Book Review

By Nancy Coker
Occult Glossary: A Compendium of Oriental and Theosophical Terms, G. de Purucker, 2nd and Rev. Edition, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1996; 201 pages, ISBN 1-55700-050-6, cloth $14.00, ISBN 1-55700-051-4, softcover $9.00.

Theosophy teaches that there is a body of wisdom concerning the deepest mysteries of being which has existed in all ages as the fountain-source of our religious and philosophical systems. Theosophy also teaches that we each have our own experience of wisdom, which helps illumine our understanding and, if shared, may help others as well. But how do we best translate our transcendental experiences and put words to what is wordless?

The difficulties in explaining abstract principles and spiritual experiences have confounded seekers through the ages. Westerners have spent centuries perfecting an objective vocabulary capable of minutely describing visible substance and form, but use terms like soul, spiritual, and psychic with such a lack of precision as to confuse everyone. It is imperative that we strive to understand one another, and to do so we need a better grasp of what others mean by the terms they use, as well as to discover and define our own words with care.

For more than sixty years theosophical students have relied on G. de Purucker's Occult Glossary to clarify and illumine philosophical terms used in source theosophical literature. Defining and interpreting some 300 metaphysical terms, this book is also one of the best introductions to specific theosophic ideas and their inner implications. An expanded index makes philosophical relationships and associations more readily apparent.

As Purucker's definitions illustrate, there is a whole philosophy in the etymological roots of words. Take prakriti for example, which may be defined as "nature" or the material that makes up the natural world. Purucker explains that the word is a

compound consisting of the prepositional prefix pra meaning "forwards" or "progression," and kriti, a noun-form from the verbal root kri, "to make" or "to do." Therefore prakriti means literally "production" or "bringing forth," "originating," and by an extension of meaning it also signifies the primordial or original state or condition or form of anything: primary, original substance. -- p. 132

Such insight into language broadens our understanding of theosophical philosophy as well as of our own nature.

As searchers after truth, we often wish to study ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy. Few of us have the educational back- ground to plunge very deeply into these subjects without a great deal of help; but here again we gain tremendous advantage by using the Occult Glossary as it offers comparisons of the Buddhist, Gnostic, Hebrew, Hindu, and Greek interpretations -- sometimes of a single subject.

The book itself was not written directly by Purucker, but was compiled by one of his students, Geoffrey Barborka, from transcripts of lectures given in the early thirties at Point Loma, California. A longtime scholar of Occidental and Oriental languages and philosophies, Hobart Lorenz Gottfried de Purucker, M.A., D.Litt., occupied the chair of Hebrew and Sanskrit at Theosophical University and later became its President before becoming the head of the Theosophical Society from 1929 till his passing in 1942. His love affair with language and philosophy began early in life.

I was destined for the church by my father, who was a clergyman of the Anglican communion, and pastor of the American church in Geneva. My father taught me Greek; he taught me Hebrew; he had teachers for me in other languages. Living in a French-speaking country, of course I spoke French; my mother being an American, of course I spoke English; my father being a German, of course I spoke German. I was also taught Italian and Spanish. I was likewise taught Anglo-Saxon. . . . When I was about fourteen years old, I remember translating, as a Christmas gift for my father, the entire Greek New Testament, and he said it was very well done. . . . When I was seventeen I translated from the Hebrew the book of Genesis, as a birthday gift to my father. -- San DiegoUnion, July 27, 1929; cf. The Theosophical Forum, New Series (1:1), September 1929, p. 10

Before he was 18 he announced he would not enter the ministry, and by the time he turned 19 he was in San Diego studying Sanskrit and leading discussions in The Secret Doctrine. Prior to taking up residence in 1903 at the International Headquarters at Point Loma, he worked "for a time with Norman Angell on the editorial staff of the Paris Daily Messenger, one of the oldest and most famous continental papers published in English" (ibid.).

Purucker had a brilliance for explaining issues as clearly to the general reader as he did comprehensively to the serious student. One of his admirers, Boris de Zirkoff, described his teachings this way:

The writings of Dr. de Purucker cover the entire scope and breadth of the Esoteric Philosophy and have been declared by some as second to those of H.P.B. herself. They are presented in a systematic form, often with great detail, and are couched in both a scientific and philosophical terminology. Their carefully worded explanations, their authoritative character and the unimpeachable source which they have been drawn from, make them stand as a unique outline of the ancient Gnosis, also known as Brahmavidya. -- H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings 12:770

Purucker believed that the purpose in studying metaphysics was to develop our altruistic qualities and that the more a person understood the more he or she could pass on. Learning foreign or unfamiliar vocabulary terms helps build bridges to philosophical concepts we might never think of ourselves, let alone be able to express. If our vocabulary is ambiguous, our understanding and discrimination remain fuzzy -- and we may confuse sentimentality with spirituality. We should never doubt that we walk in the footsteps of great teachers, and our striving to comprehend these ancient teachings helps keep them alive. We repay our debt of gratitude to these spiritual giants by striving to keep the ideas and ideals strong, vitalized, and as pure as we can for future generations. As we prepare ourselves to be suitable caretakers of the ancient wisdom traditions, our path is clear: to translate and transmit the language of the cosmos and of the heart.

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