Re: Changing Blavatsky's Words
May 18, 1997 04:44 PM
by Eldon B. Tucker
>> We can't (or perhaps I'd say shouldn't) try to change Blavatsky's
>> words. But we can write about Theosophy with our own slants,
>> writing in a way that appeals to a particular "market segment" of
>> spiritual questers.
> A) Blavatsky's editors had no problem changing her words.
True. And they may have made "corrections" without really understanding
what they read. But when an author is alive the author at least has a
chance to review and approve or disapprove the corrections. A dead
author can't do so, so editors should take care if they try to make
changes. The best example of too much editing was what Annie Besant
did to her three-volume edition of THE SECRET DOCTRINE, which is now
out of print. It was replaced by Boris de Zirkoff's edition, which I'd
tend to consider a good example of editing.
> B) Words change meaning over time; I have heard that John Algeo is at
>work at a new Theosophical Glossary.
In reprinting books we can add editorial comments and footnotes
offering explanations, or judiciously replace an obsolete word or two.
When I computerized ESOTERIC BUDDHISM, for instance, I replaced
"milliard" with "billion".
I'd agree that new works should use an evolving language and terminology,
and revised glossaries are certainly something important.
> C) There are a number of cases where it is clear that Blavatsky and the
>Mahatmas were writing based on incorrect information given to them. The
>statement about potential energy in the Mahatma Letters (sorry, I forget
>which one; look it up in the index) makes it abundantly clear that
>potential energy was improperly defined to them, and they are talking
>about a different concept entirely.
They -- the Mahatmas -- were relating what they knew to the science of their
day. Some of the comparisons or discussions would prove wrong when the
science they were talking about is itself proven wrong. The error may have
been in making an analogy to something that was untrue and then extrapolating
based upon that analogy.
>Similarly, Blavatsky's comments on
>hypnotism are clearly based on an improper definition of hypnotism
>(especially as evidenced in the Theosophical Glossary).
The discussion about hypnotism can get lengthy. My general comment regarding
it would be to classify it among techniques of manipulation and thought
control, techniques that could be used for the good or to harm others.
I'd agree that what HPB says of hypnotism and what we understand by that term
nowadays is different.
Another example where Blavatsky may have gotten things wrong would be
in her overly-harsh assessment of certain schools of Tantric Buddhism,
confusing the Tibetan and Indian versions.
I'd generally feel that the deep, esoteric writings should be left untouched
since the editor needs to be clear about what is being edited. The
introductory and some intermediate works we can and should understand. Based
upon that understanding, we can write new, original, fresh presentations of
the timeless philosophy.
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