Introductory Notes on the The Secret Doctrine
Notes on the "Introduction" to The Secret Doctrine
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“Esoteric Buddhism” was the title of a book published in 1883 by A. P. Sinnett based on his correspondence with HPB’s teachers. It was one of the first presentations of modern theosophic philosophy.
Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840-1921)
Prominent English theosophist and editor of The Pioneer, an influential Anglo-Indian newspaper published in Allahabad.
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Budh-ism (from Sanskrit budh, “to awaken, to know”)
Budhism is equivalent to the Greek theosophia (divine wisdom), as well as other terms such as Wisdom Religion, Esoteric Philosophy, Perennial Wisdom and ancient Wisdom Tradition.
two European gentlemen
Alfred Percy Sinnett and Allan Octavian Hume.
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Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907)
One of the principal founders of the Theosophical Society, and its President from its beginning in 1875 until his death.
Initiate (from Latin initio, “entering into, beginning”)
One who has passed at least one initiation of the sacred mysteries.
Ancient founder of the first Yogāchāra school of Buddhism and a disciple of Gautama, the Buddha.
The primordial element in nature, the primal matter of the universe.
“the primeval uncreated cause of all”
“Before (the evolution of) the mundane egg, existed Brahmā, who was Hiranyagarbha, the form of (that supreme) Brahma which consists of Vishnu as identical with the Rig-, Yajur-, and Sāma- (Vedas); the primeval, uncreated cause of all worlds [Ādibhūta].” – Vishnu Purāna, tr. H. H. Wilson (ed. Fitzedward Hall), 1866, Vol. III, Bk. IV, Chap. I, p. 230 & fn.
Fitzedward Hall (1825-1901)
American Orientalist, professor of Sanskrit at King’s College, London, and editor of H. H. Wilson’s translation of The Vishnu Purāna, 5 vols., 1864.
Buddhi (from Sanskrit budh, “to awaken, to know”)
In theosophy, the second of seven human principles. It forms the organ or vehicle which allows expression of spiritual consciousness.
The divine or universal Self, pure consciousness, present in all beings. During human incarnation the lowest aspects of ātman take on attributes, because it is linked with buddhi, and buddhi is linked with the ego-consciousness. In theosophy, Ātman is the first of seven principles of man.
Vikāra (Sanskrit, “deviation”)
A change of form or nature, an alteration or deviation from any natural state. A change from the naturally quiescent and peaceful condition of the inner being.
Avalokiteśvara (Sanskrit from ava, “down” + lok, “to look at, contemplate” + īśvara, “lord”)
The lord who is perceived; the divinity or lord seen or contemplated in its inferior or “downward-seen” aspect. Avalokiteśvara is an important bodhisattva in Mahāyāna Buddhism.
“Simultaneously with the evolution of the Universal Mind, the concealed Wisdom of Adi-Buddha – the One Supreme and eternal – manifests itself as Avalôkitêsvara (or manifested Iswara), which is the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Heavenly Man of the Hermetic philosopher, the Logos of the Platonists, and the Atman of the Vedantins.” – SD 1:110
Nirvāna (Sanskrit, “blown out”)
A state of consciousness liberated from the limitations of objective matter. The lower aspects of human consciousness are “blown out” and the spiritual self merges with the pure consciousness of its own divine essence.
Mukti [or Moksha] (Sanskrit, “liberation”)
Release from human suffering, freedom from the cycle of physical life, death, and rebirth.
Māyā (Sanskrit, “illusion, appearance” from the root mā, “to measure”)
Māyā does not mean that a thing seen does not exist, but that we are blinded by our own thoughts and do not as yet arrive at the real interpretation and meaning of the universe around us. In Brahmanical philosophy, it is the fabrication by the human mind of ideas derived from interior and exterior impressions, as it tries to interpret and understand the universe.
Bodhi (Sanskrit, “awakened”)
Perfect wisdom or enlightenment; true divine wisdom. A state of consciousness in which the mind is so “emptied” that it is completely filled with selfless awareness of the eternal.
Samādhi (“to direct towards” from Sanskrit sam, “with” + ā, “towards” + the root dhā, “to place or bring”)
Intense contemplation or profound meditation, with the consciousness directed to the spiritual. Samādhi is neither a straining concentration on one point, nor is the mind directed from here (subject) to there (object), which would be a dualistic mode of experience.
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absolute Divine Principle
“The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions: –absolute and abstract Ens (Latin, from esse, “to be”)
(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought – in the words of Mandukya, ‘unthinkable and unspeakable.’ ” – SD 1:14
“Essential being,” the inmost essence of all nature.
the Ever Unknowable
“The ever unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart – invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through ‘the still small voice’ of our spiritual consciousness.” – SD 1:280
Dan, Jan-na, Dhyan, Dzan, Ch’an
In this sense, these terms refer to a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism developed in China through the convergence of Dhyāna Buddhism and Taoism. Dhyāna (Sanskrit), or Janna (Chinese), is a meditative state in which the mind is absorbed in the object of contemplation.
Arhat (Sanskrit, “worthy one”)
Historically, the circle of Arhats were Gautama Buddha’s most advanced disciples.
Saptaparna or Sattapanni Cave
Described by Fa-hsien as the “rock chamber called Sataparna, where, after the passing of Buddha, five hundred Lo-han [holy men] compiled the Sutras.”
Mahāvanśa [or Mahāvamśa] (Sanskrit, “great lineage”)
A Pāli work written by the monk Mahānāma in the 5th century, treating Buddhist history and its spread in Sri Lanka.
Mount Baibhar [Baibhar Hill]
Site of the First Buddhist Council (543 BCE), near Rājagriha.
Rājagriha, capital of Magadha
Rājagriha (“royal residence”) was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Magadha (in NE India). It is now called Rajgir, in the Indian state of Bihar.
Fa-hsien [Fa Hien, Faxian] (c.334 - c.422)
Chinese monk who described his pilgrimage to the Buddhist kingdoms of India in his book Fo-kuo chi (tr. H. A. Giles, The Travels of Fa-hsien, 1923).
J. D. M. Beglar
Assistant to Sir Alexander Cunningham, director general of the Indian Archeological Survey. In the 1870s Beglar was in charge of the excavations at Bodh-gayā.
A town SW of Rājagriha, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
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Brahmin [or Brāhmana]
A member of the priestly class, the highest of the four orthodox Hindu castes. Originally an individual became a Brahmin through personal merit and initiation, but priestcraft gradually entered in, so that the son of a Brahmin became a Brahmin by right of descent.
The “warrior caste,” the second of the four orthodox Hindu castes. In ancient India the Kshatriyas were the rulers of state and the noble class.
Dvija (Sanskrit, “twice-born”)
In theosophical literature, Dvija is used for an initiate in the original sense of the word: one who really and actually is twice-born – the first time physically, the second time spiritually and intellectually through a process of inner growth culminating in initiation.
Self-styled, so-called or pretended.
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circulo vicioso (Spanish)
A vicious circle, where the effort to solve a problem creates a worse problem.
A Jewish sect or priestly class believed to have begun around 200 BCE and which lasted until the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Today, as a general term, Sadducees has the meaning of skeptics or materialists.
Horace Greeley (1811-1872)
Influential American journalist, whose major causes included labor unions, women’s rights, temperance, and the abolition of slavery.
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Hieroglyphs are pictographic symbols used in a system of writing by many ancient peoples. Each of these symbols is ideographic – it directly signifies an idea or object.
alphabet of Cadmus
In Greek mythology, it was Cadmus (son of Phoenix, king of Phoenicia) who brought the alphabet to Greece. Modern scholarship indicates that the Greek alphabet is indeed derived from a Phoenician script.
The alphabetic script of Aryan India, in which the Sanskrit language is usually written. A form of Devanāgarī is still used to write several vernacular Indic languages, such as Hindi, Prakrit, and Marathi.
Begun by Ptolemy Soter in the 3rd century BCE and expanded by his successor Ptolemy Philadelphus. There were two principal libraries, their collection of rolls or “books” estimated between 400,000 and 700,000. One of these libraries was destroyed by Aurelian in 273. In 390 Theodosius ordered the destruction of the remaining library, and its books were pillaged by Christians.
The various groups of adepts around the world. Each group of adepts is drawn together by its own bond of spiritual communion.
Akbar the Great (1542-1605)
Mogul emperor of India (1556-1605). He was tolerant of religions other than Islam and had a genuine interest in their teachings and scriptures.
F. Max Müller (1823-1900)
Vedic scholar, first professor of comparative philology at Oxford, editor of The Sacred Books of the East (51 volumes).
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Badāonī [Badā‘ūnī, ‘Abd al-Qādir] (1540-1615)
Indo-Persian historian, author of a controversial history of Hindustan, which was severely critical of Akbar’s religious views. While this book was kept secret during Akbar’s reign, two other favorable histories were published, Akbar-nama and Ā‘īn-i-Akbarī (both written by Abū al-Fazl ‘Allami).
gonpa [dgon-pa] (Tibetan, “wilderness, wilderness dwelling”)
A solitary hermitage or monastery in the wilderness.
lhakhang (Tibetan, “god-house”)
A temple or image hall, especially one that is underground.
Tsaidam [or Qaidam]
The Tsaidam is a salt marsh basin in the northern plateau of Tibet.
Kuen-lun [Kun Lun]
The Kuen-lun is a massive mountain range on the northern edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Altyn-Tag [Altun Mountains]
A branch of the Kuen-lun, just north of the Tsaidam Basin.
Muntakhab al-tavārīkh (Arabic, “Selection from History”)
Often called “Badā‘ūnī’s History.” Passages from this work on the religious views of Akbar were included in H. Blochmann's translation of Ā‘īn-i-Akbarī.
Śramana (Sanskrit, “one who is consciously striving”)
An ascetic who performs acts of penance and mortification for spiritual ends.
Son of Akbar the Great. He succeeded his father in 1605.
Ā‘īn-i-Akbarī (Arabic, “Institutes of Akbar”)
An account of the religious and political administration of Akbar’s empire, written by Akbar’s chief counselor and historiographer, Abū al-Fazl ‘Allami. HPB quotes from the translation and commentary by H. Blochmann, 1873 (see reprint by Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1977, pp. 111n, 188-90).
Mountain range that runs along the border between Pakistan and China.
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Lao-tse [or Lao-tzu] (6th century BCE)
A Chinese sage who was given the title Lao-tse (“Old Master”). Said to have been keeper of the imperial archives or court librarian at Loyang, in Honan province, he is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism. The book attributed to him, the Tao-te ching, may have been an oral teaching that was passed on by his students and written down two or three centuries later.
Tao-te-King [Tao-te ching] (Chinese, “The Book of the Way and Its Power”)
The principal work of Taoism, consisting of 81 short chapters written in a terse, pithy style. Its teaching is imparted mainly by means of paradoxes.
Stanislas Julien (1799-1873)
A distinguished French scholar, professor at the Collège de France and a master of Greek, Latin, Chinese, Sanskrit, and Manchu. In the study of Chinese, he was considered the foremost scholar of his time.
Sinologue (from Greek Sinai, “the Chinese” + logia, “words, speech”)
A specialist in the study of the Chinese, especially their language, literature, history, and culture.
the Five King [Ching] and the Four Shu-books
Also known as the “Chinese Classics.” “The Five Ching” are The Book of Changes (Yi), The Book of History (Shu), The Book of Poetry (Shih), The Record of Rites (Li Chi), and Spring and Autumn (Ch’un Ch’iu). “The Four Shu,” are “The Books of the Four Philosophers”: The Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, and Mencius. “The Five Ching” was the work of Confucius (K’ung-tzu), but mainly as compiler, for most of the material (except for Spring and Autumn) is a compilation of teachings that were far more ancient.
Lectures on the “Science of Religion”
Max Müller’s lectures were published in 1873, under the title Introduction to the Science of Religion (quote, p. 114). The lectures were reprinted in 1881 (with additional material) under the title Lectures on the Science of Religion.
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Denotes the nations described in Genesis 10, as the descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, the ancestor of the Semitic peoples: the Hebrews, the Arabs, the Assyrians, and the Aramaens.
The religious texts of the ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. These peoples were referred to in Hellenistic times as “the Chaldees.” They were renowned for their mathematical and astronomical lore, and the word “Chaldee” often meant an adept, a magician, or an astrologer.
Magi (pl. of Old Persian magus, “a wise man”)
A hereditary priestly caste in ancient Persia and Media. In the Bible “Magi” is translated as “wise men.”
Berosus (3rd century BCE)
A priest of Belus living in Babylon at the time of Alexander the Great. Berosus wrote two books on Babylonian history, making extensive use of the temple chronicles at Babylon. Only fragments of these books survive, preserved mainly by Apollodorus, Alexander Polyhistor, Josephus, and Eusebius.
Lucius Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor (1st century)
A famous Greek scholar enslaved by the Romans. He was taken to Rome as a tutor and was later given his freedom. He gained his reputation as a great scholar by writing an extraordinary number of books on history, geography, science, philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric. His major work was a series of 42 books on the history and geography of the ancient world. Most of his works are now lost, but many fragments have been preserved in the writings of Clement and Eusebius.
Eusebius Pamphili, Bishop of Caesarea (c.264 - c.340)
Theologian and historian, called the father of ecclesiastical history, best known for his History of the Christian Church. Ancient writers as well as modern scholars have accused Eusebius of interpolating, embellishing, distorting, and falsifying the works of earlier writers to make their accounts conform with the biblical record. In his Chronicon he collapsed Manetho’s long chronology of Egyptian history into 2206 years.
Manetho (3rd century BCE)
Egyptian high priest, scribe of the temples. His Egyptian History is the only work in Greek that is based on an intimate knowledge of ancient Egyptian sources. This work is known only through a few passages in Josephus and from tables of kings and dynasties transcribed by Christian chronographers. Manetho’s “Synchronistic Tables” were distorted by Eusebius in his arrangement of biblical chronology.
Christian Charles Josias, Baron von Bunsen (1791-1860)
Prussian diplomat and scholar, writing works in both German and English, specializing in biblical chronology and comparative religion. In his five-volume work, Egypt’s Place in Universal History (1848), he restores Manetho’s chronology with the use of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions, and he makes a linguistic analysis of the Egyptian language in order to establish its position in primeval history.
George Smith (1840-1876)
British Assyriologist. Through the study of Assyrian inscriptions on the cuneiform tablets on display at the British Museum and travels to the Middle East, he made significant discoveries, becoming famous for his translation of the Chaldean account of the Great Flood found in the eleventh tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876)
George Smith undertook three expeditions to the Middle East to conduct excavations in and around Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian Empire. He recounted some of his discoveries in The Chaldean Account of Genesis, Containing the Description of the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, the Times of the Patriarchs, and Nimrod.
Because of his textual distortions, Eusebius has often been denounced as a forger. An example of this are the two books of his Chronicon. In Book 1 he quotes (and misquotes) extensively from earlier writers, and in Book 2 he distorts Manetho’s “Synchronistic Tables.” The original Greek text of the Chronicon was lost (fragments of Book 1 were quoted in other manuscripts, and there was a Latin translation of Book 2). But an Armenian translation of the entire work was discovered in 1782, thus the phrase “Armenain forger[y].”
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Cosmic entities who descended into matter to form and inform the lower worlds. In doing so they rebelled in a purely mystical sense against spirit or heaven, asserting individual free will and divine love, for their act is in part one of compassion and self-sacrifice. The myth in its original form has many variants, as in the story of Prometheus, Bel and Tiamat, and the Dragon of Revelation.
Bel and the Dragon
A universal myth is that of the sun god fighting the dragon and eventually killing it, which represents the descent of spirit into matter. There are Bel and the dragon Tiamat among the Babylonians and Hebrews. There is also the Dragon of Revelation, which has been misinterpreted as evil. Cosmologically, all dragons represent unregulated or chaotic cosmic principles. When they are slain, chaos is brought to order by the spiritual sun gods or formative cosmic powers (see “The Gods of Light Proceed from the Gods of Darkness,” SD 2:483-92).
Rig-Veda (Sanskrit, “verses of knowledge”)
The oldest and most important of the four Vedas, it has 1,028 hymns of praise addressed to various entities and powers of nature. To this Veda also belong three classes of commentaries and treatises: the Brāhmanas, the Āranyakas, and the Upanishads.
Brāhmanas (Sanskrit, “a statement on Brahman” – the Ground of Being which “breathes” forth the universe)
Originally, the Brāhmanas were theological tracts written for and by initiated Brahmins and were intended to give insight into the mysteries of being. Now they are used mainly for ritual purposes, as rules for the proper chanting and usage of mantras or hymns at sacrifices, illustrated by legends and stories.
Kanjur [Kangyur] (Tibetan, bka' 'gyur, “Translation of the Word of Buddha”) and Tanjur [Tengyur] (bstan 'gyur, “Translation of the Teaching of Buddha”)
The canon of Tibetan Buddhism, more than 300 volumes containing over 4,000 sacred texts.
Buddhism of Tibet.
Canon of the Southern Church
The canon of Southern Buddhism (Theravada or Hīnayāna Buddhism), commonly known as the Pāli canon. These sacred texts record the chief doctrines of Buddhism in the works known as the Suttas (Sutras in Sanskrit). Pāli was the language spoken in the north of India before the 7th century BCE and continued to about the 5th century CE. It is still the literary sacred language of Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.
29,368,000 letters in the Saddharma alankāra
This information is clarified by Max Müller: “The text and commentaries of the Buddhist canon contain, according to a statement in the Saddharma alankāra, 29,368,000 letters. . . . But if we consider that the English Bible is said to contain about three millions and a half of letters, five or six times that amount would hardly seem enough as a rough estimate of the bulk of the Buddhist scriptures” (Introduction to the Science of Religion, 1873, p. 113).
“the translators . . . dogmas of their several schools” (quote)
Emil Schlagintweit, Buddhism in Tibet, Illustrated by Literary Documents and Objects of Religious Worship, 1863, pp. 76-7.
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The teaching of the Buddha, the “Law” or Dharma.
beyond Kashmir and the Himalayas
Beyond India and Tibet.
Kashyapa Matanga [Kashiapamadanga]
In the year 61 the Emperor Ming Ti sent emissaries to the westernmost province of China (just north of Tibet) to procure Buddhist writings. They returned two years later with a collection of Buddhist scriptures, accompanied by the Indian priest Kashyapa Matanga.
Han Ming-Ti (28-75 CE)
Emperor of the Han Dynasty from 58 to 75 CE. It is thought that Buddhism was introduced into China during his reign.
“Son of Heaven”
A title given to a Chinese Emperor as the ruler of “all under heaven.” When an emperor ruled with charisma and his people fared well, the title “Son of Heaven” meant that he was “approved” by Heaven.
Pantheism (Greek pan + theos, “all god”)
The doctrine that the root-essence of the universe is utter divinity, that divinity pervades throughout and is the fundamental principle of all that exists.
Oxford philologist (quoted)
F. Max Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion, 1873, p. 118.
Indische Alterthumskunde (German, “The Science of Indian Antiquity”)
By Christian Lassen, 2nd enlarged edition published in 4 volumes, 1867.
Located in southwestern Tibet, along the north side of the Brahmaputra River. It is also known as the Gangdisi Shan.
Sir Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893)
Major-general in the Bengal Engineers, director general of the Indian Archeological Survey (1870-1885). In 1871 he published Ancient Geography of India.
Rev. Joseph Edkins (1823-1905)
A Protestant missionary sent to China by the London Missionary Society. In 1879 he wrote Chinese Buddhism: A Volume of Sketches, Historical, Descriptive, and Critical.
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“there is a natural connection between language and religion”
The “professor” quoted here is Max Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion, 1873, pp. 215-16.
A division of humanity, derived from “Tur,” one of the three brothers in Persian legend who were ancestors of three divisions of the human race. Max Müller’s use of “Turanian” refers to the nomadic peoples of Asia, as opposed to the Aryan peoples who were mainly agricultural.
German philologist Jakob Grimm studied the way certain groups of consonants shifted in different Indo-European languages. In 1822 he was able to formulate a law that explained how these languages are related to each other. Starting with Grimm’s Law, Max Müller went to great lengths to show that the words “Odin” and “Buddha” are not related to each other (Introduction to the Science of Religion, pp. 305-18).
This is an abbreviation of “On False Analogies in Comparative Theology,” which is a chapter in Max Müller’s Introduction to the Science of Religion.
A suburb of Cairo. In 1858 it was chosen as the site for the Boulaq Museum, which received all the artifacts collected by the French archeologist Auguste Mariette. Mariette was the director of governmental excavations for all of Egypt.
The mummy . . . of Sesostris
Herodotus recounts the story, told to him by Egyptian priests, of an ancient Pharaoh who led his army on a heroic expedition northward to the Black Sea and westward through the southern part of Eastern Europe, conquering all the nations he encountered. This has long been considered a legend, but Egyptologists believed that it was based on the exploits of an actual Pharaoh, even though they differed as to who this Pharaoh was. Gaston Maspero (Mariette’s successor as Egypt’s director of antiquities) was convinced that the legend of Sesostris was based on the exploits of Ramses II (Ramses the Great), because his conquests of other nations were also greatly exaggerated in popular legends, and he is mentioned on his monuments in Memphis as “Sesusi” or “Sesusriya.” In 1881 Maspero learned that grave robbers had discovered a tomb with 40 mummies in the royal pose, and he immediately arranged to have them quickly transported to the Boulaq Museum. Unfortunately, some of the mummy cases were wrongly identified,
and on others their marks of identification had been removed. It took five years to sort out and classify the cases before the unwrapping of the mummies could begin. Finally, “Sesostris, or Pharaoh Ramses II . . . was unswathed in 1886 by Maspero of the Bulak Museum, and recognised as that of the greatest king of Egypt” (HPB’s Collected Writings, 14:344).
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“fragments of a primeval revelation . . .”
Quoted from Max Müller’s Introduction to the Science of Religion, p. 283.
Cinghalese [Sinhalese] priest
A priest from Sri Lanka, where the oldest Buddhist teachings have been preserved intact in the Pāli Canon.
Dayānanda Sarasvatī (1824-1883)
Hindu scholar and reformer, founder of the Ārya Samāj (“Society of Nobles”), which condemned discrimination against women, child marriages, untouchability, and the entire caste system. It also strongly disapproved of animal sacrifices, temple offerings, pilgrimages, ancestor worship, idol worship, and the priesthood itself. As none of these practices were advocated in the Vedas, Dayānanda Sarasvatī rejected them without exception. His mission was to promote respect and even reverence for others, and his major principle was that “All actions should be performed with the prime objective of benefiting mankind.”
“that there was a primeval preternatural revelation . . .”
Quote from Max Müller’s Introduction to the Science of Religion, pp. 40-1.
A small Himalayan village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, near the border with Tibet.
Mlecchas (from Sanskrit mlech, “to speak indistinctly”)
Hindu name for all foreigners or non-Aryans.
A city in India (50 miles NE of New Delhi), where one of the early chapters of the Ārya Samāj was established. This chapter published newspapers and magazines, opened schools, and launched campaigns against untouchability. Dayānanda Sarasvatī visited and spoke there many times.
Colonel Francis Wilford
British military engineer stationed in India in the late 1700s, one of the first Englishmen to make a serious attempt at learning Sanskrit. At first he could not persuade any learned Brahmins to reveal the secrets of their sacred language, but in 1792 he managed to “win over” some Pandits in Benares. They proceeded to give him a great deal of misinformation, including totally fabricated translations of bogus Sanskrit texts, “proving” that Hindu mythology could be traced back to the myths of Egypt and the stories of the Old Testament. Wilford was deceived for 15 years, and his outlandish conclusions were published in a long series of articles published in Asiatick Researches.
Sir William Jones (1746-1794)
English Orientalist, Judge of the High Court at Calcutta, founder of the Royal Asiatic Society, and the first Westerner to suggest the common origin of Indo-European languages. He was an extraordinary linguist, with a working knowledge of 41 ancient and modern languages, 13 of which he knew well. Yet he was also misled by Brahmin misinformation, leading him to devise a “common culture” theory that equated Vedic myths with Old Testament stories.
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Brahmā, Vishnu and Mahesa
The Hindu triad of gods consists of Brahmā, Vishnu and Shiva (Mahesa means “the Great Lord,” a title of Shiva). Brahmā is the emanator or evolver; Vishnu is the sustainer or preserver; and Shiva is the beneficent, the destroyer, and the regenerator. These three entities as individualized divinities are called the Trimūrti (Sanskrit, “three-form”). They are really three sides of the same cosmic reality; and to gain an accurate understanding of their functions one should bear in mind that any one of them may at any time contain the functioning elements of the other two in addition to its own. The three persons of the Trimūrti are the three qualitative attributes of the universe of differentiated spirit-matter: self-formative, self-preserving, and self-destroying (for the purpose of regeneration). Because Brahmā is considered the formative force, it is said to be the imbodiment of activity, or desire for creation – the desire that results in the universe being
called forth into being. Vishnu, because of its preservative and sustaining function is said to be the embodiment of purity, truth, and harmony – which characterizes the intermediate period between full growth and the beginning of decay. Shiva is said to be the embodiment of darkness and quiescence, which leads to stagnancy and final decay, and thus becomes the destroyer.
Lieutenant Colonel Vans Kennedy (1784-1846)
Scottish Orientalist, officer in the Bombay military establishment. In Researches Into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology (1829), Kennedy writes that Babylonia was “the original seat of the mythology which prevails in India” (Preface, p. iii).
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Sanskrit name for the planet Mercury.
Thot [Thoth] (Egyptian)
God of wisdom, equivalent to the Greek Hermes.
Son of Zeus and Maia, the third person in a triad of Father-Mother-Son, hence the formatived Logos or Word. He is equivalent to the Hindu Budha, the Zoroastrian Mithra, the Babylonian Nebo, and the Egyptian Thoth.
Mare (Latin, “the sea”)
In the Christian era southern European mariners came to associate Mare with Mary, the Virgin-Mother – the reference being to the “sea of space,” or the representation of the cosmic Virgin-Mother.
Franz Bopp (1791-1867)
German philologist, professor of Sanskrit and comparative grammar, founder of the science of comparative philology. Bopp was the first to make a comparative study of the grammatical forms of Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, and German, in order to prove their common origin. Max Müller studied under Bopp at the University of Berlin.
River in southern Siberia.
Mountain range in China, south of the Gobi Desert, now called the Qilian Mountains.
Basin of Tarim
An arid river basin in Xinjiang province, China. The central area in the Tarim Basin is the exceedingly dry Takla-Makan Desert.
“tear up the sands . . .”
A quote from Joseph Addison’s tragedy Cato (1713).
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oasis of Cherchen
A small fertile area on the southern edge of the Takla-Makan Desert (in Xinjiang province, China), on the Cherchen River.
A river that flows from the Altyn-Tag into the Takla-Makan Desert.
the great genii
The divine instructors of the earliest human races, spiritual beings who assumed bodies to teach and guide humankind.
tribe of Khorasan
The ancient region of Khorasan covered a huge expanse of territory. In the southeast it included most of what is now known as Afghanistan, and in the north it extended from northeastern Iran to China. Western scholars originally thought that the inhabitants of ancient Khorasan were mostly nomads. But excavations have uncovered settlements of great size with extensive fortifications and large irrigation canals. There is evidence that Khorasan is the area referred to in ancient Avestan texts as the original homeland of the Avestan tribe.
Colonel Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky (1839-1888)
Russian explorer and geographer, who traveled extensively through eastern and central Asia, making several unsuccessful attempts to reach Lhasa in Tibet. His writings contain a wealth of information about the geography, archeology, flora, and fauna of eastern Turkestan, the Gobi Desert, western China, and eastern Tibet.
“The male mummies are all extremely tall . . .”
In the century after Przhevalsky made this description, many more mummies were discovered in this area called Chinese Turkestan. The mummified adults are unusually tall, up to six and a half feet. They also have Caucasian features, with light-colored hair and round eyes, and the men have thick beards. (See The Mummies of Ürümchi, Elizabeth Wayland Barber, 1999.)
— xxxiv —
A salt lake at the end of the Tarim River, on the eastern edge of the Tarim Basin, in Xinjiang province, China.
oasis of Keriya
A village on the southern edge of the Takla-Makan Desert (Xinjiang province, China).
The various groups of adepts around the world.
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The Coming Race (1871) is a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (reprinted as Vril: The Power of the Coming Race). It is about a traveler who discovers a subterranean people who are so advanced that they sense and are able to use an “all-permeating fluid” called Vril. It is a source of tremendous energy and can be directed in ways that heal or destroy. From his novel it is apparent that Bulwer-Lytton was well-acquainted with occultism. As HPB writes, “The name vril may be a fiction; the Force itself is a fact . . . mentioned in all the secret works” (SD 1:563).
John Ernst Worrell Keely (1837-1898)
American inventor who discovered an “etheric force” that he could use to drive machinery, without chemicals, electricity, or heat (see SD 1:554-66).
From the planets and the stars to life on Earth, every individual being goes through progressive stages of development, expressing itself in substances ranging from the most ethereal and spiritual level to the physical. These various levels of substance have been called the seven principles of every self-contained entity, and through them work consciousness centers that can be visualized as spheres of energy. For example, Earth begins by manifesting as a planetary spirit, and then over time evolves a succession of centers of consciousness expressing themselves through ever less ethereal vehicles. These evolving centers or globes of the Earth’s being, each manifesting itself in a particular type of cosmic matter or state of being, are referred to in Theosophy as Earth’s planetary chain (see SD 1:158-70).
During evolution on each of the globes of Earth’s planetary chain, the human life-wave passes through seven evolutionary states called root-races. Each root-race goes through its own stages of development, becoming less ethereal and more material (evolving toward its most physical state), and then becoming less material and more ethereal (evolving toward its most spiritual state). This complex scheme of root-races and their subdivisions overlap each other in various stages of their evolution, intermingling and crossing with one another, and this gives rise to the immense variety of types which we see on earth today (see SD 2:443-6).
sevenfold nature of man
The seven human principles correspond to the seven cosmic planes – the seven basic types of consciousness-substance of which the universe is formed. In the human being they are called the seven human principles: the physical body, the model or astral body, the vital or life principle, the desire principle, the mind, the intuitive or spiritual soul, and the Universal Self .
Hierophant (from Greek hieros, “sacred” + phainein, “to show”)
A revealer of sacred mysteries, a title given to the highest adepts in temples of antiquity, those who taught and expounded the Mysteries.
Mysteries (from Greek mystes, “initiate,” from myō, “to close the eyes or lips”)
The Mysteries were secret societies in ancient Greece and Rome. HPB extends the meaning to refer to equivalent religio-philosophical groups at any time in any part of the world. The Mysteries of ancient Greece were divided into the Greater and the Lesser. The Lesser Mysteries consisted of symbolic and dramatic representations for the public, using the profound symbology of Greek mythology to touch on various themes of the Wisdom Tradition. In the Greater Mysteries initiates became so immersed in this Wisdom that their hearts and minds were transformed in ways that could not be put into words.
Nazarenes (from Hebrew nazar, “to set apart”)
An early Christian sect that goes back in its origin before the Christian era. Some scholars regarded them as Jewish converts to Christianity, but they were actually followers of esoteric teachings who adapted whatever teachings they found around them. Other names for them were St. John Christians, Mandeans, and Sabeans. One of their main texts is the Codex Nazaraeus. The Greek for Nazarenes is Nazoraioi, which has often been confused with Nazarenoi (inhabitants of Nazareth).
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In 1717 four English Lodges of stonemasons established the Grand Lodge of England of Speculative and Emblematic Freemasonry, so called because building materials, tools, and instruments are symbolically and analogically used in the building of the universe and of man as a temple enshrining a god.
Ragon [Jean Ragon de Bettignies] (1781-1862)
French Mason and influential masonic writer. He found fault with the English Masons for deriving the origin of Masonry from the building of Solomon’s Temple, and for laying too much emphasis on material symbols. Ragon held that modern Masonry should trace its origin back to a far more ancient Occult Masonry, which was based upon being initiated into the Mysteries (see SD 2:795-6).
adyta of the temples
Adyta is the plural of adytum (from Greek adytos, “not to be entered”). The adytum is the innermost shrine of a temple, a sacred place where the public is not allowed to enter. It was used for regeneration and initiation. The adytum was common in the architectural plan of ancient temples around the world.
cultus (Latin, “to care for, to worship”)
A system of religious worship, especially one that emphasizes rites and ceremonies.
Pantheon in mythical disguise
Pantheon is a Greek word meaning “all the gods.” For those who had entered into the Mysteries, “the gods” were spiritual energies, guiding intelligences that informed every aspect of nature. In the long-forgotten past, far more people recognized their connection to these divine agencies. But as time went by and mankind became more immersed in material pursuits, people grew increasingly forgetful of their divine origin and the inspiring and guiding presence of these omnipresent divinities – which were remembered only in mythologies and religious metaphors. For most people the archaic truths remained disguised as allegories.
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Dr. James Legge (1815-1897)
Scottish missionary and Orientalist, first professor of Chinese at Oxford University. In 1841 he began a multi-volume translation of the Chinese classics, which he worked on for 45 years. When it was finally published it encompassed 28 volumes. The first volume, The Life and Teaching of Confucius, came out in 1867. In this book Legge’s statement about Confucius being “a transmitter and not a maker” is quoted from his own translation of a passage in the “Confucian Analects,” Book VII, Ch. I (p. 153).
“I only hand on: I cannot create new things.”
This is also from the “Confucian Analects,” but Max Müller took it from a German translation by Wilhelm Schott (Lün Yü, 1826). James Legge’s translation of the same passage is: “I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there” (Book VII, Ch. XIX).
Stanzas [of Dzyan]
Archaic verses on philosophy and cosmology drawn from the Book of Dzyan which form the basis of The Secret Doctrine. HPB gives only portions of the original verses, and her endeavor was always to represent the deeper meaning rather than give a merely literal rendering of the words.
— xxxviii —
John Lemprière (c.1765-1824)
English classical scholar, grammar school headmaster, and vicar. He is mainly known for his Classical Dictionary (1788), a reference book on mythology and classical history. Much of it is now regarded as unreliable.
Zend Avesta (Pahlavi)
The Avesta (sacred “law”) together with the Zend (commentary): the sacred book of the Zoroastrians, together with its Pahlavi translation and commentary. The oldest form of the Avestan language is very close to the Sanskrit of the Vedas. The Avesta was translated into Pahlavi (Middle Persian) in the 3rd century. In the 7th and 8th centuries Persian Zoroastrians went to India to escape persecution, and their Indian descendents are known as Parsis (or Parsees).
Tripitaka (Sanskrit, “three baskets”)
A threefold collection of Buddhist sacred scriptures: the Sutra-pitaka (collection of precepts), the Vinaya-pitaka (disciplinary rules for the priesthood), and Abhidharma-pitaka (philosophical and metaphysical dissertations). The Tripitaka is also referred to as the Pāli canon.
Lecture on the Vedas
“Lecture on the Vedas” is the title of the first chapter in Müller’s Chips From a German Workshop, v. 1 (1891). The quotes are from pages 5 and 23.
The word “zodiac” comes from the Greek zodiakos kyklos, which means “circle of animals.” The “circle” refers to a zone in the sky, about 16 degrees wide, following the apparent path of the sun around the earth, which also includes the apparent paths of the planets and the moon. The zone is divided into twelve equal parts, each one named for a stellar constellation, and many of these have animal names. Similar configurations were conceived in ancient civilizations around the world. Since the ancients saw the universe as one organic entity, they believed there was a correspondence between the interactions of human beings and the actions of nature as a whole, and that the motions of the celestial bodies had an influence on all terrestrial bodies. Almost all the keys for determining this influence are “lost to the world” because the secret knowledge was corrupted, even in Medieval times. Modern astrology is too often cultivated in a spirit which binds us to our personality or caters to frivolous
curiosity about one’s personal fate and the desire for influence and notoriety.
“The said key must be turned seven times . . .”
Isis Unveiled, 2:461.
Masters of Wisdom
Those great souls who have attained mastery in the art and science of living, also called spiritual teachers, elder brothers, sages, and seers. However great their knowledge and power, their primary duty is the guidance and protection of humankind. In doing this, they often work behind the scenes.
Gupta-Vidyā (Sanskrit, “secret knowledge or wisdom”)
The fundamental knowledge or wisdom that is the source of all world religions and philosophies. Also known as theosophy, the ancient wisdom-religion, and the esoteric philosophy.
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arcane (from Latin arcānus, “to shut up,” deriv. of arca, a “chest” or “box”)
Secret, esoteric, mysterious. In ancient times the truths about the mysteries of being were kept secret. They were taught to those initiated into the Mysteries.
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downfall of the mysteries
The ancient Mysteries had an elevating and unifying influence which was acknowledged by Greek and Roman authorities. But as the cycle of materialism advanced, the Mysteries became degraded, especially in Asia Minor during Roman times. The symbolism was perverted, and the institution of the Mysteries was formally abolished by the emperor Justinian, who closed the quasi-esoteric Neoplatonic School of Athens in 529.
Magic (from Persian magus, “wise man”)
A knowledge of the mysteries of nature and the power to apply them. When this knowledge is used for selfish purposes, it is called black magic or sorcery. When it is used for impersonal and selfless purposes, it is white magic.
In 1460 an Italian monk discovered a Greek manuscript that appeared to be written by Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice Great”), an ancient Egyptian high initiate. The manuscript was written mostly in the form of dialogues between Hermes Trismegistus and his disciple, in a style similar to Egyptian wisdom literature: instructions and advice from a father to his son. The dialogues deal with subjects that are profoundly mysterious: the transformation of the heart and mind, and the transformation of nature. The philosophical teachings embodied in these and other similar texts came to be known as Hermetic philosophy, which is epitomized in the Hermetic axiom: “That which is above is as that which is below; and that which is below is as that which is above, for performing the marvels of the Cosmos.”
HPB makes an important distinction between Occultism and the Occult Arts. True Occultism completely renounces self and works for the benefit of all, while the Occult Arts are practiced with selfish motives. To practice Occultism, one must work in harmony with the operations of nature. Those who practice the Occult Arts use spells, incantations, and other devices in order to manipulate nature and other people.
Pagan (from Latin paganus, “peasant, civilian”)
When early Christians started calling themselves “soldiers of Christ,” they made a distinction between themselves as Christian “soldiers” and those who were civilians. The Latin word for civilian took on the meaning of “non-Christian” and the word “pagan” became a term of inferiority and reproach by the Christians. In recent European usage, the meaning was extended to all those who are not Christians, Jews, or Moslems.
Dispensationalism is a system of Bible interpretation used in fundamentalist Christianity. It was formulated in the early 19th century by John Nelson Darby, an Irish minister. Darby’s theological system is based on the belief that the history of the world is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and that God has been administering history in different stages called “dispensations.” Each of these stages begins with a new “covenant” (a moral contract between God and humanity), and it ends when that covenant is abolished. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, it was regarded as a new covenant. When the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, their covenant was abolished. God then made a new covenant with Christians, and the “New Dispensation” began.
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tau (Greek, the letter “T”)
The tau-cross is one of the most ancient and widespread symbols, often denoting the Tree of Life. Among the Druids, Celts, and Germanic tribes it had to do with some form of nature worship. In ancient Egypt it was the symbol of life, usually represented as the tau-cross surmounted by a circle (also called ankh). The symbol of the cross was a frequent early Christian symbol, but it was not derived from the crucifixion, which was not depicted until the 6th century. There was a practice among early Christians to look for symbols and prophetic allusions that would confirm their beliefs. In this way, the tau-cross was “borrowed and appropriated by the new faith.”
“the sun like blood . . .”
Quoted from Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 4:xxxiv.
hecatombs of human victims
In ancient Greece and Rome a hecatombe was a ritual sacrifice of a hundred oxen to the gods. HPB uses the word figuratively to denote the great slaughter that took place during the spread of both Christianity and Islam.
Jagannātha (Sanskrit, “world protector”)
A title of Krishna as the incarnation of Vishnu, worshipped by all the sects of India. “Jagannātha” is applied specifically to the idol-statue of Krishna at Puri in the Indian state of Orissa. Each summer during the “Festival of the Cars” Jagannātha and two companion idols are transported in huge wooden chariots that weigh many thousands of pounds, and these are pulled through the street by enormous crowds of devotees. In ancient times some devotees would allow themselves to be crushed beneath the wheels of Jagannātha’s car, as a means of “sacrifice,” even though this was not part of the ritual. The modern English form is “Juggernaut,” meaning any law, custom, or belief that demands blind devotion and ruthless sacrifice.
The court poet of Akbar the Great. His Arabic name was Abul Feis ibn Mubarak, and he was the brother of Akbar’s chief counselor and historiographer, Abū al-Fazl ‘Allami. Faizi also wrote mathematical and philosophical works and made translations of the Mahābhārata into Persian. Max Müller describes him as “a man of real devotion, real love for his fellow creatures, real faith in God, the Unknown God . . . whom no human thought and no human language can declare . . .” (Introduction to the Science of Religion, p. 256).
Diwan (Persian, “booklet”)
A collection of poems by a single poet. Max Müller introduces selections from Faizi’s poetry by writing: “Take Faizi’s Diwan to bear witness to the wonderful speeches of a free-thinker who belongs to a thousand sects” (p. 256).
Ka‘bah [Ka‘ba, Kaaba]
The cube-shaped building in the Great Mosque at Mecca. It was built as the sanctuary of the Black Stone, the principle object of Moslem veneration. This stone is said to have come directly from heaven, originally being as white as snow, but subsequently becoming black because of the sins of mankind.
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Fifth race Humanity
The human life-wave begins its evolution in a highly ethereal form. Before it takes on physical form, it passes through stages of development in which humanity becomes less ethereal and more material. Then its spiritual evolution begins to dominate as humanity becomes less material and more spiritual. There are seven of these stages of development, called root-races. The human race is currently in the fifth of seven root-races, which means that it has passed its most material state and is now gradually evolving its spiritual potential.
“Adamic” Humanity, Adam
“Adam” is used in Genesis for primordial mankind. Jewish mysticism enumerates four Adams. The Archetypal or Heavenly Adam or Man is mankind in its most ethereal form, the prototype of the second Adam. Each succeeding Adam is a less ethereal emanation from the preceding one. The fourth Adam is mankind as it was after it descended into matter, the terrestrial Adam of the Garden of Eden, which is our “Adamic” humanity.
Emanation (from Latin emanatus, “having flowed forth”)
The issuing of streams of light and life from a sun is an act of emanation. The unfolding of what is latent in a germ is also an act of emanation, for all the attributes of the developing germ “flow forth” from the inherent life which is unfolding itself.
ανθρωπος [anthrōpos] (Greek, “man”)
Mankind; philosophically equivalent to Adam or primal humanity.
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Kiu-te (Chinese) [Tibetan, rgyud-sde]
A large occult astronomical and astrological work known in China and Tibet; an important series of Tibetan texts that have been edited within the last millennium. See note to “Book of Dzyan” on page xvi.
Siphrah Dzeniouta [Sifrā’ di-Tsĕnī ‘ūthā’] (“Telling the Concealed Mysteries”)
A Qabbalistic book called “The Book of Concealment.” It contains discourses on cosmogony and demonology.
Sepher Jezirah [Sēfer Yĕtsīrāh] (Hebrew)
“The Book of Formation,” a Qabbalistic work formerly attributed by Hebrew Qabbalists to the patriarch Abraham. Most scholars today attribute it to Rabbi ‘Aqībā’ [Akiva] (c.50 - c.135). The Sēfer Yĕtsirāh deals with the evolution of the universe based on a system of numbers and correspondences. HPB calls this book “the most occult of all the Kabalistic works now in the possession of modern mystics.”
volumes of the Egyptian Thoth-Hermes
The Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of Greek texts discovered during the Renaissance and attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. There has been a renewed interest in these books since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945. Two of the Nag Hammadi texts are Hermetic books in Coptic of an older origin than the Greek Corpus. Further research has also shown that there was in Alexandria a secret pre-Christian Hermetic society called “the brethren.” (See The Way of Hermes, 1999, Preface by Gilles Quispel.)
Purāna (Sanskrit, “ancient narrative”)
The 18 Hindu scriptures known today as the Purānas are ancient legends of the Hindu gods, written in verse, in symbolical, allegorical, and quasi-historical language.
Chaldean Book of Numbers
Referred to by scholars of Jewish mysticism as one of the oldest Qabbalistic sources. It is generally considered no longer extant.
Pentateuch (from Greek pente + teuchos, “five books”)
The first five books of the Bible, also called the Mosaic books, containing stories of creation, a flood, the wanderings and settlement of the Hebrews, and the Law of Moses.
The name given to the ancient mystery-language, the mystery-speech that could be understood by adepts all over the world. Senzar is related to Zend-zar, the sacred language used by the initiates of ancient India. The word Zend is usually translated as “commentary” or “explanation” (as in Zend-Avesta), but it also means the “rendering of the esoteric into exoteric sentences.” When Senzar is put into writing, it may be rendered in several modes of cypher characters, which are more like ideographs than syllables. (See SD 1:4-5)
In Theosophical literature, Atlantis was a prehistoric continent, the home of the fourth root-race before it was engulfed by the sea. The island described by Plato was the last remnant of Atlantis. Stories in ancient Sanskrit literature about Śankha-dvīpa refer to the catastrophe which befell the great Atlantean continent.
Manushya Buddha (from Sanskrit manu, “man” + buddha, “awakened one”)
A human buddha, born in a human body for compassionate work among mankind. “Manushya” is a term generally used for mahatmas of a high degree and great initiates. Each one of the seven root-races is ushered in by a manushya-buddha.
Deva (Sanskrit, “shining one”)
A celestial being. Devas include all the various grades of ethereal and spiritual beings that help guide humanity in its evolution.
Vaivasvata (Sanskrit, “the sun-born”)
In Hindu scripture Vaivasvata is a Manu, one of a series of progenitors of humanity. After being saved from the Flood in an ark, he inaugurates a “new” humanity for the present age. In theosophical philosophy, Vaivasvata is a conscious guiding power that oversees the awakening of the human mind.
Manvantara (Sanskrit, “between Manus”)
A “Manu” is a “progenitor” who symbolizes the collective unity of all the entities that come into being during a great cycle of manifestation. The Vaivasvata Manvantara or period of manifestation is the “life-cycle” of the current Manu.
Yuga (Sanskrit, “age”)
An age of the world, of which there are four: Satya Yuga, Tretā Yuga, Dvāpara Yuga, and Kali Yuga. These ages proceed in succession during the manvantaric cycle. The first of these is the “Golden Age,” in which people live without fear or hate. In the second age righteousness has begun to decline, and people believe they need to perform rites and ceremonies in exchange for spiritual rewards. In the third age righteousness has declined by half and much of religion is reduced to ritual. And in the Kali Yuga true knowledge is mostly forgotten, and fear and ignorance prevail.
Kali Yuga (Sanskrit, “the Black Age”)
The most material phase of an evolutionary cycle. Humanity is currently in its Kali Yuga, which is said to have started when Krishna died in 3102 BCE.
Adolphe Franck (1809-1893)
A scholar of Hebrew and Oriental literature, professor of natural and legal philosophy at the Collège de France. In 1843 he wrote an authoritative work on Jewish mystical philosophy: La Kabbale; ou la philosophie religieuse des Hébreux (The Kabbalah: The Religious Philosophy of the Hebrews), in which he traces the antiquity of the Qabbalistic books and compares their philosophy to other ancient philosophical systems.
The Talmud is a compilation of Rabbinical commentaries on Judaism. These commentaries were made by generations of Jewish scholars during several centuries and in different countries, and there are two versions: the Jerusalem Talmud and the much larger Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud proved to be the greatest factor in keeping alive the religious ideas of the Jewish people, especially after the fall of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE.
thaumaturgist (from Greek thaumatourgos, “a worker of miracles”)
A magician. In ancient Greece thaumaturgy was one of the branches of genuine practical magic, the performance of occult phenomena by the adept, with the help of elementals and various other denizens of the invisible spheres.
Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875)
Éliphas Lévi is the pseudonym used by Alphonse-Louis Constant, a French author and occultist. HPB refers to several of his works, in French and in English translation: The History of Magic, Doctrine and Ritual of Transcendental Magic, Key to the Great Mysteries, and Paradoxes of the Highest Science.
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Śankarāchārya (c. 8th century)
One of the greatest philosophers of India. He wrote commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gītā which revealed their original message, he composed a series of original works for students wishing to follow the path of wisdom, and he established a system of reform and discipline within the Brahmin order. He was also the founder of the Advaita-vedanta school of philosophy, which teaches that manifestation, the inner self, and divinity are one.
During the Renaissance a number of Christian scholars believed that studying the writings of Jewish mysticism would help them gain esoteric insights into Christianity. Their writings became known as the “Christian Kabbalah.” The most well-known Christian Kabbalists were Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, Athanasius Kircher, and Christian Knorr von Rosenroth.
Origen (c.185 - c.254)
Early Church Father, distinguished scholar and theologian. He is also regarded as the father of the allegorical school of biblical interpretation. In his exposition of Christian doctrine, he put forth teachings that were definitely Neoplatonic. Origen was a prolific writer, but his teachings fell out of favor with the Church. In the sixth century the emperor Justinian condemned the study of Origen’s books and most of them are lost.
Synesius (c.373 - c.414)
Neoplatonic philosopher and Christian bishop. As a young man he studied philosophy under Hypatia in Alexandria. He was a popular figure among Christians as well as pagans, and in later life he was chosen to be bishop of Ptolemais (north of Thebes), which he reluctantly accepted on the condition that he could keep his wife as well as his philosophy.
Clemens Alexandrinus (Clement of Alexandria, c.150 - c.215)
Christian theologian and Church Father. In his youth he became well-versed in Neoplatonic philosophy. In his search for truth he studied under many teachers, and finally entered the Catechetical School of Alexandria where he developed a theology that united Neoplatonic philosophy with Christian doctrine. He eventually became the head of this school, and several of his students became very well known, especially Origen.
This famous school of Platonic theosophy originated in the 2nd century at Alexandria, with Ammonius Saccas (170-243). It was developed by his students, especially Plotinus, under whom Neoplatonism reached its culmination. Other famous representatives of this school were Plotinus’ disciple Porphyry, Iamblichus, Hypatia, Synesius, Proclus, and Olympiodorus. The declared purpose of the Neoplatonists was to demonstrate the reality of a fundamental wisdom, to draw together the wisdom teachers of every faith, and likewise to sow the seeds for a unification of faiths.
Alexandria flourished from the 4th century BCE to the 7th century CE, being a remarkable center of learning due to the blending of Greek and Oriental influences. The Alexandrian School was formed of Neoplatonic philosophers, together with those Gnostic schools which also originated there. The philosophy presented in their writings is characteristic of the archaic wisdom-religion, being derived from contact with India and with knowledge still then accessible in Egypt.
Gnostics (from Greek gignoskein, “to know”)
Various philosophic-religious groups which drew their inspiration from the ancient Mysteries. They preceded or coincided with the early centuries of Christianity, and were grouped around Alexandria, Antioch, and other large centers of the Jewish-Hellenic-Syrian culture. Philosophically, these groups agreed in fundamentals, but differed in details according to their teachers. The teachers include Philo Judaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Simon Magus and his pupil Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, and Celsus. Until the mid-twentieth century, the principal extant Gnostic writings were the Pistis Sophia, the Corpus Hermeticum, and various quotes in surviving attacks against the Gnostics made by early Christian writers. With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls, many more Gnostic writings have come to light and scholars are gaining a wider understanding of both Christian and non-Christian Gnosticism.
Constantine I (c.280-337)
Roman emperor who issued the Edict of Milan (313), making Christianity a lawful religion. At this time there were many Christian factions who disagreed on religious doctrine. Constantine convened the Synod at Arles to draw up regulations for the Western Church, and he also presided over the First Council of Nicaea. This Council adopted the Nicene Creed which became the basis for beliefs that were called orthodox (“correct doctrine”). Those Christian factions with opposing beliefs were branded as heretics.
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Pythagoras (6th century BCE)
Greek philosopher and mathematician. He established a brotherhood in the Greek colony of Croton in southern Italy. His purpose was to teach his followers how to gain a relationship with the divine – through philosophy, an ascetic lifestyle, and the purification of heart and mind. He balanced his philosophic and ascetic practices with a practical ethic: the striving for harmony in life. For Pythagoras harmony was a virtue on every level of existence: the beauty in music resulted from a harmony of rhythm and sound, creativity flowed from an inner harmony of the spirit, and the universe itself was built on harmonic proportions. When the creative soul was at one with the spirit of the Muses, one was in tune with the universe.
A monthly magazine “devoted to Oriental philosophy, art, literature, and occultism,” founded in Bombay in 1879, with HPB as editor.
“Paracelsus” was the name assumed by Phillip von Hohenhein, a German physician, alchemist, and occultist. He traveled throughout Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa, collecting information on a wide variety of healing methods. He also studied metallurgy and used minerals and chemicals in the treatment of disease. His world view was highly metaphysical – based on teachings drawn from alchemy, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism — and he had remarkable insights in applying these ideas to the physical world, especially in the treatment of disease and the maintenance of health.
mirabile dictu (Latin, “wonderful to tell”)
Often used sarcastically, similar to “wonders never cease.”
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Ernest Renan (1823-1892)
French philosopher and religious writer, professor of Hebrew and Chaldaic languages at the Collège de France. He is known for his controversial Life of Jesus (Vie de Jésus), in which he tells the story of Jesus as an “incomparable man.”
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
French essayist and philosopher. His essays continually focus on the use and misuse of reason and how fallible it is in gaining true knowledge. Because of this he is often regarded as a radical skeptic. But his writings also suggest that he had a vision of spiritual oneness, and a concept of the divine as a universal principle.
“I have here made only a nosegay of culled flowers . . .”
This quote is from Montaigne’s Essays, XIX, “Of Physiognomy” (The Works of Michael de Montaigne, ed. William Hazlitt, 1845). In the same passage Montaigne acknowledges his debt to the Wisdom Tradition, especially to Socrates: “Truly, it is much more easy to speak like Aristotle, and to live like Caesar, than to speak and live as Socrates did; there lies the extreme degree of perfection and difficulty . . . Now, our faculties are not so trained up . . . we invest ourselves with those of others, and let our own lie idle.”
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