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 27, 2010 at 3:20pm
Erica, a quick comment. It is now becoming common for translators to give the Sanskrit word in parentheses after the translation of individual terms. For example, in Christian Wedemeyer's translation of Aryadeva's Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryamelapakapradipa), he gives on p. 142:

"Vajrapani asked, 'Lord, what is the ultimate reality, the foundation (alaya) of all things?'"

If Wedemeyer had not put "alaya" in parentheses after "foundation," there is no way that readers would ever know that he was translating alaya here. This is of much significance to students of the SD, since verse 9 of Stanza 1 uses the term alaya. Here in Aryadeva's text, it is used as a synonym of ultimate reality; it is not used as the abbreviated form of alaya-vijnana, the foundation consciousness or universal world-soul.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 27, 2010 at 11:16am
By simply looking at the forms that Kwan-Yin/Kwan-shi-yin has taken it is plain that the deity/force is dual-sexed. At first all images were male, then female. HPB simply used KSY for male & KY for female; a perfectly understandable convention - she could have reversed the usage. She did not mean that there was an intrinsic separation (especially one based on words) between the two.

From CW 6:
"referring to Kwan-yin. This divine power was finally anthropomorphized by the Chinese Buddhist ritualists into a distinct double-sexed deity with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes, and called Kwan-shai-yin Bodhisattwa, the Voice-Deity, but in reality meaning the voice of the ever-present latent divine consciousness in man; the voice of his real Self, which can be fully evoked and heard only through great moral purity. Hence Kwan-yin is said to be the son of Amitâbha Buddha, who generated that Saviour, the merciful Bodhisattwa, the “Voice” or the “Word” that is universally diffused, the “Sound” which is eternal. It has the same mystical meaning as the Vâch of the Brâhmans. While the Brâhmans maintain the eternity of the Vedas from the eternity of “sound,” the Buddhists claim by synthesis the eternity of Amitâbha, since he was the first to prove the eternity of the Self-born, Kwan-yin. Kwan-yin is the Vâchîśvara or Voice-Deity of the Brâhmans. Both proceed from the same origin as the Logos of the neo-platonic Greeks; the “manifested deity” and its “voice” being found in man’s Self, his conscience; Self being the unseen Father, and the “voice of Self” the Son; each being the relative and the correlative of the other. Both Vâchîśvara and Kwan-yin had, and still have, a prominent part in the Initiation Rites and Mysteries in the Brâhmanical and Buddhist esoteric doctrines."

Many folks are often hung up on the violence HPB does to the varied systems she contrasts or blends etc. - that is their loss. She did make blunders & mistakes, but many of those supposed ones required a deeper look into HPB's intent or meaning.
Comment by Jacques Mahnich on November 27, 2010 at 6:40am
The S.D. is a gold mine full of roads to be explored, and 30 years later, I am still exploring these roads. The discussion launched on the origin of the Stances has awaken some new tracks like finding links inside the 19th century literature. Thanks to the new technology, an immense amount of books has been digitized and is available to the public. I have discovered a lot of french essays on buddhism, hindouism, linguistic, travels,.. from this period, and I will spend my time and energy on these tracks.
Comment by David Reigle on November 27, 2010 at 1:57am
Pablo, your sample raises three questions with me.

1. Using this method, how would you deal with Stanza 1, verse 9, for example, and its commentary on pp. 48-49?

2. How would you incorporate current knowledge?

3. What audience would such a re-write be intended for?

I must mention that my Book of Dzyan Research Reports stopped after the one on Stanza 2. Why? Because Stanza 3 includes the word "fohat." Since fohat has not yet been identified, I had nothing worthwhile to say about it. My input from the beginning of this thread is that, until the Stanzas in a Sanskrit and/or Tibetan version are available, I do not think that they can be usefully annotated. Given that view, I must spend all my available time and energy in preparing for when they do become available. So as earlier stated, I would not be involved in a re-write of the existing material.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 26, 2010 at 2:00pm
Thanks Nicholas, that is a very good excerpt. There are several others where HPB explains facts about the SD that are often forgotten. I agree the editors will have to write a good Preface, explaining several things, and quoting HPB as you did. Some of the points that need to be stated are:

- The Esoteric Philosophy is not communicated primarily by written or spoken words. It is learned by meditation. Adepts are not primarily teachers in the usual sense of the term (that is, teaching concepts). They are more like "trainers" so that the disciple learns to discover these truths by himself (HPB wrote this in "Knowledge comes in Visions", CW XIII). A fact corroborating this is that HPB and Subba Row were disciples of the same Master and yet their philosophical schools (esoteric Buddhism and Vedanta), terminology, and even concepts, were different. This would not be possible if the Master teaches a definite "philosophical system" to his disciples.

- Languages we know are created to describe objects and experiences on the lower planes. The knowledge of the higher planes, in order to be recorded in words, would need a new language, and people who read this new language would need the experience of what the new "words" (or symbols) mean. This new language actually exists, the Senzar, but would be unintelligible to those who have not the (spiritual) experiences the language is describing.

- When these teachings have to be recorded in any known language (and Eastern languages seem to be best suited than Westerns for this purpose) words already existing in those languages have to be used to refer to new (spiritual) experiences. This happens even with "exoteric" religion. For example, the Tibetan word "rig pa" (know, cognize, understand, see) is applied in Dzogchen with the meaning of "self-perfected intrinsic awareness" (see Namkhai Norbu). In the same way, the Esoteric Philosophy may have to use more or less known terms (like mulaprakriti, akasha, buddhi, daivi-prakriti) in a particular way. (BTW, this is why I think it may happen that the Mahatmas' use of many of the terms will never be found used in that sense in other philosophies).

- HPB learned the Esoteric Philosophy as it is regularly learned: through a process of meditation. But to communicate some of its principles to the people of her time, HPB had to use some technical terms belonging to other known traditions. Since she was not a scholar, she consulted learned friends, scholars, and books written by scholars, to find a known term that could best resemble what she intended to express. (Keep in mind also that her consultation of books was not so much by physical means, but by a psychic one, where the astral image of different books would come to her sight and she would copy the definition that was closer to the idea she wanted to express). Therefore, the technical terms in the SD are applied as they were usually applied at that time.

With this and more said, we can safely edit the Secret Doctrine removing all references to other traditions (or alternatively, only those which are dated or incorrect) and adding a glossary at the end. For example, if every time Blavatsky mentions Mulaprakriti we translate it as "unmanifested primordial substance" we write that phrase in bold. The reader may then go to the glossary and look up "Unmanifested primordial substance", were he would find a note that more or less says: "The original term used by HPB is Mulaprakriti. This term means this and that in Samkhya, and this and that in Vedanta. HPB, following Subba Row (an occultist with Vedantin background), translated this term as unmanifested primordial substance, root-matter, Space, etc., etc. However it is necessary to notice that the traditional meaning of Mulaprakriti in Vedanta is not the one Subba Row applied... etc, etc."
Here is were David's assistance and knowledge would be of great value.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 26, 2010 at 11:54am
Yes Pablo the sample below will do very well. I also hope you will preface the re-write of the SD with certain remarks by HPB that make clear what the SD was and was not. Here is one example from the "Babel of Modern Thought":

"We are quite prepared to confess that the latter work, especially, surpasses in these defects all the other theosophical works. We are quite ready to admit the faults charged against it by its critics—that it is badly arranged, discursive, over-burdened with digressions into by-ways of mythology, etc., etc. But then it is neither a philosophical system nor the Doctrine, called secret or esoteric, but only a record of a few of its facts and a witness to it. It has never claimed to be the full exposition of the system (it advocates) in its totality; (a) because as the writer does not boast of being a great Initiate, she could, therefore, never have undertaken such a gigantic task; and (b) because had she been one, she would have divulged still less. It has never been contemplated to make of the sacred truths an integral system for the ribaldry and sneers of a profane and iconoclastic public. The work does not pretend to set up a series of explanations, complete in all their details, of the mysteries of Being; nor does it seek to win for itself the name of a distinct system of thought—like the works of Messrs. Herbert Spencer, Schopenhauer or Comte. On the contrary, The Secret Doctrine merely asserts that a system, known as the WISDOM-RELIGION, the work of generations of adepts and seers, the sacred heirloom of pre-historic times—actually exists, though hitherto preserved in the greatest secrecy by the present Initiates; and it points to various corroborations of its existence to this very day, to be found in ancient and modern works. Giving a few fragments only, it there shows how these explain the religious dogmas of the present day, and how they might serve Western religions, philosophies and science, as sign-posts along the untrodden paths of discovery. The work is essentially fragmentary, giving statements of sundry facts taught in the esoteric schools—kept, so far, secret—by which the ancient symbolism of various nations is interpreted. It does not even give the keys to it, but merely opens a few of the hitherto secret drawers. No new philosophy is set up in The Secret Doctrine, only the hidden meaning of some of the religious allegories of antiquity is given, light being thrown on these by the esoteric sciences, and the common source is pointed out, whence all the world-religions and philosophies have sprung. Its chief attempt is to show, that however divergent the respective doctrines and systems of old may seem on their external or objective side, the agreement between all becomes perfect, so soon as the esoteric or inner side of these beliefs and their symbology are examined and a careful comparison made. It is also maintained that its doctrines and sciences, which form an integral cycle of universal cosmic facts and metaphysical axioms and truths, represent a complete and unbroken system; and that he who is brave and persevering enough, ready to crush the animal in himself, and forgetting the human self, sacrifices it to his Higher Ego, can always find his way to become initiated into these mysteries. This is all The Secret Doctrine claims."
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 26, 2010 at 11:29am
David, I understood the meaning of your expressions. Now, what I think we should do, is not merely translate the terms so to say: "the unmanifested primordial substance of the Vedantins" but to delete all reference to other traditions and just say "the unmanifested primordial substance."
Please, read the following as an example:

Blavatsky postulates that the Absolute (no need to mention Parabrahman or the “Unconscious and Unknowable of current European philosophy") is the Be-ness (no mention of Sat). It has two aspects: Absolute Abstract Motion or the Great Breath (no need to relate it to maha-prana or anything like that) and Absolute Abstract Space, which is the Unmanifested Primordial Substance (no mention of Mulaprakriti and the Vedantines). The Great Breath, at the seventh vibration of the Period of Rest (no mention of Pralaya) becomes the First Unmanifested Logos (no mention of Herbert Spencer and his First Cause, or of Brahman. Also, the word Logos is used in many different ways, we do not need to compare this with the Neoplatonists or anything else). This First Logos develops or emanates the Father-Mother (we do not mention Svabhavat and the Nepalese philosophers) which is Spirit-Matter, the "two substances in one." This semi-manifested principle emanates the Third (or manifested) Logos (we do not mention Brahmá) and with it, time and space start. The Unmanifested Primordial Substance, in this process, differentiated and now is the Cosmic Substance (we do not mention Prakriti), with which the Third Logos (no Purusha), which is the synthesis of the Seven Primordial Beings (no Dhyani-Buddhas), builds Forms through Fohat or Cosmic Energy (we could maybe use Fohat here because it has not being identified in any other tradition). Fohat differentiates the Cosmic Matter it into seven planes (we do not mention the Protyles or the seven Prakritis), etc, etc.

What I mean with all this, is that the SD gives a cosmogony of its own, with its own identity, with its own language, and that we can remove all references to other traditions and still present a wonderful philosophy.
I think (and I have done it to certain extent in my classes) we can do this without altering much what HPB wrote. Just replacing technical terms by her own definitions, removing all references to other traditions, and rearranging the paragraphs when needed.
What do you think?
Comment by David Reigle on November 26, 2010 at 10:33am
Comparatively short emails are not always clear in what net results are intended by them. Two days ago I wrote about the suggestion of changing mulaprakriti to "unmanifested primordial substance" in the SD, and yesterday I referred to this phrase in relation to an example using "yellow powder" for sulfur. This might imply that I favor retaining the term mulaprakriti over changing it to "unmanifested primordial substance," to say nothing of other implications.

In the first instance, my intention was to say that replacing mulaprakriti with "unmanifested primordial substance" is not enough if we retain HPB's phrasing that it goes in. That is, speaking of "the unmanifested primordial substance of the Vedantins" is just as inaccurate as speaking of "the mulaprakriti of the Vedantins." The problem is with "of the Vedantins," since this is not one of their teachings. I see no problem with the change of mulaprakriti to "unmanifested primordial substance." On the contrary, this latter change is one that I agree should be done in the SD.

In the second instance, my intention was to say that when using a term like "unmanifested primordial substance," it must be clearly explained. Its explanation would necessarily use Sanskrit technical terms, and give references to where it can be found in Sanskrit texts. But it would not be enough to just say that it is mulaprakriti, even if we added "of Samkhya." Samkhya is generally understood to teach parinama-vada, meaning that its prakriti or even mulaprakriti actually evolves into the world. This is not the teaching of the Secret Doctrine, as HPB clearly explained in "Victims of Words" (BCW 6.141-143) and elsewhere. While her meaning is unmistakable, even here she continues to use the term mulaprakriti as she learned it from Subba Row, who had adapted it to fit the esoteric teachings. It is not used by HPB and Subba Row as it is actually used in either Vedanta or Samkhya. In fact, this very issue was the major point of contention between these two philosophical schools. So there is a very real question of whether mulaprakriti is even an accurate term for what the Secret Doctrine teaches. The technicalities of what such terms mean in their own systems would have to be explained.

The conclusion that I intended to be reached from these two paragraphs is that it is not possible to re-write the SD while retaining most of its wording intact, and only rearranging this wording and also substituting English for Sanskrit. To be accurate, up to the standards of today, it will require some wholesale revision if not starting afresh. Without this, such a re-write would be relevant and useful only to Theosophists, not to the rest of the world, who I believe should be the intended audience of any such efforts.
Comment by David Reigle on November 25, 2010 at 6:52pm
Nicholas, I think that there is clear difference today. Until a couple of decades ago, you could hardly find a Christian theologian willing to admit that there are errors in the Bible. Today, they do so in large numbers, as witnessed by the books being published by them, and being read by the thinking public.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 25, 2010 at 5:57pm
Is the "thinking public" (not to mention the "educated" public) a larger percentage now than in 1890? Not a bit. I see no evidence of more thinking and plenty of evidence of worse education. There was a time when Greek & Latin were part of high school education; now one can rarely find them in universities.

The Brothers mentioned (in ML) that human nature has not changed in millions of years.

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