Senzar in the Writings of Blavatsky (In Chronological Order)
Yes, the letter-tree of Tibet is a fact; and moreover, the inscriptions in its leaf-cells and fibres are in the Senzar, or sacred language used by the Adepts, and in their totality comprise the whole Dharma of Buddhism and the history of the world. (“The Sacred Tree of Kum Bum,” Theosophist, March, 1883)
[Quoting from a Letter received by T. Subba Row from the Sankaracharya (possibly referring to Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrusimha Bharati Mahaswami, native of Mysore and head of Sringeri Śārada Pīṭhaṃ in 1883), with HPB’s comments in square brackets:]
Here is the letter received by T. Subba Row, from Mysore. Let us remember that the former is an initiated adept, the only man in India who now possesses the key to all the Brâhmanical mysteries and has spiritual authority from Cape Comorin to the Himâlayas and whose library is the accumulation of long centuries. Moreover, he is recognized, even by the English, as the greatest authority on the value of archaic manuscripts. Here is what he says: “If the manuscript [the ‘Hieratic Code’ in question] is written in Senzar Brahmabhâshya [secret sacerdotal language], it can only be read or understood by initiated Brâhmanas, who have already received the revelation of Atharvan and Angiras [the last and supreme initiation]. Now, none of these manuscripts, not even a copy, can possibly be in the possession of a Mlechchha [impure foreigner] because to begin with, the list of the books [codes] was carved on the column of the Âśrama [a sacred place, a temple] at the time when the Great and Holy Achârya, ‘Master’ [in this case, Śankarâchârya of the Vedânta himself, who founded the hierarchy, and built and lived in that temple of Mysore] traced the names thereof with his own hand, and they are all still there . . .” (“Theosophy and Spiritism,” Bulletin Mensuel de la Société Scientifique d’Études Psychologiques, Paris, June 15, 1883; translated from the French)
Tradition says, that it [the “very old book,” the “parent volume”] was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manuṣyas, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races. (Secret Doctrine 1:xliii)
The Stanzas which form the thesis of every section are given throughout in their modern translated version, as it would be worse than useless to make the subject still more difficult by introducing the archaic phraseology of the original, with its puzzling style and words. Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan—these being now rendered for the first time into a European language. (Secret Doctrine 1:22-23)
However it may be, the records of the temples, Zodiacal and traditional, as well as the ideographic records of the East, as read by the adepts of the Sacred Science and Vidya, are not a whit more doubtful than the so-called ancient history of the European nations, now edited, corrected, and amplified by half a century of archæological discoveries, and the very problematical readings of the Assyrian tiles, cuneiform fragments, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. So are our data based upon the same readings, in addition to an almost inexhaustible number of Secret works of which Europe knows nothing—plus the perfect knowledge by the Initiates of the symbolism of every word so recorded. Some of these records belong to an immense antiquity. Every archæologist and palæontologist is acquainted with the ideographic productions of certain semi-savage tribes, who from time immemorial have aimed at rendering their thoughts symbolically. This is the earliest mode of recording events and ideas. And how old this knowledge is in the human race may be inferred from some signs, evidently ideographic, found on hatchets of the Palæolithic period. The red Indian tribes of America, only a few years ago comparatively speaking, petitioned the President of the United States to grant them possession of four small lakes, the petition being written on the tiny surface of a piece of a fabric, which is covered with barely a dozen representations of animals and birds. (See Lubbock.) The American savages have a number of such different kinds of writing, but not one of our Scientists is yet familiar, or even knows of the early hieroglyphic cypher, still preserved in some Fraternities, and named in Occultism the Senzar. Moreover, all those who have decided to regard such modes of writing—e.g., the ideographs of the Red Indians, and even the Chinese characters—as “attempts of the early races of mankind to express their untutored thoughts,” will decidedly object to our statement, that writing was invented by the Atlanteans, and not at all by the Phœnicians. (Secret Doctrine 2:439)
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. (Voice of the Silence)
The Senzar and Sanskrit alphabets, and other occult tongues, besides other potencies, have a number, color and distinct syllable for every letter, and so had also the old Mosaic Hebrew. (see CW 12:642)
Senzar. The mystic name for the secret sacerdotal language or the “Mystery-speech” of the initiated Adepts, all over the world. (Theosophical Glossary)
Zend means “a commentary or explanation”, and Avesta (from the old Persian âbashtâ, “the law”. (See Darmsteter.) As the translator of the Vendîdâd remarks in a foot note (see Int. xxx.): “what it is customary to call ‘the Zend language’, ought to be named ‘the Avesta language’, the Zend being no language at all; and if the word be used as the designation of one, it can be rightly applied only to the Pahlavi”. But then, the Pahlavi itself is only the language into which certain original portions of the Avesta are translated. What name should be given to the old Avesta language, and particularly to the “special dialect, older than the general language of the Avesta” (Darmst.), in which the five Gâthas in the Yasna are written? To this day the Orientalists are mute upon the subject. Why should not the Zend be of the same family, if not identical with the Zen-sar, meaning also the speech explaining the abstract symbol, or the “mystery language,” used by Initiates? (Theosophical Glossary, “Zend-Avesta”)
[In an unpublished MS. in HPB’s handwriting she says the following:]
The Brahmans alone spoke both the tongue of the Gods (Sanskrit and its hieratic supplement, the Senzar), the Sanskrit bhāsha and the Prakriti bhāsha. The tongue of the gods was unknown to all but themselves. (CW 13:317)
HPB suggests that Senzar is ideographic or hieroglyphic in nature.
She refers to Senzar as: the “mystery language,” or “mystery speech”; the “sacred language,” the “sacerdotal language,” “secret sacerdotal language,” or “secret sacerdotal tongue”; and also “speech explaining the abstract symbol.” The Sankaracharya of 1883 reportedly used the term “Senzar Brahmabhâshya” in a letter to T. Subba Row, thus connecting Senzar with a known Sanskrit term. HPB’s unpublished MS. quoted above also makes a connection between Senzar and Sanskrit.
In each of the phrases used by HPB to describe Senzar we see two components:
1. mystery, secret, sacerdotal, hieratic, abstract symbol
2. language, speech, tongue
This may suggest “Sen-zar” to be a compound term, formed of two terms with these two general meanings. Alternatively, Senzar may be a single term either with a suffix or merely as tranformed into a noun from a root form. We will explore both these options together in the following.
Suggestions for an Etymology
Following the suggested relation between the “Sen-” or “Zen-” of “Senzar” and the Avestan “Zend,” we find the following possible etymology:
Zend or Zand, (Middle Persian, “understanding, interpretation”), from Avestan zainti, “understanding”), from Avestan verbal root zan-, “to know, to understand”), from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ǵneh₃-. (sources: 1, 2).
We see that modern linguists have connected the Avestan root “zan-” with the suggested PIE root *ǵneh₃-. Other notable terms linguists suggest to be derived from this PIE root are the Ancient Greek γνῶσις (gnôsis) and the Sanskrit ज्ञान (jñāna). Down through time this common root gives rise to the English “know.” (sources: 1, 2).
Thus the connection here is with the first part of our term “Sen-” or “Zen-” and the idea of “knowledge, understanding.”
The connection in pronounced sound between “sen/zen” and “jña/gna” may not be obvious at first sight, but we have a known example of similar phonetic connections with the term dhyāna (Sanskrit) to jhana (Pali) into djan then dzyen (Chinese), and on to zen (Japanese), with the phonetic similarities between the sounds of j (dʒ), dz (d͡ʑ), z (ʑ) and ze (d͡ze̞). So what occurs in Sanskrit as jñā-, where the opening sound is d͡ʑ, the same original PIE root occurs in Avestan as closer to ʑ.
HPB refers to the Sanskrit term jñāna as “supernal or divine knowedge” (TG p. 103), “pure knowledge” (Voice p. 65), “real wisdom or knowledge” (SD 1:293), “true spiritual wisdom” (see CW 12:634), “undying knowledge” (SD 2:282), or “occult wisdom” (TG p. 165 & CW 8:380). In the article “What Shall We Do For Our Fellow Man,” she says the following: “Jñāna is Wisdom certainly, but even more, for it is the spiritual knowledge of things divine, unknown to all but those who attain it” (CW 11:474). She similarly refers to “gnosis” as “knowledge of hidden and spiritual things” (CW 11:271).
This mode of definition, particularly the connection to “occult” or “hidden” knowledge or wisdom, matches well with her phrasing for Senzar as pertaining to a “mystery, secret, sacerdotal” language, i.e. the language of that knowledge which is “occult,” secret, hidden, a mystery.
Further, in the Secret Doctrine (1:62) HPB makes a connection between jñāna/gnosis and the Logos (the verbum, the Word or speech), which she refers to there as “knowledge, wisdom.” HPB further refers to the Logos as “the Verbum of the Thought Divine” (SD 1:72) or simply “Divine Thought” (SD 1:58), or even as the “Verbum of Parabrahman” (SD 1:136), and she connects it with Sabda-Brahman and thus with Vach (SD 1:137-138). The “knowledge” or “wisdom” inherent in the Logos (see SD 1:110 & 1:328) is thus always connected with sound, speech, and therefore with “language.” This may suggest that inherent in the terms jñāna and gnosis is the idea of sound and speech, which may thus be similarly inherent in the term “Sen-” or “Zen-.”
The relation to the Logos also connects with HPB’s statement quoted above (SD 1:xliii) that Senzar has been inherited all the way back to the 1st Root-Race, and to the idea that there was a “Primeval Revelation” (SD 1:xxx, 1:52, etc.) impressed on the minds of early Man, referred to by HPB as a “key-note” which is struck at the beginning of a cycle. That “key-note” is thus both of “knowledge” and “sound.”
If the above speculations are in the right direction, and “Sen-” or “Zen-” indicates occult knowledge or wisdom, and is directly related to the Sankrit term jñāna, then we may have found the core meaning of the first part of Senzar (if considered as a compound term). If “Sen-” or “Zen-” is considered to have the inherent meaning of both “knowledge” and “speech” we may have the core meaning of our complete term, with “-sar” or “-zar” considered as either a suffix or as a transformation of the root “sen” or “zen” into a noun form (similar to how the Sanskrit verbal root √jñā becomes transformed into the noun jñāna).
If we follow the possibility of Senzar as a compound term, the second part may itself relate more directly to the ideas of “language, speech, sound,” etc. thus giving us a basic meaning of “knowledge-language” or “knowledge-speech.”
In searching for a second term (as opposed to a suffix or transformation), we may initially suggest further investigation into a possible connection to the Sanskrit term “svara,” (meaning “sound, voice, musical note, vowel), which in Pali is “sara”, and which connected by linguists to a PIE root *swer-, meaning “to resound, speak” etc.) (sources: 1, 2).
This is, as with all of the above, pure speculation at this point. But we hope that the above initial research may prompt further investigation.
It is worthwhile to include here the following quote from HPB’s article “Le Phare de L’inconnu” [The Beacon-Light of the Unknown], La Revue Theosophique, May, 1889 (Translated into English and re-printed in the Theosophist, July, August, September, 1889):
Theosophy is synonymous with Gnanâ-Vidya [jñāna-vidyā], and with the Brahmâ-Vidya1 of the Hindus, and again with the Dzyan of the trans-Himalayan adepts, the science of the true Raj-Yogas, who are much more accessible than one thinks. This science has many schools in the East. But its offshoots are still more numerous, each one having ended by separating itself from the parent stem,—the true Archaic Wisdom,—and varying in its form.
But, while these forms varied, departing further with each generation from the light of truth, the basis of initiatory truths remained always the same. The symbols used to express the same idea may differ, but in their hidden sense they always do express the same idea. Ragon, the most erudite mason of all the “Widow’s sons,” has said the same. There exists a sacerdotal language, the “mystery language,” and unless one knows it well, he cannot go far in the occult sciences. According to Ragon “to build or found a town” meant the same thing as to “found a religion”; therefore, that phrase when it occurs in Homer is equivalent to the expression in the Brahmins, to distribute the “Soma juice.” It means, “to found an esoteric school,” not “a religion” as Ragon pretends. Was he mistaken? We do not think so. But as a Theosophist belonging to the esoteric section dare not tell to an ordinary member of the Theosophical Society the things about which he has promised to keep silent, so Ragon found himself obliged to divulge merely relative truths to his pupils. Still, it is certain that he had made at least an elementary study of “THE MYSTERY LANGUAGE.”
“How can one learn this language?” we may be asked. We reply: study all religions and compare them with one another. To learn thoroughly requires a teacher, a guru; to succeed by oneself needs more than genius: it demands inspiration like that of Ammonius Saccas. Encouraged in the Church by Clement of Alexandria and by Athenagoras, protected by the learned men of the synagogue and of the academy, and adored by the Gentiles, “he learned the language of the mysteries by teaching the common origin of all religions, and a common religion.” To do this, he had only to teach according to the ancient canons of Hermes which Plato and Pythagoras had studied so well, and from which they drew their respective philosophies. Can we be surprised if, finding in the first verses of the gospel according to St. John the same doctrines that are contained in the three systems of philosophy above mentioned, he concluded with every show of reason that the intention of the great Nazarene was to restore the sublime science of ancient wisdom in all its primitive integrity? We think as did Ammonius. The biblical narrations and the histories of the gods have only two possible explanations: either they are great and profound allegories, illustrating universal truths, or else they are fables of no use but to put the ignorant to sleep.
Therefore the allegories,—Jewish as well as Pagan,—contain all the truths that can only be understood by him who knows the mystical language of antiquity. Let us see what is said on this subject by one of our most distinguished Theosophists, a fervent Platonist and a Hebraist, who knows his Greek and Latin like his mother tongue, Professor Alexander Wilder, of New York:
The root idea of the Neo-Platonists was the existence of one only and supreme Essence. This was the Diu, or “Lord of the Heavens” of the Aryan nations, identical with the Ιαω(Iao) of the Chaldeans and Hebrews, the Iabe of the Samaritans, the Tiu or Tuiseo of the Norwegians, the Duw of the ancient tribes of Britain, the Zeus of those of Thrace, and the Jupiter of the Romans. It was the Being—(non-Being), the Facit, one and supreme. It is from it that all other beings proceeded by emanation. The moderns have, it seems, substituted for this their theory of evolution. Perchance some day a wiser man than they will combine these systems in a single one. The names of these different divinities seem often to have been invented with little or no regard to their etymological meaning, but chiefly on account of some particular mystical signification attached to the numerical value of the letters employed in their orthography.
This numerical signification is one of the branches of the mystery language, or the ancient sacerdotal language. This was taught in the “Lesser Mysteries,” but the language itself was reserved for the high initiates alone. The candidate must have come victorious out of the terrible trials of the Greater Mysteries before receiving instruction in it. That is why Ammonius Saccas, like Pythagoras, obliged his disciples to take an oath never to divulge the higher doctrines to any one to whom the preliminary ones had not already been imparted, and who, therefore, was not ready for initiation. Another sage, who preceded him by three centuries, did the same by his disciples, in saying to them that he spoke “in similes” (or parables) “because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given . . . because in seeing they see not, and in hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”
Therefore the “similes” employed by Jesus were part of the “language of the mysteries,” the sacerdotal tongue of the initiates. Rome has lost the key to it: by rejecting theosophy and pronouncing her anathema against the occult sciences,—she loses it for ever.
1. The meaning of the word Vidya can only be rendered by the Greek term Gnosis, the knowledge of hidden and spiritual things; or again, the knowledge of Brahm, that is to say, of the God that contains all the gods.