Introduction

“Fohat” is one of the more mysterious terms in modern theosophical literature. It was introduced by H. P. Blavatsky (HPB) in her book The Secret Doctrine (1888) and elsewhere. Over the following century efforts have been made by several theosophists to discover the origin of this word, as of yet to no final conclusions. This object of this paper is simply to outline some of the avenues of investigation that I’ve explored and to suggest possible directions for further research, without providing any final conclusions as to the correct origin.


Initial References:

https://dev.universaltheosophy.com/pdf-library/StanzasofDzyanCommentsCollectionPart2.pdf

http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/category/key-concepts/fohat/

https://theosophy.wiki/en/Fohat


Fohat in Theosophical Literature

Quotations of Key Importance to the Etymology of Fohat

. . . you have to learn the etymology of the word Fohat. There is where it becomes difficult to understand. It is a Turanian compound word. “Pho” is the word. “Pho” was once and is derived from the Sanskrit “bhu,” meaning existence, or rather the essence of existence. . . . To this day in China, Buddha is called “Pho.” . . . [Svayambhū] comes from bhu and sva. Now, they don’t pronounce the “b” generally, it is “Pho”, which is bhu or Budha, which means wisdom. Fohat comes from Mahat, and it is the reflection of the Universal Mind—the synthesis of all the seven and the intelligences of all the seven creative builders or kosmocratores. Hence the word, you understand—for life and electricity are one in our philosophy. . . .—Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 138-39



Mr. Atkinson: Is Fohat in the Chinese represented by two Chinese syllables?

Mme. Blavatsky: It is from those parts something I have been asking many times. Fo means brilliant.

Mr. Atkinson: I know the root and the character of the Chinese syllable “Fo.” If you could get the Chinese characters, I could turn it up in the Chinese dictionary.

Mme. Blavatsky: And in the Japanese, too. I don’t think it [Fo?] is a real word, because some of them call it Fohat.

Mr. Atkinson: It would be “Ho” in Japanese. And it would represent the idea of “Ho,” as “Ho” was a [ ] part of the phoenix. If it is the same as the Chinese, I mean. It becomes “Ho” in Japanese, and then becomes the “Ho” of the phoenix, as part of the compound name of the phoenix.

Mme. Blavatsky: Fohat is also a relation to the cycles, because the intensity of this vital force changes with every cycle.

Mr. Atkinson: It is in the celestial cosmogony of China. It is in the celestial beginning and the cosmogenesis.

Mme. Blavatsky: I wish you would look somewhere where you could find it, because I have been looking for it in India.

Mr. Atkinson: If you will only give me the Chinese characters, I will find it at once.

Mme. Blavatsky: I have got it somewhere, but not in the Chinese.—Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 350-51


The President: Curiously enough, it is the ordinary Japanese representation, in their rough sketches, of cloudscapes; single lines running into a sort of knot, both in carving and in drawing. I have plenty of their woodcarvings, in which a bank of clouds is given in that way.

Mme. Blavatsky: It is the old occult idea, what we called Fohat; they [the Japanese] give it another name, and the Parsis give it another name, but he is the knot-tier. When he has made the Laya point, he begins in another place; and all the visible universe is formed like that, and all come dragging from that Milky Way, all this world-stuff dragging out, and beyond the Milky Way they say it is the Father-Mother.—Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 252


All the Kabalists and Occultists, Eastern and Western, recognise (a) the identity of “Father-Mother” with primordial Æther or Akâsa, (Astral Light); and (b) its homogeneity before the evolution of the “Son,” cosmically Fohat, for it is Cosmic Electricity. “Fohat hardens and scatters the seven brothers” (Book III. Dzyan); which means that the primordial Electric Entity—for the Eastern Occultists insist that Electricity is an Entity—electrifies into life, and separates primordial stuff or pregenetic matter into atoms, themselves the source of all life and consciousness. “There exists an universal agent unique of all forms and of life, that is called Od,† Ob, and Aour, active and passive, positive and negative, like day and night: it is the first light in Creation” (Eliphas Lévi’s Kabala):—the first Light of the primordial Elohim—the Adam, “male and female”—or (scientifically) electricity and life.

Od is the pure life-giving Light, or magnetic fluid; Ob the messenger of death used by the sorcerers, the nefarious evil fluid; Aour is the synthesis of the two, Astral Light proper. Can the Philologists tell why Od—a term used by Reichenbach to denominate the vital fluid—is also a Tibetan word meaning light, brightness, radiancy? It equally means “Sky” in an occult sense. Whence the root of the word? But Akasa is not quite Ether, but far higher than that, as will be shown.—The Secret Doctrine, 1:75-6 & fn


“. . . [in] certain Maori documents . . . the first awakening, or rolling or moving of the original power “Po”*—was manifest by the first “Kore,” the nothing—or non-being, in the pre-undivided darkness, out of which came—separated by a certain space of time—“Tepo,” the night from which evolved the æons of time “Te-ka-punge,” . . .”

* Po—the Maoric word, reminds one of the Chinese Fo (Buddha) and the Tibetan Po-pha, Supreme Father, Adi-Buddha, the Enlightened, or Buddhi, primeval Wisdom. Philologists should give their attention to this word.—Footnote by HPB to “Fundamental Truths Eternal,” by Gilbert Elliot, The Theosophist, September, 1883.


“In consequence of the abundant data gleaned by linguistic research, philologists are beginning to raise their voices and are pointing to some very suggestive, though as yet unexplained facts. (1) All the words indicative of human representations and conceptions of light and sound are found to have their derivation from the same roots. (H. P. Blavatsky, “Occult or Exact Science,” The Theosophist, April, 1886, p. 429.

With the above in mind, we can begin our exploration.


Fohat in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) Languages?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_language

We will begin with the proposition that the theosophical term “fohat” may be of ancient origin, and that this term may have given rise to several related terms in various known languages. We will base this initial hypothesis around reconstructed PIE roots, such as *bhā- and *bʰeh₂-.

https://www.etymonline.com/word/*bha-

*bha- (1)

*bhā-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to shine.”

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit bhati “shines, glitters;” Greek phainein “bring to light, make appear,” phantazein “make visible, display;” Old Irish ban “white, light, ray of light.”

It forms all or part of: aphotic; bandolier; banner; banneret; beacon; beckon; buoy; diaphanous; emphasis; epiphany; fantasia; fantasy; hierophant; pant (v.); -phane; phanero-; phantasm; phantasmagoria; phantom; phase; phene; phenetic; pheno-; phenology; phenomenon; phenyl; photic; photo-; photocopy; photogenic; photograph; photon; photosynthesis; phosphorus; phaeton; sycophant; theophany; tiffany; tryptophan.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/bʰeh₂-

*bʰeh₂- (imperfective)

to shine, glow light

Ancient Greek terms derived from the PIE root *bʰeh₂- (shine):

ἔμφασις (émphasis), παμφανόων (pamphanóōn), φαίνω (phaínō), φανός (phanós), φάος (pháos).

Of particular interest in the above terms derived from the PIE roots are terms that connect both linguistically and philosophically to our subject. We will begin with those in the Greek and Latin and work our way “eastwards.”


Fohat in the Hellenic and Italic Languages?

Let us begin with an example, the term “phosphorus.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphorus

“Elemental phosphorus was first isolated (as white phosphorus) in 1669 and emitted a faint glow when exposed to oxygen—hence the name, taken from Greek mythology, Φωσφόρος [phōsphóros] meaning “light-bearer” (Latin Lucifer), referring to the “Morning Star,” the planet Venus. The term “phosphorescence,” meaning glow after illumination, derives from this property of phosphorus, although the word has since been used for a different physical process that produces a glow. The glow of phosphorus is caused by oxidation of the white (but not red) phosphorus—a process now called chemiluminescence.”

Compare this to The Secret Doctrine, 2:244:

“Hence the allegory of Prometheus, who steals the divine fire so as to allow men to proceed consciously on the path of spiritual evolution, thus transforming the most perfect of animals on earth into a potential god, and making him free to “take the kingdom of heaven by violence.” Hence also, the curse pronounced by Zeus against Prometheus, and by Jehovah-Il-da-Baoth against his “rebellious son,” Satan. The cold, pure snows of the Caucasian mountain and the never-dying, singeing fire and flames of an extinguishable hell. Two poles, yet the same idea; the dual aspect of a refined torture: a fire producer—the personified emblem of Φωσφόρος of the astral fire and light in the anima mundi—(that element of which the German materialist philosopher Moleschott said: “ohne phosphor kein gedanke,” i.e., without phosphorus no thought), burning in the fierce flames of his terrestrial passions; the conflagration fired by his Thought, discerning as it now does good from evil, and yet a slave to the passions of its earthly Adam; feeling the vulture of doubt and full consciousness gnawing at its heart—a Prometheus indeed, because a conscious, hence a responsible entity.”

From the above, one possible theosophical definition of phosphorus is “the astral fire and light in the anima mundi.”

Here is the etymologyical definition of “phosphorus”:

phosphorus (n.) “substance or organism that shines of itself,” 1640s, from Latin phosphorus “light-bringing,” also “the morning star” (a sense attested in English from 1620), from Greek Phosphoros “morning star,” literally “torchbearer,” from phos “light,” contraction of phaos “light, daylight” (related to phainein “to show, to bring to light,” from PIE root *bha- (1) “to shine”) + phoros “bearer,” from pherein “to carry,” from PIE root *bher- (1) “to carry,” also “to bear children.”

In the Greek, φωσφόρος [phōsphóros] comes from the root φῶς (phōs), the Attic form of φάος (pháos):

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/φωσφόρος
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/φῶς
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/φάος

Of pháos, we have the following definition and etymology:

Pronunciation: IPA(key): /pʰá.os/ → /ˈɸa.os/ → /ˈfa.os/

φάος • (pháos) n (genitive φᾰ́εος); third declension

light, especially daylight, (poetic) the life of men, of the light or time of day, the light of a torch, fire, a light, etc.

Etymology: From Proto-Hellenic *pʰáos, from PIE *bʰéh₂os, from *bʰeh₂- (“shine”). Compare φαεινός (phaeinós), φάω (pháō), and φαίνω (phaínō). Cognates include Latin iubar (“radiance, light”); Sanskrit भास् (bhās, “light, brilliance”) and भास (bhāsa, “luster, light”); and Old English basu (“purple”).

In the above we see the consistent definitions relating to light, shining, brilliance, etc. with a further tie-in to fire. We also see the same PIE root that gave rise to the above Greek and Latin terms also gives rise to the Sanskrit root भास् (bhās, “light, brilliance”) and the derived term भास (bhāsa, “luster, light”).


Fohat in Indo-Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages?

We arrive at the Sanskrit “bhās” through the following:

Proto-Indo-Iranian terms derived from the PIE root *bʰeh₂- (shine):

*bʰáHas (n): light. Descendants: Sanskrit भास् (bhās).

*bʰáHmas (m): light, splendor, radiance. Descendants: Sanskrit: भाम (bhāma), Iranian: *báHmah, Old Persian: bāma.

*bʰáHti (verb): to shine. Descendants: Sanskrit: भाति (bhāti), Iranian: *báHtī.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-Iranian/bʰáHas
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-Iranian/bʰáHmas
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-Iranian/bʰáHti

Thus, then we can see a connection between the Latin phos and Greek φῶς (phōs) with the Sanskrit root भास् (bhās), and from the root bhās we get the agent noun भास (bhāsa) and adjectives such as bhāsvat.

√ भास् bhās_1 [connected to bhā_1] v. [1] pr. (bhāsati) pp. (bhāsita) pf. (ava, to, ut, pra, prati) shine, shine; to appear – pr. md. (bhāsate) enlighten, become manifest or manifest, be understood – ca. (bhāsayati) ca. md. (bhāsayate) shine, illuminate.

भास् bhās_2 [agt. bhās_1] f. light, splendor.

bhāsvat [-vat] a. m. not. f. shining, resplendent bhāsvatī – m. Sun; brightness; light – f. bhāsvatī myth. np. from Bhāsvatī, the resplendent capital of Sūrya.

भास bhāsa [agt. bhās_1] m. light, splendor | phil. mental impression, evocation; imagination, etc.

https://sanskrit.inria.fr/DICO/47.html#bhaas#1
https://www.sanskritdictionary.com/?iencoding=iast&q=bhāsa

It is from the latter term that we come to an important Buddhist Sanskrit term: prabhāsvara, from pra- + bhās + vara.

https://sanskrit.inria.fr/DICO/47.html#bhaasvara

http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/prabhasvara-in-the-canonical-texts-and-in-cosmogony/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminous_mind
https://encyclopediaofbuddhism.org/wiki/Luminous_mind

“In Sanskrit Mahayana texts and their translations, the term is a compound of the intensifying prefix pra-, the verbal root bhāsa (Tibetan: ‘od) which means light, radiance or luminosity and the modifier vara (Tibetan: gsal ba) which means ‘clear,’ and also ‘the best of, the highest type.’ Jeffrey Hopkins’ Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary glosses the term compound as: clear light; clearly luminous; transparently luminous; translucent; brightly shining; transparent lucidity; splendor; radiance; illumination; spread the light; lustre; come to hear; effulgence; brilliance.”

Notice here the connection to the Tibetan term “od,” and reflect back on the quote given above from The Secret Doctrine, 1:75-6 & fn. We will return to this topic shortly.


Fohat in Germanic languages?

In the Germanic languages, a possible connection with Fohat may be in the Proto-Germanic “fōr,” the proposed source of the German “feuer” and eventually the English “fire.”

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/fōr
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Feuer
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fire#Etymology_1

It is proposed that the Proto-Germanic “fōr” is derived from a PIE noun “péh₂wr̥,” which we may possibly divide into a verbal root “péh₂-” and the suffix “-wr̥.”

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/péh₂wr̥
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/-wr̥
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_nominals#Heteroclitic_stems

Given their meanings (fire and light respectively) the verbal roots “péh₂-” and “bʰeh₂-” may be quite closely related, perhaps even derived from a common source in early human language, given that a phonetic sound similar to fo/fa, po/pa or bho/bha related to light and fire are common across PIE languages. These verb roots may, perhaps, with the addition of an appropriate noun-forming suffix, come phonetically close to “fohat”; or, perhaps, instead of a suffix, “fohat” may be, as HPB suggests, a compound term. Reconstructed verbal roots, suffixes and noun formation in PIE are, of course, speculative in nature, as we have no written source for such a language. This leaves open the possibility that such a phonetic sound as “fohat” may have existed in PIE or one of its derived proto- languages.

With the above exploration, we come to the end of the PIE languages, with the exception of the Balto-Slavic and Tocharian. We will examine the latter shortly, as it may prove to be of special significance. But let us first explore the Sino-Tibetan languages.


Fohat in the Sino-Tibetan Languages?

One entrance point to continue our exploration into the Sino-Tibetan languages is to begin with the Sanskrit प्रभास्वर (prabhāsvara), and explore its equivalents in Tibetan and Chinese.

Fohat in Tibetan?

Prabhāsvara is one of the closer term we may find in regards to philosophical and metaphysical relation to the theosophical “fohat,” and as we saw above, this term is derived from the reconstructed PIE roots *bhā- and *bʰeh₂-. The term chosen by the Tibetans to represent prabhāsvara in their Buddhist texts is འོད་གསལ་ (‘od gsal):

འོད་གསལ་

JH-ENG

clear light; Bright Light

JH-OE

{C}the shining gods

JH-SKT

{C}ābhāsvarā; {LCh,MV}prabhāsvara; {MV}prabhāsvaratā; {MV}prabhāsvaratva; {MV}bhāsvaratva; {C}ābhāsvarā devā; ābhāsvara; prabhasvara

OT

[2534] bsam gtan gnyis pa’i gnas ris gong ma ste/ gnas ‘dir skyes pa’i lha ni lha gzhan gyi gnas su yang ‘od gsal bar byed pas ‘od gsal gyi gnas zhes bya/ …

JH-C

Comment: This is the fifth of the six stages of the completion stage in the Guhyasamāja system of Highest Yoga Tanta: physical isolation (lus dben), verbal isolation (ngag dben), mental isolation (sems dben), illusory body (sgyus lus), clear light (‘od gsal), union (zung ‘jug).

JH-EXT

don gyi ‘od gsal

JH-EXE

actual clear light

YOGA

ābhā-svara. ābhās-vara

DM

clear light, Clear Light, luminosity, luminous. For ‘mother’ and ‘son’ clear lights, see Lati Rinbochay, Death 47.

JV

light intensity, (-, primordial, radiant, clear, bright) light, sheer lucency, luminosity, abhasvara god, luminous, luminous absorption, luminescence, clarity, celestial region, name of bon heaven, supernatural enlightening of the saints, radiant awareness, luminous clarity, clear light heaven, 1 of gzugs khams gnas rigs bcu bdun, luminous clarity, natural luminosity, luminous clarity, utter lucidity, luminosity

IW

luminosity, prabhasvara [1 Of the 28 classes of gods in the {gzugs kyi khams} form realm, the 3rd realm in the {bsam gtan gnis pa} R]. luminosity [Of the 28 classes of gods in the {gzugs kyi khams} form realm, the third realm in the {bsam gtan gnis pa} prabhasvara [, and its class of gods)) where the gods produce mor luminosity than the lower onesbrightness, clarity, clear light, brilliance, luminous clarity, radiant light, luminous wakefulness, cognizance, inner radiance (of mind-as-such, occuring between the waking and the dream states) luminous, lucent, luminescent, radiant, light]

RB

(state of) utter lucidity (of being/ mind)*; utterly lucid

RY

luminous, lucent, lucid, luminescent, radiant, light. luminous; brilliance, radiant light. radiant clarity 1) luminous clarity, luminosity; brightness, clarity, lucidity, clear light. 2) One of the 28 classes of gods in the {gzugs kyi khams}. the third realm in the {bsam gtan gnyis pa} form realm of the {bsam gtan gnyis pa ba’i}. the 2nd absorption; Prabhasvara,[a class of gods]; 3) luminous wakefulness, cognizance, 6) inner radiance. the radiance or luminosity of mind-as-such, occurring between the waking and the dream states. the Clear Light inner radiance. clarity, luminosity [thd]. luminosity. Literally ‘free from the darkness of unknowing and endowed with the ability to cognize.’ The two aspects are ’empty luminosity,’ like a clear open sky, which is the cognizant quality of the nature of mind; and ‘manifest luminosity,’ such as five-colored lights, images, and so forth. Luminosity is the uncompounded nature present throughout all of samsara and nirvana. Luminosity. A key term in Vajrayana philosophy signifying a departure from Mahayana’s over-emphasis on emptiness which can lead to nihilism. According to Mipham Rinpoche, ‘luminosity’ means ‘free from the darkness of unknowing and endowed with the ability to cognize.’. Radiant Light; one of the three abodes in {bsam gtan gnyis pa}

As we saw above, HPB makes a connection between Fohat and the “Od” of the Kabalists and suggests that the latter may connect also to the Tibetan “od.”

For an exploration of the above term see: http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/prabhasvara-in-the-canonical-texts-and-in-cosmogony/

Fohat in Chinese? (via Tocharian?)

An equivalent to the Sanskrit प्रभास्वर (prabhāsvara) and the Tibetan འོད་གསལ་ (‘od gsal) in Chinese is 光明 (guāng-míng).

https://www.mdbg.net/chinese/dictionary?page=worddict&wdrst=1&wdqb=光明

As HPB says in The Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 252, other languages may use entirely different terms for what the occultists call Fohat, and we have now seen this in both the Tibetan and Chinese. If HPB is correct, we ought to also find different terms in the Japanese and Parsi (Persian).

However, in regards to the Chinese, HPB does make a direct connection between Fohat and the term “pho” or rather 佛 (Fó), the term used by the Chinese for Buddha.

In regards to the application of 佛 (Fó) to the Buddha, we here quote the following from “The Spirits of Chinese Religion,” by Stephen F. Teiser:

The very name given to Buddhism in China offers important clues about the way that the tradition has come to be defined in China. Buddhism is often called Fojiao, literally meaning “the teaching (jiao) of the Buddha (Fo).” Buddhism thus appears to be a member of the same class as Confucianism and Daoism: the three teachings are Rujiao (“teaching of the scholars” or Confucianism); Daojiao (“teaching of the Dao” or Daoism); and Fojiao (“teaching of the Buddha” or Buddhism).

But there is an interesting difference here, one that requires close attention to language. As semantic units in Chinese, the words Ru and Dao work differently than does Fo. The word Ru refers to a group of people and the word Dao refers to a concept, but the word Fo does not make literal sense in Chinese. Instead it represents a sound, a word with no semantic value that in the ancient language was pronounced as “bud,” like the beginning of the Sanskrit word “buddha.”(1)

The meaning of the Chinese term (Fo) derives from the fact that it refers to a foreign sound. In Sanskrit the word “buddha” means “one who has achieved enlightenment,” one who has “awakened” to the true nature of human existence. Rather than using any of the Chinese words that mean “enlightened one,” Buddhists in China have chosen to use a foreign word to name their teaching, much as native speakers of English refer to the religion that began in India not as “the religion of the enlightened one,” but rather as “Buddhism,” often without knowing precisely what the word “Buddha” means. Thus, referring to Buddhism in China as Fojiao involves the recognition that this teaching, unlike the other two, originated in a foreign land. Its strangeness, its non-native origin, its power are all bound up in its name.

(1) In fact the linguistic situation is more complex. Some scholars suggest that Fo is a transliteration not from Sanskrit but from Tocharian; see, for instance, Ji Xianlin, “Futu yu Fo,” Guoli zhongyang yanjiuyuan Lishi yuyan yanjiusuo jikan 20.1 (1948): 93-105.

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos/ort/buddhism.htm
http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos/main/spirits_of_chinese_religion.pdf

As we saw above, HPB, in referring to the Chinese “Pho” (Fó), suggest that it is not a “real word” (Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 350-51). It is, in fact, a character based on a sound borrowed from another language and has no meaning (in Chinese) on its own.

If we follow the suggested connection hinted at in Mr. Teiser’s footnote above, we may perhaps relate 佛 (Fó), at least phonetically, to the PIE roots explored above, via the Tocharian languages.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tocharian_languages

The Tocharian languages come from the Tarim basin in upper Tibet (North-Western China), and came to the attention of modern scholars through texts located in oasis cities. On this fascinating subject, see the following references: The Secret Doctrine, 1:xxxiii, 1:xxiv fn, 2:220, 2:502-03, etc.

One feature of Tocharian that may be important to our study is the combination of several PIE consonants into single Tocharian consonants, in particular the PIE consonants p, b, and bʰ all become “p” in Tocharian A. In such a case, seemingly varying phonetic terms across languages such as Sanskrit (bhās), Greek (phōs), etc. may be spoken with the same sound in Tocharian.

This matches with something said by HPB in The Secret Doctrine Dialogues. We will quote her again here and then follow up with several aspects of the quotation.

. . . you have to learn the etymology of the word Fohat. There is where it becomes difficult to understand. It is a Turanian compound word. “Pho” is the word. “Pho” was once and is derived from the Sanskrit “bhu,” meaning existence, or rather the essence of existence. . . . To this day in China, Buddha is called “Pho.” . . . [Svayambhū] comes from bhu and sva. Now, they don’t pronounce the “b” generally, it is “Pho” . . .—Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 138-39

First, in regards to pronunciation, she echoes what we find in Tocharian, that “they don’t pronounce the ‘b’ generally, it is ‘pho’.” Hence, several Sanskrit terms—or rather the PIE roots behind them—may have come to carry the same phonetic sound in Tocharian; terms such as the Sanskrit bhās, bhū, etc. may well have been pronounced as phā/pho, phū/pho, etc., and the PIE roots péh₂-, *bhā-, *bʰeh₂-, *bʰuH- (source of bhū), etc. may, despite their differences in other languages, have carried the same phonetic sounds in Tocharian.

Secondly, if we follow the suggested connection between Fohat and the Sanskrit भू (bhū), this would lead us back to the PIE Root *bʰuH-.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/bʰuH-

In addition to terms such as भू (bhū) in Sanskrit (“becoming”), this root also leads to terms like φύω (phýō) in Greek (“to bring forth, etc.”), from Proto-Hellenic *pʰúyō. Here again we see the potential for the phonetic “ph/f” sound. It is, as stated in the quote from Teiser, quite possible that some Chinese terms are derived from Tocharian, and 佛 (Fó) is certainly one of those possibilities. Hence, if the PIE Root *bʰuH- led to a Tocharian term, in which the “bʰ” becomes “p/pʰ”, this could also lead to the phonetic Chinese 佛 (Fó). This manner of derivation could apply to any of the above-mentioned PIE roots.

The (hopefully) soon to be released A Dictionary and Thesaurus of Tocharian A, by Carling Gerd will no doubt assist in further investigation along these lines. For the time being, we may give two examples of related Tocharian terms which may bridge the divide between the PIE roots and Sanskrit roots on the one side and the Chinese 佛 (Fó) on the other.

Related terms in Tocharian (Tocharian A in regular, B in italics):

parno, perne – shining (participle)
por., puwar – fire (IE *paur-, inanimate fire)

https://tied.verbix.com/project/glossary/toch.html

Hence, one possible route for the derivation of the Chinese 佛 (Fó) would be as follows:

*bhā- / *bʰeh₂- / *bʰuH- / *péh₂- –> po/pʰo- or pa/pʰa- (?) (Tocharian) –> fó (Chinese)

Thirdly, let us explore the “turanian compound” aspect of the above quote from HPB.

Turanian is an obsolete language-family proposal made by Max Müller in the 19th century. In his proposed family grouping he included languages such as Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, Samoyedic, Finnic, Taic, Malaic (Malayo-Polynesian), Bhotiya (Tibeto-Burman), Gangetic, Lohitic, Munda, Tamulic (Dravidian). These have been arranged into several different language families by modern scholars, Müller’s approach having been abandoned.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turanian_languages
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Müller#Turanian

This gives us a very wide range of languages in which to search for a compound term matching “fohat” etymologically and philosophically, but the key in HPB’s quote is to try to understand what she may have meant by the term “Turanian.”

Müller’s definition of “Turanian” is that of a supposed family of languages spoken across central Asia and branching out in several directions from there. The languages he identifies were those which were not included in the 19th century classifications of Aryan, Semitic or Chinese. To a non-linguist of the 19th century, it may have seemed quite logical to include all languages spoken by the peoples populating the vast area around the Tarim basin under the banner of “Turanian.” It is entirely possible that HPB had heard the term “fohat” from her teachers and other occultists located around the Tibetan/Tarim/Kashmere areas, and, not being a linguist, simply lumped the term under “Turanian,” which Max Müller had applied to several of the known languages of that area.

Now, in regards to the “compound” aspect of HPB’s statement, this would create the necessity of locating a term for the second half of Fohat. This is, of course, if we assume that it is an actual compound and not simply a root with a suffix or a declined form of a noun, etc., which is equally possible. HPB was, after all, no linguist, and may not have used such terminology as “compound” with strict linguistic accuracy.

If we are searching for a non-compound ending, we may perhaps look to examples like the Sanskrit term Mahat, which is formed of the root मह् (mah) + the ending अत् (-at), which is simply the present active participle form.

https://sanskrit.inria.fr/DICO/50.html#mahat

If Tocharian followed a similar set of rules as Sanskrit, such a term as Fohat (pohat/pʰohat) may be quite possible.

Another non-compound possibility is to simply take the Proto-Indo-Iranian bʰáHas and consider its possible declined forms. If such a term was adapted into Tocharian, the character bʰ could become pʰ, thus leading to “pʰáHas,” which could have been phonetically “foha-” with various declined endings. This is all, of course, speculative, but worth further exploration requiring the assistance of PIE and Tocharian scholars.

If we are, in fact, looking for a compound term, we may have at least one possibility to consider in the Chinese, this being 㶰 (hán), meaning “flame; fire, light; brightness.”

https://www.yellowbridge.com/chinese/dictionary.php?word=㶰
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/㶰
https://www.zdic.net/hant/㶰

This term is built etymologically from the following three characters:

火 (huǒ) fire, fiery or flaming, internal heat (Chinese medicine), etc.
廿 (niàn) twenty (20), in a limited number of set expressions
一 (yī) one / 1 / single / a (article) / as soon as / entire / whole / all / throughout

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/火
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/廿#Chinese
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/一#Chinese

In such a case, the compound in Chinese would be: 佛㶰 (Fóhán).

The meaning of “light, brightness” would fit well with the connection between Fohat and prabhāsvara and the Tibetan ‘od gsal, “clear light.” The meaning of fire would fit well with the PIE root *péh₂ and derived terms, as well as to the connection between Fohat and Agni made by some theosophists, such as I. K. Taimni.

“The name Fohat is taken from The Secret Doctrine because the nature of this creative force or agency is described in some detail under this name in her work, by H. P. Blavatsky. The word which comes nearest to Fohat in Sanskrit literature is Agni but this word has so many other connotations that it is better to use the word Fohat for the creative force of Brahma.”—I. K. Taimni, Man, God and the Universe, 1969, p. 378

To further investigate the possibility of 㶰 (hán) as the second half of our compound, we may need to investigate its etymological roots and whether it has any relation to terms in other languages. This, as with the Tocharian possibilities, require the assistance of linguists specialized in Chinese etymology.


One further, though likely less promising, avenue of investigation is the Semitic languages, in particular the Hebrew.


Fohat in the Semitic Languages?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_languages

One possible connection in the Semitic languages is the Hebrew root “ב־ה־ר.”

https://www.pealim.com/dict/?r1=ב&r2=ה&&rf=ר&num-radicals=3
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ב־ה־ר

This gives rise to terms such as “בָּהִיר” (bāhīr): https://biblehub.com/hebrew/925.htm


All the above speculations are not meant to provide any final conclusions on the question of Fohat’s orgin, but simply to outline several of the possiblities that seem to us to be promising. We hope such an exploration will assist others in furthering this research.


Summary of Roots and Terms possibly related to Fohat

PIE Roots: *bhā- (to shine), *bʰeh₂- (to shine, glow light), *bʰuH- (to become), *péh₂- (as in *péh₂wr̥, fire)

Derived Terms:

*bhā- / *bʰeh₂- > *pʰáos (proto-helenic) > pháos (Attic) > phōs (Greek) >phōsphóros etc.

*bhā- / *bʰeh₂- > *bʰáHas (proto-indo-iranian) > *bʰáHas (proto-indo-aryan) > bhās (Sanskrit) > prabhāsvara (Sanskrit) >> ‘od gsal (Tibetan)

*péh₂wr̥ > fōr (proto-germanic) > feuer (German), fire (English), etc.

*bhā- / *bʰeh₂- / *bʰuH- / *péh₂-(?) > po/pʰo- (?) (Tocharian) >> fó (Chinese)


It is hoped that outlining the above possibilities may aid in further researches by scholars and theosophists.