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.

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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 Ingmar de Boer 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 Ingmar de Boer 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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