Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Panchen Lama’s Inscription for The Voice of the Silence

The Peking edition of Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence reproduced the above Tibetan script written by the Panchen Lama for this reprint. The book contained the following “free rendering” in English:

All beings desire liberation from misery.   
Seek, therefore, for the causes of misery and expunge them.
By entering on the Path liberation from misery is attained. 
Exhort, then, all beings to enter the Path.

Thanks to David Reigle we are fortunate to have another translation, done this time by Lozang Jamspal, formerly of the Tashi-lunpho Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama, and an instructor in Tibetan at Columbia University in New York.

“Those who do not want unbearable suffering,      
should eliminate its cause, the defilements.        
In order to achieve liberation, free from (the defilements),       
one should practice thoroughly the good path leading to (liberation).”      
Thus (the Buddha) declared the teaching of (the four noble) truths.

Blavatskiana: The Voice of the Silence

HPB has written that the study of The Secret Doctrine without The Voice of the Silence could lead to black magic. (We read this reference by her many years ago but now cannot find the citation. Perhaps one of our readers can help.) Maybe it is because, as she states in The Secret Doctrine, the system “gives a clue to tremendous occult powers, the abuse of which would cause incalculable evil to humanity.”

The Voice of the Silence was published in September 1889. It claims to be from the same instructional material as the stanzas of The Secret Doctrine. The title page tells us that it is chosen fragments from the “Book of the Golden Precepts”—“one of the works put into the hands of mystic students in the East.” The second and third parts are essentially a guide to the bodhisattva path, focusing on the paramitas as the means.”

Copies of the first edition of 1889 are quite scarce. Facsimiles of it have been printed over the years, one by Aquarian Press in London in 1953, another by the Edmonton Theosophical Society in 1991 (both reprint the London/New York edition, not the London/Madras edition). The 1889 edition is available online from Google books from a copy at Harvard bearing the bookplate of the eminent American Sanskrit scholar Charles Rockwell Lanman, as can be seen here.

The copy would certainly be the one in the TS Archives at Adyar, India, bearing the inscription: H.P.B. to H.P. Blavatsky with no kind regards. On the centenary of the book in 1989 Raghavan Iyer and Concord Grove Press in Santa Barbara, California, issued a large format edition with a foreword by the Fourteen Dalai Lama, which reads in part: “I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path.

But for us, the copy of The Voice of the Silence is the one issued in Peking, China, in 1931 by the Chinese Buddhist Research Society and edited by Alice Cleather and Basil Crump which features an inscription written for this edition by the Ninth Panchen Lama (this edition had already been issued in 1927 and again in 1928, but the 1931 edition contains an errata and list of corrections along with a photograph of the Panchen Lama taken by Basil Crump in Peking). A facsimile of it has since been reprinted by HPB Library in Canada.

More Secret Doctrine

The Blavatsky Archives website has images of a copy of The Secret Doctrine inscribed to Bertram Keightley, another of the editors of the book. It can be seen here. Bertram (1860-1944) was the uncle of Archibald Keightley (1859-1930), though he was actually a year older (Bertram’s brother was the father of Archibald Keightley). The biographical entry on him in Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 9, p. 435, gives the year of his death as 1945, but the correct date of his passing is October 31, 1944.

Bert and Arch, as they were known, came in contact with HPB during her 1884 visit to London and remained dedicated theosophists for the rest of their lives, becoming key players in later theosophical history. Archibald Keightley died New York City, while Bertram Keightley died in Allahabad, India. They are remembered by Mohandas Gandhi as playing an important role in his rediscovery of his Indian heritage.

One of our readers has alerted us to a collection of books by Blavatsky that will be put up for sale on Ebay in June. These include early editions of Isis Unveiled, The Key to Theosophy, the Voice of the Silence, and an 1888 two-volume set of The Secret Doctrine. The list can be accessed here.

How to Read The Secret Doctrine

In response to the question on how to approach Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, the answer is provided in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. “‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’” The comments attributed to HPB about “reading the SD page by page as one reads any other book will only end us in confusion,” doesn’t ring true. For as anyone who has read the book knows, some of the best insights are buried in a footnote or passing remark—the reward to the diligent reader. Perhaps the phrase, “as one reads any other book,” might be the clarification. For if one approaches the book as one would any other book, coming to it to get something out of it, one would surely be disappointed or confused. Esoteric texts do not give up their secrets so easily.

John Algeo, in his booklet Getting Acquainted with The Secret Doctrine, has described reading the book as a voyage of discovery. The purpose of the SD is not to make us happy by entertaining us, or knowledgeable by instructing us, or sensitive by inspiring us. Its purpose is to help us discover Truth. So, to approach The Secret Doctrine as a textbook, as most theosophical studies and commentaries have done, is surely to miss the joy of discovery and its fantastic voyage.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blavatskiana: The Secret Doctrine

The best known of Mme. Blavatsky’s books is certainly The Secret Doctrine. Copies of the first edition of 1888 are quite scarce, the second edition (or printing, in this case) even more so. There have been four-volume editions, six-volume editions, but what would be the copy for someone who is not only a collector but also a student of her works and would like to actually use the copy they purchase instead of just admiring it? In this case the Theosophical University Press 1988 two-volume cloth facsimile of the first edition would certainly be the copy, for it was issued on the centenary of the book itself. It is a tangible recognition of the enduring relevance of The Secret Doctrine. The stature of the 1988 edition has increased by the subsequent reprinting of the book by Theosophical University Press, making this edition a collector’s item.

Attendant with the publishing of the 1988 facsimile edition were a number of publications celebrating the centenary of The Secret Doctrine. Different Theosophical groups issued souvenirs, such as The Secret Doctrine Centenary Souvenir from the Adyar Lodge of the Theosophical Society in India containing a number of insightful pieces by members of that group. The Theosophical Society with International Headquarters in Pasadena, California, held a two-day conference in 1988 and issued a 121 page Report of Proceedings. Quest Books, an imprint of the Theosophical Publishing House in Wheaton, Illinois, in the U.S.A., published an expanded version of H.P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine, containing an excellent collection of 21 essays from a wide range of Theosophical scholars who had made a contribution to the study of The Secret Doctrine, such as Boris de Zirkoff, Geoffrey Barborka, Christmas Humphreys, and others. For those who find all this material, as well as The Secret Doctrine itself, overwhelming there is Michael Gomes’ recent abridgement of The Secret Doctrine published by Tarcher/Penguin in 2009. It contains a useful introduction to the ideas in the book as well as a critical edition of the stanzas that inspire the contents of the book.

Annie Besant, whose reading The Secret Doctrine led her to meet Mme. Blavatsky, and who edited the book for its third edition, has an interesting insight into the nature of the work (and only the comments of those who have actually read through the book and understand its philosophical pedigree are worth considering). She wrote in 1895: “The value of The Secret Doctrine does not lie in the separate materials, but in the building of them into a connected whole, as the value of an architect’s plan is not lessened because the building is made of bricks wrought by other hands.”


In an issue of the Antiquarian Bookman for 1952 Boris de Zirkoff described the term “Blavatskiana” as follows: I think it can be truthfully stated that there exists today a field that might be called ‘Blavatskiana’, considering the many editions of her well known works, and the projected editions of her less known and scattered writings and letters.Under this heading (first used in William T. Stead’s Borderland in the 1890s) we propose to feature an ongoing series that looks at books that fit into this category. Not just any books about or by Blavatsky, but those of undeniable merit, indispensable for a greater understanding of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The focus will also be on the copy.

The late Robert Lee Wolff, former head of the History Department at Harvard, used this term in his eminently readable Strange Stories and other Explorations in Victorian Fiction:

 The copy is usually but not always a first edition; it is usually but not always a copy inscribed by the author; it may be the dedication copy—that inscribed to the book’s dedicatee; but it is not necessarily any of these. The copy is one that so compellingly evokes for its owner the author of the book, the circumstances under which it was written, its impact on its time and on readers since its appearance, its meaning, in the largest sense of that term, that the owner smugly says: this is it, the copy.

In regard to one of HPB’s best known books, The Secret Doctrine, the copy might be the one she inscribed to Archibald Keightley:

To Archibald Keightley, my truly loved friend and brother, and one of the zealous editors of this work; and may these volumes, when their author is dead and gone, remind him of her, whose name in the present incarnation is
H.P. Blavatsky   

My days are my Pralayas, my nights—my Manvantaras.

H.P.B., Feb. 1, 1889    London

Until thirty years ago, such an inscribed volume might still have been picked up from an out-of-print book dealer for under $200. U.S. Today, it would be out of the range of most mere mortals. So, in this series, we have decided to look, on a less elevated level, at what the copy in theosophical literature might be for our times.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wong Chin Foo

The following quote in the American Buddhist journal, Wisdom Quarterly, for May 23, from Wendy Cadge’s Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America, reminded us of another missionary, Wong Chin Foo, who frequented Mme. Blavatsky’s apartment in the late 1870s.

The origin of Theravada Buddhism in America can be traced to a speech made by Anagarika Dharmapala at the World Parliament of Religions meeting in 1893. Born in 1864 in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Don David Hewavitharne became a celibate layman and adopted the title Anagarika Dharmapala, meaning “homeless one,” “guardian of the Dharma.” Heavily influenced by Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907) and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), Theosophists who first visited India and Ceylon from America in 1878 [sic] and 1880, Dharmapala spent his life spreading Buddhism around the world. At the Parliament, Dharmapala spoke about how Buddhism, Christianity, and scientific approaches to the world overlap, saying that the “Buddha inculcated the necessity of self-reliance and independent thought,” and “accepted the doctrine of evolution as the only true one.” Theosophists and others in the United States were influenced by elements of Theravada Buddhism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

HPB referred to Wong Chin Foo as “a very earnest and enthusiastic student,” but the only record of his interaction with Theosophists is in Michael Gomes’ 1987 Dawning of the Theosophical Movement. The New York Times for April 30, 1877, carries an interesting article about his lecture in her rooms that quotes her as saying: “They may say as much as they please against the Buddhists. The Buddhists don’t believe in eternal hell, nor do their priests spend their time running after other men’s wives.” The rest of the article can be read here.

Wong Chin Foo (or Huang Qingfu), who was born in China in 1847
(or 1851, depending what source is used), is remembered today not for his missionary attempts or his 1887 article, “Why I am a Heathen,” but for his social activism. In 1883 he launched a short-lived bilingual weekly newspaper, The Chinese American, in New York, and in 1892 founded the Chinese Equal Rights League of America. According to his naturalization papers he stated that he first came to the U.S. in 1864 (other accounts give 1868) to study and later returned to China for three years. He became U.S. citizen in 1874 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (copies of his naturalization papers and other documents about him can be seen at the website of the Grand Rapids Historical Commission here). His work as a journalist, social activist, and lecturer took him through Chicago, New York, and finally San Francisco, but he disappears from history around the turn of the 20th century and his ultimate fate is unknown. In his chapter on Wong Chin Foo in Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era, edited by K. Scott Wong and Sucheng Chan, Qingsong Zhang writes that “his life and activities are a forgotten chapter in the history of the American civil rights movement” and compares his work to that of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Hidden Meaning of the Wizard of Oz

May 15 was the 154 anniversary of the birth of the American children’s fiction writer, L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). The website Illuminati Watch for May 14 reprints a long post titled “The Hidden Meaning of the Wizard of Oz” from the Vigilant Citizen website of Oct. 8, 2009. This is a subject that has been worn threadbare in recent years, starting with Theosophists and taken up by books like The zen of Oz: ten spiritual lessons from over the rainbow, 1998, and others. Baum, of course, was a Theosophist, joining the Theosophical Society in America in 1892. His best-known book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900, was adapted as the famous film of 1939 and has become a rite of passage for almost every child in America. The film’s imagery has also been a source of inspiration for artists, from Andy Warhol to Harry Smith, who tried his hand at animating it (we’ve seen all 15 minutes of it!).

Illuminati Watch, which sees the hand of Illuminati conspiracy in all things modern, especially in contemporary music from rap to Lady Gaga, turns its attention to The Wizard of Oz:

The Wizard of Oz’s great success confirms America’s (and the Western world’s) real spiritual dogma. Written during the 1890’s, when most Americans were conservative Christians, Baum’s story anticipated the population’s progressive abandonment of traditional religions and the embrace of a new form of spirituality. Today’s New Age movements are gaining many adepts and, even if most of them are total shams, they all claim to be inspired by Theosophy. Could such tales have contributed to the spectacular decline of Christianity in the past decades while other movements continue to gain momentum?

Ironically, in proceeding to outline their argument they have provided a succinct overview of the themes—allegorical, spiritual, and metaphysical—of the book, liberally quoting from Blavatsky. It can be read here.

“The Witch,” from Andy Warhol’s Myth Series, 1981
Margaret Hamilton, photographed by Warhol,
reprising her role from the film The Wizard of Oz

Thursday, May 13, 2010

C. H. A. Bjerregaard

The blog The Gurdjieff Con for May 6, 2010, carries a brief note about C. H. A. Bjerregaard and his connection with HPB. Bjerregaard is cited approvingly in The Secret Doctrine and articles by him appeared in the New York Path. Yet nothing exists on him in any theosophical account (there is no entry for him in the Cumulative Index to the Blavatsky Collected Writings series though he is referenced by HPB on p. 42 of volume 8).

Carl Henrik Andreas Bjerregaard (1845-1922) was born in Denmark in 1845. Graduating from the University of Copenhagen in 1863, he went on to become a professor of botany. In 1873 he came to America and in 1879 became Librarian at the Astor Library, which later merged with the Lenox Library to form the Reference Division of the New York Public Library, eventually becoming Chief of its Main Reading Room. His interest in the spiritual life can be seen in the books and articles he wrote. This may explain the extensive collection of theosophical material at the New York Public Library.

Of his relevance, The Gurdjieff Con notes: So, there was already an active Theosophical scene in New York and a librarian who was also a theosophist would have served a valuable function as part of the referral network and as one who created contributions to the literature.

In The Secret Doctrine, volume 1, p. 630, HPB quotes “the opinion of this learned and thoughtful theosophist, Mr. C. H. A. Bjerregaard,” on the Monad, from his “excellent paper on ‘The Elementals, the Elementary Spirits, and the relationship between them and Human Beings,’” read by him at the Theosophical Society in New York, and printed in The Path, Jan. and Feb. 1887: Every monad is a living mirror of the universe, within its own sphere. And mark this, for upon it depends the power possessed by these monads, and upon it depends the work they can do for us: in mirroring the world, the monads are not mere passive reflective agents, but spontaneously self-active; they produce the images spontaneously, as the soul does a dream. In every monad, therefore, the adept may read everything, even the future. Every monad or Elemental is a looking-glass that can speak.

His books include: Lectures on mysticism and nature worship, 1896 and 1897; Sufi interpretations of the quatrains of Omar Khayyam and Fitzgerald, 1902; Jesus: a poet, prophet, mystic and man of freedom, 1912; The inner life and the Tao-teh-king, 1912; The great mother, a gospel of the eternally-feminine; occult and scientific studies and experiences in the sacred and secret life, 1913; Sufism: Omar Khayyam and E. Fitzgerald, 1915.

In the November 1915 issue of The Sufi, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan wrote of him: “He has explained how the conventional phraseology of Sufi poets has been so often misinterpreted by writers who have only been linguists – no mystics.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mme. Blavatsky’s Ashes

Mme. Blavatsky was cremated in London. Her ashes were divided into three parts: one portion kept in London, one sent to New York, and the other sent to Adyar, Madras, India. The portion of the ashes sent to New York eventually went to Point Loma, California, and should be at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Pasadena, California. The portion sent to India was eventually buried by Col. Olcott under the statue of HPB he had commissioned for the meeting hall at Adyar (later a portion was taken for the Garden of Remembrance on the compound).

The portion kept in London was placed in an elaborate urn, based on a design by the artist Reginald Machell, and executed by a Swedish theosophist, Sven Bengtsson, in 1892. An account at the time gives the following description: Beneath the flaming heart rising from an unfolded lotus, wrought in silver, is a square block bearing the dates 1831, 1875, 1879, 1891. This block rests on the fluted copper dome, round the base of which runs the motto of the T.S., Satyat nasti paro dharma [There is no religion higher than truth]. The pedestal of the dome is carved in panels, with Theosophical emblems graven thereon; the Tau with the Serpent, the interlaced Triangles, the Triangle of the initiate, the Elephant of Wisdom, and others. The whole stands on a three-stepped square block, at each corner of which is a small dome on light pillars. The urn was later transferred to the Theosophical headquarters at Adyar, and now resides in the museum there. It is still quite impressive, standing over two feet high, wide, and deep. The ashes it once contained were deposited in the Ganges River in Benares.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

White Lotus Day

This is the last Will and Testament of me Helena Petrovna Blavatsky of Adyar, Madras, India. I desire my body to be burned in the Compound of the Theosophical Society’s Headquarters at Adyar, Madras, and the ashes to be buried in the said Compound and that none who are not Theosophists shall be present at the burning. I desire that yearly, on the anniversary of my death some of my friends should assemble at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society and read a chapter of Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia and Bhagavad Gita.

After payment of my just debts (if any), and funeral and testamentary expenses, I give devise and bequeath unto Colonel H. S. Olcott of Adyar, Madras, my books, for the use of the Literary Committee of the Theosophical Society, also my furniture for use at the Head Quarters of the said Society. Also my property in Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine and The Theosophist, also one of the two pairs of Candlesticks given me by my aunt, also to Damodar, Babajee and Ananda, my three silver mugs. Also to Dr. Hartmann one of the pairs of Candlesticks given me by my aunt. Also to my nieces all my dresses and clothing (but not sheets or bedding), also to Louisa Mitchell the shawl now in the possession of Mr. [sic] Holloway.

Note that the oval silver box is the property of Damodar, and as to the residue and remainder of my property, I give devise and bequeath the same unto Colonel Henry S. Olcott requesting him to distribute any small articles of no great value which I may die possessed of, to such friends and acquaintances as are Theosophists, according to his own discretion. And I hereby appoint Colonel Henry S. Olcott and Damodar K. Mavalankar, or the Survivor of them, to be executors of this my Will as witness this 31st day of January 1885, Adyar, Madras, India.
H. P. Blavatsky

A year after HPB's death in 1891, Col. Olcott, on the basis of this Will at the High Court of Madras, established White Lotus Day as a day of remembrance. At the first observance in London on May 8, 1892, Annie Besant added the reading of HPB’s Voice of the Silence, and this has become part of the tradition. The name “White Lotus Day” also probably hearkens to the fact that the lotus blooms in profusion at this time in Madras. Although numerous groups throughout the world observe White Lotus Day on their closest meeting to the date, the headquarters at the Theosophical Society in Adyar for the past 118 years has been adhering the terms of her Will and holds its gathering on May 8 itself. Residents and visitors meet in the morning in the hall where a portion of HPB’s ashes are buried and after the suggested readings make an offering, in typical Indian fashion, of a few flowers before her statue. She has not been forgotten.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blavatsky and British Politics?

In one of the more unusual things to emerge from the upcoming May 6 British election, which will decide the new Prime Minister, is the claim that Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is related to Blavatsky. The Independent of London for April 28, 2010, reports:

More fascinating stuff about the Liberal Democrat leader's pedigree. On the Russian side, Nick Clegg is related to Madame Blavatsky, the interesting founder of theosophy, who claimed to have psychic powers. One of her followers, for example, claimed to see streams of astral light coming from Madame B's cuckoo clock, and she once made a teacup materialise when an unexpected guest turned up to a picnic. No doubt such memories explain why Nick has taken to saying when asked about a hung parliament: “I'm Nick Clegg, not Nostradamus.”

His great-great-grandfather was the Russian nobleman Ignaty Zakrevsky, and Clegg (born in 1967) speaks English, Dutch (his mother is Dutch), French, German, and Spanish (his wife is Spanish). Whether the information about his relation to Blavatsky is being circulated as a political plus or minus remains to be seen. Striking for a politician is his stated view that he does not believe in God, though he has great respect for people of faith.