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


Post Updated 10/1/2019

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.

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


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” (ibid). 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.”

In the translated stanzas from the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on this Book of Dzyan, and not the supposed archaic symbol book, it describes 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 (in Anthropogenesis). It is connected to (i.) the occult doctrine of the astral soul or “subtle body”; and (ii.) the evolution and origin of the astral soul or body.

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.


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