“The One Form of Existence”: prabhavāpyaya in the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā

By David Reigle on January 15, 2013 at 4:57 pm

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, verse 8, is given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 46) as:

“8. Alone, the one form of existence stretched boundless, infinite, causeless, in dreamless sleep; and life pulsated unconscious in universal space, throughout that All-Presence which is sensed by the ‘Opened Eye’ of the Dangma.”

In her commentary on this verse, Blavatsky says (p. 46): “The Secret Doctrine carries this idea into the region of metaphysics and postulates a ‘One Form of Existence’ as the basis and source of all things. But perhaps the phrase, the ‘One Form of Existence,’ is not altogether correct. The Sanskrit word is Prabhavapyaya, ‘the place, or rather plane, whence emerges the origination, and into which is the resolution of all things,’ says a commentator.”

This appears to be one of the very rare instances where we are given an original term, prabhavāpyaya, behind a translation, “the one form of existence,” from the Book of Dzyan. From what she told us earlier (p. 23), “Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan,” this would be a term from the Sanskrit translation. It is also possible, however, that Blavatsky is here merely giving another, later Sanskrit equivalent of the Senzar term, as might be found in the later Sanskrit texts that are now available. The commentator referred to is Śrīdhara-svāmi. She quoted this Sanskrit term and its explanation from editor Fitzedward Hall’s footnote to H. H. Wilson’s translation of The Vishnu Purana (vol. 1, 1864, p. 21). I had at first favored the latter of these two possibilities, because I wondered why the Viṣṇu-purāṇa term would be found in the Sanskrit translation of the Book of Dzyan or its commentaries. The purāṇas as now extant are known to have been continually revised. But once we know that there was an original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, and that this word prabhavāpyaya was found in it, the former of the two possibilities becomes quite plausible. Moreover, prabhavāpyaya is a somewhat archaic Sanskrit word.

The word prabhavāpyaya is found in the fourth verse of the cosmogony account derived from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, as may be seen in the September 1 (2012) posting: Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 2. “In the Beginning” as Derived from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. This verse is:

anādy-antam ajaṃ sūkṣmaṃ tri-guṇaṃ prabhavāpyayam |

asāmpratam avijñeyaṃ brahmāgre samavarttata || 4.20 ||

4.20. In the beginning there was brahman, without beginning or end, unborn, subtle, having the three qualities (guṇa), the origin and cessation [of the cosmos], timeless, and unknowable.

The term prabhavāpyaya, here translated as “the origin and cessation [of the cosmos],” is a compound of two words: prabhava and apyaya. The first of these, prabhava, is common enough, and means “source” or “origin.” The second of these, apyaya, is quite uncommon and rather archaic. This word was so unfamiliar that in about half of the purāṇa sources it was changed over the centuries to the much more familiar avyaya, commonly understood as “imperishable.” In fact, the recently published critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa (see posting dated May 5, 2012) adopted prabhavāvyaya rather than prabhavāpyaya (1.2.21), based on 16 of 27 manuscripts. Yet, prabhavāpyaya is found in the famous Māṇḍūkya-upaniṣad (verse 6). What makes apyaya hard to recognize is the archaic prefix “api” rather than the standard prefix “abhi” (the change of final “i” to “y” before a vowel is normal). This is easily confused with the common Sanskrit indeclinable word, “api.” Once this is recognized as a prefix, a rare and little used prefix, the rest of the word’s derivation is simple. The “aya” can now be seen to come from the verb-root “i,” meaning “go.” The idea is “go into,” “enter into,” disappear or be absorbed. So it may be translated as “cessation” or “dissolution.”

The commentator Śrīdhara-svāmi explains apyaya by giving its verbal form, apiyanti, and glosses this as līyante, “dissolves.” He then says that it is the laya-sthāna, the “place of dissolution.” It is about this word “place” (sthāna) that Blavatsky says, “the place, or rather plane.” So she in turn glosses “place” as “plane,” attempting to give the idea behind prabhavāpyaya more accurately. How does one describe that which the cosmos originates from and then dissolves back into? The “one form of existence” is apparently Blavatsky’s attempt to render or paraphrase the meaning of the Senzar term, which she then tries to clarify by giving its Sanskrit translation, prabhavāpyaya. The evidence from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā gives us reason to believe that prabhavāpyaya is in fact an early Sanskrit translation of the Senzar term. Moreover, it is perhaps even a direct descendant of the phonetic Senzar term, more a transformation than a translation of this term.

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