The Sources of the Book of Dzyan and Kiu-te in The Secret Doctrine and Tantras

The Secret Doctrine has neither been invented nor exaggerated, but, on the contrary, simply outlined; and finally (…) its teachings antedate the Vedas.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. xxxvii).

Authorship of The Secret Doctrine

Concerning the authorship of The Secret Doctrine, a facsimile of a letter from K.H. to William Quan Judge tells us its author. The “Secret Doctrine when ready will be the triple production of M., Upasika” and himself. Its editorial and scholastic input was helped by close friends and associates.

However, reactions to The Secret Doctrine (text) were anticipated:

“…the rejection of these teachings may be expected, and must be accepted beforehand. No one styling himself a “scholar,” in whatever department of exact science, will be permitted to regard these teachings seriously.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. xxxvii.)

Recap on “The very Old Book”

“There exists somewhere in this wide world an old Book – so very old that our modern antiquarians might ponder over its pages an indefinite time, and still not quite agree as to the nature of the fabric upon which it is written. It is the only original copy now in existence. The most ancient Hebrew document on occult learning – the Siphra Dzeniouta – was compiled from it, and that at a time when the former was already considered in the light of a literary relic.” (Isis Unveiled, Vol. 1., pg. 1.)

“The ‘very old Book’ is the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled. Not only this latter and the Siphrah Dzeniouta but even the Sepher Jezirah, the work attributed by the Hebrew Kabalists to their Patriarch Abraham (!), the book of Shu-king, China’s primitive Bible, the sacred volumes of the Egyptian Thoth-Hermes, the Purânas in India, and the Chaldean Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch itself, are all derived from that one small parent volume. Tradition says, that it was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race …” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, pg. xliii.)

The Sources

The sources of the Book of Dzyan and its connections to Tibetan Buddhism have already been legitimated in 1730 by a Capuchin missionary monk, Horace della Penna. There is also an 1833 article entitled “Note on the Origins of the Kalachakra and Adi-Buddha Systems” by Hungarian pioneer scholar Alexander Csomo de Körös (Körösi Csoma Sandor), whom was mentioned before. Dr. Alexander Berzin, asserts in Mistaken Foreign Myths about Shambhala, that most of Blavatsky’s familiarity with the Kalachakra material is from the chapter entitled “The Kalachakra System” in Emil Schlagintweit’s Buddhism in Tibet (1863).

This concerns The Books of Kiu-te. The Book of Dzyān (from Sk. jñāna and Sk. dhyāna) is described as the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiute, and a glossary of the public works of the same name, in Blavatsky’s Collected Writings, Vol. 14, pg. 422. It was found in the appendix of Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet (1876), a Brief Account of the Kingdom of Tibet written by the Capuchin monk in 1730. Maybe, the first reference of the Books in the West, the appendix speaks of restored laws, taught by Siddhartha Gautama, which his disciples wrote down after his death. Its volumes consisted of laws called the sūtra and the Khiute (rGyud-sde or Kiute, tantra collection).

Divided into two collections: the Kanjur contain what the Tibetans consider Gautama’s words; and the Tanjur expositions and commentaries are the collected writings of Nāgārjuna, Maitreya, Āryāsanga, and others. Both collections are divided into the laws of dote (mDo-sde or sūtra collection) and the tantras (rGyud-sde or kiute). The Kālacakra Tantra about the ‘cycles of TIME’ are established at this point, no matter the degree or manner it has been, at this period taught.

It is said, the complete Kālacakra Mūla Tantra is lost, though it is also known there once were voluminous original versions. Blavatsky mentions that 35 volumes of Kiute can be found in Gelugpa monasteries for public use, offering the popularised version of the secret doctrine, full of myths, blinds and errors†. However, “the fourteen volumes of Commentaries (…) with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the BOOK OF THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE WORLD — contain a digest of all the occult sciences” (CW, Vol. 14., pg. 422); and in H.P.B.’s time, were kept secret and in the possession of the Teshu Lama of Shigatse.

Its five sections include:

  1. Cosmogony;
  2. Correspondence to man, the microcosm;
  3. Abhiṣeka, or initiation;
  4. Sādhana, or practices relating to these correspondences (think of the Hermetic laws):
  5. Jñāna, or wisdom and its practical application

Knowledge of the Essence of Yoga

The Book of Dzyan concerns the gnosis, or jñāna in relation to knowledge of the essence of yoga, cosmology, etc. H.P.B. addressed this in stating, that “there exists a science called Gupta Vidyā” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, pg. xxxviii).

“Dan, now become in modern Chinese and Tibetan phonetics ch’an, is the general term for the esoteric schools, and their literature. In the old books, the word Janna is defined as “to reform one’s self by meditation and knowledge,” a second inner birth. Hence Dzan, Djan phonetically, the “Book of Dzyan.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. xx., fn.)

In translating the Stanzas—commentary and erudition was added to it, and utilizing many sources. The title of the Book of Dzyan is generic for Book of Wisdom, or ‘Book of Knowledge.’ This implies, its knowledge derives from an assimilation of intuitive insights rising from profound thinking; through heightened states of consciousness; and the knowledge accumulated through that experience.

Speaking of doubts about this, it was anticipated:

“For in the twentieth century of our era scholars will begin to recognize that the Secret Doctrine has neither been invented nor exaggerated, but, on the contrary, simply outlined; and finally, that its teachings antedate the Vedas.” (The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. xxxvii)

This actually came true, partially atleast. David Reigle believes his work, in bringing attention through the circumstantial evidences the legitimacy of the book and its teachings, could lead to the discovery of a Tibetan or Sanskrit manuscript of the Book of Dzyan. Blavatsky claimed in the SD that she had seen a manuscript when she was in Tibet, but as stated before, it is considered lost.

So, clearly we now understand, that the book has been identified as forming part of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, i.e., the Tantras. David and Nancy Reigle demonstrate, that we find concepts corresponding in the Vimalaprabhā commentary first published in the original Sanskrit (3 volumes) in 1986-1994; in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, among other concepts and doctrinal positions originally thought the fancy of Blavatsky’s imagination. Blavatsky’s knowledge of the Mahāyāna, concerning the doctrines of the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra Schools allowed her to penetrate their most abstruse ideas; and she uses Mahāyāna terms, among others to explain the first two Stanzas of Dzyan.

The Secret Doctrine can be seen as an expanded explanation of the Mūla Kālacakra tantra, in modern language, concerning ancient cosmology and human origins.

“Indeed, that which is given in these volumes is selected from oral, as much as from written teachings. This first instalment of the esoteric doctrines is based upon Stanzas, which are the records of a people unknown to ethnology; it is claimed that they are written in a tongue absent from the nomenclature of languages and dialects with which philology is acquainted; they are said to emanate from a source (Occultism) repudiated by science; and, finally, they are offered through an agency, incessantly discredited before the world by all those who hate unwelcome truths, or have some special hobby of their own to defend.” (H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, Introductory, p. xxxvii)

“It is needless to explain that this book is not the Secret Doctrine in its entirety, but a select number of fragments of its fundamental tenets, special attention being paid to some facts which have been seized upon by various writers, and distorted out of all resemblance to the truth.” (H.P. Blavatsky. The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, Preface, p. viii., 1888.)

Finnish and Theosophical Folklore

We can use texts like the Finnish Kalevala to understand the value of folklore and the place of Mythology in theosophical studies. The history of this mythology and the ideas of Golden Ages, abound in both the Northern European legends and folktale, just as in Tibet. In 1835, Elias Lönnrot compiled from Finnish and Karelian folklore, a manuscript titled “The Kalevala,” and completed it in a published 1849 version, a text quoted a few times in The Secret Doctrine. It was the time of Romanticism, and Wilhelm Richard Wagner. Richard Wagner’s operas invoked a sense of return to a once golden age, and the Karelian folklore, which is quoted in the beginning of Vol. II before Book II. Part I. of the Stanzas translated with Commentaries from “The Secret Book of Dzyan.”

William Sharp (1855–1905) stated in a Critical Introduction of the Kalevala:

“In it are reflected not only the manners, beliefs, superstitions, and customs of a race, but the very soul of that race” (C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917)

As well as in the “old Book,” as Blavatsky stated above:

This first instalment of the esoteric doctrines is based upon Stanzas, which are the records of a people unknown to ethnology (…) they are said to emanate from a source (Occultism) repudiated by science; and, finally, they are offered through an agency, incessantly discredited before the world by all those who hate unwelcome truths…” (H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, Introductory, p. xxxvii)

Like ‘The Kalevala’ the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan are written in prose. It also invokes poetic imagery, cosmogony and mythology of Nature, concerning the Kosmos, Space, and the boundlessness of that Nature’s cyclical and evolutionary development.

On Translating the Stanzas

H.P.B. claims in The Secret Doctrine, that the Stanzas, upon which The Secret Doctrine is built, are from the earlier mentioned unknown and Archaic folio, that is said to contain secret wisdom of the world and the pre-historic past — “a digest of all the Occult Sciences.” Further, they are linked to a “Secret Book of ‘Maitreya Buddha.’ It is in the possession of protectors, and written in a Mystery language, H.P.B. renders Sen-zar.

“The Book of Dzyan (or ‘Dzan’) is utterly unknown to our Philologists, or at any rate was never heard of by them under its present name.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. xxii.)

“We have now to speak of the Mystery language, that of the prehistoric races. It is not a phonetic, but a purely pictorial and symbolical tongue. It is known at present in its fulness to the very few, having become with the masses for more than 5,000 years an absolutely dead language.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 2, pg. 574).

The archaic manuscript is written in the special language, known to the initiates of the past and about a pre-historic past, according to history and oral tradition. Blavatsky hence, chose to use the Sanskrit terms that best expressed its metaphysical concepts. A perfect example is given in The Secret Doctrine, which is a similar advantage of Chinese language varieties, in that terms in Tibetan are very succinct. So, here she gives a few reasons for her translations and use of terms, she has been criticized for, but her explanations are ignored:

“Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the BOOK OF DZYAN – now rendered for the first time into a European language (…) To facilitate the reading, and to avoid the too frequent reference to foot-notes, it was thought best to blend together texts and glosses, using the Sanskrit and Tibetan proper names whenever these could not be avoided, in preference to giving the originals (…) were one to translate into English, using only the substantives and technical terms as employed in one of the Tibetan and Senzar versions, Shloka I would read as follows: Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan Ka m not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not. Dharmakāya ceased. Tgenchang not become; Barnang and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Pariniṣpanna).” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, pg. 87)

Technically, we are told, without the use of the glosses and commentaries, and rendered in her own way, through Hindu-Buddhist expression, it would be gibberish to us. The Hindus and Buddhists, have in ways preserved their esoteric themes. Blavatsky transmits what she has been taught, paraphrasing Montaigne, “I have here made only a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the string that ties them.” All of this only seems strange to the Westerner, because of the illusion of exoticness.

Being that this is all connected with Kālacakra and esoteric exegesis, these are practical teachings and concepts, that the Christian nor Western esoteric traditions have not fully prepared, or been able to prepare the Western mind for. Speaking of the Jesus in the New Testament, due to the exclusivity attributed to this literary character, Blavatsky once stated:

“Jesus taught the world nothing that had not been taught as earnestly before by other masters. He begins his sermon (on the Mount) with certain purely Buddhistic precepts that had found acceptance among the Essenes, and were generally practised by the Orphikoi, and the Neo-Platonists (…) Every word of his sermon is an echo of the essential principles of monastic Buddhism. The ten commandments of Buddha, as found in an appendix to the Pratimokṣa-Sūtra (Pali-Burmese text), are elaborated to their full extent in Matthew.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. 2, pp. 552-3)

There are researchers interested in the validity of Blavatsky’s claims, and it was essential to just give where the information she uses originates from. In other words, it is not syncretism, gibberish, or “constructed,” and more researchers should stop underestimating the claims, so we can derive as much information about it from the clues given.


† “The Book of Dzyan—from the Sanskrit word “Dhyâna” (mystic meditation)—is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers.

Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed “The Popularised Version” of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds, and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand—with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World—contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences. These, it appears, are kept secret and apart, in the charge of the Teshu-Lama of Shigatse. The Books of Kiu-te are comparatively modern, having been edited within the last millennium, whereas, the earliest volumes of the Commentaries are of untold antiquity, some fragments of the original cylinders having been preserved. With the exception that they explain and correct some of the too fabulous, and to every appearance, grossly-exaggerated accounts in the Books of Kiu-te—properly so called—the Commentaries have little to do with these.”

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