Primordial Darkness in Original Sāṃkhya

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

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

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

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

Sāṃkhya-kārikā, verses 69-70:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translation of the Pañcaśikha quote:

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

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

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

Compare Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129, verse 3a:

táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre

“Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.”

The comments on the Pañcaśikha quote from the Sāṃkhya commentaries:

tama iti ucyate prakṛtiḥ, puruṣaḥ kṣetrajñaḥ | 

tama iti ucyate prakṛtiḥ | kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣaḥ | 

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

tamaḥ pradhānam, kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣa ucyate |

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

kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣaḥ | 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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The Passing Down of Important Knowledge

By Robert Hütwohl on August 1, 2022 at 10:18 pm

David, thank you for culling together a considerable amount of valuable Buddhist material.

No other collection of sources in the world’s literature can come close to the Buddhist, for such a rich array of oral tradition. And, the congruence of Buddhism and Theosophy, especially with the issue of self versus Self should be all the more reason to pursue this direction, for it teaches us that the Dweller at the Threshold is our lower self, which must be snuffed out, as another Buddhist textbook, the Voice of the Silence, proclaims.

These Buddhist records would indicate previous accounts going back over periods of what can only be described as a historicity of previous Buddhas, i.e., a primitive Buddhism tradition, which would have attracted a reason for such record-keeping in the first place. Buddhist statements within that line indicate there were previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and that would indicate, from a theosophical standpoint, previous root-races of civilizations going back probably millions of years.

It is safe to say, much has probably been lost to us from the past. Probably equal to if not second best would be the Hermetic or Trismegistic material. Statements handed down to us from ancient historians state the Hermetic literature was vast indeed but looking at what has come down to us is paltry to what we should have. The interventions of early Christian writers and recorders did not help maintain that literature, due to their intervention of their own anthropomorphic rewrites which would tend to beg the question whether certain material was Hermetic at all and may have, due to that fact, been ignored or thrown out. The vast amount of Greek and Roman literature having been destroyed, much of it probably due to the Libraries at Alexandria, Egypt would lay bear the fact that certain parts of humanity do not care much about preserving past literary output.

Perhaps the Hindu purāṇas would be a third best, however due to the obvious rearrangement of that literature and its metaphorical and allegorical tellings, no doubt clearly mixed with historical indications, it will take a team of dedicated researchers an extensive period of time to sort it all out, reserved for the future. I believe all the purāṇas came down to us from one very large mahāpurāṇa. But, the time for sorting out the purāṇic conundrum is long past.

One thing is clear, based on the Buddhist oral traditions: We are dealing with the passing down through the ages by observers, indications of inspection from the past, millions of years ago and long before paleontological science has given us any hint of it. Dig deeper!

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The Separation of the Sexes

By David Reigle on July 31, 2022 at 10:47 pm

            The separation of the sexes is a distinctive teaching of the Book of Dzyan on anthropogenesis. It is said to have occurred millions of years ago, in the third root-race. Stanza 7, verse 22, as given in The Secret Doctrine, says: “. . . First male-female, then man and woman.” Stanza 8, verse 31: “The animals separated the first. They began to breed. The two-fold man separated also. He said: ‘Let us as they; let us unite and make creatures.’ They did.”

            Such an idea is completely foreign to modern thought, whether scientific, historical, or anthropological. It is also completely foreign to Christian religious thought. However, it is fully orthodox in Buddhist religious thought. Buddhism has not much concerned itself with cosmogony and anthropogony, so there are comparatively few Buddhist texts on these subjects. The ones we have, fortunately, are consistent with each other on these teachings. These teachings were given by the Buddha himself, not by some later Buddhist teacher, so they are authoritative for all schools of Buddhism. The texts quoted below come from several different schools of Buddhism.

            The Buddhist texts say that humanity descended from higher realms, from various “heavens,” rather than evolved from apes as modern anthropology posits. So humans were more ethereal then, and slowly became more dense as they started to eat, and what they ate also became more and more dense. At one stage of this process of densification the separation of the sexes occurred.

            Thus the Pāli Aggañña-sutta from the Theravāda school of Buddhism, called by its first translators the Buddhist book of Genesis, says (translated by Maurice Walshe):

“And these beings set to and fed on this rice, and this lasted for a very long time. And as they did so, their bodies became coarser still, and the difference in their looks became even greater. And the females developed female sex-organs, and the males developed male organs.”1

            The Sanskrit *Loka-prajñapti-sūtra from the Dharmaguptaka school of Buddhism, found in the Dīrghāgama collection as preserved in its Chinese translation, says (translated by Shohei Ichimura):

“So the sentient beings began to harvest the new form of rice and subsist on it. Then their physical forms became coarse and crude, with the advent of male and female sexual organs.”2

            The Mahā-vastu from the Lokottaravādin branch of the Mahāsāṅghika school of Buddhism, found in their Vinaya collection, says (translated by J. J. Jones):

“Then, monks, after the disappearance of the creeping-plant, those beings lived on a very long time feeding on the rice which was without powder or husk, but was just fragrant grain. And from the time that they did so, the distinguishing characteristics of female and male appeared among them.”3

            The three preceding sources are traditionally regarded as giving the words of the Buddha. The following three sources give this teaching as presented by later Buddhist writers.

            The Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya, giving the teachings of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism as summarized by Vasubandhu, says (translated by Louis de La Vallee Poussin and Lodrö Sangpo):4

“These creepers disappeared and then fields of huskless rice [śāli ] grew, uncultivated and unplanted: this rice, a coarse sustenance, produced waste: sentient beings then developed organs of excretion and sexual organs; they then took different forms.”

            The Yogācāra-bhūmi, giving the teachings of the Yogācāra school of Buddhism compiled by Maitreya (so Chinese tradition) or Asaṅga (so Tibetan tradition), says (translated by Yūichi Kajiyama):5

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

            The Mahā-saṃvartanī-kathā, giving the teachings of the Sāṃmatīya school of Buddhism as put into verse form by Sarva-rakṣita, says (summarized by its editor, Kiyoshi Okano):6

“3.1.8 As people continuously ate rice, the male organ and female organ appeared in their bodies. The difference between men and women arose for the first time.”

            There are a number of other Buddhist texts that give this teaching, but these should suffice to show that it is a standard and fully orthodox Buddhist teaching found throughout Buddhism.


1. The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 411. Boston: Wisdom Publications,1987. Maurice Walshe adds a note after the phrase “the females developed female sex-organs”: “As noted above, these beings were previously sexless. DA says ‘those who were women in a previous life.’” DA stands for the Dīgha Nikāya commentary by Buddhaghosa. The Aggañña-sutta is found in the Dīgha Nikāya, Pali Text Society edition, Vol. III, this passage on p. 88. The first translators of this text were T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in Dialogues of the Buddha, Part III, 1921, this passage on p. 85.

2. The Canonical Book of the Buddha’s Lengthy Discourses, Volume III, p. 297. BDK America, 2018.

3. The Mahāvastu, Volume I, p. 288. London: Luzac & Company, 1949.

4. Abhidharmakośa-Bhāṣya of Vasubandhu, Volume II, p. 1106. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2012. The 1988 translation by Poussin and Leo M. Pruden reads (Volume II, p. 488): “This creeper disappeared and then rice grew, unworked and unseeded: this rice, a coarse food, gave forth waste: beings then developed organs of excretion and sexual organs; they then took different forms.”

5. “Buddhist Cosmology as Presented in the Yogācārabhūmi,” in Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding, ed. Jonathan A. Silk, p. 196. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2000.

6. “A Summary of the Mahāsaṃvartanīkathā,” in Pāsādikadānaṁ: Festschrift für Bhikkhu Pāsādika, ed. Martin Straube, et al., p. 329. Marburg: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 2009.

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“dharmakāya ceased” part 2

By David Reigle on November 30, 2021 at 8:39 pm

There was some controversy over whether there are three or four buddha-bodies. This question revolves primarily around the interpretation of the eighth chapter of Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, titled “Dharma-kāya.” The oldest available commentary, by Ārya Vimuktisena, understands this chapter to teach three kāyas, while the somewhat later commentary by Haribhadra understands this chapter to teach four kāyas. The svābhāvika-kāya spoken of in verse 1 of chapter 8 is understood by Ārya Vimuktisena to just be the dharma-kāya, simply another name for it. Haribhadra understands the svābhāvika-kāya to be distinct from the dharma-kāya, which latter he then designates as the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, the dharma body consisting of wisdom (jñāna). He takes the svābhāvika-kāya to be the true nature (dharmatā) or emptiness (śūnyatā) of the wisdom attributes (jñāna-dharma) that the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya consists of. In accordance with this, the svābhāvika-kāya could never cease, while the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya could.

The dharma-kāya, whether understood as the svābhāvika-kāya or as the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, is said in Abhisamayālaṃkāra 8.2-6 to consist of the many attributes (dharmas) of a buddha that pertain to a buddha’s unique wisdom (jñāna), such as the supernormal knowledges (abhijñā), the analytical knowledges (pratisaṃvid), the ten powers (daśa-bala), etc. Could these ever cease? Verse 8.8 says that a buddha’s wisdom from aspiration (praṇidhi-jñānam) always remains (sadā sthitam), and verse 8.11 says that a buddha is [all-]pervading (vyāpī) and permanent (nitya). Then comes a description of a buddha’s sambhoga-kāya or enjoyment body, verses 8.12-8.32, followed by a verse on a buddha’s nirmāṇa-kāya or emanation body, 8.33. This verse says that the nirmāṇa-kāya is the body that acts for the benefit of the world without interruption as long as worldly existence lasts (ā bhavāt). The first half of the next verse, 8.34, says that so also its activity (tathā karmâpi) [goes on] without interruption as long as cyclic existence lasts (ā saṃsāram). Ārya Vimuktisena takes “its” (asya) as referring the nirmāṇa-kāya from the preceding verse, while Haribhadra takes “its” as referring to the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, which was described in verses 8.2-8.11. The remaining verses of the chapter, from the second half of verse 8.34 to verse 8.40, describe the twenty-seven kinds of activity of the dharma-kāya.

For Haribhadra it is the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya and its activity that lasts as long as does cyclic existence, while for Ārya Vimuktisena it is the nirmāṇa-kāya and its activity that lasts as long as does cyclic existence. We would expect the nirmāṇa-kāya or emanation body to last only until the end of the cycle of existence, as understood by Ārya Vimuktisena. Haribhadra’s understanding that the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya is what lasts only that long is based on taking “permanent” (nitya) from verse 8.11 to mean only “as long as cyclic existence lasts” (ā saṃsāram) from verse 8.34. In his commentary on 8.11, in the section of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra on the dharma-kāya where a buddha is described as being “permanent” (nitya), he explains “permanent” as: “because, existing as a continuous series for as long as cyclic existence lasts, a Blessed One does not perish” (prabandhatayâ saṃsāram avasthānena/avasthāne ca bhagavataḥ kṣayâbhāvād). Then in his commentary on 8.34, the verse in which the phrase “as long as cyclic existence lasts” (ā saṃsāram) occurs, he confirms that this applies to the dharma-kāya: “thus, like the dharma-kāya [itself], its twenty-seven-fold activity lasts as long as does cyclic existence (evaṃ dharmakāyavad asyâ saṃsāraṃ saptaviṃśati-prakāraṃ karma). For him, this is the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, because its activity occurs on the level of conventional truth. It is the svābhāvika-kāya that describes ultimate truth.

Haribhadra’s interpretation and his four-body scheme were adopted in Tibet by the Gelugpas, while Ārya Vimuktsena’s interpretation and his three-body scheme were adopted by the Sakyapas. Tsong kha pa in his extensive commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, published in English translation as Golden Garland of Eloquence, defends Haribhadra’s interpretation of this against Ārya Vimuktisena’s. This idea might provide some support for the statement that “dharma-kāya ceased,” although I have not yet found such a statement in the Buddhist writings.

Note on sources:

John Makransky’s book, Buddhahood Embodied, is quite the most detailed study of this issue. Since his book was published in 1997, a complete English translation by Gareth Sparham of both Ārya Vimuktisena’s commentary and Haribhadra’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra has been published in four volumes, 2006-2012: Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā. In an additional four volumes, 2008-2013, Gareth Sparham has translated Tsong kha pa’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, titled Golden Garland of Eloquence, in which Tsong kha pa explains why he accepted Haribhadra’s view over Ārya Vimuktisena’s. Another English translation of most of Tsong kha pa’s commentary is found in Groundless Paths, a translation by Karl Brunnholzl of Patrul Rinpoche’s two commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, which commentaries consist entirely of literal or abridged passages from Tsong kha pa’s Golden Garland. Makransky translated the relevant material in his book, and gave plenty of context. Nonetheless, we can now see these commentary passages in the full texts that they are found in.

The references to the Sanskrit text of Haribhadra’s Āloka commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, as noted by Makransky (p. 399, note 46), are p. 918, line 11, and p. 925, lines 3-4, of Unrai Wogihara’s edition, vol. 2, which I have posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/abhisamayalamkara_aloka_vol_2_1935.pdf.

My translations given above are from these. The first of these is commenting on 8.11, and the second of these is commenting on 8.34. In the shorter Vivṛti commentary by Haribhadra, the first of these references is found on p. 108, line 1, of Koei H. Amano’s 2000 edition, Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikā-śāstra-vivṛti. It has the reading avasthāne, Tibetan bzhugs kyang, for avasthānena, agreeing with Wogihara’s variant from the Calcutta manuscript of the Āloka. The second of these references is found on pp. 114-115, having somewhat different wording.

The first of these references, commenting on 8.11, is found in Sparham’s translation of Haribhadra’s Āloka on p. 254 of vol. 4. The second of these references, commenting on 8.34, is found in Sparham’s translation on p. 264 of vol. 4. Ārya Vimuktisena’s comments on these verses are found in Sparham’s translation on pp. 83 and 97-98, respectively, of vol. 4.

Tsong kha pa’s commentary on 8.11 is found in Sparham’s translation of Golden Garland, p. 194 of vol. 4, and his commentary on 8.34 is found in Sparham’s translation, p. 225 of vol. 4.

From part 1, for the reference to the original Sanskrit of the Kāya-traya-stotra, it is quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, Mario E. Carelli edition, 1941, pp. 57-58, and Francesco Sferra edition, 2006, p. 171.

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“dharmakāya ceased”

By David Reigle on October 25, 2021 at 4:31 am

In the sample translation of verse 1 of the Book of Dzyan given by H. P. Blavatsky when retaining the foreign technical terms (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 23), we find the phrase, “Dharmakaya ceased.” This is a highly unusual idea in Buddhism, as noted by Michael Lewis and reported by Ken Small. The dharma-kāya, “dharma body” or “body of dharmas,” is a kind of ultimate in Buddhism, and we would not expect it to ever “cease.” An authoritative description of it is given in the first verse of the Kāya-traya-stotra, “Praise of the Three Bodies,” attributed to Nāgārjuna. Here is the original Sanskrit and my English translation:

yo naiko nāpy anekaḥ sva-para-hita-mahā-sampad-ādhāra-bhūto

naivābhāvo na bhāvaḥ kham iva sama-raso durvibhāvya-svabhāvaḥ |

nirlepaṃ nirvikāraṃ śivam asama-samaṃ vyāpinaṃ niṣprapañcaṃ

vande pratyātma-vedyaṃ tam aham anupamaṃ dharma-kāyaṃ jinānām ||

“What is not one and not many, is the great basis of perfect benefit for self and others, is not non-existent and not existent, is of the same taste like space, whose nature is hard to be realized, is stainless, is immutable, is quiescent, is equal to the unequaled, is [all-]pervading, is without diversification, is [only] to be known inwardly, I praise that incomparable dharma-kāya of the victors.”

So could such a thing ever cease? From the descriptions and usages of it throughout the Buddhist texts, we would think not. There is, however, a Buddhist text that speaks of the dharma-kāya coming into being or arising, which of course implies that it would also cease. The Kālacakra-tantra says that the dharma-kāya comes into being or arises from the śuddha-kāya (chap. 4, verse 107: śrī-śuddhād dharma-kāyo bhavati), or from the sahaja-kāya (chap. 5, verse 89: sahaja-tanur iyaṃ dharma-kāyo babhūva), or in the closely related Hevajra-piṇḍārtha-ṭīkā, from the svābhāvika-kāya (chap. 3, verse 22: svābhāvikāt bhavet dharma). The svābhāvika-kāya or sahaja-kāya or śuddha-kāya are all synonyms for the fourth body in the four-body scheme, as opposed to the more common three-body scheme. From this fourth body comes the dharma-kāya, the third body. From this body comes the sambhoga-kāya, the second body, and from this body comes the nirmāṇa-kāya, the first body.

This teaching may perhaps find some warrant in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, which teaches that the dharma-kāya is twofold (chap. 1, verse 145): the completely pure (sunirmala) dharma-dhātu, and its natural outcome (tan-niṣyanda). The first is only in the range of nonconceptual wisdom (avikalpa-jñāna-gocara-viṣaya) and pertains to the dharma to be realized inwardly (pratyātmam adhigama-dharmam). The second is the cause for attaining that (tat-prāpti-hetu) first kind of dharma-kāya, which cause is the teaching (deśanā) whose methods (naya) are deep (gāmbhīrya) and varied (vaicitrya). Although the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga does not describe the second kind of dharma-kāya as coming into being or arising, that it is described as the natural outcome (niṣyanda) of the first kind would fit in with the Kālacakra-tantra’s teaching of its coming into being or arising. Of course, what comes into being or arises must cease.

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By David Reigle on October 14, 2021 at 1:57 am

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

The term parinirvāṇa, sometimes incorrectly spelled paranirvāṇa in Theosophical writings, is widely used to describe the final nirvāṇa that Gautama Buddha achieved upon his death. It forms the title of scriptures in both Pali and Sanskrit that describe the events around his passing away: Mahā-paribbāna-sutta and Mahā-parinirvāṇa-sūtra (different from the Mahāyāna Mahā-parinirvāṇa-sūtra). He is regarded as having achieved nirvāṇa under the bodhi-tree many years before his passing away. For the many years that he taught after achieving enlightenment (bodhi) or nirvāṇa, it could not be said that he had entered full or complete nirvāṇa. So two kinds of nirvāṇa were distinguished in the Buddhist texts: sopadhi-śeṣa-nirvāṇa, nirvāṇa with the remainder (śeṣa) of the personal existence (upadhi), and anupadhi-śeṣa-nirvāṇa or nirupadhi-śeṣa-nirvāṇa, nirvāṇa without the remainder of the personal existence or body. The latter is what is called parinirvāṇa, the full or complete nirvāṇa that can only occur when the body passes away.

            Grammatical note: The prefix pari, here meaning full or complete, was added to nirvāṇa to make this distinction. The word is not para-nirvāṇa. Even if it was, it could not mean beyond nirvāṇa, as sometimes understood in Theosophical writings. The reason for this can be seen in the explanation of why para-brahman cannot mean beyond brahman or Brahmā, found in the entry on para-brahman.

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By David Reigle on April 26, 2021 at 3:19 am

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

The term ākāśa, now usually translated as “space,” has been understood in quite different ways in the Sanskrit texts. Its meanings range from the “sky,” to the fifth element “ether,” to a near ultimate cosmic principle, to nothing more than empty space. It occurs in the Book of Dzyan as “a shoreless sea of fire” (stanza 3, verse 7), where it is a near ultimate cosmic principle. It cannot be the ultimate cosmic principle termed “space” in the esoteric Senzar Catechism or Occult Catechism, because ākāśa is described as a radiation from this source.1 The various meanings of ākāśa found in various Indian systems of thought will first be given in brief, and then in more detail.

In common everyday usage, ākāśa typically refers to the “sky.” In somewhat more technical usage, ākāśa may refer to “ether” as the fifth of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether), much like the ether posited by science until it was largely disproved by the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887. As the fifth element, ākāśa is often joined with a word for “element,” bhūta or dhātu. Thus, bhūtākāśa, the element ākāśa, or ākāśa-dhātu, the ākāśa element. As a near ultimate cosmic principle, ākāśa may refer to the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle, such as in the non-dualistic Hindu Advaita Vedānta system. Or it may refer to a near ultimate cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, but is one among other eternal cosmic principles, such as in the pluralistic Hindu Vaiśeṣika system. As neither an element nor as a near ultimate cosmic principle, ākāśa may refer only to empty space, such as in the Buddhist Madhyamaka system.

In the Book of Dzyan as reported by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that is the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle. It is “the radiation of Mūlaprakṛiti” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 10), which is “pre-cosmic root substance,” “that aspect of the Absolute which underlies all the objective planes of Nature” (S.D. 1.15). Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, verse 7: “Bright Space Son of Dark Space . . . turns the upper into a shoreless sea of fire.”2 Commentary: “The ‘Sea of Fire’ is then the Super-Astral (i.e., noumenal) Light, the first radiation from the Root, the Mūlaprakṛiti, the undifferentiated Cosmic Substance, which becomes Astral Matter” (S.D. 1.75). “Mūlaprakṛiti, . . . the primordial substance, . . . is the source from which Ākāśa radiates” (S.D. 1.35). It is defined by Blavatsky: “Ākāśa—the astral light—can be defined in a few words; it is the Universal Soul, the Matrix of the Universe, the ‘Mysterium Magnum’ from which all that exists is born by separation or differentiation. It is the cause of existence; it fills all the infinite Space; is Space itself, in one sense, or both its Sixth and Seventh principles” (SD 2.511-512).” Thus, as summarized by Blavatsky: “The whole range of physical phenomena proceeds from the Primary of Ether—Ākāśa, as dual-natured Ākāśa proceeds from undifferentiated Chaos, so-called, the latter being the primary aspect of Mūlaprakṛiti, the root-matter and the first abstract Idea one can form of Parabrahman” (S.D. 1.536).

In the Hindu Vedānta system, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that is the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle, brahman, the ultimate reality. All schools of Vedānta are based on the Upaniṣads. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.1.1 says: “From that [brahman], verily, from this self [ātman], ākāśa arose; from ākāśa, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, plants, from plants, food; from food, the person” (brahma . . . tasmād vā etasmād ātmana ākāśaḥ sambhūtaḥ | ākāśād vāyuḥ | vāyor agniḥ | agner āpaḥ | adbhyaḥ pṛthivī | pṛthivyā oṣadhayaḥ | oṣadhībhyo annam | annāt puruṣaḥ). Yet there are passages in the Vedas and Upaniṣads in which ākāśa (or the sometimes synonymous vyoman) is used to designate brahman, the ultimate reality. Thus, the next most authoritative Vedānta text, the Brahma-sūtras, says that brahman is ākāśā (1.1.22), followed by saying that brahman is prāṇa (1.1.23), and brahman is jyotis, “light” (1.1.24), the commentators adding that this ākāśā must be distinguished from ākāśa as an element (bhūta-ākāśa). However, this text is understood as saying only that this ākāśa is brahman in one sense. Since ākāśa describes an aspect of brahman it may be used to designate brahman. This is made clear where Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.6.2 says “brahman whose body is ākāśa ” (ākāśa-śarīram brahma).

Advaita Vedānta is the non-dualistic school of Vedānta, teaching that brahman, the ultimate reality, and ātman, the self, are one. Its teachers agree with the Taittirīya Upaniṣad passage saying that from brahman, from ātman, arose ākāśa. Its founding father Śaṅkarācārya wrote a small treatise called Pañcīkaraṇa, on which his close disciple Sureśvara wrote a verse commentary (Vārttika), saying (verse 3) “from that [param brahman] arose ākāśa” (param brahma . . . tasmād ākāśam utpannam). In a non-dual system, nothing can actually arise from the one brahman as separate from it. So ākāśa arises only by way of the coming into play of māyā, the power of illusion or illusory appearance, a power possessed by brahman. In accordance with this, the later writer Vidyāraṇya in his classic Pañcadaśī wrote (chapter 13, verse 67): “The first modification [of māyā] is ākāśa” (māyāṃ . . . ādyo vikāra ākāśaḥ). In Advaita Vedānta, the whole universe is a māyā or illusory appearance superimposed on the one brahman. Nonetheless, in this sense, ākāśa is here understood as the first thing to emanate from brahman, the ultimate reality.

In the Hindu Vaiśeṣika system, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, but is one among other eternal cosmic principles. It is one of nine realities or ultimate substances (dravya): earth, water, fire, air, ākāśa, time (kāla), direction (dik), souls (ātman), and minds (manas) (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 1.1.4 or 1.1.5).3 Like the other eight cosmic principles, ākāśa is eternal or permanent (nitya) (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 2.1.28). It is unitary or one, not many (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 2.1.29); that is, it does not consist of ultimate atoms (paramāṇu) as do the four elements, earth, water, fire, and air. Nonetheless, it is an element (bhūta), one of the five elements along with these four. It is all-pervading or omnipresent (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 7.1.27 or 7.1.22). As such, ākāśa provides the medium in which the other four eternal elements in the pluralistic Vaiśeṣika system can combine to produce the visible cosmos.

In the Jaina system, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, but is one among other eternal cosmic principles. It is one of six realities or ultimate substances (dravya): souls (jīva), medium of motion (dharma), medium of rest (adharma), ākāśa, matter (pudgala), and time (kāla). These six cosmic principles are eternal. Here, ākāśa is not one of the elements, earth, water, fire, and air. Rather, it is the principle whose function is to provide room for or be a receptacle for (avagāha) the other five cosmic principles (Tattvārthādhigama-sūtra 5.18). As such, it is the “world-space” (loka-ākāśa). Beyond the world-space is “infinite space” (ananta-ākāśa), in which nothing exists (Pañcāstikāya-sāra, verses 97-103 or 90-96). Yet, as one of the six realities or ultimate substances or cosmic principles, ākāśa is real, something rather than nothing.

In the early Buddhist Abhidharma teachings as systematized by the Sarvāstivādins of Kashmir, called the Vaibhāṣikas, ākāśa is one of three uncompounded or unconditioned dharmas among the seventy-five dharmas that make up the cosmos. Besides uncompounded ākāśa, defined as anāvṛti, “that which does not obstruct” (Abhidharma-kośa 1.5d), there is the ākāśa element, ākāśa-dhātu, defined as a chidra, a “hole or cavity or delimited space” (Abhidharma-kośa 1.28a). The ākāśa element is not counted as a dharma, while the uncompounded ākāśa is. The dharmas are real or really existent (dravyasat), whether the seventy-two compounded (saskta) dharmas or the three uncompounded (asaskta) dharmas, since a single ultimate reality is not posited. As one of the three uncompounded or unconstructed dharmas, along with two kinds of cessation (nirodha), i.e., nirvāṇa, ākāśa was not produced by anything else. It is omnipresent (sarvagata) and eternal or permanent (nitya). To show that ākāśa is something real and not nothing more than empty space, as it was understood by their co-religionist Sautrāntikas, the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins cite what Gautama Buddha said to a Brahmin inquirer in this scriptural passage: “On what, Gautama sir, is earth supported? Earth, O Brahmin, is supported on the water disk. On what, Gautama sir, is the water disk supported? It is supported on air. On what, Gautama sir, is air supported? It is supported on ākāśa. On what, Gautama sir, is ākāśa supported? You go too far, great Brahmin; you go too far, great Brahmin. Akāśa, O Brahmin, is unsupported, is without a support.” (Abhidharma-kośa-vyākhyā on chapter 1, verse 5, at end).4 Moreover, they say that ākāśa is all that remains during the ages (kalpa) after the world is destroyed (Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya on chapter 3, verse 90). Thus, in the pluralistic Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma system, ākāśa is an uncompounded, eternal or permanent cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, yet it is not the ultimate reality.

The distinction between ākāśa as an uncompounded dharma and ākāśa as an element is not always maintained, like it is in the Abhidharma-kośa. For example, the Pit-putra-samāgama-sūtra quoted in the Śikṣā-samuccaya (Bendall edition, p. 249) describes the ākāśa element (ākāśa-dhātu) as indestructible (akaya), stable (sthira), unmoving (acala), and like the uncompounded nirvāṇa element (asaskta nirvāṇa-dhātu), as all-pervading (sarvatra-anugata). This description is clearly of the uncompounded ākāśa, yet it is called the ākāśa element (ākāśa-dhātu). The reason for this is that the term dhātu, used in the Abhidharma-kośa and elsewhere to distinguish ākāśa as an element, is not co-extensive with the more specific term for the elements. The four elements, earth, water, fire, and air, are termed the “great elements” (mahā-bhūta). So it is possible for ākāśa to be a dhātu, yet not a mahā-bhūta. Here in the Pit-putra-samāgama-sūtra, even nirvāṇa is called a dhātu.

In the Mahāyāna Buddhist Yogācāra system, ākāśa is one of six or eight uncompounded or unconditioned dharmas among the hundred dharmas that make up the cosmos.5 As such, it is the same as the uncompounded ākāśa taught by the Sarvāstivadins, described above. That is, it is an uncompounded, eternal or permanent cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, yet it is not the ultimate reality.

In the Mahāyāna Buddhist Madhyamaka system, ākāśa is the mere empty space that things are within and that is within things, such as the space in a room. The Madhyamaka system’s founding father Nāgārjuna says in his Ratnāvalī, chapter 1, verse 99ab: “Because it is merely the absence of form (rūpa), ākāśa is merely a name” (rūpasyâbhāva-mātratvād ākāśaṃ nāma-mātrakam).6 Nāgarjuna’s spiritual son Āryadeva in his Caryā-melāpaka-pradīpa tells us that ākāśa is not an element, and that its function is to provide room for all existing things (ākāśaṃ . . . na mahā-bhūtam . . . avakāśa-dānāt ākāśaṃ sarva-bhāvānām).7 Commenting on Āryadeva’s Catuḥ-śataka (chapter 9, verse 5), the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka writer Candrakīrti says that ākāśa is merely a name (nāmadheya-mātra) of something that does not really exist (avastusat), a nothing (akicana).8 Since Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka is the prevailing view in Tibetan Buddhism, ākāśa is understood in the same way there. Tsong kha pa, founder of the dominant Gelugpa order, says in his Legs bshad gser phreng that ākāśa has no inherent nature (svabhāva) and describes it as “a mere representation of a mere absence of obstructive contact or impediment.”9 Thus, in the Buddhist Madhyamaka system, ākāśa is nothing more than empty space.

In the early Buddhist Sautrāntika system, ākāśa is nothing more than empty space, same as in the presumably later Madhyamaka system. A line from the Jñāna-sāra-samuccaya, verse 23, sums up the Sautrāntika view of ākāśa, saying that it is “equal to the son of a childless woman” (vandhyā-suta-sama vyoma). This is a common metaphor for something that does not exist. As reported in the Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya on 2.55d, the Sautrāntikas define ākāśa as not real (adravya), not an existent thing (bhāva) like form (rūpa), sensation (vedanā), etc. It is the mere absence of the tangible (spraṣṭavya-abhāva-mātra), like not finding an obstacle or resistance (pratighāta) in the dark.

In the early Buddhist Theravāda system in its current form, ākāśa (Pali: ākāsa) is mere empty space.  When distinguished as the ākāsa element (ākāsa-dhātu), it refers to the mere empty space in openings, such as internally in the ear, or externally in doorways.10 It is not one of the great elements (mahā-bhūta), earth, water, fire, and air. It is merely an abstract idea, a conceptual construct (paññatti-mattā).11 This is in contradistinction to the dhammas, which are real things, being established by their inherent nature (sabhāva-siddha). Since ākāsa is not even a dhamma/dharma here, it is certainly not an uncompounded dhamma/dharma, as it is in the early Buddhist Sarvāstivāda system. The Theravāda system recognizes only one uncompounded dhamma/dharma (Pali: asakhata dhamma), namely, nirvāṇa (Pali: nibbāna). Outside of the Theravāda canon there is a Pali text, the Milinda-pañha, that says there are two things that do not arise from karma (Pali: kamma), nor from a cause (hetu), nor from physical change (utu): ākāsa and nibbāna.12 But this is not mainstream Theravāda.13  

As may be seen from the foregoing, ākāśa in the Book of Dzyan is like ākāśa in the Hindu Advaita Vedānta system. Both the Book of Dzyan and Advaita Vedānta are non-dualistic. In both, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that is the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle.


1. Space is defined in the esoteric Senzar Catechism (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 9), or the Occult Catechism (S.D., vol. 1, p. 11), or the esoteric catechism (S.D., vol. 1, p. 35). In this last place Blavatsky is commenting on the first verse of the first stanza from the “Book of Dzyan.” There the eternal parent space is described as being wrapped in her ever invisible robes. These robes are said to stand for the noumenon of undifferentiated cosmic matter, and this is said to be called mūla-prakti. This is described as “the source from which ākāśa radiates.” Specifically, ākāśa is said to be “the first radiation from the Root, the Mūlaprakṛiti, the undifferentiated Cosmic Substance, which becomes Astral Matter” (S.D. 1.75). Hence, “space” cannot be the translation of ākāśa here.

2. Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, verse 7: “Behold, oh Lanoo! The radiant child of the two, the unparalleled refulgent glory: Bright Space Son of Dark Space, which emerges from the depths of the great dark waters. It is Oeaohoo the younger, the * * * He shines forth as the son; he is the blazing Divine Dragon of Wisdom; the One is Four, and Four takes to itself Three,* and the Union produces the Sapta, in whom are the seven which become the Tridasa (or the hosts and the multitudes). Behold him lifting the veil and unfurling it from east to west. He shuts out the above, and leaves the below to be seen as the great illusion. He marks the places for the shining ones, and turns the upper into a shoreless sea of fire, and the one manifested into the great waters.”

3. The verse numbers as first given are from the Sanskrit edition and English translation of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras prepared by Anantalal Thakur, published in Origin and Development of the Vaiśeṣika System, 2003, pp. 24-121. They are followed by the verse numbers as found in the editions and translations of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras as commented on by Śaṅkara-miśra. Thakur’s is by far the most definitive edition and translation available today. It is based primarily on the readings found in the anonymous commentary that he published in 1957 and found in the text as commented on by Candrānanda that was published in 1961. It completely supersedes the other editions, which had long been the standard because they were the only ones available.

4. pṛthivī bho gautama kutra pratiṣṭhitā | pṛthivī brāhmaṇa ap-maṇḍale pratiṣṭhitā | ap-maṇḍalam bho gautama kva pratiṣṭhitam | vāyau pratiṣṭhitam | vāyur bho gautama kva pratiṣṭhitaḥ | ākāśe pratiṣṭhitaḥ | ākāśam bho gautama kutra pratiṣṭhitam | atisarasi mahā-brāhmaṇâtisarasi mahā-brāhmaṇa | ākāśam brāhmaṇâpratiṣṭhitam anālambanam |.

This same teaching is found in the Mahāyāna text, Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, chapter 1, verse 55:

pṛthivy-ambau jalaṃ vāyau vāyur vyomni pratiṣṭhitaḥ |
apratiṣṭhitam ākāśaṃ vāyv-ambu-kṣiti-dhātuṣu || 1.55 ||

5. The Abhidharma-samuccaya, Pradhan edition, p. 12, gives eight uncompounded dharmas, including three kinds of tathatā, “suchness.” The *Mahāyāna-śata-dharma-vidyā-mukha or *Mahāyāna-śata-dharma-prakāśa-mukha-śāstra gives six uncompounded dharmas, counting only one tathatā. Otherwise the list of uncompounded dharmas is the same.

6. This verse is quoted in Candrakīrti’s Prasanna-padā commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā, chapter 21, verse 4, Louis de la Vallée Poussin’s edition, 1903-1913, p. 413, line 11.

7. From Āryadeva’s Lamp that Integrates the Practices, edited by Christian K. Wedemeyer, 2007, p. 357.

8. Candrakīrti’s Catuśataka-ṭīka, on verse number 202 in the 1914 edition by Haraprasād Śhāstrī, p. 483; verse number 205 or chapter 9, verse 5, in later editions.

9. Translation by Gareth Sparham, Golden Garland of Eloquence, vol. 1, 2008, p. 466.

10. The Dhammasagai, Pali Text Society edition by Edward Muller, paragraph 638, English translation as A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, by Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids, 2nd and 3rd editions, pp. 177-178; and its Atthasālinī commentary, Pali Text Society edition by Edward Muller, paragraph 647, English translation as The Expositor, by Pe Maung Tin, p. 425. The Vibhaga, Pali Text Society edition by Mrs. Rhys Davids, p. 262, English translation as The Book of Analysis, by Paṭhamakyaw Ashin Thiṭṭila (Seṭṭhila), paragraph 605, and its Sammoha-Vinodanī commentary, Pali Text Society edition by A. P. Buddhadatta Thero, p. 72, English translation as The Dispeller of Illusion, by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, vol. 1, pp. 84-85.

11. “Time and Space: The Abhidhamma Perspective,” by  Y. Karunadasa, Journal of the Centre for Buddhist Studies, Sri Lanka, vol. 2, 2004, pp. 144-166.

12. The Milindapañho, Pali Text Society edition by V. Trenckner, pp. 268, 271, English translation as Milinda’s Questions, by I. B. Horner, vol. 2, pp. 86-87, 90. See also: Pali, pp. 387-388, English, vol. 2, pp. 261-262, describing the characteristics of ākāsa.

13. In The Buddhist Catechism, written by Henry S. Olcott on behalf of the Theravāda Buddhists, paragraph 327 (in the forty-fourth ed.) says: “everything has come out of Ākāsha, in obedience to a law of motion inherent in it.” In fact, this is a Theosophical doctrine, not a Theravāda doctrine. For some reason, the Theravāda teachers who reviewed the catechism at Olcott’s request before its publication did not catch this. Unfortunately, this was quoted by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, pp. 635-636). Also given there was a paraphrase of the statement that immediately preceded it in The Buddhist Catechism, “The Buddha taught that two things are causeless, viz., ‘Ākāsha’ and ‘Nirvāna’,” saying “they teach that only ‘two things are [objectively] eternal, namely Ākāśa and Nirvāṇa.’” This is the teaching of the Milinda-pañha, but is not the teaching of Theravāda Buddhism, let alone the teaching of Buddhism in general.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panchen Lama, Book of Dzyan, and Kālacakra

By David Reigle on May 31, 2020 at 11:58 pm

            The “Book of Dzyan” is said to be “the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te”:

“The Book of Dzyan . . . is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers.” (“The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan,” H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422)

These fourteen volumes of commentaries are said to be “in the charge of the Teshu-Lama of Shigatse,” i.e., the Panchen Lama:

“Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed ‘The Popularised Version’ of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds, and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand—with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World—contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences. These, it appears, are kept secret and apart, in the charge of the Teshu-Lama of Shigatse.” (H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422)

The known “Books of Kiu-te,” i.e., rgyud-sde, are the Buddhist tantras. It is further said that these “must be read with a key to their meaning, and that key can only be found in the Commentaries”:

“The Books of Kiu-te are comparatively modern, having been edited within the last millennium, whereas, the earliest volumes of the Commentaries are of untold antiquity, some fragments of the original cylinders having been preserved. With the exception that they explain and correct some of the too fabulous, and to every appearance, grossly-exaggerated accounts in the Books of Kiu-te—properly so-called—the Commentaries have little to do with these. They stand in relation to them as the Chaldaeo-Jewish Kabalah stands to the Mosaic Books. . . . No student, unless very advanced, would be benefited by the perusal of those exoteric volumes. They must be read with a key to their meaning, and that key can only be found in the Commentaries.” (H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, pp. 422-424)

            The first volume of the known “Books of Kiu-te” contains the Kālacakra-tantra. Tashi-lhunpo monastery at Shigatse had one of the few Kālacakra colleges in Tibet. It was the Ninth (sometimes called the Sixth) Panchen Lama, Lozang Chokyi Nyima (1883-1937), who gave the first large public Kālacakra Initiations outside of Tibetan Buddhist lands, thus starting something that has been so widely continued by the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama. After leaving Tibet in late 1923, the Ninth Panchen Lama gave nine large public Kālacakra Initiations. The first five were given in Mongolia, the next two in China, and the last two in Eastern Tibet.1 The two given in China, outside of Tibetan Buddhist lands, were very influential. Photos of these were taken by Westerners who attended, and have been published.2 This was the first time since the appearance of the Kālacakra teachings in India a millennium ago and their transference to Tibet shortly thereafter that anyone outside of these lands had access to these teachings.

            The Kālacakra teachings are full of abstruse symbolism and obscure statements, which could well be regarded as blinds. Although called exoteric in relation to the fourteen volumes of secret commentaries, they have always been considered esoteric in India and Tibet. According to the information given by Blavatsky, they would be directly based on the secret commentaries, and thus would be esoteric in that sense. The Panchen Lamas followed Indian and Tibetan tradition in considering them esoteric. No doubt many students would welcome having a key to their meaning, as said to only be found in the secret commentaries.

            The first installment of teachings said to be brought out from the secret commentaries was given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. She had made contact with teachers associated with a secret school, said by her to be “attached to the private retreat of the Teshu-Lama,” i.e., the Panchen Lama:

“. . . Tsong-Kha-pa. This great Tibetan Reformer of the fourteenth century, . . . is the founder of the secret School near Shigatse, attached to the private retreat of the Teshu-Lama.” (H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 425)

It is not clear whether the “private retreat” of the Panchen Lama is the same as his private residence. As seen in the post, “The Kālacakra College at Tashi-lhunpo” (April 30, 2020), the Panchen Lama “built a new house for the 22-foot square Kalacakra mandala (dkyil ‘khor) at his residence,” and the Kālacakra maṇḍala was constructed there out of colored sand every year, along with the accompanying Kālacakra ritual performed by him:

“Panchen Rinpoche built a new house for the 22-foot square Kalacakra mandala (dkyil ‘khor) at his residence. That was the biggest Dus’kor mandala in Tibet. During his time, he (Panchen Rinpoche) built that 22-foot square mandala of dultson (rdul tshon) [i.e., sand] every year and did the Dus’kor ritual. From that time onward the Dus’kor Da-tsang followed the same up to 1959.”

            The movement for the spread of the Kālacakra teachings outside of Tibetan Buddhist lands was started by the Ninth Panchen Lama four or five decades after Blavatsky’s time. Only in the last few decades have these teachings become known throughout the world, thanks to the many Kālacakra Initiations given by the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama and other Tibetan lamas. The stage has now been set for some of the keys to these teachings to come out from the secret commentaries referred to by Blavatsky.


1. Information about the nine Kālacakra Initiations given by the Ninth Panchen Lama after his departure from Tibet can be found in: Biographies of the Tibetan Spiritual Leaders: Panchen Erdenis, by Ya Hanzhang, translated by Chen Guansheng and Li Peizhu, pp. 266, 271, 274, 283-284, 295, and 296 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994); and in: The Ninth Panchen Lama (1883-1937): A Life at the Crossroads of Sino-Tibetan Relations, by Fabienne Jagou, translated by Rebecca Bissett Buechel, pp. 65-74, and summarized in note 16, p. 259 (Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, and Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2011).

2. A photo of the Kālacakra maṇḍala taken by Ferdinand Lessing at the Kālacakra Initiation given in Peking (now Beijing) in 1932 can be found in: The Buddhist Tantras: Light on Indo-Tibetan Esotericism, by Alex Wayman, p. 80 (see pp. xii, 63), New York: Samuel Weiser, 1973. Photos taken by Gordon Enders at the Kālacakra Initiation given in Hangchow (Hangzhou) in 1934, including one of the Kālacakra maṇḍala, can be found in: Nowhere Else in the World, by Gordon B. Enders and Edward Anthony, pp. 311, 321, 325 (see pp. 303, 322), New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1935.

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The Kālacakra College at Tashi-lhunpo

By David Reigle on April 30, 2020 at 9:53 pm

            The Panchen Lamas, according to H. P. Blavatsky, were closely connected with the Theosophical Mahatmas. She says that the Panchen Lamas “are high initiates” (Theosophical Glossary, under “Panchen Rimboche”), something that Tibetans would not doubt. So what did the Panchen Lamas teach? Naturally, most of what they taught was standard Tibetan Buddhism. A text that is memorized and recited every day by most Gelugpas is the Bla ma mchod pa’i cho ga, the “Procedure for Offering to the Lama,” a guru-yoga practice. It was written by the first or fourth Panchen Lama, Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1570-1662). He was the first Panchen Lama to be given the title Panchen Lama, so has often been called the first Panchen Lama. However, three previous incarnations were recognized and retroactively called Panchen Lamas, so he is called the fourth Panchen Lama by his own monastery, Tashi-lhunpo.

            Beyond standard Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lamas specialized in the Kālacakra teachings. The third or sixth Panchen Lama, Blo bzang dpal ldan ye shes (1738-1780), established one of the few Kālacakra colleges in Tibet at his Tashi-lhunpo monastery. The Kālacakra college monks would perform the Kālacakra ceremony every year, in which the extensive Kālacakra sand maṇḍala was constructed. Very little is known about the Kālacakra college and its course of study. So in 1982 I requested information about the Kālacakra college of Tashi-lhunpo from the re-established Tashi-lhunpo monastery in south India. At that time, there were about 20 older monks there who had been at Tashi-lhunpo in Tibet prior to 1959. Based on what they remembered, I received two accounts of this, hand-written in English by Tenzin (no other name given), of the Office of the Chodhi Tashi Lhunpo Cultural Society, Tibetan Settlement, P.O. Bylakuppe, Mysore State, India. This information should be preserved and made available. So here follow these two accounts. The Tibetan words in parentheses were given in Tibetan script in the original accounts. I have added only a few words in brackets.

April 21, 1982:

“We received your letter dated 26.3.82. You are interested in history of Kalacakra College of Tashi Lhunpo. Here in our present Tashi Lhunpo monastery there are only one or two monks who attended Kalacakra College when it was functioning in Tibet. You can know textbooks, duration [of course of study], from our following brief history of Kalacakra College of Tashi Lhunpo.


“It was about two hundred and thirty-eight years from right now that Kalacakra College of Tashi Lhunpo was established by the Sixth Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe. But the number of college students was limited. There were only twenty-five student monks because of twenty-five Rigden Rishis.

“First they attend Tantric College of Tashi Lhunpo. There they learn the four major parts of tantric [practice], voice or tune, etc. (‘don rta dbyangs).

“Then they attend the Kalacakra College. First they memorise (‘dus ‘khor mngon rtogs mkhas sgrub zhal lung) orally and give oral test in front of Dus’kor teacher and Auze (dbu mdzad). After that they memorise Dus’kor Bumdup, Dunket, Wangchok, and Monlam Shijod orally respectively. Side by side they learn dontayang, garthik (gar thig). In short, they learn inner, outer and other Kalacakra. They gave much time to study Dus’kor delchen and Khedup Dus’kor tikchen, because these two are the most important textbooks.

“Duration: In Tibet they spend the rest of their lives in studying about Dus’kor [Kalacakra]. We guess that course will take at least 8 or 9 years to complete.

“At present, we have no such college. We hope to have it in the future.”

May 29, 1982:

“We write further information on Dus’kor Da-tsang [Kalacakra College] and its teachers or abbots as you are interested.

“It was Panchen Choeki Nyima who made the previous Dus’kor wide at the Kunsek Palace (kun gzigs pho brang) in Tashi Lhunpo approximately in 1815. Panchen Rinpoche built a new house for the 22-foot square Kalacakra mandala (dkyil ‘khor) at his residence. That was the biggest Dus’kor mandala in Tibet. During his time, he (Panchen Rinpoche) built that 22-foot square mandala of dultson (rdul tshon) [i.e., sand] every year and did the Dus’kor ritual. From that time onward the Dus’kor Da-tsang followed the same up to 1959. There were (1) Khachen Jhedung Wangyal; (2) Dungrampa Sidthar Wangdu; (3) Khachen Jhedung Dawa; (4) Ngulchu Rinpoche; (5) Aali Rinpoche; (6) Dungrampa Sidthar respectively as Dus’kor teachers or abbots (which present older monks know). In 1957, Dungrampa Sidthar was teacher of Dus’kor Da-tsang.

“Moreover, Panchen Choekyi Nyima established Dus’kors in Jhang Ngamrim (byang ngam rim) monastery, Shang Dechen Rabgye (shang bde chen rab rgyas), Thopgyal Gaden Rabgye, Gyaltse Dongtse Chodhi (rgyal rtse grong rtse chos sde) monasteries.

“Gyalwa Jampal Gyatso, the VIII Dalai Lama, came to visit Tashi Lhunpo and on the way back His Holiness took Dus’kor, Lhamo’s Doechen (lha mo’i mdos chen), Gutor cham (dgu gtor chams), and established them in Namgyal Da-tsang, the Da-tsang of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

“Here, we are nearly seventy, 20 old and 50 young monks. Our main income is what we get from fields. It is these young monks who do work on the fields as well as studies. In these days, they have Chochud Lozen in the morning, English-Tibetan class from 10 A.M. to 12, and debating class in the evening when there is no sort of work. We can establish (sngags pa grwa tshang) [Tantric College] within four years (if we get more facilities such as more time to study and less work). After that  we can establish Dus’kor Da-tsang. So, we have to wait more years.

Tashi Delek.”

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The Panchen Lamas and the Theosophical Mahatmas

By David Reigle on March 31, 2020 at 11:33 pm

            Several references to the relation between the two main Theosophical Mahatmas and the then Panchen Lama are found scattered in the Theosophical writings. Some years ago, Daniel Caldwell collected these and sent them to a few friends. The quotations given below are taken from this (adding one by Boris de Zirkoff). Note that the Panchen Lama was usually referred to in these writings as the Teshu Lama, i.e., the Tashi Lama, after his monastery at Shigatse, Tashi-lhunpo.

“There is beyond the Himalayas a nucleus of these Adepts, of various nationalities, and the Teshu Lama knows them, and they act together, and some of them are with him and yet remain unknown in their true character even to the average lamas—who are ignorant fools mostly. My Master [Morya] and KH [Koot Hoomi] and several others I know personally are there, coming and going, and they are all in communication with Adepts in Egypt and Syria, and even in Europe.” (H. P. Blavatsky, letter to Franz Hartmann, 1886, published in The Path, March 1896, p. 370)

“. . . my venerated GURU DEVA [Koot Hoomi] who holds a well-known public office in Tibet, under the TESHU LAMA.” (Damodar K. Mavalankar, Dâmodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, compiled and annotated by Sven Eek, 1965, p. 340)

“. . . the Tashi Lama (whose Master of Ceremonies one of our own revered Mahatmas is).” (Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Fourth Series, p. 6)

“Koot Hoomi . . . is the relic-bearer to the Teshu-Lama, an office in Thibet resembling that—say of Cardinal-Vicar, in the Roman Catholic Church. . . .” (draft copy of the “First Report” of the Society for Psychical Research on H. P. Blavatsky, October 1884, p. 16)

“Master M.: Was (or is) a high official with the Teshu Lama in Tibet, a hutuhtu, or ‘bearer (or carrier) of sacred things,’ in the sense of relics. So says Vera P. Zhelihovsky [Blavatsky’s sister], who tells of having heard this from HPB [H. P. Blavatsky] many times. See her words in Russkoy Obozreniye, VI, Nov., 1891, p. 292, footnote.” (Boris de Zirkoff, Blavatskaiana, Historical Index, vol. 3)

The nearest thing to the office described above would probably be the chöpön (mchod dpon), “head/chief/master/overseer of offerings/worship/ceremonies/religious services,” who could thus be called the master of ceremonies. Daniel Caldwell went on to note this passage from the Mahatma Letters:

“In about a week—new religious ceremonies, new glittering bubbles to amuse the babes with, and once more I will be busy night and day, morning, noon, and evening.” (The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, letter #16, 2nd edition, p. 116; 3rd edition, p. 113; chronological edition letter #68, p. 203)

This letter is undated. Daniel determined, by way of a reference in this letter saying “Olcott is on his way to Lanka,” that it was probably written June 27 or 28, 1882, since Olcott left Bombay for Sri Lanka on June 27 and arrived in Colombo on June 30.

Daniel then found a reference to a major ceremony that was held at Tashi-lhunpo starting on June 30, 1882. It is from Tibetan Buddhism: With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by L. Austine Waddell, 1895, p. 508:

“During this feast many of the monks encamp in tents, and colossal pictures are displayed. Thus at Tashi-lhunpo the pictures are hung from the great tower named Kiku. At this festival, held there on June 30th, 1882, Lāma Ugyen Gyats’o informs us, a great picture of Dipaṁkara Buddha was displayed about a hundred feet long, in substitution for pictures of the previous days. Next day it was replaced by one of Ṣākya Muni and the past Buddhas, and the following day by one of Maitreya (Jam-pa).”

This is certainly suggestive of the Mahatma K.H. being there and acting as master of ceremonies. Of course, the officials in the Panchen Lama’s court were all Tibetans, while the Mahatma K.H. is said to be an Indian, specifically a Kashmiri. More on this in another post.

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The Germ in the Root

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

            “The Occult Catechism contains the following questions and answers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abhisamayālaṃkāra by Maitreya, chapter 1, verse 39.

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

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

            The germ is of two kinds:

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

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

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

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

Ratnagotravibhāga, chapter 1, verse 149.

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

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

            The germ has three synonyms.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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The One Element

By David Reigle on January 31, 2020 at 11:55 pm

“However, you will have to bear in mind (a) that we recognize but one element in Nature (whether spiritual or physical) outside which there can be no Nature since it is Nature itself, and which as the Akasa pervades our solar system, every atom being part of itself, pervades throughout space and is space in fact, . . . (b) that consequently spirit and matter are one, being but a differentiation of states not essences, . . . (c) that our notions of “cosmic matter” are diametrically opposed to those of western science. Perchance if you remember all this we will succeed in imparting to you at least the elementary axioms of our esoteric philosophy more correctly than heretofore.” (The Mahatma Letters, letter #11, 3rd ed., p. 63; chron. ed. letter #65, p. 168).

“Yes, as described in my letter—there is but one element and it is impossible to comprehend our system before a correct conception of it is firmly fixed in one’s mind. You must therefore pardon me if I dwell on the subject longer than really seems necessary. But unless this great primary fact is firmly grasped the rest will appear unintelligible. This element then is the—to speak metaphysically—one sub-stratum or permanent cause of all manifestations in the phenomenal universe.” (The Mahatma Letters, letter #15, 3rd ed., p. 89; chron. ed. letter #67, p. 182).

The one element, Sanskrit eka-dhātu, Tibetan khams gcig.

From the commentary on Ratnagotravibhāga, chapter 1, verse 12, E. H. Johnston edition, p. 13, followed by my English translation:

All because they do not know and do not see the one element.

vibandhaḥ punar abhūta-vastu-nimittârambaṇa-manasikāra-pūrvikā rāga-dveṣa-mohôtpattir anuśaya-paryutthāna-yogāt | anuśayato hi bālānām abhūtam atat-svabhāvaṃ vastu śubhâkāreṇa vā nimittaṃ bhavati rāgôtpattitaḥ | pratighâkāreṇa vā dveṣôtpattitaḥ | avidyâkāreṇa vā mohôtpattitaḥ | tac ca rāga-dveṣa-moha-nimittam ayathā-bhutam ārambaṇaṃ kurvatām ayoniśo-manasikāraś cittaṃ paryādadāti | teṣām ayoniśo-manasikāra-paryavasthita-cetasāṃ rāga-dveṣa-mohānām anyatama-kleśa-samudācāro bhavati | te tato nidānaṃ kāyena vācā manasā rāga-jam api karmâbhisaṃskurvanti | dveṣa-jam api moha-jam api karmâbhisaṃskurvanti | karmataś ca punar-janmânubandha eva bhavati | evam eṣāṃ bālānām anuśayavatāṃ nimitta-grāhiṇām ārambaṇa-caritānām ayoniśo-manasikāra-samudācārāt kleśa-samudayaḥ | kleśa-samudāyāt karma-samudayaḥ | karma-samudayāj janma-samudayo bhavati | sa punar eṣa sarvâkāra-kleśa-karma-janma-saṃkleśo bālānām ekasya dhātor yathā-bhūtam ajñānād adarśanāc ca pravartate |

“The obstruction [to seeing reality, tattva] is the arising of attraction, aversion, and delusion [the three main “afflictions,” or defilements, kleśa], due to the activation of a latent tendency toward the defilements, preceded by mental engagement or taking to mind as an object of thought the outward appearance of a thing, not as it really is. For, due to a latent tendency toward the defilements on the part of the spiritually immature, a thing not as it really is, i.e., not having the inherent nature of that thing, becomes an outward appearance in the form of something beautiful, due to the arising of attraction. Or in the form of something repugnant, due to the arising of aversion. Or in the form of something wrongly known, due to the arising of delusion. And for those taking as an object of thought that outward appearance resulting from attraction, aversion, and delusion, not as the thing really is, the incorrect mental engagement takes over the mind. For those whose minds are taken over by incorrect mental engagement, there comes about the manifestation or operation of any one of the defilements: attraction, aversion, or delusion. Because of that, they perform actions by body, speech, and mind, born from attraction. Also born from aversion, also born from delusion, they perform actions. And due to actions, there certainly comes about the succession of rebirths. In this way for these spiritually immature people, who have latent tendencies toward the defilements, who apprehend outward appearances, who go with them as objects of thought, due to the operation of incorrect mental engagement the defilements arise. Due to the arising of defilements, actions arise. Due to the arising of actions, (re-)births arise. This very defilement by all kinds of defilements, actions, and (re-)births occurs for the spiritually immature because they do not know and do not see the one element as it really is.”

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The One Mind

By David Reigle on December 21, 2019 at 11:30 pm

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

“Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan— . . . Thus, were one to translate into English, using only the substantives and technical terms as employed in one of the Tibetan and Senzar versions, Verse 1 would read as follows : . . . alone Tho-og Yinsin in night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna), . . .” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 23).

yinsin, yin-sin, yin sin, yih-sin, yi-hsin. The word is printed as Yinsin in The Secret Doctrine 1.23; Yin-Sin in SD Würzburg, p. 143, and in SD 1.635; Yin Sin in Mahatma Letter #15 2nd ed.; Yin-sin in ML #15 3rd ed. and chron. ed.; Yih-sin in ML #59 2nd ed.; Yi-hsin in ML #59 3rd ed. and chron. ed. This Chinese word was adopted from yih-sin in Samuel Beal’s 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, pp. 373, 393, 98 fn. (the change of yih-sin to yin-sin is an obvious scribal or typographical error, mistaking an “h” for an “n”). Beal’s early spelling came to be standardized as i-hsin in the once commonly used Wade-Giles system of writing Chinese words in Roman letters, and as yixin in the now more standard pinyin system. Beal understood it as the “universally diffused essence” (pp. 11, 12, 13, 14, 29, 143-144, 340, 352, 373), and the “one form of existence” (p. 373). These phrases were used in the Mahatma letters to define it.

            This Chinese term translates the Sanskrit term eka-citta, meaning the “one mind.” The teaching of the “one mind” is presented in the Buddhist scripture known in the west as The Awakening of Faith (translated by Yoshito S. Hakeda, 1967), Sanskrit Mahāyāna-śraddhotpāda, Chinese Dasheng qixin lun. It is there taught as being the all, saying that (Hakeda, p. 28): “This Mind includes in itself all states of being of the phenomenal world and the transcendental world.” Further, that (Hakeda, p. 31): “the principle of One Mind has two aspects. One is the aspect of Mind in terms of the Absolute (tathatā; Suchness), and the other is the aspect of Mind in terms of phenomena (samsara; birth and death). Each of these two aspects embraces all states of existence. Why? Because these two aspects are mutually inclusive.” The first aspect (as suchness, tathatā) is the one mind as it is in itself, described as the dharma-dhātu (“element of attributes” or “realm of phenomena”), and as being unborn and imperishable (Hakeda, p. 32). As the tathāgata-garbha (“buddha-matrix” or buddha-nature) the one mind is the ground of saṃsāra (Hakeda, p. 36), birth and death, the production and cessation of the manifested cosmos. The tathāgata-garbha has been understood by different commentators on this text as the one mind itself, the first aspect, or as production and cessation, the second aspect (Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, under yixin). The second aspect, birth and death or production and cessation, is the one mind as the ālaya-vijñāna, the storehouse consciousness (Hakeda, p. 36) or foundational consciousness. The ever-changing ālaya-vijñāna carries the seeds (bīja) of future results (phala) produced by all actions (karma), and thus produces the manifested cosmos. The cosmos, often referred to as the three worlds or the triple world (traidhātuka), operates by way of the twelvefold chain of causation or becoming (the twelve nidānas of dependent origination, pratītya samutpāda). The teaching of the one mind and its two aspects is very succinctly put in a famous statement from the Daśabhūmika-sūtra, for which we have the original Sanskrit in both prose and verse. These two Sanskrit formulations are given here, along with my English translation:

citta-mātram idaṃ yad idaṃ traidhātukam | yāny apīmāni dvādaśa bhavāṅgāni tathāgatena prabhedaśo vyākhyātāni tāny api sarvāṇy eka-citta-samāśritāni |

(Ryuko Kondo ed., p. 98; Johannes Rahder ed. has eva instead of eka, copied in the P. L. Vaidya ed.).

“This triple world is only mind. Also these twelve limbs of becoming that were explained individually by the Buddha, all those, too, are based on the one mind.”

te citta-mātra ti traidhātukam otaranti api cā bhavāṅga iti dvādaśa eka-citte |

(Rahder/Susa ed., p. 53, verse 16; Kondo ed., p. 108, verse 6; Vaidya ed., p. 87, verse 16).

“They comprehend that the triple world is only mind, and also that the twelve limbs of becoming are within the one mind.”

References: “Nor can it well be called force since the latter is but the attribute of Yin Sin (Yin Sin or the one “Form of existence,” also Adi-Buddhi or Dharmakaya, the mystic, universally diffused essence) when manifesting in the phenomenal world of senses, namely, only your old acquaintance Fohat. . . . The initiated Brahmin calls it (Yin Sin and Fohat) Brahman and Sakti when manifesting as that force.” (Mahatma Letter #15, 2nd ed. p. 90, 3rd ed. pp. 88-89, chron. ed. #67, p. 181).

“In symbology the central point is Jivatma (the 7th principle), and hence Avalokitesvara, the Kwan-Shai-yin, the manifested “Voice” (or Logos), the germ point of manifested activity; hence, in the phraseology of the Christian Kabalists, “the Son of the Father and Mother,” and agreeably to ours—”the Self manifested in Self—Yih-sin, the “one form of existence,” the child of Dharmakaya (the universally diffused Essence), both male and female. Parabrahm or “Adi-Buddha” while acting through that germ point outwardly as an active force, reacts from the circumference inwardly as the Supreme but latent Potency.” (Mahatma Letter #59, 2nd ed. p. 346, 3rd ed. pp. 340-341, chron. ed. #111, pp. 378-379).

Compare Beal’s Catena, p. 373: “So again, when the idea of a universally diffused essence (dharmakaya) was accepted as a dogmatic necessity, a further question arose as to the relation which this “supreme existence” bore to time, space, and number. And from this consideration appears to have proceeded the further invention of the several names Vairochana (the Omnipresent), Amitâbha (for Amirta [sic for Amrita]) the Eternal, and Adi-Buddha (yih-sin) the “one form of existence.””

Beal’s Catena, p. 11: “The whole of these systems again he includes within one universally diffused essence, which, for want of a better word, is called the “Heart,” but which, in fact, corresponds to the soul of the universe, the all-pervading Self or the “All in all” of pure Pantheism.”

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The Territory of Doubt

By David Reigle on June 8, 2019 at 4:00 pm

            Mahatma letter #16 (chronological #68), the so-called “devachan letter,” refers to the “Territory of Doubt”:

“Thus, for instance, in enumerating the seven lokas of the ‘Kama-Loka’ the Avatamsaka Sutra gives as the seventh, the ‘Territory of Doubt.’ I will ask you to remember the name as we will have to speak of it hereafter.”

In the Mahatma’s answer to the next question, this phrase occurs again:

“From ‘Sukhavati’ down to the ‘Territory of Doubt’ there is a variety of Spiritual States; . . .”

Although the Mahatma asks his correspondent “to remember the name as we will have to speak of it hereafter,” we do not hear of it again in either the rest of the Mahatma letters or in the writings of the Mahatmas’ sometime amanuensis H. P. Blavatsky.

            The phrase “territory of doubt” comes from A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, translated by Samuel Beal, 1871. It occurs only once there, on page 120, according to a digital search:

“If, however, a man prepares himself to acquire merit, and prays for birth in that land [Sukhāvatī, the Paradise of Amitābha], and yet afterwards goes back and loses his faith, he shall be born, if he again turns to the true belief, in a ‘territory of doubt,’ where he shall for five hundred years neither see Buddha nor hear the Law or the Bôdhisatwas.”

It was referred to earlier in Beal’s Catena, p. 42, footnote, as the “city of doubt”:

“But if a man who reverences Buddha, and has observed the precepts, yet with less thorough purpose, die without any marks either good or bad on his person, but lies as it were in a sleep, and, awaking for a moment, thus departs, this man, not yet wholly freed from the influences of unbelief, shall be born for five hundred years in an external paradise,* and afterwards enter on his perfect reward.”

“*City of doubt, a region bordering on the true Paradise of Amitâbha.”

The idea was referred to one more time, in a passage translated in Beal’s Catena, p, 375:

“And therefore the Amitâbha Sûtra says: ‘Every faithful person ought naturally to pray for birth in that happy country (Paradise).’ . . .

“Again there is a passage which says, ‘If a man is well-rooted, yet if he doubts, the flower will not open; but if he believes, then his heart (inner self) pure and calm, opening out like the flower opens from the bud, he forthwith beholds Buddha, and comprehends (hears) the law.’”

            From these references, we can see that the idea of the territory of doubt comes from the Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra, referred to as the Amitābha Sūtra. The Mahatma’s reference to this as coming from the Avataṃsaka-sūtra is not found in Beal’s book, although Beal often refers to this sūtra, and may be an error (I could not find any such thing in a digital search of this extensive sūtra translated into English by Thomas Cleary as The Flower Ornament Scripture). This idea is explained at length in the larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra. It is that if a person has once made the wish to be reborn in sukhāvatī or devachan, but later doubts rebirth in such a place, yet “plants the roots of merit,” that person will be reborn inside a closed lotus in sukhāvatī. Thus the person will be in sukhāvatī, but will not be able to benefit from its wonderful features until, after a long time, the lotus opens. The full passage explaining this is, as translated from Sanskrit by Luis O. Gómez in The Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light, Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutras, 1996, pp. 104-106:

Two Kinds of Rebirth in the Land of Bliss

§133.    The Blessed One said: “Now, Ajita, do you also see the dwelling of those who here in this Land of Bliss dwell inside the closed calyxes of immense lotus flowers?”

            He said: “Blessed One, I see that these human beings whose dwelling is the closed calyxes of noble lotus flowers here in the Land of Bliss enjoy dwellings like those of gods—just as the gods of the Thirty-Three or the gods of the Yama Realm live in palaces fifty leagues or a hundred leagues or five hundred leagues wide, where they play, sport, and enjoy themselves, in exactly the same manner, Blessed One, those in the closed calyxes of noble lotus flowers play, sport, and enjoy themselves in similar palaces.

§134.    “Furthermore, Blessed One, there are beings who, born miraculously, appear sitting cross-legged on the lotus flowers. What are then, Blessed One, the causes, what are the conditions, that determine who will dwell in a closed calyx, and who will be reborn miraculously to appear sitting cross-legged on open lotus flowers?”

§135.    The Blessed One said: “Those bodhisattvas in other buddha-fields, Ajita, who entertain doubts about rebirth in the Land of Bliss, but who in spite of their doubts plant the roots of merit, they will dwell inside the calyx. But those who, on the contrary, are free of doubt, who have cut through uncertainty, and who plant roots of merit in order to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and trust in the unimpeded knowledge of blessed buddhas, believe in it, and are committed to it, they are reborn miraculously to appear here sitting cross-legged in open lotus flowers.

§136.    “Those bodhisattvas mahasattvas, Ajita, who abide in buddha-fields elsewhere in the universe, if they aspire to see Amitabha, the Tathagata, Arhat, perfect and full Buddha, if they never entertain a doubt, never hesitate regarding the unimpeded knowledge of the buddhas, and believe in their own roots of merit, they too will be reborn miraculously, appearing cross-legged on the lotus flowers, in only an instant, already possessing a body exactly like that of other beings who have been born there long before.

§137.    “Consider, Ajita, the weakness in the discernment of those who do not believe in the Buddha’s knowledge. Consider the limitations of their discernment, the deficit in their discernment, the feebleness of their discernment. For, during five hundred years, they are deprived of seeing the Buddha, of seeing the bodhisattvas, of hearing the Dharma, of speaking about the Dharma. They are deprived of the practice of the roots of merit, of accomplishing the roots of merit. And all of this only because their ideas and conceptualization have fallen prey to doubt.

§138.    “Ajita, it is as if an anointed kshatriya monarch had a prison, inlaid entirely with gold and emerald, with strings of silk cloth, garlands, and tassels hanging from the walls, with open canopies of different colors. Its walls would be covered with cotton and silk, its floors scattered over with open flowers of many kinds. The prison would be scented with excellent scents, embellished with terraced roofs and terraced pavilions, with skylights, railings, and gateways, decorated with jewels of all kinds, covered with nets of bells of gold and gems. It would have four corners, four pillars, four doors, four stairs. And the son of that king would be thrown into that prison for some misdeed. He would be bound with chains made of gold from the Jambu River. And a couch would be prepared for him there, covered with many thick woolen spreads, with cotton and wool coverlets, pleasant to touch like fine Kachilindika cloth, wrapped in covers made of Kalinga cloth, and, on top, a silk spread, with red cushions on both sides, colorful and charming. He would sit or lie on that couch. And much food and drink of various kinds, pure and excellent, would be offered to him there. What do you think, Ajita? Would the prince have there fine objects of enjoyment?”       He said: “They would be great, Blessed One.”

§139.    The Blessed One said: “What do you think, Ajita? Would he relish this food, consume it, or feel any satisfaction from it?”

            He said: “No indeed, Blessed One. On the contrary, led away by the king and thrown in that prison, he would only wish for release from there. He would seek the nobles, princes, ministers, ladies of the court, rich merchants, property owners, and lords of castles, who might release him from that prison. Furthermore, Blessed One, there would be no pleasure for that prince in that prison, nor would he be freed from there until the king would show him favor.”

§140.    The Blessed One said: “In exactly the same way, Ajita, those bodhisattvas who plant roots of merit, but have fallen prey to doubt, hesitate in their belief in the knowledge of a buddha, which is a knowledge equal to the unequalled. They may be reborn in this world called the Land of Bliss, if they have heard the Buddha’s name, and by the sheer power of a serene, trusting, mind generated by that hearing; but are not born miraculously and do not appear in that land sitting cross-legged on the lotus flowers. Rather, they dwell only in the closed calyx of the lotus flowers. Although they reside there, inside the lotus flowers, with a mental image of the palaces and the gardens of the Land of Bliss, and no excrement or urine is discharged from their bodies, no phlegm or mucus, and nothing disagreeable to the mind is found on their bodies or in their dwellings, still, for five hundred years they are deprived of seeing buddhas, hearing the Dharma, seeing bodhisattvas, speaking about and ascertaining the Dharma, and practicing any of the best virtues taught in the Dharma . Although they do not rejoice there or find satisfaction, still, when their previous transgressions have been exhausted, they then, at last, leave that calyx; and, as they leave it, they cannot tell if they are leaving from above, from below, or across.

§141.    “Consider this, Ajita. If one did not dwell inside a calyx for five hundred years, one could wait upon many hundreds of thousands of millions of trillions of buddhas during those five hundred years. One could plant an immense, innumerable, immeasurable number of roots of merit, and one could gain all the qualities of a buddha. Now, inasmuch as these bodhisattvas will miss all this by reason of their doubting, consider, Ajita, how great is the misfortune to which the doubt of a bodhisattva can lead.

§142.    “Therefore, Ajita, bodhisattvas who are free from doubts should generate this aspiration to attain awakening. And, in order to obtain quickly the capacity to confer benefit and happiness on all living beings, they should dedicate their roots of merit to rebirth in the Land of Bliss, where the Blessed One Amitabha, the Tathagata, Arhat, perfect and full Buddha dwells.”

            One must wonder if the Mahatma intended to link this territory of doubt to the gestation state that he describes as taking place after death and before the person is reborn in devachan, i.e., sukhāvatī. Certainly, being in a closed lotus bud can be compared to a gestation state, whether in the womb or between lives. Indeed, the word that Luis Gómez translates as “closed calyx” is garbha, which is also the usual Sanskrit word for “womb.” Moreover, the Mahatma writes in this letter that the gestation state is “very long,” and the Buddhist text’s “five hundred years” would suggest a very long time to its readers. When a person enters the gestation state between lives, we are told, the cast-off fourth and fifth principles consisting of lower thoughts and emotions go on their way to eventual disintegration. Doubts would naturally be part of the discarded lower thoughts that are slowly fading away while the real person, consisting of the higher principles, is in the gestation state. When the gestation state is over, like when a lotus bud opens, the person is in effect reborn in sukhāvatī, i.e., devachan.

Note on References:

The Sanskrit text of the passage quoted above as translated by Luis O. Gómez is found in the edition by F. Max Müller and Bunyiu Nanjio, Sukhāvatī-vyūha, Oxford, 1883, pp. 65-69, and in the edition by Atsuuji Ashikaga, Sukhāvatīvyūha, Kyoto, 1965, pp. 57-60. It was also translated from Sanskrit by F. Max Müller in Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, Part II (Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49), 1894, pp. 62-65. Luis O. Gómez additionally provided a translation of it from its most widely used Chinese translation in the same book cited above, pp. 217-219.

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The Dwelling of Māra

By David Reigle on May 30, 2019 at 11:54 pm

            Throughout Mahatma letter #16 (#68 in the chronological edition), the so-called “devachan letter,” are found several quotations from Buddhist scriptures. These come from an 1871 book titled, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, by Samuel Beal. In this book (pp. 15-125), Beal translated what he called “The Buddhist Kosmos” (Fah-kai-on-lih-to, in his transcription of the Chinese title, p. 12), written by Jin-Ch’au, and published in 1573 C.E. The book by Jin-Ch’au includes many quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. It is usually these quotations that are given in the Mahatma letter. One of these quotations refers to the “dwelling of Māra” (Mahatma Letters, 2nd ed. pp. 106-107; 3rd ed. p. 104, chronological ed. p. 195; from Beal’s Catena, p. 90). This Māra, says the Mahatma letter, is the allegorical image of the mysterious “Planet of Death,” a sphere located “between Kama and Rupa-lokas.”

            The dwelling of Māra was referred to a few pages earlier in Beal’s Catena (p. 84) as the “abode of Māra.” The earlier quotation confirms the later quotation, that this dwelling or abode of Māra is “between the Kama Loka and the Rupa Loka” (p. 90); that is, between the kāma-dhātu or desire realm and the rūpa-dhātu or form realm. However, no such place is known in the Buddhist teachings that have become standard, such as are based on the Sanskrit Abhidharma-kośa or the Pali Abhidhammatha-saṅgaha. In the standard Buddhist teachings, the kāma-dhātu ends with the sixth of six heavens, the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven, after which begins the rūpa-dhātu with the first of seventeen or sixteen higher heavens, the brahma-kāyika heaven (these have been translated as “heavens” only because they are abodes of gods located above the human realm; the Sanskrit text merely calls them “places, localities,” sthāna). There is no mention of any dwelling or abode in between. Indeed, in the standard teachings Māra, the god of desire, dwells in the sixth and highest heaven of the kāma-dhātu, the desire realm, not in some sphere between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu. Where, then, does this teaching come from? The text translated by Beal quotes it from what Beal transcribed as the “Lau-Tan Sutra.”

            The first step is to figure out what is the “Lau-Tan Sutra,” as transcribed by Beal. He thought (p. 90) that it might be the “Pinda-dhana Sûtra,” but no such sūtra shows up in our catalogues. Fortunately, Beal himself prepared a catalogue of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, the first ever in English, published in 1876: The Buddhist Tripiṭaka, as It Is Known in China and Japan. A Catalogue and Compendious Report. There, on p. 39, no. 6 is the Fuh-shwo-Lau-tan-king, i.e., the Lau-tan Sūtra. Several years later, in 1883, Beal’s pioneering catalogue was improved upon by Bunyiu Nanjio with his still used Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka. From Beal’s description in his catalogue, giving the translators, etc., we can see that the Lau-tan Sūtra is no. 551, pp. 138-139, in Nanjio’s catalogue: the Fo-shwo-leu-thân-kiṅ. Nanjio there tells us that it is one of three “earlier translations of No. 545 (30), i.e. the Sûtra on the record of the world, in the Dîrghâgama.” From this information, we can trace it to the now standard edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, the Taishō edition, which was compiled and published 1922-1934. In the 1931 Taishō catalogue, this sūtra is no. 23, the Ta leou t’an king. In the once commonly used Wade-Giles system this is written Ta lou t’an ching, or in the now more standard pinyin system, Da lou tan jing.

            The Lau-tan Sūtra, as Nanjio informed us, is an earlier translation of the thirtieth sūtra in the Dīrghāgama. The Dīrghāgama collection, originally in Sanskrit, consists of thirty sūtras in the Chinese translation. The Sanskrit Dīrghāgama was long lost, but in recent years an incomplete manuscript of it was discovered. In this manuscript, the Dīrghāgama consists of forty-seven sūtras. Unfortunately, an original Sanskrit text of the Lau-tan Sūtra is not among these (see: Jens-Uwe Hartmann, “Contents and Structure of the Dīrghāgama of the (Mūla-)Sarvāstivādins,” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University, vol. 7, 2004, pp. 119-137, especially pp. 125-128). The Dīrghāgama is parallel to the Pali Dīgha-nikāya, which consists of thirty-four suttas or sūtras. None of these, however, provides us with a parallel to the Lau-tan Sūtra. So we still do not know the Sanskrit title of the Lau-tan Sūtra. One surmise was the Loka-dhātu Sūtra; a later surmise was the Loka-prasthāna Sūtra. The most plausible one is Loka-prajñapti Sūtra, found in an article on the related Loka-prajñapti Śāstra (Siglinde Dietz, “A Brief Survey on the Sanskrit Fragments of the Lokaprajñaptiśāstra,” Annual Memoirs of the Otani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute, vol. 7, 1989, p. 80). More importantly, we do not have a Sanskrit or Pali text of it to check for this “dwelling of Māra.”

            The next step, then, is to see if another text can be found that refers to the “dwelling of Māra” located between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu. As already said, the texts that provide the standard Buddhist teachings on cosmography do not refer to any such place, including their commentaries such as the comprehensive Chim commentary on the Abhidharmakośa recently translated from Tibetan (by Ian James Coghlan, Ornament of Abhidharma, 2018). After a fruitless search of possible candidates, such as the Divyāvadāna (five descriptions of the heavens without it), the Mūla-sarvāstivāda-vinaya-vastu (four descriptions without it, all in its Saṅgha-bheda-vastu), the Dharma-skandha (five descriptions without it in the lengthy extant Sanskrit portions), the Loka-prajñapti-śāstra (several descriptions without it, searched via its Tibetan translation, none in the extant Sanskrit fragments), etc., I came to the Mahāvastu, an old vinaya text that never made it into mainstream Buddhism. There we find two references to such a place. The Mahāvastu refers to the dwelling (bhavana) of Māra, the abode (ālaya) of Māra, that is between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu. Before bringing in the Mahāvastu references, it will be useful to review the passage translated by Beal and quoted in the Mahatma letter, and the supporting passage translated by Beal showing that this place is in fact between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu.

            The passage translated by Beal and quoted in the Mahatma letter, from Beal’s Catena, p. 90:

“The Lau-Tan Sutra says:1 ‘Between the Kama Loka and the Rupa Loka, there is a distinct locality, the dwelling of Mâra. This Mâra, filled with passion and lust, destroys all virtuous principles, as a stone grinds corn. His palace is 6,000 yojanas square, and is surrounded by a seven-fold wall.’”

“1 Pinda-dhana Sûtra.”

            The supporting passage that is found a few pages earlier briefly describes the six heavens of the kāma-dhātu, the “World of Desires,” one by one. It is preceded by this note from the Chinese Editor on its sources: “For bodily size we follow the Kosha; for the character of the garments the Dirghâgama Sutra; for the duration of life the Kosha and Abhidharma.” After the six heavens of the kāma-dhātu and before moving on to the rūpa-dhātu, or “Rupa-loka,” it brings in the “Mâra-vasanam-Heavens,” the “abode of Mâra.” It is from Beal’s Catena, pp. 83-84:

           “10. With respect to the six heavens of the World of Desires, the size of the bodies of the ‘Four Kings,’ is half a li, the weight of their garments half a tael (ounce), and fifty years of men equal one of their days and nights; they live 500 years.

            “In the Trayastriñshas Heaven the size of the body is one li, the weight of the garments six chu (one fourth of an ounce), one night and day equal 100 years of men, and they live 1,000 of these years.

            “In the Yama Heaven, the height of the body is one li and a half, their garments three chu (scruples) in weight, one night and day equals 200 years of men, and they live 2,000 of these years.

            “In the Tusita Heaven, height two li, weight two chu, life 4,000 years, each year being 400 years of men.

            “In the Nirmâna rati Heaven, height two and a half li, weight one chu, duration of life 8,000 years, each year being equal to 800 years of men.

            “In the Parinirmita-vasavartin Heaven, the height is three li, weight of garments half a scruple, and they live 16,000 years, each year of which is equal to 1,600 years of men.

            “In the Mâra-vasanam1-Heavens, the weight of garments is 128th of an ounce, and the years of their life 32,000.

            “In the Rupa-Ioka they use kalpas to measure the duration of life, and they wear no garments, there being no distinction of sexes.”

            “1. Mo-Io-po-seun, i.e., Mâra-vasanam, or abode of Mâra; vide Burnouf, Introd., 617.”

            This shows clearly that the dwelling or abode of Māra is a distinct locality, with its own distinct weight of garments and years of lifespan, beyond the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven, the highest heaven of the kāma-dhātu, and before the rūpa-dhātu. It confirms the quotation from the Lau-tan Sūtra. The later Chinese translation of the Lau-tan Sūtra as found in the Dīrghāgama has now become available in a complete English translation of the Dīrghāgama. This translation of the same passage quoted by Beal’s author differs in some ways from Beal’s translation of it, but confirms that the dwelling of Māra is a distinct locality between the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven and the brahma-kāyika heaven. As translated by Shohei Ichimura in The Canonical Book of the Buddha’s Lengthy Discourses, vol. 3, 2018, p. 155:

“Between Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven and Brahmakāyika Heaven is the palace of the lord of the evil ones, Māra, an area of sixty thousand yojanas surrounded by sevenfold walls with seven railings, seven ornamental nets, and seven lines of trees, and so on, with innumerable birds singing harmoniously together, just as before.”

            Another English translation of this passage from the later Chinese translation of the Lau-tan Sūtra as found in the Dīrghāgama, made by Angela Falco Howard, is found in her partial translation of this sūtra from her 1986 book, The Imagery of the Cosmological Buddha, p. 117:

“Between the Paranirmita and Brahmā Heavens is the palace of Brahmā deva, which extends for six thousand yojanas in both directions. The palace’s walls are seven-fold with seven balustrades, seven rows of trees with seven precious bells, and countless birds singing harmoniously to each other.”

            This translation differs from the 2018 translation in the number of yojanas in extent, six thousand instead of sixty thousand, and more significantly, the palace of Brahmā rather than the palace of Māra. However, this is almost certainly a slip on the part of Howard. Later in this sūtra as translated by Howard, we see that it is indeed “Māra’s Heaven” that is between the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven and the Brahmā Heavens, p. 154:

“There are twelve categories of sentient beings who belong to the Kamadhātu or World of Desire. Which are they? They are [the denizens of] hell, the animals, pretas, men, asuras, the Four Heavenly Kings, [those who live in] the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, Yama Heaven, Tuṣita Heaven, Nirmāṇarati Heaven, Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven, Māra’s Heaven. There are twenty-two categories of sentient beings who belong to the Rupadhātu or World of Form. They are [the beings living in] Brahmā’s Heaven, in the Brahmakāyika Heaven, Brahmāpurohita Heaven, . . .”

            This is in turn confirmed in Ichimura’s 2018 translation of this same passage of the Dīrghagama, vol. 3, p. 244:

“There are twelve kinds of sentient beings in the realm of desire. What are the twelve? They are (1) hell beings, (2) animals, (3) hungry ghosts, (4) humans, (5) asuras, (6) the guardian gods, (7) the Trāyastriṃśa gods, (8) the Yama gods, (9) the Tuṣita gods, (10) the Nirmāṇarati gods, (11) the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods, and (12) the evil ones (Pāpīyas). There are twenty-two kinds of sentient beings in the realm of form: (1) the Brahmakāyika gods, (2) the Brahmapurohita gods, . . .”

            Yet with all this, we were still lacking a Sanskrit original to confirm the English translations of the Chinese translations, until found in the Mahāvastu. The Mahāvastu, one of the earliest Buddhist Sanskrit texts we have, is a text from the vinaya of the long-defunct Lokottara-vādin Mahā-sāṃghika Buddhists. Two passages in this text refer to the dwelling (bhavana) of Māra, the abode (ālaya) of Māra, and show clearly that this dwelling or abode of Māra is a distinct locality between the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven of the kāma-dhātu and the brahmā heavens of the rūpa-dhātu. Here there can be no question, since we have the original Sanskrit. The two passages from the Mahāvastu are:

śīlena pariśuddhena cyavantaṃ paśyate naraḥ |
vimānaṃ ruciraṃ śreṣṭhaṃ apsaro-gaṇa-sevitaṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena cyavantaṃ paśyate naraḥ |
sumeru-mūrdhne rucire trāyastriśānam ālaye ||
śīlena pariśuddhena yāmāṃ paśyati devatāṃ |
taṃ caiva nagaraṃ divyaṃ apsarāhi parisphuṭaṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena tuṣitāṃ paśyati devatāṃ |
vimānāṃ paśyati teṣāṃ vicitrāṃ ratanāmayāṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena nirmāṇa-ratīṃ paśyati |
sunirmitāṃ deva-putrāṃ paśyati ca svalaṃkṛtāṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena devāṃ paśyati śobhanāṃ |
para-nirmita-vaśavartī vimāneṣu pratiṣṭhitā ||
śīlena pariśuddhena paśyate māram ālayaṃ |
maṇi-vitāna-saṃchannaṃ apsaro-gaṇa-sevitaṃ ||
śīle ābhogaṃ kṛtvāna brahmāṃ paśyati devatāṃ |
jāṃbū-nada-vimānaṃ ca maṇīhi pratimaṇḍitaṃ ||
śīlavāṃ paśyate bhikṣu devāṃ ca brahma-kāyikāṃ |
brahma-purohitāṃ devāṃ vimānehi pratiṣṭhitāṃ ||

(Le Mahâvastu, edited by É. Senart, vol. 2, 1890, pp. 359-360)

            “Through his pure morality a man can see one passing away to the highest brilliant mansion, the resort of throngs of Apsarases.

            “Through his pure morality a man can see one passing away to the bright peak of Sumeru, the abode of the Trāyastriṃśa devas.

            “Through his pure morality he can see the Yāma devas, and that celestial city which is crowded by Apsarases.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the Tuṣita devas; he sees their bright bejewelled mansions.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the Nirmāṇarati devas, the devas (named) Sunirmita, makers of their own adornments.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the shining Paranirmitavaśavartin devas standing in their own mansions.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the abode of Māra, covered with a canopy of jewels and crowded by throngs of Apsarases.

            “Through fixing his mind on morality he sees the Brahmā devas and their mansion of Jāmbūnada gold begirt with jewels.

            “The moral monk sees the devas in Brahmā’s train, and the devas who are his priests, standing in their mansions.”

(The Mahāvastu, translated by J. J. Jones, vol. 2, 1952, p. 327)

atīva cāturmahārājikānāṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūṣi | atīva trāyastriṃśānāṃ yāmānāṃ tuṣitānāṃ nirmāṇa-ratīṇāṃ para-nirmita-vasavartināṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūṣi || atīva māra-bhavanāni dhyāmāni abhūnsuḥ | durvarṇā niṣprabhāṇi dhvajāgrāṇi māra-kāyikānāṃ devānāṃ māro ca pāpīmāṃ duḥkhī durmano vipratisārī dhyāmanta-varṇo anto-śalya-paridāgha-jāto || brahma-kāyikānāṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūnsuḥ | śuddhāvāsānāṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūnsuḥ |

(Le Mahâvastu, edited by É. Senart, vol. 2, 1890, p. 163)

“The abodes of the Cāturmahārājika devas became exceeding bright and pure, and so did the abodes of the Trāyastriṃśa devas, of the Yāma devas, of the Tuṣita devas, of the Nirmāṇarati devas, and of the Paranirmitavaśavartin devas. The abodes of Māra became exceeding gloomy. The standards of Māra’s companies became dulled and without lustre. And wicked Māra became unhappy, discomfited, remorseful, dark-visaged and tortured by the sting within him. The abodes of the Brahmā devas and of the Śuddhāvāsa devas became exceeding bright and pure.”

(The Mahāvastu, translated by J. J. Jones, vol. 2, 1952, p. 158)

            The probable reason why the teaching of the dwelling of Māra between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu did not become standard Buddhist doctrine is that it refers to an exceptional realm of existence, not a normal realm of existence. The Mahatma letter has been describing the states after death. It explains that the dwelling of this Māra is the allegorical image of the sphere called the “Planet of Death,” where the lives doomed to destruction disappear.

“Nor must you laugh, if ever you come across Pindha-Dhana or any other Buddhist Sutra and read: ‘Between the Kama-Loka and the Rupa-Loka there is a locality, the dwelling of “Mara” (Death). This Mara filled with passion and lust, destroys all virtuous principles, as a stone grinds corn.* His palace is 7000 yojanas square, and is surrounded by a seven-fold wall,’ for you will feel now more prepared to understand the allegory.”

“* This Mara, as you may well think, is the allegorical image of the sphere called the ‘Planet of Death’ — the whirlpool whither disappear the lives doomed to destruction. It is between Kama and RupaLokas that the struggle takes place.”

            Earlier in the letter the “planet of Death” is referred to for the first time. Besides the two references to it in this letter, this mysterious place is referred to only one more time in the whole of the primary Theosophical writings, only to say in reply to Sinnett’s query about it, “A question I have no right to answer.” (Mahatma letter #23, chronological #93). Then follows in this letter a lengthy description of how a person may end up there. The letter concludes with the statement that this is very rare, an exception rather than the rule.

            “Every one but that ego which, attracted by its gross magnetism, falls into the current that will draw it into the ‘planet of Death’ — the mental as well as physical satellite of our earth — is fitted to pass into a relative ‘spiritual’ condition adjusted to his previous condition in life and mode of thought. To my knowledge and recollection H.P.B. explained to Mr. Hume that man’s sixth principle, as something purely spiritual could not exist, or have conscious being in the Deva-Chan, unless it assimilated some of the more abstract and pure of the mental attributes of the fifth principle or animal Soul: its manas (mind) and memory. When man dies his second and third principles die with him; the lower triad disappears, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh principles form the surviving Quaternary. (Read again page 6 in Fragments of O.T.)  Thenceforth it is a ‘death’ struggle between the Upper and Lower dualities. If the upper wins, the sixth, having attracted to itself the quintessence of Good from the fifth — its nobler affections, its saintly (though they be earthly) aspirations, and the most Spiritualised portions of its mind — follows its divine elder (the 7th) into the ‘Gestation’ State; and the fifth and fourth remain in association as an empty shell — (the expression is quite correct) — to roam in the earth’s atmosphere, with half the personal memory gone, and the more brutal instincts fully alive for a certain period — an ‘Elementary’ in short. This is the ‘angel guide’ of the average medium. If, on the other hand, it is the Upper Duality which is defeated, then, it is the fifth principle that assimilates all that there may be left of personal recollection and perceptions of its personal individuality in the sixth. But, with all this additional stock, it will not remain in Kama-Loka — ‘the world of Desire’ or our Earth’s atmosphere. In a very short time like a straw floating within the attraction of the vortices and pits of the Maelstrom, it is caught up and drawn into the great whirlpool of human Egos; while the sixth and seventh — now a purely Spiritual, individual MONAD, with nothing left in it of the late personality, having no regular ‘gestation’ period to pass through (since there is no purified personal Ego to be reborn), after a more or less prolonged period of unconscious Rest in the boundless Space — will find itself reborn in another personality on the next planet. When arrives the period of ‘Full Individual Consciousness’ — which precedes that of Absolute Consciousness in the Pari-Nirvana — this lost personal life becomes as a torn out page in the great Book of Lives, without even a disconnected word left to mark its absence. The purified monad will neither perceive nor remember it in the series of its past rebirths — which it would had it gone to the ‘World of Forms’ (rupa-loka) — and its retrospective glance will not perceive even the slightest sign to indicate that it had been. The light of Samma-Sambuddh

                        ‘. . . that light which shines beyond our mortal ken

                        The line of all the lives in all the worlds’ —

throws no ray upon that personal life in the series of lives foregone.

            “To the credit of mankind, I must say, that such an utter obliteration of an existence from the tablets of Universal Being does not occur often enough to make a great percentage. In fact, like the much mentioned ‘congenital idiot’ such a thing is a lusus naturae — an exception, not the rule.”

            It may be that this teaching of a realm between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu, explained here as where the lives doomed to destruction disappear, dropped away from the Buddhist teachings for the same reason that it dropped away from the Theosophical teachings: as the Mahatma said, “I have no right to answer” Sinnett’s question about this mysterious “planet of death.” In the Theosophical teachings it pertains only to exceptions, where the life was so devoid of any redeeming qualities that the principles which make up the person go to annihilation without anything left to continue on to rebirth, thus breaking the connection with the spiritual individual monad that once animated that personality. In Buddhist terms, the series of sets of skandhas that make up a person and form an unbroken causal continuum of rebirth from life to life to life is broken. This is not something that the standard Buddhist teachings speak of.

            The dwelling of Māra referred to in these early Buddhist texts, the Dīrghāgama and the Mahāvastu, would in accordance with the Theosophical explanation refer to Māra as death, mṛtyu-māra; thus the dwelling of Māra is the planet of death. This Māra is not the more usual Māra of desire whose dwelling is the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven at the top of the kāma-dhātu: Māra the god, deva-putra-māra, who as personified desire has sway over the whole desire realm or kāma-dhātu. The Theosophical teachings attempted to explain the allegorical Buddhist teachings in straightforward language, thus giving out for the first time what was hitherto esoteric information. The Buddhist teaching of sukhāvatī or devachan (Tibetan, bde ba can), a pure buddha-field or pure land that Buddhists could aspire to go to after death, was explained as the after-death state that most people go to. Those who do not go to that state, the exceptions, had also to be accounted for. As exceptions, it was not necessary, and apparently was not permissible, to say much about them. Nonetheless, for the explanation of the after-death states to be complete, the dwelling of Māra or the planet of death had to at least be mentioned.

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Kalahaṃsa: the Soft-spoken Goose

By David Reigle on April 30, 2019 at 10:58 pm

            The kalahaṃsa, written more phonetically as kalahansa, is a particular kind of haṃsa (or hansa). A haṃsa is a goose, although it has often been translated as a swan, because this is more poetic for Western readers.1 The term is not kālahaṃsa, where the first word would be kāla, meaning both “time” and “black.” Thus, the term does not mean the goose/swan of time, or the black goose/swan. The term is kalahaṃsa, where the first word is kala, meaning soft or low (as a tone). Thus, the term means the goose whose call is soft or low in relation to the sound made by other geese. Specifically, it is the name of the gray lag goose, a more soft-spoken goose, in contradistinction to the louder bar-headed goose.


This was shown in a 1962 monograph by Jean Philippe Vogel that has become the standard work on the subject, The Goose in Indian Literature and Art. He writes in his Introduction, pp. 1-2:

            “In Sanskrit and Pali literature we frequently meet an aquatic bird called haṃsa and this word according to European dictionaries of those languages means not only a goose but also a swan and flamingo. In translations by western scholars haṃsa is usually not rendered by ‘goose’, but either by ‘swan’ or ‘flamingo’. This preference we can well understand. In this part of the world the goose, known chiefly in its degrading domesticated state, is looked upon as a homely animal unfit to enter the exalted realm of poetry. . . .

            “If we turn to ancient India we find the goose associated with conceptions and sentiments entirely different from those of the West. For the Indians the haṃsa is the noble bird par excellence worthy of being sung by poets like Kālidāsa and figured on religious monuments. The goose is the vehicle of Brahmā the Creator. In ancient fables he is the embodiment of the highest virtues and in Buddhist jātakas we meet him reborn as the Bodhisattva, the exalted being predestined to become the Buddha Śākyamuni.

            “But are we justified in identifying the haṃsa of Indian literature with the goose? Should we not follow our predecessors, including great scholars like Böhtlingk and Kern, and rather choose the swan or the flamingo, more graceful to the western eye than a plump goose? The question is: are we really allowed to make a choice? Or does Sanskrit haṃsa mean a goose and nothing else?”

Vogel concludes his book, p. 74:

            “The conclusion of our enquiry is perfectly clear. The goose is a favourite decorative device in Indian art from the time of Aśoka to the Mogul period. From Kashmir to Ceylon it is employed to adorn religious buildings both Buddhist and Brahmanical. The swan and the flamingo, on the contrary, do not occur. The evidence of Indian art is in perfect agreement with the observations of naturalists. We may therefore be certain that the Sanskrit word haṃsa always designates the goose and nothing else.”


            According to naturalists, swans are not now found in India, except occasionally as visitors at the northern fringes of the country. The two common species of geese found in India, the very numerous bar-headed goose and the much less numerous gray lag goose, are both largely gray in color. But based on a number of references in classical Sanskrit texts to the haṃsa as being white (śveta) in color, K. N. Dave in his detailed 1985 study, Birds in Sanskrit Literature (pp. 422-447), concluded that the haṃsa was originally a swan, which must have once been found in India. This is of course plausible, going back in time farther than all the sculptures surveyed by Vogel. This would take us close to Vedic times.

            The word haṃsa is found in the most ancient Vedic text, the Ṛg-veda, several times. None of these references describe it as being white in color. On the contrary, it is described there as “dark in colour on the back (nīla-pṛṣṭha)” (Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, vol. 2, p. 497). The verse is So this would not be a swan, which is all white. In fact, this would well describe the gray lag goose, which is darker gray in color on the back than is the bar-headed goose. The gray lag goose, we recall, is the kalahaṃsa, whose call is more mellow than that of the bar-headed goose.


1. The practice of translating hasa as “swan” rather than “goose” started as early as 1813, and has been widely followed ever since. See, for example:

The Megha Duta; or, Cloud Messenger: A Poem, in the Sanscrit Language, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, 1813, annotation on verse 71: “The Rájahansa, is described as a white Gander with red legs and bill, and together with the common Goose is a favorite bird in Hindu poetry: not to shock European prejudice, I have in all cases substituted for these birds, one to which we are rather more accustomed in verse, the Swan; . . .”

Nala and Damayanti, and Other Poems, translated by Henry Hart Milman 1835, p. 121: “There the swans he saw disporting.] In the original this is a far less poetic bird, and the author must crave forgiveness for having turned his geese into swans.”

2. Ṛg-veda 7.59.7, in various translations:

May the Maruts yet unrevealed, decorating their persons, descend like black-backed swans: . . . (H. H. Wilson, 1866)

Decking the beauty of their forms in secret the swans with purple backs have flown down hither. (Ralph T. H. Griffith, 1891)

Secretly adorning their bodies, the blue-backed swans have flown hereward. (H. D. Velankar, 1963)

Surely even in secret they [the Maruts] keep preening their bodies. The dark-backed geese have flown here. (Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we have the calculation to reach our current date :

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

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

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

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

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The Three Natures in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā

By David Reigle on September 7, 2017 at 11:53 pm

The Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, the sūtra on Perfection of Wisdom in Five Hundred Lines, when describing the aggregates, etc., uses three terms that apparently refer to the three natures (svabhāva) taught in Yogācāra texts. As a Prajñā-pāramitā sūtra, it would be part of the second promulgation of the Dharma, while the sūtras behind the Yogācāra texts are part of the third promulgation of the Dharma. Because of this, the Tibetan teacher Dolpopa regarded the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā as a text of definitive meaning (nītārtha), and characterized it as one of the Buddha’s own auto-commentaries (rang ‘grel ) on the extensive Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras. Dolpopa taught that the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras should be understood by way of the three natures found in these “auto-commentaries.” However, one of the three terms used in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā in its Tibetan translation does not seem to fit well as referring to the three natures. The original Sanskrit text was long lost, and with no Indian commentary to consult even in Tibetan translation, there was no way to determine what was actually meant by this term. Fortunately, the Sanskrit original was recovered in Tibet and published in 2016 as number 20 of the important series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region.1

The three terms in the Tibetan translation of the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā, near the beginning, are dngos po med pa, dngos po ngan pa, and dngos po yod pa, translated by Edward Conze in 1973 as “non-existence,” “a poorish kind of existence,” and “existence,” and translated by Cyrus Stearns in 2010 as “nonexistent,” “an inferior existence,” and “existent.”2 These are supposed to correspond to the three natures: the imagined (parikalpita, kun brtags), the dependent (paratantra, gzhan dbang), and the perfect (pariniṣpanna, yongs grub). As may be seen, the second term in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā, dngos po ngan pa, “a poorish kind of existence,” or “an inferior existence,” does not seem to fit well in this scheme. Yet these English terms are fully accurate translations of the Tibetan term. With the Sanskrit now available, we can see what happened. The three Sanskrit terms are: abhāva, “non-existent,” nâbhāva (na abhāva), “not non-existent,” and sad-bhāva, “truly existent.”3 These correspond well to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts: the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

The Tibetan translator, perhaps to avoid the double negative that is in the Sanskrit, na abhāva, “not non-existent,” chose dngos po ngan pa to translate this second term, ostensibly “a poorish kind of existence,” or “an inferior existence.” The common meaning of ngan pa is indeed “poorish” or “inferior,” as Conze and Stearns translated it. However, here the Tibetan translator apparently intended one of the uncommon meanings of ngan pa, namely, asat, “not true,” thus yielding “not truly existent” in contrast with the third term, “truly existent.” This meaning of ngan pa as asat can be found in the Bodhisattvabhūmi (Nalinaksha Dutt edition, 1966, p. 98): asat-saṃkathā, ngan pa’i gtam, “untrue conversation.” Another example of this meaning can be found in the Jātakamālā (P. L. Vaidya edition, 1959, p. 159): asad-dṛṣṭiḥ, lta ba ngan pa, “false view.”4

With the help of the original Sanskrit, we can now see that these three terms in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā do in fact correspond well to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. Three other terms that apparently refer to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts are used in another Prajñā-pāramitā text that Dolpopo regarded as being of definitive meaning (nītārtha), and that he characterized as one of the Buddha’s own auto-commentaries (rang ‘grel ) on the extensive Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras. The Maitreya Paripṛcchā or “Questions of Maitreya” chapter of the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras in 25,000 and 18,000 lines, when describing the aggregates, etc., uses parikalpita, “imagined,” vikalpita, “conceptually differentiated,” and dharmatā, “true nature” (Tibetan kun brtags pa, rnam par brtags pa, and chos nyid ). These, too, correspond well to the three natures: the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

An extensive commentary on all three of the large Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras, those in 100,000 lines, 25,000 lines, and 18,000 lines, directly equates the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts with the three terms found in the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter, and uses these terms throughout in its explanations.5 Dolpopa drew heavily upon this commentary, called in short the Bṛhat-ṭīkā, “Large Commentary,” and known in Tibet as the Yum gsum gnod ‘joms, “Destruction of Objections to the Three Mother Sūtras.”6 Most of Tibetan tradition, including Bu-ston who edited the Tengyur, regarded it as being written by the early Indian teacher Vasubandhu, famous for his Yogācāra treatises. Tsongkhapa, however, held that it was written by the much later writer Daṃṣṭrāsena, because it included some late references. It is of course possible that Daṃṣṭrāsena merely added some things to the earlier text by Vasubandhu. In any case, the method of understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras by way of the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts goes back at least to Dignāga, who is traditionally regarded as a direct disciple of Vasubandhu. Dignāga wrote in his Prajñāpāramitā-piṇḍārtha, verses 27-29:7


prajñā-pāramitāyāṃ hi trīn samāśritya deśanā |
kalpitaṃ paratantraṃ ca pariniṣpannam eva ca || 27 ||

The teaching in the Perfection of Wisdom is based on three:
the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

nâstîty-ādi-padaiḥ sarvaṃ kalpitaṃ vinivāryate |
māyôpamâdi-dṛṣṭāntaiḥ paratantrasya deśanā || 28 ||

By the words, “does not exist,” etc., all the imagined is refuted.
By the examples, like an illusion, etc., the teaching of the dependent [is given].

caturdhā vyavadānena pariniṣpanna-kīrtanam |
prajñāpāramitāyāṃ hi nânyā buddhasya deśanā || 29 ||

By the fourfold purification, the perfect is taught.
For in the Perfection of Wisdom there is no other teaching of the Buddha.


Dolpopa, then, was not innovating when he advocated understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras by way of the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. He was merely following a much older Indian tradition. This led him to find correspondences to these three natures in the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras themselves, such as the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā. He quoted the whole opening section of this sūtra at the beginning of his concise text, Ngo sprod khyad ‘phags, “Exceptional Introduction.”8 He then equated its three terms with the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. He said the same thing, again equating its three terms with the three natures, in his Autocommentary to the “Fourth Council”.9 Thus, the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā with its three terms corresponding to the three natures was regarded by Dolpopa as a text of considerable importance for understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras.




  1. Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā: Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts, critically edited by Li Xuezhu and Fujita Yoshimichi. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House, and Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2016.
  2. “The Perfection of Wisdom in 500 Lines,” in The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts, translated by Edward Conze (London: Luzac & Company, 1973), p. 108. Relevant sentence quoted by Cyrus Stearns in The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2010), p. 101, with reference to Dolpopa’s comment on it in his Autocommentary to the “Fourth Council”, p. 233. In the 1999 first edition this quotation is on pp. 96-97, and the three terms are translated as: “a nonexistent entity, a base entity, and an existent entity.”
  3. These three terms first describe the neuter word rūpam, “form” (p. 1), so according to their masculine gender they would be nouns rather than adjectives; e.g., “non-existence” rather than “non-existent.” However, to call form “non-existence” does not make sense to me. So bhāva is probably used here as the noun, “an existent” (an existing thing). The sentence, then, would say: “form is a non-existent, not a non-existent, and a truly existent.” This is rather awkward English. I think the same idea is conveyed by translating these terms as if they were adjectives: “form is non-existent, not non-existent, and truly existent.” This is what I have done, even though it is not a literally accurate translation.
  4. These examples are found in J. S. Negi, Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, vol. 3, 1995. I have only added the English translations.
  5. Ārya-śata-sāhasrikā-pañcaviṃśati-sāhasrikâṣṭādaśa-sāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-bṛhaṭ-ṭīkā.
  6. For the English translation of this title, I follow Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 97.
  7. The original Sanskrit was first edited by Giuseppe Tucci and published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1947, which I have scanned and posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/prajnaparamita_pindartha_1947.pdf. It was published again in 1959 by Erich Frauwallner in the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens in 1959, which I have scanned and posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/prajnaparamita_pindartha_1959.pdf. Although Tucci also included an English translation, I have here re-translated these verses more literally.
  8. The Ngo sprod khyad ‘phags is found in volume 12 of the 13-volume modern typeset edition of the collected writings of Dolpopa, pp. 40-52 (jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ‘bum, [Beijing:] krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011). For the English translation of this title, “Exceptional Introduction,” I follow Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 422. Matthew Kapstein describes it as: “An ‘introduction’ (ngo-sprod ) to the ultimate and definitive significance (nges-don mthar-thug) of the doctrine.” (The ‘Dzam-thang Edition of the Collected Works of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan: Introduction and Catalogue, p. 66. Delhi: Shedrup Books, 1992). The opening section of this sūtra that Dolpopa quoted (pp. 40-43) corresponds to the Sanskrit edition (see note 1 above), sections 1 and 2, pp. 1-4.
  9. Translated by Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 233, and quoted by him on p. 101. In the 1999 first edition this is quoted on p. 96.

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Theosophical Glossary Sources

By David Reigle on May 31, 2017 at 1:55 pm

The Theosophical Glossary by H. P. Blavatsky, published in 1892, draws its definitions from many sources. Comparatively little of it was written by Blavatsky herself. Boris de Zirkoff laboriously located the source references for a large number of its entries, and he hand-wrote these in his copy of this book. These source annotations are of great value for students of Theosophy. They show what was merely copied from then existing sources, as opposed to Blavatsky’s own definitions. His annotated copy thus nicely complements the listings of Secret Doctrine References that were made available on the website of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, or Theosophical University Press, and the extensive supplement to these prepared by William (Bill) Savage (see blog posts of Jan. 24, 2016, and June 30, 2016).

We are very fortunate that this labor of Boris de Zirkoff did not die with him. He left his books to the Theosophical Society in America, and his annotated copy of The Theosophical Glossary is now in its Archives. Janet Kerschner and Michael Conlin spent a lot of time and effort in making a scan of this book, which they have kindly made publicly available here:


They received much assistance from Richard Robb in identifying the bibliographic sources referred to. Boris in his annotations had used brief abbreviations and brief titles that were known to him, but were not spelled out in full. A detailed listing of these, along with much other helpful information, is found at the Theosophy Wiki entry on The Theosophical Glossary, here:


To me, it is a very great boon to have access to the knowledge of where any particular entry in Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary came from. This allows us to evaluate its accuracy. I am extremely grateful to Boris de Zirkoff for tracing these sources, and to all involved in making this information publicly available.

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de la Loubère on Tévetat

By Jacques Mahnich on March 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Here is short translation of the first pages which confirms the identity of Sommona-Codom (Buddha Shakyamuni) and Tévetat (Devadatta).

The life of Tévetat, translated from the “Bali” language by de la Loubère -1691

“Following the birth of Pouti Sat1, who, due to his good works during time, reached Nireupan [Nirvana], his father, King Taoufoutout checked with soothsayers to know what was his future, and what would be his son’s fate, such son who’s birth which was surrounded by so many wonders. All of them assured him he had good reason to rejoice, and that, should his son stayed in the world, he would become the emperor of the whole earth, or, if he would become a Talapoint [monk], abandoning the pleasures of the century, he would reach Nireupan [nirvana]…

His parents, some ten thousands, having learn from the soothsayers that the universal domain of this world, or the Nireupan [nirvana] would be reached by this young prince, decided together to give him, when he would be aged enough, each of them one of their son, to follow him : and so they made it. Then, when this Prince, after the seven years’ penance in the woods, became worthy of the Nireupan [nirvana], a lot of these young men we just talked about, who were following him, became Talapoins [monks] with him ; but among this large troupe, there were six who, even if they were his parents and following him, were not willing to. Here are the names, because we will not talk about them any more later. The first was Pattia, the second Anourout, the third Aanon, the fourth Packou, the fifth Quimila, the sixth Tévetat2, and this is the one we are writing the history…

One day, after Sommona-Codom preaching, Anourout was elevated to the Angel degree. In the same time, the monk Aanon reached the first level of perfection. Packou and Quimila, after having being trained for a long time in prayers and meditation, were elevated to become Angels. Tévetat could not obtain anything but a great power and the capability to perform miracles.3

Sommona-Codom having gone with his Talapoins to the town of Koufampi, the inhabitants came everyday to provide with presents, sometimes to Sommona-Codom, sometimes to Moglà and Saribout, his two preferred disciples, one sitting on his right side, the other one on his left side ; some gave presents to Kasop and to Pattia, some others to Quimila and Packou, or to Anourout, but what was remarkable is that no one gave any present to Tévetat. Nobody talked about him, as if he was never born, which made him very outraged.”

NDT : then follows the story of Tévetat transforming himself magically into a young child covered with snakes in order to convince Achatasatrou, the son of the King of Pimmepisan to give presents to him and to participate to his conspiration against Sommona-Codom. After having being rebuked by Sommona-Codom, Tévetat went back to Achatasatrou, and persuaded him to take over his father, to become king and then give Tévetat the means to destroy Sommona-Codom. The new king gave Tévetat 500 warriors to go kill Sommona-Codom, which did not happen, Sommona-Codom being able to convince all the warriors to become his disciples. Then Tévetat keep trying to kill Sommona-Codom by throwing stones to him, with no success. Another time, he sent his most fierce elephants to crush him, again with no success.

Many other stories are told about Tévetat trying to defeat Sommona-Codom, including previous lifes’ stories. He finally end up in the Avethi hell [Avichi?].


On the “Bali” language : de la Loubère gave us pictures of the “Bali” alphabets as follows :