My rating: 3 of 5 stars
According to Helena Blavatsky, the three “fragments” that make up The Voice of the Silence are her translations of three tracts from The Book of Golden Precepts, of which there are 90 and she had memorized 39. The Book of Golden Precepts is said to include both Buddhist and pre-Buddhists views on spirituality.
Blavatsky was one of the founding members of the Theosophical Society, an organization that proposed and advanced a certain brand of mysticism. Mystic traditions are those which believe that one must look inward to find the divine, i.e. to know god. The Theosophical approach isn’t without controversy. Blavatsky’s allusion to a secret path to wisdom and the suggestion that most of the world isn’t ready for the high level teachings sits in contradiction to a Siddhartha Buddha who was transparent. Buddhists have been known to claim that in as much as an idea is a teaching of the Buddha, it wasn’t secret, and in as much as a teaching was secret, it wasn’t the work of the Buddha. But there is disagreement. Some believe that what Blavatsky is presenting is high level Mahayana Buddhism, but others think that it’s a hodge-podge of Kabbala, esoteric Buddhism, and yogic teachings.
The first “fragment” is also titled “The Voice of the Silence.” This section suggests that there are three stages to one’s journey: ignorance, learning, and wisdom. It states that one must take care to not to be distracted from the path by sensual inclinations or by desire. The path described mirrors the advanced stages of Patanjali’s eight-limbs. In other words, she discusses a progression from pratyahara (not explicitly named, but described as the withdrawal of sensory input), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (liberation.)
The second part is entitled “The Two Paths.” Liberation and renunciation are the two paths in question. The central topic of this chapter is Karma, and the questions of action versus inaction that are also discussed in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The third part is “The Seven Portals.” These seven doors through which one must pass on the way to wisdom are essentially the same as the six paramita of Buddhism with an additional one, Virag, inserted between the third and fourth spot. The portals are Dana (generosity), Shila (a.k.a. Sila, or virtue), Kshanti (patience / perseverance), Virag (illusion conquered), Virya (energy), Dhyana (contemplation), and Prajna (wisdom).
A nice feature is a “glossary” at the end of each of the fragment that explains some of the terminology and concepts. While this is called a glossary, it’s not one in the usual sense, i.e. it’s not in alphabetical order and is not exclusively definitions. It would better be described as chapter notes. The idea is to convey the information that a lay reader may need, but which the author / translator doesn’t want to muddle the text with.
I think this book is worth a read. It’s short, and for a work written in the 19th century it’s quite readable—that doesn’t mean that the message is always clearly conveyed—whether on purpose or accident.
Note: While I read this on Kindle for a nominal price, it’s available on the web free of charge (see here.)