Why the Form Svabhavat in Theosophical Writings

By David Reigle on February 23, 2012 at 5:50 am

From it first use in Isis Unveiled (1877), through its use in some Mahatma letters (1882), to its use in The Secret Doctrine (1888), we find the form svabhavat, with final “t” (disregarding diacritics, which vary, and the alternate transliteration “w” for “v”), rather than svabhava. This has long been a puzzle. It was finally solved by Daniel Caldwell on Oct. 13, 2009, by finding the source from which HPB had copied this word, where it was declined in the ablative case, svabhāvāt. This important discovery has not yet been written up, so it has not yet become widely known. This should be done. I have received permission from Daniel to do so, and to quote his email pertaining to it. For the historical record, here is his email that made known his discovery, sent to myself and some others:

—– Original Message —–

From: Daniel Caldwell

Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 12:47 PM

Subject: Why the final “t” in Svabhavat??

On p. 99 of BLAVATSKY’S SECRET BOOKS, David asked the question:

Why the final “t” in Svabhavat?

I would hazard the guess that HPB when writing ISIS UNVEILED simply took this word, this spelling from Max Muller’s book CHIPS FROM A GERMAN WORKSHOP, Vol. 1, p. 281 or from the article as found in this book which I believe had been previously published elsewhere.

See this spelling in Muller’s work at:


This is from the 1867 edition of this book which predates the publication of ISIS UNVEILED.



Here is my reply to it:


—– Original Message —–

From: David Reigle

Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 2:25 PM

Subject: Re: Why the final “t” in Svabhavat?? Mystery solved at last!

Dear Daniel,

At long last, you have solved the mystery of the final “t” in Svabhavat. I think there can be no doubt that this was HPB’s source for this spelling. The word swabhavat does not occur in Brian Hodgson’s Essays. Muller here extrapolated by giving it in the ablative case. The occurrences in Isis Unveiled appear to have all come from Muller and not directly from Hodgson, shown even by the change of Hodgson’s “w” to Muller’s “v”. It is easy to see how HPB could have understood Muller’s phrase, “and that this substance exists by itself (svabhavat),” to mean that svabhavat is the basic word in question, and not the word in its ablative declension. This would probably not be clear to any reader of Muller’s work who does not know Sanskrit.

This is a major find. Many thanks!

Best wishes,



Here is what Daniel found in Max Muller’s book (Chips from a German Workshop, vol. I: Essays on the Science of Religion, London, 1867, p. 281; 2nd ed., 1868, p. 282. This quotation is from Chapter XI, “The Meaning of Nirvana,” written in 1857). Muller, who himself had obviously drawn this information from Brian H. Hodgson’s writings, wrote:

“There is the school of the Svâbhâvikas, which still exists in Nepal. The Svâbhâvikas maintain that nothing exists but nature, or rather substance, and that this substance exists by itself (svabhâvât), without a Creator or a Ruler. It exists, however, under two forms: in the state of Pravritti, as active, or in the state of Nirvritti, as passive. Human beings, who, like everything else, exist svabhâvât, ‘by themselves,’ are supposed to be capable of arriving at Nirvritti, or passiveness, which is nearly synonymous with Nirvana.”

Compare what HPB wrote in Isis Unveiled (vol. 2, p. 264), later quoted in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 3):

“The Svâbhâvikas, or philosophers of the oldest school of Buddhism (which still exists in Nepaul), speculate only upon the active condition of this ‘Essence,’ which they call Svabhâvât, and deem it foolish to theorize upon the abstract and ‘unknowable’ power in its passive condition.”

In Isis Unveiled, the diacritics are exactly like in Muller’s book, svabhâvât. This is also true for the other two occurrences of svabhâvât in Isis Unveiled (vol. 1, p. 292, vol. 2, p. 266). When it was copied in The Secret Doctrine, the diacritics shifted, svâbhâvat.

Compare also what HPB wrote in an article:

“. . . of the Svâbhâvikas. ‘Nothing exists in the Universe but Substance—or Nature,’ say the latter. ‘This Substance exists by, and through itself (Svabhavat) having never been either created or had a Creator.'” (H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 13, p. 309)

These close correspondences in wording leave no doubt that she was drawing from what Max Muller wrote in this book. Muller had put svabhâva in the ablative case, svabhâvât, in order to show the meaning “by itself”; more literally, “from or due to its inherent nature.” Not knowing Sanskrit, HPB did not catch this, and simply quoted the word svabhâvât as what this “Essence” is called. This word, svabhâva, with the ablative case ending, svabhâvât, although with shift of diacritics, svâbhâvat, was then used seven times in the stanzas she quoted from the Book of Dzyan. Obviously just svabhâva was intended. That solves the longstanding mystery of the final “t” on svabhâvât/svâbhâvat in the Theosophical writings.

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