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 25, 2010 at 4:22pm
For the general public, it is quite enough to say that "yellow powder" is a primary ingredient in gunpowder. But if you actually want to make gunpowder, you must know that the specific yellow powder used is sulfur. It is hardly possible to avoid this scientific technical term if you want your gunpowder to work. Is the cosmogony of The Secret Doctrine any less precise? If so, it would be sufficient to keep with any of the known cosmogonies, such as that of the Bible's Genesis.

I have no particular interest in reaching or convincing scholars. It is the thinking public that I think should be reached. But has the thinking public read the Bible, for example, in the original Hebrew and Greek? No, they have relied on the work of scholars who can translate it. They watch with much interest the work of the Jesus Seminar, and follow the Biblical scholars there who since 1985 have been dissecting the Gospels, to the point that at least one of these theologians has concluded that there never was a historical Jesus. All this is coming about through careful historical research and careful analysis of what the texts actually tell us, including the strange fact that the four gospels do not agree on some of the most basic alleged facts of Jesus' life.

The thinking public is no longer naive. If you tell them that a book that no one has ever seen speaks of "unmanifested primordial substance," they are likely to ask you exactly what this is, and where it can be found in texts that people have seen. It is of more than just scholarly interest, since readers want to know if there is something they can trust behind the English, like with the Gospels. If you don't know what this is, like with the yellow powder in gunpowder, you simply don't get any results. Nothing happens. Thinking people turn elsewhere, seeking something that they can put more trust in.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 25, 2010 at 1:55pm
"Let us leave aside those terms and express the ideas of the Esoteric Philosophy themselves." Exactly Pablo! Press on to your high calling. The fact of HPB using gobs of synonyms or parallel terms for one concept/idea shows that the Truth is beyond words. But since words can lead us in the right direction English can be pressed into service.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 25, 2010 at 1:52pm
Of course any fan of HPB would like to see everything, letters, articles, books of hers published. I do not know the legal copyright issues, but publishers who are indifferent or lack the funds to publish have been know to re-assign or give up their copyright. If it is only lack of funds I am sure a group of theosophists could raise the money for a short run of a small book like Durbar.

Fire off some letters to Wheaton-Quest and Adyar-TPH and see what the story is.

By the by, have you seen the new book on the Durbar?
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 25, 2010 at 1:25pm
What I said in the previous post has to do with the first part of the of the Secret Doctrine.
Now, regarding the Second and Third parts: In the Second part we cannot get rid of references to other traditions because the comparison among them is one of the main points of that part. The third part addresses a science that is dated. So, I agree with David that a re-writing would be necessary.
I know very little about symbolism, so I cannot talk about what can be done there. I know more about science. I know that many interesting things can be said. The Secret Doctrine provides an alternative to the evolution/intelligent design dichotomy. The SD seems to foretell the existence of dark matter and dark energy (the latter being an energy inherent in space, something like a dense manifestation of the "blavatskyan" Svabhavat). It also challenges Gravity (the only law that cannot be explained in quantum terms), it talks about the laws operating at the sub-atomic level as being different from the physics that rule the macroscopic universe, etc., etc.
HPB also wrote many things that were later verified: the divisibility of the atom, the sun being composed of a different kind of matter -plasma- than the then know, the atomic energy, and even in the Commentaries to the SD just published she explains the nature of the tail of a comet, challenging the knowledge of the time, and now science agrees with what she said. So, I think there are many interesting things that can be done with the Third part in this direction.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 25, 2010 at 1:19pm
David, I understand what you say about reaching the scholars and I agree. I am a scientist and I know about the use of "self-imposed restrictions" to accept a piece of information. These restrictions, unfortunately, are unavoidable, since otherwise they would have to accept things based on "faith" (in this case, just because Blavatsky said so). So, I know that to reach the scholars we will need some original text.
Therefore, my idea with this project is not to reach the scholars. However, outside the scholars there are many people that could get interested in the ideas presented in the Secret Doctrine if we can remove what is inaccurate (which, I think, is secondary to the central aim of the book).
You say that if we were to find the original text of the Stanzas we could use very little from HPB's comments. Maybe from a scholar point of view, but not taking the SD as a presentation of the Esoteric Philosophy.
Let me explain. If we take HPB's wrong use of Mulaprakriti there are two possibilities:
1) Blavatsky had in mind a concept that she learned from the Esoteric Philosophy, and then used the "exoteric" concept that according to the scholars of the time seemed to resemble best what she had in mind.
2) Blavatsky developed a cosmogony simply out the concepts from different traditions.
If the first case is true, it does not matter what words she used (except from a scholarly point of view). Let us leave aside those terms and express the ideas of the Esoteric Philosophy themselves. If the second case is true, then her whole system collapses because it was built on a knowledge that was not correct knowledge.
Of course, I think that the first point is true, and that we can get rid of the technical terms she used and present the ideas of the Esoteric Philosophy. What can be accomplished with this? As we said, scholars still would need an original text. But other people (Theosophists or not) could have an easier access to the ideas of the Esoteric Philosophy and, finding its value, be more ready to give credit to what HPB said.
I think there are very interesting and profound ideas in the Stanzas and Commentaries, that make the SD worth studying. You can read a couple of articles I published in The Theosophist where I picked just a few concepts and how they can be applied to the spiritual practice.
See for example:
Meditating on the Secret Doctrine: http://www.katinkahesselink.net/other/Meditating_SD.html
The Secret Doctrine as a Spiritual Practice: http://www.katinkahesselink.net/other/spiritual_practice.html
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 25, 2010 at 11:56am
K. Paul writes: "Theosophists never have published in book form, The Durbar in Lahore. It was also excluded from the Collected Writings, inexplicably. Presumably it will never appear in book form because it is inconvenient to the foundation of "the movement.""

Boris de Zirkoff spent 50 plus years working on that series and died before several of her stories were published. He left some of the Russian writings for last, but he did not last long enough. Why no one else has taken up the compiler/editor job has to do with prosaic things money, indifference etc.
Comment by David Reigle on November 24, 2010 at 10:14pm
Pablo, here is my reply to your post of yesterday that was addressed to me. Sorry to be out of sequence.

However it is done, any re-writing of material from The Secret Doctrine in my opinion will pretty much have to be limited to the second and third portions of each volume, on symbolism and science, respectively. Not much can be done with the Stanzas and their commentaries without an original language source for them. No scholar for about a hundred years now has taken seriously anyone who does not use the original language sources. I am in full agreement with them. Accurate English equivalents for Sanskrit terms simply do not exist in many cases, and what is worse, there is no standardization of translation terms in English. If you saw in an English translation the term "life-principle" (Vesna Wallace), or "great life" (Jeffrey Hopkins), or "magnificent vital force" (Michael Sheehy), would any of you recognize that these all translate the same word? This is apparently the word that HPB gave as the "Great Breath." This is why reference to the original terms is necessary.

Pablo, you had referred to the need for standardization of translation terms, which I fully agree is a vital necessity. You had given as an example the translation "unmanifested primordial substance" for mula-prakriti, which I think is good. But even this leaves us with major problems if we retain what HPB wrote. We have all seen her many statements speaking of the Mulaprakriti of the Vedantins, and her use of Mulaprakriti to describe the space or substance aspect of the "Be-ness" that is the first fundamental proposition of the SD. But this is, in effect, calling this principle a maya or illusion, which we know is not what HPB intended. This is because Vedantins regard mula-prakriti as maya. HPB did not know this, and her source on Vedanta, the chela T. Subba Row with his mixture of esoteric and exoteric teachings, did not help matters here. It would have been correct if she had spoken of the Mulaprakriti of Samkhya rather than of the Vedantins. But this, too, is a problem. Who would want to identify their highest principle with something from Samkhya, a school of philosophical thought that has for many centuries been refuted and discredited by the long dominant Vedantins? This is why I believe that, at least for the commentaries on the Stanzas, re-writing what HPB wrote would not be feasible.

When the Stanzas become available in Sanskrit and/or Tibetan, I would see giving them in the original language, followed by a literally accurate translation, followed by HPB's beautiful poetic rendering. But I do not foresee being able to retain any of her commentary, other than perhaps quoting a few sentences from it. The commentary on the Stanzas would have to be newly written. Almost nothing was known about Tibetan Buddhism in HPB's day. Today much is known about it. There are many hundreds of Sanskrit texts now available from which to annotate the Stanzas when we know exactly what is in them. So this portion of The Secret Doctrine, in my opinion, will have to wait. There is no reason, however, to wait on dealing with the portions on symbolism and on comparisons with science. There are probably a number of people able to competently deal with the science comparisons, and at least a few people able to competently deal with the symbolism portions. This latter, I think, will be harder. There are not many people like Ananda K. Coomaraswamy or Vasudeva S. Agrawala.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 24, 2010 at 11:35am
Here is a very quickly done example of what we can do. Read the Proem, from pages 1 to the first sentence of 6 and then read my editing (which includes a couple of excerpts brought from other places in the SD). All additions in [ ] are mine. Compare the impression left in your minds after reading both versions. I kept what seems to me the main point HPB is trying to make in those pages and re-arranged the paragraphs. Some of the things I took out would be added later, when HPB actually talks about those subjects. The Sanskrit words were translated but would be given in a glossary.
This is something I did very quickly just as a sample. With dedication, we can do a much better job.


An Archaic Manuscript — a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific unknown process — is before the writer’s eye. On the first page is an immaculate white disk within a dull black ground. The first, the student knows to represent Kosmos in Eternity, before the re-awakening of still slumbering Energy [and] the emanation of the Word in later systems. The one circle is divine Unity from which all proceeds, whither all returns. Its circumference — a forcibly limited symbol, in view of the limitation of the human mind — indicates the abstract, ever incognisable presence. Its plane [represents] the Universal Soul. [However] the two are one.
Only the face of the Disk being white and the ground all around black, shows clearly that its plane is the only knowledge, dim and hazy though it still is, that is attainable by man. It is on this plane that the manifestations during the Period of Activity begin; for it is in this soul that slumbers, during the Period of Rest, the Divine Thought, wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony and Theogony.
On the following page, the same disk, but with a central point. The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk (Space and Eternity in the Period of Rest) denotes the dawn of differentiation. [This is] the first differentiation in the periodical manifestations of the ever-eternal nature, sexless and infinite. The point in the disc [represents] potential Space within abstract Space. It is [also] the germ within the [primordial matter] which will become the Universe, the all, the boundless, periodical Kosmos. This germ [is eternal] being latent and active, periodically and by turns. It is the one life, eternal, invisible, yet Omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations, between which periods reigns the dark mystery of non-Being; unconscious, yet absolute Consciousness; unrealisable, yet the one self-existing reality; truly, “a chaos to the sense, a Kosmos to the reason.”
In its third stage the point is transformed into a diameter. It now symbolises a divine immaculate Mother-Nature within the all-embracing absolute Infinitude. This is the first manifestation of creative (still passive, because feminine) Nature. The first shadowy perception of man connected with procreation is feminine, because man knows his mother more than his father. Hence female deities were more sacred than the male. Nature is therefore feminine, and, to a degree, objective and tangible, and the spirit Principle which fructifies it is concealed.
When the diameter line is crossed by a vertical one , the symbol is expressive of male and female, not separated as yet [SD II, 30]. The spiritual male line is vertical; the differentiated matter-line is horizontal; the two forming the cross [SD II, 592].
Then comes the Svastica, the most philosophically scientific of all symbols, as also the most comprehensible. It is the summary in a few lines of the whole work of creation, or evolution, as one should rather say. The two lines forming the Svastica meaning Spirit and Matter, the four hooks suggesting the motion in the revolving cycles. Applied to the Microcosm, Man, it shows him to be a link between heaven and Earth: the right hand being raised at the end of a horizontal arm, the left pointing to the Earth. [SD II, pp. 98-99]
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 24, 2010 at 11:16am
Any effort to clarify so that truth is more evident is laudable. Sharing such an effort is even more so. In her article "Mistaken Notions in The Secret Doctrine" HPB praised "Two Students" who presented in Lucifer magazine the results of their efforts.

"But it [the SD] was not too premature for the earnest students of theosophy—except those, perhaps, who had hoped that a treatise on such intricate correspondences as exist between the religions and philosophies of the almost forgotten Past, and those of the modern day, could be as simple as a shilling “shocker” from a railway stall. Even one system of philosophy at a time, whether that of Kant or of Herbert Spencer, of Spinoza or of Hartmann, requires more than a study of several years. Does it not therefore, stand to reason that a work which compares several dozens of philosophies and over half-a-dozen of world-religions, a work which has to unveil the roots with the greatest precautions, as it can only hint at the secret blossoms here and there—cannot be comprehended at a first reading, nor even after several, unless the reader elaborates for himself a system for it? That this can be done and is done is shown by the “Two Students of the E.S.” They are now synthesizing the “Secret Doctrine,” and they do it in the most lucid and comprehensive way, in this magazine. No more than anyone else have they understood that work immediately after reading it. But they went to work in dead earnest. They indexed it for themselves, classifying the contents in two portions—the exoteric and the esoteric; and having achieved this preliminary labor, they now present the former portion to the readers at large, while storing the latter for their own practical instruction and benefit. Why should not every earnest theosophist do the same?" [my underlining]
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 24, 2010 at 10:17am
Hi Erica,

Thanks for your ideas. Yes, I agree that the SD is not widely studied even within the TS. I really think that the study of its main contents is a form of Jñana Yoga, as she told Bowen. But the way it is written (with little system, many digressions, references to thinkers of the time that are dated, and references to other philosophies) makes its function as a form of Jñana Yoga difficult to be fulfilled.
I found also that re-writing is sometimes necessary. If there is interest and we really start working on this, we will address all these points. I have done some experiments, and I think there is the possibility of doing a good job with minimal additions.

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