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 Martin Euser on November 23, 2010 at 8:38pm
Personally, I think that a rewrite of the SD is hardly feasible. What would be useful, however, IMO, is a totally different thing: a deep investigation of current concepts used in daily life, as well as in science, e.g. time, space, relations, matter (or rather substance and energy), force, perception, steering and feedback (cybernetics), consciousness, attention, to name a few. That, to me, looks like a modern approach/addition to esoteric philosophy. This is extremely demanding, however. There have been philosophers who have devoted a complete book to one topic (e.g., the idea of substance), which I found useful to study. Others, like prof. Max Velmans, have dedicated many books and papers to the study of consciousness and phenomenology, which I found insightful too. An assembly of links to their works, a discussion of some of these works, and better yet, a participation of such philosophers on theosopher.net, or on this forum, would be a more relevant enterprise in my evaluation. But let no-one be discouraged to go his or her own way. Every idea is welcome!

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Comment by M K Ramadoss on November 23, 2010 at 4:31pm
Whatever is attempted by anyone, I hope it would be published for free download on Internet so that the material is widely accessed. The recent example of HPB Secret Doctrine Commentaries which turned out to be a very pricey book out of reach of most theosophists outside the West, is what we do not want a repeat of. Also, Internet uploading allows chapters to be uploaded as they are ready, even if they are in a draft form. Many writers may disagree with my views above; but I am convinced that it is best way to reach widest theosophical audience at lowest cost.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 23, 2010 at 2:53pm
M. Sufilight,

This is an answer to your comment posted in http://www.theosophy.net/profiles/blog/show?id=3055387%3ABlogPost%3...

You probably didn't read what I mean by re-writing the SD. I explained it in one of the posts below, in this Blog.

Meanwhile, I can address some of your questions. You wrote:

"I am saying that without a clear knowledge of at least 4 of the 7 Keys to the Mystery Language used and given by Blavatsky one will definitely end up mutilating the book, or just create a new book operating on a lower level."

The Secret Doctrine is a wonderful book, but HPB always encouraged people to create their own systems out of the SD, and she said we could find ideas there that she didn't even know. Of course, one extreme is to believe that we can write a book that surpasses HPB's in esoteric knowledge, but the other extreme is to believe that the book in its entirety is a revelation and we can do nothing to help these teachings be more available.

Then, you add: "Let us remember that this book was primarily aimed at the advanced Seekers of Wisdom, and not the beginner Seekers - and that its main audience was not Scholars - not even some of the best known in Blavatsky's time."

Maybe, but this does not imply that we should not do our best to bring the Secret Doctrine closer to other earnest people. Outside Theosophical circles there are many who are as intellectually and spiritually capable as Theosophists are (does anybody doubt this?). Those who want to read the SD as HPB wrote it, will have it always available. But if we remove from it some secondary and dated stuff that make it difficult for many to take the SD seriously, I think we would be doing a very good service.

Then you say regarding HPB's non-systematic writing:

"This does not imply that, this was not a deliberate action performed when writing such a book to the advanced Seekers after Wisdom. It should not be a surprise that real Wisdom is scares on this planet - and that it most often is not learned by what by intellectuals call systematic methods; such methods we tend to call something else."

Actually, T. Subba Row (an occultist like HPB) rejected the first copy of the SD because it was too chaotic. And the present SD we have was arranged in this way by the Keightleys, not by HPB. They already addressed some of the chaos found there, and HPB was okay with that. It is true, HPB left some gaps on purpose, to stimulate the reader's intuition, but I do not think she would say that the "chaos" was part of the plan.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 23, 2010 at 2:15pm
Yes, Nicholas, that's another possibility.
Blavatsky told Bowen that studying those parts of the SD would be a good intro to the main text. In fact, when I put together my Study Course (those who are new to this discussion may find it here http://blavatskyarchives.com/senderstcoursesd.htm), I did exactly that. I took excerpts from the texts that she recommended to Bowen, tried to give them a sequential order, and added from other writings from HPB and the Mahatmas. That kind of work could be expanded.
However, I do not see the project of re-shaping the SD too overwhelming. I did this with the Proem, just to try, and it took me only a couple of days. Of course, if we do it for publication, we have to be more careful, but I think it is totally doable, at least with Vol. 1. Vol. 2 could prove to be more difficult... I do not know, I never attempted to do something like that with it.
Comment by Nicholas Weeks on November 23, 2010 at 1:19pm
Another approach is to focus on what HPB in the Bowen Notes considered the heart of the SD. These notes do not even mention the Stanzas.

http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sunrise/34-84-5/th-bowen.htm

Using the ideas & concepts mentioned (not even quoting the text, perhaps?) in those four sections of the SD pages HPB suggested, one can create a Heart of the Secret Doctrine. This core text can be enriched with other HPB (and non-HPB) teachings on those key ideas from non-SD sources.

That is still a big project, but more manageable than re-writing the entire SD.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 23, 2010 at 12:31pm
Yes, David. I do not know think we can write a Secret Doctrine of our own. All these years I have been concentrating more on the Esoteric Philosophy in the SD, because I have just a general knowledge of comparative religions and could not approach it the way you do. And I really think the Secret Doctrine has original teachings that are very important even today.
My idea is mainly to re-shape the SD, to "purify it" from all the secondary elements (so that people can access it without encountering all these objectionable things that are no longer relevant) and also to rearrange it in a way that is more systematic.
As you will see from my description of the project below, your knowledge (if you want to participate in this) would be very helpful as a guide about what we should definitely take out from the text, as well as for the translation of some terms. Let me explain what is that I think we could do.

Generally speaking, I would try to follow the arrangement that HPB used, that is, an Introduction, a Proem, and the Stanzas with their commentaries. I have not thought much about what to do with Part II (symbolism) and III (science) in the SD. We can discuss that later.

So, as we go through the different sections of Part I, I would do the following:

a) Abridge it. That is, remove what we think is not relevant (mentions to people from that time, arguments against ideas that were held by society then but are not longer current, etc).

b) Since many references by HPB about other religions and philosophies are not accurate, we could remove them as much as possible, keeping only what the Esoteric Philosophy postulates. If we agree on this, it will not be something easy to do because many times HPB uses concepts from other traditions to explain those of the Esoteric Philosophy (like the example of Svabhavat). I think we can work it out, if we are careful. Something that could help in this endeavor is the following point:

c) We may consider translating technical terms into English, and use them always in the same way throughout the work. For example, if we leave the term Mulaprakiti, there will be many people that have no idea what it is, and many other that will assume HPB is using the Hindu concept of it (which is not the case with many of the terms, as we have seen in the discussion on the origin of the Stanzas). So we could choose a phrase that HPB uses to define it (for example Unmanifested Primordial Substance) and use it every time HPB uses "Mulaprakriti". We could use these words in bold throughout the text, and add at the end a glossary that says: "Unmanifested Primordial Substance: Mulaprakriti" where people could go and check what the original term used by HPB was. Every time they see a term in bold, they know the term was translated and can go check it to the glossary, if they want.
With this, we could solve the problem of the wrong use of Svabhavat and similar ones. Of course, this will not be easy, but again, I am confident we can work it out. Some terms like Karma, Atma, etc., have become so well-known that we can leave them in Sanskrit. Others like Pralaya may need more than one translation. For example, sometimes "Period of Rest" would apply well to what HPB means, but in some other instances "Cosmic Dissolution" would be better. We could use more than one translation but we should try to keep this to the minimum, so that the translation of a single term acquires an "identity" of its own, as it happens with the original term.

d) As we go through the text, we could re-arrange the paragraphs putting together those that refer to the same topic. For example, HPB first introduces the concept of the Absolute in a more or less systematic way in the first fundamental proposition in the Proem. But she also talked about that before, in that Proem, without much system. We could bring those paragraphs together and arrange them in a sequential way under the first fundamental proposition.

e) Whenever it is needed, we could annotate the text to make what HPB says more understandable, when she is too confusing.

These are just examples of how I have been working on this, and it is a possibility. Once we find out what is best to do, we could create a discussion for each section (Proem, Stanza 1, etc) so that we can decide what to leave, what to take out, and how to translate concepts.

So, what do you all think?
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 23, 2010 at 12:14pm
Paul,

I like Michael's abridgment, but it is not what we are attempting. He kept one or two paragraphs as a commentary for each Sloka. I feel that is a good work for people to have a first approach to the SD, but it is very abridged.
You say "the whole project of making a single explanation for all human religious history, in which some cultures are privileged over others as more authoritative for various reasons, doesn't meet today's needs." I completely agree. One possibility that I entertain for this version of the Secret Doctrine would be not to concentrate on that aspect, but on keeping only the concepts of the Esoteric Philosophy, without references to other traditions, as far as that is possible.
Comment by David Reigle on November 23, 2010 at 12:06pm
Pretty much anything that I might be able to contribute to this will have to await the availability of the Stanzas of Dzyan in Sanskrit and/or Tibetan. Until then, I have little to say. But I did want to express my complete agreement with what Joe said about this on the Stanzas blog, that I think should be repeated here. He wrote:

Such an undertaking is not to be done lightly.

To perform such an endeavor there must be several things happen:

a) The writers must be qualified. It's not simply a matter of holding an advanced degree, but this also means that they must be up to the job, have the intellectual capacity, and the ability, as well as the means to conduct the requisite research.
b) They must be able to write capably on the latest in numerous fields.
c) Is willing to take the time needed. Blavatsky was working on the SD in the early 1880's and didn't complete it until 1888.
d) And, finally, is not willing to settle anything less than top quality.

This is a kind of work that has to attract the attention of the best minds of our culture and not just a small cadre of just a few. Anything less is not worth the effort.
Comment by Pablo Sender on November 23, 2010 at 11:38am
Hi David,

Yes, I know. What you say is a real possibility.
I've been entertaining this idea for a few years now and tried different approaches. None of them are easy. Re-writing the Secret Doctrine would be easier, but then we would be writing a book on Theosophy, based on the teachings in the Secret Doctrine, something that was done in the past. Also, merely arranging the information by topics would not be very different from Barborka's book The Divine Plan.
It would be good if we can retain as much as possible HPB's words and general structure, so that it still is the Secret Doctrine, but abridged, edited, and annotated. But I am not sure to what extent this is possible.
I think what we can do here, before plunging into this new venture, is to carefully discuss what we want to do, and see if it is feasible.
Comment by David Reigle on November 23, 2010 at 11:23am
Pablo, I very much appreciated the ideas that you expressed in your recent posts to the Stanzas of Dzyan blog. My one comment at this point, of starting out on this new venture, comes from history. HPB had announced a revised edition of Isis Unveiled. But she soon realized that she would have to completely re-write it. In fact, she wrote The Secret Doctrine instead, which in a sense replaced it. In the same way, I think that we will pretty much have to start afresh with any re-writes of the SD. I do not think it will prove feasible to retain or adapt portions of what she wrote in the SD. The main Theosophical teachings and ideas she presents there will have to be picked up and newly presented and annotated.

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