Translating theosophy
Anton Rozman

Translation is wonderful activity as it represents a creative process. Namely, the word “translation” derives from the Latin word traducere, which appeared in the 4th century and is composed out of ducere - condurre (to lead) and tra - oltre (over). In English language it appeared in the beginning of the 14th century and with time acquired various meanings. So, on the web site we find for the word “translate”, among others, the following meanings: to turn from one language into another; to change the form, condition, nature (transform; convert - for instance: to translate wishes into deeds, ideas into reality); to explain in terms that can be more easily understood (interpret); to convey or remove to heaven without natural death; to exalt in spiritual or emotional ecstasy (enrapture); to be changed or transformed in effect.

Therefore we could say that translation is an activity which has two dimensions: certain visible outer process in which one tries to transfer definite text, which is written in some foreign, but of course known language, into (mostly) his own native language. On the other hand translation is certain inner process - connected or not with the first one - in which one tries, in first place, to discern the content of some text, idea, concepts and then to somehow appropriate them and actually express them in his/her own life.

In this paper I will not contemplate on the first dimension of the translation as it is well elaborated in such articles as “Translation” in Wikipedia and “Is Translation Teachable?” by Massoud Azizinezhad in Translation Journal.

Let me therefore try to examine the second dimension of the translation, especially in regard to the theosophy.

The word “theosophy” has at least two meanings: firstly, as certain system of teachings, and secondly, as certain state of consciousness. Theosophy as certain system of teachings is excellently elaborated in G. Farthing’s article “Basic Ideas of Theosophy” and I. Hoskins’ brochure “Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy”. While the theosophy as a state of consciousness is well expressed in Joy Mills’ contribution in the Theosophy World Special Issue - “What is theosophy … And where it is going”:

It is, essentially, a way of life, which means a way of being, of acting, of thinking, of feeling, in the world. … It is not so much a teaching to be learned as a process to be experienced, just as in the mystery schools of old, the neophyte was led to the experience of an inner reality that could never be fully explicated in any language, but which by its very nature transformed the initiate, a new birth revealing a new being. This is the age-old process known as theurgy, for we are called on to perform a work of the gods, by so transforming ourselves that we transform the world. … Theosophy as a wisdom reveals itself in our being as we grow into it; until we do grow into it, transforming ourselves in the process, the principles and concepts remain fragmentary. … It must pierce the very essence of our being until we become the carriers, the embodiment of that wisdom, becoming in some mysterious and perhaps limited manner co-creators with the Ultimate One, with the responsibility for aiding the upward ascent of all life. …

In this sense theosophy is actually TRANSLATION of the theosophical teachings into our own lives. Therefore the second, the inner, dimension of translation is a process which is actually identical with the attempt to transform oneself.

Certainly, it is possible to translate the theosophical texts, as any others, in a “mechanical” way, without the translator being deeply emerged in the content of the text he is translating, without taking advantage of its message as being important for himself and without taking the translation as a tool for the transformation of himself. Probably, this is the way every newbie in the translation and in the study of theosophy is making his first steps. And in both cases it depends of his character - but also of his more experienced friends - if he will try in progress, while mastering his abilities in craft, to emerge more deeply into the content of the texts he is translating - and if his friends will give him appropriate assistance - to not translate only “death letter”.

It is often heard that the translation of theosophy is in a domain of the Theosophical Society. But already H. P. Blavatsky said that it is the Theosophical Society which belongs to the theosophy and not the theosophy to the Theosophical Society. In other words, the theosophy is a heritage of all humanity and each representative of our mankind has all freedom to translate theosophy and not only members of the theosophical organizations. But it should be the task of all theosophical organizations to give support to those who wish to explore and work for theosophy. Or in the words of the Master:

The problem of true theosophy and its great mission is the working out of clear, unequivocal conceptions of ethic ideas and duties which would satisfy most and best the altruistic and right feeling in us; … Do not be too severe on the merits or demerits of one who seeks admission among your ranks, as the truth about the actual state of the inner man can only be known to, and dealt with justly by KARMA alone. Even the simple presence amidst you of a well-intentioned and sympathising individual may help you magnetically … You are the Free-workers on the Domain of Truth, and as such, must leave no obstructions on the paths leading to it.

The other side of the translation of theosophy is certainly the manifestation of the translations of theosophical texts (in published form) and the theosophical teachings in one’s own life. For only when the theosophical teachings find their manifestation in translated text or in one’s own life they become available to others. H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

To merit the honorable title of Theosophist, one must be an altruist above all, … to act rather than to speak, and to urge others to action while never losing an opportunity to work himself. Altruism is an integral part of self-development. … Theosophy leads to action - enforced action, instead of mere intention and talk. … The Theosophical idea of charity means personal exertion for others.

And what is bigger exertion for others then manifestation of theosophical teachings in one’s own acting and in the language of one’s own community and in that way to secure that the highest spiritual truths are expressed in all languages and at all places of this world - within the reach of all.

Fear because of possible publication of unqualified theosophical translations which is often expressed by representatives of the theosophical organizations actually proceeds from the need for security and vested psychological and economical interests. Probably this fear has contributed a lot to the publication of the theosophical teachings under different names and in distorted manner. True care for qualitative translation and publication of theosophical texts should express itself in active support of all those who wish to work and in the creation of widely open and stimulating environment for the publication - it is an active and not a passive approach that is needed.

Certainly, there is present a definite social normative in the field of publishing, which protects the rights of authors of original texts. These are written down in international Bern Convention and in local Copyright Acts. According to the stipulations in these legal documents the right of authorship is unalienable right of authors which can not be transferred to any publisher or organization, though being theosophical. Publishers can redeem for certain period of time or for certain number of copies the material rights which expire when this time or number is reached. In addition, after definite period of time, mostly between 50 and 70 years, after the author’s passing the original texts become heritage of the mankind and become in public domain.

Therefore, if you are attracted by the theosophical teachings and if you would like to see them as a life force in your lives then TRANSLATE and MANIFEST them in you language and in your lives. And you can begin with some thoughts, quotes of prominent theosophists - you will find them on this excellent theosophical web site:

The duty of the Theosophical Society is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuition.
Through Theosophy man’s mental and psychic growth will proceed in harmony with his moral improvement.
H. P. Blavatsky

Last Update : January 2009
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