Quest for the Lost Language of the Initiates [part 2]

David Reigle – USA

[“Quest for the Lost Language of the Initiates,” by David Reigle, was published in the American Theosophist 69.1 (January 1981): 11-6; and reprinted in David and Nancy Reigle’s collection Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research (San Diego, CA: Wizards Bookshelf, 1999), pp. 6-19, from which it is reproduced here, with slight modifications for our house style.]


When we went to India to obtain books and materials for the Theosophical Research Center here [now Eastern Tradition Research Institute], after a most fruitful stay at Adyar of course, we made it a point to go to Bombay, the center of Zoroastrianism today, and see what we could find of this. We first set about obtaining the five Gathas of the Yasna in the original Gathic dialect of the Avesta language, supposed to be Senzar, and also in English translation. As usual, the English translation was very inadequate from the occult point of view. We also obtained some Avestan grammars and readers for use in learning the language.

Since correct pronunciation is very important in an occult language, finding that was our next step. Upon inquiry, we were told that Parsees (Zoroastrians) who knew the old Avesta language could be found at the Cama Oriental Institute in Bombay. There, with great good fortune, we met a man who not only knew Avestan pronunciation, but also knew esoteric Zoroastrianism.

In the course of going through the pronunciation of the Avestan alphabet for us, he came across the letter “dh.” Here he stopped, explaining that this letter, according to esoteric Zoroastrianism, is not of the same level of vibration as the others and that he considered it to be a later interpolation, not originally found in the Avestan alphabet. Of course, he had no reason to believe that we were interested in anything esoteric, since he was just told that we had come to learn the pronunciation of Avestan, as any Western scholar might. Few Western scholars took esotericism seriously, and neither did most of his fellow Parsees; so he excused himself for the diversion and continued with the alphabet. But we assured him of our sincere interest in the esoteric viewpoint and asked him to tell us more.

It turns out that sometime in 1875-6 a Parsee named Behramshah Navroji Shroff13 had the opportunity of spending three and a half years with a secret Zoroastrian brotherhood in what is now Iran. At this place in holy Mount Daemavand they had all twenty-one nasks [“divisions”], the original Zoroastrian sacred books, complete; whereas the available Avesta contains only one of these nasks, and parts of a couple others. After his return to India it was nearly thirty years before Mr. Shroff, with great reluctance, started talking about where he went, his experiences there, and what he had learned. Some books were then published on the basis of this occult knowledge, which is called “Khshnoom,” or esoteric Zoroastrianism. Of great interest to us was the information made available in this way on the sacred language.

The above-mentioned nasks were originally recorded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in a type of expression which produced color-thought-vibration pictures, a kind of “spiritual motion-picture show” when recited by purified souls.14 The ability to register and understand it was not dependent on erudition, but on extreme holiness. These pictures were then rendered into a grammatical language, which we now call Avestan, which, besides being highly enigmatical and allegorical, is also based on the laws of vibration, color, sound, etc. As people became less spiritual, and therefore less able to under¬stand this holy Avestan language, explanations called Zend, likewise based on the laws of vibration, color, etc., were added. Because the present Zoroastrian scriptures contain both the Avesta portions and the Zend explanations, they are called Zend-Avesta.

This information illustrates Madame Blavatsky’s statement that Zend means the “rendering of esoteric into exoteric sentences; the veil used to conceal the correct meaning of the Zen-(d)-zar texts.”15 It also explains why at one place she says the mystery language is not phonetic, but purely pictorial and symbolical 16 and at another place tells about the alphabet of Senzar, phonetic of course, saying that every letter of it has a number, color, and distinct syllable, besides other potencies (as they do in other occult alphabets also).17 As usual with these seeming contradictions, both statements are true, since there is more than one way to express the mystery language.

The mystery language, then, is not limited to just one form; and likewise, esoteric books are not limited to one meaning only. However, these various meanings are keyed into the texts, and only occult philosophy can unlock them. The Secret Doctrine is said to require seven keys for the complete understanding of it; so with the Vedas and other occult books also.18 There are six Vedangas, or auxiliary Vedic scriptures, exoterically available, which comprise six of these keys to the Vedas, could people but realize it (the seventh being always esoteric). One of these, the astrological-astronomical Vedanga called Jyotisha, contains the following verse: “The Vedas are revealed for the sake of performing sacrifices; the sacrifices are determined according to the order of time; therefore, whoever knows this Jyotisha, giving the knowledge of time-cycles, knows the sacrifices.”19 Esoteric Zoroastrianism provides us with a key to a key by giving the true meaning of the Avesta verb root “yaz.” Since we know that its Vedic Sanskrit counterpart is the verb root “yaj,” we apply the same meaning wherever that is found also. So now if you will please read the above-quoted verse, in each case substituting “attunements,” the correct meaning, for “sacrifices,” the currently accepted meaning, you should notice a significant difference.20 Using these keys, it becomes apparent that the Vedanga Jyotisha, and likewise the Vedas with which it deals, are not concerned with primitive sacrifices, but with attunement to the various energies of the cosmos, for life in harmony with the universe.These various energies of the cosmos are symbolized in many ways. Speaking of Senzar, Madame Blavatsky says in the preface to The Voice of the Silence (which was translated from that language) that it can be written variously in alphabets or ideographs, but that the easiest way to read it is in universal signs and symbols, known to initiated mystics of any language.21 Symbols, either as words like “fire,” or as ideographs, seem to be fundamental to occultism; evidently because they are the “language” of buddhi, the real intuition. Perhaps it is for this reason that she recommends the forming of a “small society of intelligent earnest students of symbolism, especially the Zend and Sanskrit scholars.”22

In this connection I must mention something very interesting which I came across in a book containing information from Hilarion, called Teachings of the Temple. On page 227, speaking of the mystery language, is the following: “In every instance, so far, that an attempt has been made to teach this language to the laity, and even before the first principles had been fully understood, those to whom the requisite knowledge had been entrusted have been compelled to stay their hand and wait for the repairing of some recreant from a seven fold group before they could continue; for such a seven fold group is an essential.̎23 Maybe now that the Aquarian age of group consciousness has dawned there will be a better chance for success. 

In any case, there was more to be done. Now that we had gotten some idea as to what Senzar actually is, had obtained materials to study it from, and had seen what a key is and how it works, we turned our attention toward finding more esoteric books. The four Vedas and the three volumes of the Avesta made only seven volumes total of original material; the major portions of the systems they come from having long since disappeared. With the Jainas it was the same situation. Of their ancient sacred canon we now have only the Angas, once considered auxiliary scriptures to the fourteen Purvas, themselves entirely lost to us. According to one of the two main sects of Jainas, the Digambaras, even the Angas we have are not the original ones. 

The southern Buddhist Pali canon, full of the most profound ethics, because not based on reward and punishment, is available; and we therefore obtained a set of it in 41 Pali volumes. Some northern Buddhists, however, say there was originally a Sanskrit canon containing all Buddha’s teachings, including the esoteric tradition, now lost. But here is the interesting part: While these esoteric books were still available in Sanskrit, an initiate named Thonmi Sambhota, after studying in India, developed the Tibetan alphabet and system of writing for the very purpose of accurately translating Sanskrit and preserving the esoteric meanings intact. Thonmi Sambhota, whose system of grammar we had studied while at Dharamsala, was the father of Tibetan grammar, the Panini of Tibet, and lived in the seventh century C.E. The following few centuries saw the careful translation of these Sanskrit books into the new Tibetan written language he had developed. 

It is interesting to notice that at about the time this esoteric knowledge was being transferred to Tibet, it started going underground in India, finally disappearing during the reign of Akbar (the last half of the 16th century C.E.).24 While trying to trace the Sanskrit astrological works of Yavanacharya, known to us as Pythagoras,25 we found that they were evidently available to Varaha Mihira (the Ptolemy of Indian astrology-astronomy), who lived in the sixth century C.E., but not to his well-known commentator Bhattotpala, who lived in the tenth century C.E.26 This seemed to us to indicate the gradual loss of esoteric works from India at around this time, coinciding exactly with the period of time in which Sanskrit books were first being translated into Tibetan. A similar transference had taken place a few centuries before our era, culminating with the burning of the Alexandrian Library in 47 B.C.E.27 This points to a continuity of the esoteric tradition at all times in some locality. The appearance of H. P. Blavatsky’s works in English last century, from esoteric Tibetan sources, could have heralded another such shift. With the invasion of Tibet, and consequent dispersal of the religious tradition there, many Tibetan books became available to the West for the first time. 

But our question was, were any of the esoteric books, preserved by the early translators, available to the public? The answer was supplied by the Chohan-Lama, the chief of the archive-registrars of the secret libraries of the Dalai and Tashi-hlumpo Lamas Rimpoche of Tibet, from an article called “Tibetan Teachings,” written in the 1880s and reprinted in Collected Writings, vol. 6. The Chohan, “than whom no one in Tibet is more deeply versed in the science of esoteric and exoteric Buddhism,” informs us of the following:
̎In the first place, the Sacred Canon of the Tibetans, the Bkah-hgyur and Bstan-hgyur, comprises 1,707 distinct works—1,083 public and 624 secret volumes—the former being composed of 350 and the latter of 77 folio volumes. . . . Every description of localities is figurative in our system; every name and word is purposely veiled; and a student, before he is given any further instruction, has to study the mode of deciphering, and then of comprehending and learning the equivalent secret term or synonym for nearly every word of our religious language. . . . Even in those volumes to which the masses have access, every sentence has a dual meaning, one intended for the unlearned, and the other for those who have received the key to the records. . . . There is a dual meaning, then, even in the canon thrown open to the people, and, quite recently, to Western scholars.”

He goes on to say that many scriptures, so-called, containing “mythological and legendary matter more fit for nursery folklore than an exposition of the Wisdom Religion” are preserved in the lamasery libraries; “but none of these are to be found in the canon.” The books in the canon “contain no fiction, but simply information for future generations, who may, by that time, have obtained the key to the right reading of them.”28

We are a future generation and, with the indispensable help of The Secret Doctrine, had just been tracing that key back through Sanskrit and Avestan to Senzar and symbol language. Now, following the esoteric trail the other direction, we find that even in the Tibetan canon thrown open to Western scholars there is a dual meaning, just waiting to be unlocked with it! But there was one more difficulty: where to get these books? It used to be that in Tibet monasteries paid several thousand oxen for a set. Now Tibet is closed up, and I didn’t know any rancher willing to turn in his herd for some funny looking books, anyway. However, after considerable inquiry, we found that this whole set is available on microfiche, thanks to the efforts of the Institute for Advanced Studies for World Religions.29 This canon, first assembled and codified at Narthang Monastery located near Shigatse, the home of the Mahatmas, contains important books on many subjects. In the field of medicine alone there are twenty-two texts.30 Now it just remains for students to unlock the inner meanings of these volumes for the benefit of posterity.

References and Notes

13. Information on the life of Behramshah Navroji Shroff is found in a pamphlet with no author stated on its cover: Glimpses from the Life Story of Behramshah Navroji Shroff: A Revelationist of Zarathushtrian Mysticism ([Bombay:] Dini Avaz Committee, [1977]).

14. Information on the color-thought-vibration language is found in A Manual of “Khshnoom”: The Zoroastrian  Occult Knowledge, by Phiroz Nasarvanji Tavaria, assisted by Burjor Ratanji Panthaki (Bombay: Parsee Vegetarian & Temperance Society and Zoroastrian Radih Society, [1971]).

15. Collected Writings 4:517-8.

16. Secret Doctrine 2:574.

17. Secret Doctrine (Adyar ed.) 5:505.

18. A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, by Alice A. Bailey, pp. 109-110 has a comprehensive listing of page references to the various keys in The Secret Doctrine.

19. Vedanga Jyotisha of Yajur Veda, verse 3; of Rig Veda, verse 36.

20. I first came across the meaning of Avestan yaz, Sanskrit yaj, as “to become attuned with” in a booklet called The Iranian Basis of the Devanagari Sanskrit Alphabet, the Numerical Signs, and the Sacred Word “Aum” and Its Symbol, by Behram D. Pithavala (Bombay: Behram D. Pithavala, [1974]), p. 44, n. 10a. Although this booklet is not about esoteric Zoroastrianism, its reference on p. 35 to “attune” (yazamaide), and its note 22 thereon (p. 45) to this “esoteric interpretation,” showed that this meaning came from esoteric Zoroastrianism. Since then I have obtained a copy of another book which confirmed this: Essential Origins of Zoroastrianism: Some Glimpses of the Mazdayasni Zarathoshti Daen in Its Original Native Light of Khshnoom, by Framroze Sorabji Chiniwalla (Bombay: Parsi Vegetarian and Temperance Society of Bombay, 1942). Phiroze Shapurji Masani in his introduction to this book refers to “‘Yasna’ or processes of attunement,” pp. 1-2, and “Yasna (laws of attunement with higher yazatic forces),” pp. 10-1. Phiroze Masani was the first of two leading scholars of Khshnoom, or esoteric Zoroastrianism. He wrote a book in English, Zoroastrianism, Ancient and Modern, which I have not seen. Framroze Chiniwalla was the second leading scholar of Khshnoom, appointed by Behramshah Shroff to propagate Khshnoom. Other than the book in English listed above, most of his writings are in Gujarati. 

21.  The Voice of the Silence (original 1889 ed.), vii-ix.

22. Collected Writings 4:518.

23. Teachings of the Temple (Halcyon, CA: The Temple of the People, 1925, 1948) 227.

24. Secret Doctrine (orig. ed.) 1:xxiii.

25. Five Years of Theosophy, 171, 193, 225.

26. “Varahamihira and Utpala: Their Works and Predecessors,” by P. V. Kane,

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