“The Voice of the Silence” – An Authentic Buddhist Text

The Voice of the Silence - Golden Precepts“Since its translation into English from the Tibetan by Madame H. P. Blavatsky, in 1889, this little book, the gem of Buddhist teachings, has enjoyed a wide circulation among Europeans and Americans interested in Buddhism. There is, therefore, little need for me to recommend it to foreign readers, except to point out that what is embodied in it comprises a part of the teachings of the Esoteric School. . . . Madame Blavatsky had a profound knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, and the doctrines she promulgated were those of many great teachers. This book is like a call to men to forsake desire, dispel every evil thought, and enter the true Path. . . . It has been suggested to me that, for the benefit of the Chinese Buddhists, this work should be translated into Chinese. I quite agree with this idea, but pressure of work has hitherto prevented me from writing more than these few lines. Although they form an inadequate recognition of the merit of the book, I offer them because of my great reverence for its teachings; and I hope to be able to undertake the translation at some future time.”

 B.T. Chang, Chinese secretary of the Ninth Panchen Lama of Tibet,
Foreword to the 1927 reissue of “The Voice of the Silence”

In our article The Secret Book of Dzyan, we explained that there is increasing evidence and reason for accepting the “Book of Dzyan” – stanzas from which form the basis of the two volumes of H.P. Blavatsky’s main work “The Secret Doctrine” – as a genuine and authentic esoteric text, even if its current location and whereabouts is untraceable.

There is even further evidence and reason that her subsequent book “The Voice of the Silence” should be accepted as legitimately coming from an actual and existing esoteric Buddhist scripture known as “The Book of the Golden Precepts,” just as she stated. The quote given above would be sufficient for many but there is still more that can be given.

The title page of this 1889 publication describes “The Voice of The Silence” as “BEING CHOSEN FRAGMENTS FROM THE “BOOK OF THE GOLDEN PRECEPTS” – FOR THE DAILY USE OF LANOOS (DISCIPLES).”

In the Preface HPB wrote, “The Book of the Golden Precepts – some of which are pre-Buddhistic while others belong to a later date – contains about ninety distinct little treatises. Of these I learnt thirty-nine by heart, years ago. To translate the rest, I should have to resort to notes scattered among a too large number of papers and memoranda collected for the last twenty years and never put in order, to make of it by any means an easy task. Nor could they be all translated and given to a world too selfish and too much attached to objects of sense to be in any way prepared to receive such exalted ethics in the right spirit. For, unless a man perseveres seriously in the pursuit of self-knowledge, he will never lend a willing ear to advice of this nature.”

Excerpts from three of those treatises were translated for us by HPB in that book: “The Voice of the Silence,” “The Two Paths,” and “The Seven Portals.”

She states that the knowledge of the contents of all of those treatises “is obligatory” in the Trans-Himalayan Esoteric School, to which she and the Masters most closely connected with the Theosophical Movement belong.

It is a beautifully written and inspiring outline of the Bodhisattva Path or “Heart Doctrine,” which has been described in the article The Two Paths. It is essentially a handbook, textbook, and guidebook, for treading the true Path of initiation and enlightenment, which, as it makes abundantly and poetically clear, is by no means easy. The real Esoteric Path involves the perfect and equally balanced combination of “head” and “heart,” knowledge and compassion, both of which are of little value by themselves.

In 1927 the Panchen Lama referred to above (Thubten Choekyi Nyima) officially endorsed the book and called it the “only true exposition in English of the Heart Doctrine of the Mahayana and its noble ideal of self-sacrifice for humanity.”

It was about “The Voice of The Silence” that famed Buddhist writer D.T. Suzuki said, “Here is the real Mahayana Buddhism!”

And when the centenary edition was brought out in 1989, the present Dalai Lama wrote:

“I am therefore happy to have this long association with the Theosophists and to learn about the Centenary Edition: THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE which is being brought out this year. I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path. I very much welcome this Centenary Edition and hope that it will benefit many more.”

The Book of the Golden Precepts, which again may well be a code name as seemingly in the case of the Book of Dzyan, has not yet been adequately identified but the fact of its existence has been proven. It has also been found to have numerous and great similarities to the Bodhicharyavatara, an 8th century work by the Indian Buddhist Master Shantideva, the title of which means “Entrance into the Conduct of the Bodhisattva” or, as more popularly rendered, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” or “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life.”

David Reigle, the Tibetologist referred to in The Secret Book of Dzyan article, says in “Blavatsky’s Secret Books” that:

“The Bodhicaryavatara extols the virtues of Bodhicitta, which is the altruistic intention to become enlightened in order to benefit all sentient beings, encourages the spiritually-minded person to take up the path of unselfish service to others, and warns of the dangers in turning back once one has set out.”

As the purpose and intent of “The Voice of The Silence” is exactly the same, it is unsurprising that there are numerous similarities, one of the most striking of which is shown here:

The Voice of the Silence: “The fearless warrior, his precious life-blood oozing from his wide and gaping wounds, will still attack the foe . . . Act then, all ye who fail and suffer, act like him; and from the stronghold of your Soul, chase all your foes away – ambition, anger, hatred, e’en to the shadow of desire . . .”

The Bodhicharyavatara: “Let my entrails ooze out and my head fall off, but by no means shall I bow down to my enemies, the mental afflictions such as ambition, anger, and hatred.”

In case, upon reading the above, someone should attempt to bring up the old groundless charge of plagiarism against HPB, we should clearly state that the Bodhicharyavatara was never translated into English until 1909, 18 years after her death. The 1909 translation was largely abridged and contained but few of the similar verses. The complete English translation was only published in 1970. As Reigle says, “These facts take us well beyond the realm of probability. Blavatsky indeed had esoteric northern Buddhist sources.”

It is truly odd that with all the evidence and endorsements of authenticity, many – even some so-called “Theosophists” – would still rather suspect and believe plagiarism and fraud on the part of HPB than accept or even just seriously consider that she was a truthful, decent, honest, sincere person, labouring for the good of humanity. There is a term for such an attitude: closed-minded arrogant bigotry.

“The original Precepts are engraved on thin oblongs; copies very often on discs. These discs, or plates, are generally preserved on the altars of the temples attached to centres where the so-called “contemplative” or Mahayana (Yogacharya) Schools are established. They are written variously, sometimes in Tibetan but mostly in ideographs. The sacerdotal language (Senzar), besides an alphabet of its own, may be rendered in several modes of writing in cypher characters, which partake more of the nature of ideographs than of syllables.” (H.P. Blavatsky, p. ii of the Preface to “The Voice of the Silence”)

It has been found that an original Tibetan text of the Book of the Golden Precepts was seen and studied at the Buddhist monastery of Thongsa Gompa in Kalimpong, Northern India, around 1950.

In his colourfully titled book “Cosmic Ecumenism via Hindu-Buddhist Catholicism,” Anthony Elenjimittam writes, “In my return to Kalimpong I stayed in the Tibetan monastery, taking part in their choral office and learning various branches of Mahayana and Tantrism. It was in that monastery that I first read with Lama Ping [real name Lama Tinley, who died in 1985, according to Reigle’s research] the Voice of Silence, the Book of Golden Precepts, with the English translation by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. With the help of the Tibetan Lama I could compare the English translation made by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with the original, taking notes from the interpretation given by the Lama.”

As it happens, Lama Tinley did not himself belong to Thongsa Gompa but had his home in Bhutan and returned there some time later, taking his Tibetan “Book of the Golden Precepts” with him. What became of it and how he had come to acquire it in the first place currently remains unknown.

On p. 87 of her excellent biography of HPB titled “HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky” Sylvia Cranston shares the following:

“HPB did more than translate The Voice of the Silence into English. She appended notes and commentaries to assist readers in understanding and using the precepts. Some ten years ago, friends of the writer, Jerome and Roseva Muratore, invited the Tibetan Lama, Geshe, Lozang Jampsal, to their home in New Jersey. He had lived and studied at Tashilunpo [i.e. the Gelugpa monastery and traditional seat of the Panchen Lama in Shigatse, Tibet, referred to a number of times by HPB as being closely connected with the Trans-Himalayan Lodge] before escaping from Tibet. The Lama was Roseva’s Sanskrit teacher at Columbia University. During the course of the visit the Muratores showed him The Voice of the Silence, directing his attention especially to the notes. The effect was electrifying. He confessed amazement that such information was available in the West. As to HPB, he said, “She must be a bodhisattva“.”

What makes all of this even more interesting is that most of the teachings in “The Voice of the Silence” are different and foreign from what the majority of Buddhists believe and teach. Its Esoteric Buddhism is not at all the same as what Tibetan Buddhists mean when they speak of “Esoteric Buddhism” since they generally mean by this term the Vajrayana or Tantric system. As its Preface quite clearly indicates, the Book of the Golden Precepts belongs to the Esoteric Yogacharya School, just like the Book of Dzyan (see The Secret Book of Dzyan, end of article) and it is this Esoteric Yogacharya School of pure Buddhism – the occult school and fraternity founded by the original Aryasangha, disciple and Arhat of Gautama Buddha – which is the Trans-Himalayan Esoteric School.

For more on this connection, please take a look at the articles Self and Non-Self in Buddhism and Theosophy and Alaya – The Universal Soul.

In closing, we ought to add that the small book “Light on the Path,” written by Mabel Collins under the inspiration and direction of the Master Hilarion, is also derived from The Book of the Golden Precepts. There are a number of similarities and subtle correspondences between “Light on the Path” and “The Voice of the Silence” and the former, which was published first, includes the term “The Voice of the Silence” several times.

When she later left the Theosophical Society, Mabel Collins began to maintain that she had written the book entirely of her own inspiration and volition, to which HPB replied in a circulated letter of 1889:

“If she is the sole author of Light on the Path, how comes it that she, ignorant of Sanskrit and having never seen the Golden Precepts, could use so many sentences bodily enshrined in that purely Occult work? . . . “Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost its power to wound.” . . . “Seek in the heart the source of evil and expunge it.” These are aphorisms as old as the Book of the Golden Precepts, from which they radiated – “on the walls” – and thence into Light on the Path.”

As “The London Star” newspaper reported in late 1888:

“Miss Mabel Collins’ “Light on the Path” has been translated into Sanskrit, and will be placed by the Hindoo Pundits as one of the Sanskrit classics. Translation into Sanskrit is a thing which has not been done for at least 100 years past; but the book is sufficiently Buddhistic and occult to satisfy even the learned Hindoos.”

In her “Literary Jottings” section in the December 1888 issue of “Lucifer” Magazine, H.P. Blavatsky remarked that “This little book – a true jewel – belongs to, and emanates from the same school of Indo-Aryan and Buddhist thought and learning as the teachings in The Secret Doctrine.”

~ * ~

“Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.

“Let thy Soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun.

“Let not the fierce Sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye.

“But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain; nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.”

From p. 14 of “The Voice of the Silence,” Theosophy Company edition

~ * ~

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

Visit the Books on Theosophy page for information about how to obtain the original Theosophical books and literature, kept in print today by the United Lodge of Theosophists.

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Comments

  1. Beautifully rendered article. As a student of original Theosophy for over 40 years, and having studied with as much discrimination at my disposal, the works of Psong kha pa, Shantideva and Nagarjuna (mostly through renderings of Jeffery Hopkins, as well as the Mahayana Uttantra shastra-reccomended on this site), it seems to me as if only The Voice of the Silence shows the heart of them all. Only HPB presents to students the keys to these great texts in such a way as to bring out the best in one. My intention in my study of great Tibetan thought was to see if I might flesh out in greater detail, the basis of Psong kha pa’s perspective and find more understanding for HPB teaching that he was the 1st impulsive of the seven. I think HPB does this, as I see it in The Voice, although finding this out for myself, in finding a way through the rather dense texts previously mentioned, makes what one has learned more indelible and The Voice more appreciated.

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