The Book of Dzyan
H.P. Blavatsky begins the first chapter of Isis Unveiled (1:1) with the following words:
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.
She goes on to describe one of the illustrations in the book, which shows Adam emanating from the Divine Essence.1
In The Secret Doctrine (1:xliii), Blavatsky writes:
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 ...
In an article entitled ‘The Secret Books of “Lam-Rim” and Dzyan’, which was not published during her lifetime, Blavatsky says that the Book of Dzyan, on which The Secret Doctrine is based, is one of the volumes of Kiu-te:
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 ...2
G. de Purucker makes the following comments on the Book of Dzyan:
The Book of Dzyan, as a physical roll or book or manuscript, ... is, as H.P.B. says, not very old, probably about a thousand years, and is part of a well-known, more or less common Tibetan series of works, well-known even exoterically, called Kiu-ti ... The substance, however, of the Book of Dzyan, which is simply the Tibetan or Mongolian way of pronouncing the Sanskrit Dhyâna, is very ancient, even highly archaic, goes right back into Atlantean times, and even beyond as regards the doctrine taught. ...
The Book of Dzyan is written in Tibetan, at least part of it or most of it, is interspersed with a lot of exoteric stuff, but the real occult part of the Book of Dzyan is one of the first of the Kiu-ti volumes and deals mainly with cosmogony, and later on to a less extent, I believe, with anthropogony or the beginnings of mankind.3
Blavatsky states that the Stanzas of Dzyan as presented in The Secret Doctrine are a modern translation that blends together texts and glosses to make them more comprehensible. She speaks of Tibetan and Senzar versions of the stanzas, and says that extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar commentaries and glosses.4 She also explains that Senzar, the mystery language of the prehistoric ages, is ‘the language now called SYMBOLISM’.5 An example is the series of glyphs from ‘an archaic manuscript’ which are described in the first few pages of the Proem (SD 1:1-5), and represent the dawn of a new manvantara.
In the Introductory to The Secret Doctrine (1:xxii), Blavatsky writes:
One of the greatest, and, withal, the most serious objection to the correctness and reliability of the whole work will be the preliminary STANZAS: ‘How can the statements contained in them be verified?’ ... 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.
Despite all the information provided by Blavatsky, the actual identity of the public books of Kiu-te remained a mystery for over 80 years after her death. The existence of such books was called into question, and they were often dismissed as figments of her imagination. However, in 1975 H.J. Spierenburg6 identified the Books of Kiu-te as the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras – the correct transliteration of the Tibetan title is rGyud-sde, but ‘Kiu-te’ is a good approximation of the pronunciation. In 1981, another theosophical scholar, David Reigle, independently came to the same conclusion regarding the identity of the Books of Kiu-te.7 He writes:
As [Blavatsky] said, they are indeed found in the library of any Tibetan Gelugpa monastery, as also in those of the other sects (Kargyudpa, Nyingmapa, and Sakyapa), and they are indeed highly occult works, being regarded by the entire Tibetan Buddhist tradition as embodying the Buddha’s secret teachings. ... [O]nly the spelling of the term foiled previous attempts to identify them.8
The spelling ‘Kiu-te’ (or Khiu-te) is taken from the writings of the Capuchin monk Horace della Penna. Blavatsky quotes his extremely negative views on the Books of Kiu-te in her article ‘The Secret Books of “Lam-Rim” and Dzyan’, and they are refuted by the ‘Chohan-Lama’, ‘the Chief of the Archive-registrars of the secret Libraries of the Dalai and Ta-shü-hlumpo Lamas-Rimboche’, in an article entitled ‘Tibetan Teachings’, written at Blavatsky’s request but not published until after her death.9
The Tibetan Buddhist Sacred Canon is divided into two parts: the Kanjur, containing the Buddha’s Word, and the Tanjur, containing commentaries. Reigle believes that the Book of Dzyan may be the Mûla (Root) Kâlachakra Tantra – which is missing. Rather than being ‘lost’, it was probably withdrawn from the outer world, just as various other esoteric works have been either withdrawn or abridged.10 Given Blavatsky’s remark that the Book of Dzyan is ‘the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te’, it is significant that the Laghu (Abridged) Kâlachakra Tantra, which is still available, is always placed first among the Books of Kiu-te in editions of the Kanjur. The Kâlachakra Tantra is the only Buddhist Tantra whose subject matter resembles the cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis of The Secret Doctrine. According to Reigle, ‘Dzyan’ is a Tibetan phonetic rendering of the Sanskrit jñâna (wisdom), the result of dhyâna (meditation), and ‘Jñâna’ is the title of the fifth and last section of the Kâlachakra Tantra. However, none of the stanzas that Blavatsky quotes from the Book of Dzyan has so far been located in the abridged Kâlachakra Tantra or in verses from the root Kâlachakra Tantra quoted in other Buddhist writings.
Blavatsky states that the Kâlachakra is the first and most important work in the Gyut (rGyud) division of the Kanjur, the division of mystic knowledge.11 The Kâlachakra Tantra is considered to be the pinnacle of the Buddha’s esoteric doctrine, and is the only Tantra said to have come directly from Shambhala – which in theosophical literature is regarded as the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Adepts. Furthermore, the Panchen (or Tashi) Lama is the special protector of Kâlachakra, and his monastery, Tashi-lhunpo, near Shigatse, has been the major centre for Kâlachakra studies in Tibet. Blavatsky states that the secret volumes of Kiu-te are in the charge of the Tashi Lama, with whom her adept teachers were closely associated. In a letter to Franz Hartmann in 1886, she writes:
There is beyond the Himalayas a nucleus of Adepts, of various nationalities; and the Teschu Lama knows them, and they act together, and some of them are with him and yet remain unknown in their true character even to the average lamas ... My Master and K.H. and several others I know personally are there, coming and going ...12
In the preface to The Voice of the Silence, Blavatsky states that the work is a translation of extracts from The Book of the Golden Precepts, which is part of the same series as the Book of Dzyan. In The Voice it is asked: ‘Wouldst thou become a Yogi of “Time’s Circle”?’ (p. 29) – ‘time’s circle’ or ‘wheel of time’ is the literal translation of kâlachakra. The Voice goes on to say that to become such a yogi, one must not retreat into selfish seclusion, but follow the path of compassionate service to mankind:
Sow kindly acts and thou shalt reap their fruition. Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin. ...
Shalt thou abstain from action? Not so shall gain thy soul her freedom. To reach Nirvâna one must reach Self-Knowledge, and Self-Knowledge is of loving deeds the child. (p. 31)
In 1927 Alice Leighton Cleather and Basil Crump issued a reprint of The Voice of the Silence under the auspices of the Chinese Buddhist Research Society in Peking. In their editorial foreword they state that they undertook the work at the request of the (ninth) Panchen Lama, ‘as the only true exposition in English of the Heart Doctrine of the Mahayâna and its noble ideal of self-sacrifice for humanity’. The Panchen Lama contributed a brief message on the path of liberation. David Reigle says that the time of the ninth Panchen Lama (1883-1937) seemed to mark a new period of growth for the Kâlachakra teachings. During his extensive travels he established new Kâlachakra Colleges in monasteries in Tibet and Mongolia.
While living in Peking, China, he presented the editors of The Voice of the Silence with a small Kâlachakra treatise, and a few years later, in 1932, he there gave the Kâlachakra Initiation to an immense gathering. These large public Initiations are meant to qualify candidates to begin the study and practice of the Kâlachakra Tantra, or, according to the present Dalai Lama, at least to establish a karmic relationship with the Kâlachakra teachings.13
The Dalai Lama gave the Kâlachakra initiation in Madison, Wisconsin, in July 1981, the first time it had been given in the West.
Reigle hopes that a Sanskrit or Tibetan manuscript of the Book of Dzyan will be made available in the not-too-distant future, as this would have a major impact on the academic world and undermine its scepticism towards theosophy.14 We can be confident that The Book of Dzyan will be released as soon as the time is ripe, for the mahâtmas ‘know best what knowledge is best for mankind at a particular stage of its evolution’.15
- See The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, TUP, 2nd ed., 1975, p. 45; H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, TUP, 1977 (1888), 1:xlii.
- H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, TPH, 1950-91, 14:422.
- G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1973, pp. 452-4.
- The Secret Doctrine, 1:22-3.
- Ibid., 1:309. See also: Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 442-3; John Algeo, Senzar: The mystery of the mystery language, Theosophical History Centre, 1988.
- H.J. Spierenburg, The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky, PLP, 1991, pp. 135-50.
- David Reigle, The Books of Kiu-te or The Tibetan Buddhist Tantras: a preliminary analysis, Wizards Bookshelf, 1983; David Reigle & Nancy Reigle, Blavatsky’s Secret Books: twenty years’ research, Wizards Bookshelf, 1999. See also Robert Hütwohl, ‘The Practical Vision of Sri Kâlacakra’, The High Country Theosophist, April 1997, pp. 9-19, Dec. 1997, p. 13.
- Reigle, The Books of Kiu-te, p. 1.
- Blavatsky Collected Writings, 6:94-112. See also Jean Overton Fuller, Blavatsky and Her Teachers, East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 111-2.
- See The Secret Doctrine, 1:xxiii-xxxv, 68, 269-72.
- Blavatsky Collected Writings, 14:402; The Secret Doctrine, 1:52fn.
- Charles J. Ryan, H.P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement, TUP, 2nd ed., 1975, p. 85. See also: Blavatsky Collected Writings, 14:425; Theosophical Glossary (1892), Theos. Co., 1973, p. 305.
- Reigle, The Books of Kiu-te, p. 37.
- The High Country Theosophist, Feb. 1995, pp. 29-32, Dec. 1995, pp. 246-9.
- Blavatsky Collected Writings, 6:265.
by David Pratt. November 1998.