The Book of Dzyan: Some Themes Related to Chinese Traditional Religion

By Ingmar de Boer on October 24, 2023 at 10:04 pm

1. Introduction on Shenism

In a previous article, On the Etymology of the Term Fohat, I have identified with reasonable certainty the syllable “fo” in the term “fohat”. H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) mentions in an editorial note to an article in The Theosophist entitled Theosophy and the Avesta (see also CW IV, 242-243), a number of terms from Chinese traditional religion and their corresponding principles as part of the “septenary division of man”. In the same note she refers to the 1847 work A Dissertation on the Theology ofthe Chinese by Walter Henry Medhurst (1796-1857)1, where the Chinese syllable 魄 (pò) was found2, corresponding to the syllable “fo” of The Secret Doctrine (SD). Further research exposed quite a few interesting connections between the text of the stanzas of volume one of the SD, and elements of Chinese Traditional Religion and the literature connected with it, which I will describe in the following paragraphs of this article.

Chinese traditional religion or Chinese folk religion is usually defined as the syncretic forms of the three great religions of China, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, and the veneration of the shén and the ancestors. All of these components occur in Chinese traditional religion, mixed in different proportions, varying with time in different social settings. This multidimensional and dynamic religious complex was first called “shenism” by the anthropologist Allan J.A. Elliott in his 1955 work Chinese spirit-medium cults in Singapore.3

Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, several forms of divination and astrology, and also several forms of martial arts and their derivatives are connected to shenism, to various degrees. Japanese Shinto has strong parallels with shenism, and the syllable shin in the word shinto (神道, Chin. shén dào, the way of the shén) is cognate with shén (神). The shén (神) themselves are called kami (神, the same character) in Japanese. According to scholars in the field, the veneration of the shén is very ancient, however it would have evolved particularly strong during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Today, shenism is still very popular in China and according to some researchers it is the most important religion in mainland China, with more than a quarter of the Chinese population being considered shenist. That would amount to more than 375 million people.4

2. The Divine Breath

Medhurst explores in his dissertation the meaning of the word shîn (神, pīnyīn: shén, spirit), summing up different occurrences of this word in Chinese dictionaries and classical works. To theosophists, the shén are most easily explained as the dhyan chohans in the SD. The same term dhyan chohans is used for the seven great lords of meditation as well as for the hierarchies of beings under their rule, while similarly the word shén is also used to denote both of these in the context of Chinese religion.

On p. 7 of his dissertation, Medhurst translates and paraphrases several definitions from the famous Kāng Xī dictionary (康熙, 1716 CE) appearing under shîn (神, shén, spirit), one of which explains the relations between shîn (shén), kweì (guǐ), hwăn (hún), pĭh (HPB’s Pho, 魄, pò), the life breath k’he (qí, 祇), and the fundamental concepts of 隂 (yīn) and 陽 (yáng)5:

In the next definition of Shîn, given in the Dictionary, we meet with 鬼神 kweì shîn, under which the writer says, 陽魂爲神隂魄爲鬼 the soul of the male or superior principle of nature [陽, yáng] is called shîn, and the anima of the female or inferior principle of nature [隂, yīn] is called kweì; again, lest we should suppose that anything really divine is intended by the hwăn and pĭh, he says 氣之伸者爲神屈者爲鬼 the expanding quality of the breath or spirit of nature [祇, qí] is the shîn, and its contracting quality the kw.

We could compare this text to śloka 10 and 11 of stanza III (SD I, 83):



The “breath of fire” in this comparison corresponds to shîn and the “breath of the mother” correpsonds to kweì. The “fire”, or “father”, matches the “superior principle of nature” (yáng) and the mother the “inferior principle of nature” (yīn). Father-Mother is the unity of yīn and yáng. This is a thought that we might have had when we first read these ślokas, but here we have it layed out for us. Mencius calls the “breath or spirit of nature” qí, which is generally known from traditional Chinese medicine and other fields of interest, often spelled “chi” or “ki”. The soul of the male or superior principle of nature (yáng) is actually called hún in Medhurst’s text, and the anima of the female or inferior principle of nature (yīn) is called pò. The hún and pò are called shén and guǐ since their “qualities” of expanding and contracting are shén and guǐ respectively.

In śloka 11 the sons expand and contract, being under the influence of the qualities of the breath (qí). The sons are the (seven) elements, but they have (seven) corresponding powers or intelligences. Elsewhere in the SD, the sons are called the sons of fohat, who are also his brothers. Fohat is himself one of the sons (powers), or the “synthesis” of these powers. (SD I, 293) The sons expand and contract “through their own selves and hearts”, because they are forces which are intrinsically of expanding (shén) or contracting (guǐ) quality. As we know, in the summary to the first part of the first volume of the SD (I, 269-299), they are described as six primary forces, or śakti’s, and as the six hierarchies of dhyan chohans (dhyāni buddhas).

On p. 5 Medhurst continues to cite from the Kāng Xī dictionary:

[…] for 申卽引也 to expand […] means to lead forth; for 天主降氣以感萬物 heaven manages or directs the sending down of the k’he or breath of nature to influence all things, 故言引出萬物 therefore it is said, lead forth all things. […] It is Heaven that sends down its breath or spirit to influence or lead forth all things, and Shîn is the spirit thus employed.

We may compare these passages to śloka 12 (SD I, 85):


On p. 15 in Medhurst’s dissertation we find also the element of the “web”, here a “net”, spun between heaven and earth, or spirit and matter in the Book of Dzyan:

Betwixt heaven and earth there is nothing so great as this breath of nature; that which enters into every fibre and atom is the male and female principle of nature, and that which incloses heaven and earth as in a net, is this male and female principle of nature.

This fragment is, according to Medhurst, a commentary to a quote from Confucius (孔子, Kǒng Zǐ, 551-479 BCE), but I have as yet not been able to find original texts of the quote or its commentary. I think however, that the correspondence with the already cited ślokas 10 and 11 is evident.

3. Father-Mother

In the Shū jīng (書經), the Book of Documents, originally written before or at the beginning of the Han dynasty, we find again the theme of heaven and earth as the basis of all subsequent phenomena. In Legge’s 1879 translation in volume 3 of the Sacred Books of the East series (p. 125), we find for example about the emperor:

Heaven and earth is the parent of all creatures; and of all creatures man is the most highly endowed. The sincerely intelligent (among men) becomes the great sovereign; and the great sovereign is the parent of the people.

In the first phrase of this quotation we read the word “parent”, a word we know is used in the first śloka of the Book of Dzyan as it is presented in the SD. Interestingly, in the English sentence by Legge, heaven and earth are plural, but are translated as singular. We have here an example of “heaven-earth”, a nominal compound in the Chinese source text, translated by Legge as a single noun. The word parent however, is also a nominal compound in the source text, namely 父母 (fù mǔ), which is litterally “father-mother”.

At the time HPB wrote the SD, there was at least one translation which rendered fù mǔ literally as father-mother. In the 1770 French translation by sinologists Joseph de Guignes and Antoine Gaubil (Le chou-king, un des livres sacrés des Chinois, p. 150), the same quotation from Confucius is as follows:

Le Ciel & la terre ſont le pere & le mere de toutes choſes. L’homme, entre toutes ces choſes, eſt le ſeul qui ait un raiſon capable de diſcerner; mais un Roi doit l’emporter par ſa droiture & pas ſon diſscernement; il eſt maître des hommes, il eſt leur pere & leur mere.

Heaven and earth are the father and mother of all things. Man, among all these things, is the only one who has a rationality capable of discerning; but a King must prevail by his righteousness and not his discernment; he is master of men, he is their father and their mother. [tr. IdB]

Much later, that is after the SD was written, sinologist William Edward Soothill actually uses the compound father-mother in his English translation (1913, The Three Religions of China, p.196):

Heaven and earth are the father-mother of all creatures, and of all creatures men are the most intelligent. The sincere, wise, and understanding among them becomes the great sovereign, and the great sovereign is the father-mother of the people.

Without unambiguously identifying the source of HPB’s use of father-mother in śloka 10 and 11 of stanza III and other places, we can imagine that this characteristic grammatical feature of the Book of Dzyan as given by HPB might be based upon the Chinese nominal compound.

4. Being is Non-Being

One of the ideas we come across in the Book of Dzyan is the “identity of opposites”, in particular when it comes to Being and Non-Being. HPB herself calls it a paradox or a “contradiction in terms”. We find it in several places in the first stanza, for example in SD I, 42:


We find HPB’s commentary on 6 in SD I, 43 under (c):

(c) By “that which is and yet is not” is meant the Great Breath itself, which we can only speak of as absolute existence, but cannot picture to our imagination as any form of existence that we can distinguish from Non-existence.

In SD I, 44 we find:


The commentary on 7 we find in SD I, 45 under (b) (the page header of p. 45 is “BEING AND NON-BEING”):

(b) The idea of Eternal Non-Being, which is the One Being, will appear a paradox to anyone who does not remember that we limit our ideas of being to our present consciousness of existence; […] In our case the One Being is the noumenon of all the noumena which we know must underlie phenomena, and give them whatever shadow of reality they possess, but which we have not the senses or the intellect to cognize at present.

In SD I, 47 paramārthasatya (absolute truth) and saṃvṛttisatya (relative truth) are contrasted:

9. […] Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness […]

This idea of the “identity of opposites” is also found in Lao Tze’s well-known classic Tao Te Ching (道德经, dào dé jīng). In the Introductory to the SD (I, xxv), the “Tao-te-King” is mentioned, and its 1842 translation into French by Stanislas Julien. This translation was the first translation of the Tao Te Ching into a Western language, and an outstanding piece of scholarly work. The idea of identity of opposites is presented in chapters I and II of the Tao Te Ching: in chapter I the concept of Tao itself is explained, while in chapter II the unity of opposites is discussed. In chapter II we find in Julien’s text:


C’est pourquoi l’être et le non-être naissent l’un de l’autre.

That is why being and non-being are born from each other. [tr. IdB]

An example of a more modern English translation of the same passage would be that of John C.H. Wu (1961):

Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other.

The terms hidden and manifest may be closer to the SD, but they are not literal translations.

On p. 8 in Julien, in the comments of the later editors, we find in “edition B” from the Song era:

The non-being produces the being; the being produces the non-being. These beings, not being able to subsist eternally, end by returning to the non-being. [tr. IdB]

We can see here, that being and non-being are described as co-originated and interdependent. They create, complement and shape each other. We may associate this with yin and yang as complementary factors in the universe. The Book of Dzyan however goes one step further, in saying that they are identical, or that they are one and the same noumenon.

A different source of the SD on this topic is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik. In SD II, 449n we find:

* The Hegelian doctrine, which identifies Absolute Being or “Be-ness” with “non-Being,” and represents the Universe as an eternal becoming, is identical with the Vedanta philosophy.

and in SD I, 16 we find a similar sentence:

The ABSOLUTE; the Parabrahm of the Vedantins or the one Reality, SAT, which is, as Hegel says, both Absolute Being and Non-Being.

and in SD II, 490:

A thing can only exist through its opposite — Hegel teaches us […]

For comparison: in Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik we find for example in Vol. I p. 12:

Der Anfang enthält alſo beydes, Seyn und Nichts; iſt die Einheit von Seyn und Nichts; — oder iſt Nichtseyn, das zugleich Seyn, und Seyn, das zugleich Nichtseyn iſt.

The beginning therefore contains both, Being and Nothing; is the Unity of Being and Nothing; — or is Non-Being, which is at the same time Being, and Being, which is at the same time Non-Being. [tr. IdB]

and on Becoming out of Non-Being and Being, Vol. I. p. 23:

Ihre Wahrheit iſt also dieſe Bewegung des unmittelbaren Verſchwindens des einen in dem andern; das Werden;

Its truth is therefore this movement of the immediate disappearance of the one in the other; the becoming; [tr. IdB]

Here it is clear that there is an actual identity of opposites, which is perhaps a deeper level of insight which may be associated with the so-called yin and yang symbol. The black and white dots may be thought of as representing this idea. The movement suggested by the two halves may represent the eternal becoming, which is called Motion in the text of the SD, and is symbolised in the Book of Dzyan as the Great, or Divine, Breath.

5. The Great Extreme

Searching the SD for Chinese philosophy and related topics, we find Confucius and confucianism mentioned twenty-three times in volumes I and II. In these locations, we come across the “Great Extreme” several times. It is a term from neo-confucianism, but connected to the ancient philosophy of the I-Ching (易經, yì jīng), the Book of Changes. It signifies the “the commencement ‘of changes’ (transmigrations)”. (SD I, 440) Its character representation is 太極 (tài jí). Different Western scholars have used different translations of his term, ranging from “le grand faîte”, “magnus terminus”, “la grande limite” (Guillaume Pauthier), “le grand terme” (Joseph Prémare), “the Grand Terminus” (James Legge), to “the Great Extreme”, a term used by Medhurst in his already mentioned Dissertation.

HPB not only had read Medhurst’s Dissertation on this topic, but also Legge’s well-known translation of the I-Ching with its appendices. This translation was first published in 1882 as volume 16 in Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series. For instance, on p. 373 as part of Legge’s translation of the Xì Cí (繫辭) I.11, we find:

70. Therefore in (the system of) the Yî there is the Grand Terminus, which produced the two elementary Forms. Those two Forms produced the Four emblematic Symbols, which again produced the eight Trigrams.

This fragment is rendered in SD I, 440. The Yî (易, yì) is of course the I-Ching, and the two elementary forms are symbolised there by the straight and broken lines of the system of the I-Ching, which is its representation of the cosmos. With two basic lines, 26=64 hexagrams are formed, each one characterising a stage in a model process of evolution.

In a different appendix to the I-Ching, the Xù Guà (序卦), in paragraph 1 (tr. Legge, appendix VI, p. 433), we find:

When there were heaven and earth, then afterwards all things were produced. What fills up (the space) between heaven and earth are (those) all things. Hence (Qian [hexagram I, 天, qián, heaven] and Kun [hexagram II, 坤, kūn, earth]) are followed by Zhun [hexagram III, 屯, tún, sprouting].

So, from the Great Extreme, heaven and earth are produced, the “two elementary forms”, “the twofold” (兩儀, liǎng yí), which serves as a basis for all other productions.6

Just for comparison, we can read again part of stanza III śloka 10 (SD I, 83):


In SD II, 553, the Great Extreme (太極, tài jí) is identified as the “concealed unity of the secret doctrine”, and compared to parabrahman, ein-sof and equivalent concepts from different cultural backgrounds. These are however limitless, noumenal instances, while the neo-confucian philosophers generally distinguish between the Great Extreme and different varieties of infinity. The term “extreme” itself signifies a limit, and the Great Extreme, or Terminus, is defined as an upper limit of the manifested cosmos. Zhū Xī (朱熹, 1130-1200), one of the most important thinkers among the “Sung sages”, places another concept next to the Great Extreme, namely 無極 (wú jí), literally “without boundary”. We can think of it as not only without spatial boundary, but also without temporal limitations. Zhū Xī inserts between these two characters the particle 而 (ér, and) to form a new concept, 無極而太極, wú jí ér tài jí, which is symbolised by a circle. The concepts of yīn and yáng are then defined as its movement 陽 yáng and its retraction 陰 yīn. Perhaps we could think of the Great Extreme as the protogonos or Second Logos, and the Being-without-limits (wú jí) as the concealed Lord, the First Logos of the secret doctrine. Alternatively we could think of wú jí ér tài jí, the Being-with-and-without-limits, as parabrahman, represented as the “immaculate white disk within a dull black ground” in the archaic manuscript in SD I, 1.

6. Alchemy and the Human Soul

Stevan Harrell, in the opening sentences of his article The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion, states that7:

The concept of “soul” (ling-hun) [灵魂, líng hún] is central to the study of Chinese folk religion for at least three reasons. First, the idea of ling-hun underlies most notions of supernatural beings. […] Second, the loss of one’s “soul” is an extremely common explanation for many kinds of diseases and abberation, both mental and physical, that are treated by Chinese “sacred medicine.” […] Third, trance—a state common to folk practitioners in many parts of southern China—is invariably explained in terms of “soul” travel of spirit possession.

Elliott, whom we came across in the introduction, briefly describes the role of the shén (shen) and guǐ (kuei) in human psychology (op. cit. p. 28-29):

The Chinese concept of shen is closely associated with the idea of the human soul. The soul of a living man is conceived as having two components, the hun [魂] or positive component, which has three parts representing the three spiritual energies, and the p’o [魄] or negative component, which has seven parts representing the seven emotions. Shen and kuei are the ultimate spiritual influences, positive and negative respectively, which underlie the two components of the soul.

Legge in Chinese Classics Vol. I , p. 262, in his commentary to chapter 16 of The Doctrine of the Mean (中庸, zhōng yōng), formulates the same idea as follows:

[shén] signifies “spirits”, “a spirit”, “spirit”; and [guǐ] “a ghost”, or “demon”. The former is used for the animus, or intelligent soul [魂, hún], and the latter for the anima, or animal, grosser, soul [魄, pò], so separated.

In an earlier stage of this investigation into the term fohat, I had already come across an original Chinese text where the term pò (魄) is used within the broader context of traditional Chinese religion, in The Secret of the Golden Flower (太乙金華宗旨, Tài yǐ jīnhuá zōngzhǐ), a Taoist alchemical work translated by Richard Wilhelm into German, first published in 1929.

In 1931 an English translation was published, with an extensive commentary by Carl Gustav Jung. In Jung’s commentary (p. 65), a diagram may be found in which the various concepts are laid out on which the alchemical system is based. I reproduced it here in part. In this diagram we find the term pò (“anima”), and in the Chinese text the same character 魄 (pò) is used as in “fohat”.

In the diagram as it is partly reproduced here, we see Tao (dào) at the top, splitting into a masculine and a feminine spirit, yáng and yīn. The human principles hún and pò are labeled animus and anima. According to Jung’s commentary, the two human souls pò and hún, which are in conflict during the life of an individual. The terms animus and anima are the masculine and feminine meta-physical dimensions of the human being. They have a different sense than animus and anima in Jung’s writings on archetypes. At death they pass into guǐ (鬼), a ghost being, and shén (神), a spirit or god. It is clear that the same subject matter is discussed here as in HPB’s editorial note to the article Theosophy and the Avesta and in Medhursts dissertation.

If we compare the details of the model we find however, that the human principles HPB describes in her editorial note do not match those in The Secret of the Golden Flower. For example, if hún and pò are opposing principles, why do we find them related to ātman and kāma manas, which are by no means natural opposites? Perhaps we will have to conclude that the correspondence given by HPB, between the human principles and the Chinese terms is again a “blind”, and that we have to rely on our own understanding to find the actual correspondence here.

In the alchemical transformation which is described in The Secret of the Golden Flower, the opposing principles hún and pò are involved in the creation of the Golden Flower which is eventually dissolved into Tao (dào). In the commentary, Jung describes the hún and pò principles in man as logos and eros, the intellectual and passionate principles, which theosophists would perhaps call manas and kāma. He refers to chapter V of his own 1921 work Psychologische Typen, where he discusses the hún and pò souls:

Die Existenz der zwei auseinanderstrebenden, gegensätzlichen Tendenzen, die beide den Menschen in extreme Einstellungen hineinzureissen und ihn in die Welt — sei es in deren geistige, sei es in deren materielle Seite — zu verwickeln und dadurch mit sich selber zu veruneinigen vermögen, fordert die Existenz eines Gegengewichtes, welches eben die irrationale Grösse des Tao ist.

The existence of two mutually contending tendencies, both striving to drag man into extreme attitudes and entangle him in the world—whether upon the spiritual or material side—thereby setting him at variance with himself, demands the existence of a counter-weight, which is just this irrational fact, Tao. [1923 Eng. ed. p. 267, tr. H. Godwin Baynes]

So described, the process of unification is doubtlessly more than just unification of the intellectual and passionate principles in man. In the context of alchemical transformation of The Secret of the Golden Flower, the shén and guǐ apparently represent the spiritual and material in man, the heaven and earth aspects of the human entity, ultimately to be unified in Tao.


In studying the SD, and a fortiori its presentation of the text from the Book of Dzyan, one of the main questions is still “what were HPB’s actual sources”? Is the Book of Dzyan an existing text she translated from the secret books of Kiu Te, or their commentaries, from some mysterious language like Senzar, or did HPB derive her often innovative ideas from contemporary works by Medhurst, Legge and others? Was the information passed on through the Masters of Wisdom or was she perhaps only inspired by them, while getting basic information from publicly accessible literature? Without any doubt she was intensely driven by her ideas, throughout her whole life, and arguably these ideas together constitute an important framework, perhaps even more so for today’s world. That in itself may speak for her authenticity as a writer. We could argue that if there would have been no mention of books of Kiu Te, if there would have been no Masters involved, no foreign languages, that her ideas would still be have been of great value. For a serious reader however, she often made it very difficult to distinguish between different layers of message and packaging. The SD has multiple layers of interpretation, and perhaps we should not at all be surprised about that, as in esoteric literature that is often the case.

The themes of the different paragraphs of this article, “The Divine Breath”, “Father-Mother”, “Being is Non-Being”, “The Great Extreme” and “Alchemy and the Human Soul” may all be starting points for further study in the highly interesting field of Chinese traditional religion. Perhaps the esoteric world view presented in the SD can be of use as a study tool, a means to gain more insight into a world of spells, mediumship and shamanic travels. Only in the last few decades academic research in different disciplines seems to be moving in a direction where scholars are trying to understand these as cultural phenomena in their own right, rather than to depreciate them, trying to describe them as Western ideas in distorted form, as misguided religion or failed science. In the nineteenth century HPB already tried to understand religious phenomena from a universal standpoint, finding out the meaning of the elements of different religious traditions for humans in their personal lives and for humanity as a whole. It is this attitude which served as a model idea for the Theosophical Society, which only later resulted in its three objects. ■


1. Rev. Medhurst was a Calvinist (Congregationalist) missionary stationed in Malacca, Batavia, Shanghai and a few other locations in East-Asia from 1816 to 1856. His aim with this dissertation is to find a word with a meaning closest to that of the word “God” in Christianity. Moreover, Medhurst composed four dictionaries himself, including a Chinese-English dictionary, and together with other translators he was the first to translate the Bible into Chinese. The Chinese phrases in Medhurst’s text are without exception immediately followed by their English translation. In the present article, when introduced, Medhurst’s old style Chinese transliteration is each time accompanied by contemporary pīnyīn transliteration and Chinese characters in their traditional form. The word “Chinese” in connection to language refers to Mandarin Chinese.

2. Boer, Ingmar de, On the Etymology of the Term Fohat, published October 24, 2023 on the Book of Dzyan website, at http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/

3. Elliott, Alan J.A., Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore, The Athlone Press, London & Atlantic Higlands NJ, reprinted 1990 (first published 1955), p. 27-29

4. The Dutch researcher J.J.M. de Groot wrote extensively on the different human souls, or aspects of the human soul, in shenism. In volume IV of his monumental The Religious System of China, published in 1901, he describes the different souls in human psychology, various religious ceremonies, and physical and mental pathology.

5. This definition in the Kāng Xī dictionary is a paraphrase of a quotation from a work by Mencius (孟子, Mèng Zǐ, 372-289 BCE). Within Medhurst’s quotations from dictionaries and other works, other (third) works are often quoted. Here we have four levels: myself quoting Medhurst quoting the Kāng Xī dictionary quoting Mencius.

6. In Chinese, the conjunction “heaven and earth” is also written as a nominal compound, “heaven-earth” (天地, qián kūn), in a similar way to “father-mother” in the Book of Dzyan (vol. I stanza II, śloka 10), or, if you will, like a dvandva compound in Sanskrit. Two modern translators of the I-Ching, Rudolf Ritsema & Stephen Karcher, in their 1994 translation (p. 115), render heaven and earth as “Heaven[and]Earth”, expressing the inherent unity and interdependence of the two elements.

7. Harrell, Stevan, The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3 (May, 1979), p. 519-528

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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On the Etymology of the Term Fohat

By Ingmar de Boer on at 8:03 am


In the great play called The Secret Doctrine (SD), perhaps the most important actor is fohat, and certainly the most enigmatic. The term has not yet been identified as part of any known language, although several suggestions are given by H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) in the SD and some of her other writings.

Many of the terms used in the SD were also used in Isis Unveiled (IU), the work HPB considered as a precursor of the SD. The term fohat however, is an exception in this respect. It was used in instructions of the Masters of Wisdom to A.P. Sinnet and A.O. Hume in September or October 1881. Sinnett’s notes of these instructions were published as Appendix II in The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett p. 376-386 under the title Cosmological Notes, and later partly as letter no. I in The Early Teachings of the Masters p. 184-193 (through question no. 16). It appeared in Mahātma letter no. XIII (Barker, i.e. 44 chronological) from M. to A.P. Sinnet, received January 1882 at Allahabad.

It first appeared in theosophical literature in 1882, when HPB wrote an editor’s note to T. Subba Row’s article The Aryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man. (The Theosophist, Vol. III No. 4, January 1882, p. 93-99, later published in CW III, 400-418)

From then onwards, the term was used in HPB’s publications, various letters from the Masters of Wisdom, other writings by theosophists and other authors.

If we trace the locations where the term fohat is mentioned in this initial phase, we can set up a list of direct references to the meaning of the word or its etymology. In the table on page 1, these locations are listed, each with a short indication of their content and a suggested language if explicitly mentioned. The suggested languages are, in order of high to low frequency: Tibetan, Turanian, Sanskrit and Chinese. The word Turanian is used by HPB in a way that was common in her time, to indicate what we would now call the Altai or Altai-Uralic language family. If we consider the languages in terms of language families besides the Altai or Altai-Uralic, we can see that Chinese and Tibetan are members of the same language family, that is the Sino-Tibetan language family, whereas Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-European language family. The eight clues therefore point to three different language families. If words are of the same language family, that means that they may have cognate roots. If they are not, they may be related typically because they may be borrowed from languages belonging to the different language family. The fact that the different clues are pointing to several different language families, raises the question: is this puzzle solvable provided that all of the clues are valid? We will now analyse the different clues to see if we can find out more on the origin of the term fohat.

Clues 1-5: “a Tibetan Term”

In many places in the SD, HPB mentions that fohat is a buddhist term, used by occultists, esoteric philosophers, the brotherhood north of the Himalayas, the arahats of Tibet etc. In the Tibetan alphabet however, there is no letter “f”, and the language does not have sounds quite similiar to the English “f”. The letter “pha” is perhaps closest to our “f”. It is unclear why fohat is most often written with “f”. The syllable structure in Tibetan is subject to strict rules, which allow only for the two syllables being fo and hat, and not, for example, foh and at. If it would be a Tibetan “compound” word, it would therefore be a combination of the sounds fo and hat, perhaps most likely pho and hat. In location 8 it is spelled as “Pho-hat”, suggesting that it is indeed this two-part compound. In location 6 it is also suggested that fohat might be a compound, optionally bilingual. In location 5, in the Glossary near the end of Five Years of Theosophy, page 562, we find again “Fohat, Tibetan for Sakti: cosmic force or energizing power of the universe.”. In modern and older Tibetan dictionaries there is no mention of a word pho hat, or pho, with a meaning anywhere near our enigmatic term from the SD.

As a sidenote: we may be inclined to think that mahat and fohat are etymologically related, but in the case of fohat being a Tibetan compound this would not be possible. Mahat is a present active participle from the Sanskrit root “mah”, “to be or make great or big”. It means “making great” or “being big”, expressing the important role that was attributed to intellect or intelligence in ancient Indian philosophy. Being derived from the root mah plus ending -at, mahat is composed differently than fo/pho plus hat.

The numbers 6a and 6b are different renderings of the same question-and-answer session, so that we can take them together as one location.

Clue 6: “a Turanian compound” and Sanskrit bhū

That a word would be a “Tibetan term” on the one hand and a “Turanian compound” on the other, are in principle two linguistically incompatible statements, so strictly speaking the clues 1-5 and 6 contradict each other. The attributes Tibetan and Turanian (Altai-Uralic) point to different language families, but these particular languages are used in neighbouring areas, which is why, for example, a word is likely to have a false etymology, while in reality it is borrowed from one of the two. Another explanation might be that HPB received different pieces of information in the course of time. In any case, it remains up to us to decide which of the given options are correct. After a searching a selection of current literature, dictionaries and etymological databases, no Altai-Uralic candidates for “fo” or “hat” were found.

In location 6, a second idea is presented: the Chinese word “pho” being derived from the Sanskrit root bhū. This derivation is implausable, again because Chinese and Sanskrit are generally considered unrelated languages. Although there has been a lot of work done to try to unite the known language families into superfamilies, the Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European families are among the most unlikely partners. Moreover, we can see that the semantic fields of the Chinese and Sanskrit roots pho and bhū have nothing in common.

Clue 7: “Chinese characters”

Like locations 6a and 6b, location 7 is part of the transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, but it was not published in the book bearing that title. These transactions were question-and-answer sessions, where HPB answered questions of the lodge members about successive stanzas from the Book of Dzyan. The larger part of the original handwritten notes of these sessions was recovered by Daniel Caldwell in 1995 and published in book form by Michael Gomes in 2010.

On March 28, 1889, the twelfth session was held at 17, Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, London, where a Mr. Atkinson (William Walker Atkinson), one of the participants who knew some Chinese, asks HPB if she could give the Chinese characters of the word fohat, to be able to look it up in a Chinese dictionary. On the question if the Chinese representation of the word consists of two syllables, HPB answers:

It is from those parts something I have been asking many times. Fo means brilliant. […] Mme. Blavatsky: I wish you would look somewhere where you could find it, because I have been looking for it in India. Mr. Atkinson: If you will only give me the Chinese characters, I will find that at once. Mme. Blavatsky: I have got it somewhere, but not in the Chinese.

It is remarkable that she gives yet another meaning of “fo”. In a modern Chinese dictionary the syllable fo is easy to identify, since there is only one matching syllable and character, which is 佛, fó, with rising tone, meaning Buddha. This syllable is mentioned several times by HPB, also as the origin of the first part of the word fohat. In fact, this syllable fó is borrowed from Sanskrit, as a Chinese rendering of “bu” in “buddha”. Probably the idea that the origin of fo(hat) is the Sanskrit root bhū is based on this, as HPB connects these two in location 6b. However, the two roots bud (to awaken, in “Buddha”) and bhū (to be) are unrelated. The syllable fó only means “Buddha” and not “brilliant”, so for clue 7 we are at a clear dead end.

Clue8: “Pho-hat” and the I Ching

Location 8 (CW IV, 242-243) is a footnote by HPB to an article on the sevenfold in Zoroastrianism, Theosophy and the Avesta, in The Theosophist Vol. IV, No. 1, October, 1882, p. 22. The footnote starts with:

Our Brother has but to look into the oldest sacred books of China—namely the Yi King, or Book of Changes (translated by James Legge) written 1200 B.C., to find that same Septenary division of man mentioned in that system of Divination.

Then seven Chinese terms are mentioned in connection with the seven human principles, see the following table.

The first edition of James Legge’s translation of the I Ching, published in 1882, is the only Western language edition published in HPB’s time. Following HPB’s advice, we have consulted this edition. We find that some of the terms of the “septenary division” are discussed in chapter three, so that we can determine the correct Chinese spelling. But again, our candidate for “fo”, the animal soul, “Pho”, is not to be found there.

If we continue reading the footnote, we find a reference to A Dissertation on the Theology of the Chinese by Walter Henry Medhurst, published in Shanghai in 1847. In this work we also find the terms of HPB’s septenary division, with their correct Chinese spelling. If we put together the information from Legge and Medhurst, we can set up another table, containing the orthography of all seven terms.

On page 5 in “A Dissertation…” we find: “The 鬼 kweì or 魄 pĭh in man, is the anima or grosser part of his spiritual nature […]”. If we look up the character 魄 in a modern Chinese dictionary we find that in modern pīnyīn transliteration it is spelled pò, and that its general meaning is “animal soul”. Could this be the “pho” of the septenary division? HPB writes in location 8:

In the Hwân, or soul (animus), the Khien predominates, and the Zing in the Pho or animal soul. At death the Hwân (or spiritual soul) wanders away, ascending, and the Pho (the root of the Tibetan word Pho-hat), descends and is changed into a ghostly shade (the shell).

From this sentence it is already clear without a doubt that this pho, or, as we now know, 魄 (pò), is indeed a rendering of the first syllable of the word fohat.

This character pò (魄), composed of 白 (bái) and 鬼 (guǐ), is found in some of the oldest Chinese dictionaries, the Ěryǎ (爾雅) and the Shuō wén jiě zì (說文解字), dating from the 3rd century BCE and the early 2nd century CE respectively. Very likely, it predates the Han-dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). A substantial lemma is found in the Kāng Xī dictionary (康熙, 1716 CE). Linguists see cognates in the Tibetan words bla (soul, spirit) and zla (moon). (James A. Matisoff and others) The character is used in the Tao Te Ching (道德經), Lǎozi’s well known (arguably) 6th century BCE classic, where it is used in the sense of “animal soul”. (10.1) Another example of a relevant text is the The Secret of the Golden Flower (太乙金華宗旨, Tài Yǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ), a Taoist alchemical work translated by Richard Wilhelm and published in German in 1929. In 1931 an English translation (from German, by Cary F. Baynes) was published, with a preface by Carl Gustav Jung.

In the present article only the etymological dimension is investigated. Religious and philosophical aspects may be discussed in a second article.


Of the eight etymological clues, only the last one holds up.

Clues 1-5: The idea that fohat is a Tibetan word is not disproven entirely, but it is implausible, and a corresponding Tibetan root is not found.

Clue 6: Fohat being a Turanian compound is equally implausible. No cognate Altai-Uralic roots were found in current literature, dictionaries or etymological databases.

Clue 7: The first syllable being derived from the Chinese word for Buddha, which is the syllable 佛 (fó), or from the Sanskrit root bhū is both implausible.

Clue 8: The first syllable fo can be traced back to the Chinese character 魄 (pò), meaning “soul”, or “animal soul”. It has a role in Chinese traditional religion and philosophy which is at the basis of the cosmology and divination system of the I Ching.

Having exhausted all of HPB’s clues, a next step could be to find relevant original texts in the field of Chinese traditional religion. This would enable us to gather more information on fohat to be able to shed more light on the many remaining questions. A lot of useful information is already available in Medhurst’s 1847 work, but there will also be modern scholarly works perhaps presenting a more comprehensive picture. ■

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Fohat | 3 comments


Primordial Darkness in Original Sāṃkhya

By David Reigle on December 26, 2022 at 4:25 am

            The Sāṃkhya teachings are regarded in Indian tradition as the oldest system of philosophical thought, the original worldview, darśana, and their promulgator, Kapila, is regarded as the first knower, ādi-vidvān. Kapila, using an emanated mind, nirmāṇa-citta, gave the teachings to his pupil, Āsuri, who in turn gave them to his pupil, Pañcaśikha. Pañcaśikha then systematized the teachings, referred to as tantra, into sixty topics, and wrote them down in a book, the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, the “Sixty Topics of the Teachings.” This book is long lost, but a small number of fragments from it have been quoted in other early books. One of these fragments, very little known, speaks of primordial darkness, tamas, just like the famous Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129 does, and just like the “Book of Dzyan” does.

            The Sanskrit fragments attributed to Pañcaśikha were first collected by Fitz-Edward Hall in his Preface to his 1862 edition of the Sānkhya-Sāra (pp. 21-25, footnotes). He found twelve of these in Vyāsa’s Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya that were specifically attributed to Pañcaśikha by the sub-commentators Vācaspati Miśra, Vijñāna Bhikṣu, or Nāgojī Bhaṭṭa. These twelve were then translated into German by Richard Garbe in an 1893 article, to which he added a reference to another fragment quoted in Vijñāna Bhikṣu’s commentary on Sāṃkhya-sūtra 1.127. Nine more from the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya were added to these twelve in a 1912 publication by Rāja Rāma, making twenty-one. However, these nine are not attributed to Pañcaśikha by any classical writer. Other than one attributed to Vārṣagaṇya, their authorship is unknown. Similarly, Hariharānanda Āraṇya also added nine more from the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya to these twelve, one of which, a Vedic fragment, is not among the nine added by Rāja Rāma. Nandalal Sinha published all twenty-two of these as an appendix in his 1915 book, The Samkhya Philosophy, noting that beyond the first twelve, “we do not feel we should be justified in affiliating these aphorisms to Pañchaśikha” (p.18). Additional fragments from three commentaries on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, namely, the Yukti-dīpikā, the Māṭhara-vṛtti, and the Gauḍapāda-bhāṣya, were collected by Udayavīra Śāstri and published in his 1950 Hindi book, Sāṃkhyadarśana kā Itihāsa. These, along with twenty-one fragments from the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya accepted by previous writers, were given in a list of thirty-six fragments by Janārdanaśāstri Pāndeya in his 1989 Sanskrit book, Sāṃkhyadarṣanam. It is only these last two sources that include the fragment on primordial darkness, tamas.1

            The Sāṃkhya-kārikā purports to summarize the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra in a mere seventy verses. There are five very old commentaries on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā. These are the Gauḍapāda-bhāṣya, first published in 1837, the Māṭhara-vṛtti, first published in 1922, the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti, published in 1973, the Sāṃkhya-vṛtti, published in 1973, and the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā, whose French translation was published in 1904.2 The Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā is not available in its original Sanskrit, but only in its Chinese translation made in the sixth century C.E. by Paramārtha and found in the Chinese Tripiṭaka. These five commentaries are so similar that they led to much discussion as to which copied which. However, the more obvious answer is that they all drew upon the now lost Ṣaṣṭi-tantra in their explanations of the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, which purports to summarize the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. Three of these give the fragment on primordial darkness, tamas, in their commentary on verse 70. These are the Māṭhara-vṛtti, the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti, and the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā. The Gauḍapāda-bhāṣya ends at verse 69, so does not comment on verse 70, and the Sāṃkhya-vṛtti manuscript omits many lines through scribal error, so probably had the fragment on primordial darkness. Another commentary on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, of unknown age, is the Jaya-maṅgala, which was first published in 1926. It, too, gives the fragment on primordial darkness. This fragment is attributed to the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Pañcaśikha. Both the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā and the Jaya-maṅgala attribute this quote directly to Kapila, the founder of the Sāṃkhya teachings, who taught it to Āsuri, who in turn taught it to Pañcaśikha, who wrote it down in the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. The Māṭhara-vṛtti and the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti give this quote to define the teaching, tantra, the Sāṃkhya teaching of Kapila that Pañcaśikha elaborated in the sixty topics of the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra.

Sāṃkhya-kārikā, verses 69-70:

puruṣārtha-jñānam idaṃ guhyaṃ paramarṣiṇā samākhyātam |
sthity-utpatti-pralayāś cintyante yatra bhūtānām || 69 ||

“This secret knowledge of the purpose of the puruṣa, in which the abiding, arising, and dissolution of beings is described, was fully made known by the great seer [Kapila].

etat pavitryam agryaṃ munir āsuraye ‘nukampayā pradadau |
āsurir api pañcaśikhāya tena ca bahulīkṛtaṃ tantram || 70 ||

“This purifying foremost [knowledge] the muni [Kapila] out of compassion gave to Āsuri. Āsuri in turn [gave it] to Pañcaśikha, and by him the teaching was made extensive.”

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Māthara-vṛtti commentary on verse 70 (1922, p. 83):

tama eva khalv idam agra āsīt | tasmiṃs tamasi kṣetrajño ‘bhivartate prathamam |

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti commentary on verse 70 (1973, p. 79):

tamaiva khalv idam agryam āsīt | tasmin tamasi kṣetrajñaḥ prathamo ‘sya[bhya]vartata iti |

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Jaya-maṅgala commentary on verse 70 (1926, p. 68):

tama eva khalv idam āsīt | tasmiṃs tamasi kṣetrajña eva prathamaḥ |

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Suvara-saptati-vyākhyā commentary on verse 70, as re-translated into Sanskrit from Chinese by N. Aiyaswami Sastri (1944, p. 98):

tama eva khalv idam agra āsīt | tasmin tamasi kṣetrajño ‘vartata |

Translation of the Pañcaśikha quote:

“In the beginning (agre) this (idam) was (āsīt) darkness (tamas) alone (eva). In that (tasmin) darkness (tamasi ) the knower of the field (kṣetrajña) arose (abhivartate, abhyavartata, avartata) first (prathama).”

Compare “Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, verse 5:

“Darkness alone filled the boundless all, . . .”;

Compare Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129, verse 3a:

táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre

“Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.”

The comments on the Pañcaśikha quote from the Sāṃkhya commentaries:

tama iti ucyate prakṛtiḥ, puruṣaḥ kṣetrajñaḥ | 

tama iti ucyate prakṛtiḥ | kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣaḥ | 

“Darkness is called prakṛti; the knower of the field is puruṣa.” (Māṭhara-vṛtti and Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti ).

tamaḥ pradhānam, kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣa ucyate |

“Darkness is pradhāna. The knower of the field is called puruṣa.” (Jayamaṅgala).

kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣaḥ | 

“The knower of the field is puruṣa.” (Suvara-saptati-vyākhyā).

            In the standard accounts of Sāṃkhya there is no mention of the idea that the “knower of the field,” i.e., puruṣa, “spirit,” arose in primordial “darkness,” i.e., pradhāna or prakṛti, “primary substance.” Such a teaching is quite absent in the standard Sāṃkhya teachings. On the contrary, pradhāna or prakṛti is routinely subordinated to puruṣa; put crudely, matter is subordinated to spirit. In the great Vedānta teachings, which completely eclipsed the Sāṃkhya teachings in India, the absolute brahman is defined as “pure consciousness” or “only consciousness” (cin-mātra). Indeed, Śaṅkarācārya in his most definitive work, his Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya, takes Sāṃkhya as his primary opponent, and refutes it on the basis of the premise that the absolute cannot be unconscious, as pradhāna or prakṛti is.

            The original Sāṃkhya teaching found in this Pañcaśikha quote, of a primordial darkness in which the conscious puruṣa arose, but which itself is not conscious, finds an exact parallel in the Theosophical teaching of a primordial darkness, in which during pralaya, the night of the universe, “life pulsated unconscious” (“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, verse 8).3


1. The writers who gathered these fragments assumed that Pañcaśikha wrote the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, in accordance with what is said in the Sāṃkhya-kārika, verses 70-72, and the commentaries thereon. However, other fragments from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra are attributed to Vṛṣagaṇa or Vārṣagaṇya. This has led researchers such as G. Oberhammer to conclude that all of the fragments attributed to Pañcaśikha are actually from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Vṛṣagaṇa. See his 1960 article, “The Authorship of the Ṣaṣṭitantram.” Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of an original Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Pañcaśikha, and another later one written by Vṛṣagaṇa. Perhaps most of the known fragments do indeed come from the one written by Vṛṣagaṇa, since in most cases the authorities attributing them to Pañcaśikha are not ancient. In the case of the fragment on primordial darkness, however, we have four old authorities agreeing that it comes from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Pañcaśikha. For examples of the fragments from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra that are in some cases attributed to Vṛṣagaṇa or Vārṣagaṇya, see the 1999 article by Ernst Steinkellner, “The Ṣaṣṭitantra on Perception, a Collection of Fragments.” These were elaborated in his 2017 book, Early Indian Epistemology and Logic: Fragments from Jinendrabuddhi’s Pramāṇasamuccayaṭīkā 1 and 2.

2. All these books are posted here with the Sanskrit Hindu Texts, including a 1932 English translation of the 1904 French translation of the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā, as well as a 1944 re-translation of it back into Sanskrit directly from the early Chinese translation.

3. In the commentary preceding this Pañcaśikha quote, the Suvara-saptati-vyākhyā says that this secret knowledge taught by Kapila was established before the four Vedas arose. The Theosophical teachings, too, say about its secret doctrine “that its teachings antedate the Vedas.” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. xxxvii).

Category: Darkness, Uncategorized | 1 comment


The three-tongued flame of the four wicks

By David Reigle on January 1, 2021 at 11:43 pm

The Book of Dzyan, Stanza 7, verse 4, begins:

“It is the root that never dies; the three-tongued flame of the four wicks . . .”

In the commentary on this (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 237), Blavatsky appears to quote a parallel passage from the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

“‘I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,’ says the defunct. ‘I enter into the domain of Sekhem (the God whose arm sows the seed of action produced by the disembodied soul) and I enter the region of the Flames who have destroyed their adversaries,’ i.e., got rid of the sin-creating ‘four wicks.’ (See chap. i., vii., ‘Book of the Dead,’ and the ‘Mysteries of Ro-stan.’)”

If the defunct really says “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal” in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, this would be a parallel passage of much significance. So, years ago the late Jeanine Miller contacted me to see if I could find this in the improved translations published since Blavatsky’s time. Blavatsky used the 1882 French translation by Paul Pierret, Le Livre des morts des anciens Égyptiens, for her references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In Pierret’s translation, Blavatsky’s reference to chapter i, line vii, is in the midst of a sentence. I here quote the whole sentence (p. 5):

“Je suis avec Horus ce jour d’envelopper Teshtesh, d’ouvrir la porte au vengeur de l’immobile de coeur

l. 7.  et de rendre mystérieux les mystères de Ro-stau. Je suis avec Horus dans l’acte de pétrir ce bras gauche de l’Osiris qui est à Sekhem; je sors et j’entre dans la demeure des flammes, détruisant les adversaires,

l. 8.  autrement dit les rebelles dans Sekhem.”

Pierret’s French translation was translated into English by Charles H. S. Davis, and published in 1895, titled The Egyptian Book of the Dead. That sentence was rendered into English as (p. 69):

“I am with Horus on this day for covering Teshtesh, for opening the door to the avenger of the god with a motionless heart

7. and for making mysterious the mysteries in Restau. I am with Horus in the act of supporting this left arm of the Osiris who is in Sechem; I go out and enter the blazing-abode, exterminating the opponents,

8. in other words, the rebels in Sechem.”

As may be seen, this is indeed what Blavatsky referred to in her commentary on this stanza from the Book of Dzyan; but the phrase “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal” is not there in either Pierret’s French translation or in its translation into English by Davis. The only reference to flame there is “blazing-abode,” “demeure des flammes.”

Notice that Ro-stau in Pierret’s “mystères de Ro-stau,” Restau in Davis’s “mysteries in Restau,” is Ro-stan in Blavatsky’s “Mysteries of Ro-stan.” This is obviously nothing more than a typographical error in The Secret Doctrine, reading the “u” in Blavatsky’s handwritten Ro-stau as “n.” This was then repeated in The Theosophical Glossary, but without the hyphen: “Rostan. Book of the Mysteries of Rostan; an occult work in manuscript.” As we shall see, other Egyptologists use other variant spellings of this word. More importantly, the “occult work in manuscript” referred to must be the source of the phrase, “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,” and the source of Blavatsky’s interpretation of it. Contrary to Jeanine Miller’s hopes, the improved translations published since Blavatsky’s time do not have this phrase.

Since Pierret’s 1882 French translation used by Blavatsky, the Egyptian Book of the Dead has been translated a few more times. The most famous of these translations is by E. A. Wallis Budge, published in 1895, with a revised translation in 1913. Despite the popularity of the Budge translations up to the present, Egyptian language studies have progressed much since then, and these have been superseded by what are regarded as the more accurate translations made by Raymond O. Faulkner (1972), and by Thomas George Allen (1974), independently of each other. As is well-known, there is no single Egyptian Book of the Dead, but rather a number of somewhat differing collections of “spells.” There are nearly 200 of these spells. A numbering system for them was introduced by Karl Richard Lepsius in the mid-1800s, and it is still in use by Egyptologists. So it is easily possible to locate the same spell in the different published translations of the various versions.

In the 1972 translation by Raymond O. Faulkner, as reprinted in The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (University of Texas Press, Austin, Published in Cooperation with British Museum Press, 1985), this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 35):

“Thoth has helped me so that I might be with Horus on the day of the clothing of the Dismembered One and of the opening of the caverns for the washing of the Inert One and the throwing open of the door of the secret things in Rosetjau; so that I might be with Horus as the protector of the left arm of Osiris who is in Letopolis. I go in and out among those who are there on the day of crushing the rebels in Letopolis so that I may be with Horus on the day of the Festival of Osiris; . . .”

In this translation there is no mention of flame. Instead it has “among those who are there.”

In the 1974 translation by Thomas George Allen, The Book of the Dead, or Going Forth by Day (The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, University of Chicago Press), this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 5):

“I was with Horus on the day of wrapping the Dismembered One and opening the pits, of washing the weary-hearted one and secreting the entrance to the secrets of Rosetau. I was with Horus as savior of that left shoulder of Osiris that was in (Letopolis), going into and out of the devouring flame on the day of expelling the rebels from (Letopolis).”

As in Pierret’s translation used by Blavatsky, there is a reference to flame, but nothing about “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.”

To be more complete, in the 1895 translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum. The Egyptian Text with Interlinear Transliteration and Translation, a Running Translation, Introduction, Etc., this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (pp. 271-272):

“I am with Horus on the day of the clothing of Teshtesh and of the opening of the storehouses of water for the purification of the god whose heart moveth not, and of the unbolting of the door of concealed things in Re-stau. I am with Horus who guardeth the left shoulder of Osiris in Sekhem, and I go into and come out from the divine flames on the day of the destruction of the fiends in Sekhem.”

Budge here adds a footnote on Re-stau: “I.e., ‘the door of the passages of the tomb.’”

In the 1913 revised translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of ANI, the Translation into English and An Introduction, this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 358):

“I am with Horus on the day of dressing Teshtesh. I open the hidden water-springs for the ablutions of Urt-ab. I unbolt the door of the Shetait Shrine in Ra-stau. I am with Horus as the protector (or defender) of the left shoulder of Osiris, the dweller in Sekhem. I enter in among and I come forth from the Flame-gods on the day of the destruction of the Sebhau fiends in Sekhem.”

Budge here adds a footnote on Ra-stau: “Ra-stau is the name given to the entrance to the corridors which led down to the Kingdom of Seker at or quite near to the modern region of Sakkarah.”

The Budge translations refer to “the divine flames,” or “the Flame-gods,” but again, nothing like the phrase “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.”

The first ever English translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead was made by Samuel Birch, and was included in the 1867 book, Egypt’s Place in Universal History, volume 5. This translation was not used by Blavatsky. In it, this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 162):

“I am with Horus the day of clothing Tesh-tesh [the Nile], to open the door to wash the heart of the meek one, keeping secret the secret places in Rusta. I am with Horus supporting the right shoulder of Osiris in Skhem. I come and go from the Realms of Fire [the Phlegethon]. I expel the wicked [or the opposers] from Skhem.”

None of these translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead have anything like the phrase, “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.” Nor do they suggest anything like Blavatsky’s interpretation of this phrase. We must therefore assume that this phrase, and this interpretation, come from the “Book of the Mysteries of Rostan [i.e., Rostau]; an occult work in manuscript.”

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Parabrahman | 4 comments



By David Reigle on August 31, 2020 at 3:49 am

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

            The term parabrahman is used in The Secret Doctrine to refer to one of the two aspects under which the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” is symbolized, the other aspect then being referred to as mūlaprakṛti. These two terms were adopted from the writings of T. Subba Row as the Advaita Vedānta terms for the two aspects that H. P. Blavatsky had called “absolute abstract motion” or “pre-cosmic ideation,” and “absolute abstract space” or “pre-cosmic substance,” respectively. However, the one reality (the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” of The Secret Doctrine) is referred to in Advaita Vedānta as brahman or parabrahman only. The term mūlaprakṛti is rarely used in Advaita Vedānta; and when it is, it is equated with māyā, the illusion of an ever-changing universe that is superimposed on the one changeless brahman. Blavatsky used these two terms because, following Subba Row’s earlier writings (not his later lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā), she thought that this was the Advaita Vedānta teaching: “. . . viewed in the same dual light as the Vedantin views his Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti, the one under two aspects” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 46). This is not the Advaita Vedānta teaching.

            The term brahman is the normal and usual word for the absolute in the Hindu Upaniṣads, and therefore in Vedānta of whatever school. In the Advaita school of Vedānta, brahman is non-dual (advaita), the one only, without a second (“ekam evādvitīyam,” Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.2.1-2), and without qualities (nirguṇa). When some passages of the Upaniṣads seem to speak of brahman as having qualities (saguṇa), there may arise a need to distinguish brahman as it really is according to Advaita Vedānta, without qualities, from brahman as seeming to have qualities. Therefore we occasionally find the term param brahman, or parabrahman, used in contrast to aparam brahman, or aparabrahman (e.g., Praśna Upaniṣad 5.2). This is not common, since the term brahman is the normal and usual word for the absolute, requiring no qualifier such as param, “higher, highest, supreme,” in contrast to aparam, “lower.”

            As explained by Śaṅkarācārya in his Brahma-sūtra commentary on 4.3.14, brahman is only referred to as higher (param) and lower (aparam) brahman when we attribute to it upadhi-s, “limiting adjuncts,” of name and form, due to wrong knowing (avidyā). The Upaniṣads themselves may and do attribute such names and forms to brahman for the sake of imparting kinds of meditation on brahman. Because of this, the Hindu writings sometimes distinguish brahman as parabrahman, the “higher” brahman, from aparabrahman, the “lower” brahman, to which names and forms are figuratively attributed. The lower brahman is then regarded as īśvara, “God,” or sometimes as Brahmā, the creator god, but not as mūlaprakṛti.

            In Theosophical writings we sometimes see parabrahman defined as “beyond Brahmā,” where Brahmā is the masculine creator deity (H. P. Blavatsky, Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, p. 4). This meaning of parabrahman is not grammatically possible. When the word param is taken as “beyond,” it is preceded by some word declined in the ablative case, meaning “than” that something; literally “higher than,” or less literally “beyond,” that something. We do not have that here. Nor is the word parabrahman understood as “beyond Brahmā” in the Hindu texts. It means simply the “higher brahman,” even though the lower brahman, aparabrahman, can be understood as the masculine Brahmā.

            The Sanskrit word that we write as brahman is the undeclined form. It may be declined in the neuter gender or in the masculine gender. When declined in the neuter nominative singular it is brahma, the absolute. When declined in the masculine nominative singular it is brahmā, the masculine creator god. Without the diacritic mark on the final “a” these words cannot be distinguished. Since English does not use diacritics, there arose the convention of writing the undeclined form brahman to mean the neuter form, the absolute, leaving brahma (without diacritics) to mean the masculine form, the creator god, often capitalized as Brahma. In publications that use diacritics, it would be written as Brahmā. In English language books written before this convention became established, the neuter declined form brahma was often used for the absolute, like it is in the Sanskrit texts themselves. This potentially confusing situation must always be taken into account.

            In Theosophical writings we sometimes even see parabrahman defined as “beyond brahman,” the neuter absolute (G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 521), saying that this is “what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman.” This meaning, too, is not grammatically possible, and there is no warrant for it in the Hindu texts. It is not what the Oriental means when he says parabrahman. Indeed, where the phrase param brahma occurs at the end of the Praśna Upaniṣad, it is followed by: na ataḥ param asti, translated by S. Radhakrishnan as “There is naught higher than that,” or as translated by Charles Johnston, “there is naught beyond.”

            In the Hindu Advaita Vedānta texts, brahman (or parabrahman) is described as “pure consciousness” (cin-mātra). More fully, brahman is described at the beginning of Śaṅkarācārya’s commentary on the Brahma-sūtras as “by nature eternally pure, intelligent, and free, omniscient and endowed with all powers” (nitya-śuddha-buddha-mukta-svabhāvaṃ sarva-jñaṃ sarva-śakti-samanvitam). This is taught in direct contrast to the unconscious pradhāna, “primary substance,” or mūla-prakṛti, “root-substance,” taught in the Hindu Sāṃkhya worldview, this being rejected by Śaṅkarācārya for the very reason that the absolute cannot be unconscious (acetana). In the Theosophical model, following an esoteric Buddhist or Arhat model, the one reality is described as unconscious(ness). These two opposing views are usually taught in Theosophy as merely being two ways of looking at the same thing. In the one place where Blavatsky clearly makes this distinction, she writes:

“We have already pointed out that, in our opinion, the whole difference between Buddhistic and Vedantic philosophies was that the former was a kind of rationalistic Vedantism, while the latter might be regarded as transcendental Buddhism. . . . Buddhist rationalism was ever too alive to the insuperable difficulty of admitting one absolute consciousness, as in the words of Flint—‘wherever there is consciousness there is relation, and wherever there is relation there is dualism.’ The ONE LIFE is either ‘MUKTA’ (absolute and unconditioned) and can have no relation to anything nor to any one; or it is ‘BADDHA’ (bound and conditioned), and then it cannot be called the ABSOLUTE; the limitation, moreover, necessitating another deity as powerful as the first to account for all the evil in this world. Hence, the Arahat secret doctrine on cosmogony admits but of one absolute, indestructible, eternal, and uncreated UNCONSCIOUSNESS (so to translate), of an element (the word being used for want of a better term) absolutely independent of everything else in the universe; a something ever present or ubiquitous, a Presence which ever was, is, and will be, whether there is a God, gods or none; whether there is a universe or no universe; existing during the eternal cycles of Maha Yugas, during the Pralayas as during the periods of Manvantara: and this is SPACE, the field for the operation of the eternal Forces and natural Law, the basis (as our correspondent rightly calls it) upon which take place the eternal intercorrelations of Akâśa-Prakriti, guided by the unconscious regular pulsations of Śakti—the breath or power of a conscious deity, the theists would say—the eternal energy of an eternal, unconscious Law, say the Buddhists.”

(“Editorial Appendix” by H. P. Blavatsky to “The Aryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man,” by T. Subba Row, from The Theosophist, vol. 3, no. 4, January, 1882, pp. 93-99, reprinted in Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 3, this quote on pp. 422-423.)

            It is useful to be aware of this distinction when studying these things, since the Sāṃkhya teaching of the unconscious pradhāna, “primary substance,” or mūla-prakṛti, “root-substance,” is taken as the primary target for refutation by Śaṅkarācārya in his Brahma-sūtra commentary, the single most authoritative work on Advaita Vedānta. When Blavatsky used the term parabrahman to describe the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle,” or one aspect under which it is symbolized, she would have been regarding pure consciousness and unconsciousness as merely being two ways of looking at the same thing. For, when speaking of something that is beyond the range and reach of thought, one description may be as adequate (or inadequate) as the other. Nonetheless, how brahman or parabrahman is understood in Advaita Vedānta does not quite match how the one reality is understood in Theosophy. The term parabrahman is a synonym of the Theosophical “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” only insofar as both refer to the absolute in their respective systems of thought.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Parabrahman | No comments yet



By David Reigle on July 27, 2020 at 1:57 am

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is used in The Secret Doctrine to refer to one of the two aspects under which the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” is symbolized, the other aspect then being referred to as parabrahman. These two terms were adopted from the writings of T. Subba Row as the Advaita Vedānta terms for the two aspects that H. P. Blavatsky had called “absolute abstract space” or “pre-cosmic substance” and “absolute abstract motion” or “pre-cosmic ideation,” respectively. However, this is not exactly what these two terms refer to in Hinduism, and mūlaprakṛti is not really an Advaita Vedānta term.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is defined in The Secret Doctrine as “the root of Nature” (vol. 1, pp. 62, 136), “the Root of all” (vol. 1, pp. 147, 256, 340), “the ‘root-Principle’ of the world stuff and of all in the world” (vol. 1, p. 522), and “the root of Prakriti” (vol. 2, p. 65). The entry in the Theosophical Glossary shows that this is what Blavatsky thought was the literal meaning of the term: “Mûlaprakriti (Sk.). . . . undifferentiated substance . . . Literally, ‘the root of Nature’ (Prakriti) or Matter” (p. 218). This is not the literal meaning of the term, nor can it be. The term is a Sanskrit compound, consisting of mūla, “root,” and prakṛti, “substance, matter, nature.” In order to mean “the root of nature,” the compound would have to be prakṛti-mūla, not mūla-prakṛti.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is a Sāṃkhya term, despite the fact that Subba Row used it as an Advaita Vedānta term, and Blavatsky adopted it as such from him. It occurs in the third verse of the authoritative Sāṃkhya-kārikā. The standard commentary by Vācaspati-miśra, the Sāṃkhya-tattva-kaumudī, glosses it there as: mūlaṃ cāsau prakṛtiś ceti mūlaprakṛtiḥ, which Ganganatha Jha translates as: “it is that ‘Matter’ which is the ‘Root’.” Grammatically it is, and can only be, a karmadhāraya compound, not a tatpuruṣa compound. This is why it cannot mean “the root of substance,” but can only mean “that substance which is the root,” or simply, “root-substance.”

            The term mūlaprakṛti is found only rarely in Advaita Vedānta texts; and when it is, it is used as a synonym of māyā, “illusion,” or avidyā, “wrong knowing.” The term parabrahman that it is paired with in The Secret Doctrine is not much used in Advaita Vedānta texts, since they almost always simply use brahman for the absolute, the one reality, with no need for any qualifying adjective like para, “supreme” or “highest.” Thus, mūlaprakṛti is paired with parabrahman or brahman only like māyā is paired with brahman, as an illusory something that is not ultimately real because it goes away when brahman is realized through right knowing. It is without beginning, anādi, but not without end.

            The idea that root-substance or mūlaprakṛti is eternal, and therefore could be an aspect of the absolute, is a Theosophical idea and a Sāṃkhya idea, but not an Advaita Vedānta idea. Subba Row strongly advocated that matter or substance is eternal in his articles written in response to the Almora Swami, thus giving an esoteric teaching as if it was the standard Advaita Vedānta teaching. Later, however, in his lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā he reverted to the standard Advaita Vedānta teaching, strongly distinguishing mūlaprakṛti from parabrahman as being only the veil of parabrahman. This was copied in The Secret Doctrine several times (vol. 1, pp. 10, 130, 274, 351, 426, 428, 429, 430, 432, 536) as being the true esoteric teaching.

            Subba Row had stated clearly in his first lecture on the Bhagavad-gītā that mūlaprakṛti is not parabrahman, and this was quoted approvingly in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 428): “Parabrahmam appears to it as Mulaprakriti. . . . This Mulaprakriti is material to it (the Logos), as any material object is material to us. This Mulaprakriti is no more Parabrahmam than the bundle of attributes of a pillar is the pillar itself; Parabrahmam is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it.” Following upon this in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 629), Blavatsky tells us to draw a deep line in our thought between the one reality and mūlaprakṛti (vol. 1, p. 629): “. . . the One Reality . . . a true spirit of esoteric philosophy . . . the impersonal, attributeless, absolute divine essence which is no ‘Being,’ but the root of all being. Draw a deep line in your thought between that ever-incognizable essence, and the, as invisible, yet comprehensible Presence (Mulaprakriti), . . .”

            Yet, as one of the two aspects under which the one reality is symbolized, The Secret Doctrine makes it clear that no such distinction can be made: “. . . the ONE Immutable—Parabrahm = Mulaprakriti, the eternal one-root” (1.340). “. . . eternal (Nitya) unconditioned reality or SAT (Satya), whether we call it Parabrahmam or Mulaprakriti, for these are the two aspects of the ONE” (1.69). “Absolute, Divine Spirit is one with absolute Divine Substance: Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti are one in essence. Therefore, Cosmic Ideation and Cosmic Substance in their primal character are one also” (1.337 fn.). “In its absoluteness, the One Principle under its two aspects (of Parabrahmam and Mulaprakriti) is sexless, unconditioned and eternal” (1.18). Blavatsky used these two terms because, following Subba Row’s earlier writings, she thought that this was the Advaita Vedānta teaching: “. . . viewed in the same light as the Vedantin views his Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti, the one under two aspects.” (1.46). This is not the Advaita Vedānta teaching, but it is the Theosophical teaching.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is not used in Theosophy like in Advaita Vedānta, where it is synonymous with māyā, “illusion,” the few times it occurs there. In Theosophy it is used much more like in Sāṃkhya, where it is one of the two eternal cosmic principles, mūla-prakṛti, “root-substance,” and puruṣa, “spirit,” with one fundamental difference. Theosophy teaches a single, non-dual reality, while Sāṃkhya as now known is a dualistic system, although it may not have always been dualistic. Sāṃkhya is regarded as the oldest philosophical system or worldview (darśana) in India, and its founder, Kapila is traditionally known as the “first knower,” ādi-vidvān. There are references to an old Sāṃkhya in which the absolute is brahman, and puruṣa and prakṛti are merely its two aspects, just like in Theosophy. As such, it makes no difference whether one refers to the absolute as spirit or as substance, since they are only two ways of looking at the same one reality.

            Thus we can have the rather surprising statement in the Mahatma letter (#10, chronological #88): “In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, and which nature draws from herself since she is the great whole outside of which nothing can exist.” This does not at all rule out spirit, since the letter is speaking of living substance. It is matter or substance endowed with life or motion, motion which never ceases even during pralaya when the cosmos is out of manifestation. It is this living substance that was referred to in another Mahatma letter as mūlaprakṛti (#59, chronological #111):

“The One reality is Mulaprakriti (undifferentiated Substance)—the ‘Rootless root,’ the . . . But we have to stop, lest there should remain but little to tell for your own intuitions.”

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Mulaprakriti | No comments yet


Svabhāva as Prima Materia (v. 4)

By Ingmar de Boer on June 24, 2020 at 8:47 am


Several of the concepts central to the philosophy of H.P. Blavatsky’s (HPB’s) work The Secret Doctrine, may be defined in terms of “svabhâvât”. Some of these concepts will be listed in this introduction. In the following paragraphs we can have a look at some examples of the use of the term svabhâvât (svabhāva), in relevant scholarly, philosophical and religious works, to see if we can find any resemblance to the concept of svabhāva as it is presented in The Secret Doctrine.

In the Proem to The Secret Doctrine (SD I, 1), in the “archaïc manuscript”, boundless abstract space is symbolised as an immaculate white disk on a dull background. In SD I, 35, abstract space is described as unconditional, and eternal (timeless or independent of time):

“What is that which was, is, and will be, whether there is a Universe or not; whether there be gods or none?” asks the esoteric Senzar Catechism. And the answer made is — SPACE.

In the very first śloka from the Book of Dzyan as presented in The Secret Doctrine, stanza 1 śloka 1 (SD I, 35), abstract space is called the eternal parent:


The invisible robes in which the parent is “wrapped” are interpreted in stanza 1 śloka 5 as mūlaprakṛti, the one primordial substance. In stanza 1 śloka 5 (SD I, 40-41) then, abstract space is called darkness:


HPB explains in SD I, 41:

When the whole universe was plunged into sleep — had returned to its one primordial element — there was neither centre of luminosity, nor eye to perceive light, and darkness necessarily filled the boundless all.

In stanza 2 śloka 5 (SD I, 60), we find the same identification, and furthermore, darkness is called father-mother, and svabhâvât:


This applies only to the state of pralaya, the sleep of the universe, and svabhâvât may appear in at least two respective stages. The nivṛitti (also incorrectly spelled nirvṛtti) stage is also called pradhāna, when svabhâvât is in darkness, while the pravṛtti stage is called prakṛti, when svabhâvât has become the manifested matter which is at the basis of the various planes of manifestation. Not in each case in HPB’s writings the term pradhāna is used for the unmanifested root of matter, but in volumes I and II of the SD we find it used consistently in this manner. For example in SD I, 257 we find:

the former term (pradhāna) being certainly synonymous with Mulaprakriti and Akasa, […]

Here we see that ākāśa is also identified with mūlaprakṛti, the unmanifested “root of matter”.

1. The Orthography of Svabhâvât

Concerning svabhâvât, Friedrich Max Müller reported the following in 1876 in his Chips from a German Workshop Vol. I. p 278:

The Svâbhâvikas maintain that nothing exists but nature, or rather substance, and that this substance exists by itself (“svabhâvât), without a Creator or a Ruler. It exists, however, under two forms : in the state of Pravritti, as active, or in the state of Nirvritti, as passive.

Daniel Caldwell has suggested that this passage might have been HPB’s source for the term svabhâvât, and that the ending in -ât would indicate the ablative case of svabhāva, meaning “by itself”. If this is true, these two terms would be two forms of the same base word, which is spelled in the current IAST orthography as svabhāva.

2. Svabhāva: Nature or Substance

Based on this identification of svabhâvât as svabhāva, we can look up this term in common dictionaries and start reviewing what was written in the time of HPB in sources she has consulted or might have consulted, which is not always clear. In this last quotation from Müller, he distinguishes two senses of the word svabhāva: “nature” and “substance”. Perhaps he is echoing Brian Houghton Hodgson at this point. In the standard Monier-Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (MW), this second sense is not mentioned in the main lemmata for svabhāva and svabhāvāt:

m. own condition or state of being, natural state or constitution, innate or inherent disposition, nature, impulse, spontaneity

m. (…vāt or …vena or …va-tas or ibc.), (from natural disposition, by nature, naturally, by one’s self, spontaneously) ŚvetUp. Mn. MBh. &c.

A specific use of svabhāva or svabhāvāt as a philosophical term in Mahāyāna Buddhist literature as mentioned by HPB is not included in MW. In HPB’s time there were also the dictionaries by Horace Hayman Wilson (whom she held in high regard as a researcher), and later the great Sanskrit-German dictionary by Rudolf Roth and Otto von Böhtlingk, which also do not mention svabhāva as “substance”.

If we look at the Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (ŚvUp, ca. 400 BCE ±100), the oldest extant work where the term svabhāva is mentioned, in ŚvUp 1.2 we find in the discussion on the first cause of things, svabhāva as a possible first cause (tr. Robert Ernest Hume, 1921) :

kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatir yadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣeti cintyam /
saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tv ātmabhāvād ātmā hy anīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ //

Time (kāla), or inherent nature (sva-bhāva), or necessity (niyati) or chance (yadṛcchā), or the elements (bhūta), or a [female] womb (yoni), or a [male] person (puruṣa) are to be considered [as the cause]; […]

This verse answers the question “kutaḥ sma jātā”, “whence are we born?”, from the previous verse. Again we find svabhāva as “inherent nature” and not as “substance”. Moreover, from the translation it is not clear if svabhāva is intended here as 1. inherent nature of individual entitites (pluralistic) or 2. of entities in general or the universe as a whole. (monistic) In the Book of Dzyan, svabhāva is in principle a monistic concept, as we have seen in the introduction to this article.

3. HPB’s quote from the Anugītā

In the SD, HPB refers to one extant work from the context of Hinduism where svabhāva is used in the sense of “substance”. In SD I, 571 she quotes the Anugītā:

[…] Gods, Men, Gandharvas, Pisâchas, Asuras, Râkshasas, all have been created by Svabhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature), not by actions, nor by a cause” — i.e., not by any physical cause.

In the 1882 translation of the Anugītā by K.T. Telang, a work HPB has consulted on other occasions, on p. 387 we find what is presumably the source of this quotation:

Gods, men, Gandharvas, Pisâkas, Asuras, Râkshasas, all have been created by nature5, not by actions, nor by a cause.

where note 5 refers to:

5. The original is svabhâva, which Arguna Misra renders by Prakriti.

From her substitution of “nature” by “Svabhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature)” we may derive that HPB interprets svabhâva here as the term svabhâvât appearing in the Book of Dzyan, which is described as “plastic essence” (SD I, 61), the plastic root of physical Nature (SD I, 98), which in its “active condition” is called prakṛti.

Note 5 refers to the commentary to the Mahābhārata by Arjuna Miśra (16th c.), who, according to the note, renders svabhāva as prakṛti. We can read the original verse in book 14, chapter 50 (Bombay ed. 51), verse 11 of the Mahābhārata, the Anugītā being part of its Aśvamedha parvan:

devā manuṣyā gandharvāḥ piśācāsurarākṣasāḥ
sarve svabhāvataḥ sṛṣṭā na kriyābhyo na kāraṇāt || 14.50.11 ||

Indeed in this verse, “by nature” seems to be an inadequate translation for svabhāva. Although Arjuna Miśra, and HPB, have thought that in this verse svabhāva should be identified with prakṛti, it is still possible that the author has intended “inherent nature” and not “substance”. Just as in the quotation from the ŚvUp, it is not exactly clear here if svabhāva is intended as an individual (pluralistic) or a collective “cause”.

4. The Mahāvyutpatti

In the Mahāvyutpatti (Mv, Toh. 4346), the famous Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary, a work from a Buddhist context dating back to the first half of the 9th century, the Sanskrit entry for prakṛti (no. 7497) is linked to Tibetan “rang bzhin”, “rang bzhin ngo bo nyid”, and “rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin.” These three terms are expressions for svabhāva as the “inherent nature” of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The two terms rang bzhin and ngo bo nyid are derived from rang (own, self) and ngo or ngo bo (face), and therefore their primary meaning will be closer to svabhāva as “nature” than to “substance”. The next entry in the Mv, no. 7498, is indeed svabhāva, to which are linked the same three expressions.

No. Sanskrit Tibetan
7497 prakṛti rang bzhin; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin
7498 svabhāva rang bzhin; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin

This may suggest that at the time the Mv was composed, the terms svabhāva and prakṛti were seen as completely synonymous, by the team of creators of the dictionary, but also by extension by the lotsavas who considered the Mv their golden standard. However, it does not say anything about whether in the Mv svabhāva/prakṛti is considered a pluralistic or monistic concept or perhaps even both.

5. The Svabhāva Mantra

Eugène Burnouf, on p. 393 of his Introduction à l’Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien (1876), notices that “the word Nature does not render at all that which the Buddhists understand as Svabhāva” [tr. IdB]:

They see it at the same time as Nature which exists in itself, absolute Nature, the cause of the world, and as the own Nature of every existence, that which constitutes that it exists.

Here we have the two standpoints, of Mahāyānist monism and Hīnayāna pluralism, combined into one. In connection with the elusive or illusive school of the Svābhāvikas (spelled by Burnouf with the extra macron), Burnouf remarks on p. 395: “When they were asked: Where do existences come from? they answered: Svabhāvāt, ‘from their own nature’ — And where do they go after this life? — Into other forms produced by the irresistable influence of that same nature. […]”.

On pp. 572-3 Burnouf adds:

The second of the two meanings of the word Svabhāva, which I set out in my text, is perfectly demonstrated in a passage of the Pañcakramaṭippaṇī which I think is useful to cite. The yogi must, according to the text of that work, pronounce the following axiom: Svabhāva śuddhaḥ sarvadharmāḥ svabhāva śuddho ‘ham iti. ‘All conditions or all existences are produced from their own nature; I am myself produced from my own nature.’ I believe that this meaning of svabhāva is the most ancient; if, as Hodgson thought, the Buddhists understood by this term the abstract nature, this metaphysical notion may have been added to the word afterwards, of which the natural interpretation is that which is indicated by the axiom I have just cited. It may be useful to remark that taking the participle śuddha, in the sense of ‘complete, accomplished;’ is colloquial in Buddhist Sanskrit.

The ṭippaṇī in question is also known as the Piṇḍīkramaṭippaṇī, which is Parahitarakṣita’s short commentary on the first part of the tantric Nāgārjuna’s Pañcakrama. Both the Pañcakrama and the ṭippaṇī were published by Louis de la Vallée Poussin in 1896, in one volume in the series Études et textes tantriques of Ghent university. On p. 15, lines 5-7 we find this passage. (see the Sanskrit Texts division of the Book of Dzyan web site, at http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/sanskrit-texts-3/sanskrit-buddhist-texts/)

Burnouf’s “axiom” is widely known as a mantra, under various names. It is called Svabhāva Mantra, Śuddha Mantra, or Śūnyata Mantra although this name is also used for another well known mantra. It is part of the sādhanas of quite a number of different traditions. Since the Pañcakrama and Piṇḍīkramaṭippaṇī are (sub-) commentaries to the Guhyasamājatantra, we might expect to find this mantra in the Guhyasamāja root text, but, searching visually several times, I have not been able to find it there. It is however a part of a commonly used daily sādhana of Guhyasamāja. In the Sādhanamālā, which is a later collection of 312 Buddhist ceremonial practices, the mantra is found 30 times. An example of a ceremony is the sādhana of Tārā, which is also studied by Stephan Beyer in The Cult of Tara. The mantra is found there as part of the Four Mandala Offering to Tara, where it is used to purify the location and attributes for the ritual, before the ceremony. (p. 180)

The mantra is also part of long and short versions of the Kālacakra sādhana, and as such it is discussed by David Reigle in his article on Sanskrit Mantras in the Kālacakra Sādhana. It was published in As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, where the mantra is found on p. 302. As a source for this mantra, Reigle refers to the Kālacakrabhagavatsādhanavidhiḥ (Toh. 1358). His translation is the following:

Oṃ svabhāvaśuddhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ svabhāvaśuddho ‘ham.

oṃ; Naturally pure are all things; naturally pure am I.

In this translation, svabhāvaśuddhāḥ is interpreted as “pure of nature”, or “pure by nature” instead of Burnouf’s “produced from its/their own nature”.

Lama Thubten Yeshe, in An Explanation of the Shunyata Mantra and a Meditation on Emptiness (in: Mandala, January/March 2009) explains the meaning of this same mantra as follows:

Also, this mantra contains a profound explanation of the pure, fundamental nature of both human beings and all other existent phenomena. It means that everything is spontaneously pure – not relatively, of course, but in the absolute sense. From the absolute point of view, the fundamental quality of human beings and the nature of all things is purity.

Svabhāva is here interpreted by Lama Yeshe as the “fundamental nature” of entities, or absolute reality, called paramārtha or pariniṣpanna in the Book of Dzyan. Ultimate reality or absolute reality is “pure” in the sense that it is the state of matter (mūlaprakṛti/prakṛti) where it is still unmanifested, or as HPB might have called it, non-manvantaric, or nivṛtti.

In the three examples presented here svabhāva is viewed also as absolute reality, paramārtha in Madhyamaka terminology, and not only as conditional reality, saṃvṛtti. Of course in any form of Buddhism, “natural purity” would be associated with “non-ego”, but in a different sense, the term svabhāva is commonly found in Madhyamaka oriented Buddhist writings. For example in the term niḥsvabhāva, often used as a synonym for nairātmya, anātman or “non-ego”, it indicates exactly the opposite, that is svabhāva only as conditional reality, or in HPB’s corresponding terminology, pravṛtti as opposed to nivṛtti.

The Book of Dzyan on the other hand explicitly describes svabhāva as going through the two different stages: 1. nivṛitti, when “darkness alone was […] svabhâvât” (“in paramārtha”, absolute reality), and 2. pravṛtti, when svabhāva is prakṛti, the basic substance of the manifested universe, that is conditional reality.

6. Hodgson’s Essays

On p. 73 of Brian Houghton Hodgson’s Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (1874) we find a list of principles from the “Svabhavika doctrine”, the first of which appears to be a translation of the Svabhāva Mantra:

All things are governed or perfected by Swabháva; I too am governed by Swabháva.

This is again a very different translation, where śuddha is taken as “governed/perfected by”. David N. Gellner responds to this in his 1989 article Hodgson’s Blind Alley? On the So-Called Schools of Nepalese Buddhism, calling it a misunderstanding of the term svabhāvaśuddha, which he translates as “free of essence”.

The “Ashta Sáhasrika” is given by Hodgson as a reference, but I have not found the mantra literally in the text of the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā. Some similar passages are to be found in the text, of which the following is an example (Edward Conze’s translation p. 250 and Sanskrit from ed. Vaidya p. 211, my (IdB’s) comments in square brackets):

Subhuti: But if, O Lord, as we all know, all dharmas [Skt. sarvadharmāḥ] are by nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtipariśuddhāḥ], […]

The Lord: So it is, Subhuti. For all dharmas [sarvadharmāḥ] are just by (their essential original) nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtyaiva pariśuddhāḥ]. When a Bodhisattva who trains in perfect wisdom […] remains uncowed although all dharmas [Skt. sarvadharmeṣu] are by their nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtipariśuddheṣu], then that is his perfection of wisdom [Skt. prajñāpāramitāyāṃ].

Here we see that instead of svabhāvaśuddha (Reigle: pure by nature) the compound prakṛtipariśuddha (Conze, 2nd ed. 1975: by nature perfectly pure) is used in the same sense, reflecting the semantic agreement between svabhāva and prakṛti.

Further, the Tibetan version in the Derge Kanjur (Toh. 12) shows how the compound was analysed by the lotsavas of the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā: it was taken as rang bzhin gyis yongs su dag pa, which is “completely pure by nature”, as opposed to “free of essence”.

7. Prasannapadā and Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

In Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā (PsP), we find a lengthy discussion of the concept of svabhāva. In the 1931 partial edition of Stanisław Schayer, Ausgewählte Kapitel…, in an extensive note on pages 55-57, four different meanings of svabhāva are distinguished (paraphrased IdB):

  1. Svabhāva as “nījam ātmīyam svarūpam”, an “essential” as opposed to “accidental” quality, like the hotness of fire. This is an idea compatible with Hīnayāna pluralism.
  2. Svabhāva as svalakṣaṇa, the own individual mark which is carried by the individual substrate of a dharma. The Hīnayānists are called Svabhāvavādins in the sense that they accept a manyfold of these individual substances (pluralism).
  3. Svabhāva as equivalent of prakṛti, of upādāna [[material cause]] and of āśraya [[basis of perception]], of the unchanging, eternal substrate of all changes. In the Hīnayāna schools, the Vaibhāṣikas accept this view, while the Sautrāntikas agree with the Mādhyamikas at this point, calling a transcendental lakṣya [[characteristic]] completely illusory. [[But being Hīnayāna schools, both of these are considered pluralist.]]
  4. Svabhāvaḥ as “svato bhāvaḥ”, the absolute being, “nirapekṣaḥ svabhāvaḥ”. The universe as “one and whole” is absolute. This idea is not compatible with Hīnayānist pluralism.

In the third and fourth points we may recognise concepts similar, both in a different way, to the svabhāva presented in the Book of Dzyan. In the text of the PsP, chapter XV § 2 (Schayer § 5 p. 63, cp. Vaidya ed. p. 116) the third point is analysed as follows (tr. from German IdB):

yā sā dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā nāma, saiva tatsvarūpam | atha keyaṃ dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā? dharmāṇāṃ svabhāvaḥ | ko ‘yaṃ svabhāvaḥ? prakṛtiḥ | kā ceyaṃ prakṛtiḥ? yeyaṃ śūnyatā | keyaṃ śūnyatā? naiḥsvābhāvyam | kimidaṃ naiḥsvābhāvyam? tathatā | keyaṃ tathatā? tathābhāvo ‘vikāritvaṃ sadaiva sthāyitā | sarvathānutpāda eva

Diese Eigenwesen [[tatsvarūpam]] ist die dharmatā der dharmas. — Und was ist die dharmatā der dharmas? — Der svabhāva der dharmas. — Und was ist dieser svabhāva? — Die prakṛti. — Und was ist diese prakṛti? — Die śūnyatā. — Und was ist diese śūnyatā? — Das naiḥsvābhāvya. — Und was is dieses naiḥsvābhāvya? — Die tathatā, d.h. die Unwandelbarkeit der wahren Beschaffenheit (tathābhāvāvikāritva), das ewige Beharren [in seinem An-sich-Sein] (sadā sthāyitā), das absolute Nicht-entstehen (sarvadānutpāda).

This own essence [[tatsvarūpam]] is the “entitiness” of entities. And what is the “entitiness” of entities? It is the svabhāva of entities. And what is this svabhāva? It is its basic material. And what is this basic material? It is emptiness. And what is this emptiness? It is the fundamental absence of svabhāva. And what is this fundamental absence of svabhāva? It is thusness, that is the unique property of the true being-thus, the eternal fixedness [in its being per se], the absolute non-origination.

To Candrakriti this line of reasoning proves that svabhāva cannot exist as a basic substance in which (or on the basis of which) change is taking place. The reasoning is based on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK) XV.8, to which this PsP passage is a commentary (tr. Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura, 2013):

yady astitvaṃ prakṛtyā syān na bhaved asya nāstitā |
prakṛter anyathābhāvo na hi jātūpapadyate ||

If something existed by essential nature (prakṛti), then there would not be the nonexistence of such a thing. For it never holds that there is the alteration of essential nature.

8. Conclusions

The examples discussed here, from the Anugītā, the Mahāvyutpatti, the Svabhāva Mantra and the Prasannapadā/Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, do not sufficiently show that the term svabhāva has been used, in original Hindu or Buddhist texts, not only in the sense of an “inherent nature”, but also in the sense of “substance”. In the Book of Dzyan it is described primarily as “substance”.

In Buddhism, pluralism is generally associated with Hīnayāna and monism with Mahāyāna. We have seen that in Buddhist texts another distinction of two senses of the word svabhāva may be recognised: in the svabhāva mantra we have found the term svabhāva as “fundamentally pure”, while the part svabhāva in the “doctrine of niḥsvabhāva” is used as exactly the opposite. We can define these two senses of the svabhāva as nivṛtti and pravṛtti respectively. In the Book of Dzyan, svabhāva is described primarily as “monistic”, but going through the nivṛtti and pravṛtti phases of manifestation. This may imply that svabhāva is in these two phases “monistic” and “pluralistic” respectively. •


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The Great Breath

By Ingmar de Boer on June 23, 2020 at 10:59 am

Motion as an Aspect of the Absolute

In SD I, 43 we find the following statement on the absolute:

The appearance and disappearance of the Universe are pictured as an outbreathing and inbreathing of “the Great Breath,” which is eternal, and which, being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute — Abstract Space and Duration being the other two.

We could represent the information given here on the absolute in a diagram like this:

Defining the standard circular order as “clockwise”, this diagram becomes an unambiguous representation of the three aspects of the Absolute.

In The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnet (ML) we also find remarks to the effect that the Great Breath, or Motion is eternal for example in ML No. XXII (Barker):

Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal. But no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.

It may be interesting to see that Aristotle formulated thoughts similar to the one in SD I, 43, for example in paragraph 12.1071b of his Metaphysica (translation from W.D. Ross’ 1924 edition):

But motion cannot be either generated or destroyed, for it always existed; nor can time, because there can be no priority or posteriority if there is no time. Hence as time is continuous, so too is motion; for time is either identical with motion or an affection of it. But there is no continuous motion except that which is spatial, of spatial motion only that which is circular.

Now in the diagram and the quotation from the SD, the therm abstract space is mentioned. As a preparation for a deeper analysis of the concept of motion, or great breath in the SD, we could start by investigating the concept of abstraction.

Abstract Space, Noumenon and Phenomenon

The terms noumenon (Gr. νοούμενον) and phenomenon (Gr. φαινόμενον) were typically used by Plato to distinguish between the world of ideas (noumenal) and the sensory world (phenomenal). Another typical location where can find a discussion of these two terms is in Immanuel Kant’s Kritik der Reinen Vernunft. (1781) He uses the terms in relation to the different types of knowledge he distinguishes, a priori knowledge (before perception, pure, “rein”) and a posteriori knowledge (after perceiving, empirical). In the HPB’s Theosophical Glossary (TG) the term noumenon is defined as: “The true essential nature of being as distinguished from the illusive objects of sense”, confirming we are on the right track.

Throughout the SD, these two terms are used in a specific way, in line with Plato, where the abstract unmanifested idea of any manifested phenomenon is its noumenon. The unmanifested stage of the origination of the universe is usually called pralaya and the manifested stage is called manvantara. Other terms for these stages we may encounter are the nivṛtti and pravṛtti stage. These two stages are also indicated by the terms noumenal and phenomenal respectively. An example of this may be found in SD I, 62:

[Esoteric philosophy] divides boundless duration into unconditionally eternal and universal Time and a conditioned one (Khandakala). One is the abstraction or noumenon of infinite time (Kala); the other its phenomenon appearing periodically, as the effect of Mahat (the Universal Intelligence limited by Manvantaric duration).

In the SD, infinite time (kāla) is called duration, as opposed to “broken time” (khandakāla) which is simply called time. In stanza I śloka 2 “Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration.” These two, duration and time, relate as a noumenon and its phenomenon. The entire genesis of the universe described in the Book of Dzyan may be seen as the process (if we may call it that) of noumena turning into their respective phenomena. This process is often referred to by the term ideation.

Another example of specific use of word may be seen in this fragment, in the word abstraction. If something is called the noumenon of a certain phenomenon, then is called its abstraction. The word abstract is used quite often in the SD, and it is used in this way in defining several of its central concepts. In the explanation of the first fundamental proposition for example, is spoken of absolute abstract space (SD I, 14):

This “Be-ness” is symbolised in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity, the one thing which no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself. On the other, absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness.

In the term absolute abstract Space, the word abstract refers to the noumenon, that is the unmanifested abstraction of our manifested space (including its different “levels”). Abstract Space extends infinitely to every possible dimension, while its phenomenal counterpart is limited to the portion which we can perceive through our senses or imagine within the limitations of our mind.

Absolute Time

Realising that the word abstract indicates that we are speaking about the noumenal counterparts of our worldly space, time and motion, as they are in the nivṛtti stage of evolution, the cosmic night, we can ask ourselves why does HPB use this term absolute (the adjective) in relation to space, time and motion, where does it come from, and is it referring to any area of study which could help clarify these fundamental terms in the SD? If we are to trace the origin of the use of the word absolute in this sense, we may see that Isaac Newton in his Principia was the first who used it, applying it to space, place, time and motion, in his first Scholium. Also the term duration is used in the Scholium, which may be seen as another indication that HPB, in using these terms, was most probably referring to this text implicitly.

Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica consists of three separate Books preceded by a Preface, Definitions and Axioms (the Laws of Motion), and followed by a General Scholium. In the three books, applications of the Laws of Motion are demonstrated. At the end of Definitions and Axioms respectively, there are again Scholia where more specific information and discussion on the subject matter is given.

In the Scholium to the Definitions, in the 1999 edition by I. Bernhard Cohen and Anne Whitman, “assisted by Julia Budenz” found on pages 54-61, it is specified what is understood by the basic terms time (1), space (2), place (3) and motion (4). Newton distinguishes absolute and relative time, true and apparent time, mathematical and common time, absolute and relative space, absolute and relative place and absolute and relative motion. Based on the third Latin edition of 1726, first we can set up a table to show the meaning of the attributes of time:

Tempus absolutum, verum, & mathematicum, in se & natura sua sine relatione ad externum quodvis, aequabiliter fluit, alioque nomine dicitur duratio: Relativum, apparens, & vulgare est sensibilis & externa quaevis durationis per motum mensura (seu accurata seu inaequabilis) qua vulgus vice veri temporis utitur; ut hora, dies, mensis, annus.

Tempus absolutum,Relativum,absolute or relative
verum,apparens,true or apparent
& mathematicum,& vulgaremathematical or common
in seest sensibilisin itself or perceived
& natura sua sine relatione ad externum quodvis,& externa quaevis durationis per motum mensurawithout relation to anything external or measured by external movement
aequabiliter fluit,(seu accurata seu inaequabilis)flowing evenly or accurate/inaccurate
alioque nomine dicitur duratio
otherwise called duration

So in the Scholium, duration is described as time which is absolute, true and mathematical, that is, 1. it is “in itself” (noumenal), 2. without relation to anything external and 3. flowing evenly. Modern physics may suggest (for example in the early 20th century through Ernst Mach) that this sort of time does not exist, but apparently this idea is one of the corner stones of Newton’s work. On closer observation however, it will be clear that without this basic idea, the edifice of modern physics would collapse as well.

We could ask outselves now, if Newton’s concept of duration is the same as the one used in the SD, or are they perhaps mutually exclusive. (There is no direct reference to the Principia in the SD on this.) We can now return to SD I, 37 where we find one of the most well-known lines from the Book of Dzyan, describing the state of time in the cosmic night of the universe, and the first line of HPB’s commentary on it:


(a) Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration, and it does not exist where no consciousness exists in which the illusion can be produced; but “lies asleep.”

The succession of states of consciousness is of course khandakāla, “broken time”, the phenomenon, while eternal duration is kāla, its noumenon. The noumenon is here the true essential nature of time, as opposed to “broken time”, the illusive object of the senses (or limited mind). (TG) HPB’s duration is therefore without relation to anything external or measured by external movement, while “broken time” is perceptual, and therefore dependent on the consciousness of the observer. In this respect this polarity is certainly equal to Newton’s distinguishment of “in itself” and “perceived”, and perhaps also equal to “true” and “apparent”. If we take the terms absolute and relative in their strongest sense they also express unconditional (kāla) and conditional (khandakāla) time.

Speaking of duration however, Newton speaks of “mathematical” time, “flowing evenly” and “accurately”, and later in the Scholium, he states that the difference between absolute and relative time is the “equation of time” (aequatio temporis). This is an astronomical term and method (which the modern translators were not clear enough about in their translation), determining the aritmetic difference between apparent and mean solar time, determining of which was one of the main problems of reckoning time in his days. Newton refers to the “experiment of the pendulum clock”, which was described in Christiaan Huygens’ 1673 work Horologium Oscillatorium (The Pendulum Clock: or geometrical demonstrations concerning the motion of pendula as applied to clocks). Newton uses the same terms “absolute time” and “duration” for the time measured by the pendulum clock and the eclipses of the satellites of Jupiter as for the absolute time which is “in se”, or without relation to anything external or measured by external movement. In his time he had no reason to suspect that many similar differences would be found in the centuries ahead. In this respect HPB’s and Newton’s absolute time are not the same. We may, however, suppose that Newton intended absolute time to be “in se”, in which case he had the same intention as HPB.

If we approach the idea of Newton’s noumenal time in a meditative way, it shows itself as HPB’s primordial aspect of the universe. Vice versa, if we read HPB’s proem to the SD with Newton’s view of duration in mind, as time “flowing equally”, the text becomes much clearer. Another clue may be found in the well-known diagram of meditation which HPB dictated to E.T. Sturdy in 1887 for the benefit of some of her pupils. The first line of this meditative excercise is “First conceive of Unity by expansion in Space and infinite in Time Either with or without self-identification at first”. Further down in the diagram it is said: “Acquisition is completed by conception ‘I am all Space & Time.'” (Spelling and grammar for the two lines are conform the original document.) The exercise is apparently designed to bring our consciousness from the plane of phenomenal space and time, to the state of noumenal, absolute space and time, to enable us to look at ourselves and our actions from this universal perspective.

Absolute Space, Place and Motion

The second point in the Scholium is about Space, where Newton distinguishes again between Absolute and Relative Space. Absolute Space is defined as 1. “natura sua sine relatione ad externum quodvis”, the nature of which is without relation to anything external, and 2. “semper manet similare & immobile”, always remains the same and unmoving. Again the word Absolute is used in the same way as in the SD, it is “in se”, without reference to anything else. Place is the part of space that a body occupies, and the definition of Absolute Place is derived from that of Absolute Space. The third point in the Scholium states (paraphrase): if a Place is described with reference to Absolute Space it is Absolute, otherwise it is Relative. The definition of Absolute Motion is again derived from that of Absolute Place. The fourth point in the Scholium states: Absolute Motion is the change of position of a body from one Absolute Place to another; Relative Motion is change of position from one Relative Place to another.

We may try to compare the terms Motion as they are used in the Principia and the SD. In (another location in) the Principia, Motion is defined as displacement, “translatio corporis”. In the Definitions, “Quantity of Motion” is defined as “a measure of motion that arises from the velocity and the quantity of matter jointly”, which is what we would now call momentum. Newton uses the term “vis insita” (“inherent force”), for the “force of inertia”, which could now be called potential energy. The terms vis viva and vis insita were first used by his contemporary Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz who in his ideas on motion was primarily focussed on energy rather than momentum. As we will see later, the term energy is not used in its modern sense until the first half of the nineteenth century.

In the SD, the ideas of motion, force, momentum and energy are not distinguished as strictly as they are in physics today. For example, the debate on “Modes of Motion“, which we will discuss in our next paragraph, is all about mechanical work, or energy. Later in the SD, the forces of nature are discussed, among which are light, heat, electricity, magnetism, etc. However, from the fact that Motion is preserved during the cosmic night, it may be inferred that HPB’s Motion cannot be Newton’s motion (displacement) or force (cause of change of motion). That leaves us with momentum and energy, since they are both “conserved”, or time-invariant. For the time being we can leave this question undecided, but it may be clear that in the case of Motion, as opposed to Space and Time, the term Absolute Motion in the SD is different from Absolute Motion in Newton’s Principia. Perhaps it is necessary to find out more on the concept of Motion in the SD.

Motion in Late Nineteenth-Century Physics

In a series of lectures in 1842 and 1843 and his book of 1846, The Correlation of Physical Forces, Sir William Robert Grove argued that thinking of for example electricity and magnetism as immaterial “fluids” or imponderabilia as they were called then, was incorrect. An example of such a fluid was “phlogiston”, the hypothetical fluid supposedly responsible for the carrying heat, for example from fire to different objects. Grove proposed that these fluids were actually “affections of matter” and not separate physical entities, and presented the idea that these different affections were quantatively related, or as he defined it, “correlated”. The fluids, imponderabilia and correlations of forces are mentioned many times in the SD. This idea may be considered an early formulation of the first law of thermodynamics, which states that the energy in a closed thermodynamical system is conserved. The concept of energy as a measure of mechanical work was not generally in use until William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) in 1851 published his article On the dynamical theory of heat, were he was able to combine and adapt existing ideas to establish the foundations of thermodynamics. In 1884-1888 however, when HPB was working on the SD, the discussion on the nature of several other phenomena as forces of nature, differentiated from one source was far from being over.

Since the publication in 1868 of John Tyndall’s book Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion, where he showed that heat is in relation to matter “a motion of its ultimate particles”, the idea grew that, besides heat, other phenomena like electricity, magnetism or sound, could perhaps also be considered forms or modes of motion. The term motion indicates here again, that heat may be measured in terms of the quantity of mechanical work which could be produced by it, for example in an ideal heat engine. In many places in the SD, HPB argues against the modes of motion, in favour of the occultist view of intelligent life as the cause behind every manifested physical force. In SD I, 147 we find an illustration of this:

The Occultists […] assert that all the so-called Forces of Nature, Electricity, Magnetism, Light, Heat, etc., etc., far from being modes of motion of material particles, are in esse […] the differentiated aspects of that Universal Motion which is discussed and explained in the first pages of this volume (See Proem).

The Universal Motion HPB speaks of here, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute which we have seen in our earlier quote from SD I, 43. How exactly we should interpret this concept of Motion is perhaps not immediately clear from this, but still this fragment provides us with some interesting directions. Apparently HPB agrees with the idea of many of the scholars of her time that electricity, magnetism, light, heat, etc. may be unified under a larger concept. In our time this is not thought to be completely evident, as a theory unifiying all different types of force, or interactions, is yet to be found. The representation of electricity, magnetism etc. primarily as forces of nature, that is, describing them only in terms of mechanical work, could now be seen as an oversimplification of these complex phenomena. In the modes of motion discussion, the central concept is mechanical work, energy, but it is still unclear if with motion in the SD is meant energy, or perhaps momentum. Important is however that because Motion is seen as an aspect of the Absolute, it is preserved in pralaya. Like Abstract Space, Motion exists in both the nivṛtti and pravṛtti stages of the universe. In more modern terms we could say that this Motion is subject to a conservation law, or is invariant with time.

Six Primary Forces in Nature

To be able to connect the “modes of motion” to other key concepts in the SD, further down the analytical tree, we have to return to stanza IV from the Book of Dzyan, and its commentary (SD I, 86-87), where the term Sons of Fire is explained.

These are all names of various deities which preside over the Cosmo-psychic Powers. […] They are:– “The Sons of Fire” — because they are the first beings […] evolved from Primordial Fire.

In SD I, 88, stanza IV continues:



The distinction between the “Primordial” and the subsequent seven Builders is this: The former are the Ray and direct emanation of the first “Sacred Four,” the Tetraktis, that is, the eternally Self-Existent One (Eternal in Essence note well, not in manifestation, and distinct from the universal ONE). Latent, during Pralaya, and active, during Manvantara, the “Primordial” proceed from “Father-Mother” (Spirit-Hyle, or Ilus); whereas the other manifested Quaternary and the Seven proceed from the Mother alone. It is the latter who is the immaculate Virgin-Mother, […]

Please note that in this article we are discussing the second seven, born from the primordial flame, the “Sons of Fire”, and not the primordial seven. This second group is said to be born “from the Mother alone”, which is the immaculate virgin-mother, about which many examples are given in the SD about the mystery of the immaculate birth in different religious and philosophical traditions. One of these examples we find in the Virgin-Mother as Kanya (Shakti), or Durga-Kanya, the sixth sign of the zodiac, which takes us to the passage in SD I, 292, quoted from T. Subba Row’s article The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, where the six “modes of motion”, the six primary forces in nature, are described as the six shaktis (śakti), summarised in their seventh, which is fohat. In an earlier article, Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause, we have found that Motion is identical with kāraṇa, and that the terms dzyu and fohat are used in the SD to indicate the nivṛtti and pravṛtti aspects of motion respectively. To not complicate things unneccessarily here, we can refrain from elaborating upon the Virgin-Mother, the six primary forces, the shaktis and fohat.

Now our consciously naive analytical method, of starting out with only the SD volumes I & II and works referred to, then in second place consulting other works by HPB and writings directly connected to the masters of wisdom, and then perhaps in third place other theosophical works, may sometimes surprise us with new information in later stages of our investigation. In this case, in CW XII, 620, the Esoteric Instructions, we find the following:

In The Secret Doctrine it is almost revealed that the “Sons of Fohat” are the personified forces known, in a general way as Motion, Sound, Heat, Light, Cohesion, Electricity (or Electric) Fluid, and Nerve Force (or Magnetism). This truth, however, cannot teach the student to attune and moderate the Kundalini of the Cosmic plane with the vital Kundalini, the Electric Fluid with the Nerve Forces, and unless he does so, he is sure to kill himself; for the one travels at the rate of about 90 feet, and the other at the rate of 115,000 leagues a second. The seven Śaktis respectively called Para Śakti, Jnâna-Śakti, etc., etc., are synonymous with the “Sons of Fohat,” for they are their female aspects. At the present stage, however, as their names would only be confusing to the Western student, it is better to remember the English equivalents as translated above.

This fragment suggests that the seven forces of nature are the ones mentioned, but of course we still do not know for certain their correct relations with the six shakti’s. What we do know, or may derive from it, is that HPB has made our task more difficult than neccessary in the first two volumes of the SD because she, and perhaps her guides, thought that giving out the complete knowledge on this subject might have been too dangerous and confusing at that time. As we know, the Esoteric Instructions were written for circulation among a small group of her pupils, but were in 1897 posthumously published in SD volume III. For our purpose though, with this, we will have enough information to try to connect our findings to the field of contemporary physics in a later stage. We may conclude our analysis with a summary of the six or seven “forces” in the form of a still fragmentary table:

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Category: Cosmogenesis, Great Breath, Motion, Space | No comments yet


The Germ in the Root

By David Reigle on February 29, 2020 at 2:35 pm

            “The Occult Catechism contains the following questions and answers:

What is it that ever is? ” “Space, the eternal Upapāduka.”* “What is it that ever was? ” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going? ” “The Great Breath.” “Then, there are three Eternals? ” “No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one: and this is Space.

The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 11.

*Meaning “parentless” says the footnote in The Secret Doctrine. I have changed the incorrect Anupadaka to the correct Upapāduka.1

            As previously identified by comparison with parallel passages in the Buddhist scriptures, the word “space” used in this Catechism is a translation of Sanskrit dhātu.2 This then allowed the word “germ” used here to be identified as a translation of Sanskrit gotra, through the central usage of these two terms in the key text, Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. The Sanskrit gotra has three main meanings in Buddhist usage, as given by D. Seyfort Ruegg:3 1. mine, matrix; 2. family, clan, lineage; 3. germ, seed. Since no single English word has these three meanings, a translator must choose one of them. The first translator of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga into English, E. Obermiller (1931), chose “germ,” as did the second translator, Jikido Takasaki (1966). Likewise, the first translator into German of parts of this text, Erich Frauwallner (1956), used the German word for germ, “Keimes.” Later translators of this text into English have used “[buddha-] potential” (Kenneth and Katia Holmes 1985), “disposition” (Rosemary Fuchs 2000, Karl Brunnholzl 2014), and “spiritual potential” (Bo Jiang 2017). The normal Tibetan translation of gotra is rigs, choosing the “lineage,” or “family” meaning. Thus, “lineage” was used in a book on the Ratnagotravibhāga by S. K. Hookham (The Buddha Within, 1991), and “spiritual lineage” was used in the English translation of the Bodhisattva-bhūmi by Artemus Engle (The Bodhisattva Path to Unsurpassed Enlightenment, 2016). In the material selected here for translation, I will use “germ” for gotra.

            The germ is one, but is spoken of as many:

dharma-dhātor asambhedād gotra-bhedo na yujyate |
ādheya-dharma-bhedāt tu tad-bhedaḥ parigīyate || 39 ||

Abhisamayālaṃkāra by Maitreya, chapter 1, verse 39.

39. Because the dharma-dhātu is without division, division of the germ is not tenable. But due to the division of the dharmas that are based [on the dhātu], the division of it [the germ] is spoken of.

The word dharma-dhātu has been translated as the realm or basic space of the dharmas (“phenomena,” the “elements of existence”), following the Tibetan translation of dhātu in this compound as dbyings (“realm” or “basic space”). There is another Tibetan translation of dhātu as khams, giving its other main meaning, “element.” As used in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, which teaches the one “element,” dhātu is translated as khams. So while the Theosophical teachers used “space” for dhātu in the Catechism, they also spoke of the one “element,” thus using both meanings of dhātu. Here in this verse from the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the word dharma-dhātu can be understood as the basic space of the dharmas, or as the basic element of the dharmas. The germ or gotra is equated with the dhātu (see below). So since the dhātu is one or without division, the germ must also be one or without division. But since the dharmas that are based on the dhātu are many, so the germ or gotra is spoken of as many.

            The germ is of two kinds:

tatra gotraṃ katamat | samāsato gotraṃ dvi-vidham | prakṛti-sthaṃ samudānītaṃ ca |

Bodhisattva-bhūmi, Unrai Wogihara edition, vol. 1, p. 3; Nalinaksha Dutt edition, p. 2.

What is the germ (gotra)? In brief, the germ is twofold: naturally abiding and developed.

gotraṃ tad dvi-vidhaṃ jñeyaṃ nidhāna-phala-vṛkṣa-vat |
anādi-prakṛti-sthaṃ ca samudānītam uttaram || 149 ||

Ratnagotravibhāga, chapter 1, verse 149.

149. The germ is to be known as twofold, like a treasure and a fruit tree; naturally abiding without beginning, and later developed.

The germ or gotra has always existed, from time without beginning. In this sense it is called “naturally abiding” or “abiding by nature” (prakṛti-stha). It is likened to a treasure such as gold or gems found in the ground, that has always been there. Yet, if a person on the spiritual path eventually becomes a bodhisattva through the continued practice of virtue, we must be able to speak of development of the germ or gotra. So we may refer to the germ as “developed” (samudānīta). As such, it is likened to a fruit tree with its fruits that develop and ripen.

            The germ has three synonyms.

tat punar gotraṃ bījam ity apy ucyate | dhātuḥ prakṛtir ity api |

Bodhisattva-bhūmi, Unrai Wogihara edition, vol. 1, p. 3; Nalinaksha Dutt edition, p. 2.

The germ (gotra) is also called a seed (bīja), the element (dhātu), and nature (prakṛti).

The germ that is developed, like a seed develops into a plant, may thus be called a seed (bīja). The germ that is naturally abiding or abiding by nature can simply be called nature or natural (prakṛti). The germ as completely identified with the one element can be referred to as such, the element (dhātu). Thus we have the germ in the root.


1. For how this erroneous spelling arose, see my “Book of Dzyan Research Report, Technical Terms in Stanza I”: http://easterntradition.org/article/Book%20of%20Dzyan%20Research%20Report%201%20-%20Technical%20Terms%20in%20Stanza%201.pdf.

2. See my 2013 article, “The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence” (Brahmavidya: The Adyar Library Bulletin, Supplement, 2013, pp. 87-120), which can be found here: http://easterntradition.org/article/Book%20of%20Dzyan%20-%20The%20Current%20State%20of%20the%20Evidence.pdf or http://easterntradition.org/article/Book%20of%20Dzyan%20-%20The%20Current%20State%20of%20the%20Evidence,%20pre-publication.pdf.

3. D. Seyfort Ruegg, “The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 39, 1976, p. 354.

Category: Rootless Root | No comments yet


Dolpopa on svabhāva

By David Reigle on November 29, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Dolpopa, the major writer of the Jonang order of Tibetan Buddhism, taught that ultimate reality, referred to by him under various names, is “empty of other” (gzhan stong), meaning empty of everything other than itself. This is in contrast to the widely held view in Tibetan Buddhism that everything, including ultimate reality, is “empty of itself” (rang stong), meaning empty of svabhāva. The svabhāva of anything is its “self-nature” or “inherent nature,” which in Tibetan Buddhism is used to mean its inherent existence. Tibetan Buddhists agree that what makes up conventional reality is empty of svabhāva, meaning that it does not inherently exist. The majority view is that what makes up ultimate reality is also empty of svabhāva, meaning that it does not inherently exist any more than what makes up conventional reality. Dolpopa disagreed, saying that there can be no conventional reality without an ultimate reality behind it. Thus, what makes up ultimate reality must have a svabhāva, which ultimate reality is not empty of.

Dolpopa seems to have been the first Tibetan writer to say that ultimate reality has a svabhāva. He presented the “empty of other” (gzhan stong) teachings in his magnum opus, The Mountain Doctrine, a large book filled with quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. In this book he wrote, for example, that “an ultimate other-empty mind endowed with inherent nature (rang bzhin pa) [= svabhāva] always abides as the basis of the emptiness of a conventional self-empty mind” (translation by Jeffrey Hopkins, p. 389). Decades later, toward the end of his life, Dolpopa was asked by the great Sakya teacher, Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen, to write a book that concisely states his views and the reasons for them. This book is The Fourth Council. He opens this book by saying that the original Buddhist teachings of the “Age of Perfection” (rdzogs ldan = Kṛta-yuga) had come to be misunderstood over time, and that his purpose was to restore their original meanings. After saying this, the first teaching that he deals with is the widely prevalent view that all is empty of self-nature, svabhāva. He writes, as translated by Cyrus Stearns in The Buddha from Dölpo, 2010 revised edition, p.137:


“The Kṛtayuga Dharma is the stainless words of the Conqueror, and what is carefully taught by the lords of the tenth level and by the great system founders, flawless and endowed with sublime qualities.

“In that tradition all is not empty of self-nature.

“Carefully distinguishing empty of self-nature and empty of other, what is relative is all taught to be empty of self-nature, and what is absolute is taught to be precisely empty of other.”


He then explains this in detail in the following few pages. Toward the end of The Fourth Council, Dolpopa puts this in terms of the widely prevalent view, which he cannot accept, p. 187:


“I cannot yield to those who, relying on the flawed [treatises of the] Tretāyuga and later eons, accept that all is precisely empty of self-nature, accept that emptiness of self-nature is the absolute, accept that the absolute is empty of self-nature, . . .”


Dolpopa called the teachings that he believed he restored, “Great Madhyamaka,” to distinguish them from the prevailing Madhyamaka or Middle Way teachings. The Great Madhyamaka teachings are also known as the “shentong” (gzhan stong) or “empty of other” teachings. As just seen, the Great Madhyamaka teaching that the absolute or ultimate reality is empty of everything other than itself, but is not empty of itself, means that it has a svabhāva.


Category: Jonangpa, Svabhavat | No comments yet


The Ālaya-vijñāna Verse from the Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra

By David Reigle on November 30, 2015 at 4:49 am

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra is regarded as the primary source of the Yogācāra teachings given in the words of the Buddha. The ālaya-vijñāna (“foundational consciousness,” or “storehouse consciousness”) is described in its chapter 5 (Tibetan translation) or chapter 3 (Chinese translation). This prose chapter concludes with a verse spoken by the Buddha to highlight some important aspects of the ālaya-vijñāna. In this verse, the ālaya-vijñāna is referred to as the ādāna-vijñāna, the “appropriating consciousness.” This refers to its role of “appropriating” or “taking” a body at the time of birth.

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra remains lost in the original Sanskrit, and is now available only in its Chinese and Tibetan translations. Its verse on the ālaya-vijñāna or ādāna-vijñāna has been quoted in a number of Yogācāra texts, also now mostly available only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations. The original Sanskrit of this verse was first recovered as quoted in Sthiramati’s commentary on Vasubandhu’s Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi Triṃśikā, verse 15, by way of Sylvain Lévi’s pioneering 1925 Sanskrit edition of the Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi. Only long afterwards would we learn that Lévi had silently “corrected” the readings found in the Sanskrit manuscript he used. The manuscript readings turned out to be correct except for one, bālā. Lévi’s “corrections” only added new errors. Lévi gave this verse as follows (p. 34, here transliterated from his devanāgarī script):

ādānavijñānagabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālā eṣāmapi na prakāśite mohaiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

Not long after this was published Louis de la Vallée Poussin, recognizing the problems with the portion “bālā eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva,” emended it on the basis of its Tibetan translation (and a Sanskrit parallel in the Mahāvastu for mā haiva). Poussin gave his emended version in his 1928 French translation, Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-tsang, as follows (vol. 1, p. 173):

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo

ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi(to)

mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

In this emended form (accepting prakāśi) it was given by Étienne Lamotte in his 1935 French translation of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra (p. 58), in his 1936 French translation of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa (p. 247), and in his 1938 French translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (p. 14).

In 1989 reproductions of the original Sanskrit manuscript as well as the transcript of it used by Sylvain Lévi for his 1925 edition became available inThree Works of Vasubandhu in Sanskrit Manuscript., edited by Katsumi Mimaki, Musachi Tachikawa and Akira Yuyama. These showed that bālā is indeed in the manuscript and its transcript, but that Lévi had “corrected” their “eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva” to “eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva.” These confirmed Poussin’s emendations, except for bālāna.

Hartmut Buescher in his 2007 critical edition of Sthiramati’s Triṃśikāvijñaptibhāṣya (p. 104) gave the correct readings from the manuscript, and accepted Poussin’s emendation bālāna, as well as prakāśi rather than the manuscript’s prakāśito. He explained in footnotes that for metrical and grammatical reasons he adopted bālāna, a genitive plural form in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (see Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 8.117 ff.), rather than the manuscript’s bālā (regarding his comment that bālā looks more like bānā in the manuscript, to me it looks like bālā). He also explained that he adopted the aorist verb prakāśi (Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 32.47 ff.), since the manuscript’s prakāśito gives one too many syllables for the verse. He gives this verse as follows, essentially the same as Poussin’s emended version:

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyur [||] iti |

A second source for the original Sanskrit of this verse became available in 2013. It is quoted in Sthiramati’s Pañcaskandhakavibhāṣā, edited by Jowita Kramer, 2 volumes, and published in the important new series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In volume 2, the diplomatic edition, essentially a transcript of the manuscript, this verse appears as follows (p. 85):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā varttati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

As we see, Poussin’s emendation of bālā to bālāna is confirmed. The proposed emendation prakāśi is not supported by this manuscript. Like the manuscript of Sthiramati’s other text, this manuscript reads prakāśito, despite being one syllable more than the meter should have. In volume 1, the critical edition, this verse appears as follows (p. 94):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījaḥ |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

The editor had little choice but to retain prakāśito. This verse may be translated as follows:

“The appropriating consciousness, deep and subtle, flows with all its seeds like a current. This was not taught by me to the immature, so that they would not imagine it as a self.”


Category: Alaya, Samdhinirmocanasutra, Yogacara | No comments yet


dhātu = ātman

By David Reigle on July 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Not long after the Sanskrit text of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was first published (1950), V. V. Gokhale published a note (ratnagotravibhaga_1.52_=_bhagavadgita_13.32_gokhale_1955) calling attention to the parallel between its verse 1.52 and Bhagavad-gītā verse 13.32. Both verses give a comparison with space (ākāśa) in the same words. The Bhagavad-gītā verse speaks of the ātman, the “self,” while the parallel Ratna-gotra-vibhāga verse speaks of the dhātu, the “element.”

Bhagavad-gītā 13.32:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthito dehe tathâtmā nôpalipyate || 13.32 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so the ātman, everywhere established in the body, is not tainted.

Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.52:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthitaḥ sattve tathâyaṃ nôpalipyate || 1.52 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so this [the dhātu], everywhere established in the living being, is not tainted.

The pronoun “this” (ayam) refers back to the dhātu in the preceding verse 1.49:

sarvatrânugataṃ yadvan nirvikalpâtmakaṃ nabhaḥ |
citta-prakṛti-vaimalya-dhātuḥ sarvatra-gas tathā || 1.49 ||

Just as space, whose nature is non-conceptual, is everywhere-pervading, so the dhātu, which is the purity of the nature of mind, is everywhere-pervading.

If these two parallel verses are representative, the dhātu in the teachings of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga holds the same place as the ātman holds in the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā.

Category: Dhatu, Ratnagotravibhaga | 2 comments


The Sacred Four and the Emanation of the Primordial Seven

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


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

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

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

The Tetraktys

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

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

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

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

Two Possible Misunderstandings

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cube Unfolded and the Double Quaternary

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…] and the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad.

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

καὶ ὁ η´ ἐκ τοῦ δὶϛ δ [sic],

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

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

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

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

The Ten and Seven Sefiroth

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

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

and in SD I, 98:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four-Faced Brahmā

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of the Four and Seven Universal Principles

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

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

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

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

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


Fohat and Devī Prakṛti

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

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

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

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


The Secret Doctrine on Fohat

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

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

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


The Praṇava-vāda on Devī Prakṛti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Category: Daiviprakriti, Fohat | 1 comment


Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 3

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

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

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

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

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

Category: Svabhavat | 2 comments


The Orthography of Dgyu or Dzyu

By Ingmar de Boer on March 5, 2014 at 11:31 pm

1. Why would we want to know the orthography of dgyu?

On the one hand the term fohat is the most enigmatic of the technical terms used in The Secret Doctrine (SD), and on the other, it is crucial to the esoteric philosophy presented in the work. There are only a few locations in the SD where fohat is unambiguously connected to other concepts, one of which is in SD I, 31 (stanza V, śloka 2):


This is a strong statement, most probably referring to the moment when the universe is evolving from the state of pralaya, where fohat is connected to “THE DZYU”, as it is spelled in the SD. Defining this concept DZYU, or dgyu as it is spelled in another location, would take us very close to exactly defining and understanding the mysterious concept of fohat and its workings.

2. How does HPB describe dgyu?

The only location in the SD where dgyu is described, is SD I, 108, where HPB comments on stanza V, śloka 2:

Dzyu is the one real (magical) knowledge, or Occult Wisdom; which, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes, becomes almost omnipotence when applied in the right direction. Its antithesis is Dzyu-mi, that which deals with illusions and false appearances only, as in our exoteric modern sciences. In this case, Dzyu is the expression of the collective Wisdom of the Dhyani-Buddhas.

The term dgyu is not found in the TG. In the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary published by the Theosophical University Press, Dzyu is identified as a Senzar word, referring to SD I, 108, but there is no clue to be found in HPB’s writings to indicate that it would be indeed Senzar.

3. Cosmological Notes

Prior to 1885 the term fohat was not used in theosophical literature. The oldest document in which it was used are the “Cosmological Notes”, containing written instructions from Mahātma M. to A.O. Hume, handed down to us by A.P. Sinnett, and published both in ETM and BL. In the Cosmological Notes (BL p. 376) we find a similar affirmation as in SD I, stanza V, śloka 2:

Dgyu becomes Fohat when in its activity – active agent of will – electricity – no other name.

All technical terms in the Notes seem to be Sanskrit or Tibetan, so we might assume that Dgyu is also a Tibetan, as it has a structure looking like a Tibetan syllable.

An interesting detail in the manuscript of the Cosmological Notes is the fact that the first time they are mentioned, the terms dgyu and dgyu mi both carry an umlaut (Dgyü). In ML 35 (written by KH), dgyu is spelled as dgiü, also with umlaut.

BL Mss - Appendix II

4. The Syllable Dgyu: the Rime

The IPA /y/ sound in standard Tibetan is only realised when a syllable ends in -ud or -us. This would narrow down considerably the possibilities for the orthography of dgyu.

Some of the umlauts in the text seem to have been added later, perhaps at the same time the annotations were interscribed, including the underlined title “Appendix II” on top of page 2. The annotations do not seem to be in the same handwriting as the original notes. Compare for example, the capital A of the word Appendix with the capital A’s in the manuscript text. In The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett (BL) the Notes appear as Appendix II. It is therefore entirely possible that the annotations and also the umlauts are the handwriting of the transcriber/compiler of the book, A.T. Barker. This would be consistent with the spelling in the ML edited by Barker. The umlauts on Dgyü and Dgyü Mi however, are not reproduced in BL. In Jinarajadasa’s edition (ETM) of the Notes, the umlauts are absent as well.

5. The Syllable Dgyu: the Onset

In Jinarajadasa’s edition, a remark of Sinnett is added, telling that M. himself “wrote out” the table of correspondences between Man and Universe. This means that Sinnet has copied the table from the handwriting of M., instead of interpreting the words from hearing. Interestingly, in the table, Linga Sharira is called Ling Sharir in line 3, we also have Bhut, Purush, Brahm, dropping the final a’s, as in the Sanskrit pronounciation typical of speakers of modern Hindi. Apparently M’s concern was that the words were written as they were pronounced, as opposed to how they were written in the original language. The rendering of the Tibetan terms is therefore presumably also a phonetic transcription for an English target audience.

In that case, the d in dgyu could not have been a silent letter. Also, English has two sounds associated with the letter g (besides /ŋ/ in “thing”), the plosive /g/ and the affricate /dʒ/. The dg-combination does not exist with a plosive /g/-sound in English, so our dgy-combination would probably be the affricate /dʒ/, the g-sound in “gin”, or something close to it. This is consistent with HPB’s spelling DZYU, for example in SD I, 108. The /dʒ/, and phonemes very close to it, are listed in the following table.

Possible phonemes for the onset, and their Tibetan Wylie transliteration, in approximate order of distance from /dʒ/:

1. palato-alveolar /dʒ/ = pya, bya, …
2. alveolo-palatal /dʑ/ or /ndʑ/ = mja, ‘ja
3. alveolo-palatal /ɽ/ = ra
4. retroflex /dʐ/ or /ndʐ/ = ‘dra, ‘gra, …
5. palatal /nj/ = ‘gya
6. palatal /c/ with deep tone = brgya, bsgya, dgya, bgya, rgya, sgya, …
7. palatal /ch/ with deep tone = gya

6. Dictionaries

Combining the ideas on onset and rime, we could try finding some matching candidates for dgyu, using a lexicon. In the following table all combinations are summed up, with the entries found in common dictionaries marked bold.




pya, bya, …

pyud, byud, …

pyus, byus, …


mja, ‘ja

mjud, ‘jud

mjus, ‘jus






‘dra, ‘gra, …

‘drud, ‘grud, …

‘drus, ‘grus, …






brgya, bsgya, dgya, bgya, rgya, sgya, …

brgyud, bsgyud, dgyud, bgyud, rgyud, sgyud, …

brgyus, bsgyus, dgyus, bgyus, rgyus, sgyus, …





Elements we may look for in the translation are “real (magical) knowledge, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes” (SD I, 108), and the negation dgyu mi, or min or med, “illusion and false appearances only” (SD I, 108).

One of the most valued translators of Tibetan to English is Jeffrey Hopkins, who prepared a Tibetan-Sanskrit-English Dictionary, which was also published in digital form by the Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taipei in 2011.

a. Under rus we find there:

(translation-san) asthi
(translation-san) {C} gotra
(translation-san) {C} jāti
(translation-san) {MSA} keng rus = saṃkalikā
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} bone; lineage; family
(translation-eng) {C} lineage; birth; species; kind; different varieties

b. Under ‘grus we find:

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} zeal; enthusiasm; diligence

c. Under brgyud pa we find:

(translation-san) {LCh,MSA} para

(translation-san) {LCh} pāramparya
(translation-san) {MSA} pāra

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} indirect; lineaged

d. Under rgyud we find:

(translation-san) {L,MSA,MV} sa

(translation-san) {MSA} sa

(translation-san) tantra
(translation-san) prabandha
(translation-san) {C} jāti
(translation-san) {C} va

(translation-san) {MSA} anvaya
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} continuum; mental continuum; life continuum; tantra
(translation-eng) {C} birth; species; kind; different varieties; lineage;{GD:515} indirect (as opposed to direct, dngos)
(comments) Comment: See rgyun.

e. Under rgyus we find:

(translation-san) {C} nidāna
(translation-san) {C} etan-nidānā
(translation-san) {C} kim nidānam
(translation-san) {C} tan-nidānam
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} familiar;
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} familiar; familiar with
(translation-eng) {C} linked with; foundation; for the sake of; Origins; because; wherefrom; and for what reason?; that link; as a result of
The items marked {C} are based on Edward Conze’s 1973 Materials for a Dictionary of the Prajñāpāramitā Literature. The item Hopkins added himself is the translation “familiar”.

Under rgyus med we find:

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} having no knowledge; having no familiarity
(translation-eng) {C} so as to get acquainted with

In the older dictionary of Jäschke (1881) the lemma rgyus first refers to rgyu, and secondly gives “notice, intelligence, knowledge”. Rgyus is the instrumental case of rgyu: cause, or because.

Under rgyu we find:

(translation-san) {LCh,L,MSA,MV} hetu
(translation-san) {C,MV} hetutva
(translation-san) {LCh,MSA,MV,C} kāra

(translation-san) {C,MSA,MV} upani

(translation-san) {C} (=hetu-bhāva)
(translation-san) {MSA} anvaya
(translation-san) {MSA,MV} nimitta
(translation-san) {MSA} nimittatva
(translation-san) {C} nidāna
(translation-san) {C} etan-nidānā
(translation-san) {C} ki

(translation-san) {C} tato nidānam
(translation-san) {C} tan-nidānam
(translation-san) {C} pracāra
(translation-san) {C} pravartate (=pravartayati)
(translation-san) {MSA} smig rgyu = marīci
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} cause; (as verb): wander; move; go; (following a verb, indicates): to be done
(translation-eng) {C} comparison; reason; for the sake of; linked with; foundation; Origins; because; wherefrom and for what reason?; on the strength of that; as a result of; that link; observation; performance; proceeds; takes place; move forward; spread;causality
(definition-bod) mtshan nyid 1 skyed byed/ 2 phan ‘dogs byed/
(definition-eng) Def.: (1) producer; (2) benefitter
(division-bod) sgras brjod rigs kyi sgo nas dbye ba/ 1 byed rgyu 2 lhan cig byung ba’i rgyu 3 skal mnyam gyi rgyu 4 mtshungs ldan gyi rgyu 5 kun ‘gro’i rgyu 6 rnam smin gyi rgyu
(division-eng) Terminological Div.: (1) creative cause; (2) co-arisen cause; (3) cause of equal/similar lot; (4) associational cause; (5) omnipresent cause; (6) fruitional cause
(comments) Comment: rgyu is used to make a verbal object noun as in bsgrub rgyu which means the same as bsgrub bya (that which is to be accomplished/achieved/practiced) or, in spoken Tibetan, bsgrub ya.

Literature used in preparing the diagram Joachim Grzega, Bezeichnungswandel: Wie Warum, Wozu?, Winter, Heidelberg, 2004 2. Andreas Blank, Prinzipien des Lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1997 3. Tibetan and related dictionaries: Conze (1973), Das (1902), Jäschke (1881), Hopkins (2011), Mahavyutpatti (nos. 7625, 7199), Matisoff (STEDT, online), Rangjung Yeshe (online), Starostin (Starling, online), etc.

Literature used in preparing the diagram
1. Joachim Grzega, Bezeichnungswandel: Wie Warum, Wozu?, Winter, Heidelberg, 2004
2. Andreas Blank, Prinzipien des Lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1997
3. Tibetan and related dictionaries: Conze (1973), Das (1902), Jäschke (1881), Hopkins (2011), Mahavyutpatti (nos. 7625, 7199), Matisoff (STEDT, online), Rangjung Yeshe (online), Starostin (Starling, online), etc.

7. Orthography

Of the matching Tibetan terms, rgyus might be a realistic candidate for dgyu, fitting HPB’s description in the sense that we find the two elements of “knowledge” and “primal causes” from the description in SD I, 108 associated with the term rgyu, which is, in its turn, closely related to rgyus. The spelling dgyü, with an umlaut, following A.T. Barker, would then be justified.

In an earlier post entitled “Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause” we have argued that dgyu being the (manifested) “propelling force” which “sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution”, is kāraṇa, the “force” resulting in cosmic motion, or the principle of abstract motion. (cp. SD I, 109-110) In Hopkins’ dictionary we find nidāna under rgyus, a term which is used by HPB as a synonym for kāraṇa, and the term kāraṇa itself under rgyu.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Causeless Cause, Cosmological Notes Manuscript, Fohat, Great Breath, Karana, Mahatma Letters, Motion, Nidana | No comments yet


The Universal Over-Soul

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

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

1. The Over-Soul

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

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

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

2. The Universal Soul

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Anima Mundi or World Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Corrections to Earlier Findings

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


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

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

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

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

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

5. The Sacred Four

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

absolute - 8

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

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

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


The Three Svabhāvas in The Secret Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non Ego

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Non-ego anātman parikalpita
Voidness śūnyatā paratantra
Darkness   pariniṣpanna

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


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and in CW XII, 607:

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

Aspect of ālaya

Corresponds to


1. jāti

remaining in its original nature

First Logos

2. pravṛtti


Second Logos

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

3. karman

producing effects

Third Logos


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


Ālaya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, part I

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

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

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

The Sanskrit Version

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

The Chinese Tripitaka

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

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

The Dūnhuáng Findings

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

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

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

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

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

The Tibetan Versions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Category: Alaya, Lankavatarasutra, Sutras | 2 comments


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

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

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

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

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

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


The Orthography of Sien-Tchan

By Ingmar de Boer on May 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

In the “Chinese section” of the Book of Dzyan (see SD I, 136-139), in stanza 6, ślokas 1 and 2 we find the term SIEN-TCHAN, in śloka 2 spelled TSIEN-TCHAN, and on page 32 alternatively spelled as SIEN-TCHANG. According to HPB the term refers to “our universe”.

Locations and spellings in the SD:

I, 136 SIEN-TCHAN (our Universe)
I, 137 Sien-Tchan
I, 139 Sien-Tchan (the “Universe”)

In SD III, 393, cf. CW XIV, 408 we have the spelling Sien-chan, as David and Nancy Reigle noticed in Blavatsky’s Secret Books, in p. 64n1. In this same article, entitled An Unpublished Discourse of Buddha, in a note on the same page, Sien-Chan seems to be identified with Nam-Kha, which is Tibetan for sky, heaven:

* The Universe of Brahmâ (Sien-Chan; Nam-Kha) is Universal Illusion, or our phenomenal world.

In SD I, 23 we have another spelling, in the “night of Sun-chan”, which seems to refer to the night of Brahmâ (SD I, 41), the night of the universe, which is pralaya, see also the post and comments here.

In the Würzburg pre-version of the SD we find still another spelling, “sien-tchen (one universe)”. (e.g. SD Adyar Ed 1993 vol. III, p. 518)

In The Early Teachings of the Masters ed. by Jinarajadasa we also find the spelling Sien-chan, representing the Tibetan word sems can, as the “animated universe”. In the version of this text in Cosmological Notes we find the spelling Sem chan. Sems can is “animated”, or “animated beings”, “sentient beings”, literally meaning something like “having a mind”. It corresponds to the Sanskrit term sattva.

Summing up: we have here already eight different spellings of Sien-Tchan, and most of these look like Chinese words. However, the only spelling which seems to shed some light on this, having a corresponding meaning, is a Tibetan word.

In the Boris de Zirkoff edition of the SD, the spelling of Sien-Tchan is interpreted as Hsien-chan, adding a ninth spelling to our collection. De Zirkoff interpreted this term as Chinese, and converted it to the Wade-Giles standard, apparently without explicit justification. Still, his idea on this might be right, while the connection with Tibetan sems can is wrong.

De Zirkoff’s spelling hsien chan corresponds to pīnyīn spelling xian zhan. Modern dictionaries do not seem to include any words with this combination of syllables, or in fact any other clues, which does not give us any reason to abandon the Tibetan interpretation as “sems can”, however unlikely this interpretation may seem at first sight.

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


The Orthography of Kwan-Yin-Tien

By Ingmar de Boer on at 3:41 pm

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

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

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

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


On the eternal Germ

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

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



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

The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation. It is the Point in the Mundane Egg […], the germ within the latter which will become the Universe, the ALL, the boundless, periodical Kosmos, this germ being latent and active, periodically and by turns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The corresponding Sanskrit is:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause

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

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

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

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

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

“Karana” — eternal cause — was alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course much more could be said about this passage in the VP, relating to the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan, an example being that in VP I.II.4, Viṣṇu is called mūlabhūta, the root of the world (Wilson), a term found in stanza II śloka 1 (SD I, 53).

Returning to our theme here, we might turn to another location in the stanzas, in SD I, 107-108, stanza V śloka 2:


In HPB’s extensive commentary to (c) we find (in SD I, 109):

When the “Divine Son” breaks forth, then Fohat becomes the propelling force, the active Power which causes the ONE to become TWO and THREE — on the Cosmic plane of manifestation. The triple One differentiates into the many, and then Fohat is transformed into that force which brings together the elemental atoms and makes them aggregate and combine.

and (in SD I, 110):

By the action of the manifested Wisdom, or Mahat, represented by these innumerable centres of spiritual Energy in the Kosmos, the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation, becomes objectively the Fohat of the Buddhist esoteric philosopher. Fohat, running along the seven principles of AKASA, acts upon manifested substance or the One Element, as declared above, and by differentiating it into various centres of Energy, sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution, which, in obedience to the Ideation of the Universal Mind, brings into existence all the various states of being in the manifested Solar System.

Combining the phrase “THE DZYU BECOMES FOHAT “ from stanza V śloka 2 with this last quote, we must conclude that the dzyu is identical to “the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation”. Dzyu becomes fohat “when the ‘Divine Son’ breaks forth”, i.e. at the moment the universe comes into manifestation, so we can conclude that dzyu is the unmanifested principle which is at the basis of fohat, the (manifested) “propelling force” which “sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution”. This principle is of course kāraṇa, which is, as we have seen, the “force” resulting in cosmic motion, or the principle of abstract motion, in the Book of Dzyan symbolised as the great breath.


Category: Causeless Cause, Divine Breath, Fohat, Great Breath, Karana, Motion, Nidana, Root of the World, Vyakta | 2 comments


On the Summary to the First Fundamental Proposition

By Ingmar de Boer on March 20, 2013 at 12:22 am

In the summary in SD I, 16, a clearer idea of is given of the subject of the first fundamental proposition. This proposition is stating an “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE”. The summary is meant as a clarification of the text in SD I, 14-16 under (a).

The following summary will afford a clearer idea to the reader.

(1.) The ABSOLUTE; the Parabrahm of the Vedantins or the one Reality, SAT, which is, as Hegel says, both Absolute Being and Non-Being.

The Absolute, Parabrahman.

(2.) The first manifestation, the impersonal, and, in philosophy, unmanifested Logos, the precursor of the “manifested.” This is the “First Cause,” the “Unconscious” of European Pantheists.

The unmanifested Logos, which is apparently different from the Absolute here. We have called this the First Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

(3.) Spirit-matter, LIFE; the “Spirit of the Universe,” the Purusha and Prakriti, or the second Logos.

Literally the Second Logos.

(4.) Cosmic Ideation, MAHAT or Intelligence, the Universal World-Soul; the Cosmic Noumenon of Matter, the basis of the intelligent operations in and of Nature, also called MAHA-BUDDHI.

In our earlier analysis we have identified the Universal World-Soul with the Third Logos.

Confusingly, we found Mahat to correspond to the Second Logos.

The Cosmic Noumenon of Matter is mentioned as “noumenon of matter” in SD I, 84

The expanding and contracting of the Web — i.e., the world stuff or atoms — expresses here the pulsatory movement; for it is the regular contraction and expansion of the infinite and shoreless Ocean of that which we may call the noumenon of matter emanated by Swabhavat, which causes the universal vibration of atoms.

The noumenon of matter is the web

In this passage we can safely assume that “universal vibration of atoms” corresponds to “pulsatory movement”, which is apparently the “expanding and contracting of the Web”. What causes this vibration is not entirely clear from the text. Syntactically “which” could refer either to

1. the regular contraction and expansion
2. the infinite and shoreless Ocean
3. that which we may call the noumenon of matter
4. Swabhavat

Logically, it could not be 1, as the cause of vibration could not be itself. From “for it is the regular…” we can again safely conclude that by the “infinite and shoreless Ocean” is meant the Web. It could therefore not be 2, because the Web apparently does not vibrate by itself. Is the noumenon emanated or the matter? The Ocean apparently consists of the “noumenon of matter”. Therefore the Ocean is still unmanifested, and it is the noumenon that is emanated by Swabhavat, not matter. As the noumenon is itself the substance of the Ocean, Swabhavat will be the cause of its vibration. The alternative would be that the noumenon is the cause of vibration, which means that the Web vibrates because of its substance.

If we return to śloka 10 in stanza III:


Here Swabhavat is identified with the substance of the web. Because the substance is twofold in itself, the vibration is an inherent quality of the web, as we can see from śloka 11 in stanza II:


This means both solutions 3 and 4 could be acceptable, and consequently the “Cosmic Noumenon of Matter” is the Father-Mother substance of the Web, alternatively Swabhavat. As for now it is unclear to me if this might be related to the Second, or the Third Logos.

The “basis of intelligent operations in and of Nature” might be interpreted either way, but seems closer to our idea of the Third Logos than to the Second.

As for mahabuddhi, we can sum up some other relevant passages here.

1. One location is SD I, 451:

Mahat (or Maha-Buddhi) is, with the Vaishnavas, however, divine mind in active operation, or, as Anaxagoras has it, “an ordering and disposing mind, which was the cause of all things,” — [[Nous o diakosmonte kai panton aitios]].

We identified Anaxagoras’ concept of nous as the Third logos, and also the “divine mind in active operation” is exactly what we have defined as the Third Logos. In this quote, mahat (mahabuddhi) is defined differently, not as the Second Logos but as the Third, apparently following “the Vaishnavas”.

The quote “Nous [estin] ho diakosmon te kai panton aitios” is taken from Plato’s Phaedo, 97c, “νοῦς ἐστιν ὁ διακοσμῶν τε καὶ πάντων αἴτιος“, “it is the mind that arranges and causes all things”, in the translation of Harold North Fowler.

2. A second is SD I, 572:

Esoterically the teaching differs: The divine, purely Adi-Buddhic monad manifests as the universal Buddhi (the Maha-buddhi or Mahat in Hindu philosophies) the spiritual, omniscient and omnipotent root of divine intelligence, the highest anima mundi or the Logos.

Here we have mahat (mahabuddhi) as the Second Logos, which is the Logos proper, and HPB’s Anima Mundi.

Mahat is used in different meanings, though it seems to be in a consistent way. Apparently in the summary of the first fundamental proposition, mahat is used conform SD I, 451.

Returning to the structure of the summary, it seems to be

(1) Parabrahman, the Absolute
(2) First Logos
(3) Second Logos
(4) Third Logos

If we try to put this in a diagram, instead of something like

absolute - 0

the structure would become something like

absolute - 1

Today I consulted the 1893 “Third Revised Edition” of The Secret Doctrine, which – fascinatingly – has a slightly altered summary text, on p. 44 (different page numbering):

(1.) Absoluteness: the Parabrahman of the Vedântins or the One Reality, Sat, […]
(2.) The First Logos: the impersonal […]
(3.) The Second Logos: Spirit-Matter […]
(4.) The Third Logos: Cosmic Ideation […]

This would mean that the Adyar edition also has this version of the summary, as it is based on the 1893 revised edition. This version of the summary does “afford a clearer idea to the reader”, as opposed to the 1888 summary…


Category: Anima Mundi, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Parabrahman, Svabhavat, World Soul | 1 comment


Two Aspects of the Absolute

By Ingmar de Boer on March 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Studying the first fundamental proposition in The Secret Doctrine, we see that the “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE” postulated in SD I, 14 is the Rootless Root of “all that was, is, or ever shall be”, Parabrahman, the Absolute.

Two aspects of the Absolute are then described, which are absolute abstract Space and absolute abstract Motion, the latter symbolized in the Book of Dzyan as The Great Breath.

The Great Breath is seen by HPB as precosmic Ideation, while the other aspect of the Absolute is seen as precosmic root-substance (Mūlaprakṛti). Both these are underlying manifested Consciousness and manifested Matter respectively, or Spirit and Matter, Subjectivity and Objectivity in the manifested universe.

These two aspects are obviously referred to in the last sentence of the passage, after the summary, “The ONE REALITY; its dual aspects in the conditioned Universe.”

Mūlaprakṛti: the Veil over Parabrahman

In this context HPB refers to ‘Mr. Subba Row’s four able lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, “Theosophist,” February, 1887.’

In the first of these lectures, on page 304 of The Theosophist Vol. VIII, we find some explanation about the relationship between Parabrahman and Mūlaprakṛti:

From its objective standpoint, Parabrahman appears to it as Mulaprakriti.

The “it” in this sentence is the ego “having an objective consciousness of its own”.

Parabrahman is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it. Parabrahman cannot be seen as it is.

What is said here, is that Parabrahman is the Absolute, and Mūlaprakṛti is an aspect of it, only in the sense that we cannot see more of it than that. Mūlaprakṛti is not a component, “aspect” or principle in itself, either separate from or united with Parabrahman. This is different from HPB’s interpretation in her description of the first fundamental principle, as two aspects, pre-Cosmic Ideation and pre-Cosmic Substance.

On page 305 of The Theosophist Vol. VIII, “the highest Trinity that we are capable of understanding” is mentioned, being Mūlaprakṛti, Īśvara (the Logos) and the “conscious energy of he Logos” (i.e. HPB’s fohat). This is the trinity we have defined as the First, Second and Third Logos. (see The Three Logoi)

In SD I, 14 we find:

Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is this metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS — symbolised by finite intelligence as the theological Trinity.

On page 305, Subba Row describes the “conscious energy of he Logos” as the “Holy Ghost of the Christians”. This confirms that Subba Row thought of this trinity as the “theological Trinity”.

Although HBP does not give any indication which trinity she is referring to, from these correspondences between her description and Subba Row’s, we can assume that she refers to the Trinity that we have defined as the First, Second and Third Logos, which she sees as “symbolising” the “metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE — BE-NESS”, which is the “Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE” postulated in SD I, 14.

This same problem appears in SD I, 15:

Considering this metaphysical triad as the Root from which proceeds all manifestation, […]

“This” seems to refer to:

Spirit (or Consciousness) and Matter are, however, to be regarded, not as independent realities, but as the two facets or aspects of the Absolute (Parabrahm), […]

Again the only possible interpretation here seems the Absolute itself, together with its two aspects. A more fitting interpretation would be though, that the Root is the Parabrahman which she sees as a “metaphysical triad” in itself, or the triad “symbolising” Parabrahman.

Category: Logos, Mulaprakriti, Parabrahman | 2 comments


The footnote in SD I, 14-15

By Ingmar de Boer on at 6:55 pm

In SD I, 14 we find

Herbert Spencer has of late so far modified his Agnosticism, as to assert that the nature of the “First Cause,”* which the Occultist more logically derives from the “Causeless Cause,” the “Eternal,” and the “Unknowable,” […]

where the asterisk refers to the following footnote:

* The “first” presupposes necessarily something which is the “first brought forth, the first in time, space, and rank” — and therefore finite and conditioned. The “first” cannot be the absolute, for it is a manifestation. Therefore, Eastern Occultism calls the Abstract All the “Causeless One Cause,” the “Rootless Root,” and limits the “First Cause” to the Logos, in the sense that Plato gives to this term.

The “First Cause” is the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, “in the sense Plato gives to this term”, which is the Second Logos, as we have shown earlier. (See The Three Logoi)

So the “Abstract All”, the “Causeless One Cause”, the “Rootless Root” is the unmanifested Logos, which we have called the First Logos.

Category: Causeless Cause, First Cause, Logos, Rootless Root | 1 comment


The Doctrine of ‘Nature Origination’ in the Korean Ch’an Buddhism of Chinul and Li T’ung Hsuan’s ‘Hua-yen’ – by Ken Small

By admin on September 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm

[ ADMIN Note : The following post was provided par Ken Small as an introduction to a new discovery which is of much interest for the students of the Theosophical teachings on Svabhava. This is opening a new area for research. Thanks to him for sharing this insight with us.]


One of the most important and challenging concepts in Blavatsky’s ‘Secret Doctrine’ is the doctrine of ‘svabhava’ or ‘svabhavat’.

David Reigle in his opening to his chapter on ‘The Doctrine of Svabhava’ makes reference to works “… found in the Bodhisattva-bhumi, attributed to Asanga … or to Maitreya… . This text in its tattvartha or “reality” chapter speaks of the inexpressible svabhavata (nature or essence) of all the elements of existence … . Being beyond the range of speech, this absolute (paramarthika) svabhava of all dharmas is accessible only to non-conceptual wisdom (nirvikalpa-jnana)…” (BSB, p.106 – Reigle)

Reigle continues in this chapter of his book (Blavatsky’s Secret Books p.106) linking this svabhava doctrine to the tathagata-garbha doctrine found in Maitreya’s Ratna-gotra-vibhaga, and questions on svabhava, anatman and sunyata are delved into and a process of clarifying their relation to Blavatsky’s. A question that frequently arises is how these ideas, so harmonious with the Theosophical view, continue in living traditions today?

The Korean Ch’an (kor. Son) schools descending from the 12th century founding teacher Chinul remain currently active and in practice. Many scholars and practicioners today consider him the founder of the unified Son (Ch’an) / Kyo (doctrinal Buddhism) Korean Buddhism of today. Chinul was a unique figure that merged together both Ch’an and Hua-yen view into one school of thought and practice. While this is a large subject to cover that would require a book length text, a few points are here quoted that appear to relate closely to subjects in Blavatsky’s perennial Theosophy.


So, as I was recently studying the schools and writings that are sourced in the Avatamsaka sutra (see Cleary’s translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra and his introductory notes), I came across this Korean (Chinul) branch that appears to follow this unique approach to ‘nature’ or ‘svabhava’. It is from the Hua yen tradition through a famous layman, named Li T’ung-hsuan (635 CE – 730). His ideas of ‘nature origination’ find currency again in the Korean Ch’an/Hua yen teacher Chinul* (1158-1210). Here appears an approach to svabhava that appears similar to Blavatsky’s and is rare in Buddhism. I have noted here a few other points of potential confluence between Hua-yen and Blavatsky, including within Hua-yen the following: on the subject of universality and particularity, the one and the many, the nature of time, the identity of mutual interpenetration and identity, the One Mind, microcosm and macrocosm, equivalence of Buddha nature and emptiness, etc. All this is open for new understandings and exploration. It is of interest to also note that within Hua-yen is a unified view of sunyata and the tathagatagarbha doctrines. In what follows I will give some brief quotes from translated sources and scholarly commentary about this aspect of Hua-yen tradition. This is no attempt at even an overview of a very vast and complex subject within Hua-yen, but only to give some very introductory ideas and points of reference of areas for its further study with Blavatsky’s Theosophic perennialism.

Also, always the cautionary note, that it is often rather challenging to get the source terms correctly aligned, when going from Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Korean and then to the often barely adequate English, where one word may be used for very different ideas, or several words interchangeably for the same Buddhist term. So what follows is very preliminary.

The Korean ‘song’ or ‘songgi’ or Chinese ‘hsing-chi’ for the Sanskrit svabhava (see Odin p. 63) is translated into English as ‘nature’. (I have added some areas in bold for emphasis)

Buswell gives the source for ‘nature’ as:

prakriti, svabhava: The unchanging, absolute nature of all dharmas; contrasted with characteristics.” (CWC – Buswell p.400)

Regarding ‘nature origination’:

Chinul discovered the philosophical basis for such correlated doctrines as the primacy of faith, the primordial identification of sentient beings with Buddha, and sudden awakening, in Li T’ung-hsuan’s radical and unorthodox doctrine of nature origination. (Chi. Hsing-chi; Kor. Yuan-chi) (PMHYB p. 63 Odin)

Chinul emphasizes that whereas conditioned origination articulates reality from the perspective of multiple phenomena (shih) or dynamic function (yung), nature origination articulates reality from the perspective of principle (li) or universal essence (t’i). Where as conditioned origination requires an intermediary intellectual framework of interpenetration and mutual fusion to identify principle (li) with phenomena (shih), the more radical doctrine of nature-origination, instead emphasizes the non-production or non-origination of phenomena and requires no intermediary conceptual apparatus. (PMHYB p. 64 Odin)

The usual interpretation of faith as a belief in the possibility of becoming a Buddha through the step by step procedure of faith, understanding, practice and authentication was changed into the new idea that faith is the resolute conviction that one is already identified with Buddhahood. (PMHYB p. 61 Odin quoting Shim)

Regarding the ethic of Hua-yen, Cleary comments:

The Hua-yen doctrine shows the entire cosmos as one single nexus of conditions in which everything simultaneously depends on, and is depended on by, everything else. Seen in this light, then, everything affects and is affected by, more or less immediately or remotely, everything else; just as this is true of every system of relationships, so is it true of the totality of existence.… The accord of this view with the experience of modern science is obvious, and it seems to be an appropriate basis upon which the question of the relation of science and bioethics – an issue of contemporary concern – may be resolved. … The ethic of the Hua-yen teaching is based on this fundamental theme of universal interdependenc.

(EITI p. 3 Cleary)

Francis Cook states:

Hua-yen is certainly a type of pan-Buddhism. (HYB p.92, Cook)

We might, as a matter of fact, characterize Hua-yen as a species of tathagatagarbha thought which is in turn based on the doctrine of emptiness. Even this is not the whole truth, for it tends to distort the relationship between the two doctrines. Ultimately, sunyata and tathagatagarbha are alternate expressions for the same reality.

(HYB, p.36 Cook)

All men possess a point of numinous brightness which is still like space and pervades every region. When contrasted with mundane affairs, it is expediently called the noumenal nature. When contrasted with formations and consciousness, it is provisionally called the true mind. (CWC p. 181 Buswell quoting Chinul)

Odin comments on unity and multiplicity in Hua-yen:

The dialectical interpenetration of unity and multiplicity or subjectivity and objectivety in Hua-yen Buddhism essentially represents a microcosmic-macrocosmic model of reality wherein each dharma or event becomes a living mirror of the totality, reflecting all other dharmas—past, present, and future alike—from its own standpoint in nature … not unlike Leibniz’s theory of “monads” or perspectival mirrors in the West. (PMHYB p. 16 Odin)

Keel quoting Tsung-mi:

The original Essence of True Mind has two kinds of function: One is the original function of Self Nature, and the other is the function according to external conditions. If we compare them to copper, the quality of copper is its Essence of
Self-Nature, its brightness the function of Self-Nature, and the reflections appearing on it the Functions according to conditions … Analogously, the constant quiescence of Mind is the Essence of Self-Nature, the
constant knowing of Mind the function of Self-Nature, and to talk, to speak, and to distinguish are the Functions according to conditions. (TFKST p.87 Keel)

Nature giving rise to Characteristics (Phenomena, Functions) is called in Hua-yen doctrine Origination-by-Nature (songgi) as distinguished from Origination-by-condition (yongi). To see a phenomena from the vantage point of Origination-by-Nature means to understand it in its phenomenality, in its conditioned nature, and thus in its Emptiness. So long as a thing is seen in its Nature of Origination-by-Condition, it is Origination-by-nature at the same time. Further, so long as one sees a phenomena in this way, it is seen as a Function of the Essence of True Mind. Thus, for Chinul, the logic of Origination-by-Nature underlies the truth of the mysterious Function of True Mind. Every phenomena, seen in this way, no longer becomes an obstruction to our spiritual freedom but is affirmed plainly as it is. (TFKST p.84-85 Keel)

Buswell clarifying some implications of ‘nature origination’:

Chinul’s acceptance of the doctrine of nature origination (songgi) rather than the conditioned origination of the dharmadhatu stems from the formers superiority in the development of practice. While conditioned origination might be theoretically valid, its efficacy from a pragmatic standpoint is limited. The emphasis on nature origination had important implications for Chinul’s synthesis of the theoretical views of the Hwaom [Hua-yen] and Son [Ch’an] schools …

(CWC pp. 232-233 Buswell)

This is only a brief taste of a few key points in the ideas of Chinul and Li T’ung Hsuan. It is to be hoped that gradually as more of the writings of the Hua-yen and Korean Son (Ch’an) teachers become translated, more light on these ideas will be possible. Certainly, it can be said, that the harmonious confluences between Hua-yen and Blavatsky’s Theosophic perennialism point to a significant and dynamic confluence of views useful to deepening our study and practice in both arenas.

*The Avatamsaka’s influence continued through out the later course of Ch’an history, and is especially noticeable in the thought of Chinul (1158-1210), who during the Koryo Dynasty (937-1392) revivied the declining fortunes of the Ch’an school in Korea. Chinul was profoundly influenced by Tsung-mi … Another important influence on chnul was that of Li T’ung-hsuan (635-730), also an important Hua-yen figure. The Avatamsaka’s influence on Ch’an has been such that it has even been suggested that Ch’an is the practical expression of the profound and comprehensive teaching of the Avatamsaka.

(MTBAAS p.20 Cheng Chien Bhikshu)

References referred to and recommended for further study:

Buswell, Robert E. – The Collected Works of Chinul

Cheng Chien Bhikshu – Manifestation of the Tathagata: Buddhahood According to the Avatamsaka Sutra

Cleary, Thomas – Entry into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism

Cleary, Thomas – The Avatamsaka Sutra

Cook, Francis H. – Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

Keel, Hee-Sung – Chinul:The Founder of the Korean Son [Ch’an] Tradition

Odin, Steve – Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism

Reigle, David and Nancy – Blavatsky’s Secret Books

Category: Five Books of Maitreya, Svabhavat | 2 comments


The Three Logoi (3)

By Ingmar de Boer on July 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm

4. Analysis

As we have seen, HPB associates Mahat, the Universal Mind or Intelligence, with the Second Logos. As Cosmic Ideation, we would associate it with the Nous and the world of Ideas of the Plotinic model, corresponding to the Second Logos. The Nous as the creative principle of the universe on the other hand, may be associated with the third aspect, not the second. In the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation the Nous is the creative Mind, corresponding to the Third Logos, Divine Activity. Therefore in this model the Demiurge is associated with the Third Logos, again because the third is the “creative aspect”. Notably, in both models the Dhyan Chohans are connected with the third aspect.

These different views, as we have seen, can be traced to the Plotinic interpretation of the three logoi by HPB, versus the interpretation of Damascius, and subsequently Mead in his Orpheus, and Besant and Leadbeater. Another source for Mead however, was The Secret Doctrine, as it was, naturally, for Besant and Leadbeater. Did Mead, Besant and Leadbeater make a conscious choice to deviate from HPB’s interpretation? We do not have an argumentation from any of them for doing so. Maybe they did not think they were so far removed from HPB’s interpretation? In SD I, 256 we find:

For MAHAT is the first product of Pradhana, or Akasa, and Mahat — Universal intelligence “whose characteristic property is Buddhi” — is no other than the Logos, for he is called “Eswara” Brahma, Bhava, etc. (See Linga Purana, sec. lxx. 12 et seq.; and Vayu Purana, but especially the former Purana — prior, section viii., 67-74). He is, in short, the “Creator” or the divine mind in creative operation, “the cause of all things.”

Pradhāna is associated with he First Logos, cp. Mūlaprakṛti. The first product of pradhāna is the Second Logos. Universal intelligence is the Logos, Īśvara, Brahmā, again the Second Logos, not the Third. In the next phrase the problem becomes apparent: he is the “Creator”, “the divine mind in creative operation”, which could easily be interpreted as the third aspect. It is, confusingly, about the Second Logos, the Divine Mind or Wisdom, and not about fohat, its force, i.e. the Third Logos.

We can see that the cause of misunderstanding here is, that the description of the Second and Third Logoi is not unambiguous. This quote from SD I, 256 is only one example, but this ambiguity occurs repeatedly through the whole text of the SD, making it difficult to reconstruct the model of the triad as it was intended.

5. Synthesis

When we combine the correspondences between the two interpretations, we might come to the following three “definitions”.

1. The First Logos is the ever unmanifest Logos, Divine Will.
2. The Second Logos is the manifested Logos, Divine Wisdom.
3. The Third Logos is described by HPB as the “light of the Logos”, Divine Activity.

I will summarize here, the model presented in The Secret Doctrine, suppleted with the terminology from The Ancient Wisdom and other correspondences found, leaving out the differences which are based on problems of interpretation, as we have been able to show, I hope convincingly, in these posts on the Three Logoi.

1. First Logos, the One, the Ever Unmanifest, represented by Mūlaprakṛti, the Plotinic and Orphic Hen, Hyparxis, Universal Good, the Christian Father-aspect, Divine Will.

2. Second Logos, the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, the Verbum, the Plotinic Nous, the Demiurge, HPB’s Anima Mundi, Universal Soul, Creative Intelligence, Mahat, Universal Mind, Universal Intelligence, Divine Mind, Divine Wisdom, the Son-aspect, the Christ, Brahmā, Īśvara, Avalokiteśvara (manifested).

3. Third Logos, the Light of the Logos, Fohat, Daiviprakṛti, the Plotinic Psuchē, the Nous of Anaxagoras, Divine Activity, the Holy Ghost.


Category: Anima Mundi, Avalokiteshvara, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Daiviprakriti, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Universal Mind, World Soul | 5 comments


The Three Logoi (2)

By Ingmar de Boer on at 4:59 pm

2. The three logoi in The Secret Doctrine

What comes closest to a definition of the logoi in The Secret Doctrine, is a quote from the 1885 lecture of T. Subba Row, published under the title Notes on the Bhagavad Gita. In SD I, 429 we find:

Metaphysicians explain the root and germ of the latter, according to Mr. Subba Row, as the first manifestation of Parabrahmam, “the highest trinity that we are capable of understanding,” which is Mulaprakriti (the veil), the Logos, and the conscious energy “of the latter,” or its power and light*; or — “matter, force and the Ego, or the one root of self, of which every other kind of self is but a manifestation or a reflection.”

So we have as the triad, according to Subba Row (Notes…, TUP 2nd ed., p. 22):

1. Mulaprakriti,
2. Eswara or Logos,
3. conscious energy of the Logos, which is its power and light.

Subba Row describes Mūlaprakṛti as a “veil over parabrahman”. He identifies the third aspect with the concept of Daiviprakṛti as used in the Bhagavad Gīta, and notes that it “is called fohat in several Buddhist books”.

HPB and Subba Row’s interpretation seems to correspond to Plotinus, who is considered the main representative of the Neo-Platonic system. In this model the Nous is the second hypostasis:

1. To Hen (The One)
2. Ho Nous (Intellect, Spirit, Universal Mind)
3. Hē Psuchē (The World Soul)

Mead in his work on Plotinus (p. 26 and 28) also describes the Nous as the second principle. Proclus, in his Metaphysical Elements, follows Plotinus in this respect: Proposition XX: The essence of soul [Hē Psuchē] is beyond all bodies [To Sōma], the intellectual na­ture [Ho Nous] is beyond all souls, and The One [To Hen] is beyond, all intel­lectual hypostases.

In the Christian tradition, for example in Augustinus’ De Trinitate, we find the same triad:

1. Father, cp. To Hen
2. Son, the Christ, the Word, the Logos, cp. Ho Nous
3. Holy Ghost, cp. the Anima Mundi, World Soul, Hē Psuchē

Contrary to Plotinus however, who identified the Nous with the Demiurge, in the Christian tradition the Father-aspect is identified with the Creator God, as formulated in the first line of the Nicene Creed of 325 (tr. Philip Schaff):

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

3. The three logoi in The Ancient Wisdom

The introduction to Besant’s The Ancient Wisdom we find a clue as to the origin of the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation. On page 28, reference is made to Orpheus, a study by G.R.S. Mead of 1896 on the theogony of the Orphic religion. In Orpheus the creation of the universe begins with The One. The One Existence is called thrice unknown darkness in the Orphic system. From the darkness comes the primordial triad, with its three hypostases:

1. Universal Good (super-essential),
2. World Soul (self-motive essence),
3. Intellect (Mind).

These three hypostases “appear”, in AW p. 34-35, as the Christian Trinity where the First Logos is the Father, the “fount of all life”, the Second Logos the Son, and the Third Logos the Holy Ghost, the “creative Mind”. The creative Mind, the “noetic” aspect, is presented here as the third aspect.

From Orpheus (p. 93) we learn that the essential characteristics of the Orphic triads are defined by Plato as

1. Bound (hyparxis)
2. Infinite (power)
3. Mixed (noesis, fr. Nous)

In Plato’s dialogue Philebus, these characteristics are summed up by Socrates in a different order: 1. infinite (apeiron), 2. finite (peras) and 3. mixed (meikton). In SD I, 426, HPB states that Porphyry shows that the Monad and the Duad of Pythagoras are identical with Plato’s infinite and finite in “Philebus” — or what Plato calls the ἄπειρον and πέρας, confirming this order. The noetic, μεικτόν, is again in third position.

Mead in his turn in Orpheus refers to Neo-Platonist authors Proclus and Damascius. Damascius’ Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles seems to be Mead’s main source concerning the Orphic metaphysical system. Moreover, HPB has also read this work, and refers to it as “πρώτων ἀρχῶν“. In the First Principles, for example in the French translation of Edouard Chaignet of 1898, we find in § 55 that the third principle, which is the Nous, “is called mixed by Plato” and by “Philolaus and the pythagoreans”. The Three Universal Principles, the proenōma, are called

1. Father, Patēr
2. Power, Dunamis
3. Reason, Nous

We can see that Damascius’ interpretation of the Primordial Triad goes back to Plato’s Philebus. Even earlier, Anaxagoras (and later Aristotle) used the term Nous to denote purely the creative principle in the universe. As such, it could of course also be associated with the third principle.

Continued in part 3

Category: Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Darkness, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mulaprakriti, Nous | 4 comments


The Three Logoi (1)

By Ingmar de Boer on at 4:48 pm

H.P. Blavatsky (HPB), in The Secret Doctrine uses the term Logos throughout the text (with capital “L”, and without prior ordinal), usually indicating the so called Second Logos. In The Secret Doctrine each of the three logoi is attributed consistently to one of the three aspects, the hypostases, of what may be called the first cosmological triad of our system. Studying the three logoi in The Secret Doctrine can easily lead to confusion, not only because the subject matter itself is prone to confusion, but also because HPB’s style of writing can at times be very confusing.

In the oevres of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater on the other hand, the three logoi are more clearly defined, but unfortunately they do not in every respect correspond to the logoi in The Secret Doctrine. In many later theosophical works, and also in many other modern works in the area of spirituality, the three logoi are often introduced without any attempt to definition, while implicitly referring to the relevant works of Besant and Leadbeater.

We could ask ourselves what is the origin of the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation, and how does it correspond to HPB’s version of the logoi? Can we explain the differences? Could we perhaps formulate new air-tight definitions for the three logoi?

1. Some Examples of Differences

There are some clear differences in interpretation, which we could discuss here, illustrated with examples from both Besant’s The Ancient Wisdom (AW) and HPB’s The Secret Doctrine (SD), before trying to go deeper into the foundations of the models.

Example 1: Mahat

In SD II, 468 we have:

[…] it is the Logos Demiurge (the second logos), or the first emanation from the mind (Mahat), […]

Instead, in AW, p.112, we find:

[…] the Great Mind in the Kosmos.  (Mahat, the Third LOGOS, or Divine Creative Intelligence, the Brahmâ of the Hindus, the Mandjusri of the Northern Buddhists, the Holy Spirit of the Christians.) 

HPB in the SD associates Mahat with the Second Logos, Divine Wisdom, the Brahmā of the Hindus, the Son-aspect of the Christians, instead of the Third.

Example 2: Mahat, the Demiurge and Avalokiteśvara

In SD I, 572 we have:

[…] universal Buddhi (the Maha-buddhi or Mahat in Hindu philosophies) the spiritual, omniscient and omnipotent root of divine intelligence, the highest anima mundi or the Logos.

The “Logos” here is the manifested or Second Logos. HPB in the SD identifies the Universal Mind (Mahat) with the Second Logos.

Further in SD I, 110 we have:

Simultaneously with the evolution of the Universal Mind, the concealed Wisdom of Adi-Buddha — the One Supreme and eternal — manifests itself as Avalokiteshwara (or manifested Iswara), which is the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Heavenly Man of the Hermetic philosopher, the Logos of the Platonists, and the Atman of the Vedantins.* By the action of the manifested Wisdom, or Mahat, represented by these innumerable centres of spiritual Energy in the Kosmos, the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation, becomes objectively the Fohat of the Buddhist esoteric philosopher.

The Logos of the (Neo-) Platonists is the Plotinic Second Logos. It is the Demiurge and Avalokiteśvara, and corresponds to Mahat. In SD I, 72n we have, to be sure that HPB does not mean the Third Logos:

But there are two Avalokiteshwaras in Esotericism; the first and the second Logos.

Instead, in AW p. 42 we find:

Then the Third LOGOS, the Universal Mind, […]

Note that in the quotation from SD I, 110, the Anima Mundi (Second Logos), is not equivalent to the Anima Mundi, the World Soul, of the Neo-Platonists, which is the third aspect. This is, of course, to make things easier for us…

Example 3: Brahmā

In SD I, 381n we have:

In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, […]

HPB in the SD identifies Brahmā with the Second Logos.

Instead, in AW p. 14-15 we find:

The LOGOS in His triple manifestation is : [..]the Third, Manjusri – “the representative of creative wisdom, corresponding to Brahmâ.”

We could now take a closer look at the “definitions” of the three logoi in both these works, in the next post.


Category: Anima Mundi, Avalokiteshvara, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Creation Stories, Darkness, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet


Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya, part 3

By David Reigle on April 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter speaks not only of the dharmatā (“true nature”) and svabhāva (“inherent nature”) as mentioned in the first post on this, it also speaks of the dhātu (“element”) itself. The Perfection of Wisdom texts had spoken of the unthinkable or inconceivable element (acintya-dhātu, e.g., Edward Conze, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, pp. 123, 179, 183, 185, 188, 193, 249, 253, 277, 305, 370, 374, 376, 377). This chapter calls it the unspeakable or inexpressible element (nirabhilapya-dhātu, Conze, pp. 646-647, eleven occurrences, translated as “inexpressible realm”). Students of The Secret Doctrine will be reminded of these two adjectives, unthinkable and unspeakable, as applied to the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine, an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle (vol. 1, p. 14), which, as discussed here before, would be the dhātu, the one element. The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter is one of the most primary documents we have in relation to this fundamental teaching.

A new translation of the three key definitions from the “Questions of Maitreya” is given below. It is followed by “Translation Notes,” explaining how I understood the Sanskrit. These notes are given because Conze said that he and Lamotte have not understood an important phrase in the definition of dharmatā (p. 648, fn. 17). The notes show how I arrived at my translation of it. Also included below is the full Sanskrit text, which Conze and Iida did not give in their edition. They abbreviated what they regarded as repetitive parts of the text, giving only ellipses in their place. The full text is taken from the Sanskrit edition of the complete Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 lines, which only recently became available. It was prepared by Vijay Raj Vajracharya, and published in 3 volumes, 2006-2008 (Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies). Before giving the translation, I must do what Conze did not do, and which led to Thurman’s criticism of his translations. The technical terms used must be briefly explained.

No one expects to understand a science such as physics or chemistry without first learning its technical terms and their framework. The same is true of religio-philosophic systems such as Madhyamaka or Yogācāra Buddhism. All of Buddhism takes for granted a familiarity with the dharmas, the factors of existence that make up its worldview, often translated as “phenomena.” This is primarily a psychological worldview rather than a physical worldview, like we are accustomed to from modern science. So the dharmas are mostly states of our psychological make-up. These have been just as minutely catalogued in the Buddhist science of Abhidharma as have the physical elements in modern science. Indeed, common lists of dharmas include 75 (Abhidharma-kośa) or 100 (Yogācāra) dharmas, much like the periodic table of chemical elements.

The most basic analysis of a person is in terms of the five skandhas, the five “aggregates” that make up a person. This has been an essential feature of Buddhism from the beginning, before the development of the detailed lists of dharmas. The definitions from the “Questions of Maitreya” of the three aspects of dharmas, or ways in which dharmas are to be seen, are given in relation to the five skandhas, then going on to include all dharmas up to the highest with the phrase, “up to buddha-dharmas.” We do not yet have standardized English translations for the five skandhas or “aggregates.” Common translations for them are: (1) rūpa, “form” or “matter”; (2) vedanā, “feeling” or “sensation”; (3) saṃjñā, “perception” or “perception and conception”; (4) saṃskāra, “formations” or “mental formations” or “karma-formations” or “volitional formations” or “volitions” or “dispositions” or “conditioning forces” or “compositional factors”; (5) vijñāna, “consciousness.”

There is wide consensus that, as one of the five aggregates that make up a person, rūpa (“form”) refers to “matter.” Although this is therefore a good translation, there is also wisdom in keeping the same translation term for the same original term wherever it occurs, as we learned from the marvelously consistent Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts that comprise the Tibetan Buddhist canon. There, rūpa is translated as gzugs throughout. So I will stay with “form” for rūpa. For the second aggregate, vedanā, the translation term “sensation” is not very different from “feeling,” so I will use the more commonly used “feeling.” For the third aggregate, translators have pointed out that when saṃjñā is translated as “perception,” we must also know that “conception” is included in this skandha. The fourth skandha, saṃskārāḥ (plural), is quite the hardest to translate, as may be seen by its many renderings. I will here simply choose one of these, “conditioning forces.” The fifth skandha is translated by most translators as “consciousness” (although a few translate it as “perception” or “cognition”).

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter begins with Maitreya asking the Buddha how, if the inherent nature (svabhāva) of all dharmas is non-existence (abhāva), should a bodhisattva practicing the Perfection of Wisdom train in the bodhisattva training in regard to “form” (the first aggregate), “feeling” (the second aggregate), etc., etc. That is, if all dharmas are ultimately non-existent, how does a bodhisattva (who wishes to help others) understand the dharmas that make up the people and the world that are to be helped. The Buddha replies that the bodhisattva should understand all dharmas as just names (nāma-mātra).

Maitreya then says: when the name “form,” etc., is perceived as having substance or being real (sa-vastuka), based on it being the outward sign (nimitta) of something that is conditioned (saṃskāra), then how can a bodhisattva train in understanding “form,” etc., to be just a name. That is, since each thing we see is real in that it is produced by causes and conditions, how can we regard it as being merely a name. Maitreya here uses a phrase that is used throughout the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter, saṃskāra-nimitta, translated by Conze as “the sign of something conditioned.” This is a perfectly good translation, but it needs to be explained.

Something conditioned or compounded (saṃskāra) is something that is produced by causes and conditions, and that is put together or made of parts. This means that it is transitory or impermanent, and will not last. Everything in the phenomenal world is something conditioned or compounded (saṃskāra, saṃskṛta). So to speak of something conditioned is a way to refer to everything in the phenomenal or perceptible world. Then, we do not perceive a thing in its entirety, but we see only the outward sign or visible representation of it. This is its sign (nimitta), how we characterize or define it. It is a way to refer to something according to how we see it, which allows us to identify it, name it, etc. The Tibetan translation of nimitta used here, mtshan ma (as opposed to rgyu mtshan or rgyu meaning cause), emphasizes its meaning as something’s defining characteristic. The compound saṃskāra-nimitta, translated by Conze as “the sign of something conditioned,” thus may also be translated as “defined by being conditioned.” It refers to all dharmas except the unconditioned or uncompounded dharmas, namely, nirvāṇa, and sometimes also ākāśa (“space”), and sometimes also tathatā (“suchness”).

Maitreya goes on to point out here: if a thing that is defined by being conditioned, to which we give the name “form,” etc., actually lacked any substance or any reality, if there was really nothing there, then it would not be tenable to give it the name, “form,” etc. There would be nothing to give a name to. The Buddha replies that the name is adventitious (āgantuka), not inherent, projected onto a thing that is defined by being conditioned, such as form, etc. All along, Maitreya has been asking about the inherent nature (svabhāva) of dharmas. This reply, that the name is adventitious, leads to a discussion of whether the inherent nature of form, etc., is actually perceived. If the name is adventitious, then perhaps it is the inherent nature of form, etc., that is perceived. This is denied. If the name is perceived, then perhaps the name is the inherent nature of form, etc. This is denied.

Maitreya then wonders if form, etc., completely do not exist by way of their inherent characteristics (sva-lakṣaṇa), here used as a kind of synonym of inherent nature (svabhāva). The Buddha replies: I do not say that form, etc., completely do not exist by way of their inherent characteristics. Maitreya responds: how do form, etc., exist? The Buddha replies that they exist by worldly convention, not in reality or ultimately (paramārthataḥ).

Maitreya now brings in the inexpressible “element” (dhātu). He says that, as he understands the Buddha’s teachings, the “element” is inexpressible (nirabhilapya) ultimately. The implication is that, ultimately (paramārthataḥ), one cannot say it exists or does not exist. Students of The Secret Doctrine will here be reminded of H. P. Blavatsky’s statement, “It is ‘Be-ness’ rather than Being” (vol. 1, p. 14). Maitreya wonders, then, why the Buddha would say that form, etc., do not exist ultimately. Wouldn’t they be the same as the element, so that one could only say about their existence that it is inexpressible ultimately, rather than that they do not exist ultimately? The Buddha replies: things that are defined by being conditioned, i.e., form, etc., are neither different from the element nor not different from the element. Maitreya asks how, then, should they be understood.

The Buddha says that they should be understood under three aspects: (1) parikalpita (kun brtags), “falsely imagined,” or “imaginary”; (2) vikalpita (rnam par brtags), “conceptualized,” or “constructed by thought”; and (3) dharmatā (chos nyid), “dharma-ness” or “true nature.” Maitreya asks: which is the falsely imagined form, etc.?; which is the thought-constructed form, etc.?; which is the true nature form, etc.? The Buddha then gives the definitions of these three, where the present translation begins.

The Sanskrit text accompanying the translation is from Āryapañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā, ed. Vijay Raj Vajracharya, vol. 3, pp. 1328-1329. This corresponds to the Conze and Iida edition, p. 238, nos. 39-41 (attached earlier). The corresponding Tibetan translation from the Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 18,000 lines is found in the Collated Kangyur, vol. 31, pp. 387-388; the one from the Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 lines is found in vol. 28, pp. 775-776. In the revised Prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 lines, it is found in the Collated Tengyur, vol. 51, pp. 790-791. As said before, Conze’s English translation of this passage is found in his book, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, p. 648 (attached earlier). Here is the Sanskrit text and new translation:

bhagavān āha | yā maitreya saṃskāra-nimitte vastuni rūpam iti nāma saṃjñā saṃketaḥ prajñaptir vyavahāraḥ niśritya rūpa-svabhāvatayā parikalpanedaṃ parikalpitaṃ rūpam | yan maitreya tasmin saṃskāra-nimitte vastuni vedaneti saṃjñeti saṃskārā iti vijñānam iti yāvad buddha-dharmā iti nāma saṃjñā saṃketaḥ prajñaptir vyavahāraḥ niśritya vedanā-svabhāvatayā saṃjñā-svabhāvatayā saṃskāra-svabhāvatayā vijñāna-svabhāvatayā yāvad buddha-dharma-svabhāvatayā parikalpaneyaṃ parikalpitā vedanā-saṃjñā-saṃskārā vijñānaṃ yāvad ime parikalpitā buddha-dharmāḥ |

“The Blessed One said: Maitreya, in regard to a thing that is defined by being conditioned, the false imagination as to the inherent nature of form, based on the name, notion, label, designation, or conventional expression ‘form’, is the falsely imagined form. Maitreya, in regard to this thing that is defined by being conditioned, the false imagination as to the inherent nature of feeling, as to the inherent nature of perception, as to the inherent nature of conditioning forces, as to the inherent nature of consciousness, up to as to the inherent nature of buddha-dharmas, based on the name, notion, label, designation, or conventional expression ‘feeling’, ‘perception’, ‘conditioning forces’, ‘consciousness’, up to ‘buddha-dharmas’, is the falsely imagined feeling, perception, conditioning forces, consciousness, up to the falsely imagined buddha-dharmas.”

yā punas tasya saṃskāra-nimittasya vastuno vikalpa-mātra-dharmatāyām avasthānatā[-]vikalpaṃ pratītyābhilapanatā tatredaṃ nāma saṃjñā saṃketaḥ prajñaptir vyavahāro rūpam iti vedaneti saṃjñeti saṃskārā iti vijñānam iti yāvad buddha-dharmā iti | idaṃ vikalpitaṃ rūpam iyaṃ vikalpitā vedanā iyaṃ vikalpitā saṃjñā ime vikalpitāḥ saṃskārā idaṃ vikalpitaṃ vijñānam ime yāvad vikalpitā buddha-dharmāḥ |

“Next, this thing that is defined by being conditioned is an expression dependent on the thought-construction of [its] status as to the true nature of thought-construction only. What, in regard to this, is the name, notion, label, designation, or conventional expression ‘form’, ‘feeling’, ‘perception’, ‘conditioning forces’, ‘consciousness’, up to ‘buddha-dharmas’, this is the thought-constructed form, this is the thought-constructed feeling, this is the thought-constructed perception, these are the thought-constructed conditioning forces, this is the thought-constructed consciousness, up to these are the thought-constructed buddha-dharmas.”

yā utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitaiveyaṃ dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā dharma-sthititā dharma-dhātur yat tena parikalpita-rūpeṇa tasya vikalpita-rūpasya nityaṃ nitya-kālaṃ dhruvaṃ dhruva-kālaṃ niḥsvabhāvatā dharma-nairātmyaṃ tathatā bhūta-koṭir idaṃ dharmatā rūpam iyaṃ dharmatā vedanā saṃjñā saṃskārā vijñānam ime yāvad buddha-dharmāḥ |

“Whether tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this true nature (dharmatā) of dharmas simply remains; [it is] the condition for the abiding of dharmas (dharma-sthititā), the element of dharmas (dharma-dhātu). [It is] the absence of inherent nature (niḥsvabhāva) of this thought-constructed form as [it appears as] this falsely imagined form throughout permanent, permanent time, and constant, constant time; [it is] the absence of self in dharmas (dharma-nairātmya), suchness (tathatā), the reality limit (bhūta-koṭi). This is the true nature form (dharmatā rūpa), this is the true nature feeling, perception, conditioning forces, consciousness, up to these are the [true nature] buddha-dharmas.”

Translation Notes

Before getting to the problem area, a few other translation issues should be clarified. Sanskrit regularly uses what has been called a yat-tat correlative, where the relative pronoun yat, “what, which,” is correlated with the demonstrative pronoun tat, “this, that.” This includes all forms of the Sanskrit pronouns, in any gender or any declension, and not only the forms yat and tat. Such a construction with correlating pronouns is not used in English. In our first definition above, the core sentence is: yā parikalpanā idaṃ parikalpitaṃ rūpam, where the correlating pronouns are yā, “what,” and idam, “this.” It says, literally, “what is false imagination, this is falsely imagined form.” But in English, we merely say, “false imagination is falsely imagined form.” We do not use the correlating pronouns. So my English translation of this definition purposely omits these pronouns. This same core sentence structure is used for all three definitions, beginning with yā, “what,” and ending with the correlative idam, “this.” In the second two definitions, however, the beginning part giving the “what” is lengthy, so the definition requires more than one English sentence. In the second definition, I have not omitted the “what,” but have moved it to the beginning of the third English sentence. Even though it does not make very good English, I have retained it in the translation because the correlating “this” in the ending part of the definition is repeated for each item. In the third definition, I have omitted translating the “what” in the lengthy beginning part of the definition, but I have translated the “this” at the beginning of the English sentence giving the ending part of the definition.

On specific terms: As already said, the word nimitta, often translated as “sign,” is here translated in the compound saṃskāra-nimitta as “defined by,” following the Tibetan translation of it used here, mtshan ma. The word saṃketa is also often translated as “sign.” Conze here translated it as “social agreement.” I have here translated it as “label.”

Then, the compound dharma-sthititā is not easy to understand. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates its Pali equivalent as “the stableness of the Dhamma.” Conze translates it as “the established order of dharmas.” My translation of it as “the condition for the abiding of dharmas” is based on the form of this catechism-like saying as it occurs in the Saṃyuktāgama: utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitā eveyaṃ dharmatā dharma-sthitaye dhātuḥ. Here, sthiti is declined in the dative case, “for the abiding of dharmas.” The whole sentence may be translated as: “Whether tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this true nature (dharmatā) simply remains, the element (dhātu) for the abiding of dharmas.” The Sanskrit of this text was discovered among the Turfan finds in the early 1900s. See: Funfundzwanzig Sūtras des Nidānasaṃyukta, edited by Chandrabhāl Tripāṭhī (Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden, vol. 8. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962, p. 148). The word “condition” in my translation renders the -tā suffix.

The problematic phrase is given by Conze (p. 648) as: “the absence of own-being which is characteristic eternally and through all eternity, constantly and through all time, of that discerned form because of that imagined form.” In a footnote to this, Conze refers to and partially quotes a French translation by Lamotte, concluding: “We have not understood this phrase.” The reference is given as “Lamotte II 1. p. 91.” As happens all too often, this is not listed in the abbreviations, and there is no bibliography. Paging backwards, we find on p. 583 fn. a reference to “E. Lamotte, Le traite,” but this is a different book. The reference, it turns out, is to Lamotte’s 1938 book, La somme du grand vehicule, tome II, fascicule I. There, in a long footnote quoting material from the Chinese translation of the Upanibandhana commentary, this same passage occurs. The phrase in question is: “En raison de cette matiere imaginaire (parikalpitarūpa), la matiere pensee (vikalparūpa) est eternelle et constante.” This is then summed up as: “En raison de ces attributs de Buddha imaginaires (parikalpitabuddhadharma), les attributs de Buddha penses (vikalpabuddhadharma) sont eternels et constants.” Ani Migme translates Lamotte’s French of these phrases as (p. 133): “Because of this imaginary nature (parikalpitarūpa), conceptual form (vikalparūpa) is eternal and constant”; and “Because of these imaginary attributes of the Buddha (parikalpitabuddhadharma), the conceptual attributes of the Buddha (vikalpabuddhadharma) are eternal and constant.”

As may be seen, Conze’s and Lamotte’s translations agree in saying “because of that imagined form/this imaginary nature.” One must wonder why anything eternal and constant would be because of something imagined or imaginary (I have translated this as “falsely imagined,” because the prefix “pari” gives kalpita, “imagined,” the sense of “falsely”). The “because of” is a translation of the instrumental case ending, “-ena,” on parikalpita-rūpeṇa, and its corresponding pronoun declined in the instrumental case, tena. The instrumental case is not always easy to translate, because it has more than one meaning. One of the less-known meanings of the instrumental case is “as.” It is not found in Sanskrit textbooks known to me. But it can be found in this meaning in a related text, Vasubandhu’s commentary on Maitreya’s Madhyānta-vibhāga, 3.2: tat punar daśa-vidhaṃ daśa-vidhātmagrāha-pratipakṣeṇa veditavyam, “Further, this group of ten [principles] should be understood as an antidote (pratipakṣeṇa) to the group of ten graspings of self.” It can also be found in this meaning in another old text, Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, 3.3: ātmā hy ākāśavaj jīvair ghaṭākāśair ivoditaḥ, “The ātman has arisen as individual souls (jīvair, instrumental plural), like space as the space in pots.” Indeed, this text even uses it in this meaning with the cognate verbal, vikalpita, in 2.17 and 2.19. The latter is: prāṇādibhir anantais tu bhāvair etair vikalpitaḥ, “[It] is imagined as prāṇa, etc., as these infinite existing things.” This establishes that the instrumental case can mean “as.” Does it mean “as” here?

In a text by Vasubandhu, the Tri-svabhāva-nirdeśa, the corresponding three svabhāvas taught in the Yogācāra school of Buddhism are explained. These are: (1) parikalpita svabhāva, the “falsely imagined nature”; (2) paratantra svabhāva, the “dependent nature”; and (3) pariniṣpanna svabhāva, the “perfect nature.” They are defined in verses 2-4, which I translate as follows:

yat khyāti paratantro ’sau yathā khyāti sa kalpitaḥ |

pratyayādhīna-vṛttitvāt kalpanā-mātra-bhāvataḥ || 2 ||

2. What appears is the dependent, because it functions in dependence on conditions. As it appears is the imagined, because of being imagination only.

tasya khyātur yathā-khyānaṃ yā sadāvidyamānatā |

jñeyaḥ sa pariniṣpannaḥ svabhāvo ’nanyathātvataḥ || 3 ||

3. The ever non-existence of what appears, as it appears, is to be known as the perfect nature, because it is changeless.

tatra kiṃ khyāty asatkalpaḥ kathaṃ khyāti dvayātmanā |

tasya kā nāstitā tena yā tatrādvaya-dharmatā || 4 ||

4. Of these, what appears? The imagination of what is unreal. How does it appear? In the form of duality. What is the non-existence of that as that (tena)? Their true nature without duality.

Here in verses 2 and 3, the word yathā, “as” (in the sense of “the way in which”), is twice used to define the (falsely) imagined nature (kalpita used for parikalpita to fit the meter): “as it appears.” Then in verse 4, the pronoun declined in the instrumental case, tena, clearly means “as that/this.” This is also what it means in the problematic phrase from the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter. It does not here mean “because of this/that,” as Lamotte took it in his early work (translated from a Chinese translation rather than the Sanskrit original) that he never had time to go back and revise, and as Conze also gave but responsibly added a note saying, “We have not understood this phrase.” It here means “as this falsely imagined form”; so I have translated this phrase as “the absence of inherent nature (niḥsvabhāva) of this thought-constructed form as [it appears as] this falsely imagined form throughout permanent, permanent time, and constant, constant time.” I added in brackets “[it appears as]” so that “as this falsely imagined form” would not be taken as “as also this falsely imagined form.”

Not a single one of the seven English translations of the Tri-svabhāva-nirdeśa now available took tena in verse 4 as “as that/this.” Two translations simply omitted the tena (Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyaya, The Trisvabhāvanirdeśa of Vasubandhu, 1939; and Stefan Anacker, Seven Works of Vasubandhu, 1984). Two translations took the tena as “with this/that” (Fernando Tola and Carmen Dragonetti, “with this (duality),” Journal of Indian Philosophy, 1983, p. 252; and Karl Brunnholzl, “with that [duality],” Straight from the Heart, 2007). Two seem to have taken the tena in the meaning “by this,” and then paraphrased this as “will result from” (Thomas A. Kochumuttom, A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience, 1982), or as “is the consequence of” (Jay Garfield, Empty Words, 2002, but the translation is too loose to tell for sure). One seems to have taken the tena as “in virtue of which” and placed it with the last metrical foot of the verse (Thomas E. Wood, Mind Only, 1991). Despite the yathā (“as”) in the definitions in the preceding two verses, the meaning of the instrumental case as “as” is too little known.

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Dharmadhâtu = Buddha Nature = Clear Light

By Jacques Mahnich on April 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm

The Chittamatra tradition of the Middle Way teaches, according to the Shentong tradition, that the Dharmadhâtu is the same as the Clear Light and the same as the Buddha Nature (Tathagatagarbha).

From “A Treatise on Buddha Nature” by Rangjung Dorje (excerpt from : “On Buddha Essence by Khenchen Thrangu”)

– p.21 : « The element has no creator, but it is given this name, because it retains its own characteristics. It (the element) is different from all other things in that it possesses its own characteristics, and while being empty and not having any true reality, it also has the nature of luminosity. »

p.47 : « It (the dharmadhâtu) could also be called the union of wisdom and space, where space is the aspect of emptiness and wisdom is the aspect of clarity. »

p.62 : « The aspect of space is emptiness, that is, the absence of any true reality . Since beginningless time, phenomena have been without any reality , and the nature of our mind has also been without any reality. This is the space or emptiness phenomena, or we could say the dharmadhâtu. »

p.76 : « The dharmadhâtu and the buddha nature are the same ; they cannot be separated…When talking about the emptiness aspect we say dharmadhâtu, and when talking about the luminosity aspect we say buddha nature. »

It is confirmed by other scriptures : From “Yoga of the Guhyasamajatantra – Alex Wayman”

p.188 : from the Pancakrama II,29 commentary : The great Science (mahavidyâ) is the Dharmadhâtu, the Clear Light.

p.193 : from Tson-kha-pa commentary on the Caturdevîparipricchâ : « The three vijnânas proceed from the the 18-fold dharmadhâtu which is the Clear Light of Death. »

p.201 : from the school of Buddhajnânapâda – Vitapâda’s Muktitilaka-nâma-vyâkhyâna : « The self-existence of the non-duality of the Profound and the Bright has the nature of pervading all states (bhâva) and is not included in the dharmas of samsâra ; it is called Dharmadhâtu. »

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Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya, part 2

By David Reigle on April 11, 2012 at 5:26 am

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter in the Perfection of Wisdom texts shows us that we may substitute the wider Buddhist term dharmatā for the specifically Yogācāra Buddhist term pariniṣpanna in verse 6 of stanza 1 of the Book of Dzyan. As we see from The Secret Doctrine, we could also substitute the Advaita Vedānta term pāramārthika for it (vol. 1, p. 356): “Says a ‘Gupta Vidya’ Sūtra: ‘In the beginning, a ray issuing from Paramārthika (the one and only true existence), it became manifested in Vyavahārika (conventional existence) which was used as a Vahan to descend into the Universal Mother, and to cause her to expand (swell, brih)’.” In Advaita Vedanta we also have a listing of the three modes of existence that would correspond to the three svabhāvas of Yogācāra Buddhism, and to the three aspects taught in the “Questions of Maitreya.” These are: pāramārthika, “ultimate”; vyāvahārika, “conventional”; and prātibhāsika, “false appearance,” i.e., “illusory.”

We are seeking a Book of Dzyan, which, as said before, must necessarily use some set of terminology. From the indications we have, at least some of its terminology is distinctive Yogācāra Buddhist terms. Nonetheless, other formulations of the same ideas would be possible; and according to the above quotation from a “Gupta Vidya” or “Hidden Knowledge” Sūtra, do in fact exist. This quotation uses distinctive Advaita Vedānta terms. Despite the fact that these systems combat each other exoterically, their teachings are considered identical in the Secret Doctrine. It makes no difference that those who are regarded in the Secret Doctrine as being high initiates, when giving their exoteric teachings, argue against each other. The great Advaita Vedānta teacher Śaṅkarācārya refutes the Buddhists, and the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsongkhapa refutes his fellow Buddhist Jonangpas, precisely because their doctrine is too much like that of Advaita Vedānta! On this issue, see the important paragraph spanning pp. 636-637 of vol. 2 of The Secret Doctrine. So we proceed with bringing in parallel terms and ideas that have historically linked the Yogācāra teachings and the Perfection of Wisdom or Madhyamaka teachings, from Haribhadra to Dolpopa.

The “Questions of Maitreya” chapter of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras in 18,000 and 25,000 lines has been translated into English by Edward Conze in his 1975 book, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, pp. 644-652 (attached as Questions of Maitreya-English-Conze). He and Shotaro Iida had previously edited and published the original Sanskrit text in their 1968 article “‘Maitreya’s Questions’ in the Prajñāpāramitā,” in Melanges D’Indianisme a la Memoire de Louis Renou, pp. 229-242 (attached as Questions of Maitreya-Sanskrit-Conze Iida). The late Edward Conze was practically the sole translator of the massive Perfection of Wisdom texts throughout his lifetime, and every student of these texts in English translation owes him a large debt of gratitude. Conze’s translations have been criticized by Robert Thurman in his Foreword to Lex Hixon’s 1993 Mother of the Buddhas, p. xvi, as follows:

“His translations thus resemble cookbooks full of recipes translated with a dictionary by someone who has no idea what the foods and spices are, who has never cooked or never eaten such a meal. I have assigned his translations to classes of students, decade after decade, with the invariable result that they feel confused, mystified, and shut out of the real message of the text.”

While what he reports about his students being confused by Conze’s translations is no doubt true, the reason he assigns for this is unlikely, and is unfair to Conze. The earlier part of this paragraph associates “basic preconceptions of nihilism” with Conze, says that he “did not himself practice the yoga of transcending wisdom,” and that “He never found the liberating logic of what might superficially appear to be meaningless paradoxes or irreconcilable contradictions.” This is not the impression that I get of Conze from his various journal articles and books, as well as oral information from former students of his. In fact, Conze had a difficult time in academia for the same reason that Thurman did at the beginning: He was a believer in Buddhism at a time when it was thought that scholars could not remain objective if they believed in what they studied.

The difficulty with Conze’s translations is not that they are dictionary translations by someone who does not know what the text is talking about, but rather that he used stock translations of technical terms that are not normal English (such as “own-being” for svabhāva), and never stopped to give notes explaining their meaning. Conze had a huge amount of material to translate, and he did not write extensive explanatory notes like his colleague Etienne Lamotte was famous for. Thurman concludes: “Prajnaparamita still cries out for a completely revised presentation.” I agree, but not because of thinking that Conze seriously misunderstood the material.

I will give a new translation of the definitions of the three ways in which dharmas are to be seen, from the “Questions of Maitreya,” shortly. In the meantime, one can try to understand Conze’s translation of them, found on p. 648 (attached above). He here translates dharmatā as “dharmic nature.” There are several significant misprints in this book, such as “earth” for “death” on p. 644, that further hinder one’s understanding. Although I regard writing in books as a cardinal sin, I have here made an exception and have written in pencil in the margins a few corrections.

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Dharmatā in the Questions of Maitreya

By David Reigle on April 9, 2012 at 5:36 am

In our investigation of the dhātu (“element, basic space”) and its synonyms as a central idea in the system of the Book of Dzyan, the term dharmatā (“true nature”) has been brought in as the definition of svabhāva (“inherent nature”), when svabhāva is used in its highest meaning. The Yogācāra school of Buddhism speaks of the three svabhāvas: (1) parikalpita svabhāva, the “imagined nature”; (2) paratantra svabhāva, the “dependent nature”; and (3) pariniṣpanna svabhāva, the “perfect nature”. In the Prajñā-pāramitā or Perfection of Wisdom texts, a similar listing is found in the chapter known as the “Questions of Maitreya” (maitreya-paripṛcchā, chapter 72 of the version in 25,000 lines, and chapter 83 of the version in 18,000 lines). There, dharmatā (“true nature”) is the third and highest, corresponding to the pariniṣpanna svabhāva (“perfect nature”).

So verse 6 of stanza 1 of the Book of Dzyan could just as well say that the universe was immersed in dharmatā as in pariniṣpanna. The same is true for verse 1 of stanza 2. It is just a matter of which term is used in which class of texts. The fact that pariniṣpanna (Tibetan yongs grub) is given among the technical terms found in the Book of Dzyan (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 23) tells us that this book used Yogācāra terms rather than terms from the Perfection of Wisdom texts.

The Yogācāra texts have formed the basis not only of the Cittamātra or “mind-only” school, but also of the so-called “Great Madhyamaka” school. There they are understood differently than in the Cittamātra school. There they cross over directly to the Perfection of Wisdom texts, the primary sourcebooks of all Madhyamaka schools. This cross-over was made possible by the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter found in two of the large Perfection of Wisdom texts. In this chapter, the Buddha replies to Maitreya’s questions, telling him that all dharmas can be understood as parikalpita (kun brtags), “[falsely] imagined”, vikalpita (rnam par brtags), “conceptualized”, and by way of their dharmatā (chos nyid), “true nature”, obviously corresponding to the three svabhāvas of the Yogācāra texts.

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The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna

By David Reigle on April 6, 2012 at 6:10 am

Jacques has called our attention to what is the single most important text by Nāgārjuna for the so-called “Great Madhyamaka” tradition, the Dharmadhātu-stava. The dharma-dhātu is the “dhātu of dharmas”; i.e., the “element” or “basic space” or “realm” of the dharmas, the “elements of existence” or “phenomena” or “factors” that make up our world. A stava, also called a stotra, is a “hymn” or “song” or “praise.” As might be expected, the stavas by Nāgārjuna are not typical songs of praise; they are full of philosophical ideas. Here he speaks of something that cannot be directly described in words, or reasoned about like the topics of his other writings, so he just sings his praises of it.

The Sanskrit original has not yet been published, and was presumed lost. However, it is reported to have been found among the Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in Tibet, only recently becoming accessible to scholars. In the meantime, until this is edited and published, we have six verses of the original Sanskrit that were quoted in Nāropā’s Kālacakra commentary, the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. These are given below, quoted from the excellent 2006 edition prepared by Francesco Sferra (Serie Orientale Roma, vol. XCIX, p. 188). I have also compared the pioneering 1941 edition by Mario E. Carelli (Gaekwad’s Oriental Series, vol. XC, p. 66). The only significant difference is the superior reading “agni-śaucaṃ” in verse 20a in the 2006 edition, rather than the reading “agniḥ śaucaṃ” in the 1941 edition.

Also given below is an English translation of these verses made from the Tibetan translation by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., found in the 2004 book he edited, Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin), pp. 467-468. Jacques has already informed us of the 2007 translation by Karl Brunnholzl with full commentary. Another translation by Jeffrey Hopkins of these verses (but not the whole text) may be found in Mountain Doctrine (2006), pp. 102-105, where they were quoted by Dolpopa. Of these, note especially verse 22, which is of much significance. A fairly literal translation of Nāgārjuna’s verse from the original Sanskrit is: “Whichever (ye kecid) sūtras (sūtrāḥ) that bring in (āhārakāḥ) emptiness (śūnyatā) were spoken (bhāṣitāḥ) by the Jinas (jinaiḥ), by all those (sarvais taiḥ) the afflictive emotions are turned back (kleśa-vyāvṛttir). Not at all (naiva) is the dhātu destroyed (dhātu-vināśanam).”


nirmalau candra-sūryau hi āvṛtau pañcabhir malaiḥ |

abhra-nīhāra-dhūmena rāhu-vaktra-rajo-malaiḥ || 18 ||

evaṃ prabhāsvaraṃ cittam āvṛtaṃ pañcabhir malaiḥ |

kāma-vyāpāda-middhena auddhatya-vicikitsayā || 19 ||

agni-śaucaṃ yathā vastraṃ malinaṃ vividhair malaiḥ |

agni-madhye yathāksiptaṃ malaṃ dagdhaṃ na vastratā || 20 ||

evaṃ prabhāsvaraṃ cittaṃ malinaṃ rāgajair malaiḥ |

jñānāgninā malaṃ dagdhaṃ na dagdhaṃ tat-prabhāsvaram || 21 ||

śūnyatāhārakāḥ sūtrā ye kecid bhāṣitā jinaiḥ |

sarvais taiḥ kleśa-vyāvṛttir naiva dhātu-vināśanam || 22 ||

pṛthivy-antarhitaṃ toyaṃ yathā tiṣṭhati nirmalam |

kleśair antarhitaṃ jñānaṃ tathā tiṣṭhati nirmalam || 23 ||

“Although the sun and moon are stainless, they are blocked by the five obstacles, such as clouds, mist, smoke, eclipses and dust. (18)

“In the same way, the mind of clear light becomes blocked by the five obstructions: desire, enmity, laziness, agitation and doubt. (19)

“When a fireproof garment, stained by various stains, is placed in fire, the stains are burned but the garment is not. (20)

“In the same way, the mind of clear light is stained by desire. The stains are burned by the fire of wisdom; just that clear light is not. (21)

“All the sūtras setting forth emptiness spoken by the teacher turn back the afflictions; they do not impair the element. (22)

“Just as the water in the earth remains untainted, wisdom is within the afflictions, yet remains unstained. (23)”

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The Dharmadhâtu in Buddhist Scriptures

By Jacques Mahnich on April 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm


The Dharmadhâtu in Buddhist Scriptures

Going to the sources for esoteric subjects is always a challenge, as explained many times by David.

The Dharmadathu,  is of such importance for our quest, that all tracks sould be explored, together with the risk of misunderstanding. If we operate as researchers do, we will try to identify as many different sources, together with their environment , when they were taught, written, translated, commented, in order to extract, when possible, a commun understanding.

Nagarjuna wrote a treatise on it – the Dharmadhâtustava – in his collection of praises. It seems a not-very-well-known text with a few commentaries. The most extant is the one written by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. These were translated and published recently (2007) by Karl Brunnhölz – In Praise of Dharmadhâtu by Nagarjuna, Commentary by the IIIrd Karmapa – ISBN 1-55939-286-X.

Before that, D. Seyfort Ruegg wrote an article on it, and it can be a good introduction to the subject. Here are the main ideas which can be of interest for our purpose.

First, an overview of Nagarjuna history may help putting the texts in perspective.

According to Bu ston and Târanâtha, Nagarjuna was born 400 years after the Buddha nirvana in the Vidarbha province (Berâr).During the first part of his life, he worked for the goodness of the people. This was called the First Promulgation of the Law (chos kyi sgra chen po). He mainly worked at cleaning the then-current degenerated practices in the monasteries.

Then, he moved to the Naga world where he got the Prajnâpâramitâsûtras, brought them back, and spend the second part of his life writing scolastic works (rigs tshogs) to explain the meaning of the sutras. It is called the Second Promulgation of the Law, dedicated to the teaching of sunyata.

Then he traveled again, to spend years in Uttarakuru. From there, he brought back scriptures like the Mahâbherîsûtra and the Mahâmeghasûtra. To explain these sutras, he then wrote a group of hymns (bstod tshogs). It is called the Third Promulgation of the Law.

The Dharmadhâtustava is considered as one of the most important hymn According to ‘Jam dbyans bzad pa, the author of the Grub mtha’ chen mo, this last Promulgation main theme is the existence of the spiritual Element (khams=dhâtu) of the buddha in all animated beings. ‘Jam dbyans bzad pa considers the Dharmadhâtustava doctrine in conformity with the teachings of the Dhâranisvararâjasûtra and the Ratnagotravibhâga.

At first, the philosophical vocabulary found inside the Dharmadhâtustava is far different from the one used inside the Mûlamadhyamakakârika, as already identified by E. Frauwallner in his « Philosophie des Buddhismus » ; together with some other words like pâramitâ, bodhicitta, etc. But some other texts (Niraupamyastava – 6.21, Acintyastava – fol 90a7, and the Paramârthastava -8 are using the dharmadhâtu and the dharmata words.

Candrakirti quote seven stanzas which are related to the dharmadhâtu in his Madhyamakâvatâra self-commentary :


in which one can find : « Exempt from destruction and birth, the world is equivalent to the dharmadhâtu… »

Two similar stances can be found inside the Prasannapadâ of Candrakirti (26.2 in La Vallée Poussin translation), and also inside the Niraupamyastava.

The Dharmadhâtustava in Sanskrit is no more available, and there are no indian commentaries known.. A chinese version was written around 980 AD, and a tibetan translation was made by Krishna Pandita and Nag tsho lo tsâ ba Tshul khrims rgyal ba (born in 1011).

This first post was to help substantiating the fact that the dharmadhâtu is an integral part of the Nagarjuna teachings.

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From Svabhāva to Dharmatā to Dhātu, continued

By David Reigle on at 5:47 am

As just seen at the end of the previous quotation, Candrakīrti wonders who would ask if such a svabhāva (“inherent nature”) exists or not. If it did not, what would be the purpose of all the strivings of bodhisattvas? Now we must wonder why Tsongkhapa, followed by his Gelugpa order, is commonly understood to deny all svabhāva (other than that something’s “inherent nature” is that it has no “inherent nature”). With Candrakīrti we are not speaking of some Indian Madhyamaka writer who is only partially accepted by Tsongkhapa; we are speaking of the very one who is fully accepted by Tsongkhapa as giving the authoritative interpretation of the writings of Nāgārjuna. The information necessary to answer this question was given in a quotation from Jeffrey Hopkins posted by Jacques in an earlier discussion of the Stanzas of Dzyan (at Theosophy.Net on October 22, 2010):

“Since in Prāsaṅgika emptiness—the absence of inherent existence (svabhāvasiddhi, rang bzhin gyis grub pa)—is the nature (svabhāva, rang bzhin) of all phenomena, it should not be thought that svabhāva is refuted in all its meanings. Svabhāva meaning svabhāvasiddhi or ‘inherent existence’ is refuted, but svabhāva as ‘final nature’ or just ‘character’ (such as heat and burning as the character of fire) is not refuted.” (Meditation on Emptiness, 1983, pp. 391-392)

Tsongkhapa agrees with what Candrakīrti says here, as may be seen in his quotation of this passage from Candrakīrti in his Lam rim chen mo. Tsongkhapa specifically says that such a svabhāva exists. But the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo, apparently following the Gelugpa exegesis in the Four Interwoven Annotations, makes it look like what he says exists is some “nature” other than svabhāva, “intrinsic nature”/“inherent nature” (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, vol. 3, pp. 197-198, attached as Lam rim chen mo on svabhāva). The Tibetan rang bzhin (Sanskrit svabhāva) is normally translated as “intrinsic nature” in this book.* In this section, however, rang bzhin (svabhāva) is translated as “nature” in some places and as “intrinsic nature” in other places, and even as “final nature.” Thus, Nāgārjuna speaks only of a “nature” in the two verses quoted by Candrakīrti, also quoted by Tsongkhapa (p. 195). Candrakīrti is asked only if this “nature” exists, and says it does, and Tsongkhapa agrees (pp. 197-198). Then Tsongkhapa denies only an “intrinsic nature” (p. 198). A concluding quote is added, where Candrakīrti accepts only a “final nature” (p. 198). In all of these places, as may be seen in the Tibetan quoted below, the word being translated is only rang bzhin (Sanskrit svabhāva), “inherent/intrinsic nature.”

Being given Gelugpa interpretations of a Gelugpa text will not be a reason for surprise. Nor would there be much reason for doubting that these interpretations reflect what Tsongkhapa meant. The problem here is that readers are being given interpretations, and not being told that these are interpretations rather than direct translations. Tsongkhapa’s text has many quotations of Sanskrit texts. The interpretative translations occur within these quotations as well. This was never allowed when these Sanskrit texts were translated into Tibetan to form the Tibetan Buddhist canon, the Kangyur and Tengyur. When the Sanskrit original had the term svabhāva, it was translated into Tibetan as rang bzhin or its synonym ngo bo nyid. These are what were allowed. Throughout the whole Kangyur and Tengyur, we do not find interpretive translations of svabhāva such as “nature” in one place, “inherent/intrinsic nature” in another place, and “final nature” in a third place. The texts had to be translated as they were found, and let the interpretations come later.

The meaning “final nature” for svabhāva was mentioned in the paragraph that Jacques quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins’ 1983 book, Meditation on Emptiness. Although that book has a glossary, “final nature” is not in it. However, it is found in the fuller glossary of Elizabeth Napper’s 1989 book, Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, which adopted the translation terminology used by Jeffrey Hopkins. There “final nature” is listed as translating rang bzhin mthar thug. In the passage from the Lam rim chen mo under discussion (p. 198), “final nature” is given in a quotation from Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā. But Candrakīrti’s text, and Tsongkhapa’s quotation of it, has only rang bzhin, not rang bzhin mthar thug (quoted below). Its Sanskrit original has only svabhāva, with no qualifiers (Poussin Skt. ed., p. 264, line 2). The “final” (mthar thug) is an interpretation, coming from the Four Interwoven Annotations (see: The Nature of Things: Emptiness and Essence in the Geluk World, by William Magee, p. 216, where the Four Interwoven Annotations paraphrase Candrakīrti’s rang bzhin as rang bzhin mthar thug). These Annotations were written by four Gelugpa writers who lived a couple centuries after Tsongkhapa (on Ba-so being a later Ba-so, see Napper’s Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, pp. 219-220).

Earlier in the Lam rim chen mo translation (p. 173), “final nature” again occurs in a quotation from Candrakīrti, from his own commentary on his Madhyamakāvatāra. Again, Candrakīrti’s text, and Tsongkhapa’s quotation of it, has only rang bzhin, not rang bzhin mthar thug (Poussin Tib. ed., p. 107, line 15). In both of these cases, this occurs in a prose commentary by Candrakīrti, where he could have easily added a qualifier such as “final” to svabhāva if he wanted to. He did not add one. Neither did Tsongkhapa when citing it. But the English translators, following the Tibetan annotators, did. The interpretive translation “final nature” completely obscures the fact that Candrakīrti, and Tsongkhapa citing him, has here only svabhāva, elsewhere translated in this book as “intrinsic nature.”

When the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo uses “intrinsic nature” for svabhāva in the passage under discussion (p. 198), in contradistinction to its use of just “nature” for svabhāva in this passage, it refers to “inherent existence” as mentioned in the paragraph that Jacques quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins’ book, Meditation on Emptiness. Jeffrey explains that the meaning “inherent existence” for svabhāva/rang bzhin takes it in the sense of rang bzhin gyis grub pa (p. 438), and Tsongkhapa here adds the qualifier grub pa, “established,” to rang bzhin (quoted below). This means that something’s existence is “established by svabhāva,” i.e., “established by [its] inherent/intrinsic nature.” But no dharmas, no phenomena, have a svabhāva, an inherent/intrinsic nature. Their existence cannot by established by something that they do not have. To say, then, that they are without an “inherent/intrinsic nature” (svabhāva) means that they are without an “inherent existence.” In this way, svabhāva may be used to “establish” (grub pa) something’s ultimate existence or lack thereof.

As alluded to in previous posts, this pertains to how Tsongkhapa narrowed down the meaning of svabhāva, “inherent/intrinsic nature,” to “inherent existence,” and made this the standard meaning in philosophical discourse in Tibet. If something is rang bzhin gyis grub pa, “established by [its] svabhāva,” it truly or inherently exists. This Tibetan phrase would be in Sanskrit svabhāva-siddha, “established by svabhāva,” or svabhāva-siddhi, “establishment by svabhāva.” However, such a term is not used in the Indian Buddhist Madhyamaka texts. They use only svabhāva. The addition of the qualifier “established,” grub pa (hypothetical Sanskrit *siddha or *siddhi), is a Tibetan development. This is not at all to suggest that this meaning does not occur in Indian texts, for it certainly does. It is to say that taking this meaning as “the” meaning is an interpretation, which may not be applicable to texts written prior to the time of Tsongkhapa. This would include the Book of Dzyan. Indian writers on Madhyamaka were not necessarily always thinking “inherent existence” when they used the term svabhāva. They could apply the term svabhāva to ultimates such as the dharmatā, “true nature,” or dhātu, “element, basic space,” without any need to differentiate its meaning (as “nature” or as “inherent/intrinsic nature”) or qualify this svabhāva as “final nature.”

It is when “inherent existence” is taken as “the” meaning of svabhāva that we see the denial of all svabhāva. But this makes it difficult to see or even know that what may be called something’s “final nature” is in fact just the very same word, svabhāva. Moreover, as we have seen, this greatly influences the translations of these texts. I had earlier quoted Candrakīrti’s statement, translated by William Ames, that: “Ultimate reality (don dam pa, paramārtha) for the Buddhas is svabhāva itself.” This same sentence was translated in Jeffrey Hopkins’ valuable 2008 book, Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Exposition of Wisdom, (p. 254) as: “The ultimate for Buddhas is just the nature.” Who would know that “nature” here is svabhāva?

Candrakīrti is quoted in the passage under discussion from the Lam rim chen mo, asking if such a svabhāva exists. He answers that it is the dharmatā, “dharma-ness” or “true nature,” citing the catechism-like phrase saying that it exists whether the Tathāgatas arise or not. The next question asks what this dharmatā is. The answer given, as translated by William Ames, is: “The svabhāva of these [dharmas], such as the eye.” The answer given, as translated by William Magee (The Nature of Things, p. 185), is: “It is the final mode of abiding of these phenomena, eyes, and so forth.” Here, svabhāva disappears without a trace, behind “final mode of abiding.” There is not even a “nature” to give a clue that svabhāva is the word used here by Candrakīrti. From other sources, we learn that “mode of abiding,” also “mode of subsistence,” translates the Tibetan term gnas lugs. It has no Sanskrit equivalent; it is a technical term found only in Tibetan treatises on Buddhism. Here in this sentence it is a gloss of rang bzhin/svabhāva, coming from the Four Interwoven Annotations.

Magee helpfully translates separately these Annotations on this section of the Lam rim chen mo. Two of its relevant headings here are (pp. 204, 206): “In our system the nature possessing the three attributes is the mode of subsistence, emptiness”; and “Though the nature refuted formerly and the nature which is the mode of subsistence of things have the same name, the meaning is different.” These tell us that the two meanings given to svabhāva (here translated as “nature”), an “inherent existence” and a “final nature” or “mode of subsistence,” are used “in our system,” i.e., in the Gelugpa system. These interpretations of what Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti meant by svabhāva may not be accepted in other systems. Even if they do correctly represent what Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti meant but did not say about svabhāva, readers have the right to know that they are being given interpretations rather than direct translations.

However excellent the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee is, for questions like this it is still necessary to consult other translations when possible, if not the Tibetan text itself. The passage under discussion should be compared with Alex Wayman’s more literal translation, however faulty it may be in other respects, found in Calming the Mind and Discerning the Real, pp. 255-256 (also included in the attached “Lam rim chen mo on svabhāva”). Wayman here either retains the term svabhāva (rang bzhin) in his translation, or translates it as “self-existence,” which he gives in his glossary. This makes much clearer what is actually being said in Tsongkhapa’s Tibetan text. Interpretations from the Four Interwoven Annotations (Wayman’s Mchan or Ja, see p. 71) are given only in notes (e.g., note 139 referring to p. 233, corresponding to p. 173 of the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee translation, where occurs the second example of “final nature” that I discussed above). For grub pa, “established,” Wayman uses the translation “accomplished.” So for “established by svabhāva,” Wayman gives “accomplished by self-existence.”

Here follows the Tibetan passage corresponding to the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee’s English translation, vol. 3, p. 197, last six lines, to p. 198, first thirty-one lines (attached above). I have added some English words in blue to help with following the text. As occurring in this translation, I have inserted the words “nature,” “intrinsic nature,” and “final nature” in red after the Tibetan term it translates, also putting these in red. The Tibetan word that these three translate is the same: “rang bzhin,” Sanskrit svabhāva. I have also put in green the qualifier grub pa (“established”), added by Tsongkhapa in one of the paragraphs, since this was not translated separately.

As said above, and now can be seen, the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee here departs from its usual translation of rang bzhin as “intrinsic nature,” and translates it several times as only “nature.” These occur in quotations from Nāgārjuna (p. 195, Tibetan not given here) and Candrakīrti, where we know that the original Sanskrit word is svabhāva, and where in earlier quotations from these writers it was translated as “intrinsic nature” (see footnote below). Then it switches back to “intrinsic nature” when Tsongkhapa added the qualifier grub pa to rang bzhin. Then again, it uses “final nature,” in a quotation from Candrakīrti where we know that he only had svabhāva, and Tsongkhapa’s text citing him has only rang bzhin. This interpretive translation came from the later Four Woven Annotations. Lastly, in following this passage, we must also know that when svabhāva is defined as dharmatā (Tib. chos nyid), dharmatā is here translated as “reality.”










*For example, rang bzhin is translated as “intrinsic nature” in these places: pp. 131, 137, 147, 191, quoting Nāgārjuna’s Vigraha-vyāvartanī, verses 1, 22, 26cd, 26, respectively, and pp. 143, 149, quoting Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā 17.30, 24.11, respectively, and p. 157, quoting Catuḥśataka-ṭīkā 13.21 or 321. These Sanskrit texts are extant, and svabhāva can be seen in them.

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From Svabhāva to Dharmatā to Dhātu

By David Reigle on March 30, 2012 at 5:52 am

In my post titled “Notes on the Denial of Svabhāva in Mahāyāna Buddhism,” Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā (chapter 15, verse 2) was quoted saying that svabhāva, “inherent nature,” is ultimately only in the range of the āryas (those who have achieved the “path of seeing”). Candrakīrti had earlier quoted this same verse and the preceding one from Nāgārjuna, in his Madhyamakāvatāra-bhāṣya. Here in his commentary a questioner asks Candrakīrti if the kind of svabhāva accepted by Nāgārjuna exists. He replies that it is the dharmatā, literally, “dharma-ness,” often translated as “true nature.” In giving this reply, Candrakīrti quotes the famous catechism-like phrase, “Whether Tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this dharma-ness [dharmatā] of dharmas remains.”

As noted in the introductory post to the “key subject” of dhātu, titled “Basic Space, the One Element, the dhātu,” this phrase more often says that the dhātu remains. But the dharmatā is a common variant. They are used as synonyms in this phrase. So we have this ultimate svabhāva, “inherent nature,” defined as dharmatā, “true nature,” which is here the same as dhātu, “element,” or “basic space.” Here is Candrakīrti’s passage, again as accurately translated by William L. Ames, in “The Notion of Svabhāva in the Thought of Candrakīrti” (previously linked), p. 163. Candrakīrti begins by quoting Nāgārjuna’s two verses:

“The arising of svabhāva through causes and conditions is not right. A svabhāva arisen from causes and conditions would be artificial (kṛtaka). (15-1)

“But how will svabhāva be called artificial? For svabhāva is non-contingent (akṛtrima) and without dependence on another. (15-2)

“[Question:] But does there exist a svabhāva of the sort defined by the ācārya [Nāgārjuna] in the treatise [Mūlamadhyamakakārikās], which is accepted by the ācārya? [Answer:] What is called dharma-ness (chos nyid, dharmatā) exists, regarding which the Blessed One said, “Whether Tathāgatas arise or do not arise, this dharma-ness of dharmas remains,” etc. [Question:] But what is this which is called dharma-ness? [Answer:] The svabhāva of these [dharmas], such as the eye. [Question:] But what is their svabhāva? [Answer:] That which these have which is non-contingent and without dependence on another; [it is their] intrinsic nature, which is to be comprehended by cognition free from the ophthalmia of misknowledge. Who [would] ask whether that exists or not? If it did not exist, for what purpose would bodhisattvas cultivate the path of the perfections? Because [it is] in order to comprehend that dharma-ness [that] bodhisattvas undertake hundreds of difficult [actions].”

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Notes on the Denial of Svabhāva in Mahāyāna Buddhism

By David Reigle on March 20, 2012 at 3:24 am

The sympathy toward the Gelugpa order of Tibetan Buddhism shown by the Theosophical teachers in their writings has long been well-known among students of Theosophy. The fact that Gelugpas deny that anything in the universe has any svabhāva has in the last few decades become well-known in the world outside of Tibet. If the term svabhāva and its idea in fact play a central role in the Book of Dzyan, we have a conflict of ideas that will be of considerable interest to students of Theosophy to follow out. We may look at a few selected items pertaining to the idea of svabhāva and how it was perceived over the centuries, drawn from the many sources that have now become available.

The Gelugpa understanding that Tsongkhapa’s denial of svabhāva applies to absolutely everything is nicely summed up by Thupten Jinpa, longtime translator for the Dalai Lama: “First and foremost, he [Tsongkhapa] wants to make it clear that the Mādhyamika’s rejection of svabhāva ontology must be unqualified and absolute. . . . The negation of svabhāva, i.e., intrinsic being, must be absolute and universal . . . .” (Attached: “Delineating Reason’s Scope for Negation: Tsongkhapa’s Contribution to Madhyamaka’s Dialectical Method,” p. 297.) The last sentence goes on to say, “yet it should not destroy the reality of the everyday world of experience.” When the Mahāyāna schools denied the svabhāva of the dharmas as taught in the so-called Hīnayāna schools, this denied the reality of the dharmas, which make up the world. Tsongkhapa wanted to preserve the conventional existence of the world. To do this, he taught that one must distinguish the svabhāva, understood as the ultimate existence of something, from that thing’s conventional existence. So when its ultimate existence is denied, its conventional existence is not denied. Things exist, but they do not inherently exist. He taught that clinging to any idea of ultimate existence prevents one from achieving enlightenment. Thus, there is only conventional existence, but nothing ultimately existing behind it. Conventional existence is the only reality. Nothing in the universe has “inherent existence.”

Today we hear much from Tibetan lamas about everything’s lack of “inherent existence,” which translates Tibetan ngo bo nyid or rang bzhin, which translates Sanskrit svabhāva. This meaning of svabhāva was singled out and made standard in philosophical discourse in Tibet by Tsongkhapa. The more basic meaning of svabhāva as “inherent nature” was eclipsed by it. In this way, the word svabhāva (in its Tibetan translations) became a charged term in philosophical discourse in Tibet. Noted scholar of Madhyamaka Buddhism David Seyfort Ruegg, in his appreciation of Tsongkhapa’s contributions, describes this narrowing down of the meaning of svabhāva to the idea of “inherent existence,” or as he translates it, “self-nature/self-existence”: “Sometimes, moreover, Tsoṅ kha pa has narrowed down the meaning of a word, making, e.g., raṅ bźin/ṅo bo ñid (Skt. svabhāva) regularly and systematically denote ‘self-nature/self-existence’, and bracketing out other, less technical, usages of this word even though attested in Nāgārjuna’s text (e.g. Madhyamakakārikās xv.1-2) and, occasionally, in his own literal comments.” (Attached: “The Indian and the Indic in Tibetan Cultural History, and Tsoṅ kha pa’s Achievement as a Scholar and Thinker: An Essay on the Concepts of Buddhism in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism,” p. 338.)

This means that for writers who preceded Tsongkhapa, including the Jonangpa teacher Dolpopa, svabhāva did have all the implications that it acquired as “inherent existence,” and it did not have the emotional charge in philosophical discourse that it later acquired. In Dolpopa’s major work, the extensive Mountain Doctrine, it is rarely used (only in about nine places, as opposed to, for example, hundreds of occurrences of “emptiness”), and it is used casually (none of these put it forth pointedly, and four of these are in quotations of other texts). The translator, Jeffrey Hopkins, recognized this difference in meaning and implication, and here switched from what had been his usual translation, “inherent existence,” to “inherent nature.” It was up to later Jonangpa writers, when the thought climate in Tibet had changed, to argue for it philosophically.

This is equally true for Indian Buddhist writers, who of course all preceded Tsongkhapa. We have already seen that Haribhadra, who Tsongkhapa regarded as the foremost commentator on the Perfection of Wisdom texts, spoke of the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu (however he may have understood this). The Madhyamaka writer who Tsongkhapa relied on above all, Candrakīrti, was willing to say in his Madhyamakāvatāra-bhāṣya, as accurately translated by William L. Ames: “Ultimate reality (don dam pa, paramārtha) for the Buddhas is svabhāva itself. That, moreover, because it is nondeceptive is the truth of ultimate reality. It must be known by each of them for himself (so so rang gis rig par bya ba, pratyātmavedya).” (Attached: “The Notion of Svabhāva in the Thought of Candrakīrti,” p. 162. The quotation is from Candrakīrti’s own commentary on his Madhyamakāvatāra, chapter 6, verse 28. The Tibetan edition that William Ames refers to has for this: sangs rgyas rnams kyi don dam pa ni rang bzhin nyid yin zhing | de yang bslu ba med pa nyid kyis don dam pa’i bden pa yin la | de ni de rnams kyi so so[r] rang gis rig par bya ba yin no.)

While Candrakīrti differed radically from his Buddhist Sarvāstivāda compatriots, in that he totally denied any svabhāva in any existent thing (bhāva), his last sentence just quoted apparently agreed with them: “It must be known by each of them for himself (pratyātmavedya).” In ultimate reality, svabhāva can only be personally known (pratyātmavedya) by the buddhas. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, here representing the Sarvāstivāda position, says about nirvāṇa, as accurately translated by K. Dhammajoti: “Its self-nature [svabhāva] can only be personally realized [pratyātmavedya] by the ārya.” (Attached: “The Sarvāstivāda Conception of Nirvāṇa,” p. 348. The quotation is from Vasubandhu’s own commentary on his Abhidharmakośa, chapter 2, verse 55. The Sanskrit from P. Pradhan’s 1975 edition, p. 92, lines 2-3, is: āryair eva tat-svabhāvaḥ pratyātma-vedyaḥ.)

Candrakīrti returns to this idea in his explanation of svabhāva in his Prasannapadā commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā, chapter 15, verse 2. There he again says that svabhāva is ultimately only in the range of the āryas (translated by William Ames, ibid., p. 169): “This is what has been said: The whole class of entities is apprehended through the power of the ophthalmia of misknowledge. With whatever nature [that class] becomes an object — by means of non-seeing — for the āryas, [who are] free from the ophthalmia of misknowledge, just that intrinsic nature is determined to be the svabhāva of these [entities].”

In the whole of the Sanskrit Buddhist writings known to me, quite the clearest and fullest explanation of this svabhāva that is accessible only to the āryas (the buddhas and bodhisattvas) is found in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi. This text is part of the massive Yogācāra-bhūmi, attributed by Chinese tradition to Maitreya, and attributed by Tibetan tradition to Asaṅga. There, in its “Reality” (tattvārtha) chapter, the inexpressible (nirabhilāpya) inherent nature (svabhāva) of all dharmas is described. Several pages from this chapter were translated into German by Erich Frauwallner and published in his 1956 book, Die Philosophie des Buddhismus. This book was translated into English and published in 2010 as The Philosophy of Buddhism. These pages from the Bodhisattvabhūmi on inexpressible svabhāva in English translation are attached. The sphere or object of the knowledge or wisdom of the buddhas and bodhisattvas is there translated as “the inexpressible nature [svabhāva] of all factors [dharmas].”

We may note that the Bodhisattva-bhūmi speaks of the inexpressible svabhāva of all dharmas, not of the dharma-dhātu, or of nirvāṇa. As we know, the Mahāyāna schools, both Madhyamaka and Yogācāra, denied that the dharmas have svabhāva, as was taught in the so-called Hīnayāna schools, such as the Sarvāstivāda. It may be this inexpressible svabhāva of the dharmas that the Sarvāstivāda school was originally referring to, and they did so by teaching that the svabhāva of the dharmas always exists. We may prefer to accept that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu, as the Mahāyāna writer Haribhadra said. Then insofar as a dharma, an attribute or property, is not different from what it is an attribute or property of, what can be said about one can be said about the other. That is, we can just as well speak of the inexpressible svabhāva of the dharmas as of the dharma-dhātu. By the time of the Sarvāstivāda writings we have, this school taught that the many dharmas each had an individual svabhāva of its own, and this Nāgārjuna felt obliged to deny. Yet the original understanding of svabhāva by the earliest Sarvāstivādins may not have differed from the inexpressible svabhāva taught by Maitreya/Asaṅga, or even from the svabhāva that can only be personally known (pratyātmavedya) by the āryas accepted by Nāgārjuna according to Candrakīrti.

The fact is that, despite all the affirmations of all the Mādhyamika Buddhists on earth that we do, we do not know for sure what Nāgārjuna meant in his Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā. This is because his own commentary thereon is inexplicably lost. Similarly, we do not know for sure what Maitreya meant in his Abhisamayālaṃkāra, because the commentary thereon by Asaṅga (who he taught it to), is inexplicably lost. The Theosophical Mahatmas claim to have all such lost texts. The idea of svabhāva found in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan may not conflict with the idea of svabhāva found in these texts. We can only hope that, as our habitual tendencies toward sectarian biases slowly subside, these texts will again be made available.

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The Svâbhâvakâya or Svâbhâvikakâya in Mahayana Teachings

By Jacques Mahnich on March 10, 2012 at 1:09 am


Most of the Tibetan Buddhism Schools have teachings about a svabhavakâya or svabhavikakâya, named either the third or fourth kaya, sometimes described as the sum of the other ones, sometimes as the basis for the other ones.

1) Nyingma School

From « The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel : The Practice of Guru Yoga According to the Longchen Nyingthig Tradition  (Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa)» :

« Receiving the Four Enpowerments – This fourth or word initiation is the introduction to the natural state of all phenomena ; through it we become a proper vessel for the practice of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection…It is the ultimate buddhahood, the indivisibility of the three kayas, or the svabhavikakaya, the body of the true nature.

2) Kagyu Schools
From « Mahamudra and related instructions  – Core Teachings of the Kagyu Schools» :

The Svabhavakaya : This is great peace and is the nature of all phenomena. It is attained through the power of the dharmakaya, through realisation. The vajrayana calls this the body of great bliss (mahâsukhakâya) because its distinctive quality is supreme, unchanging bliss. Ârya Nâgârjuna has said : « I pay homage to that which is free from the activity of the three realms ; which is the equality of space ; which is the nature of all things ;… Praise to the Three Kâyas (Kayâtrayastotra), Toh 1123, Tengyur, bstod tshogs,ka,70b3.

Other references to the svabhavakâya (from the same book) :

« The svabhavakâya is the dharmakaya of the tathâgatas, because it is the locus of power over everything. » Asanga – Mâhâyanasamgraha, Toh 4048, Tengyur, sems tsam, ri, 37a4. The Tibetan adds the word « phenomena » to make « power over all phenomena »

«  The categories of the kâyas of the buddhas : There is the svabhava, the sambogha, and the other kâya is the nirmâna. The first is the basis for the other two. » Sûtrâlamkâra 10:60,11a7.

« The svabhavakâya is equal and subtle. » Sûtrâlamkâra 10:62,11b1. The Dergé Tengyur has « Rang bzhin sku ni mnyam pa dang »

« The first kâya (svabhavakaya) has the qualities of liberation, such as the powers and so on ». Sublime Continuum, 3:2,65b2

From Jamgön Kongtrul – The Treasury of Knowledge :

Talking about the results of practice : « The uncommon transformation is that the physical channels transform into the nirmanakaya, the channel syllabes into sambhogakaya, the constituent elixir into dharmakaya and great bliss, and the core energy current of pristine awareness transform into the svabhavikakâya. »

« … svabhavikakâya is characterized as emptiness, which is to say, the nature of all phenomena, a nature that is free of all elaboration and completely pure ; »

«  There are four kayas when one adds the svabhâvikakâya (enlightened dimension of the very essence of being itself) of innate presence, or mahâsukhâya, to the three kayas.

3) Sakya Schools

From the Vajra Lines of the Path with the Results (Virupa) – Explication of the Treatise for Nyak :

« The naturally spontaneous, utterly pure svâbhâvikakâya essence body is achieved. The result is perfected. »

«  The fourth initiation dissolves the pulsations of the vital winds…The vital winds are transformed and ‘omnipresent enlightened body, speech, and mind, the svâbhâvikakâya essence body’, is actualized. »


These descriptions , root texts and commentaries are supporting the idea highlighted about the principle of svabhava in Mahayana Buddhism, as not relative to a permanent quality, but rather as an essence. It is often described as the nature of the phenomena, as a basis, never as eternal.


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The Connection to a Svabhāva Teaching in Buddhism

By David Reigle on March 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm

There remains the question of the missing link. The missing link is between how the term svabhāva is used in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan and a svabhāva teaching, if not a Svābhāvika school, that is represented in Theosophical writings to be Buddhist. The obvious choice for this, the Svābhāvika school of Buddhism in Nepal that was referred to in Western writings on Buddhism from 1828 to 1989, was disqualified when doubts about its existence were confirmed in 1989. The fact that a Nepalese Buddhist teacher could describe such a school of thought to Brian H. Hodgson in 1828, based on Sanskrit Buddhist texts, is nonetheless intriguing. The next candidate was not a Buddhist school called Svābhāvika, but rather the svabhāva or inherent nature doctrine held by the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism. Although some of the Theosophical references may have been to this school, its doctrine as we know it pertains to the svabhāvas of the individual dharmas, while the Theosophical references pertain to the svabhāva of a single element. The Buddhist schools denied a single existing element, and even the individual dharmas had to be impermanent (anitya) and without a self (nairātmya). Rightly or wrongly, the Sarvāstivāda school was criticized by other Buddhist schools for its doctrine that the dharmas always exist (sarvāsti) by way of their svabhāva. As stated by Y. Karunadasa: “What provoked much opposition to the theory of sarvāstitva was that it was alleged to be a veiled recognition of the substance view which is radically at variance with the Buddhist teaching on the non-substantiality of all phenomena” (Foreword to Bhikkhu Dhammajoti’s Entrance into the Supreme Doctrine; “non-substantiality of all phenomena” translates nairātmya of all dharmas). This leads us into the question of whether there can be a third candidate within Buddhism.

There has always been the dilemma of why the entire edifice of Buddhism was built on a worldview that postulates only dharmas, a word that means attributes or properties, when these are not held to be the attributes or properties of anything. This is rather like postulating that there is sunshine, but no sun. The early Buddhist schools solved this by making the dharmas real (dravya), endowing them with svabhāva, an inherent nature that gives them reality. The Mahāyāna Buddhist schools with their emptiness doctrine took this reality, this svabhāva, away from the dharmas, bringing us back to square one. We have dharmas that are not ultimately real in themselves, like attributes or properties, but no dharmin, something these attributes or properties belong to.

The dharmas are described by Vyāsa in the Hindu Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya, 3.13, as arising and disappearing in the dharmin, the substratum, an abiding substance (avasthita dravya). This same verse is where we have the parallel to the explanations of how the dharmas exist in the three periods of time, given in the Buddhist Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya by Vasubandhu. In the Hindu account, the three explanations of how change occurs are all given as true, happening side by side; while in the Buddhist account, the four explanations are given as alternatives from which one is to be chosen as correct. Vyāsa’s account appears to me to be the more original one, while Vasubandhu’s account appears to me to be adapted to the requirements of its Buddhist setting. For, like other Buddhists, the Sarvāstivādins did teach that the dharmas are impermanent (anitya). Even though they exist in the three periods of time, they come into activity only in the present moment, and thus are momentary (kṣaṇika). In the Hindu account, Vyāsa sums up by saying that ultimately (paramārthataḥ) there is only one kind of change, because a dharma or attribute is only the nature (svarūpa, a synonym of svabhāva) of the dharmin, the substratum. They are not different. In his commentary on the next verse, 3.14, Vyāsa tells us that a dharma is only the potency or power or force (śakti) of the dharmin, the substratum, distinguished by its functionality. This is just like the Mahatma K.H.’s statement that svabhāva is force or motion. In the Buddhist Sarvāstivāda account, the force (śakti) is of the individual dharmas, not of the dharmin, the substratum. An existent substratum was always rejected in Buddhist philosophy, as having too many logical problems. But what if it is beyond existence, neither existent nor non-existent?

The dharma-dhātu, the element or realm of the dharmas, is not usually regarded in Buddhism as an existent substratum or existing element. It is an ultimate that is a non-entity. Nonetheless, in the Mahāyāna Buddhist writer Haribhadra’s Āloka, a joint commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in 8,000 Lines and on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, we find it said that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu. Here are a couple examples, where he sums up the meaning of what has preceded. The Sanskrit references are given to both Unrai Wogihara’s 1932 edition, Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā, and to P. L. Vaidya’s 1960 edition, Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā.

etad uktam | rūpādīnāṃ dharma-dhātu-svabhāvatayā mahattā (Wogihara p. 176, line 3, Vaidya p. 349, line 15), “This is what was said: Form, etc. [the dharmas], are great, because they are the inherent nature [svabhāva] of the dharma-dhātu.”

etad uktam | dharma-dhātu-svabhāvatayā prajñā-pāramitāyāṃ sthitasya bodhisattvasya sarva-dharmāṇāṃ nodgraha-tyāga-bhāvanādikam iti (Wogihara, p. 185, lines 21-23, Vaidya p. 353, lines 10-11), “This is what was said: For a bodhisattva established in the Perfection of Wisdom there is no cultivation, etc., of the taking up or abandoning of all dharmas, because they are the inherent nature [svabhāva] of the dharma-dhātu.”

As will immediately be perceived, this is the idea that we have been seeking in Buddhist texts. The dharma-dhātu, or just dhātu, is the one element that is taught in Theosophical writings. That its svabhāva or inherent nature is the dharmas, the factors of existence that make up the world, is exactly the idea that would be expected based on the Theosophical sources. This idea given in Haribhadra’s writings did not seem to receive criticism from other Buddhist writers, presumably because the dharma-dhātu is not regarded as an existent substratum or existing element. In the Theosophical teachings, too, the one element is regarded as being beyond existence, neither existent nor non-existent. But neither did this idea seem to receive attention in Tibet, despite Haribhadra’s honored position there, where he was regarded by Tsongkhapa and others as the foremost Indian commentator on the Perfection of Wisdom texts. The idea that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu does not seem to have become a topic of discussion among Tibetan Buddhist writers. The idea that the dharma-dhātu has a svabhāva, however, did become a topic of debate, being regarded as heretical.

The Jonang school teaches that the ultimate, whether called the dharma-dhātu or some other synonym, has a svabhāva, an inherent nature (see, for example, “Whose Svabhāva is It?,” by Michael Sheehy, on the Jonang Foundation website: http://www.jonangpa.com/node/1235). This idea received much criticism from other Buddhist schools in Tibet, especially from the Gelugpas. The idea that the ultimate has a svabhāva or inherent nature was regarded as saying that it has inherent existence, taken in the context of existence and non-existence. Svabhāva became a bad word in Tibet, and the Jonang explanations that it is beyond the duality of existence and non-existence were unable to defuse the situation. The Jonang school is the only Tibetan Buddhist school known to me that openly teaches the svabhāva of the ultimate. The Jonangpas were bold enough to espouse this unpopular idea because they believed that their tradition was the revival of the lost Golden Age Tradition (see Dolpopa’s text, the Fourth Council, translated by Cyrus Stearns in his book, The Buddha from Dolpo). The primary Jonang writer, Dolpopa, uses many synonyms for the ultimate, including the dhātu or basic element, the dharma-dhātu, the tathāgata-garbha, the dharmatā, the prabhāsvara-citta or clear-light mind, etc. A quotation from his major work, Mountain Doctrine, translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, shows one of these synonyms, ultimate mind, as having svabhāva (p. 389): “Therefore, the import is that an ultimate other-empty mind endowed with inherent nature [rang bzhin, svabhāva] always abides as the basis of the emptiness of a conventional self-empty mind.” This is quite like the “one mind” taught in The Awakening of Faith, a classic in Chinese Buddhism. The svabhāva idea taught in the Jonang school is by no means a svabhāva doctrine, a svabhāvavāda, but their writers do specifically put this idea forth, explain it, and defend it.

The fact that Haribhadra says the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu, matter-of-factly and without argument, would indicate that this idea was prevalent among Mahāyāna Buddhists in India during his time. The fact that Jonang writers teach and argue for the idea that the ultimate has svabhāva, whether we call this ultimate the dharma-dhātu or something else, shows that this idea was held by at least one Buddhist school in Tibet. These two facts provide us with the missing link between how the term svabhāva is used in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan and a svabhāva teaching in Buddhism. What is said about svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan is not found in the writings of Brian Hodgson on the alleged Svābhāvika school of Nepal. It does, however, well match the idea that the dharmas are the svabhāva of the dharma-dhātu, and that the dharma-dhātu has svabhāva, both of which are in fact found in Buddhism. That these are not standard Buddhist teachings is only to be expected, since Theosophy never claimed that it was based on known Buddhism, but quite the opposite.

We have already seen such a svabhāva teaching in the hitherto lost Praṇava-vāda, and also in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, both Hindu works. The addition of these Buddhist sources fills in the gap that had remained. We now have a much clearer picture of the meaning and usage of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan.

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A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?, part 3

By David Reigle on March 5, 2012 at 5:25 am

The Sarvāstivāda doctrine was unique in Buddhism in holding that the dharmas, the factors of existence, exist throughout the three periods of time, past, present, and future, and they do this by way of their individual svabhāvas, their inherent natures. The svabhāva, which makes a dharma what it is, remains the same, even though the dharma undergoes change. As put by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti (p. 134): “throughout the three periods of time, the dravya (= svabhāva) remains unchanged. This is sarvāstivāda or sarvāstitva in a nutshell.” At the beginning of this chapter (Chapter 5, “Sarvāstitva and Temporality,” the chapter that explains the distinctive Sārvāstivāda doctrine), he had concisely stated the situation (p. 117): “All said and done, sarvāstitva must imply the continuous existence of an essence in some sense. But just precisely in what sense, was something that the Ābhidharmika Buddhists—Sarvāstivādins themselves included—were unable to specify. For the Sarvāstivādins, the failure to do so is not to be considered a fault on their part. It is on account of the profound nature of dharma-s which, in the final analysis, transcends human conceptualization.”

In order to explain how a dharma could always exist (sarvāsti) throughout the three time periods, the Sarvāstivādins said “that a dharma is present when its exercises its kāritra [activity], future when its kāritra [activity] is not yet exercised, past when it has been exercised” (p. 126). What makes it possible for a dharma to exercise its activity (kāritra) and thus enter the present? Its potency or force or power (śakti) to do so. The famous Sarvāstivāda writer Saṃghabhadra explains, as translated from the extant Chinese translation by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti (p. 126): “The potencies (śakti) of dharma-s are of two kinds, activity (kāritra) and efficacy/function/capability/capacity (sāmarthya/vṛtti/vyāpāra).” This explanation of the potency or power or force (śakti) that the dharmas have according to this school is reminiscent of the Mahatma K.H.’s statement about the Svābhāvikas, “Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” Moreover, the Sarvāstivādins did not call themselves Sarvāstivādins, but rather called themselves Yuktavādins, the “advocates of logic” (Bhikkhu Dhammajoti, pp. 56, 242), or proponents of reasoning. This is because in their debates with other Buddhist schools they appealed primarily to logic or reasoning, while their opponents appealed primarily to scriptural authority (the Sautrāntikas even derived their name from taking the scriptures, the sūtras, as authority). Again, this is reminiscent of the Mahatma K.H.’s statement, “you will find them the most learned as the most scientifically logical wranglers in the world.”

It is possible that the Mahatma K.H. was here referring to the Sarvāstivādins, or perhaps more specifically to a Sarvāstivāda doctrine that preceded the Sarvāstivāda school as we know it. We may summarize the known Sarvāstivāda doctrine as follows: All dharmas have svabhāva, which remains the same throughout the three periods of time. A dharma enters the present time when, due to its potency or power or force (śakti), it comes into activity (kāritra). How this change in a dharma occurs, while its svabhāva remains unchanged, is explained in four different ways by four early Sarvāstivāda teachers. These four explanations are given by Vasubandhu in his Abhidharmakośa and his own commentary thereon, chapter 5, verses 25-27. Three almost identical positions on how change occurs, with almost verbatim explanations, are given by Vyāsa in his commentary on Yoga-sūtra 3.13 (see also 4.12), although here in this Hindu text they are of course not given as Buddhist positions. This is obviously an old teaching, which has been recorded in two different traditions, traditions having different doctrinal positions. One of these traditions, Sāṃkhya-Yoga, accepts a unitary eternal substance, while the other tradition, Buddhism, does not; yet both accepted this old teaching on how things exist in the three time periods. From Theosophical sources we learn of an original Buddhist school that would have preceded the formation of the Sarvāstivāda school, with the clear implication that the Theosophical Mahatmas follow this original school (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 5, pp. 245-248; Theosophical Glossary under Abhayagiri). Perhaps this original school accepted what I have called prehistoric svabhāvavāda.

In the Theosophical teachings there is no indication that svabhāva is the svabhāva of anything but the one element (eka-dhātu), while in the Buddhist teachings of all the early schools, including the Sarvāstivādins, there is no indication that svabhāva is the svabhāva of anything but the individual dharmas. This may be the problem, which made it so hard for the Sarvāstivādins to defend their teaching that svabhāva always exists. On this hypothesis, they would have received the original teaching that svabhāva must always exist; but being unable to speak of the one element, and in accordance with the Buddhist teaching of the multiplicity of the dharmas, they had to formulate the teaching of an always existing svabhāva in terms of the changing dharmas. This latter was an almost impossible task. Bhikkhu Dhammajoti writes, continuing the quotation from the beginning of Chapter 5 given above (p. 117):

“Once this metaphysical notion, however elusive, of an underlying essence of phenomena came to be emphasized, the debates—as to its truth or otherwise, and as to its precise implications—continued endlessly. . . . In these debates, we see the Ābhidharmikas—including the self-professed sūtra-based Sautrāntikas—utilizing logic as a tool to the utmost. At the end of the day, the Vaibhāṣikas [i.e., the Sarvāstivādins] had to be content with a form of identity-in-difference (bhedābheda) logic. In the depths of their hearts, however, it would seem that it is their religious insight and intuition—even if they happen to defy Aristotelian logic—that must be upheld at all cost.”

We see from the lengthy passage in Isis Unveiled (1877, vol. 2, pp. 264-265), quoted in The Secret Doctrine (1888, vol. 1, pp. 3-4), that from beginning to end, HPB understood the Theosophical teaching she received from her Mahatma teachers to be that svabhāva is the svabhāva of “the one infinite and unknown Essence” that “exists from all eternity.” When this “unknown essence” is, metaphorically speaking, “awake” or “active” or breathing out, the “outbreathing of the ‘unknown essence’ produces the world.” It is this “active condition of this ‘Essence’” that HPB understood as the svabhāva taught by the Svābhāvikas: “The Svâbhâvikas, or philosophers of the oldest school of Buddhism (which still exists in Nepaul), speculate only upon the active condition of this ‘Essence,’ which they call Svabhâvât, and deem it foolish to theorize upon the abstract and ‘unknowable’ power in its passive condition.” It is the inherent nature (svabhāva) of this essence (the one element, dhātu) to periodically outbreathe, and this produces what we perceive as the manifestation of the world. That svabhāva is the activity or outbreathing is fully supported by the Mahatma K.H.’s statement about the Svābhāvikas calling it force or motion: “Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” It is the motion of the one element, its inherent nature (svabhāva), that produces the world. This motion is its life, its breathing, something inherent to it. This inherent motion produces the illusion of the world, just like, in Gauḍapāda’s analogy, the motion of a firebrand produces illusory shapes. But these shapes cannot have any ultimate reality, and consequently, any svabhāva. Likewise, in agreement with Mahāyāna doctrine, the individual dharmas cannot have any ultimate reality, and consequently, any svabhāva.

We do not know exactly what the original teachings of Buddhism were, despite the claims of each now existing Buddhist school to have them just as the Buddha taught them. Buddhism appears to have been a unified tradition for the first hundred or so years of its existence. Then the first schism occurred, and in the following centuries the “eighteen schools” of early Buddhism arose. Due to absence of original sources, and conflicting information in available sources, to sort out these early schools is, in the words of Etienne Lamotte, “futile” (History of Indian Buddhism, Chapter Six, “The Buddhist Sects,” English p. 548, French p. 606). The first schism resulted in the Mahāsāṃghikas and the Sthaviravādins. The Sarvāstivādins, along with several other schools, are included in the Sthaviravādins, and at first considered themselves Sthaviravādins. As Bhikkhu Dhammajoti says about the Sarvāstivādins, “Both they, as well as their opponents—the Vibhajyavādins—seemed to continue for quite some time to assume the status of the orthodox Sthaviravādins” (Entrance into the Supreme Doctrine: Skandhila’s Abhidharmāvatāra, Colombo, 1998; 2nd rev. ed. Hong Kong, 2008, “Introduction,” pp. 18-19). The present day Theravādins, the Pali form of the Sanskrit word Sthaviravādin, also consider themselves to be the orthodox Sthaviravādins. Certainly doctrinal developments took place, such that we cannot know which doctrines were original and which were not. Bhikkhu Dhammajoti tells us that (Entrance, p. 19):

“Although in the Vijñāna-kāya-śāstra, the existence of dharma-s in the three periods of time was already explicitly asserted and argued for, we have to wait until the Jñāna-prasthāna-śāstra to find their fully developed theory of the everlasting existence of the svabhāva of dharma-s. In fact, it was the Jñāna-prasthāna-śāstra that established the Sarvāstivāda dogma in a definite form.”

All we can say is that there was a large and influential early school of Buddhism, the Sarvāstivādins, who taught the everlasting existence of the svabhāva of the dharmas. We do not know if this was an original teaching of Buddhism. The Svābhāvika school of Buddhism referred to in Theosophical writings, whose teachings were identified with the Theosophical teachings, was apparently understood to have taught the svabhāva of the one element (dhātu) rather than the svabhāva of the individual dharmas. Since this is not the teaching of the Sarvāstivādins, and the alleged Svābhāvika school in Nepal does not exist, we are left with the idea that in Theosophical writings the Svābhāvika school of Buddhism refers to what is taken to be the original teachings of Buddhism preserved by the Theosophical Mahatmas.

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A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?, part 2

By David Reigle on March 4, 2012 at 6:02 am

Despite the early dominance of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism, we no longer hear of the Sarvāstivāda doctrine, because only schools of Buddhism that opposed it exist at present. Neither current books on Buddhism nor modern Buddhist teachers tell us that Buddhism once taught, “all exists” (sarvam asti). The early schools of Buddhism were all in general agreement that the dharmas are real, real existents or substances (dravya), and thus that they each have a svabhāva, an inherent nature. For, as put by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti (Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, p. 65), “What is real is what has a svabhāva.” But while the Sarvāstivādins taught that the dharmas exist throughout the three time periods, the early schools who opposed them taught that the dharmas, although real, do not exist for more than a moment, much less throughout the three time periods. The dharmas along with their svabhāvas arise, exist, and perish, all in a moment. This is the doctrine we find today in the Theravāda school, which has survived up to the present in Southeast Asian countries.

The basic teaching of the early Buddhist schools, that the dharmas are real and thus have a svabhāva, was then denied by the Mahāyāna schools. For the Mahāyāna schools, the dharmas are not real existents or substances (dravya). This was denied by denying that the dharmas have svabhāva. Thus, we have their famous statements that all dharmas or phenomena are empty of or lack svabhāva, an inherent nature or inherent existence. To the often repeated statements of one of these schools that no svabhāva is ultimately findable anywhere, the Sarvāstivādins would reply that the svabhāva of a dharma is, in ultimate truth, exactly what IS findable, and the only thing that is findable. This is clearly stated in the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya by Vasubandhu, chapter 6, verse 4. Vasubandhu introduces this verse by asking what is the definition of the two truths, conventional truth and ultimate truth (or relative truth and absolute truth). The verse concisely states these (translated by Poussin and Pruden): “The idea of a jug ends when the jug is broken; the idea of water ends when, in the mind, one analyzes the water. The jug and the water, and all that resembles them, exist relatively. The rest exist absolutely.” The bhāṣya or commentary explains as follows, skipping to the explanation of ultimate or absolute truth (translated directly from Sanskrit by Bhikkhu Dhammajoti, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, p. 67; words in single brackets are his, while words in double brackets have been added by me):

“Absolute truth (paramārthasatya) is other than this [[conventional or relative truth]]. Therein, even when [a thing] has been broken, the cognition of it definitely arises and likewise, even when its [constituent] dharma-s are removed mentally—that is [to be understood as] an absolute existent (paramārthasat). For instance rūpa: for, therein, when the thing is broken into the atoms (paramāṇuśaḥ), and when the [constituent] dharma-s taste, etc., have been removed mentally, the cognition of the intrinsic nature [[svabhāva]] of rūpa definitely arises. Vedanā, etc., are also to be seen in the same way. This is called absolute truth as the existence is in the absolute sense (etat paramārthena bhāvāt paramārthasatyam iti).”

After analyzing a jug and water and mentally removing the imputations of jug and water, we see that the jug and water only exist in conventional or relative truth. But then, in ultimate or absolute truth, “the cognition of the intrinsic nature [svabhāva] of rūpa definitely arises” (rūpasya svabhāva-buddhir bhavaty eva). This ultimate or absolute truth, Vasubandhu goes on to tell us, is cognized by supramundane or trans-worldly knowledge (lokottara-jñāna), or by the kind of mundane knowledge (laukika-jñāna) that is obtained immediately following upon (tat-pṛṣṭha-labdha) an experience of supramundane knowledge in meditation. This, he reports, is the teaching of the ancient masters (pūrvācārya).

The very same criterion for ultimate or absolute truth is accepted by the Mahāyāna schools. One must then wonder why some āryas who have the capacity of supramundane knowledge are reported to cognize svabhāva, while other āryas who have the capacity of supramundane knowledge are reportedly unable to find any svabhāva. This puts the now forgotten Sarvāstivāda doctrine on an equal footing with the now prevalent Mahāyāna doctrine. The fact of the Theosophical associations with Tibet, and that Tibet is a Mahāyāna country, does not oblige us to follow the Mahāyāna criticisms of Sarvāstivāda (which, as shown by Ryotai Fukuhara in his article, “On Svabhāvavāda,” sometimes misrepresent the Sarvāstivāda position). What we know is that the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan use the word svabhāva, that the Mahatma K.H. advised A. O. Hume to study the doctrines of the Svābhāvikas, that HPB in an 1877 letter said that her teacher “is a Buddhist, but not of the dogmatic Church, but belongs to the Svabhavikas” (The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, vol. 1, p. 353), and that in another 1877 letter she said about herself that “I am a Shwabhavika, a Buddhist Pantheist, if anything at all” (p. 370). We have more to learn about the svabhāva doctrine of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism.

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A Svābhāvika School of Buddhism?

By David Reigle on March 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm

As already discussed here, the alleged Svābhāvika school of Buddhism in Nepal that is spoken of in many books on Buddhism, and also in Theosophical writings, turned out not to exist. Brian H. Hodgson had described this and three other alleged schools of Buddhism in Nepal in an article published in Asiatic Researches in 1828, later reprinted with other articles in his book, Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (London, 1874). The excerpts translated from Buddhist texts that he gave in support of this school (1874 ed., pp. 73-76) are also elusive, only a few of them yet having been traced from his early and expectedly faulty translations. The facts of the situation did not fully emerge until 161 years later, through David N. Gellner’s 1989 article, “Hodgson’s Blind Alley? On the So-Called Schools of Nepalese Buddhism” (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 12). I was able to verify for myself what Gellner found, when in 1995 Nancy and I could study with Gautam Vajracharya, who comes from a prominent Buddhist teacher family in Nepal. But as we have often seen, even though references in Theosophical writings may be quite wrong, the ideas that these references are used to support may accurately represent the ideas intended by the Theosophical teachers.

The Mahatma letters were often written by chelas such as H. P. Blavatsky at the behest of the Theosophical Mahatma teachers, much like when an executive today may tell a secretary to write such and such in a letter to someone. The secretary may have to draw upon currently available reference books when doing this. This explains many of the erroneous references that we find in these writings. But the ideas given are in a different category. These must be separated out. One of the most important Theosophical statements on the Svābhāvikas was given in Mahatma letter #22, by or on behalf of Mahatma K.H., writing to A. O. Hume in 1882: “Study the laws and doctrines of the Nepaulese Swabhavikas, the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India, and you will find them the most learned as the most scientifically logical wranglers in the world. Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious Swabhavat is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.”

The reference to “the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India” is a bit incongruous in reference to Svābhāvikas in Nepal. As I have suggested earlier (Book of Dzyan Research Report #3, 1997, p. 6), this may actually refer to the Sarvāstivāda school in old India (see also Book of Dzyan Research Report #4, 1997, pp. 2-3, 24). Today we have an important source on these early Buddhists, titled Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, by Bhikkhu K. L. Dhammajoti (Colombo, 2002; 2nd rev. ed. 2004; 3rd rev. and enl. ed., Hong Kong, 2007; 4th rev. ed. 2009). Although there has not been any Buddhist school in India for about a thousand years, the Sarvāstivāda school was once “the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India.” In the book, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, we read (4th ed., p. 56): “The Sarvāstivāda remained the most powerful and influential school in north-western India from around the beginning of the Common Era to about the 7th century C.E.” Moreover (p. 60), “According to the *Samayabhedoparacanacakra, most of the early Buddhist sects had accepted the doctrine of sarvāstitva, even though they seem to have disputed endlessly on what it really meant for them in each case.” The distinctive Sarvāstivāda doctrine is that “all exists” (sarva asti, sarvāsti, sarvāstitva). This means that all dharmas, all the factors of existence, exist in the past, the present, and the future. They do this by way of their svabhāva, their inherent nature, which remains the same throughout the three time periods. In this sense, the Sarvāstivādins may be considered Svābhāvikas, and their doctrine has been described as a svabhāvavāda (Ryotai Fukuhara, “On Svabhāvavāda”), although neither they nor other Buddhist schools called them Svābhāvikas.

(to be continued)

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Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 2

By David Reigle on February 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm

As is well known, the philosophical teaching of The Secret Doctrine is a non-dualism or monism. For this reason, outside observers have more often associated Theosophy with Hinduism than with Buddhism. The Hindu Upaniṣads teach an absolute brahman, described as “one alone, without a second” (ekam eva advitīyam, Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.2.1), and brahman is understood fully non-dualistically in the Advaita Vedānta school. Since this fundamental teaching in Theosophy is crucial for trying to understand the svabhāva teaching of the Book of Dzyan, it will be worthwhile to review a few statements on it.

“Thus, then, the first fundamental axiom of the Secret Doctrine is the metaphysical ONE ABSOLUTE—BE-NESS . . . .” (SD 1.14)

“The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyani-Chohan to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds—this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.” (SD 1.120)

“The FUNDAMENTAL UNITY OF ALL EXISTENCE. This unity is a thing altogether different from the common notion of unity—as when we say that a nation or an army is united; or that this planet is united to that by lines of magnetic force or the like. The teaching is not that. It is that existence is ONE THING, not any collection of things linked together. Fundamentally there is ONE BEING.” (notes on how to study The Secret Doctrine given by HPB to Robert Bowen)

This fundamental Theosophical teaching, then, is directly comparable to the Hindu teaching of the one brahman as understood non-dualistically in Advaita Vedānta.

Near the beginning of the 1900s a hitherto secret Sanskrit book, the Praṇava-vāda by Gārgyāyaṇa, was dictated from memory by a blind pandit named Dhanaraj to Bhagavan Das and a few others. According to Bhagavan Das, who prepared a summarized English translation of it, its language is very archaic. Highly significantly for our inquiry, this book says that prapañca, manifestation, is the svabhāva or inherent nature of brahman, the one (English translation, vol. 3, p. 75). This is also what the Book of Dzyan says about svabhāva, that it brings about manifestation. Since “the one” cannot act, svabhāva is there shown as bringing about manifestation. The Praṇava-vāda specifically tells us that this is the svabhāva of the one brahman. In the Book of Dzyan we are not specifically told what the svabhāva it speaks of is the inherent nature of. We can only infer that it is the inherent nature of “the one.”

In stanza 1.5, prior to manifestation, “the one” is termed “darkness”: “Darkness alone filled the boundless all.” In stanza 2.1, still prior to actual manifestation, svabhāva is first mentioned, where svabhāva “rested in the bliss of non-being.” In stanza 2.5 svabhāva is identified with darkness: “Darkness alone was father-mother, Svābhāvat; and Svābhāvat was in darkness.” In stanza 3, actual manifestation occurs, with the phrase, “Darkness radiates light.” Later in The Secret Doctrine we see that this refers to svabhāva, where svabhāva is described as “the mutable radiance of the Immutable Darkness unconscious in Eternity” (SD 1.635), and this is confirmed in stanzas 3.10 and 3.12. So while The Secret Doctrine does not explicitly say that the svabhāva or inherent nature it speaks of is the svabhāva of “the one,” it would be quite incongruous in a non-dualistic system to understand it as being the svabhāva of anything else. The exact parallel with the Praṇava-vāda, where svabhāva is also manifestation (prapañca) and this is explicitly said to be the svabhāva of the one brahman, makes this practically certain. Here are a few quotations from that book (for fuller information, see especially vol. 3, pp. 74-80):

“. . . this prapañcha is verily Self-established by Its own nature, the Sva-bhāva, the Self-being, of Absolute Brahman, . . .” (Praṇava-vāda, vol. 3, p. 75)

“. . . sva-bhāva which is declared everywhere to be the cause of the world, having no cause of its own.” (vol. 3, p. 77)

“There is no duality, no unity, no manyness—All is Sva-bhāva and Sva-bhāva only.” (vol. 2, p. 329)

“All ‘becoming’ whatsoever, every event in the World-process, tiniest or most enormous, is brought about by the Universal Necessity of the Absolute Nature, Sva-bhāva.” (vol. 2, p. 31)

At this point, we have references from one hitherto secret book, the Praṇava-vāda, helping to explain the svabhāva teaching of another hitherto secret book, the Book of Dzyan. Both of these books are said to be from a time that predates known history; they are prehistoric. Can we trace this teaching to any known text? Yes, the same teaching is briefly given by Gauḍapāda in his Māṇḍūkya-kārikā. It was soon interpreted away, but it is there. Like in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, Gauḍapāda reviews various proposed causes of the world. Here are his verses 1.6-9 (translated by Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya):

“6. The settled opinion of sages is that all things have their origin. (Some hold that) the Breath, the Puruṣa (self), creates all—the rays of the mind, differently.

7. Other theorisers about creation assert dogmatically that the creation (of the world) is (his) expansion, while others imagine that creation is of the nature of dream and magic.

8. Those who are assured about creation say that creation is the mere volition of the Lord, and those who theorise about Time consider the creation of beings to be from Time.

9. Some (say) that the creation is for the sake of (his) enjoyment, while others (are of opinion) that it is for the sake of his sport. It is, however, the nature of the Shining One, for how can desire be in one for whom every object of desire is (already) secured.”

In the latter half of the last verse Gauḍapāda gives his own position, that creation (sṛṣṭi) or manifestation is the nature (svabhāva) of the Shining One (deva). In the next verse he tells us that the shining one (deva) is the turya, the fourth of the four conditions taught in the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad. This is ātman or brahman.

“10. The Turya ‘fourth one’ is said to be all-pervading, efficient in removing all miseries, the shining one, changeless, and of all things without a second.”

It is the one without a second. Lest there be any doubt, he again equates the shining one (deva) with ātman in 2.12 and 2.19. So Gauḍapāda’s position is exactly the same as what was said in the Praṇava-vāda, that creation or manifestation is the svabhāva or inherent nature of the one, ātman or brahman. We have already seen the direct parallel of what was said in the Praṇava-vāda to what the Book of Dzyan says about svabhāva, that it brings about manifestation. So in addition to the direct parallel to the hitherto secret Praṇava-vāda, we now have historical evidence, in the form of a direct parallel to a known text (Gauḍapāda’s), that the svabhāva spoken of in the Book of Dzyan is the svabhāva or inherent nature of “the one.” This is a very different kind of svabhāva teaching or svabhāvavāda than that which is historically known, so I have called it prehistoric svabhāvavāda.

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Svabhâva in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ

By Jacques Mahnich on February 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Sri Aurobindo, in his “Essays on the Gîtâ”, use the Svabhâva term to comment on different verses , and one verse includes the use of “svabhavo” :

– comments on VII.7 : “It is the supreme nature of the Spirit, the infinite powerful consciousness of his being,…this supreme quality is the essential power, stable, original, the svabhâva….In this divine relationship of the divine bhava to svabhâva, et from svabhâva to bhava, …”

– comments on VII.8 : “It is the essential quality in its spiritual power which make the svabhâva [of Prakriti]…”

– comments on VII.10 : “The Dharma, says also the Gîta, is action driven by the svabhâva, the essential of each nature”

Verse VIII.3 uses the term svabhavo :

“śrī bhagavān uvāca

akṣaraṁ brahma paramaṁ

svabhāvo ‘dhyātmam ucyate



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Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda

By David Reigle on at 9:01 pm

Svabhāvavāda, the doctrine of svabhāva or inherent nature, as the cause of the world, is old. It is referred to, for example, in the Hindu Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (1.2), in the Jaina Sanmati-tarka (3.53), and in the Buddhist Buddha-carita (9.58-62). But there is an even older svabhāvavāda, very different from the one described in these texts, that I will call prehistoric svabhāvavāda. It is seen in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda, and in the Book of Dzyan. In brief, the svabhāvavāda that was already historical in the time of the classical Sanskrit texts says that the world is the result of the inherent nature of the elements or things that make it up. The diverse world is the result of the inherent natures of a plurality of diverse things. In the prehistoric svabhāvavāda, there is only one thing (or non-thing) in the universe. The world and all its diversity can only result from the inherent nature of that, the one and only.

Over the years, I have collected pages full of references to svabhāva in Sanskrit texts. A small book, or a very long article, could be written based on them. Here I will try to give a brief digest of this gathered information. We may start with the statement of possible causes of the world from the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. This text begins in verse 1.1 by asking questions including whether brahman is the cause (kāraṇa) of the world. In verse 1.2 it lists six alternatives to this as the source (yoni) of the world: kāla, “time”; svabhāva, “inherent nature”; niyati, “fate, necessity, destiny”; yadṛcchā, “chance”; bhūtāni, “the (five) elements”; puruṣa, “spirit.” The commentary on this text attributed to Śaṅkarācārya does not say who holds these various teachings. But this line of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad is quoted by Nīlakaṇṭha in his commentary on the Mahābhārata (Bombay edition, 12.183.6), and he does say. According to him, those who hold that svabhāva is the origin of the world (loka-sambhava) are the Buddhists and the Lokāyatikas (the worldly so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics).

In the case of the Buddhists, Nīlakaṇṭha would be referring to the early Buddhist Abhidharma teaching that all dharmas, all the factors of existence, each have svabhāva, an inherent nature of their own. This is not the same as what is usually referred to as svabhāvavāda, even though it is similarly pluralistic. The svabhāvavāda usually referred to is also referred to in Buddhist sources, where it is regarded by them as a non-Buddhist teaching (Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddha-carita, chapter 9, verses 58-62), and is refuted by them (Śāntarakṣita’s Tattva-saṃgraha, chapter 4, verses 110-127). We here recall that what was called the Svābhāvika school of Nepalese Buddhism turned out not to exist. It was based on a mistaken assumption made in very early Buddhist studies (see blog post: “The Svabhāva Teaching Not to Be Attributed to Buddhism Today”). After an account of this and three other alleged Buddhist schools written by Brian H. Hodgson was published in 1828, he obtained from his Buddhist teacher/informant passages from Buddhist texts in support of these schools and published these in 1836. The passages that were intended to prove the existence of the Svābhāvika school and to illustrate its svabhāva teaching (1874 ed., pp. 73-76) included verses from the passage of the Buddha-carita just referred to. In this passage, however, it is actually a non-Buddhist teaching that is being described. In fact, this passage describes the historical svabhāva teaching, a teaching that was sometimes attributed to the Lokāyatikas and sometimes attributed to the demons (asuras, daityas). It was refuted not only by Buddhists but also by Hindus (e.g., Gautama’s Nyāya-sūtra 4.1.22-24) and Jainas (e.g., Malayagiri’s commentary on the Nandī-sūtra, Āgama-suttāṇi ed., vol. 30, pp. 217-218, in his summary of the contents of Sūtrakṛtāṅga).

The Lokāyatikas referred to by Nīlakaṇṭha, those who follow the Lokāyata teaching, also called the Cārvāka teaching, are the worldly so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics of ancient India. Their own texts have for the most part disappeared, but their teachings are found in works that refute them. The doctrine of svabhāva or svabhāvavāda is often associated with them. This doctrine is that there is no other cause for things to be what they are than their individual svabhāvas or inherent natures. A thorn is sharp because the inherent nature of thorns is to be sharp. Then in the Mahābhārata, this svabhāvavāda is associated with the demons, as a teaching that they follow (see: V. M. Bedekar, “doctrines_svabhava_kala_mahabharata”). The passage from the Buddha-carita that describes this teaching is here given (translated by E. H. Johnston; I have inserted some Sanskrit terms in brackets):

“58. Some explain that good and evil and existence and non-existence originate by natural development [svabhāvāt, ablative]; and since all this world originates by natural development [svābhāvika], again therefore effort is vain.

59. That the action of each sense is limited to its own class of object, that the qualities of being agreeable or disagreeable is to be found in the objects of the senses, and that we are affected by old age and afflictions, in all that what room is there for effort? Is it not purely a natural development [svabhāva]?

60. The oblation-devouring fire is stilled by water, and the flames cause water to dry up. The elements, separate by nature, group themselves together into bodies and, coalescing, constitute the world.

61. That, when the individual enters the womb, he develops hands, feet, belly, back and head, and that his soul unites with that body, all this the doctors of this school attribute to natural development [svābhāvika].

62. Who fashions the sharpness of the thorn or the varied nature of beast and bird? All this takes place by natural development [svabhāvataḥ]. There is no such thing in this respect as action of our own will, a fortiori no possibility of effort.”

As indicated by these verses, the historically known doctrine of svabhāva is associated with determinism and the negation of human effort, and consequently with the negation of moral responsibility. Things are what they are because of their various svabhāvas or inherent natures, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. The lack of moral responsibility that this doctrine led to is why it was refuted by all three of the religions of old India. This historically known svabhāvavāda is not at all something that Theosophy would wish to be associated with. The favorable references in Theosophical writings to the Svābhāvika school of Buddhism would be to something else, despite the problematic sources (Hodgson and those following him) describing an alleged Svābhāvika school in Nepal that does not exist. More importantly, the seven occurrences of svabhāva in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan must refer to a different svabhāva teaching, now largely unknown.

(to be continued)

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Why the Form Svabhavat in Theosophical Writings

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

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

—– Original Message —–

From: Daniel Caldwell

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

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

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

Why the final “t” in Svabhavat?

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

See this spelling in Muller’s work at:


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



Here is my reply to it:


—– Original Message —–

From: David Reigle

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

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

Dear Daniel,

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

This is a major find. Many thanks!

Best wishes,



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

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

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

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

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

Compare also what HPB wrote in an article:

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

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

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