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:
pariniṣpannaabsolute existence23, 42 (27), 42, 48, 53 (28) and 54
paratantradependent existence48 (2x) and 49
parikalpitaimaginary existence48 (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

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

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:

. . . WHERE WERE THE BUILDERS, THE LUMINOUS SONS OF MANVANTARIC DAWN? . . . IN THE UNKNOWN DARKNESS IN THEIR AH-HI PARANISHPANNA. […]

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.

Solution

The solution of the mystery of SD I, 42 would then be:
Non-egoanātmanparikalpita
Voidnessśūnyatāparatantra
Darkness pariniṣpanna
The Three Svabhavas in the SD - 2
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Category: Darkness, Paratantra, Parikalpita, Parinirvana, Parinishpanna, Yogacara | 1 comment

  • David Reigle says:

    With the exception of “darkness,” which is HPB’s addition, this material was copied from Emil Schlagintweit’s 1863 book, Buddhism in Tibet. These are not HPB’s own statements, and they do not come from her Mahatma teachers. Schlagintweit’s book was what was available on Tibetan Buddhism in HPB’s time, her only source on this from which to annotate the stanzas. The Keightleys reported that when HPB gave them the manuscript of The Secret Doctrine to prepare it for publication, there were very few annotations on the stanzas. So they asked her to provide some, and she did. Schlagintweit’s book, being a pioneering work, contains many inaccuracies and errors, and these were copied in The Secret Doctrine. For example, ālaya is kun gzhi in Tibetan, not nyingpo and tsang. Below is given the source in Schlagintweit’s book of the statements quoted above from The Secret Doctrine. This whole section of annotations in The Secret Doctrine comes from Schlagintweit’s book.

    SD 1.42: “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.”

    Schlag. p. 35: “it is necessary that man view every thing existing as ideal, because it is dependent upon something else; then only—as a natural consequence—he arrives at a right understanding of the Non-ego, and to a knowledge of how the voidness is alone self-existent and perfect.”

    SD 1.48: “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.”

    Schlag. p. 34: “The three characteristic marks are the following: Parikalpita (Tib. Kun tag), Paratantra (Tib. Zhan vang), and Parinishpanna (Tib. Yong grub).
    Parikalpita is the supposition, or the error. Of this kind is the belief in absolute existence to which those beings adhere who are incapable of understanding that every thing is empty; . . . The error can be two-fold; some believing a thing existing which does not, as e. g. the Non-ego; . . .”

    SD 1.48: “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.”

    Schlag. p. 39: “The Contemplative Mahayana (Yogacharya) system.
    . . . the most important dogma established by this theory is decidedly the personification of the voidness, by supposing that a soul, Alaya (Tib. Tsang, also Nyingpo), is the basis of every thing. This soul exists from time immemorial, and in every object; “it reflects itself in every thing, like the moon in clear and tranquil water.””

    SD 1.48: “And Paratantra is that, whatever it is, which exists only through a dependent or causal connexion, . . .”

    Schlag. p. 34: “Paratantra is whatever exists by a dependent or causal connexion; . . .”


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