Review of the article by S.Y. Kuvaev

Sources of Information about the Religion and Culture of Tibet in "The Mahatma Letters"

(Proceedings of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Issue 31. Tibetology and Buddhology at the intersection of science and religion – 2020 / Editor-in-chief of the issue S.L. Kuzmin, T.L. Shaumyan. – Moscow: Institute of Oriental Studies, 2021, pp. 407–435)

E. Turley, academic secretary of the Scientific Council of the National (Russian) Roerich Committee, Ph.D.

First of all, it should be noted that quite a few errors in Tibetan cited in the article had already been dealt with in those materials cited by A. Goyios, D. Reigle and B.S. Grechin, which the author also noted in his article. These publications treated on possible reasons for the erroneous use of Tibetan vocabulary. For researchers-Theosophists interested in the occurrences of misuse of Tibetan lexis (as well as that of unknown origin) in some (sic!) Theosophical publications, it has long been known that the materialization of written messages containing texts by Great Masters of the East (Mahatmas of Theosophy, who are subject to earthly restrictions where their activities demanded it) was extremely rarely attributed to the latter themselves and that their chelas, disciples, were sometimes not up to the mark through making absurd mistakes in sequential transmission and translation of semantic units of these texts into an unfamiliar language. Importantly, the aforementioned researchers, including the Buddhist B.S. Grechin, who is not a Theosophist, dealt with the issue that S.Y. Kuvaev chose to ignore, namely, the peculiarities of imperfect transmission of thought through imperfect transmitters and the ways of transforming the original thought of the original subject into words expressed in writing[1]. Focusing entirely on lexicography and linguistic source study, the author thus seemed to fence himself off from other aspects of such a complex phenomenon as Theosophy (in the modern sense) and the goals and objectives of the Theosophical movement, apparently believing that behind the facade of a narrowly specialized study one may, without transgressing scientific rigor and comprehensiveness, securely approach the interpretation of the sources of a small part of the Theosophical texts quite tendentiously.

S.Y. Kuvaev, having made references to inconsistencies from the three above-mentioned most significant publications (more precisely, groups of publications, since D. Reigle has several ones), however cast veil over the explanation of his predecessors in the field of such studies about the possible reasons that exclude falsification. If the author believes that these arguments are inappropriate only because they cannot be stated in a modern scientific publication in their essential presentation, he could at least note their existence. After all, he certainly could have read them in the articles used. At the same time, as it is possible to judge also from open sources, he does not limit himself to Buddhology, but, participating in the Buddhist practice itself and spreading knowledge about it, admits for himself metaphysical speculations, which are to the same extent as Theosophical reasoning not taken into account by science. This deprives his approach, including that caused by the desire to protect true Buddhism, as he understands it, from Theosophical contaminations, of a considerable amount of objectivity.

After reading this article by S.Y. Kuvaev, with correction for the previously unaccounted facts, B.S. Grechin, similarly to as in 2013, supported again, in general, his position on possible reasons for the unreliability in H.P. Blavatsky, quite different from the fabrication of pseudo-Buddhist concepts. He also noted the ambiguity in the interpretation of some everyday things, which should, in the reviewed author's opinion, indicate some errors (this applies, for example, to the monastic garment chos gos)[2].

Since conceptual contradictions of the article connected with the deep development and coherence of Theosophical ideas, their prognostic value and multiple crossings with the philosophical, scientific and religious gnosis accumulated by mankind are quite reflected by other reviewers of the article, in this review mostly other details will be mentioned. The reasons for the author's mistakes and borrowings (to which the author sometimes confidently attributes also partially similar things), which have long been explained by Mahatmas, H.P. Blavatsky and other Theosophists themselves, will also not be mentioned (this is discussed in varying degrees of detail in other reviews, for instance by N.Ye. Samokhina, as well as by D. Reigle, B.S. Grechin and A. Goyios). As for the particulars provided here, they are meant to remind that linguistic phenomena cannot always be unambiguously established in a given material. This trivial and general scientific fact is surely known to the author of the article, as well as to any professional linguist. Therefore, the author's confidence in the linguistic foundations of his idea of reducing the emergence of the Theosophical texts of “The Mahatma Letters” at all costs to the realization of vain aspirations of one, as he admits, outstanding personality through falsification should be followed by separate remarks and comments. Errors and ambiguities discovered in the sources used, all of which have been investigated in order to gain as detailed understanding as possible of the material studied by the author, will also be pointed out.

S.Y. Kuvaev writes: “… other evidence in this letter that Blavatsky used Koeppen's book when writing it. Thus, further in the same letter Blavatsky uses a hybrid Sanskrit-Tibetan term “Dyan-Cho-han” (later in “The Secret Doctrine” she transliterates it as “Dhyan-Chohan”). In Koeppen we see the prefix “Dhyâni-” in the terms “Dhyâni-Bodhisattva” and “Dhyâni-Buddha.”

In fact, the previously found ”... name dhyanibuddha may be traced to an early scholar of Buddhism, Brian Houghton Hodgson, whose information was acquired at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Nepal <...> It reflects a late Nepalese tradition. Its origins are apocryphal, however, and the expression dhyanibuddha does not actually occur in Buddhist Sanskrit texts. The so-called dhyanibuddhas, occuring in a group of five, are best termed “the five Tathagatas,” the common name in China and Japan, or “the five Jinas,” a term which actually occurs in Indian texts”[3]. The full origin of the term, despite the fact that in Buddhism dhyana, associated with concentration and quieting of consciousness, does have a Sanskrit origin, is unknown. The issue of the establishment of the original linguistic basis used by the author to substantiate his theses will be further noted below.


Also S.Y. Kuvaev writes: “As for the first element, “Cho,” it most likely owes its appearance to Koeppen's book as well. On the same page where the term “mKhan po” is first mentioned in the book, we see this word in the title “Tschhoss rDsche.”

In fact, “mKhan po” is mentioned earlier in the preface and on the page 68 of Koeppen's book. In addition, there is another version, noted by the author himself: “as distorted chos kyong – “dharmapala,” “guardian of the Dharma,” and as “lord of the Dharma,” “dharmaraja,” or more precisely “khan of the Dharma.”“ An occasional discovery in Jaeshke's manuscript dictionary also points to “cho-khan,” which translates as “doer.” The author of the paper may find it necessary to correct a suggested Wiley's transcription for the word, “bco mkhan,” and semantic nuances that cannot be taken into account in this review due to a lack of sufficient knowledge of the Tibetan language. D. Reigle, however, later commented in correspondence that the word does not seem to fit the expected meaning.


Previously not described in detail in scientific publications and therefore rather bold, an attribution of sources is made also in the corresponding footnote: “… Mongolian titular denominations, which, along with some Tibetan titles and a number of toponyms, were borrowed from the book by Huc and Gabet (1866), widely known in Europe and Russia.” At the same time, this book, printed by K.S. Henrich (and not exactly by K.S. Henrich Publishing House on the imprint, as stated in the list of references), is a translation of “Souvenirs d'un Voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet, et la Chine pendant les Années 1844, 1845, et 1846,” authored by only one of the two missionary companions, namely E.R. Huc. The Russian-language book is titled “Journey through Mongolia and Tibet to the Capital City of the Tale Lama” (which equivalents to the German version, with its “Tale” for “Dalai” and the indicated dual authorship). The 1866 title corresponding to the modern spelling of the Dalai Lama cited in the bibliography, and therefore not authentic, is found in the in Internet search engines, at the time of writing the review, only in the author’s blog devoted to Mongolia: The same blog had already mentioned back then about H.P. Blavatsky's certain borrowings from that very book (she herself in her "Isis Unveiled" testifies to the popularity of what is described in the book and repeatedly refers to it), which the author became aware of through one of the works he mentioned there. By the way, in that paper concerning the possibility of borrowing and just as similarly not seriously considering the peculiarities of the mental transmission of information described in Theosophical sources, there is a quote of, as the author calls her, “Blavatsky's ideological heir,” H.I. Roerich. The latter herself was well aware that when writing her works Blavatsky could borrow someone else's travel descriptions, which is noted in the cited letter of 05.09.1935: “… it is quite possible that H. P. B. herself borrowed this particular passage from some travel books.”[4] Before that, she mentioned the issue of “mingled translations” in Koeppen in a letter of 02.06.1934[5].

S.Y. Kuvaev goes on to say: “It is likely that she also took from the same book the notions of “shammars” [zhwa dmar] and “dugpas” ['brug pa] as evil sorcerers, perverters of Buddhism and implacable opponents of Tsongkhapa's teaching, which appear in “The Letters.”

But it needs to be taken into account that Koeppen's book simply says that “shammar” translates as red hat. As for the involvement of sects in magic, it is written that it concerned three sects – u rGjen pa (Padmasambhava’s school), ssa ssKja pa (Sakyapa’s school) and, in the third place, ‘Brug pa (the “dugpa” sect). Actually, the very same D. Reigle wrote with much more reasoning about the use of this term by Blavatsky[6].


In S.Y. Kuvaev: “Tibetans never shorten “byang chub sems 'dpa” to “byang chub.” If the poetic size and the number of syllables in a stanza require it, they always abbreviate it to “byang sems.””

One can hardly give a hundred percent guarantee that there is no optional abbreviation, which is possible in many languages of completely different language groups. For instance, “bus” used to be “omnibus.” Some evidence of a different contextual use of “byang chub” meaning “bodhisattva” are not only the dictionary articles of J. Valby and I. Waldo, where བྱང་ཆུབ་སྤྱོད་པ (“byang chub spyod pa”) is translated as “bodhisattva conduct”[7], and J. Hopkins' dictionary, where བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་པ་ (“byang chub sems pa”) also means “a hero with respect to contemplating enlightenment; one['s?] intent on full enlightenment.”[8] But also the short form “byang sems” in many dictionaries has a meaning other than “bodhisattva,” namely “bodhichitta.” This suggests, for example, that the question of distinguishing between bodhichitta and its possessor can be rather secondary to use outside of a strictly linguistic work.


S.Y. Kuvaev: “As for the word “gyloong,” it is from the already mentioned book of the travels to Tibet by Bogle and Manning, familiar to Blavatsky.

But it is noteworthy that the account of the trip to Bhutan in 1815, written by an Indian B. Bose, employee of the East India Company, and translated by D. Scott, in the 1865 edition, as well as in the 1881 edition of Bogle and Manning, དགེ་སློང (dge slong) is transliterated not as “gyloong” in “The Mahatma Letters” but as “gylong”[9] with a closed sound “o” similar to its pronunciation in Tibetan languages such as Amdo and Kham[10]. In an edition of B. Bose's report published in Asiatic Researches as early as in 1825, however, the same word is transliterated as “gelum,” which is even more similar to the version in “The Mahatma Letters”[11]. “Gelum” in fact can be also found in earlier issues of Asiatic Researches.


S.Y. Kuvaev: “… “Sankia K'houtchoo – the precious wisdom” is given as an epithet of the Buddha. This unintelligible phrase was inadvertently copied from Koeppen's book, where we find: “Sangdsche Kontschog, “Buddha-Kleinod”” …

But it must be taken into consideration that “san-gye” (སངས་རྒྱས), being a calcque of the Sanskrit Buddha, combines the attributes of enlightenment and awakening. Although the origin of “K'houtchoo” is linked to “Buddha-Kleinod,” the Buddha as one of the jewels of the doctrine, which corresponds to “Dkon mchog,” there is also the consonant གང ཟག (“gang zag”), “person, individual, spiritual teacher.” At the same time, if we take borrowing from literature as the main version, then the term appears in Della Penna's report on the Kingdom of Tibet, written back in 1730 and mentioned by the author, where, in the 1875 edition on the page 331 “Sankia K'hontchoa” is printed. In the original letter of the Mahatma, there is “Sankia K'hontchoo,” while the “n” in “K'hontchoo” looks like “u,” although it looks like the “n” in “Sankia.” From Della Penna's account, it is quite clear that this word is a phonetisation of “sangs rgyas dkon mchog” – the Buddha (sangs rgyas) as a jewel (dkon mchog). The two other Buddhist refuges are mentioned by him right after.


S.Y. Kuvaev: “... H.I. Roerich, who translated the neologism “Cho-han” as “Kogan” in Russian. Apparently, Roerich decided that the combination of the letters “ch” in this word should be read as “k” on the model of English words of Greek origin like “chaos,” “chimera,” “technic.””

Maybe she was referring to the kohens, the priests of the ancient Hebrews, one of the 12 tribes. At the same time, she may have had her own reasons, unknown to others, for establishing such a kinship. Besides, probably the origin of the investigated words is not connected necessarily with the Tibetan languages. It is also possible that they come from more ancient languages or simply from other languages, including those unknown to modern science, such as Senzar, a language of a closed community, which is mentioned in Theosophical and other traditions. In connection with the topic of the study it can be mentioned that individual Senzar words cited in some sources suggest that Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Persian words and roots, as well as from other languages of the Indo-European family, may be similar to those due to borrowing and other reasons. But, in fact, the author makes no attempt to distinguish between mere similarity to Tibetan and coincidence with Tibetan words, let alone taking the premise of Tibetan as a native tongue of the Mahatmas for granted.

In addition, in a publication of O.A. Kanischeva about H.I. Roerich's work on the translation of the text of “The Secret Doctrine,” for example, it is stated that .”.. the transcription of Tibetan words also caused difficulty. In “The Secret Doctrine” in a number of cases Helena Ivanovna found them transcribed incorrectly. This was not surprising, since at that time not many people in the West knew Tibetan. She checked most of the Tibetan words with Lama Lobzang Mingyur Dorje, the best, in her opinion, Tibetan language teacher. George Roerich also helped, of course. At that time he was completing work on a Tibetan-Russian-English dictionary with Sanskrit parallels and enjoyed a reputation among Western scholars as an expert on the Tibetan language. However, in those cases where the difference in transcription was significant, Helena Ivanovna did not dare to change it.”[12]

The following are inaccuracies in S.Y. Kuvaev's article.

For example, in letter 70, the “mahatma” quotes the Buddha’s words... In the same letter 70...

In the final version, the number was replaced with the correct one – 16.

Thus, the author of the letter No. 88 informs Sinnett, who was going to London, that evil sorcerers and spirits will try to confuse him there by means of false letters. And if the received letter does not contain three code words “Kiu-t-an,” “Na-lan-da” and “Dhah-ra-ni.”..

In fact, and this was corrected in the printed version, it is about the letter No. 92. By the way, in the 1923 edition by Barker, according to which, as the author claimed, the letters are numbered, these words, reprinted from the manuscript, contain typos: “Kin-t-an,” “Na-lan-ba” and “Dha-ra-in.”


The Dhammapada... 1881. p. 34.

The right page is 31. It remained uncorrected in the published version.



.”.. the quote from Kangyur in “Tibetan Teachings,” which she transcribed verbatim from the London edition of Udanavarga, again without citing the source.

In the September 1884 issue of “Lucifer,” although there is no reference to this particular edition in this article, there is a reference to the primary source under the quotation: “From the Tched-dubrjod-pai tsoms of the BKAH-HGYUR.”


The source of the extensive quotation from the letter No. 88 (1882) has also been ascertained. It is none other than a not too distant paraphrase of the original beginning of the Mahavagga, a translation of which was published in 1881 in the three-volume “Vinaya Texts” by Rhys Davids and Oldenburg.

It seems the author, before the correction in the published version, referred to the numbering not in Barker’s edition, but in the chronological edition prepared by V.H. Chin.[13] So, in the above phrase, it was about the letter No. 10, which was reflected in the final version. It is curious that the author, focusing on the criticism of the authenticity of the letters of the Mahatmas, confused the numbering of the letters similarly to the Hare brothers, who published this very find from the Mahavagga back in 1936 in a book given by the author in the literature section. Perhaps, exploration of some long-established counterarguments to the long-standing criticism of Theosophical sources[14], [15], including those relating the work of the Hares, would have earlier led the author also to the correct numbering.


Developing the issue of paraphrases, fertile ground for hypothesizing, S.Y. Kuvaev writes: “The letter No. 54 (1882) quotes the words of the Tathagata from another unnamed source: “He who masters Self is greater than he who conquers thousands in battle.” In these words the stanza from “Dhammapada,” translated and published by M. Müller a year before, can be easily recognized.

In Müller’s Dhammapada, as well as in the Sanskrit version, it is written about a thousandfold victory in battle over a thousand men (even the corresponding chapter is called “Thousands,” so the closely situated use of the word “thousand” in some verses may be due to reasons of an exclusively literary nature), while in “The Mahatma Letters” it is simply over thousands (and the phrase is abbreviated). However, taking into account the apocryphal nature of the Buddha's quotations (Lao Tzu, a possible contemporary of Buddha, for example, talked too about victory over oneself) and possible echoes with other Buddhist texts, to consider that the Mahatma necessarily took a quotation from Müller's translation and for some reason shortened it by “thousand times,” is like saying that the Golden Rule of morality is taken from that or this translation of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:12 and at the same time forgetting that there is their paraphrase in Luke 6:31 and it was known to ethicists in very different parts of the world long before Christ. By the way, H.P. Blavatsky reminded of it, also in relation to biased criticism, in an article about the ideals of Love and Brotherhood (proclaimed by the Theosophical Society and Theosophy), which are transplanted with blessed hands to “different climes and at epochs” (i.e. religions, teachings and moral codes): ““Do not do unto others what you would not wish others to do unto you,” said Confucius to his disciples. “Love one another, and love all living creatures,” preached Gautama the Buddha to his Arhats. “Love one another,” was repeated as a faithful echo in the streets of Jerusalem.”[16]


S.Y. Kuvaev goes on to wonder about such a source as the Book of Dzyan. He writes: “As for the “Book of Dzyan,” Reigle suggested that it could be some currently unknown tantra of the Kalachakra cycle (or a part of such a tantra) as long as the “extracts” from it deal with cosmogony.

If the author had consulted another, later work by D. Reigle[17], he should have found that, firstly, there is no reduction of the Book of Dzyan to the Kalachakra Tantra, and also there had been found “significant circumstantial evidence in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Dzyan.”


S.Y. Kuvaev made a number of other inaccuracies and misinterpretations.

S.Y, Kuvaev: “Two other Tibetan words, given without translation in the text of “The Letters” and also intended to demonstrate the author's familiarity with Tibetan culture and language, are “akhu” (No. 24) (uncle) and “dzing dzing” (No. 24b) (not quite compos mentis). Both are taken from the already mentioned Jaeschke's dictionary.

“Akhu” is used in the postscript to H.P. Blavatsky's letter to A.P. Sinnett, not in the letter No. 24: there is no letter with this number at all, there are only 24a and 24b. There appears to be no images of the original from the British Museum in the Internet, but the text version reads “Meanwhile the akhu tries to fascinate K.H. by her portraiture.” Obviously, the possessive “her” hardly fits an “uncle.” At the same time, Mrs. Kingsford is known to have tried to make contact with Koot Hoomi. In the same letter it is written about her: “She then complains that she had “endeavoured personally to come into ‘rapport’ with Mahatma K.H. but have quite failed,” and winds up by asking K.H. to strengthen her by his influence, for which reason thinking that “it may be an aid –magnetically or otherwise – to Mahatma K.H. to see my face (!?!?) – I send my photograph. <…> It may help him to a right analysis of my present personality …” etc., etc.” At the same time[18], in “The Secret Doctrine” by H.P. Blavatsky, in the Egyptian version of the seven principles that fashion man, the akhu is mind and perception. It is likely that Mrs. Kingsford's groundless hopes were simply sneered at by alluding to her akhu – the activity of her overly enterprising mind.


S.Y. Kuvaev: .”.. not all of the linguistic absurdities in the “Notes” owe their appearance to Blavatsky's ignorance of the Tibetan language. Some of them are certainly the faults of the copyist, Sinnett. Such, for example, is the mysterious word “A-ku” from the table, translated there as “body,” which is found in Jaeschke in the form,” etc.

Such edits were made by the linguist D. Reagle long ago, along with many other edits of this kind in modern versions of Theosophical texts, and the author is probably quite aware of this.


S.Y. Kuvaev: “As for the absurdities that Blavatsky herself made when writing out words from the dictionary, the most egregious of them is the case of the word “Chh-rab,” which the author of the letter translates as “genesis.””

But since “Chh-rab” is taken from a letter to A.O. Hume, rewritten by A.P. Sinnett, one may note that A.P. Sinnett shortened something and took something from A.O. Hume's own account. Thus, concerning the “Chh-rab” written immediately following the short answer to Question 22, it is known that after the question A.P. Sinnett wrote: “Essay by Hume, with Notes as before from M.”[19] If for A.P. Sinnett it was no use to go through the dictionary, it is not known for certain what A.O. Hume did in this regard. In any case, one more mistake of the chela in the transfer of the entrusted information seems quite likely here, unless deliberately excluding the chela’s participation in the deposition of ink on paper.


S.Y. Kuvaev: “As for the rare authentic Tibeto-Buddhist terms found in “The Letters” (bde ba can, sems can, dkon mchog, stong pa nyid, etc.), they are stripped of their original meaning and interpreted by her in isolation from tradition.

However, “Bde ba can” in the writing of “Devachan” has, among other characteristics, those of Sukhavati. It is hard to say that “Sems can” in the sense of “Animated Universe/Organized matter” (as they are reflected in the “Notes”), and this is already close to one of the meanings of purusha, cannot necessarily correspond to Buddhist sattva. “Dkon mchog” in the spelling “Kon Chhog,” as mentioned above, has the meaning of Universal Mind, so that it can correspond to one of the meanings of the Buddhist dictionary, that is the Buddha as God. “Stong pa nyid” as shunyata could have been used in an ironic sense, or even as Mahatma's realization, to one degree or another, of one aspect of the “bodhisattva path,” that is withdrawal from the ultimately illusory world.

Regarding the words “Kon Chhog” (dkon mchog), meaning Universal Mind, it may be recalled that Christian missionaries chose to use this term for God in the Tibetan translation of the Bible, since “dkon mchog,” a jewel, refers to the three jewels of the doctrine in which Buddhists take refuge. Naturally, the use of this term to refer to God has been subject to much criticism, since it clearly refers to a completely different idea from the Christian idea of God. In the same way, D. Reigle believes, this term cannot refer to Universal Mind. His book “Blavatsky’s Secret Books” suggests that “Kon Chhog” is a distorted term “kun gzhi,” which is a Sanskrit translation of the term “ālaya-vijñana” and can mean something like Universal Mind[20].

In fact, even the author himself provided a link to a whole section of a website devoted to the search for the primary sources of the Book of Dzyan exactly by Theosophists, where a whole series of publications about “The Mahatma Letters” with similar inconsistencies are posted: In particular, one of the links describes a non-existent Sanskrit-like[21] phrase from “The Mahatma Letters,” “Nirira namastaka.” Curiously, some Russian translations refer to it as “sharira namastaka,” which gives it meaning. Although “namastaka” sounds more like a neologism of Srila Prabhupada, who used it in the title of his chants, the word formation at least follows an inherent pattern of the language.

Indeed, our outstanding compatriot, who founded the Theosophical Society with a purpose not only of “the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science” but also, first of all, “to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color” had some personality traits, which her critics readily had in the crosshairs, both rightly and in forms distorted beyond recognition. As it became clear even during her lifetime, her impetuous nature, although thirsting for the improvement of the life of all mankind, through the knowledge and understanding of the world available to her, sometimes made incorrect interpretations and inaccuracies, especially in earlier works. The process of earthly creativity has an infinite number of peculiar manifestations, which can be partially captured in the words of the popular Russian poet Akhmatova: “I wish you knew the kind of garbage heap wild verses grow on, paying shame no heed.” Sometimes in essays, she could be too indifferent to the validity of her guesses, also those associated with the etymology of words, most of all giving meaning to the essential concepts of various spiritual teachings. Thus, Brahmin S. Row, who played an important role in the work of the Theosophical Society and became famous for his lectures and publications on the topic of Vedanta and its parallels with Buddhism, by criticizing the beginning of the first draft of “The Secret Doctrine” for inaccuracies and vagueness, thereby in no small measure contributed to her more focused and quality work, that others later helped to improve. Even though this work, like any human creation, contains inaccuracies. This, however, in no way in itself negates the significance and depth, as well as the authenticity of those parts of Theosophical writings that are claimed to have arisen in the consciousness (but not necessarily from the pen) of much more perfect minds than the human’s, that of Mahatmas of the East, recognized and revered before and after H.P. Blavatsky also outside the Theosophical movement proper, by followers of various branches of Indo-Tibetan teachings, including both Vedic and Buddhist traditions.

Even in Buddhism itself, amid the existing serious differences in its main branches, the situation with the proof of authenticity of texts, as history shows, could change from denial (for example, Buton Rinchen Drub excluded most of the then esoteric Nyingma corpus from a compilation of Tengyur because it was impossible, after the era of persecution of Buddhism, to establish the line of transmission of this knowledge from original Indian sources) until the later discovery in Nepal of Sanskrit sources of a number of Nyingma tantras, previously not recognized by the Sarma school, which were indicative of the canonicity of these tantras. And this is not surprising. For example, the famous orientalist and Tibetologist George Roerich noted with good reason: “Tibet can be compared to a closed storeroom of an ancient castle, where treasures of the past are kept. The vast religious literature of Tibet has preserved ancient scriptures of Buddhism, the Sanskrit originals of which were lost in India.”[22] Another thing is that, as never before access to the contents of the monastic libraries was free enough, it has not become such even in our information age. Likewise, for example, the Vatican Apostolic Library still stores many documents unknown to science. In this regard, it would be more promising (and more in line with the author's professional sights) to try to investigate the “84 thousand scrolls” from the Sakya monastery, which, according to Xinhua, became known to scholars of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences in 2003 after hundreds of years of conservation[23]. Since then, traces of the academic study of this “second Dunhuang” (with the number of library units surprisingly coinciding with the number of Buddha's teachings) have been virtually undetectable. However, the manuscripts appear to be still in the Sakya library – observable and, seemingly, inaccessible to ordinary study[24]. Also, there is no reason to believe that the situation, similar to that described in relation to India in 1991 by the indologist N.F. Rukavishnikova, has completely disappeared: .”.. I have often come across such an attitude [of distrust] towards foreigners. In response to my questions, the inhabitants of monasteries and priests of temples in India most often told lies. When an Indian scientist came to them with the same questions at my request, the answers were completely different.”[25] It is noteworthy that Western scholars ranked the above mentioned Nyingma tantras as Tibetan forgeries on the grounds that they did not know the Sanskrit originals[26].

A similar skepticism prevails among Western Buddhologist and Tibetologists regarding the tradition of terma, texts hidden for the time being, which, being by definition sources of revelations from divine beings, were intended to be found later by tertons, mentioned by S.Y. Kuvaev and so characteristic of the same Nyingma school of old translations. Meanwhile, the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” which has won incredible popularity in completely different circles, is a classic example of a terma. Undoubtedly, such questions, presumably much closer to Buddhism than, according to S.Y. Kuvaev, Theosophy, could provide for a researcher close to him in his mindset no less wide field for such a lexicological source study than the modern continuation of Theosophical teachings formed only in the 19th century and not polished by time.

In the study, the author, of course, did not aim to cover such a small work by H.P. Blavatsky as her translation from Telugu into English of extracts from the so-called “Book of Golden Precepts,” which she attributed to the same body of texts as the “Book of Dzyan,” that is “The Voice of Silence.” But it was the 9th Panchen Lama, who for those treading the Path of Liberation and reading this work, the Tibetan terms from which had been verified with learned lamas from Tashi Lhunpo and Chinese Buddhists, that had also established the kinship of the text with their highest teachings, inscribed his message on the frontispiece of the 1927 edition in China.[27] With his blessing, this edition was prepared as the “only true exposition in English [at least at the time of the initial publication] of the Heart Doctrine of the Mahayana [expressed also in the Bodhicharya-avatar] and its noble ideal of self-sacrifice for humanity.” His secretary B.T. Chang, who wanted to translate this “gem of Buddhist teachings” into Chinese for Chinese Buddhists in full, in the same edition noted Blavatsky's deep acquaintance with Buddhist philosophy. And whereas one can be wary of stories about the meetings of different people with the 14th Dalai Lama, who collaborated with Theosophists, at which he testified about the high appreciation of works by H.P. Blavatsky on the part of Buddhist theologians (for example, in the memoirs of the foreign affairs journalist V.V. Ovchinnikov[28]), an undeniable fact is His Holiness’ preface to the 1989 centenary edition of “The Voice of the Silence.” In it he says that “this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path.”[29]

From the false premise that H.P. Blavatsky felt “at liberty to treat fragments of its [Buddhism’s] teachings freely, twisting them,” also false because it is as if her sources contained only a modified exoteric knowledge, accessible (at that, to a quite limited extent) to the author of the article, and there was nothing more, released for the first time to the general public by direct bearers of the Buddhist tradition, he makes a bold conclusion that she “treated it [Buddhism] with a considerable degree of disdain.” The same S. Row was even forced to say goodbye to the Theosophical Society in no small measure because he believed that in her works Helena Petrovna had published too much secret, until then esoteric knowledge. Also, not only, as the author himself confirms, “Blavatsky caused a surge of interest in Tibetan Buddhism in the West with her activities,” but the Theosophical Society, founded by her, provided, as generally recognized, opportunities, including material ones, for the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. And in the temple in Galle, where she and her fellow H.S. Olcott took five sacred vows of Buddhism, to this day there is a memorial stone with a plaque on which this event is engraved in words. The Theosophical movement also significantly contributed to the revival of national identity in India and, as a result, to its independence: many academic works have been written about this. Thus, the conclusion about the commitment of H.P. Blavatsky to “the standard Orientalist paradigm characteristic of European authors who in one way or another touched on the subject of the East in the XIX century,” while counter-arguments are well known from the history of the early Theosophical movement, looks even more strange as the ending of an entire article on the sources of some Theosophical texts.

In conclusion, it is also interesting to cite, with a few comments in square brackets, the opinion of the translator of the main work of H.P. Blavatsky “The Secret Doctrine” (published in 2017) V.V. Bazyukin, who expressed it in private correspondence and agreed for quoting him. He, too, believes that S.Y. Kuvaev's success would most likely have been not too large if he had tried to dissect all those cosmogony, ontology, hermeneutics, epistemology laid down in H.P. Blavatsky's writings from the perspective of falsification in such detail, too. The translator of the magnum opus of the founder of the Theosophical movement, which she published already after the last of the published Mahatma letters had been written, and which she began writing after the letters discussed in the author's article had been written, has provided the following commentary (in some revision).

The texts of “The Secret Doctrine” and “The Mahatma Letters” use a wide array of terms, including Tibetan terms (but not exclusively Tibetan!). Bringing them into Latin transliteration was not the easiest task. This was the 19th century, when no unified transliteration system had yet been formed and researchers sometimes used their own version. It is enough just to look through the journal “Asiatic Researches”: one can be very surprised by how some terms are transliterated there. Take, for example, the combination “ch.” It turns out that “the model of English words of Greek origin” has nothing to do with it. Who, for example, would recognize in “chiah” the Hebrew word “haya,” that is, “life”? And yet, this is how the word is spelled in Dunlap (Dunlap, “Sod, The Son of Man”), Inman (Inman, “Ancient Faiths”), and a number of other sources. The same applies to the spelling of the name Chiram (Hiram), the word “khubilgan” (chubilgan), etc.

As for the term “Kogan” (“Chohan”), that is how Blavatsky herself pronounced the word. To be sure of this, it is enough to open her book written in Russian, “Letters from the Caves and Wilds of Hindustan.” There one would find the following phrase: .”.. our spiritual person, sutratma <...> merges all these qualities into one, becoming then a a perfect being, dhyan-kogan” {note: dhyan-kogan, esprit planetaire [planetary spirit (French)]}. The origin of this word is really not completely elucidated. One can only present a version, which, however, seems quite convincing. The origin of the word should not be traced to the Jewish kohen or kogan, but to the Mongolian kagans (chagans), princes. The presence of the Mongolian element should not be surprising, since other words of Mongolian origin can also be found in Theosophical literature, such as “hutagt,” “hubilgan,” etc. Quite curious information about Kagans can also be gleaned from the book of A.F. Weltman “Magi and the Midian Kagans of the XIII century.” And S.M. Solovyov (“History of Russia”) also mentions works of the first Kiev metropolitan Hilarion, praising “our Kagan Vladimir,” that is Prince Vladimir. Thus, the word “Kagan” can be understood as “prince,” “ruler.” And can the choice of this word to designate the “rulers of the world,” the “planetary spirits,” that is dhyani-kagans (or kogans), in this context be surprising? Is it surprising, if we talk, for example, about the Christian context of the use of the same word: “… Christ <...> calling into his arms “all those who suffer and are burdened,” the true “prince of the world.”..” (Brockhaus and Efron Enc. Dic., vol. XXXIIIa, p. 538)? Or in this context: “By the name of Beelzebub... it has to be recognized the chief of evil spirits, the prince of demons, whom the Lord Himself calls Satan” (“Bible Encyclopedia,” p. 99)? And here is how the same word sounds in a Muslim context: “Modern Islamic theologian Ali Apsheroni writes about Muhammad <...> “We are talking about a great man who was truly a veritable prince of mercy, the Imam of all believers....”

In the same context, of course, one should understand the expressions “dhyani-buddhas”: exactly as “princes,” “rulers of the world.” Often, specifying the meaning, Blavatsky refers to them as “angels” or “archangels,” which are purely Christian expressions. It is simply necessary to remember her warning that her work was not intended for philologists, but for people studying occultism. And so she considered it quite natural for her to use Greek, Hebrew, Mongolian, Turkic, and whatever other terms she could to clarify the meaning of what she was talking about in her pages. Could she [or, in certain situations, Mahatmas themselves and even more so those intermediaries used to transmit the letters of the Mahatmas] have used for this purpose some expressions already in common usage in this or that Buddhological or other work? Of course! Does this in itself cast a shadow? It would be imprudent to assume so.

As V.V. Bazyukin, whose comments are appreciated, summarizes, it would have been much more fruitful if the author had paid close attention to the substantive side of what is written about in “The Secret Doctrine.” All the more so because sometimes it diverges from the exoteric, i.e. generally accepted provisions of Buddhism, whereas the Secret occult doctrine, set out in “The Mahatma Letters” and the works of H.P. Blavatsky, is not at all reduced to Buddhism and is not limited to it, which she says in detail in the introduction to her main printed work.

My gratitude is also expressed to D. Reigle, the Tibetologist who took the trouble to study the previous version of this review and article by S.Y. Kuvaev for possible factual errors, as well as making several comments that were taken into account. The American researcher, not sharing the attitude of the author of the source study related to certain aspects of the mechanism of borrowing vocabulary and H.P. Blavatsky’s motivation, also noted some usefulness of his research in clarifying the sources of the vocabulary.

The debate continued:


Bibliography (in addition to that used by S.Y. Kuvaev)

Ancient Lections of Tibetan Buddhism to Be Sorted out // China Internet Information Center, 2003, Nov 15. URL: Accessed on 15.02.2021.

Beacon of the Unknown / H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Online. Compiled by Boris de Zirkoff. Vol. XI, p. 282.

Blavatsky H.P. The Voice of the Silence. Ed. Alice Cleather and Basil Crump. Peking: Chinese Buddhist Research Society, 1927.

Blavatsky H.P. The Voice of the Silence. Forward by HH. the XIVth Dalai Lama. Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, 1989.

Bose Kishen Kant B. Account of Bootan (translated by D. Scott) // In: Political Missions to Bootan, 1865, pp. 187–206.

Bose Kishen Kant B. Some Account of the Country of Bhutan (translated by D. Scott) // Asiatic Researches, 1825, XV, pp. 128–156.

Chin V.H. The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett: In Chronological Sequence (Theosophical Classics Series). Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1972.

Cosmological Notes // Theosophy Wiki. 1881. Accessed 15.02.2021.

Cox H.R.W. Who Wrote the March–Hare Attack on the Mahatma Letters? Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: H.P.B. Library, 1936.

Dale Saunders E. A Note on Śakti and Dhyānibuddha // History of Religions History of Religions. 1962, vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 300–306.

Grechin B.S. Buddhism and Theosophy (Continuation of the Old Story) // Accessed on 15.02.2021.

Hare H.E. and Hare W.L. Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters. London: Williams & Norgate Ltd. 1936, pp. 105–108.

Hopkins J. et al. The Uma Institute for Tibetan Studies Tibetan-Sanskrit-English Dictionary // In process (May 2016 version), p. 519. Accessed on 15.02.2021

Kanishcheva O.A. Word and meaning: the work of H.I. Roerich on the translation of the texts of “The Secret Doctrine” by H.P. Blavatsky and proofreading of foreign translations of the Living Ethics // 130 years since the birth of H.I. Roerich. Materials of the International Scientific and Civic Conference 2009. Moscow: The International Roerich Center; Master Bank, 2010, pp. 434–435.

Letters of Helena Roerich: 1929–1938. Volume 1 // New York: Agni Yoga Society, 1954, p. 221.

Letters of Helena Roerich: 1935–1939. Volume 2 // New York: Agni Yoga Society, 1967, p. 23.

Ovchinnikov V.V. Blavatsky’s compatriot. Moscow: Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 01.03.2003.

Reigle D. The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence // Brahmavidyā: The Adyar Library Bulletin, 2013, vol. 77, pp. 87–120.

Reigle D, Reigle N. Blavatsky's Secret Books: Twenty Years' Research. San Diego: Wizard Bookshelf, 1999, p. 70.

Reigle D. Who Are the Dugpas in Theosophical Writings? // 2009. URL: Accessed on 15.02.2021.

Roerich G. Tibet, Land of Snow // Tibet i Tsentral’naya Aziaya [Tibet and Central Asia]. Articles, lectures, translations. Samara: Publishing House “Agni,” 1999, p. 286

Rukavishnikova N.F. The riddle of the “Tibetan Gospel” // Ecology of the unknown. Scientific information bulletin of the Association “Ecology of the Unknown” and the Publishing House “Ladoga-100,” 2006, No. 1 (101), pp. 42–44.

Sangharakshita. Eastern and Western Traditions. Cambridge: Windhorse Publications, 2019, p. 41.

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[1] Sentyakova 2017.

[2] Grechin 2021.

[3] Dale Saunders 1962.

[4] Letters... 1967

[5] Letters... 1954

[6] Reigle 2009.

[7] Tibetan Living Dictionary

[8] Hopkins 2016

[9] Bose 1865

[10] Tibetan Living Dictionary

[11] Bose 1825

[12] Kanischeva 2010

[13] Chin 1972.

[14] Cox 1936.

[15] Hastings 1937–1939.

[16] Beacon of the Unknown

[17] Reigle 2013.

[18] Letters 1996

[19] Cosmological Notes 1881

[20] Reigle, Reigle 1999.

[21] In the initial version of the review, made in a short time, which was sent to the author at the stage of reviewing his article before its inclusion in the collected works, there was an erroneous reference to the Sanskrit-Tibetan origin of the phrase; it is probably by chance left from a paragraph by the author himself, in which he claimed unproven Sanskrit-Tibetan roots of the term “Dhyan-Chohan”; in fact, from the indicated source ‒ ‒ it immediately follows that the possible components of “nirvvā namastaka” are Sanskrit-like, just as the “sharira” used in the original edition of the "Chalice of the East" (translation by H. Roerich of some excerpts from "The Mahatma Letters"), apparently introduced there at the suggestion of G. Roerich, who might consider “nirira” a typo ("In the letters of M. all Sanskrit and Pali words are corrected by George, therefore do not be astonished at the difference with the English edition"; see on H. Roerich's letter to co-workers of Jul 19–27, 1925:, accessed on 15.02.2021).

[22] Roerich 1999.

[23] Ancient… 2003.

[24] The awe-inspiring… 2018.

[25] Rukavishnikova 2006.

[26] Sangharakshita 2019.

[27] Blavatsky 1927.

[28] Ovchinnikov 2003.

[29] Blavatsky 1989.