Out of the discussion about the origin of the Stanzas of Dzyan, a group of members of this community realized that H. P. Blavatsky's book, the Secret Doctrine, has some features that makes it difficult for the current public, (both inside and outside Theosophical circles) to approach its study.
The purpose of this Blog is to discuss whether the relevant content presented by H. P. Blavatsky can be re-organized, annotated, and brought up to date, so that the principles of the Esoteric Philosophy can reach people in this new century.

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Comment by David Reigle on November 30, 2010 at 12:07am
Thank you, Pablo, for preparing the samples that I asked you for. This type of work will no doubt fill a need and be useful. Already there have been several appreciative comments here. Sorry that my own commitments lie elsewhere.

I do have a comment to make on the original language of the Stanzas. There is a parallel that we can learn from in the transmission of the Buddhist sacred canon of scriptures. The originals are written in Sanskrit. They were translated into Chinese starting in the early centuries of the first millennium C.E. Later, another transmission occurred, when the original Sanskrit texts were translated into Tibetan in the centuries before and after the turn of the millennium, about a thousand years ago. So although HPB only mentions Tibetan and Chinese translations of the Book of Dzyan, the clear implication would be that there were Sanskrit versions preceding these.

As for the Senzar to Sanskrit, this, too, apparently took place over time. There are known to be very old versions of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts, written in pre-classical Sanskrit. This has been called Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. It shares some syntactic features with the old Vedic Sanskrit. It is found primarily in verses within the prose Sanskrit Buddhist texts. The words in these verses could not be "updated" to classical Sanskrit without spoiling the meter. So the verses had to retain the archaic forms, while the prose could easily be updated to the classical Sanskrit forms. This probably illustrates the evolution of Senzar to Sanskrit.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 29, 2010 at 11:11am
Another valuable source and possible, much needed project, is the Wurzburg MS or First Draft of the Secret Doctrine. The Theosophist printed the Introduction back in the 1930s. But the rest has never been fully published.

When M & KH gave their statements of involvement in the writing of the SD, it was this First Draft that was meant, not the final version. Yes, their certificates said "when finished", but HPB was responsible for most of the SD and the Brothers contributions were mainly (I think) the "occult" commentaries & passages.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 29, 2010 at 10:46am
Back in 1907 Katherine Hillard, a solid student of the SD, wrote An Abridgment of the Secrect Doctrine. She replaced most of the Sanskrit and foreign terms in her 500+ page version of the 2 volume SD. This book is both online and available in book form still.

Here is a sample of how she approached the SD:

http://blavatskyarchives.com/hillard/hillardsummmaryofsdcont.htm
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 29, 2010 at 10:19am
Hi Erica,

Yes, Nous is a complex term, because it has a regular meaning and a philosophical meaning. I used one of the translations HPB gave. The same with Dangma; I used one of HPB's translations. Of course, if a book is going to be published, careful consideration of all the possible translations have to take place, I just looked in the Theosophical Glossary and picked the first term that seemed suitable, just to use as an example.
However, I would always use one of HPB's translations of the terms, because that shows the way she understood them. We have to remember that the original Stanzas were not written in Greek, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, or any other known language. True, there seems to be at least a Tibetan and Chinese versions, but they seem to be translations from the original Senzar, and it is highly possible that many of the words used in those translations are applied in a special sense to describe things that are beyond words.
So, though I also thought about retaining the foreign terms in parenthesis, I see two problems with that:
1) When a term was applied wrongly it would mislead people who know that term. For example, mulaprakriti would be considered by those who know Vedanta as part of the illusion, while HPB uses it to describe an aspect of the Absolute. This is the main problem, otherwise I would retain the foreign terms.
2) By retaining the terms in parenthesis we are giving them undue importance, and sending the message that these were the original terms in the Stanzas (or in the knowledge acquired by HPB from the Mahatmas). Therefore, if the terms are wrong, the Stanzas or the Mahatmas are wrong. My hypothesis is that most of the foreign terms used by HPB were her choice based on the knowledge of that term at the time. For example, let us suppose that I am writing in English a knowledge that I acquired in Spanish. But since my English is not good, I ask people around what word they would use to describe the concept that I have in my mind in Spanish. I do my best to describe it, they do their best to understand what I mean, and they give me a word. It turns out that many of those words were not the best ones. Why would we retain the mistaken English words as if they original to the knowledge I had?
I think only if we have the original Stanzas (even if it is the translation in Tibetan, Chinese, or any other language) it would be worth keeping the original word.
What do you think?
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 29, 2010 at 9:55am
Hi Preethi,

Thanks. Reading an abridgment is probably a good idea for a first reading of the SD. Michael's is pretty short. I think this is good to go quickly through the Stanzas and have the feeling of them. To go more in depth I like the abridgment by Preston and Humphreys.
Comment by Preethi Muthiah on November 29, 2010 at 12:49am
Hi Pablo,

First of all, let me commend you for starting this blog; for it comes at the right time as I have started to read the SD for the first time and am finding it interesting. My earlier attempts to do so always ended in my leaving it after just a few pages.

I see the need to simplify the SD to modern terms using language that is in tune with today's generation of readers, because the original is circuitous and tends to throw one off in many directions at the same time. That in itself is very significant, but it is not relevant to the topic being discussed here.

I read in some comments about Michael Gomes' simplification of the SD. I haven't read that either, but I read the comment made by Paul and disagree with what he has to say.

I think for a work as vast as the SD, every interpretation matters equally. What Michael saw as relevant would be different from what Pablo would see. And for future readers of the SD, these interpretations would be helpful to broaden their understanding of the Original. And the Original is always available for those interested in reading it directly from HPB's hand, if I may call it that.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 28, 2010 at 12:30pm
Very good Pablo. But this "(Aryasanga, the Bumapa school)" will have to go or maybe just keep Aryasanga. He was Yogacara, Bumapa is Tibetan for Madhyamaka Buddhism.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 28, 2010 at 11:51am
I worked on half of the sloka, the point (a)

9. But where was the Initiate when the Universal Soul was in Absolute Being and Consciousness (which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness) (a) . . .

(a) According to esoteric teaching the Universal Soul changes periodically its nature. Though it is eternal and changeless in its inner essence on the planes which are unreachable by either men or Cosmic Gods, alters during the active life-period with respect to the lower planes, ours included. During that time not only the Cosmic Gods are one with the Universal Soul, in Soul and Essence, but even the man strong in the Yoga (mystic meditation) “is able to merge his soul with it” (Aryasanga, the Bumapa school) [I would check if this reference is right]. This is not Nirvana, but a condition next to it.

The “Absolute Consciousness,” behind phenomena, which is only termed unconsciousness in the absence of any element of personality, transcends human conception. Man, unable to form one concept except in terms of empirical phenomena, is powerless from the very constitution of his being to raise the veil that shrouds the majesty of the Absolute. Only the liberated Spirit is able to faintly realise the nature of the source whence it sprung and whither it must eventually return. . . . As the highest Celestial Being, however, can but bow in ignorance before the awful mystery of Absolute Being; and since, even in that culmination of conscious existence — “the merging of the individual in the universal consciousness” — to use a phrase of Fichte’s — the Finite cannot conceive the Infinite, nor can it apply to it its own standard of mental experiences, how can it be said that the “Unconscious” and the Absolute can have even an instinctive impulse or hope of attaining clear self-consciousness? [footnote 1] The Occultist would say that it applies perfectly to the awakened Universal Mind already projected into the phenomenal world as the first aspect of the changeless absolute, but never to the latter. “Spirit and Matter are but the two primeval aspects of the One and Secondless,” we are taught.

The matter-moving Higher Mind, the animating Soul, immanent in every atom, manifested in man, latent in the stone, has different degrees of power; and this pantheistic idea of a general Spirit-Soul pervading all Nature is the oldest of all the philosophical notions.

[Footnote 1, if the reference is correct] According to Hegel, the “Unconscious” would never have undertaken the vast and laborious task of evolving the Universe, except in the hope of attaining clear Self-consciousness.


Then, we would have the annotated glossary, in alphabetic order, for the words and phrases in bold:

Absolute Being and Consciousness: Paramartha [and a discussion on the lines I described in my previous post, mentioning the items "a" to "d" I enumerated in my point 3]

Celestial Being: Dhyan Chohan, etc., etc.

Higher Mind: Nous, etc., etc.

Initiate: Dangma, etc., etc.

Universal Mind: Mahat, etc., etc.

Universal Soul: Alaya, etc., etc.

There is a paragraph that is not a digression but that I think does not relate in a direct way with what she is discussing in this sloka. It says:

"Esoteric philosophy teaches that everything lives and is conscious, but not that all life and consciousness are similar to those of human or even animal beings. Life we look upon as “the one form of existence,” manifesting in what is called matter; or, as in man, what, incorrectly separating them, we name Spirit, Soul and Matter. Matter is the vehicle for the manifestation of soul on this plane of existence, and soul is the vehicle on a higher plane for the manifestation of spirit, and these three are a trinity synthesized by Life, which pervades them all. The idea of universal life is one of those ancient conceptions which are returning to the human mind in this century, as a consequence of its liberation from anthropomorphic theology."

I would use this paragraph in some other part, where she says that the Esoteric Philosophy regards that everything is alive and there is not dead matter.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 28, 2010 at 11:41am
David, regarding Stanza 1 sloka 9 I would do the following:

1) I would delete altogether all discussion about Alaya, Paramartha, etc., since: a) It is not accurate from today's understanding of the terms, b) It serves a secondary purpose (although very interesting one if accurate) to the understanding of the Esoteric teaching the Stanza tried to convey, c) This kind of discussions are perceived by most readers as a digression.
My point with this is that the SD could attract more readers if we purify it from what chases away even earnest Theosophists (let alone people who see the SD as one text among many, and have no reason to spend so much time and effort just to see if they can break through the obstacles and see if there is anything valuable.)


2) I would translate the terms using HPB's definitions because many times she uses Sanskrit terms with a different meaning to the one accepted today. Leaving inaccurately used foreign terms does not add anything to the work: a) It makes the text confusing to the newcomer and misleading to the one that knows the usual meaning of the term. b) I understand what Erica says about keeping the foreign terms, but this would be something to be considered if the terms used had been accurate. Besides, the purpose of bringing West and East together was already largely accomplished (and I think this was thanks to Theosophy to a large extent). The SD is not adding something particularly useful in this field today.

3) Every translated term would be in bold and I would add at the end an annotated glossary where we give the original term used by HPB with a discussion about: a) how HPB used the term, b) how the term was understood by scholars at that time, c) how it is understood now, and d) whether the special meaning HPB gives to a particular term seems to be the result of simply following the usage of the time or because the Esoteric Philosophy applies it with that particular meaning.

In my next post, I'm sending a sample of how I would work on sloka 9 from Stanza 1.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 27, 2010 at 6:37pm
Another reminder about the SD; HPB's dedication was not to humanity at large, but only to True Theosophists:

"This Work
I Dedicate to all True Theosophists,
In every Country,
And of every Race,
For they called it forth, and for them it was recorded."

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