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Oct 26, 1995 10:44 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


>Words do change meaning from time to time. ... For instance,
>we understand the word "atom" very differently today than we
>would have in HPB's time. ... Therefore, with the study of the
>SD, it is helpful to keep the above in mind.

This is why, upon republication of ancient works, that the
obsolete words may need replacement. The English language
continues to move forward, and books get out-of-date.

 If by "ancient works" you are referring to ~Beowulf~ or the
order. These works are 1000 years old and written in a dialect
of English that has not been spoken for centuries. It fact, it
is now considered to be essentially another language, even though
it is the direct ancestor of English. ~The Secret Doctrine~ on
the other hand is just over a century old, and is in a dialect
that is still easily readable by Americans and British alike, and
probably will be for perhaps several centuries to come. I
honestly don't recall seeing any "obsolete words" in the SD. Can
you think of any? Yes, there are lots of foreign philosophical
terms, i.e. karma, chyuta, dhyani, kuni-to, fohat etc., but she
always defines these terms for the reader. There are also
perfectly good English words that one doesn't run across very
often, i.e. lemniscate, co-adunition, luniolatry, homunculi etc.
It is true that she does not define them, but if you don't want
to guess at their meaning from the context of the sentence, you
can always find them in any good dictionary. For those who are
not willing to guess at the meaning from context; or not willing
to look up the word; or not willing to have a good dictionary, I
would suggest that they find another book to read. Along with
the polyglot (there's a big word) vocabulary, the concepts in the
SD are not easy even for a nineteenth century reader. The book
takes effort. Those who are unwilling to make the effort--that
is sad for them.

Also, the actual words of the books may "go stale" on the
reader, after being read too many times. An "Secret Doctrine"
quote may be old hat to you, and not have the same impact
as it may on a new reader. The same idea, clothed in fresh
words by another writer, may grip your attention with
renewed vigor. It's the same as with music, where a melody
that once was gripping simply does not carry the same power
to touch the listener, if heard too many times.

 I bought my first copy of the SD in 1963. It was a six
volume Adyar edition, and I bought it new for $16.00. Since
then, I bought a barely used 1948 TUP one volume edition (for
$4.50) and wore it out. Now, I'm working on my second Theosophy
Company copy. I already wore out the first one. After 32 years
the book hasn't gone "stale" for me. Though many of the passages
are familiar to me, I still make new discoveries every time I
read this book. There may be a point where I will have read the
book "to many times" but I don't expect it to happen in this
lifetime. I for leaving the SD as it is. If you want to cloth
the ideas in the SD in "fresh words", I suggest that you just
write another book.

I've heard the argument that every word, and even the typos
and misspellings in Blavatsky's books should be left untouched,
being sacrosanct. How dare we presume to know what she really
meant by a term? <grin> Someone might say that the material is so
esoteric that we'd destroy the meaning if we dare make the
slightest touch to the materials. <frown>

 Rex Datta was big on that. The number on page 60 was left
off of the original edition of the SD. Theosophy Company added
the number when they printed their "photographic facsimile". Rex
was right, even adding a missing page number technically makes it
no longer a photographic facsimile. On the other hand, whether
or not HPB caused the number 60 to be left off though some occult
power as a message to the world that she would die at the age of
60 is another question. But I prefer to leave those kind of
questions up to people like Rex. I have other issues. :-) As for
the obvious typos--i.e. "het" when obviously "the" was meant is
an editorial change that I can live with. But I find a
difference between an editorial policy that changes "het" to
"the" and one that changes "higher Self" to "higher Ego". If the
editor can't make those kinds of distinctions, then I would
rather have an unchanged edition and put up with the occasional
"het"s. TUP found that out. They had a perfectly good edition
of the SD that was faithfully retype set. Obvious errors like
"het" where corrected and the footnotes were numbered. It was a
nice edition, but people preferred a photocopy of the original.
So they changed.

When we look up a term that Blavatsky used in a dictionary
of her era in order to know what she meant, we're saying
that we know the meaning of the term. If we can know the
meaning, we also could put the term in 20th (soon to be 21st)
century English.

 I have a Webster's unabridged dictionary published in 1875,
and occasionally use it to look up words that I find in the SD,
and compare the same word in a current dictionary. So far, I
have not found a single instance where a word has changed so as
to cause any confusion in reading the SD. Have you? Examples

An example of a term that would be misleading (at least in
the U.S.) is "milliard" in "Esoteric Buddhism". It means
"billion", but that is not obvious to many without a

 "milliard" is a perfectly good British term, though I admit
that the British will see this term more often than Americans.
However I think it is a bit premature to declare British English
a foreign language, and start printing an "American translation"
of a British work. I was over there recently, and I understood
the language without any special training at all. As for the
French--well, that's a different story--and a different language
too. :-) Did you confuse "milliard" with another word? Which?
Or, are you advocating the substitution of less familiar words
with more familiar ones, such as: "thoughtful" for "pensive";
"satiate" for "cloy"; "deceive" for "cozen"; etc. These words
are not obsolete. They are in any good current dictionary. Even
though they are not used as often, they are still used, and they
give variety and richness to our language. If we were to
eliminate words like these from our literature, our language
would be all the poorer for it.

I'm not talking here about rewriting her books, but picking
the few, rare terms that are really misleading. The intent
of the books is to convey the materials written about, not
to be a jigsaw puzzle for macho scholars to idle their time
away with!. <another grin>

 Can you give me some examples of misleading words in the SD,
and how they are misleading?

Interesting post. Thanks

Jerry HE

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