Anthropogenesis in the Popol Vuh

By David Reigle on January 14, 2024 at 3:55 am

The Popol Vuh (or Popol Wuj) is the sacred book of the Maya. It gives their creation story, the stories of their gods and heroes, and a history of Maya kings. It includes the creation of human beings. This took three attempts, the first two of which ended in failure. Max Müller, in his 1862 review article on the Popol Vuh, misunderstood the book as describing four creations of humanity. These four were then cited in H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, associating them with the four root-races taught there from the “Book of Dzyan.” These associations, made on an erroneous basis, are therefore also erroneous.

The first attempt at the creation of a human being is described only briefly in the Popul Vuh. This human being was made of earth and mud. It did not hold together well. It could not turn its head to look around. It spoke, but without sense. It would quickly dissolve in water. It could not walk. It could not multiply. So the disappointed creator gods destroyed it. (Sources for the first attempt: Recinos 1950, p. 86; Edmonson 1971, p. 19; Tedlock 1985, pp. 79-80; Tedlock 1996, pp. 68-69; Christenson 2003, pp. 78-79; Christenson 2004, pp. 26-27.) Tedlock notes that “the only creature made of mud is also the only one made in the singular” (1985, p. 257; 1996, p. 231).

The second attempt at the creation of human beings, and their subsequent destruction, is described at length in the Popol Vuh. They were made of carved wood, and were referred to as “poy,” variously translated as figures (Recinos), dolls (Edmonson), manikins (Tedlock), effigies (Christenson). They looked like people and they talked like people. They existed and they multiplied. They became numerous, the first to people the earth. But they had nothing in their hearts and they had no minds. They did not remember with thanks the gods who had created them. So they were destroyed, first by a flood sent by the great god “Heart of Heaven” (Recinos, Edmonson), or “Heart of Sky” (Tedlock, Christenson), their father.

It is here that Max Müller went astray, thinking that this closed the second attempt at creation. The text here adds that the body of man was made of tzité and the body of woman was made of reed or its marrow, before continuing with a lengthy description of other ways in which the figure/doll/manikin/effigy people made of carved wood were destroyed. Müller referred to tzité as a tree, but not as wood. So he erroneously took this as the third attempt at the creation of people (p. 335). The text continues, and at the end of its detailed descriptions of other ways in which these people were destroyed, it makes clear that these are the figure/doll/manikin/effigy people made of wood.

The text, when describing the planning of the second attempt at creation by the gods, refers to the people about to be created as “the formed people, the shaped people, the doll people, the made up people” (Edmonson, p. 21), and says that they are to be made of wood (Edmonson, p. 23). Then after all the descriptions of all the ways in which they were destroyed, we read “And thus was the destruction of the formed people, the shaped people” (Edmonson, p. 30). At the very end of this account, a few lines later, we read: “And it is said that the remainder are the monkeys that are in the forests today. That must be the remainder because their bodies were only fixed of wood by Former and Shaper. So the fact that the monkeys look like people is a sign of one generation of formed people, of shaped people, only puppets [poy, previously translated by him as dolls], and just carved of wood.” (Edmonson, pp. 30-31). This leaves no doubt that the end of the second attempt at creation is here being described, not the end of an erroneously postulated third attempt.

(Sources for the second attempt: Recinos 1950, pp. 89-93; Edmonson 1971, pp. 24-31; Tedlock 1985, pp. 83-86; Tedlock 1996, pp. 70-73; Christenson 2003, pp. 83-90; Christenson 2004, pp. 32-37.)

The third attempt at the creation of human beings comes much later in the Popul Vuh. Four men were created from ground yellow corn and white corn. They had no mother or father. They were not even begotten by the creator gods, but merely by a miracle (Recinos), power (Edmonson), sacrifice (Tedlock), miraculous power (Christenson), by means of incantation (Recinos), magic (Edmonson), genius (Tedlock), spirit essence (Christenson). They could talk, and they could walk. At first their sight was unlimited. They could see hidden things, and they could see at any distance. Aware of the unlimited knowledge that their unlimited sight gave them, they gave thanks to the creator gods. But then the gods wondered if it was right that the sight and knowledge of these four men equaled the sight and knowledge of the gods. So the great god Heart of Heaven/Heart of Sky limited their sight to things that were close, and with this their unlimited knowledge was also lost. They were then given wives, and these four pairs became the ancestors of the Maya people.

(Sources for the third attempt: Recinos 1950, pp. 165-170; Edmonson 1971, pp. 145-154; Tedlock 1985, pp. 163-167; Tedlock 1996, pp. 145-149; Christenson 2003, pp. 192-202; Christenson 2004, pp. 152-162.)

Christenson notes at the beginning of this account of the third attempt at the creation of human beings, the first successful one (2003, p. 192, fn. 452): “The Aztecs of Precolumbian Central Mexico believed that the earth had passed through five separate creations, each with the intent of forming beings capable of human expression. Only the fifth and final attempt was successful. . . . The Popol Vuh is consistent with this tradition in describing five separate creation attempts—the mountains and rivers, the animals and birds, the mud person, the wooden effigies, and now humankind.”

There are also other ways to count or correlate these creation attempts. Ralph Girard, in the 1979 English translation of his 1948 Spanish book, Esotericism of the Popul Vuh, classifies them into four ages of the world (p. 20): “The classification in the Popol Vuh embraces four cultural horizons, three prehistoric and one historic. They correspond to the four Ages or Suns of Toltec mythology, . . .” These from the Popul Vuh are, using Christenson’s terms for ease of comparison: the First Age is that of the creation of the animals and birds; the Second Age is that of the mud person; the Third Age is that of the wooden effigies; the Fourth Age is that of humankind.

. . . . . . .

References to the Popol Vuh in The Secret Doctrine,
compared with Max Müller’s review article on the Popol Vuh

S.D. vol. 1, p. 345: “In the Mexican Popol-Vuh, man is created out of mud or clay (terre glaise), taken from under the water.”

Max Müller, p. 334: “Then follows the creation of man. His flesh was made of earth (terre glaise). . . . He was soon consumed again in the water.”

This reference, both in Max Müller’s review article and in The Secret Doctrine, is misleading. It was not the creation of man, but only the first attempt, a failure; and the man made of earth and mud was then destroyed by the creator gods. Moreover, as noted by Tedlock, this description is in the singular in the Popol Vuh. So it seems that only one person was created. In the successful creation of people, later, they were made of ground corn.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 160: “The primitive ancestor, in Brasseur de Bourbourg’s “Popul-Vuh,” who — in the Mexican legends — could act and live with equal ease under ground and water as upon the Earth, answers only to the Second and early Third Races in our texts.”

This apparently refers to the first attempt at the creation of a human being in the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh says only that he was made of earth and mud. Neither Müller nor the Popol Vuh say anything about him being able to “act and live with equal ease under ground and water as upon the Earth.” On the contrary, the Popol Vuh says that this person would quickly dissolve in water.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 55 footnote.: “Remember . . . the Popol-Vuh accounts of the first human race, which could walk, fly and see objects, however distant.”

S.D. vol. 2, p. 96: “Again, in the ancient Quiché Manuscript, the Popol Vuh — published by the late Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg — the first men are described as a race “whose sight was unlimited, and who knew all things at once” : thus showing the divine knowledge of Gods, not mortals.”

S.D. vol. 2, p. 221: “. . . and others who . . . were born with a sight, which embraced all living things, and was independent of both distance and material obstacle. In short, they were the Fourth Race of men mentioned in the Popol-Vuh, whose sight was unlimited, and who knew all things at once.”

Max Müller, writing about what he describes as the fourth attempt at the creation of man, p. 337: “They could reason and speak, their sight was unlimited, and they knew all things at once.”

The first of these three quotations from The Secret Doctrine erroneously adds that “the first human race” could fly. Neither Müller’s review article nor the Popol Vuh itself say this. The second quotation similarly refers to them as “the first men.” In the Popol Vuh the first successful creation of people, resulting from the third attempt, had unlimited sight and knowledge only at first before it was taken away. The third quotation from The Secret Doctrine refers to them not as “the first human race” but as “the Fourth Race of men mentioned in the Popol-Vuh.” This quotation is immediately followed by “In other words, they were the Lemuro-Atlanteans.” This shows that Blavatsky in fact regarded them as early fourth root-race men rather than first root-race men. In The Secret Doctrine, the Lemurians are held to be third root-race, and the Atlanteans are held to be fourth root-race. The erroneous idea that the Popol Vuh teaches a fourth race of men comes from a misunderstanding by Müller, then erroneously equated with the fourth root-race by Blavatsky.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 97: “The Norse Ask, the Hesiodic Ash-tree, whence issued the men of the generation of bronze, the Third Root-Race, and the Tzite tree of the Popol-Vuh, out of which the Mexican third race of men was created, are all one.*

* See Max Müller’s review of the Popol-Vuh.

Max Müller, p. 335: “Then follows a third creation, man being made of a tree called tzité, woman of the marrow of a reed called sibac.”

Müller misunderstood the Popol Vuh to teach a third creation in which man is made of a tzité tree, when in fact it was still describing the second attempt at creation, of people made of carved wood. Blavatsky then erroneously took this and equated it with the third root-race. Müller, in regarding this as a third creation, missed the fact that the Popol Vuh was describing people-like figures made of wood. So he referred to “a tree called tzité” rather than wood of the tzité tree. This led Blavatsky to erroneously equate the tzité tree with “the Norse Ask, the Hesiodic Ash-tree,” and to erroneously equate this tzité tree with the source “whence issued the men of the generation of bronze, the Third Root-Race.”

S.D. vol. 2, p. 181 footnote.: “In “Hesiod,” Zeus creates his third race of men out of ash-trees. In the “Popol Vuh” the Third Race of men is created out of the tree Tzita and the marrow of the reed called Sibac. . . .

Max Müller, p. 335: “Then follows a third creation, man being made of a tree called tzité, woman of the marrow of a reed called sibac.”

Müller’s erroneous postulation of a third creation in which man is made of a tzité tree has already been noted, as has Blavatsky’s taking this and equating it with the third root-race, and Blavatsky’s equating the tzité tree with the ash-tree as the source of the third race of men. Now to Müller’s phrase, “woman of the marrow of a reed called sibac.” Brasseur de Bourbourg spells the word as zibak (pp. 26-27). Why it was changed to sibac in Müller’s review article is unknown. Brasseur de Bourbourg, who leaves it untranslated, has a footnote about it (p. 26): “Zibak, c’est la moelle d’un petit jonc dont les indigènes font leurs nattes, dit un vocabulaire manuscrit; un autre ajoute que c’est le sassafras.” Malpas translated this as: “Zibak: the pith of a little rush or reed of which the natives make their mats, says a MS. vocabulary. Others say it is sassafras” (The Theosophical Path, vol. 37.3, 1930, p. 211). There is a question of whether this word refers to the reed itself or to its pith. This has some significance for Blavatsky’s statement given in the rest of her footnote, quoted below, about this word referring to an egg. For as noted by Guthrie regarding “the pith of one kind of reeds” (The Word, vol. 2, 1905, p. 80): “Now it is evident that the root-signification is here the same as that of an egg, the inside being the most valuable part.”

The word zibak is taken as the reed itself by Recinos, Edmonson, and Christenson; and is taken as its pith by Tedlock, and by the manuscript vocabulary referred to by Brasseur de Bourbourg. The various translators have notes about this word. They are given below, preceded by the sentence to which they refer.

Recinos 1950, p. 90: “Of tzité, the flesh of man was made, but when woman was fashioned by the Creator and Maker, her flesh was made of rushes.”

footnote 1, p. 90: “The Quiché name zibaque is commonly used in Guatemala to designate this plant of the Typhaceae family, which is much used in making the mats called petates tules in that country. Basseta says it is the part of a reed with which mats are made.”

Edmonson 1971, p. 26:

“Of tz’ite was the body of the man
When he was carved
By Former
And Shaper.
Woman reed was the body of the woman
Who was carved
By Former
And Shaper.”

footnote 681, p. 26: “Zibak is the cattail or bulrush (Typha angustifolia) used for matting. Real men were later made of white and yellow corn; see line 4815 ff.”

Tedlock 1985, p. 84: “The man’s body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the pith of reeds for the woman’s body.”

backnote, p. 260: “the pith of reeds: This is zibac; B. [Domingo de Basseta] gives ziba3 as “the pith or insides of a small reed.””

Tedlock 1996, p. 71: “The man’s body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the hearts of bulrushes for the woman’s body.”

backnote, p. 235: “hearts of bulrushes: This is sib’aq [zibac], referring to the “heart” (FV, FX) or “pith or insides” (DB) of rushes of the kinds whose leaves are woven into mats (FV). This would be the white and fleshy (as opposed to green and fibrous) parts of rushes (including cattails), which can be found inside the lower parts of stalks.”

Christenson 2003, p. 85: “The body of man had been carved of tz’ite wood by the Framer and the Shaper. The body of woman consisted of reeds according to the desire of the Framer and the Shaper.”

footnote 125, p. 86: “This is the type of reed commonly used for weaving mats in Guatemala (Typha angustifolia).”

Christenson 2004, p. 33:

Tz’ite his body the man
When he was carved
By Framer,
Reeds therefore
Her body
Desired to enter by Framer

S.D. vol. 2, p. 181 footnote, continued: “In the “Popol Vuh” the Third Race of men is created out of the tree Tzita and the marrow of the reed called Sibac. But Sibac means “egg” in the mystery language of the Artufas (or Initiation caves). In a report sent in 1812 to the Cortes by Don Baptista Pino it is said : “All the Pueblos have their Artufas — so the natives call subterranean rooms with only a single door where they (secretly) assemble. . . . . These are impenetrable temples . . . . and the doors are always closed to the Spaniards. . . . . They adore the Sun and Moon . . . . fire and the great SNAKE (the creative power), whose eggs are called Sibac.””

This footnote goes with this sentence: “In the Secret Doctrine, the first Nagas — beings wiser than Serpents — are the “Sons of Will and Yoga,” born before the complete separation of the sexes, “matured in the man-bearing eggs† produced by the power (Kriyasakti) of the holy sages” of the early Third Race.” The Secret Doctrine refers to the third root-race as being “egg-born.” This is the significance of taking the word sibac to mean “egg.” Leaving aside the fact that the Popol Vuh is not here referring to a third creation of human beings, but only to the second, there is yet another difficulty. The phrase from the last sentence of the quotation from Don Baptista Pino, “whose eggs are called Sibac,” cannot be found in his report.

Blavatsky first quoted this material from Don Baptista Pino in Isis Unveiled, vol. 1, p. 557. The phrase in question is not found in the quotation as given there. Her source is there given as “Catholic World, N.Y., January, 1877: Article Nagualism, Voodooism, etc.” This article actually opens the April 1877 issue (vol. 25), and her quotation is from p. 7. The phrase in question is not found there. But, we may wonder, could it have been in a part that was not quoted in The Catholic World article?

Their quotation is referenced to “Noticias, pp. 15, 16.” This is a book written in Spanish, whose full title is: Noticias Historicas y Estadisticas de la Antigua Provincia del Nuevo-México, presentadas por su diputado en cortes D. Pedro Bautista Pino, en Cadiz el Año de 1812. Adicionadas por el Lic. D. Antonio Barreiro en 1839; y ultimamente anotadas por el Lic. Don José Agustin de Escudero, published in Mexico in 1849. A complete English translation of this book was made by H. Bailey Carroll and J. Villasana Haggard and published in Albuquerque in 1942 as: Three New Mexico Chronicles: The Exposición of Don Pedro Bautista Pino 1812; the Ojeada of Lic. Antonio Barreiro 1832; and the additions by Don José Agustín de Escudero, 1849. The part that was quoted in The Catholic World, and from there by Blavatsky, first in Isis Unveiled and then in The Secret Doctrine, is found on p. 29. The phrase in question is not found there. But, we may wonder, could it have been missed in the English translation?

This part is actually by Antonio Barreiro rather than by Don Pedro Bautista Pino. The very rare original 1812 book by Don Pedro Baptista (so spelled on its title page) Pino is reproduced in facsimile in the 1942 book, as is the very rare original 1832 (not 1839) book by Antonio Barreiro. We can there see the original Spanish on pp. 15-16 of Barreiro’s 1832 book, reproduced in facsimile on pp. 277-278 of the 1942 book. The phrase is question is not found there. The whole quotation, in a complete and accurate English translation from p. 29 of the 1942 book, is as follows:

“All of the pueblos have their estufas. This is the name the Indians give to the subterranean rooms that have only one door. There they gather to practice their dances, to celebrate their feasts, and to have their meetings. These estufas are like impenetrable temples, where they gather to discuss mysteriously their misfortunes or good fortunes, their happiness or grief. The doors of the estufas are always closed to us, the Spaniards, as they call us.

“In spite of the dominion held over them by religion, all of these pueblos persist in keeping some of the dogmas which have been transmitted to them traditionally, and which they scrupulously teach their descendants. From this arise the worship they render the sun, the moon, and other celestial bodies, the reverence they have for fire, etc., etc.”

The original Spanish, reproduced on p. 278 of the 1942 book, also ends with etc., etc.:

“. . . el respeto que tienen al fuego &c. &c.”

Not only does Barreiro’s book make no mention of the phrase in question, “whose eggs are called Sibac,” it also makes no mention of “the great snake.” The mention of the great snake comes from a paragraph from a different book, quoted in The Catholic World immediately below the quotation from the Don Pedro Bautista Pino book. This book is there referenced as “Bancroft, Native Races, iii. 173. 174.”; i.e., The Native Races of The Pacific States of North America, by Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume III: Myths and Languages, London, 1875. This book, too, makes no mention of “whose eggs are called Sibac.” The paragraph that is quoted in The Catholic World, and from there quoted in Isis Unveiled, mistaking it as being from Pino’s 1812 report, says only (Bancroft, pp. 173-174):

“The Pueblo chiefs seem to be at the same time priests; they perform the various simple rites by which the power of the sun and of Montezuma is recognized as well as the power—according to some accounts—of “the Great Snake, to whom by order of Montezuma they are to look for life;” they also officiate in certain ceremonies with which they pray for rain. There are painted representations of the Great Snake, together with that of a misshapen red-haired man declared to stand for Montezuma. Of this last there was also in the year 1845, in the pueblo of Laguna, a rude effigy or idol, intended, apparently, to represent only the head of the deity; it was made of tanned skin in the form of a brimless hat or cylinder open at the bottom.”

Thus the phrase “whose eggs are called Sibac,” found in the quotation given in The Secret Doctrine, is not found in the source it is said to be quoted from, nor in the other source quoted in The Catholic World that Blavatsky mistakenly took as being Pino’s 1812 report.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 222: “All except Xisuthrus and Noah, who are substantially identical with the great Father of the Thlinkithians in the Popol-Vuh, or the sacred book of the Guatemaleans, which also tells of his escaping in a large boat like the Hindu Noah — Vaivasvata.”

Max Müller, p. 338: “The Thlinkithians are one of the four principal races inhabiting Russian America. . . . These Thlinkithians believe in a general flood or deluge, and that men saved themselves in a large floating building.”

As may be seen, Müller’s statements about the Thlinkithians are not from the Popol Vuh. Müller was here bringing in additional material from other sources. The Thlinkithians, now written Tlingits, are Native Americans of coastal Alaska. There is, of course, no reference to them in the Popol Vuh.

The references to the Popol Vuh in The Secret Doctrine, based on Max Müller’s review article, have all been seen to be in some way erroneous. Likewise with the phrase “whose eggs are called Sibac,” which is not found in the source it is referenced to. Besides these, there is one other significant reference to the Popol Vuh in Theosophical writings. The first occurrence of it is in the comments by Aretas, pen name of James Morgan Pryse, on his partial translation of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s French translation. He writes (Lucifer, vol. 15, no. 87, 1894, p. 220):

“Of the seven races of mankind, the first three and one-half are lunar; the last three and one-half are solar. The former are symbolized in Popol Vuh by the men made of red earth, the cork-wood, and the pith of the pliant reed, who are destroyed because they are incapable of invoking Hurakan, the threefold solar fire. From these failures of the third race the monkeys are descendants; . . .”

This pertains to the Theosophical teaching that apes descended from third root-race humanity, rather than humanity descending from the apes. Since there are no apes in the New World, it would not be unreasonable to refer to them as monkeys, which do exist in the New World. But once again the erroneous numbers of the creations, among other things, invalidate this idea. As seen above, in the Popol Vuh the monkeys are remnants of the second attempt at the creation of human beings, not the third. This was the creation of the figure/doll/manikin/effigy people made of wood.

. . . . . . .

The Sources
(listed by date of publication)

The only source of the Quiché (or K’iche’) language Popol Vuh now extant is a copy written in Roman letters, made in the early 1700s CE at Rabinal by Father Francisco Ximénez (said to be in his handwriting by Recinos 1950, p. xii). This manuscript, now held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, includes his Spanish translation. The original is thought to have been written between 1554 and 1558 CE. This original was presumably based on an earlier hieroglyphic Popol Vuh.

An edition of the Spanish translation by Francisco Ximénez, based on an earlier now lost manuscript, was prepared by C. Scherzer and published as:

Las Historias del Origen de los Indios de esta Provincia de Gautemala, Viena [sic], 1857.

French translation, along with the Quiché text:

Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg. Popol-Vuh. Le Livre Sacré et les Mythes de l’Antiquité Américaine, avec les Livres Héroïques et Historiques des Quichés. Paris, 1861.

Brasseur de Bourbourg’s translation was made directly from the Quiché text. The Quiché text did not have divisions, so Brasseur de Bourbourg divided it into four parts, and then each part into several chapters.

Review article on Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation:

Max Müller. “Popol Vuh,” Chapter XIV of his Chips from a German Workshop, vol. 1: Essays on the Science of Religion, London, 1867, pp. 313-340; pp. 332-340 is “Extracts from the ‘Popol Vuh’.”

This review article was written in 1862.

English translation of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation, partial:

Aretas [pen name of James Morgan Pryse]. “The Book of the Azure Veil,” Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine, vol. 15, no. 85, Sep. 15, 1894, pp. 41-49 (part 1, chap. 1); vol. 15, no. 86, Oct. 15, 1894, pp. 129-134 (chap. 2); vol. 15, no. 87, Nov. 15, 1894, pp. 220-229 (chaps. 3-5); vol. 15, no. 88, Dec. 15, 1894, pp. 311-316 (chaps. 6-7); vol. 15, no. 89, Jan. 15, 1895, pp. 404-408 (chaps. 8-9); vol. 15, no. 90, Feb. 15, 1895, pp. 478-481 (part 2, chap. 1).

This covers approximately the first fourth of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation (see pp. 43, 482). It includes some commentary by Aretas regarding it as “a consistent allegory from the first to the last page” “a studied allegory of the secret instructions imparted in the initiation crypts of Central America” (p. 478).

English translation presumably based on and adapted from Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation, complete:

Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. “The ‘Popol Vuh’ or Book of the Holy Assembly,” The Word: A Monthly Magazine, edited by Harold W. Percival, vol. 2, 1905-1906, pp. 8-23 (Guthrie’s introduction), 77-93 (Guthrie’s introduction, continued), 163-173 (part 1, chaps. 1-3), 224-238 (chaps. 4-9), 297-306 (part 2, chaps. 1-3.22), 369-378 (chaps. 3.23-6); vol. 3, 1906, pp. 41-54 (chaps. 7-11), 104-111 (chaps. 12-14), 167-174 (part 3, chaps. 1-4), 216-230 (chaps. 5-10, part 4, chap. 1-2.19), 302-311 (chaps. 2.20-6.11), 368-370 (chaps. 6.12-7); vol. 4, 1906-1907, pp. 59-61 (chaps. 8-9), 116-124 (chaps. 10-11).

The first part of Guthrie’s Introduction gives an outline of the book, and parallels to other traditions around the world. The second part gives parallels to the Theosophical teachings of the root-races, parallels to the Greek mystery teachings, and parallels of Greek and Quiche names as evidence for the existence of Atlantis. There is no division of parts, chapters, or paragraphs in the original manuscript of the Popol Vuh. Brasseur de Bourbourg divided the text into four numbered parts, and each part into numbered chapters, and each chapter into short paragraphs by indenting them; but he did not number them. Guthrie added numbers to these short paragraphs. Malpas, below, did not add numbers to them.

English translation of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation, complete:

P. A. Malpas. “The Popol Vuh,” The Theosophical Path, 14 installments from vol. 37, no. 3, March 1930, to vol. 39, no. 4, April 1931. These are: vol. 37.3, pp. 200-213 (Malpas’s introduction, and part 1, chaps. 1-3), 37.4, pp. 322-328 (chaps. 4-7), 37.5, pp. 424-432 (chaps. 8-9, part 2, chaps. 1-2 partial), 37.6, pp. 522-531 (chaps. 2-5); vol. 38.1, pp. 73-81 (chaps. 6-8), 38.2, pp. 177-184 (chaps. 9-11), 38.3, pp. 271-276 (chaps. 12-13), 38.4, pp. 354-362 (chap. 14, part 3, chaps. 1-4), 38.5, pp. 448-457 (chaps. 5-9), 38.6, pp. 544-550 (chap. 10, part 4, chaps. 1-2); vol. 39.1, pp. 82-91 (chaps. 3-6), 39.2, pp. 138-145 (chaps. 7-9), 39.3, pp. 265-271 (chaps. 10-11 partial), 39.4, pp. 360-364 (chaps. 11-12).

The introduction by Malpas provides historical background for the Popol Vuh and its French translation. He notes that at the time Brasseur de Bourbourg translated the Popul Vuh he regarded it as containing historical records. But several years later he came to regard it as containing symbolism, at which time he began putting forward views supporting the existence of Atlantis as the land from which the Maya people came. This resulted in a loss of estimation in the eyes of the world. Malpas ends with a biographical sketch of Brasseur de Bourbourg and a brief survey of his writings. As for the translation, Malpas writes (p. 203) that Brasseur de Bourbourg “attempted no elegance of diction or style, because he desired to make it as literal a translation as possible. In translating his version into English we have followed the same plan.”

English translation of Spanish translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Adrián Recinos, Spanish translation, translated into English by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus G. Morley. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya. University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.

This is the first complete English translation of the Popol Vuh to become available in book form. It was made from the 1947 Spanish translation by Adrián Recinos, which was made directly from the Quiché. It has a lengthy Introduction, providing comprehensive information about the history of the text of the Popol Vuh, its manuscript and related books and materials. There are many excerpts from Spanish language sources that are very old and difficult to access. As for the translation, Recinos wrote (p. xiii): “Comparing the original text transcribed by Ximénez with the text published by Brasseur de Bourbourg, I noticed some differences, important omissions, and other changes which affect the interpretation of the Quiché document. Furthermore, the possibility of clarifying and correcting passages in the existing translations stimulated my desire to undertake a new version direct from the original Quiché into Spanish.”

First English translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Munro S. Edmonson. The Book of Counsel: The Popol Vuh of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala. Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, New Orleans,1971.

Edmonson was not only the first to translate the Popol Vuh into English directly from the Quiché, but also the first translator of the Popol Vuh to treat it as being entirely written in poetry, in parallelistic couplets. His translation is formatted accordingly, as is the Quiché text, which he includes in facing columns. His Quiche-English Dictionary had been published earlier, in 1965. Besides this, for his translation he consulted the eleven previous translations that were made more or less directly from the Quiché: in Spanish (Ximénex 1703?, Villacorta and Rodas 1927, Recinos 1947 and 1953, Burgess and Xec 1955, Villacorta 1962), French (Brasseur de Bourbourg 1861, Raynaud 1925), German (Pohorilles 1913, Schultze-Jena 1944, Cordan 1962), and Russian (Kinzhalov 1959). He drew upon all of them in his notes, and he described each of their approaches in his Introduction (ix-xi). He wrote (p. xi) “The Popol Vuh is in poetry, and cannot be accurately understood in prose.” “That I have ventured to attempt a twelfth translation is largely owing to the failure of the previous versions to deal accurately with its major stylistic feature.”

Second English translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Dennis Tedlock. Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings, New York, 1985.

Revised edition, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, New York, 1996.

This translation is formatted to be user friendly to those who only wish to read the text, without notes. So the unencumbered translation is given first. All the notes, about a hundred pages of them in smaller type, are given separately in the latter part of the book. The revised edition is a major revision, as Tedlock explains in his new Preface. It also has the notes at the back. Although the Quiché language is still spoken by large numbers of people, the Popol Vuh has long been lost to the Quiché people. Tedlock showed the text of the Popol Vuh to a Quiché “daykeeper,” a diviner, whom he had befriended and with whom he had apprenticed as a daykeeper. This man, Andrés Xiloj, agreed to go through the text with Tedlock. Tedlock wrote (1985, p. 16): “In the present volume the effects of the three-way dialogue among Andrés Xiloj, the Popol Vuh text, and myself are most obvious in the Glossary and the Notes and Comments, but they are also present in the Introduction and throughout the translation of the Popol Vuh itself.”

Third English translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Allen J. Christenson. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya, O Books, U.K., 2003;

Vol. 2: Literal Poetic Version: Translation and Transcription, 2004.

Reprint: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007-2008.

Christenson had learned to speak Quiché when working as a volunteer after the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala. A couple years later he began working on a Quiché dictionary and grammar at Brigham Young University. Back in Guatemala he trained as a daykeeper. He wrote that the first volume of his translation (p. 23): “aimed at elucidating the meaning of the text in light of contemporary highland Maya speech and practices, as well as current scholarship in Maya linguistics, archaeology, ethnography, and art historical iconography.” His second volume is a major study tool. Not only does it give a literal word for word translation and the facing Quiché text, but it also carefully formats both to reflect the Quiché poetic structure. Edmonson was the first to give the text in parallel couplets in his translation, as a necessary aid to their comprehension. Since his time additional poetic structures, not only parallel couplets, have been recognized in the Quiché text. Christenson’s formatting in this volume shows these.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Creation Stories, Uncategorized | No comments yet


Root-race Reference in Bhagavad-gītā?

By David Reigle on December 15, 2023 at 9:41 pm

Bhagavad-gītā, chapter 10, verse 6, referring to four preceding manus, was quoted in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 2, p. 140) in support of the Theosophical teaching of four preceding root-races. Since a manu is regarded as the progenitor of the humanity of its time period or manvantara, there is no difficulty in equating a manu with a root-race. The question is why the Bhagavad-gītā referred to the manus as four. This fits nicely with the Theosophical teaching, but not with the standard Hindu teaching. Indeed, because the standard Hindu teaching says that we are now in the seventh manvantara under the seventh manu, various Sanskrit commentators understood this line of the verse in varying ways. The Sanskrit line is ambiguous, allowing various interpretations. Does it really refer to the four preceding manus, thus supporting the Theosophical teaching of the four preceding root-races?

The translation of this verse quoted in The Secret Doctrine is that by T. Subba Row, from in his lecture on the Bhagavad-gītā given in December, 1886, and published in The Theosophist for April, 1887. Krishna is the speaker of this verse. It was there (vol. 8, p. 444) printed as:

“The seven great Rishis, the four preceding Manus, partaking of my nature, were born from my mind : from them sprang was (born) the human race and the world.”

This was slightly modified when H. P. Blavatsky quoted it in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 2, p. 140), legitimately making the singular “human race” into the plural “human races,” since the Sanskrit phrase, imāḥ prajāḥ, is plural:

“The Seven great Rishis, the four preceding Manus, partaking of my essence, were born from my mind : from them sprung (were born) the human races and the world.”

At that time there were very few translations of the Bhagavad-gītā available, the most prominent being the one by Kāshināth Trimbak Telang in the Sacred Books of the East Series, volume 8, 1882. Telang’s translation, pp. 86-87, similarly has “the four ancient Manus” for the words in question:

“The seven great sages, and likewise the four ancient Manus, whose descendants are (all) these people of the world, were all born from my mind, partaking of my powers.”

However, he adds a footnote to “the four ancient Manus”: “The words are also otherwise construed, ‘The four ancients (Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, Sanatkumāra) and the Manus.’ According to later mythology the Manus are fourteen.”

That is, some commentators separate the “four ancients” from the manus, regarding the four ancients as the four kumāras (Sanaka, etc.), and the manus as a third group referred to in this line of the verse.

Subba Row was aware of this other interpretation, and he rejected it because of the well-known Hindu tradition that the kumāras refused to create, and thus humanity could not have sprung into existence from them. A long footnote quoting Subba Row’s comments on this verse is given in The Secret Doctrine. Immediately after this verse is quoted there in the main text, Blavatsky wrote: “Here the four preceding ‘Manus,’ out of the seven, are the four Races† which have already lived, since Krishna belongs to the Fifth Race, his death having inaugurated the Kali Yuga.” The footnote goes with “the four Races” (vol. 2, p. 140) [I have added the words in brackets]:

† This is corroborated by a learned Brahmin. In his most excellent lectures on the Bhagavad Gîtâ (see Theosophist,” April, 1887, p. 444) the lecturer says: “There is a peculiarity to which I must call your attention. He (Krishna) speaks here of four Manus. Why does he speak of four? We are now in the seventh Manvantara, that of Vaivasvata. If he is speaking of the past Manus, he ought to speak of six, but he only mentions four. In some commentaries an attempt has been made to interpret this in a peculiar manner. The word ‘Chatvaraha’ [catvāraḥ, “four”] is separated from the word ‘Manavaha,’ [manavaḥ, manus] and is made to refer to Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumâra, and Sanatsujata, who are also included among the mind-born sons of Prajâpati. But this interpretation will lead to a most absurd conclusion, and make the sentence contradict itself. The persons alluded to in the text have a qualifying clause in the sentence. It is well known that Sanaka and the other three refused to create, though the other sons had consented to do so; therefore, in speaking of those persons from whom humanity has sprung into existence, it would be absurd to include those four also in the list. The passage must be interpreted without splitting the compound into two nouns. The number of Manus will then be four, and the statement would then contradict the Purânic account, though it would be in harmony with the occult theory. You will recollect that it is stated (in Occultism) that we are now in the Fifth Root-Race. Each Root-Race is considered as the Santhathi [saṃtati, “race, progeny”] of a particular Manu. Now, the Fourth Race has passed, or, in other words, there have been four past Manus. . . . .”

What Subba Row says here about the meaning makes sense, and would well explain the unusual reference to four preceding manus, but the Sanskrit is not unambiguous. His statement saying that “The passage must be interpreted without splitting the compound into two nouns” is grammatically incorrect. The two words are not in a compound; they are individually declined: catvāro manavas. I have checked the text of the Bhagavad-gītā as found in the critical edition of the Mahābhārata published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, and no variant reading is reported giving these two words in a compound. Since the words in this line of the verse are in the same nominative case, the same plural number, and the same masculine gender, any of them can be taken with any of them. The various Sanskrit commentators were fully aware of this, and they did so. The words of this line of the verse are:

maharṣayaḥ sapta pūrve catvāro manavas tathā, meaning the great rishis (maharṣayaḥ) seven (sapta) preceding or ancient (pūrve) four (catvāro) manus (manavas) also (tathā).

The “four” (catvāro) is in grammatical agreement with “preceding or ancient” (pūrve) and with “manus” (manavas). This allows the possibility of taking this phrase either as “the four preceding manus,” or as “the four ancients and also the manus.” Thus there could be two groups spoken of here in this line: the rishis and the manus; or there could be three groups spoken of here: the rishis, the ancients, and the manus. So how do we know what is meant?

For grammatically ambiguous passages such as this one, which are frequent in Sanskrit, the only available recourse we have is to commentaries. The older the commentary, the closer to the original in time, the more likely it is to represent the author’s intended meaning. However, the ancient commentaries on the Bhagavad-gītā are lost. The oldest available commentary is that by Śaṅkarācārya, perhaps a millennium or more after the Bhagavad-gītā was written. He sees two groups here: the seven rishis and the four manus. He glosses the word pūrve, “preceding or ancient,” simply as “belonging to past time,” atīta-kāla-saṃbandhinaḥ, without specifying whether it goes with the seven rishis or the four manus. Commentaries, too, can be ambiguous. Śaṅkara glosses the four manus as sāvarṇā iti prasiddhāḥ, “known as the sāvarṇas.” The next oldest available commentary is that by Rāmānuja. He, too, sees two groups here: the seven rishis and the four manus. Like Śaṅkara, he glosses the four manus as the sāvarṇas: sāvarṇikā nāma catvāro manavaḥ. So who are the sāvarṇas?

As is well known, fourteen manus are posited by Hinduism. These are, from earliest to latest: 1. Svāyambhuva; 2. Svārociṣa; 3. Uttama or Auttami; 4. Tāmasa; 5. Raivata; 6. Cākṣuṣa; 7. Vaivasvata; 8. Sāvarṇi or Sāvarṇo; 9. Dakṣa-sāvarṇi/o; 10. Brahma-sāvarṇi/o; 11. Dharma-sāvarṇi/o; 12. Rudra-sāvarṇi/o; 13. Raucya or Raucyadeva-sāvarṇi/o; 14. Bhautya or Indra-sāvarṇi/o. We are currently in the seventh manvantara, or time period of the seventh manu, Vaivasvata. As can be seen, the sāvarṇas are the future manus, Sāvarṇi/o, etc. Indeed, Rāmānuja’s sub-commentator Vedānta Deśika provides the names of the four sāvarṇikas: brahmasāvarṇo rudrasāvarṇo dharmasāvarṇo dakṣasāvarṇaḥ. This raises a problem. How can future manus be the progenitors from whom all the people of the world (loka imāḥ prajāḥ) have come, as the second half of the verse says?

The third oldest available commentary is that by Madhva. He, too, sees two groups here: the seven rishis and the four manus. But for him the four manus cannot be the sāvarṇas, and must be the first four manus, Svāyambhuva, etc.: catvāraḥ prathamāḥ svāyambhuvādyāḥ. Madhva’s sub-commentator Jayatīrtha provides the names of these four manus: Svāyambhuva, Svārociṣa, Raivata, and Uttama (svāyambhuva-svārociṣa-raivatottamāḥ). The later commentators Śaṅkarānanda and Rāghavendra agree, Śaṅkarānanda saying the same as Madhva: svāyambhuvādayaś catvāro manavaś ca, and Rāghavendra like Jayatīrtha adding the names of the four manus: Svāyambhuva, Svārociṣa, Raivata, and Uttama (catvāraḥ svāyambhuva-svārociṣa-raivatottamākhyāḥ manavaḥ). This interpretation, of course, leaves unanswered the question of why the Bhagavad-gītā refers to only four preceding manus rather than six manus preceding the seventh manvantara that we are now living in.

Other later commentators avoided this problem by seeing three groups here: the seven rishis, the four ancients, and the manus. Thus, Śrīdhara Svāmi (catvāro mahārṣayaḥ sanakādayaḥ), Upaniṣad Brahma Yogin (pūrve sanakādayo ’nye catvāraḥ), Keśava Kāśmīri Bhaṭṭācārya (catvāro mahārṣayaḥ sanakādayaḥ), Sadānanda (sanakādayaḥ), and Daivajña Paṇḍita Sūrya (catvāraḥ sanakādayas) all agree on seeing the four ancients as the four kumāras beginning with Sanaka, a separate group distinct from the manus. This, however, brings in its own problem, as pointed out by Subba Row: The kumāras are eternal youths, celibates, who did not create progeny; hence they could not be the progenitors from whom all the people of the world have come.

A few of the later commentators, i.e., Madhusūdana and Dhanapati-sūri, allowed both options, but this is of little help to us.

This verse 10.6 of the Bhagavad-gītā, then, with its various differing interpretations, does not provide unambiguous support for the Theosophical teaching of four preceding root-races. The interpretation of this verse as referring to the four preceding manus is just one of three interpretations found in the commentaries that are now available. The reference to four rather than six preceding manus is indeed anomalous in Hindu tradition, and some explanation of this phrase is needed. So readers must decide what they think makes more sense: (1) four future manus, (2) four preceding manus, or (3) the four ancient kumāras along with the manus whose number is unspecified. The language of this unusual reference in the Bhagavad-gītā may be most simply understood as the four preceding manus. As for why four instead of six preceding manus, the Theosophical teaching of the four preceding root-races provides an answer, while the available commentaries leave this question unanswered. So this verse may support the Theosophical teaching of the root-races inferentially, but it does not do so in a clear and unambiguous manner.

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Who were the Turanians of The Secret Doctrine?

By Ingmar de Boer on October 19, 2023 at 9:43 pm


In volumes I and II of H.P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (SD), the word “turanian” is mentioned 14 times. The variants Tur, Turan, the Turanians, Turanian languages and religions are mentioned quite frequently in the SD and several of her other writings. Sometimes the term is used in rather crucial passages. Our question here may be: who did HPB mean when she used the word Turanians?

Max Müller’s Model of Language Development

An illustrative example of the use of the term Turanian is the following, from SD I, xxix:

Nevertheless, having found that “there is a natural connection between language and religion”; and, secondly, that there was a common Aryan religion before the separation of the Aryan race; a common Semitic religion before the separation of the Semitic race; and a common Turanian religion before the separation of the Chinese and the other tribes belonging to the Turanian class; having, in fact, only discovered “three ancient centres of religion” and “three centres of language,” and though as entirely ignorant of those primitive religions and languages, as of their origin, the professor does not hesitate to declare “that a truly historical basis for a scientific treatment of those principal religions of the world has been gained!”

The professor in this citation is Friedrich Max Müller, who in his 1861 work Lectures on the Science of Language, proposed a threefold model of language development, comprising three separate language families: Semite, Aryan and Turanian. Müller’s Semite and Aryan families correspond with our modern Semite and Indo-European language families. Turanian then corresponds largely to the Altai and Uralic languages (Turkish, Hungarian, Finnish, Mongolian, etc.), but also includes for example Tibetan and Burmese (now Sino-Tibetan), Thai (now Dai), Yeniseian (now Dené-Yeniseian), and Tamil and Telugu (now Dravidian). We might say that initially the Turanian family contained grosso modo every language which did not fit into the other two. Most of the currently known African, American and Polynesian languages and language families are not part of the threefold model, as they did not yet receive full attention of language researchers in Müller’s time.

In Müller’s later works on historical linguistics, Chinese is more decisively seen as separate from the Turanian family. Chinese has a more “primitive” grammatical structure than Turanian, and while the Turanian languages would correspond to nomadic people, Chinese would be a language suited for a more “family-oriented” people, as Müller suggested. In the quotation from SD I, xxix, HPB reflects the idea that within a certain period of time the Chinese tribes would have split off from the other Turanian tribes.

HPB’s View on the Turanian Languages

In several places in the SD, we find the Chinese tribes or peoples explicitly mentioned as separate from the Turanian tribes, as in SD I, 113:

This esoterism […] cannot be claimed by the Turanians, so-called, the Egyptians, Chinese, Chaldeans, nor any of the Seven divisions of the Fifth Root Race, but really belongs to the Third and Fourth Root Races, […]

HPB’s subtle criticism on Müller’s ideas may be discerned in the words “Turanians, so-called”. HPB also mentions that “The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, accepting even the Turanian with ample reservations.” In Isis Unveiled I, 576n we already find the same critical tone in her definition of “Turanian”:

The appropriate definition of the name “Turanian” is, any ethnic family that ethnologists know nothing about.

In SD II, 198, Müller’s ideas on language development are explained in somewhat more detail by HPB, correlated to the various early races according to the views presented in the SD.

Monosyllabic languages are related to the third race, “that of the first approximately fully developed human beings at the close of the Third Root-race, the ‘golden-coloured,’ yellow-complexioned men, after their separation into sexes”. Agglutinative languages are related to the Atlantic, fourth race, and inflectional languages to the Aryan and Semitic races. Müller also calls the Chinese language “monosyllabic”, which he sees as a more primitive stage of language development. The designation “agglutinative” covers the Turanian language group.

In the nineteenth century discussion on human evolutionary development, one of the key questions was: did the various human races develop from different isolated origins, or did they develop from one root stock? The first point of view was termed polygenism and the second monogenism. It is only in our time that science has developed a more realistic view of human development, explaining, incorporating and placing relative to each other the arguments for and against poly- and monogenism respectively.

HPB clearly does not agree with Müller’s theory of the three separate origins and, as we may know, in the view presented in the SD, the different races are, very importantly, not separate developments, as the fourth race has its origin in the third, as again the fifth in the fourth. For instance in SD II, 425 she conveys that the Turanians and Chinese have the late third race as a common ancestor:

They “of the yellow hue” are the forefathers of those whom Ethnology now classes as the Turanians, the Mongols, Chinese and other ancient nations; […]

Combining these opposing ideas, of relatively separate evolutionary entities on the one hand and their common ancestor on the other, we may think of the following structure:

From a modern point of view, a structure like this looks more realistic, resembling a modern “genetic tree diagram”. We see that the early races develop from each other, while the different individual cultures or languages all descend from a central line of development. Moreover, according to HPB, race mixing to form new civilisations is also a mechanism actually taking place, which is not taken into account in this diagram.

In SD II, 434 the following diagram is given:

In the description of this diagram, the letter A represents a “root race”. Today we would call these evolutionary strands differently, but for reference we need the original terminology here. Examples of root races are the Third, Fourth and Fifth Race mentioned above, termed Lemurian, Atlantean and Aryan respectively, all with the necessary reservations. Sub-races are indicated with the letter B, even smaller groupings with the letter C. We can see that in this diagram, evolutionary entities are all connected, and develop from each other. They evolve from one strand, but form their individual niches, showing both viewpoints, of polygenism and monogenism, in one diagram.

HPB refers to the work of Jean Armand de Quatrefage (1810-1892), a well-known monogenist of her day, when arguing that humanity has developed from one stock and that new races are formed by race mixing. (SD II, 444) Further she argues that the root races “overlap with several hundreds of millenniums”. (SD II, 445) In her view, evolutionary entities do not only die out by extinction of all individuals, physically disappearing without a trace, but, apparently in other cases, carry over their evolutionary heritage to the next entity during an overlapping period of genetic mixing. This is all of course only a theory from the perspective of the physical development of man, while HPB advocates also a spiritual development in relation to the former. In that respect her view is fundamentally different from that of her contemporary, Charles Darwin.

The Fourth Sub-race of the Fourth Race

In only one location in the SD, namely in I, 319, we find the word Turanian associated with the fourth sub-race of the Fourth Race:

[…] from the commingling of the 4th and 5th sub-races (the Mongolo-Turanian and the Indo-European, so-called, after the sinking of the great Continent) […]

It may be noted that in later theosophical writings, the 4th sub-race is called Turanian and the 6th sub-race is called Mongolian, for instance in William Scott-Elliot (The Story of Atlantis, 1896), Annie Besant (The Pedigree of Man, 1904), Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater (Man, Whence, How and Whither, 1913), and in the works of Rudolf Steiner. Gottfried de Purucker has a different view on the fourth sub-race, apparently keeping closer to the text of the SD, calling it the Mongolian sub-race.


HPB accepts the idea that the Turanian peoples as defined by Max Müller are indeed an evolutionary entity, having a common culture and religion, be it with ample reservation. The current Turanian peoples are seen as descendants of the Fourth Race, and are associated with its fourth sub-race. As the Chinese peoples have descended from the Third Race, they do not fall under the heading of Turanians proper. The Chinese language is a monosyllabic (isolating) language and as such it does not fit the profile of a Turanian language. According to the SD, the Turanian languages are the result of an essential development taking place during the Fourth, Atlantean, Race. The Turanian languages are defined as the agglutinative languages, which are primarily the Altai and Uralic language groups. The Turanian peoples are seen as the evolutionary entities communicating by means of these languages. ■

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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A Digital Index of The Secret Doctrine

By Ingmar de Boer on June 28, 2020 at 8:35 pm

Studying the SD again intensively for some time, I felt the need for a digital index, containing every word of the text. On the basis of the digital ASCII text edition of the volumes I and II by Theosophical University Press, I have generated a simple index, as well as a list of word frequencies, which might also be useful to other students. I post these files here, including some documentation in the form of my notes.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Cosmogenesis | No comments yet



By Jacques Mahnich on December 28, 2018 at 1:39 pm

A quest was launched during 2012 to identify a correlation between the affirmation of H.P.B. in her S.D. 2.69 that the age of humanity has more than eighteen million years (18,618,725 years up to Kali-Yuga 4986, or 1884-1885 C.E.). Many articles were published on this blog, with all details of calculations according to the old Indian Tradition, more specifically from the Tirukkanda Panchanga which can be can clearly be traced to the Sūrya-siddhānta.

A copy of the Sūrya-siddhānta was uploaded on this site. Chapter one is giving the basic calculations for the cycles (yugas) :

We start with the classical Maha-Yuga, made of the four yugas plus the sandhyas and sandhyansas, with a duration of 4,320,000 human years.

Then, we have the duration of a Manvantara, with 71 Maha-Yugas, plus one Krita-Yuga :

Then, we have the definition of the Kalpa, made of fourteen manvantaras, plus the fifteenth sandhi (Krita-Yuga)

Then, the definition of the Day of Brahma, made of one hundred Kalpas.

We learn here that the present Kalpa is the first in the remaining half of this Brahma age.

Then we have the calculation to reach our current date :

The two next verses are the ones of interest for the search for the 18 million years :

Since the end of the Krita Yuga, 47,400 years of the Gods = 47,400 x 360 = 17,064,000 human years have elapsed, to which we add the Krita Yuga :

17,064,000 + 1,728,000 = 18,792,000 human years

We still have a discrepancy of 18,792,000 – 18,618,725 = 173,275 years, but the order of magnitude is very close by.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Occult Chronology, Uncategorized | 2 comments


The Unusual History of Beings From India, by the Greek physician, Ktesias (5th century BCE)

By Robert Hütwohl on April 17, 2016 at 8:08 pm

The Greek physician, author, courtier, naturalist and traveler, Ctesias (Gr. Κτησίας = Ktesias), wrote a history of Persia and Assyria (“The Persica”1) and India (“Indica”2) totaling some 23 volumes of historical accounts. His accounts have come down to us but as fragments. He flourished during the 5th century BCE Present at the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes II, Ctesias took notes from travelers’ adventures and reports from far off lands. Certain accounts are probably of long extinct species. Although some writers have questioned his accuracy, others have substantiated them. At times, he countered what Herodotus had reported in his “The Histories.”3 Particularly, it is Ktesias’ “Indica” which I examined, noting some of the more unusual observations and reports.

“On India” was the first writing to introduce westerners to the people, places and things of India. We are indebted to Photios I of Constantinople (Gr. Φώτιος = Fotios) and his 280 volumes called Myriobiblon (Bibliotheca) for most of what has survived from Ktesias.

I did read Ktesias’ “The Persica” but found nothing in it which met my objective, which was to supplement David Reigle’s excellent findings on the topic of the Book of Dzyan and his two posts in March about “Water-Men, Terrible and Bad.” Blavatsky does not mention Ktesias, possibly because nothing was available early enough prior to the release of “The Secret Doctrine.”

Of course, as expected, these reports by Ktesias do not exactly correspond to what is in “The Secret Doctrine,” Anthropogenesis. At least, not yet. As we know, from the stanzas of the Book of Dzyan we have only fragments from the original and therefore our and others’ findings might eventually correspond, if more stanzas were to be released in the future and further fragments, such as in the Mesopotamian, Greek and Sanskrit and possibly Chinese come to light. We do not know even the most vague time periods for the “Water-Men, Terrible and Bad” other than long periods in this round prior to incrustation and before the arrival by the Lords of Flame and the inception of the manas principle in the human. These Water-men would have amassed from nature’s previous remains of the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms still lingering from the first, second and third rounds which would have produced bizarre (to us) creatures.

Nature, however, had eventually progressed from those long distant periods, and evolved the ability for each species to genetically protect itself from forming with other species, protecting the ovum from penetration by species not of its own kind, which resulted in chimeras. Can anomalies repeat themselves from past organisms? I would say they can, as so-called “accidents” have occurred from the past.

And, now we live at a time when long past “unaided, physical nature fails” has presented itself with the intervention by humans which can reverse millions of years of progress. Evidence exists where certain labs around the world are attempting to intervene in animal and human organisms, by using the relatively new and amazingly simple cut and paste technique called CRISPR Gene-Editing, and synthetic biological manipulation which is proceeding unabated in human and dog genetic material. Stem cell research and 3-D printing has advanced so quickly, we will be able to replace entire organs and body parts such a noses, ears and appendages and even the heart.

It is unfortunate for extant and future humanity, we have only fragments from the ancient past, which would indicate, as in Stanza II of Book II Anthropogenesis: “They [the Lhas] slew the forms which were two- and four-faced. They fought the goat-men, and the dog-headed men, and the men with fishes’ bodies.” But new written fragments will be discovered whereby archaeology will continue to amaze us with new and wonderful discoveries to vindicate the ancient records of the past.


1The Fragments of the Persika of Ktesias, edited with introduction and notes by John Gilmore. Ctesias. London, Macmillan, 1888


Ctesias’ ‘History of Persia.’ Tales of the Orient. LLoyd Llewellyn-Jones, James Robson (Routledge Classical Translations) Routledge, 2010

2Ctesias. On India.” Translation and Commentary by Andrew G. Nichols. Bristol Classical Press, Bloomsbury, 2011

3Herodotus. The Histories. A New Translation by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press, 2008


the translation which Blavatsky used: Herodotus, History of Herodotus, tr. George Rawlinson, assisted by Henry Rawlinson and J. G. Wilkinson, in 4 volumes, new edition.  London: John Murray, 1862


Samples from Ctesias’ “Indica”:

pp. 48-9

(15) There lives in India a beast called the martichora which has a human face, is the size of a lion, and is red like cinnabar. It has three rows of teeth, human ears, and light blue eyes like a man’s. It has a tail like a land scorpion on which there is a stinger more than a cubit long. It also has stingers on either side of the tail as well as on the end like a scorpion. If approached, it stabs with a stinger inflicting a fatal wound. If its opponent fights from a distance, then it points its tail at him and fires stingers as if from a bow, but when assailed from behind, it stretches its tail straight out. It can fire stingers as far as a pletheron and the stingers are completely fatal to everything except elephants. Each stinger is one foot long and as wide as the thinnest reed. The word ‘martichora’ means man-eater in Greek because it mostly captures and devours humans, but eats other animals as well. It fights with both its talons and stingers, which Ctesias claims grow back after being fired.


pp. 53-54

(37) According to Ctesias, in these mountains live men who have the head of a dog. Their clothes come from wild animals and they converse not with speech, but by barking like dogs, and this is how they understand each other. They have larger teeth than dogs and claws that are similar but longer and more rounded. They live in the mountains as far as the Indus River and they are black and very just, like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate. Since they understand what the other Indians say but cannot converse, they communicate by barking and making gestures with their hands and fingers like the deaf and mute. The Indians call them Kalystrioi which in Greek means Cynocephaloi (‘Dog-Headed People’). They have 120,000 people in their tribe.


pp. 55-6

(44) They say another race lives beyond these people past the source of the river. These men are dark like the rest of the Indians and do not work, eat grain, or drink water. Instead, they tend many flocks of sheep, oxen, goats, and cattle and drink only milk and nothing else. When their young are born, they do not have an anus nor do they have bowel movements. They have buttocks but the orifice is grown together. Consequently, they do no pass excrement but they say their urine is like cheese, not thick but foul. They say that once they drink early in the morning and again in the middle of the day, they ingest a sweet root which does not allow milk to solidify in their abdomen. They gnaw on this root in the evening and vomit everything up with ease.


pp. 59

(50) In the mountains of India where the reed grows, there is a tribe of men numbering 30,000. Their women give birth only once in their lifetime and their children have very beautiful teeth on both the upper and lower jaws. From birth each man and woman has white hair on their head and eyebrows for the first thirty years of their life. Their hair all over their body is white; after this it begins to turn black. When they reach the age of sixty, their hair is totally black. These men have up to eight fingers on each hand and likewise eight toes on each foot; the same goes for the women. They are very warlike and 5,000 of them serve the king of the Indians as archers and javelin men. According to Ctesias, they have ears big enough to cover their arms as far as the elbow and their entire back at the same time and one ear can touch the other.

(51) These are the stories Ctesias writes and asserts that they are completely truthful; adding that he personally saw some of the things he wrote about while others he heard from first- hand witnesses. He says that he omitted many other more incredible tales in order to not seem untrustworthy to those who have not seen them personally. These are some of the stories in his work.


pp. 65-6

F45h. Aelian H 4.27
I hear that the griffin is an Indian animal with four feet with exceedingly strong talons which most closely resemble a lion’s. They have plentiful feathers on their backs with black plumage but red in the front while their wings are white. Ctesias claims that the neck is adorned with deep blue feathers; the beak and head are like an eagle, similar to what an artisan would draw or mould, and its eyes are a fiery red. It makes its nest in the mountains but it is impossible to capture a full grown one; however, they can be taken into captivity when they are young. The Bactrians who are neighbours with the Indians say that the griffins guard the gold in that region and that they dig it out and weave their nests with it while the Indians gather what falls off.


p. 72

F45ob. Psellus ed. P. Maas [L]
(2) Men dwell on the mountain who have the head of a dog but the rest of their body is human. They shout to the other Indians and communicate with them, but instead of talking they bark like dogs. They eat the fruit from these trees and the raw meat from wild animals which they hunt. They also keep many sheep and their teeth are larger than a dog’s. They wear black garments made of hide and they drink milk from their sheep. All of them have tails, men and women alike, below the haunches just like a dog.

F45pa. Plin. [Pliny] H 7.23
In many mountains there is a race of men with the head of a dog and clothed in animal skins. Instead of a voice they issue howls. They are armed for the hunt with talons and feast on birds. According to Ctesias, they numbered more than 120,000 at the time of his writing.

F45pb. Tzetz. [Tzetzes] Chil. 7.713
Ctesias claims that there are amber-producing trees and dog-headed peoples in India. He maintains that they are very just and live by hunting.


pp. 73-4

F45q. Aelian A 4.52
I have heard that there are wild asses in India no smaller than horses which have a white body, a head which is almost crimson, and dark blue eyes. They have a horn on their brow one and a half cubits in length. The lower portion of the horn is white, the upper part is vermilion, and the middle is very dark. I hear that the Indians drink from these multicoloured horns, but not all the Indians, only the most powerful, and they pour gold around them at intervals as if they were adorning the beautiful arm of a statue with bracelets. They say that the one who drinks from this horn will never experience terminal illnesses. No longer would he suffer seizures or the so-called holy sickness nor could he be killed with poison. If he drank the poison first, he would vomit it up and return to health. . . .


p. 79

F51a. Plin. H 7.23: (F45pa; F45t)
The same author (sc. Ctesias) writes that the race of men who are called the Monocoli have one leg but show amazing agility by jumping. These same men are also called the Sciapodes because when it is hot, they lay on the ground on their back and shade themselves with their feet. They inhabit a region not far from the Troglodytes. Turning again to the west from these people are those who lack necks and have eyes on their shoulders. (24) There are also satyrs in the mountains of the eastern part of India in the region of the so-called Catarcludi. Satyrs are extremely swift animals running sometimes on all fours and sometimes upright in imitation of a human. Because of their speed, they are never captured unless old or sick.


p. 80

F51b. Tzetz. Chil. 7.621-41 (Kiesling 629-49)
There is a book by Scylax of Caryanda written about India which claims that there are men called the Sciapodes and the Otoliknoi. Of these the Sciapodes have very broad feet and at midday they drop to the ground, stretch their feet out above them, and give themselves shade. The Otoliknoi have huge ears which they use to cover themselves like an umbrella. This Scylax also writes numerous tales about the Monophthalmoi, the Henotiktontes, and countless other strange marvels. He speaks of them as if they were true and none of them fabricated. Since I have not seen any of it, I consider these tales to be lies. That they have some elements of truth is attested by the fact that many others claim to have seen such marvels and ones even more incredible in their lifetime. This list includes Ctesias, Iambulos, Isigonos, Rheginos, Alexander, Sotion, Agathosthenes, Antigonos, Edoxos, Hippostratos, and countless others, including Protagoras himself and even Ptolemy, Akestorides and other writers of prose some of whom I am personally familiar with and others I am not.


pp. 90-91

F75. Prima interpolatio cod. Monac. Gr. 287 (Photius) [L] The tales of Ctesias of Cnidus on the marvels of the world: The Seres and the inhabitants of upper India are said to have an exceedingly large physique as some of them are found to be thirteen cubits tall, and they live for more than 200 years. On one portion of the Gaïtros River there are savage men with skin which most closely resembles a hippopotamus since it cannot be pierced by arrows. In India too they say that at the innermost region on an island in the sea there live men, who have very large tails, like those depicted on a satyr.

F76. Altera interpolatio cod. Monac. Gr. [Codex Monacensis Graecus] 287 (Photius) [L] In Ethiopia there is a creature called the krokottas, commonly known as the dog-wolf. It has amazing power and they say it mimics a human voice and calls men out by name during the night so that they approach the human voice. They attack in throngs and devour their prey. The animal has the strength of a lion, the swiftness of a horse, and the power of a bull, but it yields to iron . . ..


pp. 123

men who have the head of a dog: Cf. F45ob, F45p a-g; There are several earlier references to Cynocephaloi in Greek literature, however Ctesias gives the first detailed description of them. Hesiod (Fr. 40A, 44) refers to ‘Half-dogs’ but the reference is too vague to determine any relation to the Cynocephaloi, although the first-century BCE grammarian Simmias of Rhodes certainly equated the two (Fr. 1.9-13).


p. 156

those who lack necks and have eyes on their shoulders: Cf. Hdt. 4.191 who places this tribe in Libya. Elsewhere (5.8.46) Pliny describes the Blemmyes who are an African tribe of men who have no heads but eyes and a mouth on their chest.

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Anthropogenesis in the Stanzas of Dzyan Webinar

By David Reigle on January 9, 2016 at 6:05 pm

An online webinar on the anthropogenesis stanzas from the Book of Dzyan found in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, will be starting on Jan. 11, 2016. More specifically, it will use as a course textbook the commentary on these stanzas titled, Man, Son of Man, written by Sri Madhava Ashish, and published in 1970. Information about this webinar can be found at: https://www.theosophical.org/programs/webinars/3699-theosophical-teachings-of-sri-madhava-ashish. It is being facilitated by Sy Ginsburg, Michael Hurd, and Elena Dovalsantos. Sy Ginsburg is a longtime student of the late Sri Madhava Ashish.

This will be a good opportunity to study the anthropogenesis stanzas from the Book of Dzyan in depth. These stanzas contain many strange and unusual teachings, such as that of the modes of birth for humans in the remote past. In a series of posts here on the “Modes of Birth” (starting on Feb. 13, 2012), parallel material from Indian sources was brought in, and I hope that more material relevant to these stanzas will be brought in from Indian sources and posted here as this webinar proceeds.

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Further on the Modes of Birth in Kālacakra

By David Reigle on February 25, 2012 at 3:58 am

It is really good to have the material brought in by Ingmar in “More Modes of Birth (1)” from the Vimalaprabhā Kālacakra commentary. This is a very important source for Book of Dzyan research. It is probably the only source that gives the correspondences of the four modes of birth with the five elements. The material nicely given from Vimalaprabhā 2.34 in Ingmar’s tables agrees with what was given in Vimalaprabhā 1.4. At 1.4 the correspondences are given a little more fully. Besides the egg-born from the element “air,” the womb-born from the element “fire,” and the sweat-born from the element “water,” it says that the upapāduka, here trees, etc. (the “stationary” of 2.34), are from the element “earth.” It then adds another kind of upapāduka, the great upapāduka (mahopapāduka), from the element ākāśa, “space” (here called rasa, “taste”). It does not say what these great upapāduka or self-produced beings are, but at 2.34 they are described as having the form of taste (rasa-rūpa), a term used here in Kālacakra for ākāśa. The Vimalaprabhā does briefly define upapāduka later, at 4.51, as instantaneous arising (yo jhaṭitaḥ sa upapādukotpādaḥ).

For readers who would like access to the romanized Sanskrit of the Vimalaprabhā passage at 1.4, along with an English translation, it can be found in “New Light on the Book of Dzyan,” in Symposium on H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine: Proceedings (San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1984), pp. 54-67; reprinted in Blavatsky’s Secret Books (1999), pp. 25-41. At the time that was written, I did not know about the further reference in 2.34 (nor, for that matter, did I remember it now until Ingmar brought it in).

Interestingly, the Vimalaprabhā at 1.4 gives the four modes of birth as tiryag-yoniś caturdhā, that is, as of animals. Similarly, at 2.34, it says bhūta-yoni (where the word had to fit the meter in the verse), the modes of birth of creatures or living beings, and gives examples only of insects, etc. There is no indication here in Kālacakra that these modes of birth would also apply to humans. It is only in the Buddhist Abhidharma that the four modes of birth are specifically said to also apply to humans.

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More modes of birth (2)

By David Reigle on February 23, 2012 at 11:51 pm

In the Vishnu Purana (Viṣṇu Pūraṇa, VP) we find the term self-born. Other “modes of birth” mentioned in the VP are mind-born, will-born and self-born.

Mind-born is used only in connection with the sons of Brahma, the seven rishis, or prajapatis. In VP 1.7.4 they are called literally “mind sons” or mānasāḥ putrāḥ. This term is translated (correctly) by H.H. Wilson as mind-born sons. HPB uses the term Manasaputras, and explains it as those who are “born of ‘Mahat’, or Brahmâ” (SD II, 167), or Mind-born sons (SD II, 374).

yadāsya tāḥ prajāḥ sarvā na vyavardhanta dhīmataḥ |
athānyānmānasānputrānsadṛśānātmano ‘sṛjat || VP 1.7.4||

Will-born is used in the same sense as mind-born, in connection with the rishis.

Self-born is used for example in connection with Vishnu and his hypostases. The element of apparition is not the essential characteristic here, but the idea of parentlessness, the idea that something appears from nothing other than itself, that is self-born.

HPB also uses self-born in the sense of parentless, for example in SD I, 109: “They [the Manushi-Buddhas] are the ‘Buddhas of Contemplation,’ and are all Anupadaka (parentless), i.e., self-born of divine essence.” Anupadaka would be erroneous for upapāduka, which is an adjective meaning self-produced, often used in the context of the modes of birth.

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More Modes of Birth (1)

By David Reigle on February 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

In the Abhidharmakośa (AK 3.8-9) we find, as David indicated in his earlier posts on the subject, and in his earlier article on the Original Genesis, a short statement on the “modes of birth”. In the English 1991 translation of Vallée-Poussin-Pruden, Vol. 2, p. 380-381 (cf. French tr. Vallée-Poussin p. 26-27), it is rendered:

3.8c-d There are here four “wombs” of beings, beings born from eggs, etc.
3.9a Humans and animals are of the four types.
3.9b-c Beings in hell, intermediate beings, and the gods are apparitional too.
3.9d Pretas are also born from a womb.

We could call the style of reasoning of this statement inductive or empirical. The model of the “six realms of saṃsāra” is correlated with the model of the modes of birth, but there seems to be no systematic (“systemic”) relationship between the two. This could be viewed as an example of what HPB might call exoteric interpretation. The modes of birth and the six realms are not explained: they are assumed to be known to the reader.

Of the Book of Dzyan it is thought that it somehow represents universal wisdom, that is “theosophy” in its most literal sense. Then it should be axiomatic, in the sense that it does not presuppose any other knowledge, for example of more fundamental laws or definitions, to be able to uncover its message. We might think that if it is supposed to be universal, it follows that it is a fundamental, or root text (mūla). The Book of Dzyan is however, according to HPB, itself a commentary on “the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary [..]” (CW XIV, 422), and she suggests that an even more fundamental commentary on the secret rgyud books should exist. Nevertheless it we might assume that we should be able to recognize the Book of Dzyan in its literary style (style of reasoning) as a fundamental work.

A systematic relationship is indeed found, between the (five) modes of birth and the five elements, in Vimalaprabha 2.34, summarized in the following table.

Earth pṛthivīyoni [stationary] (sthāvarāḥ)
Wind vāyuyoni [egg-born] aṇḍajāḥ
Water udakayoni sweat-born saṃsvedajāḥ
[Fire] born from the womb jarāyujāḥ
Space ākāśadhātu apparitional upapādukāḥ

We might compare this list to the stages of human evolution HPB described in the first section of the second volume of The Secret Doctrine, trying to find a correspondence between the element and the human principle involved in a particular evolutionary stage. The following table summarizes the result.

Stage Mode of Birth Stanza Element
1 First apparitional (self-born)? IV Space
2 Second sweat-born IV, V Water
3 Third – early sweat-born VI, VII Water
Third – middle egg-born VII, IX Wind
Third – late born from the womb IX, X [Fire]
4 Fourth born from the womb X, XI [Fire]
5 Fifth born from the womb XI, XII [Fire]

Simplified, cf. SD II, 173:

Stage Mode of Birth Element
1 First apparitional (chhayas) Space
2 Second sweat-born Water
3 Third egg-born, and birth fr. Kriyashakti Wind
4 Fourth born from Padmapani [Fire]

Birth in the First Stage is not exactly described by HPB as apparitional, but as self-born, which is more like fission. Fission as a mode of birth in biology can be seen in human cell division or in Protista, for example Paramecium. Maybe this process is closer to the stationary mode of birth (Earth element) of the Vimalaprabha.

HPB often refers to the work of Ernst Haeckel when it comes to evolutionary biology. In SD II, 177 she tries to envision man in the Middle Third Stage as a human polyp, I think not without enjoyment. Haeckel introduced the term anthropogenesis.

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Modes of Birth, part 4

By David Reigle on February 16, 2012 at 6:12 am

Strange as this material is, on the sammūrcchima or agglutination mode of birth for humans found in Jainism, there is more. We have been considering the question of whether this may include the sweat-born mode taught in the Book of Dzyan, that occurred in an earlier age. Reproduction among the semi-physical and asexual humanity of that time is there likened to the exudation of sweat. The parent exudes something like a drop of sweat, and this becomes the progeny. In being something that the body excretes, sweat is similar to the several kinds of human excreta that the sammūrcchima humans are associated with. Further, sammūrcchima humans are all asexual. They are born by sammūrchana, condensing or hardening or congealing, translated as agglutination; that is, by material coalescing into a form, and this has often been referred to as spontaneous generation. However, the material that agglutinates to form them is not the human excreta that they originate in. These are only the places where they take birth. So this is quite different from the sweat-born as taught in the Book of Dzyan.

But this is not all. This paragraph of the Prajñāpanā goes on to tell us that these sammūrcchima humans are microscopic in size, and their life span is only momentary, less than 48 minutes (antar-muhūrta). Although they have five senses, in terms of consciousness they are insensible. They are truly unusual human beings, stranger than anything found in the Book of Dzyan.

When I summed up the teachings of the Book of Dzyan on the four modes of birth in a single paragraph at the beginning of my first post on this topic, I necessarily made broad generalizations. Human evolution covered an immense period of time, and there were obviously many gradations in the general modes of birth given for the different humanities. The third humanity, for example, can be divided into three main stages. The first stage of the third humanity was still sweat-born, like the second humanity. The second stage was the egg-born. We are told that the separation of the sexes occurred in the fifth sub-race of this root-race (SD 2.715 fn.). So the womb-born was the third stage of this humanity. Likewise, we may assume that the sweat-born went through many gradations and stages. One stanza refers to this mode of birth as “budding,” much like the udbhijja or sprouting mode of birth taught in Hinduism for plants. Whether the examples given for the sammūrcchima humans in the Prajñāpanā have any relation to the sweat-born can only be known when the secret commentaries on the Book of Dzyan become available, or perhaps if the lost Jaina Pūrvas and Dṛṣṭivāda become available. The strange sammūrcchima humans born by agglutination in human excretions certainly present us with an enigma.

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Modes of Birth, part 3

By David Reigle on February 15, 2012 at 6:52 am

The paragraph describing the sammūrcchima or agglutination mode of birth for humans comes from the Prajñāpanā Upāṅga of the Jaina canon. This text preserves some of the oldest of all the teachings found in the Jaina tradition. The most ancient Jaina scriptures, the Pūrvas, are long lost. They were summarized in the twelfth Aṅga, the Dṛṣṭivāda. It, too, is lost, and has been for about 2,000 years. Before its disappearance, however, some of its teachings were recorded in the Prajñāpanā (see: prajnapana_and_satkhandagama). The paragraph on the sammūrcchima or agglutination mode of birth for humans is very likely one of these ancient and mostly lost teachings. We may assume this because, as we have seen, the commentator Malayagiri had no words of explanation for it. Apparently no tradition of its explanation had been passed down to him. It is as anomalous in Jainism as are the four modes of birth for humans taught in Buddhism, that the commentators had to come up with examples from mythology to explain. 


The preceding paragraph in the Prajñāpanā had asked the question, what are humans?; and had answered by saying that there are two kinds, sammūrcchima humans and those that come from an embryo or womb (garbha). The paragraph under discussion describes the sammūrcchima
humans, those born by agglutination, also called spontaneous generation. Although Nathmal Tatia did not tell us that his source was the Prajñāpanā, it was; and the statement that he made about these humans closely follows the text of this paragraph. “The humans born of agglutination originate in human excreta such as faeces, urine, sputum, mucus, vomit, bile, pus, blood, semen, etc.” Besides these nine, this paragraph gives four more. These are even stranger, and also more obscure. The listing given in this paragraph is as follows. They are all declined in the locative plural, but I have given their undeclined forms, except in one case. I have added hyphens to divide the words in compounds. 


1. Pkt. uccāra; Skt. uccāra; Eng. feces.
2. Pkt. pāsavaṇa; Skt. prasravaṇa; Eng. urine.
3. Pkt. khela; Skt. śleṣma; Eng. saliva (glossed in the Abhidhāna-Rājendra-Koṣa as kaṇṭha-mukha-śleṣmaṇi, which means “the phlegm of the throat and mouth”).
4. Pkt. siṃghāṇa; Skt. śleṣma; Eng. nasal mucus (glossed in the Abhidhāna-Rājendra-Koṣa as nāśikā-śleṣmaṇi, which means “the phlegm of the nose”).
5. Pkt. vaṃta; Skt. vānta; Eng. vomit.
6. Pkt. pitta; Skt. pitta; Eng. bile.
7. Pkt. pūya; Skt. pūya; Eng. pus.
8. Pkt. soṇiya; Skt. śoṇita; Eng. blood.
9. Pkt. sukka; Skt. śukra; Eng. semen.
10. Pkt. sukka-poggala-parisāḍa; Skt. śukra-pudgala-pariśāṭa; Eng. loss of semen matter.
11. Pkt. vigaya-jīva-kalevara; Skt. vigata-jīva-kalevara; Eng. a body from which life has departed.
12. Pkt. thī-purisa-saṃjoesu (declined); Skt. strī-puruṣa-saṃyoga; Eng. the joining of female and male.
13. Pkt. ṇagara-ṇiddhamaṇa; Skt. nagara-nirdhamana; Eng. literally the blowing away, or derivatively the piping away, from a town; apparently a city sewer (glossed in the index as nagara-jalādi-nirgamana-mārga, which means “the pathway for the going out of water, etc., from a town”). 


The excellent critical edition of the Prajñāpanā or Paṇṇavaṇāsuttaṁ from the Jaina-Āgama-Series adds another one between the twelfth and thirteenth. It is: gāma-ṇiddhamaṇa (= Skt. grāma-nirdhamana). It is not found in other editions of the Prajñāpanā, but rather is added from a quotation of this paragraph found in Malayagiri’s commentary on the Nandī-sūtra. However, as may be seen, it is practically identical with no. 13, the only difference being the change of one word for town, nagara, to another word for town, grāma. In textual criticism, this is easily explained as a gloss written in the margin of a manuscript, that was incorporated into the main text the next time the manuscript was copied. That is, the next scribe understood it as supplying an omission in the text rather than as a gloss of the text. In any case, the text concludes the list by indicating that these are some among many. So there are more than thirteen.

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Modes of Birth, part 2

By David Reigle on February 14, 2012 at 4:51 am

As will have been noticed, two of the three modes of birth found in Jainism include three of the four modes of birth taught in the Book of Dzyan. That is, the Jaina embryo-born (garbha-ja) includes the egg-born and the womb-born, and the Jaina upapāta or upapāda is equivalent to the self-born. Only the sweat-born of the Book of Dzyan is not accounted for. So could the remaining mode of birth found in Jainism include the sweat-born? This is the sammūrchana or sammūrcchima, the mode of birth by agglutination, which includes the strange type of human being who is not born from a womb or embryo. Let us try to find out.


In seeking information on the teachings found in Jainism, one first turns to the Tatthvārthādhigama-sūtra, which has aptly been called the “Jaina Bible.” It is the standard compendium of Jaina teachings, accepted by both of the two main branches of Jainism, Śvetāmbara and Digambara. Its chapter 2, verse 31 (Digambara recension) or verse 32 (Śvetāmbara recension) has given us the three modes of birth found in Jainism. Being a sūtra text, it merely lists them, without elaboration. For elaboration, one must turn to the commentaries on this text. Before doing this, however, we must note a direct mention of the sweat-born in the Jaina canon.


The Sūtrakṛtāṅga is one of the eleven or twelve Aṅgas that form the primary texts of the Jaina canon. It is accepted in its extant form as being authentic by the Śvetāmbara Jainas. In part one, section 7, verse 1, we find four modes of birth stated. This book is in Prakrit. I here give them in their Sanskrit form as found in Śilāṅka’s Sanskrit commentary thereon (Āgama Suttāṇi ed., vol. 2, p. 166): aṇḍaja, “egg-born”; jarāyuja, “womb-born”; saṃsvedaja, “sweat-born”; and rasaja, “fluid-born.” This text is one of the comparatively few Jaina scriptures that have been translated into English. It was done by Hermann Jacobi and published in 1895 as Gaina Sūtras, Part II, in the Sacred Books of the East Series, Vol. 45.


Even when we have English translations of Eastern texts, they cannot be relied on for doing Book of Dzyan research. Jacobi has translated saṃsvedaja as “those generated from dirt” (p. 292). So a search for the sweat-born would not find it, even though it is there in the original. These four modes of birth are in this text just mentioned in passing. This group did not become the standard teaching in Jainism, as we see from the Tatthvārthādhigama-sūtra.


We now turn to the commentaries on the Tatthvārthādhigama-sūtra to seek an elaboration of the sammūrchana or agglutination type of birth. In 1994 an English translation of this text was published, titled, That Which Is: Tattvārtha Sūtra, with the Combined Commentaries of Umāsvāti/Umāsvāmi, Pūjyapāda and Siddhasenagaṇi. The subtitle sounds promising for English access to the commentaries, and the translator, Nathmal Tatia, is one of the most learned Jaina scholars writing in English today. However, as comparison with the commentaries will show, the subtitle is misleading. This book gives only a comparatively few selected items from them. It is nonetheless a very good place to start. In fact, its commentary on 2.36/35 gives us some rather startling information about the sammūrchana type of birth in its specific relation to humans:


“The humans born of agglutination originate in human excreta such as faeces, urine, sputum, mucus, vomit, bile, pus, blood, semen, etc.”


While none of these are sweat, they are like sweat in that they all share the common characteristic of being something that the body excretes. This is an intriguing find. It is all the more potentially significant for Book of Dzyan research in that it comes from a very old source. But more on that shortly. We now hasten to check the full commentaries to see what else they may tell us about these strange examples. Of the three commentaries used by Nathmal Tatia, the commentary by Umāsvāti or Umāsvāmi, author of the Tatthvārtha-sūtra, is the primary Śvetāmbara commentary. It has no mention of these, and does not even mention humans born by sammūrchana or agglutination. Next we check the primary Digambara commentary, Pūjyapāda’s Sarvārtha-siddhi. It, too, has no mention of these or of humans born by sammūrchana. We now check a longer Digambara commentary, Akalaṅka’s Rāja-vārtika. Nothing there either. When we check the Śvetāmbara sub-commentary by Siddhasenagaṇi we find the first mention of humans as included in birth by sammūrchana or agglutination, but still nothing about the strange examples of their birth in human excreta given by Nathmal Tatia. So where did he get these from?

Further search led me to the Prajñāpanā, an Upāṅga of the Jaina canon. It is written in Prakrit, which made finding the relevant paragraph in it difficult. There are Hindi translations, but no English translation. At last I found it, the source for these examples, paragraph 93 of the first chapter in the Jaina-Āgama-Series edition (Bombay, 1969, p. 35). Now I could check the Sanskrit commentary by Malayagiri. For this I used the Āgama Suttāṇi edition, where rather than 93 it is paragraph 166 (Ahmedabad, 2000, vol. 10, pp. 56-57). To my dismay, Malayagiri did not explain this paragraph.


The 1969 Prakrit edition of the Prajñāpanā had cited Malayagiri’s commentary on the Nandī-sūtra for a reading in this paragraph. Hoping that he explained it there, I started going through this Sanskrit commentary to find it. It is found in his commentary on paragraph 81 of the Nandī-sūtra in the Āgama Suttāṇi edition, at the beginning of the section on manaḥ-paryāya jñāna (vol. 30, pp. 98-99). Again, Malayagiri did not gloss this Prakrit paragraph in his Sanskrit commentary. He had only quoted it in Prakrit from the Prajñāpanā.


At this point I would have been stuck, knowing only Sanskrit and not Prakrit. But to the rescue came the complete word index in the excellent Jaina-Āgama-Series edition of the Prajñāpanā (published under its Prakrit title, Paṇṇavaṇāsuttaṁ), which provided full Sanskrit equivalents for each Prakrit word. From these I was able to construct, word by word, a Sanskrit equivalent of this Prakrit paragraph. From this I will give an English translation of this unusual material. In the meantime, full data on the Jaina texts here referred to can be found in this Bibliographic Guide on The Jaina Scriptures: http://www.easterntradition.org/etri%20bib-jaina%20scriptures.pdf. Without these valuable Prakrit and Sanskrit editions, English translations of some texts such as the Tatthvārthādhigama-sūtra (see pp. 10, 12), and the massive encyclopedic reference work in Prakrit and Sanskrit, Abhidhāna-Rājendra-Koṣa, this research would not have been possible.

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Modes of Birth

By David Reigle on February 13, 2012 at 12:42 am

Of all the accounts given in the mysterious Book of Dzyan, none is stranger than the account in anthropogenesis of the modes of birth of the early humanities. The first humanity or root-race, ethereal and not yet physical, is referred to as the “boneless” and called the “shadows” (chhāyā). In this humanity, reproduction is described as taking place without parents. So with reference to their mode of birth, they are called the “self-born.” In the second humanity, somewhat more condensed but still amorphous, reproduction is pictorially described as “budding.” Using something familiar as a simile, these are called the “sweat-born.” In the first half of the third humanity, humans were becoming actually physical. What were the “drops of sweat” of the second humanity hardened on the outside and became like eggs. Thus this humanity is called the “egg-born.” Up to this point, reproduction was asexual. Now came the separation of the sexes into male and female. From the latter half of the third humanity up to the present fifth humanity, the mode of birth has been the only one known to us, the familiar “womb-born.” Such are the modes of birth taught in the secret Book of Dzyan.

When these stanzas from the Book of Dzyan were published in H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, no one in the West had heard of anything like this. Not even in our mythologies did we have a story this unusual. It was appreciated by some as a factual account providing access to a fascinating new world, and it was appreciated by others as an imaginary account providing a delightful tale quite as entertaining as any fantasy novel. In both cases, Blavatsky is credited with bringing this out for the first time. But this is true only for most of the world. In India, these modes of birth are mentioned in the sacred writings of all three of its ancient religious traditions: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

These modes of birth as found in Buddhism were earlier briefly described in my 1998 article, “The Secret Doctrine: Original Genesis and the Wisdom Tradition” (http://www.easterntradition.org/secret%20doctrine-original%20genesis%20and%20the%20wisdom%20tradition.pdf). As there said (p. 6): “the Abhidharmakosa speaks of the four modes of birth, following the words of the Buddha, as the sweat-born, the egg-born, the womb-born, and the parentless, just as The Secret Doctrine does. But the detailed accounts of the earlier humanities in which these modes of birth took place, found in The Secret Doctrine, are absent in the now existing teachings of Buddhism. Thus Vasubandhu in his auto-commentary, and Yasomitra in his subcommentary, had to scramble to find explanations for these strange ideas. Since the Buddha had spoken of them, they must be true, and now needed to be explained. So the commentators came up with examples from mythology, of stories of individual humans that could be considered to have been egg-born and sweat-born; e.g., Saila and Upasaila were born from the eggs of a crane, and Amrapali was born from the stem of a banana tree. For the parentless, however, they gave the example of the humanity of the first age, or kalpa, in agreement with The Secret Doctrine.Here a fragment of the Wisdom Tradition was apparently preserved.”

These modes of birth as found in Hinduism are recorded in the Aitareya Upanisad, for example, as follows: “those born from an egg, and those born from a womb, and those born from sweat, and those born from a sprout” (3.1.3, translated by S. Radhakrishnan). As may be seen, three of these are the same as in The Secret Doctrine and in Buddhism, while the fourth differs. Rather than the self-born or parentless, we here have those born from a sprout or by sprouting. The Sanskrit term is udbhijja, whose etymological meaning as given by Monier-Williams is “to break or burst through, break out.” This is understood to refer to the sprouting or germinating of plants. Similarly, the egg-born are understood to be birds, etc., and the sweat-born are understood to be lice, etc. This is also true in Buddhism. But in Buddhism, like in The Secret Doctrine, the four modes of birth are also specifically said to apply to humans. I have not yet found such an attribution in Hindu texts. The four modes of birth recorded in the Aitareya Upanisad are merely listed, without saying what they apply to. The inclusion of the sweat-born is a bit of an anomaly among the other modes of birth found in nature, even when we understand it as applying to lice, worms, etc.

These modes of birth as found in Jainism are classified a little differently. The Tattvarthadhigama-sutra gives three modes of birth rather than four (2.31/32). One of these three modes, however, has three types. This is the garbha-ja, usually translated as the womb-born. This is probably better translated as the embryo-born, because its three types are the egg-born, the womb-born proper (jarāyu-ja), and the young of some animals that are born without a placenta. Another of the three modes of birth is the self-born or parentless, like in The Secret Doctrine and in Buddhism. These are here called the upapāta (Svetambara tradition) or upapāda (Digambara tradition). They are the gods and the hell-beings. The category of those born by sprouting, found in Hinduism, is not included among the three modes of birth found in Jainism. The other one of the three is the sammūrchana or sammūrcchima. This is often translated, or rather paraphrased, as spontaneous generation. It is more literally translated as agglutination. This category includes many varieties of lower beings, such as plants, worms, etc., among which are microscopic life-forms, such as amoebas, etc. It also includes a type of human being, not born from a womb or embryo, that is stranger than anything found in the Book of Dzyan. This will be described next.

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