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The Four Modes of Birth in The Secret Doctrine and the Abhidharmakosa of Buddhism


The Four Modes of Birth described in Indian and Persian Zoroastrian lore, and its meaning in The Secret Doctrine (1888) Parallel Evolutionary System about Human Origins.

In the ancient mythologies and literature of these traditions we find accounts of human creation, or modes of birth, found in both Buddhist and Zoroastrian texts. David Reigle details the Modes of Birth in the Abhidharmakosa, and its connection to the Stanzas (Dzyan) in The Secret Doctrine (1888).

We find similar doctrines in the Zoroastrian scriptures and Zurvanite esotericism, the non-dual daivá, the seven gods of Simorgh (goddess of pre-Zoroastrian Persian culture), the seven Globes and seven heavens, the anthropogenesis on the “sweat-born” and the eggs, and the development of male and female from early androgynous forms or types, are all as equally found fragmentary in Zoroastrian texts, such as the Bundahishn.

There is interestingly, also a scholar Erin Prophet who found the same ideas within the Corpus Hermeticum researched in her paper, Hermetic Influences on the Evolutionary System of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy.

This is the description on on her argument regarding the origins of Blavatsky’s concept of root races:

“Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891) developed a program of salvation that she called “double evolution,” which was elaborated in a system known as root race theory. Human souls were seen as traversing through progressive reincarnation a series of seven “races,” or body types, ranging from gigantic amorphous and ethereal bodies and transitioning through hermaphroditic into gigantic gendered ape-like humans, modern humans, and thereafter adepts and divine beings. Although root race theory drew from the scientific racism of its day, it did not equate root races with human races, but to stages of human emanation from and return to divinity. The sources of root race theory have been sought in Eastern contexts due to its use of Hindu and Buddhist terminology, though scholars have noted its Western esoteric influences. This article argues that the primary structure of root race theory is based in the Corpus Hermeticum. It identifies some of Blavatsky’s Hermetic sources, showing that she referred not only generally to a perennialist “Hermetic philosophy” that incorporated Western esoteric tropes, but also to specific Hermetic texts. These texts provided the organizing matrix of root race theory, specifically its creation mythology, support for prior androgyne human existence, a “fall into matter,” and the initial ensoulment of humans with mind, or nous. It also provided a template for the future transformation of humans into divine beings. The article builds on the suggestions of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (2013) and Brendan French (2001) to elaborate on the role of Hermetic influence in Blavatsky’s reconfiguring of evolution as a novel form of salvation for an empirically-oriented nineteenth century audience.”

Although, as we will demonstrate, the same in the Hermetic texts exists in exact detail in Buddhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism, so we cannot merely say she took the concept from Hermetic texts. She uses other sources to demonstrate its existence as well in ancient American lore and The Book of Documents (Shūjīng), or Classic of History. Her root race theory did not draw in its entirety from the scientific racism of its day, since outside of her statement about particular tribal peoples she plainly gives her positions rejecting that scientific racism.

According to tantric theory, all forms of birth fall into one of four categories [Source: RigpaWiki:Four modes of birth]:

  1. Womb birth (for humans and certain classes of animals and pretas);
  2. Egg birth (for certain animals);
  3. Spontaneous generation from warmth and moisture or heat-moisture birth (for certain “inferior” types of animals), and
  4. Miraculous birth or manifestation (for all gods, hell beings, and beings in the intermediate state, as well as certain classes of preta and humans such as bodhisattva emanations).


“Of all the accounts given in the mysterious Book of Dzyan, none is stranger than the account in anthropogenesis of the modes of birth of the early humanities. The first humanity or root-race, ethereal and not yet physical, is referred to as the “boneless” and called the “shadows” (chhāyā). In this humanity, reproduction is described as taking place without parents. So with reference to their mode of birth, they are called the “self-born.” In the second humanity, somewhat more condensed but still amorphous, reproduction is pictorially described as “budding.” Using something familiar as a simile, these are called the “sweat-born.” In the first half of the third humanity, humans were becoming actually physical. What were the “drops of sweat” of the second humanity hardened on the outside and became like eggs. Thus this humanity is called the “egg-born.” Up to this point, reproduction was asexual. Now came the separation of the sexes into male and female. From the latter half of the third humanity up to the present fifth humanity, the mode of birth has been the only one known to us, the familiar “womb-born.” Such are the modes of birth taught in the secret Book of Dzyan.

When these stanzas from the Book of Dzyan were published in H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, no one in the West had heard of anything like this. Not even in our mythologies did we have a story this unusual. It was appreciated by some as a factual account providing access to a fascinating new world, and it was appreciated by others as an imaginary account providing a delightful tale quite as entertaining as any fantasy novel. In both cases, Blavatsky is credited with bringing this out for the first time. But this is true only for most of the world. In India, these modes of birth are mentioned in the sacred writings of all three of its ancient religious traditions: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

These modes of birth as found in Buddhism were earlier briefly described in my 1998 article, “The Secret Doctrine: Original Genesis and the Wisdom Tradition”. As there said (p. 6): “the Abhidharmakosa speaks of the four modes of birth, following the words of the Buddha, as the sweat-born, the egg-born, the womb-born, and the parentless, just as The Secret Doctrine does. But the detailed accounts of the earlier humanities in which these modes of birth took place, found in The Secret Doctrine, are absent in the now existing teachings of Buddhism.” (David Reigle, Modes of Birth. 2012, February 13. Retrieved from


David Reigle is correct as to its strangeness among the annals of world mythology and cosmogonies.

The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan (or “Book of Dzyan”) are names given to hitherto unknown books, said to contain the secret wisdom of the world. David Reigle writes, that the “Book of Dzyan” “is supposed to have been written in Senzar, a lost sacred language that preceded Sanskrit. Stanzas on the genesis of the cosmos and the origin of humanity were allegedly translated from it to form the basis of H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine.”

Reigle clarified for us, that the “Book of Dzyan that she translated stanzas from is the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on this book of pictorial symbols, not the symbol book itself,” which H.P. Blavatsky describes variously as “the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World,” the “one small archaic folio,” the “one small parent volume” (The Secret Doctrine 1.xliii), the “Archaic Manuscript” (SD 1.1), the “old Book” (Isis Unveiled 1.1), the “very old Book (…) the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled” (SD 1.xliii), and further as “the seven secret folios of Kiu-te.”

The Moon and its influence on the Earth is recognized in every ancient religion moon’s lunar phases with the growth of vegetable life, the cyclic change in forms of diseases, in human conception, and to menstrual cycles. This fascination with the Moon is known in every ancient religion, and the celestial Selene has captured the imagination of people since antiquity. H.P.B. compared the Moon to a mother walking round and round the cradle of her child, describing the earth as being in fact the moon’s satellite.

These beliefs extend beyond the myth into belief and theory among several classical writers, and in the nineteenth-century.

The mysterious men in correspondence with A.P. Sinnett and A.O. Hume in The Mahatma Letters, including H.P.B. in The Secret Doctrine assert that the moon is (or was) inhabited. In a footnote in The Secrecy of Initiates, Helena P. Blavatsky states, that several ancient men (Pythagoras, Socrates, Anaxagoras, &c.) believed the moon was inhabited, which is true. However, it takes a serious note, when H.P.B. states of this belief that may appear to us as an absurdity, it is a fact and for the ancient initiates, that it was penalty under death to reveal that “the moon was inhabited and that the lunar beings lived in profound, vast and dark valleys,” adding “our satellite being airless and without any atmosphere outside such profound valleys. (…)” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secrecy of Initiates, Collected Writings, Vol. 14., pg. 35-36 fn).

In the translated stanzas from the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on this Book of Dzyan, and not the archaic symbol book, it describes these gods known as the “Pitris,” “barhiṣads,” “lunar ancestors,” “lunar monads,” “lunar LHA,” “the GREAT CHOHANS,” or “Lords of the Moon.”

In “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan,” they are also interestingly referred to as “our Fathers” (i.e. progenitors or ancestors). H.P. Blavatsky explains in her commentaries, based on these stanzas, that the mysteries of the “moon” are related to the sidereal, astral and psychic world, and the evolution of life on earth.

They (the Moon-gods) it reads, are to create out of their nature, and the progeny would be “lords of the flame also,” i.e., possessing the spiritual and rational fire of the gods. The Book of Dzyan, Blavatsky notes elaborates upon the modes of birth unheard of in Western mythologies. H.P.B. provides details from it explaining that mankind was fashioned and aided by two distinct kinds of progenitors, or ancestors described earlier, and humans are not a descendant of the apes, but the reverse.

Two kinds of intelligences are written of, known generically as the (a) “sons of the Fire” and (b) the lunar gods, which the stanzas both term LHA (meaning spirits) in the Book of Dzyan. Hence, the stanzas describe different classes of INTELLIGENCES involved in man’s evolution. The term classes here being important to understand, and that by Intelligences, are not what we might think. It is also part of an ancient hylozoic conception of life, which is why atoms are even called spirits and gods.

“Learn what we, who descend from the Primordial Seven, we, who are born from the Primordial Flame, have learned from our Fathers” (Stanza IV. Sloka 2.)

In the Commentaries, the Stanzas account states, that a kind of astral evolution takes place before the physical.

The first root-race were the progeny of “celestial beings,” or more clearly, the progeny of the lunar god’s astral selves (i.e., made in ‘their’ image), as H.P.B. says, the “first root-race, i.e., the first “men” on earth (irrespective of form) were the progeny of the “celestial men,” called rightly in Indian philosophy the “Lunar Ancestors” or the Pitris, of which there are seven classes or Hierarchies” (SD, Vol. 1, p. 160).

These ‘first’, their progeny (shadow image, or chāyā) was generated in a process referred to as a “primeval mode of sexless procreation.”

Therefore, the Lunar Gods were of an ethereal, or astral nature themselves, and gave birth to ethereal astral forms, boneless as themselves. Their progeny are described as having a shadowy, somewhat ape-like, and gigantic form. She called this mode of birth, the Chhaya-birth, “that primeval mode of sexless procreation, the first Race having oozed out, so to say, from the bodies of the Pitris.” (SD, Vol. 1, p. 174)

The First Race are the (astral) shadows of their Progenitors (Pitris Barishads). The body was devoid of all understanding (mind, intelligence, and will) (SD II, p. 164), and this first prototypal, shadowy form is the offspring of Pitris. In its qualitative and physical aspect, it is the direct progeny of the “Ancestors,” and for its moral, psychic, and spiritual nature, mankind is indebted to a group of divine Beings (SD I, p. 224) higher than them, known in the myths as the Sons of Wisdom, or “Lords of the Flame.”

“The great chohans (Lords), called the Lords of the Moon, of the airy bodies (a). “Bring forth men, (they were told), men of your nature. Give them (i.e.the Jivas or Monads) their forms within. She (Mother Earth or Nature) will build coverings without (external bodies). (For) males-females will they be. Lords of the flame, also.” (Stanza III. Sloka 12)

Man, in the stanzas hence begins in this account as an ethereal, non-intelligent but super-spiritual entity, and subsequently changes or evolves more and more into an encased, incarnate being, the first and compacted form of physical body being in the form of a “somewhat giant-ape.” This gigantic form gradually decreases.

Blavatsky explains, that “these are topics, indeed, “on which the adepts are very reserved in their communications to uninitiated pupils,” and since they have, moreover, never sanctioned or permitted any published speculations upon them, the less said the better.


Richard Dawkins in the movie Expelled spoke about the possibility of some sort of intelligent designer, which caused great controversy then (Richard Dawkins Misrepresents Position of Intelligent Design Proponents on the Identity of the Designer), when Dawkins added — but not the designer of the Bible. The Mahatma Letters explains the same, that the Mosaic god is an imaginary power, or that this God-theory does not quite approach the mark. Like Dawkins, a Biologist and Neo-Darwinist, The Secret Doctrines argues, that humans are not the direct creation of a Mosaic-like, singular Supreme God.

The Book of Dzyan commentaries explain, that mankind is not (nor ever could be) the direct creation of the Absolute, as an Architect does not build. An Architect has the architectural plans, the blueprints, or germs of what-will-become, but contracts workmen to construct that model (see The Construction of Monotheism). Mankind in this account are products in the Kosmos and nature of a continuous process of evolution (There’s New Evidence for an Alternate Theory of the Origin of Life: How the Building Blocks of Life Helped Each Other).

“Neither the form of man, nor that of any animal, plant or stone has ever been created,” Blavatsky adds. 

Planets are taught as being living organisms with inner principles, like its organisms. The moon, considered dead is only “sleeping,” according to the commentaries; and humanity will be ever tending to reassume its primeval form, toward that of a conscious intelligent power, “a God and then — GOD, like every other atom in the Universe.” The evolution of man is therefore, not a process carried out solely on earth, as A.P. Sinnett remarks in the Esoteric Buddhism, but “a result to which many worlds in different conditions of material and spiritual development have contributed” (Esoteric Buddhism, 29).

The earth is linked with the life and evolutionary processes of other planes and worlds, Sinnett adds, to a great chain of worlds, intimately bound together by subtle currents and forces. Along these currents, life pass from world to world.

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