things existing.” The parallels to what is said in 10.129 are obvious.

The germ (garbha) is also said to be wind or air in a hymn addressed to vāta (“wind”), Ṛg-veda 10.168. Its verses 3cd-4ab say about wind (as translated by F. Max Müller, 1891, p. 449): “. . . the friend of the waters, the first-born, the holy, where was he born, whence did he spring? The breath of the gods, the germ [garbha] of the world, that god moves wherever he listeth; . . .” Wind or air is here described as the “first-born” (prathama-jā), the “holy” (ṛtāvan; more literally, “in accord with the cosmic order,” ṛta), like Prajāpati is described as the “first-born of the cosmic order” (prathama-jā ṛtasya) in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.9. Prajāpati is directly identified with wind or air in a related passage involving the waters in Taittirīya-saṃhitā and The phrase that Müller translates as the “breath of the gods” is ātmā devānām. It has long been known that breath is an early meaning of the word ātman, as found in the Vedas. A verse from the hymn to hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ,” also speaks of the breath of the gods. It is 10.121.7 (as translated by F. Max Müller, 1891, p. 2): “When the great waters went everywhere, holding the germ (Hiranya-garbha), and generating light, then there arose from them the (sole) breath of the gods: . . .” Here the phrase “breath of the gods” is devānām . . . asuḥ. So wind or air as the breath of the gods is also the first-born or first to arise, and is described as the germ of the world.

In summary, just like the germ (ābhu) is the first thing born in Ṛg-veda 10.129, so the golden germ (hiraṇya-garbha) arose in the beginning in 10.121.1. The golden germ is identified with the Lord of Progeny (prajāpati) in 10.121.10, who also arose from the waters in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1 and is there described as the first-born. Wind or air (vāta) is the first-born in Ṛg-veda 10.168, and is the germ (garbha) of the world. Desire came upon “that” in 10.129.4a, “that one germ” (ābhu) from 10.129.3cd, just like desire came upon the one Lord of Progeny (prajāpati) in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1-2, where Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 is repeated.

For the word kāma, “desire,” a few translators have used “love,” and a few have used “will.” It is easy to see how desire as the attraction between the two sexes can come to mean love, and it is not hard to see how desire as wish can be a meaning of will (e.g., “do as you wish,” or “do as you will”). These translations help to show the range of meanings that kāma might have, especially as a cosmic principle. We know from Hesiod’s Theogony that the comparable eros (“desire”) is also a cosmic principle in ancient Greek cosmogony. Like with tapas (10.129.3d), I have preferred to use the basic meaning (“desire”), rather than a derivative meaning, and let the interpretations come later.

Regarding the verb (samavartata, “became, occurred, arose”) and its auxiliary adhi, as noted by Macdonell in his Vedic Reader (1917, p. 209): “ádhi upon makes the verb transitive = come upon, take possession of.” That is, it then takes an object. In agreement with this, most translators have taken its object as tat, “that.” A few (e.g., Edgerton 1965; Brereton 1999) have taken tat here as an indeclinable rather than a pronoun, and have translated tat as “then.” The Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava Ṛg-veda commentary and the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary also take tat as “then” (tadānīm). The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries do not take adhi as making samavartata transitive, but instead take it as ādhikyena, “in a high degree.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries gloss the sam of samavartata as samyak, “completely.” So the Sāyaṇa commentaries take this verb to mean that desire fully arose.

RV 10.129.4b: mánaso rétaḥ prathamáṃ yád á̄sīt, “which was the first seed of mind.” None of the words in verse 4 are mystery words, like some words in other verses of this hymn. Yet there are more possible ways to construe this verse than any of the other verses. The common interpretation of it as saying that desire was the first seed of mind is far less certain than the consensus of translations would lead the unsuspecting reader to believe. So one cannot say with confidence that Ṛg-veda 10.129 teaches that desire precedes mind in the cosmogonic process, and then proceed to make comparisons with other cosmogonies. Reliable conclusions cannot be built on unstable ground.

In this verse the referents for the pronouns are uncertain, if they are pronouns at all. Does the auxiliary word adhi make the verb take an object or merely intensify it? On this depends whether tat is taken as the pronoun “that” or the adverb “then,” and therefore whether or not it correlates with the following yat as the pronoun “which.” Does the word retas here mean seed as a cause or seed as a product? That is, is desire the cause of mind or the product of mind? Related to this is the question of whether the word manasaḥ is to be taken as the genitive “of the mind” or the ablative “from the mind.” Then, does manas here mean mind or thought? More crucially, does manas here refer to an unmanifested ultimate mind or a manifested conventional mind (both of which are fully attested in the Vedic writings)?

Most of the English (and German and French) translations understand this line to say that desire was the first seed of mind, while the Sanskrit commentaries agree that mind or thought preceded desire. In these translations the verb takes an object, “that” (tat), which is then correlated with the following “which” (yat). So they understand this line as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [one], which [desire] was the first seed of mind.” That is, they take the “which” to refer to “desire” from the first part of the line. However, as a standard yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, the “which” (yat) goes with the “that” (tat) that desire came upon, not with desire. What is the “that” that desire came upon? According to most translators, the “that” here is “that one” that breathed without air from verse 2. Perhaps they did not want to say that “that one” was the first seed of mind, and therefore took the corresponding “which” to refer to “desire” instead. But the “that” that desire came upon may not be “that one” that breathed without air from verse 2.

For reasons given above, I understand the “that” that desire came upon to be the germ (ābhu) from verse 3. Then, taking this line as a standard yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, it would be understood as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which [germ] was the first seed of mind.” That is, the “which” (yat) refers to “that” (tat) [germ] from the first part of the line. It is not unreasonable to say that the germ was the first seed of mind. What the germ (ābhu) would refer to as the first seed of mind is either the first product of an ultimate mind, or the first cause of the conventional mind about to be manifested, or both. In the second case, mind would be equivalent to mahat, the “great” principle of intelligence from which the entire cosmos evolves. This is much like in the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary on 10.129.3d where the germ as the unmanifest world comes into manifestation by means of mahat. In the first case, mind would be a synonym of or associated with the ultimate, like brahman or para-brahman or īśvara or parameśvara in the commentaries. As both, mind would be what is personified as Prajāpati in the commentaries: the first-born from the ultimate brahman, and the “Lord of Progeny” from which the cosmos is produced.

Regarding the ideological question of whether desire precedes mind or mind precedes desire, the available Sanskrit commentaries take for granted that mind or thought precedes desire. Leaving aside the Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava Ṛg-veda commentary, which is so brief that it gives us nothing to judge this by, we have four other commentaries on this verse. These four agree that desire arose in some mind or thought, whether this mind or thought is connected to (para)brahman through tamas, “darkness” (so the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary), whether it is of (parama)īśvara (so the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary), or whether it is of Prajāpati (so the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra and Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries). Desire is the first thing that arises in mind or thought. So for them, mind or thought precedes desire. They explain the phrase, “the first seed of mind,” in relation to this taken for granted fact.

The word retas, usually translated here in this verse as “seed,” commonly means “semen.” It can also mean “rain,” which is how Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava takes it in the next verse. It is not the word “seed” as the seed of a plant, which word is bīja. However, the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses retas here as bīja. It is understood as the seed consisting of the karmic residues made by living beings in the previous period of manifestation that will bring about their manifestation in the upcoming period of manifestation. It is a cause in relation to the future period of manifestation, but an effect in relation to the previous period of manifestation. The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries and the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary all gloss retas here as kārya, an effect in contradistinction to a cause; it is a product, being a manifestation from the cause. It is understood as being the first product or result of mind or thought. It is the desire to create. So this verse quarter is understood as speaking of “the first seed (as a product) of mind” rather than “the first seed (as a cause) of mind.”

In the above it will be noticed that I did not give the whole phrase, “which was the first seed of mind.” This is because the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries do not take yat as the pronoun “which” here. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary takes yat as the indeclinable yataḥ, “from which, due to which, since, because,” further glossing it as yataḥ kāraṇāt, “from which cause, for what reason.” It correlates this with the preceding tat, again not taking this as the pronoun “that,” but rather as the indeclinable tataḥ, “from that, therefore,” further glossing it as tataḥ hetoḥ, “from that cause, for that reason.” So it takes this line to say: “Because a retas (“seed”) of such kind, being the first seed (bīja) of the future manifestation (prapañca), the karma consisting of the merit made by living beings in the past period of manifestation (kalpa), at the time of creation (sṛṣṭi) was (āsīt), i.e., came into being (abhavat), . . . therefore the desire to create was born in the mind of parameśvara (highest God), the giver of the fruits [of karma], the witness of all, the overseer of karma.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary similarly takes yat as yadā, “when,” and the corresponding tat as tadā, “then,” saying: “When the first seed (retas), i.e., product (kārya), of mind was (āsīt), then, at the time of creation, from Prajāpati in the beginning, at first, a desire (kāma), the desire (abhilāṣa), ‘may I create all,’ arose fully, in a high degree, was completely arisen.”

As we see, these two commentaries did not take yat and tat in this line as pronouns in a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, as did most translations. The Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava Ṛg-veda commentary also took tat as an adverb (tadānīm, “then”) rather than as a pronoun. He did not gloss yat. The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary did take yat and tat here as pronouns. In order to correlate them it said: which (yat) seed (retas), i.e., product (kāryam), that (tat) product (kāryam), having become desire (kāmo bhūtvā), arose. That is, it took the yat-tat pronoun correlative as all neuter words, and then used “having become” (bhūtvā) to bring in the masculine kāma. In full: “What was the first seed (retas), the initial product (kārya), of the mind connected with para-brahman, that product in the beginning, at the start of creation, having become desire, fully arose, in a high degree became manifest.” The Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary did not gloss either yat or tat, so we do not know how he understood them. What is common to these commentaries that provide glosses is taking the text in such a way as to get the required gender agreement.

The pronoun yat (“which”) is neuter in gender, while the noun kāma (“desire”) is masculine in gender. So the “which” cannot stand for “desire,” grammatically speaking, because of the difference in gender. The translation of this verse quarter that we usually see, “which [desire] was the first seed of mind,” does not show how this gender disagreement was accounted for. This is a separate problem from the one spoken of above about the “which” (yat) going with the “that” (tat) that desire came upon (not with “desire”) in a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction. So it applies even if this line is not taken as a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, but instead the tat is taken as the adverb “then.” I have seen only one comment on this. Macdonell in his 1917 Vedic Reader says (p. 209), “yad: referring to kāmas is attracted in gender to the predicate n. retas.” That is, according to Macdonell it is due to this attraction that yat (yad) agrees with the neuter word retas (“seed”) in the predicate rather than with the subject, desire, as would be expected.

As far as I can tell from the English translations, only Coomaraswamy (1933) attempted to account for this gender disagreement in his translation. He did so by taking the yat (“which,” but “that” in his translation) with the neuter retas (“seed”) rather than with masculine kāma (“desire,” translated by him as “will”). He translates: “In the beginning, Will (kāma) arose (samavartat) therein, the primal seed (retas) of Intellect (manas), that was the first.” Coomaraswamy here appears to have understood an implied “is” between kāma and retas, and then he took prathamaṃ yad āsīt, “that was the first,” as a separate phrase. Although it is not altogether clear from his punctuation, he seems to have ended up with the same meaning as is given by most of the other translators, that kāma is the primal seed of mind. But he did so without taking “which” (yat) as kāma (“desire”). Kashyap (2007) copied Coomaraswamy almost verbatim here, even including the typo samavartat for samavartata. But the punctuation was changed, and this changed the meaning. He has: “In the beginning, desire (kāma) arose (samavartat) therein. The primal seed (retas) of mind (manas), that was the first.”

While most of the translations make it clear that by “which” they intend “desire,” in some the referent for “which” is ambiguous, due to the nature of English. When we say: “Desire in the beginning came upon that, which was the first seed of mind,” the rules of English grammar say that the referent for “which” should be the immediately preceding “that.” But in real life, language does not always follow the rules. This sentence can easily be understood to mean that “desire” is the referent for “which,” and this can be what was intended by the writer. Thus, when we read “in It, which was” (Muir 1863, 1870), or “upon It, which was” (Whitney 1882), or “in That [One], which became” (Brown 1941), or “on that (viz. on the One), which was” (Gonda 1966), it looks like the “which” goes with the immediately preceding word. But when Gonda, for example, explained how he understood this sentence, we see that he in fact intended that “desire” is the referent for “which.” Gonda in his article, “The Creator and his Spirit (Manas and Prajāpati)” (Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens, vol. 27, 1983, attached), wrote on p. 9: “in the cosmogonical hymn 10, 129 [st. 4] kāma ‘desire’ is said to be the first retas ‘seminal fluid’ of manas.” Only Gough (1882) gives an indication that he intends the immediately preceding “it” as the referent for “which.” He does this by leaving out the “which,” translating: “Desire first rose in it, the primal germ.” But even this is uncertain.

Gonda in his 1983 article just cited goes on (p. 38) to translate this verse quarter as “which was the first semen of manas,” after which he speaks of “the manas in which the desire arose.” In a footnote here he rejects the translation, “kāma the origin of manas.” His point is that retas, which he here translates as “semen” rather than “seed,” is a product of manas, not the cause or origin of manas. Maurer (1975, pp. 226-227) made this point clearly, translating retas as “offshoot” rather than “seed,” and describing it as a “product” rather than a “source” or “producer.” He also takes manas as “thought” rather than “mind,” and translates: “desire, which was the first offshoot of (that) thought.” A few previous translators had given the same idea. Müller (1899) translates: “the seed springing from mind.” Macdonell in his 1922 translation gives: “It was the earliest seed, of thought the product” (but not in his 1900 and 1917 translations). Winternitz (1927, p. 99) paraphrases this as: “as the first product of his mind—‘the mind’s first fruit,’ as the poet says—came forth Kāma.” More recently, Brereton (1999) translates: “from thought there developed desire, which existed as the primal semen.” Notice that Müller and Brereton translate manasaḥ as an ablative, “from mind, from thought,” rather than as a genitive, “of mind, of thought.” All these translators are in agreement with the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary and the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra and Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries, which take retas as a product (kārya), as we have seen above.

The paṇḍits who wrote the commentaries that go under the name Sāyaṇa were Advaita Vedāntins. As such, they were committed to an ultimate, brahman, that is described as satyaṃ jñānam anantaṃ brahma (this is actually quoted in the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary here on this verse), or sat cit ānanda, where brahman is jñānam, “knowledge,” or cit, “consciousness.” They are therefore committed to an ultimate consciousness, an ultimate mind, that would necessarily precede desire. The question is whether this is warranted in the Vedic texts as such (i.e., not including the upaniṣads, where manas and brahman are equated at Taittirīya-upaniṣad 3.4.1, Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 4.1.6, Chāndogya-upaniṣad 7.3.1, etc.). The answer is yes. The Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa passage ( partially quoted above (under 10.129.1a) identifies what was neither non-existent nor existent in the beginning as manas (“mind”). It then quotes Ṛg-veda 10.129.1a, making this the earliest commentary we have on this hymn. Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa also speaks of manas in the beginning when there was nothing else. Gonda (1983, p. 16) gives references to other brāhmaṇa texts saying that there is nothing that precedes manas (Aitareya-brāhmaṇa 2.40.2 and Kauṣītaki-brāhmaṇa 27.5 or 27.9.18). In Martin Haug’s 1863 edition of the Aitareya-brāhmaṇa this passage is (pp. 52-53): manaso hi na kiṃcana pūrvam asti, which he translates as “nothing exists anterior to the mind.” So can we take manas here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 as ultimate mind?

There are also brāhmaṇa texts saying that mind is something created or emanated. Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa was noticed and translated by John Muir in his comments on his translation of this hymn (1870, p. 365): asato ’dhi mano ’sṛjyata | manaḥ prajāpatim asṛjata | prajāpatiḥ prajāḥ asṛjata, “From the nonexistent[,] mind (manas) was created. Mind created Prajāpati. Prajāpati created offspring.” This passage was also translated by Gonda in his 1983 article (pp. 25-26), who follows this with a similar passage from the Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa (1.1.1). He translates the latter as: “In the beginning, bráhman (neuter) was here. Its semen became predominant; it became brahmán (masculine). He considered silently and mentally. His ‘mind’ became Prajāpati. That is why the (mantras) belonging to an oblation made to Prajāpati are pronounced mentally, for Prajāpati is manas.” Prajāpati is frequently equated with manas, “mind” (for references, see Gonda’s 1983 article on Manas and Prajāpati, pp. 23-25). Prajāpati is also usually understood to be the same as the masculine Brahmā, even though sometimes equated with the neuter brahman (see J. Gonda’s 1989 monograph, Prajāpati’s relations with Brahman, Bṛhaspati and Brahmā); and Prajāpati or Brahmā are normally considered to be the first-born. In other words, manas is the first-born, something created/emanated.

It is not necessarily contradictory for manas to be both ultimate mind and conventional or created mind. In the Vedic texts we find things like this, that are each true from their own perspective. Thus, Ṛg-veda 10.72.4 says Dakṣa was born from Aditi, and Aditi was born from Dakṣa; Ṛg-veda 10.90.5 says Virāj was born from Puruṣa, and Puruṣa was born from Virāj. Even though we speak of the conventional or created mind in manifestation, this does not mean that it is not ultimately the ultimate mind. Nonetheless, it is useful to make the distinction for normal purposes. While Prajāpati is sometimes equated with the ultimate brahman, he is usually and normally equated with the first-born Brahmā, the creator. In any given passage a text is usually speaking specifically of one or the other, at least primarily. A line from Ṛg-veda 1.164.18 speaks about the born mind in almost the same way as Ṛg-veda 10.129.6 speaks about the born cosmos: “Who here can say from where the divine mind (devam manas) has been born (prajātam)?” (10.129.6: “Who here can say? From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation [of the cosmos]?”). This parallel with another famous hymn gives us reason to believe that 10.129.4 is speaking specifically about the born mind rather than the ultimate mind.

There are additional reasons why it is more likely that Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 is speaking specifically of the conventional or created mind than the ultimate mind. Where it speaks of manasaḥ retas, manasaḥ is most naturally understood as a genitive, the seed “of mind,” rather than an ablative, “from mind.” Regarding how we take retas, “seed” (or “semen”), whether as a product (kārya), or whether as seed (bīja) in the sense of a cause, the above-quoted Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa passage may be relevant. This passage in Gonda’s 1983 translation speaks of the “semen” of brahman, which became Brahmā. After again translating this passage in his 1989 monograph, Prajāpati’s relations, etc., he comments that this passage is remarkable “in that the neutral concept Bráhman is credited with semen” (pp. 43-44). Checking the original Sanskrit (in the critical edition by B. R. Sharma, 1964), we find that what Gonda translated as “semen” is actually two words: “tejo raso . . .,” whether we take tejas and rasa separately or in a compound. The word tejas has many meanings, including light, luster, splendor, heat, fire (the element), and vital power. The word rasa also has many meanings, including sap (of trees), juice (of plants), fluid, taste, sentiment, and essence. Gonda apparently took these in a compound as something like “vital power fluid” = “semen,” no doubt with good reason. However, neither of the two commentaries on the Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa, by Sāyaṇa and the slightly earlier one by Bharatasvāmin, take these words as semen.

The two words tejas and rasa also occur together in a cosmogonic passage from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad (1.2.2), on which we have additional commentaries. The relevant sentence is translated by Radhakrishnan (1953) as: “From him thus rested and heated (from the practice of austerity) his essence of brightness came forth (as) fire.” He translates tejas as “brightness” and rasa as “essence,” in the compound “essence of brightness,” citing the gloss from Rāmānuja’s commentary, tejas-sāra-bhūtaḥ. Gonda, too, in his 1959 book, Four Studies in the Language of the Vedas, had translated these two words in this passage as “essence of brightness” (p. 16). This translation takes them as a tatpuruṣa case-relation compound, putting the first member in the genitive case, “of tejas.” S. C. Vasu (1916) also takes them as such, “essence of energy,” giving Madhva’s commentary, sāmarthya sārabhūta. It is possible to take these as two separate words, as did Swāmī Mādhavānanda (1934, 5th ed. 1975), “essence, or lustre,” and Robert Ernest Hume (1921, 2nd ed. 1931), “his heat (tejas) and essence (rasa),” and Patrick Olivelle (1998), “his heat—his essence.” The oldest commentary we have on this upaniṣad is the one by Śaṅkara, who glosses rasa as sāra, “essence,” as does Rāmānuja and Madhva.

Śaṅkara takes these two words as a karmadhāraya compound, having them in apposition: teja eva rasas. They are nicely translated as such in the translation published by the Sri Ramakrishna Math (Mylapore, Madras, 1951, 3rd ed. 1968), “essence as lustre.” More fully: “In this (work of creation) Prajāpati was tired. From him, fatigued and afflicted, came forth his essence as lustre. This was fire.” Of course, rasa can mean “fluid” or “juice” besides “essence.” In an article on “Tapas” from The Brahmavādin (Madras, vol. 12, no. 11, Nov. 1907, p. 573), the unnamed author uses the poetic yet accurate translation, “the juice of Light,” saying: “From toil and Tapas came Tejorasa, the juice of Light.” If we take these words as a karmadhāraya compound following Śaṅkara rather than a tatpuruṣa case-relation compound, using “as” rather than “of,” we get “juice as light” for what came forth. What is semen for male creatures may be light for formless beings.

In fact, retas (“seed, semen”) is directly equated with light (jyotis) in the Vedic texts. Gonda in his article, “Background and Variants of the Hiraṇyagarbha Conception” (Studies in Indo-Asian Art and Culture, vol. 3, ed. Perala Ratnam, New Delhi, 1974, pp. 39-54, attached), writes (p. 43): “The ancients obviously were strongly inclined to believe that seed (retas) is a form or manifestation of light, . . . This identity is clearly stated at ŚB. [Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa] ‘In saying, “Agni is light (jyotis), light is Agni, svāhā,” he encloses that seed, light, on both sides with the deity, viz. Agni’ (the text is discussing the agnihotra ceremonies) and 35 ‘Then, in the morning, with the words, “The light is Sūrya (the Sun), Sūrya is the light,” he places that seed, light, outside by means of the deity . . .’; . . .” He then gives additional references. So “juice as light,” or “semen as light,” is an equation that the texts directly make.

We are provided with yet another possible synonym for retas in Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 in a parallel passage quoted in the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary here, Manu-smṛti 1.8cd: apa eva sasarjādau tāsu vīryam apāsṛjat. The whole Manu-smṛti verse is translated by Gangā-nātha Jhā (1920) as: “Desiring to create the several kinds of created things, He, in the beginning, by mere willing, produced, out of his own body, Water; and in that he threw the seed.” The word for “seed” here is vīrya, another word having many meanings, including strength, might, virile power, heroism, luster, and semen. There is a variant reading in this verse. While the Manu-smṛti as commented on by Medhātithi has vīrya here, as commented on by Kullūka-Bhaṭṭa it has bīja here. As we recall, bīja is the basic word for “seed” like the seed of a plant. Naturally, the translators following this reading give “seed” here (A. C. Burnell, 1884; G. Bühler, 1886; M. N. Dutt, 1908). Jhā, quoted above, was the first person to edit and translate Medhātithi’s commentary, having vīrya, which he also translates as “seed.” Patrick Olivelle also accepts the reading vīrya in his 2005 critical edition and translation, and he translates this phrase as, “it was the waters that he first brought forth; and into them he poured forth his semen.” Medhātithi glosses vīrya as śukra, “semen,” while Kullūka-Bhaṭṭa glosses bīja here as śakti-rūpa, “in the form of power.” In the next verse, the Manu-smṛti tells us what that became, aṇḍam haimam, the “golden egg”; i.e., hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ,” and in that was born Brahmā, the creator.

We see from the parallel passages that “seed,” as retas or the parallel terms tejas rasa, vīrya, or bīja, comes from something, and is in that sense an effect or product, kārya, but more importantly becomes the cause of the cosmos about to be manifested. What exists at this point may be called Prajāpati, the “Lord of Progeny,” or manas, “mind,” or other synonyms in a somewhat fluid manner, depending on the particular account. Sometimes Prajāpati is equated with the germ (hiraṇya-garbha), as seen above, and sometimes Prajāpati is born from the germ (garbha). Thus Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā 23.63, as translated by Gonda (1974, p. 50): “The Self-existing One (svayambhūḥ), of excellent nature, the first, laid down within the mighty flood the embryo [garbha] which observes the proper time, from which Prajāpati was born.” Similar is Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa, where Prajāpati was born from a golden egg (aṇḍa). Then he created the cosmos. Earlier in this text (, Prajāpati was equated with mind: prajāpatir vai manas. So it seems most likely that Ṛg-veda 10.129.4b speaks primarily of “the first seed of mind” as we would normally take that phrase: the cause of mind; and mind in turn results in the manifestation of the cosmos. But this seed or cause is unlikely to be desire.

If there is anything in the Vedic texts that is said again and again to desire, it is Prajāpati and its synonyms. Geldner in his 1951 German translation (footnote on verse 10.129.4a) gives an example of this in association with tapas, along with several references: prajāpatir akāmayata prajā sṛjeyeti sa tapo ’tapyata, which can be translated as, “Prajāpati desired, ‘may I create progeny.’ He generated tapas.” (Taittirīya-saṃhitā; also Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa;;; Aitareya-brāhmaṇa 4.23.1; 5.32.1; Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa;; While the texts are quite willing to attribute desire to the one ultimate brahman (e.g., both commentators on the Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa passage quoted above say, brahmaṇaḥ sisṛkṣoḥ, “of brahman desiring to create”), they much more often say, “Prajāpati desired.” The fact that desire is almost always attributed to the “one” that breathed without air from verse 2 in the translations of 10.129.4 is likely due to two facts. First, as already discussed, the one ābhu (“germ”) is usually taken to be identical with the “one” ultimate. Second, the fact that Prajāpati and its synonyms are regularly also described as “one” (eka) is therefore not brought into the picture. When we take the one ābhu as the one hiraṇya-garbha or the one Prajāpati, we can construe this verse quarter naturally as a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction without gender disagreement: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which [germ] was the first seed of mind.”

In summary, most translators understand this line as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [one], which [desire] was the first seed of mind.” A comparatively few understand desire to be the first seed of mind in the sense of a product rather than a cause. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary understands this line as: “Because the first seed [the seed (bīja) of the future manifestation, consisting of the karma made by living beings in the previous period of manifestation] in the beginning came into being, therefore the desire [to create] arose in the mind [of parameśvara].” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary understands this line as: “When the first seed [product (kārya)] of mind was, then [from Prajāpati] in the beginning a desire [to create] fully arose.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary understands this line as: “What was the first seed [product (kārya)] of the mind [connected with para-brahman], that [product] in the beginning, having become desire, fully arose.” The paṇḍits who wrote under the name Sāyaṇa agree that mind or thought precedes desire. When this line is taken as a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, it may be understood as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which [germ] was the first seed of mind.” The first seed of mind may be the first product of an ultimate mind, and more specifically the first cause of the conventional mind about to be manifested. The parallel with the poetically expressed “juice as light” (tejo-rasa) may be applicable to this seed.

RV 10.129.4c: sató bándhum ásati nír avindan, “found out [desire to be] the link of the existent in the non-existent.” The word “desire” (kāma) is here carried down from the first half of this verse. Most translators do not do this. If we do not carry down “desire,” then the first and second halves of this verse make independent and unrelated sentences. The second half of this verse then would say only that sages found the link between the existent and the non-existent. As Maurer astutely observed (p. 228), this is “hardly any discovery at all.” When we do carry down “desire,” thus taking the verse as a whole, it says what that link is. Sages found desire to be the link between the existent and the non-existent.

Walter Maurer (1975, pp. 220, 227-228) strongly advocated this interpretation, regarding it as “the key to the entire hymn” (p. 220). I have adopted it from him. Only some of the earlier translators took it this way, as he notes (pp. 228-229, fn. 31), adding that this is how the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary understands it, but not the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary. I can add that Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava’s Ṛg-veda commentary is too brief to even raise the question, but both Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s and Sāyaṇa’s commentaries on this verse as it is found repeated in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1-2 take desire to be the link between the existent and the non-existent.

RV 10.129.4d: hṛdí pratí̄ṣyā kaváyo manīṣá̄, “Sages, having searched in the heart with inspired thought.” The specific meaning of the word manīṣā is not easy to determine, and the word is not easy to translate into English. It has most often been translated as “wisdom” in this verse, and this is no doubt a reasonable approximation. In an attempt to get a little closer, I have adopted “inspired thought” from Jan Gonda’s study of this term in his 1963 book, The Vision of the Vedic Poets, pp. 51-56. An example of some of the evidence that he there gives for reaching this meaning is (p. 52): “That the manīṣā like intuition in general is compared to a flash of light appears from 10, 177 where it is described as dyotamānām and svaryam ‘bright (shining)’ and ‘of the nature of the light of heaven’.” He paraphrases its sense as (p. 55): “the faculty of having an immediate insight into reality without the help of discursive thought.” In Gonda’s 1966 translation of this hymn, he translates manīṣā with the phrase, “the inspired thoughts of their minds.” Similarly, Brereton (1999) translates it as “inspired thinking.”

Kashyap (2007) points out that manīṣā is part of a Vedic triplet of hṛdā, manasā, manīṣā, occuring in Ṛg-veda 1.61.2 and Kaṭha-upaniṣad 2.3.9. In the latter, where the triplet is given in the order, hṛdā, manīṣā, manasā, S. Radhakrishnan translates these three as: “by heart, by thought, by mind.” Patrick Olivelle (using the numbering 6.9 instead of 2.3.9) translates these as: “with the heart, with insight, with thought.” That is, Radhakrishnan translates manīṣā as “thought,” while Olivelle translates manīṣā as “insight,” and manas as “thought.” These are two of the most widely respected translations of the upaniṣads. This example is given to show the difficulty in translating a term such as manīṣā, while retaining any meaningful distinction between it and similar terms such as manas.

Gonda in his 1963 book also refers to this triplet, and translates Ṛg-veda 1.61.2. Here, we recall, the terms are given in the order, hṛdā, manasā, manīṣā. Gonda translates, p. 54: “they polish, for Indra, their dhiyaḥ (‘visions’) with their heart, their ‘mind’, their ‘inspired thought’.” Gonda then translates the verse here being discussed, Ṛg-veda 10.129cd: “seeking in their heart the sages found the inherence of being and non-being by their specific inspired thought.” He translated this in his 1966 translation of this hymn as: “The sages after having received (it) in their hearts with the inspired thoughts of their minds, found the bond of the reality of the ‘cosmos’ in (with) the undifferentiated ‘chaos’.”

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on March 2, 2013 at 5:33 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued)

RV 10.129.2a: ná mṛtyúr āsīd amṛ́taṃ ná tárhi, “There was not death nor life (“non-death”) then.” The word amṛta commonly means “immortality,” and most translators have translated it as such; for example: “There was not death nor immortality then.” Coomaraswamy (1933), however, translates this verse quarter as: “Then was neither death (mṛtyu) nor life (amṛta).” He points out that (pp. 56-57), “Amṛta, in the second stanza, is not ‘immortality,’ but simply life, continued existence, as in Ṛg Veda, VII, 57, 6, and equivalent to dīrghamāyuḥ in X, 85, 19; the sense is ‘neither birth nor death as yet were.’” Gonda (1966) apparently agrees, translating this as: “There was not death (nor continuation of life) then.” I, too, agree, seeing amṛta here not as “immortality,” but merely as “non-death,” i.e., “life,” in a contrasting pair with mṛtyu, “death.”

The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary says this clearly, glossing amṛtam with jīvanam, “life” (in the sense of the condition of being alive). The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses amṛtam much less clearly with amaraṇam, literally “non-death,” which can signify either “life” or “immortality.” When choosing between two meanings that are equally possible grammatically, reason must be a criterion. I can see little reason why immortality would be spoken of here, especially when life and death form a more natural contrasting pair. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava in his brief commentary does not gloss amṛtam.

RV 10.129.2b: ná rá̄tryā áhna āsīt praketáḥ, “There was no distinguishing sign of night [or] of day.” The word praketa, here translated as “distinguishing sign,” is a Vedic word. It is not used in classical Sanskrit, and its meaning is not certain. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses praketa as prajñāna, which can mean (from V. S. Apte’s dictionary): 1. knowledge, intelligence; 2. sign, mark; 3. discernment. Possibly H. W. Wallis intended this third meaning in his 1887 translation, “there was no discrimination of night and day.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses praketa as cihna, “sign, mark,” probably indicating that this was also the meaning of prajñāna intended in the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary. The classical Sanskrit word saṃketa, differing from praketa only in the prefix sam rather than pra, also means “sign.” A majority of the recent English translations use “sign.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses praketa as vibhāga, “distinction.” Although this portion of his commentary was not published until 1965, a majority of the earlier English translations (going all the way back to Colebrooke’s of 1805) use “distinction,” perhaps based on context. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in her 1981 translation has combined the two meanings in “distinguishing sign,” which I have adopted. A few earlier translations used “light,” a different meaning deduced from the usage of praketa in some other locations (Ṛg-veda 1.113.1 and 1.94.5; see the footnote by Wallis, p. 59).

RV 10.129.2c: á̄nīd avātáṃ svadháyā tád ékaṃ, “That one breathed without air by [its] inherent power.” As pointed out by others, tad ekam, “that one,” can also be translated as “that alone.” The word avāta is often translated as “without wind”; but vāta, like vāyu, can also mean “air.” Air is more fitting in regard to breath.

The difficult word in this verse quarter is the feminine noun svadhā, translated by me as “inherent power.” Elsewhere in the Vedic texts svadhā often means a food or drink offering or oblation, a meaning that is obviously not appropriate here. The majority of the later translators take it here as some kind of power or force, a meaning derived from the context. The prefix sva, “self, own,” would indicate that it is an inherent or intrinsic power or force. The majority of the earlier translators take it here as some kind of inherent nature, something that is self-supported or is its own support or is supported by itself, and thus has also been translated in the instrumental case simply as “by itself.” This meaning is derived from the context as well as from the etymology of svadhā, sva-dhā. The verb-root dhā means “put or place,” “grant or confer or bestow,” “produce or make,” “bear or hold or support.” The last of these meanings is apparently the one that is relevant here. This is also how the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary understands svadhā, in its etymological analysis. After analyzing the sva as svasmin, “in or on itself,” it gives the passive verb made from the verb-root dhā, “dhīyate,” and glosses this with the passive verb made from the verb-root dhṛ, “dhriyate.” The verb-root dhṛ means, “hold, bear, support.” So the dhā of svadhā, by way of dhīyate, is explained as dhriyate, “is held, borne, supported.” In agreement with this etymological meaning, this phrase would say more fully, “That one breathed without air by [its] inherent or self-sustaining power.”

The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries gloss svadhā here as māyā, “illusion.” Advaita Vedānta regards māyā as a power (śakti) associated with the absolute brahman. However, Sāyaṇa is not saying that māyā is the power by means of which the “one” (brahman) breathed without air. Rather, he takes this line (as worded in his Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary) as, “That one along with [its] māyā breathed without air.” The instrumental case can mean “by” or “with”; i.e., “by means of,” or “along with.” Sāyaṇa uses saha and sahitam to show that he takes the instrumental svadhayā in the latter meaning. If svadhā is māyā, Sāyaṇa is obliged to take the instrumental here as “with” rather than “by.” This is because, according to the teachings of Advaita Vedānta, the ultimately unreal māyā is not inherent in the real brahman (in the sense of being inseparable from it). Something that is ultimately illusory cannot be the means by which the one brahman breathed without air. In accordance with these teachings, this verse can only be saying that brahman breathed (without air) along with or accompanied by its māyā.

Taking it in this way, however, stretches the natural reading of this line to such an extent that only followers of Advaita Vedānta have accepted it, and not all of these. Of more than thirty English translations, only two of the first ones accepted it, when there was little else to guide the translators besides Sāyaṇa’s commentary (these are: the first ever translation, made by Colebrooke in 1805; and the first one made by Muir in 1863, but not in his 1870 revised translation). Not even Wilson (died 1860) followed Sāyaṇa here, as he normally did. Nor did the 1987 translation done jointly by an Advaita Vedānta swami, Svami Satya Prakash Saraswati, and Satyakam Vidyalankar. There were, of course, other schools of Vedānta, which did not take māyā or its synonyms to be ultimately illusory. Then there would be nothing against identifying svadhā with māyā or its synonyms, when reading this verse in its natural manner.

Māyā is regarded in Advaita Vedānta as the power of projecting (vikṣepa) illusion. By way of this, it is regarded as being the cause (kāraṇa) of the phenomenal world. The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary here glosses: “with svadhā, i.e., along with māyā in the form of the cause of the entire world, based in itself.” “Itself” refers to “that one brahman”; “based” is āśrita. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary here (but not the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary) takes pains to explain that, when svadhā as māyā is said to be based in brahman, this does not mean that it is inherent in brahman in the sense of being inseparable from brahman. It is only superimposed on brahman, like the illusion of silver in certain seashells. It is for this reason that he must read this line as saying that brahman breathed without air with svadhā/māyā, not by svadhā/māyā.

In the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary on verse 5 (see below), svadhā is glossed as anna, “food,” thus bringing in the meaning of svadhā as a food offering or oblation. Advaita Vedānta also regards māyā as prakṛti, “matter, substance”; and food, as we know, often stands for matter. (S. Radhakrishnan in his highly accurate translation of the upaniṣads sometimes translates anna as matter rather than food.) Again, prakṛti is regarded in Advaita Vedānta as ultimately illusory, not as inseparably inherent in brahman. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava in his brief commentary does not gloss svadhā.

Suryakanta in his 1981 Practical Vedic Dictionary gives “inclination” for svadhā, citing its occurrence in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5. He also gives two other passages illustrating this meaning: Ṛg-veda 1.113.13, ajarāmṛtā carati svadhābhiḥ, which he translates as “she the ageless and deathless moves according to her wont or inclination”; and Ṛg-veda 1.164.30, jīvo mṛtasya carati svadhābhiḥ, “the soul of the dead moves according to his inclination.” We notice in both of these cases that svadhā is in the instrumental plural, svadhābhiḥ (not singular, despite the singular translation, “inclination”), and that it is used with the verb carati, “moves.” If something moves according to its inclination, this could also be by its inherent power, or by its inherent nature.

As already said, besides as some kind of inherent power, the meaning of svadhā has also been taken as some kind of inherent nature. It is not very different to say, “That one breathed without air by [its] inherent nature,” as “by [its] inherent power.” This would make svadhā practically equivalent to svabhāva, “inherent nature,” something’s “own nature.” Ralph Griffith (1892) translates this phrase as, “breathed by its own nature.” Jan Gonda (1966) also translates this as: “breathed . . . by its own nature.” It is unlikely that Gonda would have copied Griffith, because Griffith’s metrical translation is not regarded by scholars as being accurate enough. So I hoped that Gonda would explain his choice of this translation term or idea in his full article in Dutch that his English translation of this hymn accompanies. Ingmar de Boer kindly translated the relevant portion of the Dutch article into English for me.

Gonda did not, it turns out, explain his translation term for svadhā. But he did give an alternative translation of svadhayā (in the instrumental) in a footnote, “van zelf” (not “vanzelf” written together as is usual, says Ingmar), or in English, “by itself” (or automatically, says Ingmar), and he referenced this to Alfred Hillebrandt’s 1913 Lieder des Ṛgveda, p. 133. There in his German translation of this hymn, Hillebrandt translates svadhayā as “von selbst,” or in English, “by itself,” and he does give references for his translation of this term in a footnote: Ṛg-veda 3.35.10, 4.45.6, 4.58.4 (“Indra created one, Surya one, one they made themselves”), 10.88.1. Here we have textual warrant for translating svadhayā as “by itself,” or “by its own nature,” or “by its inherent nature,” the same meaning as svabhāva.

Coomaraswamy (1933, p. 56) gives three synonyms for svadhā: māyā, śakti, svabhāva; apparently from the upaniṣads. We have already discussed these three, which pretty much summarize the proposed meanings for svadhā in this hymn. Coomaraswamy did not give a reference for the equivalence of svadhā to svabhāva, “inherent nature.” The equivalence of svadhā to śakti, “power,” is contextual here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.2. The equivalence of svadhā to māyā, “illusion,” given by Sāyaṇa, requires us to read this line in a somewhat unnatural manner and take svadhā as merely accompanying the “one.” In the natural reading of this line, svadhā is something by which the one breathed without air. For māyā or its synonyms to be this, it would have to be understood as something inseparable from brahman, an inherent power or an inherent nature. It could not be something that is ultimately unreal and is only superimposed on brahman, as māyā has been understood to be in Advaita Vedānta for the last 1,200 years. There were other schools of Vedānta prior to this, such as Bhedābheda, that did not make this ultimate distinction between the synonyms of māyā and brahman. For them, the equivalence of svadhā to māyā or its synonyms could work, following the natural reading of this line. The same inherent power or inherent nature by which the one breathed without breath could also bring about the manifested cosmos, as māyā is understood in Advaita Vedānta to do. Something like this must have been intended in this hymn, because in its verse 5, svadhā is described as being below (avastāt).

RV 10.129.2d: tásmād dhānyán ná paráḥ kíṃ caná̄sa, “Other than just that, there was not anything else.” This simple translation requires no comment other than to note that “just” translates the particle ha, and that paraḥ, “else,” could also mean “beyond.”

RV 10.129.3ab: táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre ’praketáṃ saliláṃ sárvam ā idám, “Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All this was water without distinguishing sign.” It is a general rule in Vedic Sanskrit verse that a unit of meter is a unit of sense (a rule that Irach Taraporewala applied with good results to his translation of the related Avesta Gāthās). For this reason, most translators have taken the first verse quarter as a unit, and translated it like I have, “Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.” Interestingly, the three extant commentaries take the first two words as a sentence, and then construe the rest of that verse quarter with the second verse quarter; in general like this: “There was darkness. All this [the cosmos], [like] water without distinguishing sign, was hidden by [this] darkness in the beginning.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava says that tamas, “darkness,” intends prakṛti, “matter, substance.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary gives three words for tamas: avidyā, “ignorance”; māyā, “illusion”; and śakti, “power.” It explains this as the material cause (upādāna) of the world, and glosses this as mūla-ajñāna, “root unknowing.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary says that another name for tamas is māyā, and it describes this as bhāva-rūpa-ajñāna, “unknowing in the form of an existing thing.” That is, darkness is equated with unknowing as a positive entity, a something, not unknowing as an absence of knowledge. It adds that this is the mūla-kāraṇa, the “root cause” (of the cosmos).

For apraketa, “without distinguishing sign,” see my comment on praketa in 10.129.2b. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary here on 10.129.3 takes apraketam as aprajñāyamānam, “not being known.”

RV 10.129.3cd: tucchyénābhv ápihitaṃ yád á̄sīt tápasas tán mahiná̄jāyatáikam, “That one germ which was covered by the void was born through the power of heat.” Because of the yat-tat pronoun correlative, something not used in English, the word order of these two verse quarters had to be rearranged in translation. It is, more literally, “Which germ was covered by the void, that one was born through the power of heat.” So it is only in the English translation that words from one verse quarter were put in the other verse quarter. These units of meter remain units of sense in the original. This half verse includes three words whose meaning is not precisely known (tucchya, ābhu, mahiman), and a fourth whose applicable meaning here is debated (tapas).

The word tuccha means “empty,” like the synonymous but more widely used word śūnya. The word tucchya used here, with the added “y,” is the same as tuccha. As a noun, which we have here, it would mean a void, something that is empty. This is how I have translated it (in the instrumental case), “by the void.” But we do not know exactly what it signifies as a technical term. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses it as bhāva-rūpa-ajñānam, “unknowing in the form of an existing thing.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses it as mūla-ajñāna, “root unknowing.” So Sāyaṇa glosses tucchya like he glossed tamas, “darkness,” in the first part of this verse. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses tucchyena rather differently, as mṛtyunā, “by death,” and as udakena, “by water.” His commentary is very brief, and he assumes that his readers are already familiar with the Vedic literature. For “death” here, they would probably recall Bṛhad-āraṇyaka-upaniṣad 1.2.1, which begins: “There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. By death indeed was this covered” (translated by S. Radhakrishnan). For “water” here, the previous line of this verse had just said, “All this was water.” So the commentators say that tucchya, “the void,” is “unknowing,” i.e., “darkness,” or else “death,” or “water.”

The noun ābhu, taken by me and some others in the general sense of a “germ” or “potential,” more literally something that “comes into existence,” is one of the least understood words in the hymn. It is etymologically simple, being derived from the prefix ā and the verb-root bhū, “be.” The verb in the past tense made from this prefix and root, ābabhūva, “has come into being,” occurs in verses 6 and 7. But the neuter noun ābhu is practically unknown elsewhere in Sanskrit texts, so we do not know what it may mean as a technical term. It is not found in the ancient Nirukta by Yaska. From its etymological meaning, “that which comes into being, that which becomes,” Maurer said (p. 225) he “somewhat freely translated” it as “the germ (of all things).” I have adopted “germ” from him. “Germ” had also been used earlier in the anonymous translation of 1859 and Max Müller’s comments thereon, and in his own translation of 1899. Some other translators have used similar translations: “generative principle” (Edgerton, 1965), “the virtual” (Gonda, 1966), “the pregnant point” (Le Mee, 1975), “primordial potency” (Panikkar, 1977, only in his notes), “life force” (O’Flaherty, 1981), “the thing coming into being” (Brereton, 1999).

Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses ābhu as maho brahma, “great brahman.” He does not elaborate. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses ābhu as ā samantād bhavati, “[it] becomes from all sides.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary refers to ābhu as ā samantād bhavaty utpadyata ity ābhūj jagat, “[as something that] becomes, arises, from all sides, thus the world existed [ābhūt].” A few lines later Sāyaṇa speaks of this kind of world as avyakta, “unmanifest,” distinguishing this from the abhivyakta-jagat, the “manifest world.” So Sāyaṇa, too, understands ābhu as kind of a “germ” or “potential” world. There is a direct parallel to this verse in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1-2, where Prajāpati, “Lord of Progeny,” is found in place of ābhu. On that text we have, besides another Sāyaṇa commentary, also a pre-Sāyaṇa commentary by Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra. The latter there glosses Prajāpati as hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ.” See below under 10.129.4a.

In the word apihita, “covered,” we see the same archaic prefix “api” that is also seen in the word apyaya, found in the compound prabhavāpyaya from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. (see the post, “The One Form of Existence”: prabhavāpyaya in the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā).

The basic meaning of the word tapas is “heat.” Derived from this is the common meaning “austerity, penance,” related to the heat or intensity of such practices undertaken by yogis, etc. This can be applied not only physically but also mentally. Thus, there can be a mental tapas related to intense meditation. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary quotes a passage from the Muṇḍaka-upaniṣad (1.1.9) speaking of tapas consisting of knowledge/wisdom, jñāna-mayam. Sāyaṇa here glosses: “of tapas in the form of reflection on [what is] about to be emanated.” While this meaning may well apply here, as Sāyaṇa says it does, I think it is better to give its basic meaning rather than its derivative meaning. This was proven on a large scale in the literally accurate Tibetan translations of the entire canon of Sanskrit Buddhist texts. The literal translations allowed for various interpretations to be made later. They did not pre-judge the issue and thereby limit it from the beginning to only one interpretation. So I have translated tapas as “heat.”

Tapas is not glossed by Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava, nor in the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary, where the variant reading tamas is found in the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa text instead of tapas. John Muir in his 1870 translation gives a long footnote (fn. 541, pp. 361-362) reviewing the evidence for taking tapas as “rigorous and intense abstraction.” This includes Ṛg-veda 10.167.1, which “says that Indra gained heaven by tapas, where the word can only mean rigorous abstraction.” A little later (p. 365) Muir gives a passage on cosmogony from Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, where through tapas is produced smoke, fire, light, flame, rays, blazes, etc., one after the other. He there notes: “It may perhaps be considered that the manner in which the word tapas is used in this passage is favourable to the idea that in R.V. x. 129, 3, it signifies heat rather than rigorous abstraction.” Chauncey Blair in his 1961 book, Heat in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, cites Ṛg-veda 10.129.3 under the section, “Tapas as a Creative Power” (pp. 67-68). He introduces it with: “In the two following verses, tapas has become not only a completely abstract entity, but also a great creative, primeval power.” The second verse is Ṛg-veda 10.190.1, which he translates as: “Both Universal Order and Truth were produced from incandescent heat. From that (heat) night was born. And from that (heat) the billowing ocean (was born).”

The word mahinā, or mahimnā as Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava has it in his brief commentary, is regarded as the instrumental singular of mahiman, or of mahin. These are, in any case, synonyms. Mahiman commonly means “greatness,” but also “might, power,” as the context seems to require here. I have translated it (in the instrumental case) as, “through the power” (of heat). The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses mahinā as māhātmyena, simply “by greatness.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary, however, glosses mahinā quite differently. It takes mahiman (or mahin) as mahat, the “great” principle of the Sāṃkhya system. Mahat is another name for buddhi, the principle of intelligence from which the entire cosmos evolves. This quite different interpretation is due in part to the fact that this commentary accepts and uses some Sāṃkhya ideas, and due in part to the fact that the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa reading of this verse has tamasas instead of tapasas. So rather than saying, “that one [germ or potential world] was born through the power of heat,” it says, “that one [germ or potential world] was born from darkness by way of mahat (the “great” principle).” It glosses: “by way of mahiman/mahin as mahat in the form of the manifest world.” It had spoken of the principle of mahat (mahat-tattva) earlier here, in its commentary on verse 1. The word mahiman occurs in the plural in verse 5, where the meaning “powers” is more fitting than “greatnesses.”

The “one” (ekam) that was born (ajāyata) is taken by almost all the translators to be “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air from verse 2. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries do not take it as this, and neither do I. The verse clearly says that the ābhu (“germ”) is what was born, however we understand that term. How the commentaries understand the ābhu has been given above in the second paragraph about ābhu. There is a distinction to be made between “that one germ” and “that one” itself that breathed without air. This hymn says in verse 2d that other than just that one, there was not anything else. If just that “one” is really and truly only “one,” then it cannot be born except metaphorically. The upaniṣads and brāhmaṇas are quite willing to speak metaphorically, and even have the “one” thinking and creating. For example, Aitareya Upaniṣad 1.1.1: “The self, verily, was (all) this, one only, in the beginning. Nothing else whatsoever winked. He thought, ‘let me now create the worlds.’” (translated by S. Radhakrishnan). Ṛg-veda 10.129, however, does not appear to do so, preserving at least a verbal distinction between “that one” itself and the “one germ” (ābhu). Unless and until there is clear evidence that the ābhu is completely identical with “that one” that breathed without air, I think we must keep this distinction.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on February 28, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

There are, I think, at least six important points in Ṛg-veda 10.129 on which there is disagreement among translators. Despite collecting more than thirty English translations of this hymn, I was unable to find any one translation that understood all six of these the way I understand them. This at last caused me to undertake a new translation, in order to have what I regard as an adequate basis for comparison with the Book of Dzyan. Before giving my translation, I here list these six important points and how I have understood them. The first two of these differ from almost all the translations known to me (but not from the two Sanskrit commentaries of Sāyaṇa), the next two differ from most of the previous translations, and the last two differ from more or less than half of them. There are, of course, differences on a number of other points as well (e.g., the meaning of rajas in 1b), sometimes also significant (e.g., the meaning of tapas in 3d). How I understood them may be seen in the translation notes. The six important points of difference are:

(1) In the second half of verse 3, the “one” (ekam) that was born is the germ (ābhu) of verse 3, not “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air of verse 2. The word that I and some others have taken as a germ (a very rare word of uncertain meaning), also described as “one,” is here understood to be distinct from “that one” itself. This makes a subtle but philosophically quite significant distinction. Following the natural grammatical construal of the standard yat-tat pronoun correlative found in this line, this verse says only that the germ is born, and applies the adjective “one” to it. Unless the germ is taken to be completely identical with “that one” that breathed without air of the previous verse, this verse does not say that “that one” itself is born.

(2) In the first half of verse 4, the “that” (tat) that desire came upon is the germ of the previous line, not the “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air of verse 2. This is the natural grammatical construal. Again, unless the germ is taken to be completely identical with “that one” that breathed without air of verse 2, this verse does not say that desire arose in “that one” itself.

(3) In the first quarter of verse 1, an implied “it” is supplied, saying, “[It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then,” rather than the equally possible, “There was neither non-existence nor existence then.” Supplying “it” is based on parallel passages in the Vedic texts that specifically say “it” in this context. When this verse is translated as saying that there was neither non-existence nor existence then, it is sometimes understood to mean that there was absolutely nothing then, with the result that the cosmos arises from nothing rather than from something.

(4) In the second half of verse 4, the “desire” (kāma) from the first half is carried down. Rather than saying just that the sages found the link between the existent and the non-existent (“hardly any discovery at all”—Maurer, p. 228), the verse says what the sages found that link to be, when its two halves are taken together. Desire is the link between the existent and the non-existent. This is how the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary understands it, as does Walter Maurer, who regards it as “the key to the entire hymn” (p. 220 in his article linked in the previous post on this topic).

(5) In the third quarter of verse 1, the verb āvarīvar is taken as derived from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move,” rather than from the root vṛ, “cover.” The verse therefore asks “what moved?” rather than “what covered?” This apparently describes the breathing without air of “that one” in verse 2. In taking the verb this way, I follow many of the later translators, based on the meaning found in parallel passages in the Vedic texts, rather than most of the earlier translators, based on the gloss given by Sāyaṇa (“covered”). Further, this being an “intensive” verb, I show the intensive sense with the word “incessantly” in my translation of it as “moved incessantly.”

(6) In the second quarter of verse 7, the unstated subject of the verb dadhe (“produced, made, established, upheld”) is taken to be “it” (“this creation or manifestation”) rather than “he” (the “overseer”). This applies whether the perfect middle verb dadhe is taken in a middle sense, “[it] made [itself],” or in a passive sense, “[it] was made.” When taken as “[he] made [it],” the “he,” the “overseer” from the next line, is usually understood to be a personal being, a creator, “God” (īśvara), as the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses “overseer” (adhyakṣa). However, there is no indication in the previous verses of anything but an evolutionary process of creation or manifestation, nothing that would require the involvement or direction of a personal being as creator. Only about a third of the English translations take “he” as the subject; mine is among the majority that do not.


Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”:

ná̄sad āsīn nó sád āsīt tadá̄nīṃ ná̄sīd rájo nó výomā paró yát

kím á̄varīvaḥ kúha kásya śármann ámbhaḥ kím āsīd gáhanaṃ gabhīrám || 1 ||

1. [It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then. There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond. What moved incessantly? Where? In the abode of what? Was [it] water, dense [and] deep?

ná mṛtyúr āsīd amṛ́taṃ ná tárhi ná rá̄tryā áhna āsīt praketáḥ

á̄nīd avātáṃ svadháyā tád ékaṃ tásmād dhānyán ná paráḥ kíṃ caná̄sa || 2 ||

2. There was not death nor life (“non-death”) then. There was no distinguishing sign of night [or] of day. That one breathed without air by [its] inherent power. Other than just that, there was not anything else.

táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre ’praketáṃ saliláṃ sárvam ā idám

tucchyénābhv ápihitaṃ yád á̄sīt tápasas tán mahiná̄jāyatáikam || 3 ||

3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All this was water without distinguishing sign. That one germ which was covered by the void was born through the power of heat.

ká̄mas tád ágre sám avartatá̄dhi mánaso rétaḥ prathamáṃ yád á̄sīt

sató bándhum ásati nír avindan hṛdí pratí̄ṣyā kaváyo manīṣá̄ || 4 ||

4. Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which was the first seed of mind. Sages, having searched in the heart with inspired thought, found out [desire to be] the link of the existent in the non-existent.

tiraścí̄no vítato raśmír eṣām adháḥ svid āsí̄3d upári svid āsī3t

retodhá̄ āsan mahimá̄na āsan svadhá̄ avástāt práyatiḥ parástāt || 5 ||

5. Their cord was extended across. Was there a below? Was there an above? There were seed-placers, there were powers; inherent power below, impulse above.

kó addhá̄ veda ká ihá prá vocat kúta á̄jātā kúta iyáṃ vísṛṣṭiḥ

arvá̄g devá̄ asyá visárjanená̄thā kó veda yáta ābabhú̄va || 6 ||

6. Who really knows? Who here can say? From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation? The gods are later than the manifestation of this [cosmos]. Then who knows from what [it] has come into being?

iyáṃ vísṛṣṭir yáta ābabhú̄va yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná

yó asyá̄dhyakṣaḥ paramé výoman só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda || 7 ||

7. From what this manifestation has come into being, whether [it] was made or whether not, its overseer who is in the highest heaven, he surely knows; or else [he] knows not.


Translation Notes

“. . . a mere translation of the Veda, however accurate, intelligible, poetical, and even beautiful, is of absolutely no value for the advancement of Vedic scholarship, unless it is followed by pièces justificatives, that is, unless the translator gives his reasons why he has translated every word about which there can be any doubt, in his own way, and not in any other.” (F. Max Müller, Vedic Hymns, Part I, p. x, Sacred Books of the East, vol. 32, 1891.)

RV 10.129.1a: ná̄sad āsīn nó sád āsīt tadá̄nīṃ, “[It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then.” Most translators take this line as the equally possible, “There was neither non-existence nor existence then.” I understand this line with an implied subject, “it,” in agreement with Walter Maurer (1975, p. 221), though he takes its referent as “all this (world)” (sarvam idam) from verse 3, while I take its referent as “that one” (tad ekam) from verse 2. To me, the convincing evidence for understanding an implied subject here (“it, this, that”) comes from what are by far the oldest extant re-statements of this line. These are found in the brāhmaṇas. There, the word idam, “this, it,” is explicitly stated. Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa says: neva vā idam agre ’sad āsīn neva sad āsīt, “In the beginning this was certainly not non-existent, [it] was certainly not existent.” (In translating this, I follow Joel Brereton’s convincing explanation of neva, na iva, as a strong negation in his article, “The Particle iva in Vedic Prose,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 102, 1982, pp. 443-450, especially p. 448, paragraph 4.1.2.) In the next sentence the Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa quotes the same line that we are discussing, Ṛg-veda 10.129.1a. Similarly, Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa says: idaṃ vā agre naiva kiṃcanāsīt | na dyaur āsīt | na pṛthivī | nāntarikṣam |, “This, indeed, in the beginning, was not even anything; not the heavens; not the earth; not the atmosphere.” We see here also a re-statement of our next line, Ṛg-veda 10.129.1b: “There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond.”

Some of the translators who take the line under discussion as, “There was neither non-existence nor existence then,” understand it to say that there was nothing then. Thus, creation would be creation out of nothing. But this is more an Abrahamic than an Indian idea. It is not that there was nothing then, but rather that what there was cannot be called either existent or non-existent, being or non-being; it is beyond dualistic conception. This is a basic idea in Indian thought. This idea is basic to what is often regarded as the pinnacle of Hindu Vedānta thought, the Advaita or “non-dual” tradition; and this idea is basic to what is often regarded as the pinnacle of Mahāyāna Buddhist thought, the Madhyamaka or “middle way” tradition. The Madhyamaka view is defined in an often-quoted verse as follows:

na san nāsan na sad-asan na cāpy anubhayātmakam |

catuṣ-koṭi-vinirmuktaṃ tattvaṃ mādhyamikā viduḥ ||

“The Mādhyamikas know reality free from the four positions of the tetralemma: neither is it existent, nor non-existent, nor both existent and non-existent, nor is it neither.”

(found in the Jñāna-sāra-samuccaya, etc.; here translated by David Seyfort Ruegg, Three Studies in the History of Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka Philosophy, Wien, 2000, p. 143).

In accordance with Indian thought, the commentator Sāyaṇa assumes here an implied subject, which he specifies as the root cause (mūla-kāraṇa) of this world (asya jagataḥ). This subject that is neither non-existent nor existent cannot be nothing, because in Indian thought creation out of nothing is impossible. Sāyaṇa comments: “At that time, what remained in the state of dissolution, the root cause of this world, was not non-existent, i.e., totally non-existent like the horns of a hare. For not from a cause of such kind is the arising of an existing world possible.”

RV 10.129.1b: ná̄sīd rájo nó výomā paró yát, “There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond.” Most translators take the word rajas here to mean “atmosphere” or “sky” or “air” or “midspace” rather than “world” as I have taken it, and therefore see only two things here rather than three. For example, Arthur Macdonell in his very helpful Vedic Reader for Students (which most of us in the West learned with) translates this line as: “there was not the air nor the heaven which is beyond.” Of course, rajas does mean “atmosphere” in many Vedic passages. But it also means “world,” as in Ṛg-veda 1.164.6 for example, where six worlds are spoken of; and it was glossed as loka in the plural (lokāḥ), “worlds,” in the very early Nirukta by Yaska (4.19). It does not necessarily mean our world, but can refer to any globe in a series of worlds. These are often given as fourteen in number in Hindu texts. To us, the higher such worlds would be the same as higher heavens or heaven worlds. They may be placed by us in what we call the atmosphere or sky. Both of the commentators, Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava and Sāyaṇa (in his Ṛg-veda commentary), gloss rajas here as loka, “world” (the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary takes rajas as the guṇa rajas). They see three things here rather than two, as does the old Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa at As we saw in the previous note, these three are there given as: “not the heavens; not the earth; not the atmosphere.” This gives us a perfectly logical and fitting interpretation as the world, the sky, and what is beyond.

There are important references in The Secret Doctrine that include the term rajas. The first is vol. 2, p. 385 fn., where the plural form rajāṃsi, “worlds,” is used. The second is vol. 2, pp. 621-622, where both the singular form, rajaḥ (mistakenly changed to rāja in the 1978 ed.), and the plural form, rajāṃsi, are used in an extract from the secret commentaries.

RV 10.129.1c: kím á̄varīvaḥ kúha kásya śármann, “What moved incessantly? Where? In the abode of what?” The verb āvarīvar (ā avarīvar), an intensive imperfect third person singular active, may be derived from the root vṛ, “cover,” or possibly from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move.” In the former derivation, this verse quarter would begin, “What covered [all]?” I have taken it in the latter derivation, “moved.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava takes it as “covered,” glossing it as ācchādayām āsa. Sāyaṇa also takes it as derived from vṛ, “cover,” as has long been known. The majority of translators followed him in doing this, especially the earlier ones. More recently, most of the translators who have critically studied the Vedic Sanskrit of this hymn (in contradistinction to the translators whose intent was more to improve the language of the previous translations) have taken avarīvar as derived from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move.”

The method of trying to determine the meaning of Vedic words by comparing their usage in all their occurrences in the Vedic texts was pioneered by Rudolph Roth, and he contributed the results to the massive seven-volume Sanskrit-Wörterbuch (1855-1875, in German). There (vol. 6, 1871, page column 757, lines 5-6) he derived āvarīvar in Ṛg-veda 10.129.1 from vart (vṛt), specifically rejecting the commentator’s (Sāyaṇa’s) derivation of it from var (vṛ). He translated āvarīvar into German as, “regte sich,” or in English, “stirred.” Hermann Grassmann followed Roth in deriving avarīvar from the root vṛt in his still widely used Wörterbuch zum Rig-Veda (1873, page column 1333; hymn 10.129 is there numbered 955). Grassmann in his 1876-1877 German translation of the Rig-Veda (vol. 2, p. 406) translated this phrase as, “Was regte sich?,” or in English, “What stirred?” Among English translations, “stirred” was used by Edward J. Thomas (1923), Franklin Edgerton (1965), Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (1981), and Joel Brereton (1999). Karl Geldner and Adolf Kaegi in their joint 1875 German translation of this hymn (p. 165) translated this phrase as, “Bewegt’ sich was?,” taking āvarīvar as “moved” (likewise derived from vṛt). Geldner used the derivation from vṛ in his 1908 German translation of this hymn (p. 14) that included the commentary by Sāyaṇa (who derived avarīvar from vṛ). Geldner ultimately used the derivation of avarīvar from vṛt in his posthumously published 1951 German translation of the Rig-Veda (vol. 3, p. 359), “Was strich hin und her?,” adding the phrase “back and forth” to the general idea of “moved.” The first English translation to depart from the meaning “covered” for āvarīvar was Macdonell’s 1900 translation, which used “motion” (“What motion was there?”). However, he returned to the derivation from vṛ in his translations of 1917 (“What did it contain?”) and 1922 (“What was concealed?”). Closely related to “move” is the meaning of vṛt as “exist,” taken by Walter Maurer in his 1975 translation (“What existed?”).

Taking avarīvar as derived from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move,” is done on the basis of the meaning as found in parallel passages. In Ṛg-veda 10.51.6 the term ā avarīvur is used in connection with a chariot. Like avarīvar, there is no “t” in avarīvur, and here the meaning is evidently related to motion rather than covering (vṛt rather than vṛ). Hermann Oldenberg in his Ṛgveda: Textkritische und exegetische Noten has succinctly stated the case for vṛt (vol. 2, 1912, pp. 346-347, in German). Geldner has done so even more briefly in a note to his German translation (vol. 3, 1951, pp. 359-360). He cites parallels where cognate forms describe the alternating motion of wind and of breath. To me, the convincing evidence is that the next verse, 10.129.2c, speaks of the breath: “That one breathed without air.” So we would expect the verb āvarīvar here in 10.129.1c to be describing the alternating motion of the breath, its coming and going. In a parallel passage at Ṛg-veda 1.164.30-31, after speaking of the breath in the prior verse, the verb ā varīvarti (clearly from vṛt) is used in the next verse to describe “coming hither and going afar” (Vasudeva S. Agrawala translation, Vision in Long Darkness, 1963, p. 112). I have used “moved” rather than the more poetic “stirred,” because “stirred” describes an awaking from sleep, while the hymn apparently describes the regular movement of the breath during sleep.

In my translation of āvarīvar as “moved incessantly,” the “incessantly” is an attempt to render the sense of “repeated” in the intensive verb form. The so-called intensive is a verb that shows either repeated or intensified action. Thus, repeated action is shown by Jan Gonda’s translation (1966), “moved intermittently,” by Hans Henrich Hock’s translation (2007), “kept on moving,” and by Geldner’s German translation (1951), “hin und her” (“back and forth”), while intensified action is shown by Paul-Emile Dumont’s translation (1969), “was violently moving,” and by Louis Renou’s French translation (1956), “mouvait puissamment” (“moved powerfully”). The other translations mentioned above, “stirred,” etc., do not reflect the intensive sense. Since the verb āvarīvar has been associated with alternating motion, the intensive sense of repeated could perhaps just as well be rendered “rhythmically” as “incessantly.” In regard to the coming and going of the breath, “moved rhythmically” would certainly be applicable.

The phrase, kasya śarman, translated by me as, “In the abode of what?,” is most often translated as, “In whose protection?” (The interrogative pronoun kasya can equally mean “of what” or “of who, whose.”) While the word śarman means “protection” in Ṛg-veda verses such as 6.75.11, I could never see the relevance of such a meaning in this verse, asking such a question here. It always seemed incongruous to me to ask “In whose protection?,” when the entire cosmos was out of existence, or in a state of dissolution. Such a question would assume a “who” outside of the cosmos, who had not dissolved with it, and who was there to protect it. One must also wonder what there was then that it would need protection against, when the entire cosmos was dissolved. Therefore I have accepted the meaning of śarman as found in the ancient Vedic word-list known as the Nighaṇṭu, where (3.4) it is given in a group of twenty-two words for gṛha, “house,” and have translated it as “abode.”

Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava, who often follows the Nighaṇṭu, glosses śarman here as gṛhe, “in the house.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries give us another meaning of śarman, taking it as sukha, “happiness,” which is explained in relation to bhoga, “enjoyment.” The meaning “house” can be seen behind Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s 1933 translation of śarman here as “resting-place.” I think this translation of śarman is a good take on “house,” and was going to adopt it; but then the question, “In the resting-place of what?” would be answered with, “The formerly manifested cosmos.” I do not think that this obvious fact is what is being asked about here. I understand the question to be asking about the ultimate reality that is now asleep during pralaya when the cosmos is not in manifestation. So I have chosen “abode” for śarman, and translated this phrase as: “In the abode of what?”

Like the Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava gloss of śarman in the locative case, “in the house,” so the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary has śarman in the locative case, śarmaṇi, “in the enjoyment/happiness.” The many translators who translate this phrase as “In whose protection?” similarly understand śarman as a locative here. This is because, for words such as śarman ending in “-an,” locatives without the final “i” are actually more common in the Ṛg-veda than those that have it. This fact was ascertained by Charles R. Lanman in his comprehensive study, “A Statistical Account of Noun-Inflection in the Veda,” presented to the American Oriental Society in 1877 (published in Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 10, 1872-1880, pp. 325-601). Of 330 instances, 127 have the final “i,” while 203 have dropped it (see pp. 535-536). The word śarman has it 11 times, and drops it 17 times. Lanman writes: “I examined the passages in which the above 330 forms occur, and found that the choice between the two forms was often decided simply by the metre.” The fact about the dropped locative ending was duly reported by A. A. Macdonell in his Vedic Grammar, p. 203, paragraph 325, and in his Vedic Grammar for Students, p. 67, para. 90.

RV 10.129.1d: ámbhaḥ kím āsīd gáhanaṃ gabhīrám, “Was [it] water, dense [and] deep?” The interrogative kim can be taken in more than one way, so that this could be asking: “Was there water?” (as most translators take it), or even “What was water?,” besides “Was [it] water?” The two words gahana and gabhīra both mean “deep, thick.” They are so closely related in meaning that, in order to make good English, they have often been given in a phrase (or paraphrase) here, such as “fathomless abyss.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava does not gloss them, but the two different commentaries that go under Sāyaṇa’s name gloss them consistently. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses gahanam as duṣpraveśam, “hard to penetrate.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary ( glosses gahanam as praveṣṭum aśakyam, “unable to penetrate.” Seeing no reason not to accept these glosses, I have therefore translated gahana as “dense.” Sāyaṇa in both his Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries glosses gabhīram with the word agādham, “not shallow, deep, bottomless.” So I have translated gabhīram as “deep.”

The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary says that this water, dense and deep, is not the water known to us. It is not the water that remains during an intermediate pralaya or period of dissolution, when the earth remains in status quo and only its life-forms disappear. In the great pralaya, the earth itself disappears, along with everything on it including water. The water that the verse asks about is something different.

(Translation Notes to be continued)

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on January 27, 2013 at 12:08 am

Part 1: Introduction

Facing the opening page of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given in The Secret Doctrine is a quotation of most of Ṛg-veda 10.129, known as the “Hymn of Creation.” There are obvious parallels between the two texts. The first verse of the Ṛg-veda hymn says, in the early translation there quoted, “Nor Aught nor Nought existed.” The first stanza of the Book of Dzyan speaks of “that which is and yet is not. Naught was.” The second verse of the Ṛg-veda hymn says, “The only One breathed breathless by itself.” The second stanza of the Book of Dzyan says that there was “naught save ceaseless eternal breath, which knows itself not.” The third verse of the Ṛg-veda hymn says, “Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled in gloom profound.” The first stanza of the Book of Dzyan had said that “Darkness alone filled the boundless all.”

The quoted Ṛg-veda hymn was not labeled as such in the 1888 first edition of The Secret Doctrine, nor was any reference given; so readers did not know that they were reading one of the most famous hymns from the Ṛg-veda. The 1893 revised edition added only the caption, “Rig Veda,” incorrectly attributing this translation to “Colebrooke.”  Not until the carefully corrected 1978 edition of The Secret Doctrine, prepared by Boris de Zirkoff, was the source traced out and the reference accurately given. However, the 1888 first edition has often been reprinted, and is the edition that is now available online; so most readers still do not know what they are reading here. Boris de Zirkoff identified this quotation as Ṛg-veda 10.129, and found that this translation of it was quoted from Max Müller’s 1859 book, A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. The translation is not, however, by Max Müller. In introducing it, Müller there writes, “I subjoin a metrical translation of this hymn, which I owe to the kindness of a friend.” Thus we do not know who made the translation quoted in The Secret Doctrine. This hymn consists of seven verses, which are not numbered in the metrical translation. Five of these unnumbered verses were quoted in The Secret Doctrine. These are verses 1-3 and 6-7 of Ṛg-veda 10.129.

The Vedas are considered to be the oldest texts known on earth that have been preserved up to the present in a still living tradition. The ancient commentaries that explain them, however, are all lost (or were withdrawn, see: The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. xxiii ff.), and we have only some comparatively late commentaries on them. The overall or general meaning of the Ṛg-veda Hymn of Creation is not in question, but the intended meaning of a number of its words and sentences is far from certain. The standard commentaries now available, those by Sāyaṇa who lived in the 1300s C.E., were written at least two thousand years after the time of the Vedas, and probably considerably more. When the Vedas were first being studied by Western scholars, Sāyaṇa’s commentaries had to be consulted at every step, just to understand the words of the Vedas. The often unsatisfactory nature of his explanations, however, caused Western scholars to distrust them, and then to reject his commentaries. The next generation of Western scholars, disregarding Sāyaṇa’s commentaries, attempted to determine the meaning of the Vedas by comparing the usage of individual words in all their occurrences throughout the Vedic writings. While this often yielded good results, it was also often uncertain, leading to conflicting opinions. In brief, we do not know the exact meaning of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the Hymn of Creation.

We would all like to just read “the” translation of the Hymn of Creation and move on to making comparisons with the Book of Dzyan, or with any other cosmogony. Unfortunately, there is no agreed upon translation. Does the cosmos arise from nothing or from something? What does “that one” (or “that alone”) refer to? Can it be born? Can desire arise in it? Is the cosmos made by an overseer, God, a He? So unless and until the meaning given for any particular passage is explained and justified, anything more than general comparisons are only likely to lead to faulty conclusions. As noted by Walter Maurer in his excellent study, “A Re-examination of Ṛgveda X.129, the Nāsadīya Hymn” (Journal of Indo-European Studies, vol. 3, 1975, pp. 217-238, attached), the numerous existing translations of this hymn often just borrow from each other, without addressing the many difficulties of its interpretation. He writes (p. 219): “In all probability no hymn in the entire Ṛgveda has been the object of more attention than this short hymn of but seven stanzas. Moreover, it has been translated more than any other hymn in the whole collection, . . . But in spite of the attention that has been accorded this hymn, many difficulties continue to impede its interpretation. Unfortunately the translations, though numerous, tend to borrow from one another, especially in those parts where a fresh interpretation would be most welcome.”

It is also the case that most Western scholarship, and now much Indian scholarship, assumes that the Vedas come from primitive times and are the speculations of comparatively primitive people. So with this widely held presupposition, most translators are not willing to see “advanced” philosophical ideas in the Hymn of Creation. While scholars try to be objective, this basic presupposition does affect their translations. By contrast, Indian tradition holds that the Vedas come down to us from an “age of truth” (satya-yuga) or “age of perfection” (kṛta-yuga), the “golden age” of other traditions; and, far from being speculations, record facts of nature that were directly perceived by spiritually advanced sages, even if their symbolic language proves enigmatic to us. A respected Indian scholar who also studied in Europe, C. Kunhan Raja, tried to take an objective view of the Vedas, but did so without the presupposition that they are primitive. He writes in his Preface to his valuable 1963 book, Poet-Philosophers of the Ṛgveda: Vedic and Pre-Vedic (“Dedicated to K. F. Geldner, under whom I studied Veda and Avesta at Marburg”), p. x:

“I have never believed in the theory of the ‘evolution’ of philosophy in India, as now available in the Ṛgveda and the later texts like the Upaniṣads and the classical systems, from pastoral poetry relating to Animism and Anthropomorphism through Polytheism and Henotheism to Monotheism and Monism. In the Ṛgveda I have been able to detect only what Max Müller terms Henotheism (perhaps in its revised form of Kat-henotheism). I have never seen a Monotheism in the Ṛgveda nor in any current of thought in India similar to the Theism of, say, Christianity and Islam. There is a clear Monism; but that Monism is not quite what is meant by Monism in the terminology of later Indian Philosophy. The Monism in the Ṛgveda is a Matter-cum-Spirit unity and not the pure Spirit of latter-day Monism, in which matter is thought of only as an illusory transformation from the pure Spirit, and not a reality.”

As we will see, the question of just what monism is intended in the Hymn of Creation by its tad ekam, “that one” (or “that alone”), is a major factor in its interpretation. The comparatively late Indian commentaries see it as the same as the latter-day monism (or “non-dualism”) of Advaita Vedānta, while most Western scholarship disagrees that this hymn could be so philosophically advanced (or else views this hymn as a very late hymn, despite its archaic language). What Kunhan Raja sees in the Ṛgveda is exactly the monism that also can be found in the purāṇas, particularly in the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. The “Matter-cum-Spirit unity and not the pure Spirit of latter-day Monism” is exactly the primary substance (pradhāna) that is identified with the highest (para) brahman in the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā (see: Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 2. “In the Beginning” as Derived from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā). This is also exactly the monism taught in the Secret Doctrine or Wisdom Tradition from which the “Book of Dzyan” comes (reviewed in the first part of the post: Part 3. Tracing the Cosmogony Account from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā).

For the reasons alluded to above, I concluded that it would be better to make a new translation of the Hymn of Creation for comparison with the Book of Dzyan, rather than to adopt one of the thirty or so English translations of Ṛg-veda 10.129 that I have gathered over the years. This will also provide a certain consistency of translation that allows for more accurate comparison with other cosmogony accounts, such as those from the Mokṣopāya and from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, also translated by me here. In so doing, I have tried to give equal consideration to the extant Indian commentaries and to the researches and word-studies of modern scholars, mostly Western. Regarding the latter, more than twenty English translations, along with Karl Geldner’s German translation and Louis Renou’s French translation, have already been posted in two files in the “References” section of this site, and additional materials will be posted and linked directly as I cite them. Regarding the former, besides the well-known commentaries of Sāyaṇa, both on Ṛg-veda 10.129 and on the same hymn as it is repeated in Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa 2.8.9 (where his commentary differs substantially), another commentary was published in full in 1965. This is the pre-Sāyaṇa commentary by Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava on the whole Ṛg-veda. Since none of these commentaries have been translated into English, and since Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava’s does not seem to have been used (or at least is not cited) by other translators, I have given relevant quotes from them in my notes. This is where I explain and justify my translation. As F. Max Müller said in his Introduction to his translations of Vedic Hymns long ago, which is just as true today, “The notes . . . must always constitute the more important part in a translation or, more truly, in a deciphering of Vedic hymns.” (Part I, pp. ix, cxxv, Sacred Books of the East, vol. 32, 1891, this first written in 1869.)

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