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Re: "More comments on Theosophical Books"

Jan 27, 1995 06:40 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


PJ> Jerry, I think you missed a joke in Jerry S.'s post which
said something like "I've been a Theosophist for 25 years and
never read any of those books" (i.e.  the SD, etc.) He has quite
obviously read all of them, and repeatedly.  It was a subtle dig
at the many members who in fact haven't assimilated HPB's
teachings in years of membership.  Just a clarification.

Thanks for the clarification.  You are right.  I completely
missed the "joke" and it goes to show that I'm no exception to
the general difficulties in communication either.  The joke
wasn't obvious to me.  Do you know the date of the post? I would
like to reread it.


ET> We seem to be talking about two types of theosophical books:
(1) the classics, and (2) the introductory and interpretative.
There seems to be general agreement that the later kind of books
be revised frequently to reflect the manner of expression of
`modern' times, changing as often as `modern' changes, which is
more often than we might think.  Opinion seems divided on the
first type of books.

I feel that even the introductory and interpretative books should
only be *revised* by the authors.  I feel that it is an injustice
to the authors to presume to know how they would have revised
them if they lived.  Thus, I would opt for writing new
introductory and interpretative books every few years.

ET> Liesel mentions that the classics should be left in the
language that there were written in.  I'd generally agree, with a
few exceptions.  For the classics, we'd leave the manner of
expression alone, even if some of the material is now seen as
foolish or offensive.  The part of the books that has gone stale
was the materials related to the idiom of the day, reflecting the
biases, prejudices, and popular misconceptions of the 1800's.
This material was not the Teachings themselves, but the attempt,
`timely' when the book was written, to relate the Teachings to
popular thought.

I'm not sure I follow you here.  What are the exceptions that you
would change?

ET> Jerry H-E is quite clear in his views, which are stated in a
"must do" form.  Jerry mentions that the reader must make the
mental effort to adjust to the period of writing of a book, or
he's just too d**n mentally lazy.  He says that a reader must be
willing to go through this effort.  I'd ask: Why? The logical
conclusion of this argument would be that we cannot know eastern
philosophy without first making the mental effort to learn
Sanskrit and Tibetan, and study literature in its native

Apparently my views are not clear.  I think you are reading too
much into my statement, and you have taken it entirely out of
context.  My context for the above statement concerned the
revision of the Victorian idiom into modern idiom.  My specific
example was the Victorian term "Chinamen" which is now "Chinese."
I was trying to say that if it is too much effort for a person to
make the allowances for the changes in language over the last
hundred years, then perhaps that reader is also too damn mentally
lazy to understand the ideas in a subject like theosophy.  As to
your point (which is quite different), of course one is stuck
with reading translations if we don't know the language.
However, would not our understanding be even more enhanced if we
did read these works in their original languages? To carry your
argument to the extreme--then let's get rid of all of those old
Sanskrit texts--now that we have English translations, we don't
need the originals.  I'm sure that we both agree that this
doesn't go.

However, my original point had to do with books in English, and
specifically, Blavatsky's writings were in the back of my mind.
I think we agree that Blavatsky's writing style is passe.  My
argument is that we are stuck with it.  A rewriting into a more
modern style becomes a translation.  A translation is a text that
represents what someone else *thinks* she said.  My point is that
if someone wants to read Blavatsky, let them read Blavatsky- -not
someone else's version of what Blavatsky wrote.  IMHO, there is a
big difference between reading Victorian idiom and Sanskrit
texts.  I don't think reading nineteenth century English is too
much to ask of a person with a standard education.  Sanskrit and
Tibetan--that's another matter.

ET> Why do we require people to make an extra effort to study
something? Is it because we did it the hard way, and it would be
unfair for others to have it easier?

Come on Eldon.  You know me better then to put this Puritan ethic
crap on me.

ET> Jerry also mentions that the old books should be left
unaltered, that we have no business editing an author's work
after he is dead.  When this is done, I'd agree that the new
edition should mention what has been changed.  But I wouldn't not
stick to an absolute, black-and-white, all-or- nothing approach
that admits to no shades of gray.  I'd say there are valid
arguments for slight alterations in spelling or typography that
are justifiable.

Of course.  However, If you go back to my original statement, you
will find that I was making a different point.  I wrote:

"Once an author is gone, the editing and or re-arranging of the
text without informing the reader of exactly what the editor is
doing and why, is in MHO dishonest, deceitful, and unfair to both
the memory of the author and to the reader.

But as I also mentioned, changes could be made as annotations, or
documented in those annotations.  I don't have any problem with
(for instance) adding the page number "60" missing from the first
edition of the S.D., nor do I mind correcting "het" in the
original edition to "the." Modernizing the Sanskrit spelling is
fine too, as long as a notice is made to that effect.  My concern
is editorial changes that alter the meaning of the text.  When
this is done without an annotative notice, then IMHO we have gone
too far.  My original point has to do with being honest to the
reader concerning what the author really said.  To quote myself

Authors should be allowed to stand or fall on their own merits,
and it is a matter of fairness that readers be given the
opportunity to judge the merits of the author based upon what was
written--not upon what the editor wants the reader to see (and
doesn't want the reader to see).

Jerry Hejka-Ekins
E-mail address:

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