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. •


Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Mulaprakriti, Space, Svabhavat | 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


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 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


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


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


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.

Category: Svabhavat | 4 comments


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.


Category: Svabhavat | 1 comment


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.

Category: Svabhavat | 3 comments


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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The Meaning of Svabhāva

By David Reigle on February 22, 2012 at 4:18 am

The meaning of svabhāva given in The Secret Doctrine, drawing from the compilation prepared by Jacques, is the “essence,” the “self-existent plastic essence and the root of all things,” the “‘plastic essence’ that fills the universe,” the “root of all things,” the “mystic essence,” and the “plastic root of physical nature.” In referring to svabhāva as an “essence,” HPB was apparently following the writers of her time, such as Samuel Beal. But she was well aware of the inadequacy of this term. In the “Summing Up” section of the SD, her third statement, referring to the “Substance-Principle” spoken of in her second statement, says:

“(3.) The Universe is the periodical manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence. To call it “essence,” however, is to sin against the very spirit of the philosophy. For though the noun may be derived in this case from the verb esse, “to be,” yet It cannot be identified with a being of any kind, that can be conceived by human intellect.” (SD 1.273)

Although this refers to the “Substance-Principle,” the same idea applies to its first remove or secondary stage, svabhāva. We may now refine the meaning of svabhāva. If you try to find or search for svabhāva under the translation “essence” in books published in the last hundred years, you will not likely have much success. The meaning “essence” is not found for svabhāva in the standard Sanskrit-English dictionaries (Monier Monier-Williams and Vaman Shivaram Apte), or in the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary (Franklin Edgerton). I see that it is given in Wikipedia, but it is there likely copied from an online Theosophical glossary.

As literally as normal English allows, svabhāva means “self-nature.” Some translators use the literal “own-being,” but this is not normal English. Another very close, but somewhat more idiomatic translation is “inherent nature,” or “intrinsic nature.” Of these two synonymous phrases, I have adopted “inherent nature” over “intrinsic nature” because of its verbal similarity to “inherent existence.” Inherent existence is another translation of svabhāva that is widely used in the Madhyamaka Buddhist context of the denial of svabhāva; e.g., the “emptiness of inherent existence” (svabhāva-śūnyatā). A thing’s “inherent nature” is something that always remains the same; so in this philosophical context it has come to mean something’s “inherent existence.” The basic meaning of svabhāva is shown in the often-used example that heat is the “inherent nature” of fire.

As may be seen, svabhāva is the inherent nature of something, whatever that something may be. In Buddhism, it is normally the inherent nature of the dharmas, the factors of existence that make up the world. It is not a stand-alone essence. One can call it the essence of something, but one would not normally call it an essence per se. Of course, if it is the inherent nature of something that is itself an essence, then as being indistinguishable from that essence, svabhāva, too, could be called an essence. This appears to be what is happening in the Theosophical writings. Although as HPB noted above, it is philosophically incorrect to refer to the one “Substance-Principle” as an essence, it is nonetheless done for expedience. When doing so, one can then also expediently use essence for svabhāva. Even if this is adopted from other writers where it is incorrect in relation to Buddhism (because Buddhism does not teach an essence), it would not in this way be incorrect for Theosophy. It would refer to the inherent nature of something that can loosely be called an essence.

A careful study of the Theosophical references will show that the term svabhāva is used in two different ways. It is used more loosely and more precisely. It is loosely referred to as an essence, while more precisely it is called force or motion or radiance. This latter fits in well with the basic meaning of svabhāva, inherent nature. The inherent nature of the one Substance-Principle is force or motion or radiance. Put another way, motion is the inherent nature of the one element, the dhātu. It always remains, fitting the definition of svabhāva as something that is unchanging, because unceasing motion is the imperishable life of eternal, living, superphysical substance, the one Substance-Principle (see Cosmological Notes and Mahatma Letter #10).

Svabhāva is force or motion:

“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.” (Mahatma Letter #22)

Svabhāva is radiance:

“Throughout the first two Parts, it was shown that, at the first flutter of renascent life, Svâbhâvat, “the mutable radiance of the Immutable Darkness unconscious in Eternity,” passes, at every new rebirth of Kosmos, from an inactive state into one of intense activity; that it differentiates, and then begins its work through that differentiation.” (SD 1.635)

This also fits in well with how svabhāva is used in the Book of Dzyan. The meaning of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan is indicated by its usage, where svabhāva:

  1. is the root of the world (stanza 2.1)
  2. is father-mother (stanza 2.5)
  3. was in darkness (prior to manifestation) (stanza 2.5)
  4. is the two substances (spirit and matter) made in one (stanza 3.10)
  5. sends fohat to harden the atoms (at the time of manifestation) (stanza 3.12)
  6. is the ādi-nidāna (first cause) (stanza 4.5)
  7. is the voice of the word (not lord, as misprinted on p. 31) (stanza 4.5) (this is the voice that emanates the word; see The Secret Doctrine Commentaries, p. 341)

The meaning of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan appears to be the inherent nature of the dhātu, the one element, and this inherent nature is its life or motion. This motion is what brings about the manifestation of a cosmos. So the cosmogenesis teaching of the Book of Dzyan can accurately be called svabhāva-vāda. No known system teaches this any longer, but it is referred to as an ancient teaching in all three of the religions of old India, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. From these writings, we see that there is more than one kind of svabhāva-vāda. These will be the subject of further research here.

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The Svabhāva Teaching Not to Be Attributed to Buddhism Today

By David Reigle on February 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm

On the introductory page to Svābhāvat under “Key Subjects” I have referred to two major problems with this term: its form and its meaning. Relating to the latter is its usage. The most immediate problem with the teaching of svabhāva as it is found in H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, is its attribution to Buddhism. Buddhist studies were then just beginning, and at that time Western writers on Buddhism attributed the teaching of svabhāva to Buddhism. As Buddhist studies progressed in the next century, it was seen that this is incorrect; and in the case of Mahāyāna or Northern Buddhism, it is quite the opposite. The central Mahāyāna Buddhist teaching of emptiness (śūnyatā) is, in full, the emptiness or absence of svabhāva, inherent nature. So the following statements from The Secret Doctrine on the teaching of svabhāva in relation to Buddhism are incorrect, and should be updated. I quote them from the very helpful compilation made by Jacques.

“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 Svâbhâvat, . . .” (SD 1.3)

“It is, in its secondary stage, the Svabhavat of the Buddhist philosopher, . . .” (SD 1.46)

“Svâbhâvat is, so to say, the Buddhistic concrete aspect of the abstraction called in Hindu philosophy Mulaprakriti.” (SD 1.61)

“Svâbhâvat is the mystic Essence, . . . The name is of Buddhist use . . . .” (SD 1.98)

“. . . the infinite Substance, the noumenon of which the Buddhists call swâbhâvat . . . .” (SD 1.671)

The idea that Buddhists teach svabhāva came from the writings of Brian H. Hodgson, British Resident in Nepal from 1821 to 1843. He began publishing articles in Asiatic Researches in 1828, which were later collected into a book, Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (London, 1874, with an earlier Indian edition in 1841; for relevant excerpts, see: http://www.easterntradition.org/foundations%207.pdf). Since Nepal was then closed to foreign travelers, no one could check Hodgson’s information until Sylvain Levi’s trip there in 1898, and Buddhist scholars accepted Hodgson’s account of the Svābhāvika Buddhists of Nepal until well into the twentieth century. It was not fully abandoned by scholars until 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). No Svābhāvika school of Buddhism was found in Nepal. Its existence was based on a mistaken assumption, due to inadequate information, at that very early stage of Buddhist studies.

Other early and erroneous sources on the teaching of svabhāva in Buddhism, influenced by Hodgson, include Rev. Samuel Beal’s 1871 book, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese. He there writes (p. 11): “Both these [Chinese] writers adopted the teaching of the Swābhāvika school of Buddhism, which is that generally accepted in China. This school holds the eternity of Matter as a crude mass, infinitesimally attenuated under one form, and expanded in another form into the countless beautiful varieties of Nature.” The equation of matter with the dharmas, which make up the Buddhist worldview, is adopted directly from Hodgson (1874 ed., p. 72): “Dharma is Diva natura, matter as the sole entity, invested with intrinsic activity and intelligence, the efficient and material cause of all.” Beal continues, on the next page (p. 12): “The expression ‘Fah-kai’ is a well-known one to signify the limits or elements of Dharma (dharma dhatu), where Dharma is the same as Prakriti, or Matter itself. Much confusion would have been avoided if this sense of Dharma, when used by writers of the Swābhāvika school, had been properly observed.” In fact, the dharmas are not at all the same as matter, and this has caused much confusion in early Western writings pertaining to Buddhism, including those by Blavatsky.

In relation to svabhāva Beal frequently uses the phrase, “universally diffused essence” (pp. 11, 12, 13, 14, 29, etc.), which he later (p. 373) equates with dharmakaya (cp. Mahatma Letter #15, 3rd ed. pp. 88-89). Blavatsky writes:

“As for Svâbhâvat, the Orientalists explain the term as meaning the Universal plastic matter diffused through Space, . . .” (SD 1.98 fn.)

The orientalist she is referring to is Samuel Beal, who she frequently draws material from.

Another orientalist who she draws material from is Rev. Joseph Edkins. From his 1880 book, Chinese Buddhism, pp. 308-309 (also p. 317), she copied the following erroneous information:

“Svâbhâvat, the “Plastic Essence” that fills the Universe, is the root of all things. Svâbhâvat is, so to say, the Buddhistic concrete aspect of the abstraction called in Hindu philosophy Mulaprakriti. . . . Chinese mystics have made of it the synonym of “being.” In the Ekasloka-Shastra of Nagarjuna (the Lung-shu of China) called by the Chinese the Yih-shu-lu-kia-lun, it is said that the original word of Yeu is “Being” or “Subhava,” “the Substance giving substance to itself,” also explained by him as meaning ” without action and with action,” “the nature which has no nature of its own.” Subhava, from which Svâbhâvat, is composed of two words: Su “fair,” “handsome,” “good”; Svâ, “self”; and bhâva, “being” or “states of being.”” (SD 1.61)

This has been misunderstood by Edkins, who in 1857 when he translated the Ekasloka-sastra could hardly have been expected to do any better. No reliable information was then available in Western sources about Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna was the most articulate of all Buddhist writers in formulating the teaching of the emptiness or absence of svabhāva in all dharmas. The word given by Edkins, subhava, is wrong, and should be svabhāva, as HPB perceived. But the etymology of subhava, copied by HPB, is erroneous for svabhāva. We have to “clear the deck” of all these extraneous and erroneous references before we can proceed to try to find out the meaning and significance of svabhāva in the Book of Dzyan.

There was in fact an early school of Buddhism that taught the eternal existence of the svabhāva of the dharmas. So the teaching of svabhāva can correctly be attributed to them. But this school, the Sarvāstivāda, has not existed for more than a thousand years, and its teaching has been refuted by the other schools of Buddhism.

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Svâbhâvat, Swâbhâvat or Svâbhâva

By Jacques Mahnich on February 18, 2012 at 12:27 am

Svâbhâvat, Swâbhâvat, or Svâbhâva, according to H.P.B. in her Secret Doctrine may deserve the same type of study that previously done for Fohat. i.e. where does it appears, with what meaning(s), according to “conventional theosophy”.
A document was started and uploaded for the sake of collecting inputs.

According to H.P.B. in her Secret Doctrine :

a) Spelling : 3 different spellings are found

  • svâbhâvat : SD – Vol I,pp.3,28,31,46,52,53,60,61,85,98,635, Vol II, p.115
  • swâbhâvat : SD – Vol I, pp.83,84,661,
  • svâbhâva : SD – Vol I, pp.571

b) What is svâbhâvat/swâbhâvat/svâbhâva :

  • the active condition of the one infinite and unknown Essence which exists from all eternity (DS – I. p.3)
  • the secondary stage of the Prabhavapyaya (DS – I. p.46)
  • the plastic essence that fills the universe, the root of all things (DS – I. p.61)
  • the Buddhistic concrete aspect of the abstraction called in Hindu philosophy Mulaprakriti (DS – I. p.61)
  • In the Ekasloka-Shastra of Nagarjuna (the Lung-shu of China) called by the Chinese the Yih-shu-lu-kia-lun, it is said that the original word of Yeu is “Being” or “Subhava,” “the Substance giving substance to itself,” also explained by him as meaning ” without action and with action,” “the nature which has no nature of its own.” . Subhava, from which svâbhâvat,is composed of two words: Su “fair,” “handsome,” “good”; Sva, “self”; and bhava, “being” or “states of being.” (DS – I. p.61)
  • svâbhâvat is the mystic Essence, the plastic root of physical Nature — “Numbers” when manifested (DS – I. p.98)
  • The name is of Buddhist use and a Synonym for the four-fold Anima Mundi (DS – I. p.98)
  • Occultists identify it with “FATHER-MOTHER” on the mystic plane (DS – I. p.98)
  • the mutable radiance of the Immutable Darkness unconscious in Eternity (DS – I. p.635)

c) What does svâbhâvat do :It emanates the noumenon of matter (DS – I. p.84)

  • Gods, Men, Gandharvas, Pisachas, Asuras, Rakshasas, all have been created by svâbhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature) (DS – I. p.571)
  • It passes, at every new rebirth of Kosmos, from an inactive state into one of intense activity; that it differentiates, and then begins its work through that differentiation. This work is KARMA. (DS – I. p.635)
  • Everything has come out of Akasa (or svâbhâvat on our earth) in obedience to a law of motion inherent in it (DS – I. p.635)

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Svābhāvat, svabhāvāt, and svabhāva

By David Reigle on February 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm

After standing for more than 120 years, the problem of the word svābhāvat was solved by Daniel Caldwell, and he did this without knowing Sanskrit. Ironically, it had entered The Secret Doctrine because of HPB not knowing Sanskrit. As Daniel found (on Oct. 13, 2009), HPB had copied svābhāvat from F. Max Muller, who had used it as declined in the ablative case: svabhāvāt. The word itself, undeclined, is svabhāva. This is obviously what HPB intended, especially in its seven occurrences in the stanzas that she published from the Book of Dzyan.

The word svabhāva means “inherent nature.” In its everyday use, it refers to things such as heat being the inherent nature of fire. But it has come to be used as a technical term in Indian philosophy, for something that does not change.

So there remained the problem of why this word would be used in the Book of Dzyan, since the idea of svabhāva as an unchanging essence has long been rejected in Buddhism. Yet the Mahatma K.H. recommended to A. O. Hume that he study the doctrines of the Nepalese Svābhāvikas. This school turned out not to exist. But the Mahatma’s reference to it, as “the principal Buddhist philosophical school in India,” could well refer to the once dominant Sarvāstivāda school. In recent years accurate information about this long defunct school has emerged, thanks above all to the researches of K. L. Dhammajoti. His book, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, may well provide a satisfactory answer to this problem.

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