Human Perfectibility and Adeptship
“Whatever plane our consciousness may be acting in, both we and the things belonging to that plane are, for the time being, our only realities. As we rise in the scale of development we perceive that during the stages through which we have passed we mistook shadows for realities, and the upward progress of the Ego is a series of progressive awakenings, each advance bringing with it the idea that now, at last, we have reached “reality”; but only when we shall have reached the absolute Consciousness, and blended our own with it, shall we be free from the delusions produced by Maya [illusion].”
— HP Blavatsky, from The Key to Theosophy
Masters are, in consequence of evolution and great effort continued through many lives, now at the point of physically, mentally and spiritually where adepts, and others striving, will be in the distant future. They are living men, only higher and holier than we are. While They are truly living men, They may not be understood to be like ourselves. They have bodies, but these bodies are made of the most highly refined and spiritualized matter – matter of which we have but the slight conception. … If we thus dimly grasp the nature of Masters, we will be ble to reverence Them in our hearts, and to endeavor to draw near to Them in our innermost being; nor will we be deceived by claims made by, and for, this or that person, nor take it for granted that books written with purpose of defining Master’s powers, place, or imagined individual characteristics, have any value whatever. All such are mere speculations and an attempt in fact to drag those great Beings down to our plane of terrestrial conceptions – ” a misuse of sacred names,” as H.P.B. wrote in The Key to Theosophy. Masters are facts in Nature, facts however which our highest ideals will not fully encompass. Let us therefore endow Them with the highest we can conceive of, try to assimilate that ‘highest’ within ourselves, endeavor to draw near to Them in our heart of hearts, and thus form for ourselves that line of communication which They have said They are always ready to help establish; and let us keep that ideal as a sacred thing in the repository of our hearts, not to be lightly thought of nor spoken of, but as a shrine of our highest aspirations, safely guarded from all intrusion, sacred and secret. Thus and thus only may we in time come to know Them face to face.
— Robert Crosbie
Click on any of the headings below to delve into the concept of Human Perfectibility from a theosophical perspective:
From the writings of H. P. Blavatsky
From The Secret Doctrine
the Secret Doctrine teaches: —
(c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former — through the Cycle of Incarnation (or “Necessity”) in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. In other words, no purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle, — or the OVER-SOUL, — has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha). The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations. (Vol. 1, p. 17)
It is not in the course of natural law that man should become a perfect septenary being, before the seventh race in the seventh Round. Yet he has all these principles latent in him from his birth. Nor is it part of the evolutionary law that the Fifth principle (Manas), should receive its complete development before the Fifth Round. SD II:167
That physical nature, the great combination of physical correlations of forces, ever creeping onward towards perfection, has to avail herself of the material at hand; she models and remodels as she proceeds, and finishing her crowning work in man, presents him alone as a fit tabernacle for the overshadowing of the divine Spirit.” SD I:185fn
How comes our physical body to the state of perfection it is found in now? Through millions of years of evolution, of course, yet never through, or from, animals, as taught by materialism. For, as Carlyle says:—”. . . The essence of our being, the mystery in us that calls itself ‘I,’—what words have we for such things?—it is a breath of Heaven, the highest Being reveals himself in man. This body, these faculties, this life of ours, is it not all as a vesture for the UNNAMED?” SD I:211
The whole Kosmos is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform, and who — whether we give to them one name or another, and call them Dhyan-Chohans or Angels — are “messengers” in the sense only that they are the agents of Karmic and Cosmic Laws. They vary infinitely in their respective degrees of consciousness and intelligence; and to call them all pure Spirits without any of the earthly alloy “which time is wont to prey upon” is only to indulge in poetical fancy. For each of these Beings either was, or prepares to become, a man, if not in the present, then in a past or a coming cycle (Manvantara). They are perfected, when not incipient, men; and differ morally from the terrestrial human beings on their higher (less material) spheres, only in that they are devoid of the feeling of personality and of the human emotional nature — two purely earthly characteristics. The former, or the “perfected,” have become free from those feelings, because (a) they have no longer fleshly bodies — an ever-numbing weight on the Soul; and (b) the pure spiritual element being left untrammelled and more free, they are less influenced by maya than man can ever be, unless he is an adept who keeps his two personalities — the spiritual and the physical — entirely separated. The incipient monads, having never had terrestrial bodies yet, can have no sense of personality or ego-ism. That which is meant by “personality,” being a limitation and a relation, or, as defined by Coleridge, “individuality existing in itself but with a nature as a ground,” the term cannot of course be applied to non-human entities; but, as a fact insisted upon by generations of Seers, none of these Beings, high or low, have either individuality or personality as separate Entities, i.e., they have no individuality in the sense in which a man says, “I am myself and no one else;” in other words, they are conscious of no such distinct separateness as men and things have on earth. Individuality is the characteristic of their respective hierarchies, not of their units; and these characteristics vary only with the degree of the plane to which those hierarchies belong: the nearer to the region of Homogeneity and the One Divine, the purer and the less accentuated that individuality in the Hierarchy. They are finite, in all respects, with the exception of their higher principles — the immortal sparks reflecting the universal divine flame — individualized and separated only on the spheres of Illusion by a differentiation as illusive as the rest. They are “Living Ones,” because they are the streams projected on the Kosmic screen of illusion from the absolute life; beings in whom life cannot become extinct, before the fire of ignorance is extinct in those who sense these “Lives.” Having sprung into being under the quickening influence of the uncreated beam, the reflection of the great Central Sun that radiates on the shores of the river of Life, it is the inner principle in them which belongs to the waters of immortality, while its differentiated clothing is as perishable as man’s body. Therefore Young was right in saying that
“Angels are men of a superior kind”
and no more. They are neither “ministering” nor “protecting” angels; nor are they “Harbingers of the Most High” still less the “Messengers of wrath” of any God such as man’s fancy has created. To appeal to their protection is as foolish as to believe that their sympathy may be secured by any kind of propitiation; for they are, as much as man himself is, the slaves and creatures of immutable Karmic and Kosmic law. The reason for it is evident. Having no elements of personality in their essence they can have no personal qualities, such as attributed by men, in their exoteric religions, to their anthropomorphic God — a jealous and exclusive God who rejoices and feels wrathful, is pleased with sacrifice, and is more despotic in his vanity than any finite foolish man. Man, as shown in Book II., being a compound of the essences of all those celestial Hierarchies may succeed in making himself, as such, superior, in one sense, to any hierarchy or class, or even combination of them. “Man can neither propitiate nor command the Devas,” it is said. But, by paralyzing his lower personality, and arriving thereby at the full knowledge of the non-separateness of his higher Self from the One absolute Self, man can, even during his terrestrial life, become as “One of Us.” Thus it is, by eating of the fruit of knowledge which dispels ignorance, that man becomes like one of the Elohim or the Dhyanis; and once on their plane the Spirit of Solidarity and perfect Harmony, which reigns in every Hierarchy, must extend over him and protect him in every particular.
The chief difficulty which prevents men of science from believing in divine as well as in nature Spirits is their materialism. The main impediment before the Spiritualist which hinders him from believing in the same, while preserving a blind belief in the “Spirits” of the Departed, is the general ignorance of all, except some Occultists and Kabalists, about the true essence and nature of matter. It is on the acceptance or rejection of the theory of the Unity of all in Nature, in its ultimate Essence, that mainly rests the belief or unbelief in the existence around us of other conscious beings besides the Spirits of the Dead.
It is on the right comprehension of the primeval Evolution of Spirit-Matter and its real essence that the student has to depend for the further elucidation in his mind of the Occult Cosmogony, and for the only sure clue which can guide his subsequent studies.
In sober truth, as just shown, every “Spirit” so-called is either a disembodied or a future man. As from the highest Archangel (Dhyan Chohan) down to the last conscious “Builder” (the inferior class of Spiritual Entities), all such are men, having lived aeons ago, in other Manvantaras, on this or other Spheres; so the inferior, semi-intelligent and non-intelligent Elementals — are all future men. That fact alone — that a Spirit is endowed with intelligence — is a proof to the Occultist that that Being must have been a man, and acquired his knowledge and intelligence throughout the human cycle. There is but one indivisible and absolute Omniscience and Intelligence in the Universe, and this thrills throughout every atom and infinitesimal point of the whole finite Kosmos which hath no bounds, and which people call Space, considered independently of anything contained in it. But the first differentiation of its reflection in the manifested World is purely Spiritual, and the Beings generated in it are not endowed with a consciousness that has any relation to the one we conceive of. They can have no human consciousness or Intelligence before they have acquired such, personally and individually. This may be a mystery, yet it is a fact, in Esoteric philosophy, and a very apparent one too.
The whole order of nature evinces a progressive march towards a higher life. There is design in the action of the seemingly blindest forces. The whole process of evolution with its endless adaptations is a proof of this. The immutable laws that weed out the weak and feeble species, to make room for the strong, and which ensure the “survival of the fittest,” though so cruel in their immediate action — all are working toward the grand end. (Vol. 1, p. 274-77)
Each class of Creators endows man with what it has to give: the one builds his external form; the other gives him its essence, which later on becomes the Human Higher Self owing to the personal exertion of the individual; but they could not make men as they were themselves — perfect, because sinless; sinless, because having only the first, pale shadowy outlines of attributes, and these all perfect — from the human standpoint — white, pure and cold as the virgin snow. Where there is no struggle, there is no merit. Humanity, “of the Earth earthy,” was not destined to be created by the angels of the first divine Breath: therefore they are said to have refused to do so, and man had to be formed by more material creators,* who, in their turn, could give only what they had in their own natures, and no more. Subservient to eternal law, the pure gods could only project out of themselves shadowy men, a little less ethereal and spiritual, less divine and perfect than themselves — shadows still. The first humanity, therefore, was a pale copy of its progenitors; too material, even in its ethereality, to be a hierarchy of gods; too spiritual and pure to be MEN, endowed as it is with every negative (Nirguna) perfection. Perfection, to be fully such, must be born out of imperfection, the incorruptible must grow out of the corruptible, having the latter as its vehicle and basis and contrast. (Vol. 2, p. 95)
Mahatmas and Chelas
MAHATMAS AND CHELAS
Article by H. P. Blavatsky
A MAHATMA is a personage, who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge, which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of reincarnations during the process of cosmic evolution, provided, of course, that they do not go, in the meanwhile, against the purposes of Nature and thus bring on their own annihilation. This process of the self-evolution of the MAHATMA extends over a number of “incarnations,” although, comparatively speaking, they are very few. Now, what is it that incarnates? The occult doctrine, so far as it is given out, shows that the first three principles die more or less with what is called the physical death. The fourth principle, together with the lower portions of the fifth, in which reside the animal propensities, has Kama Loka for its abode, where it suffers the throes of disintegration in proportion to the intensity of those lower desires; while it is the higher Manas, the pure man, which is associated with the sixth and seventh principles, that goes into Devachan to enjoy there the effects of its good Karma, and then to be reincarnated as a higher individuality. Now, an entity, that is passing through the occult training in its successive births, gradually has less and less (in each incarnation) of that lower Manas until there arrives a time when its whole Manas, being of an entirely elevated character, is centered in the higher individuality, when such a person may be said to have become a MAHATMA. At the time of his physical death, all the lower four principles perish without any suffering, for these are, in fact, to him like a piece of wearing apparel which he puts on and off at will. The real MAHATMA is then not his physical body but that higher Manas which is inseparably linked to the Atma and its vehicle (the sixth principle)-a union effected by him in a comparatively very short period by passing through the process of self-evolution laid down by the Occult Philosophy. When, therefore, people express a desire to “see a MAHATMA,” they really do not seem to understand what it is they ask for. How can they, by their physical e yes, hope to see that which transcends that sight? Is it the body–a mere shell or mask-they crave or hunt after? And supposing they see the body of a MAHATMA, how can they know that behind that mask is concealed an exalted entity? By what standard are they to judge whether the Maya before them reflects the image of a true MAHATMA or not? And who will say that the physical is not a Maya? Higher things can be perceived only by a sense pertaining to those higher things. And whoever therefore wants to see the real MAHATMA, must use his intellectual sight. He must so elevate his Manas that its perception will be clear and all mists created by Maya must be dispelled. His vision will then be bright and he will see the MAHATMAS wherever he may be, for, being merged into the sixth and the seventh principles, which are ubiquitous and omnipresent, the MAHATMAS may be said to be everywhere. But, at the same time, just as we may be standing on a mountain top and have within our sight the whole plain, and yet not be cognisant of any particular tree or spot, because from that elevated position all below is nearly identical, and as our attention may be drawn to something which may be dissimilar to its surroundings–so in the same manner, although the whole of humanity is within the mental vision of the MAHATMAS, they cannot be expected to take special note of every human being, unless that being by his special acts draws their particular attention to himself. The highest interest of humanity, as a whole, is their special concern, for they have identified themselves with that Universal Soul which runs through Humanity, and he, who would draw their attention, must do so through that Soul which pervades everywhere. This perception of the Manas may be called “faith” which should not be confounded with blind belief. “Blind faith” is an expression sometimes used to indicate belief without perception or understanding; while the true perception of the Manas is that enlightened belief, which is the real meaning of the word “faith.” This belief should at the same time be accompanied by knowledge, i.e., experience, for “true knowledge brings with it faith.” Faith is the perception of the Manas (the fifth principle), while knowledge, in the true sense of the term, is the capacity of the Intellect, i.e., it is spiritual perception. In short, the higher individuality of man, composed of his higher Manas, the sixth and the seventh principles, should work as a unity, and then only can it obtain “divine wisdom,” for divine things can be sensed only by divine faculties. Thus the desire, which should prompt one to apply for chelaship, is to so far understand the operations of the Law of Cosmic Evolution as will enable him to work in harmonious accord with Nature, instead of going against its purposes through ignorance.
—Theosophist, July, 1884
The Theosophical Mahatmas
“THE THEOSOPHICAL MAHATMAS”
To begin with, the tone of the whole article is that of a true manifesto. Condensed and weeded of its exuberance of Biblical expressions it comes to this paraphrastical declaration: “We have knocked at their door, and they have not answered us; we have prayed for bread, they have denied us even a stone.” The charge is quite serious; nevertheless, that it is neither just nor fair-is what I propose to show.
As I was the first in the United States to bring the existence of our Masters into publicity; and, having exposed the holy names of two members of a Brotherhood hitherto unknown to Europe and America (save to a few mystics and Initiates of every age), yet sacred and revered throughout the East, and especially India, causing vulgar speculation and curiosity to grow around those blessed names, and finally leading to a public rebuke, I believe it my duty to contradict the fitness of the latter by explaining the whole situation, as I feel myself the chief culprit. It may do good to some, perchance, and will interest some others.
Let no one think withal, that I come out as a champion or a defender of those who most assuredly need no defense. What I intend, is to present simple facts, and let after this the situation be judged on its own merits. To the plain statement of our brothers and sisters that they have been “living on husks,” “hunting after strange gods” without receiving admittance, I would ask in my turn, as plainly: “Are you sure of having knocked at the right door? Do you feel certain that you have not lost your way by stopping so often on your journey at strange doors, behind which lie in wait the fiercest enemies of those you were searching for?” Our MASTERS are not a jealous god”; they are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually and spiritually. However holy and advanced in the science of the Mysteries -they are still men, members of a Brotherhood, who are the first in it to show themselves subservient to its time-honored laws and rules. And one of the first rules in it demands that those who start on their journey Eastward, as candidates to the notice and favors of those who are the custodians of those Mysteries, should proceed by the straight road, without stopping on every side-way and path, seeking to join other “Masters” and professors often of the Left Hand Science; that they should have confidence and show trust and patience, besides several other conditions to fulfill. Failing in all of this from first to last, what right has any man or woman to complain of the liability of the Masters to help them?
Truly ” ‘The Dwellers of the threshold’ are within!”
Once that a theosophist would become a candidate for either chelaship or favors, he must be aware of the mutual pledge, tacitly, if not formally offered and accepted between the two parties, and, that such a pledge is sacred. It is a bond of seven years of probation. If during that time, notwithstanding the many human shortcomings and mistakes of the candidate (save two which it is needless to specify in print) he remains throughout every temptation true to the chosen Master, or Masters (in the case of lay candidates), and as faithful to the Society founded at their wish and under their orders, then the theosophist will be initiated into ______thence-forward allowed to communicate with his guru unreservedly, all his failings, save this one, as specified, may be overlooked: they belong to his future Karma, but are left for the present, to the discretion and judgment of the Master. He alone has the power of judging whether even during those long seven years the chela will be favoured regardless of his mistakes and sins, with occasional communications with, and from, the guru. The latter thoroughly posted as to the causes and motives that led the candidate into sins of omission and commission is the only one to judge of the advisability or inadvisability of bestowing encouragement; as he alone is entitled to it, seeing that he is himself under the inexorable law of Karma, which no one from the Zulu savage up to the highest archangel can avoid–and that he has to assume the great responsibility of the causes created by himself.
Thus, the chief and the only indispensable condition required in the candidate or chela on probation, is simply unswerving fidelity to the chosen Master and his purposes. This is a condition sine qua non; not as I have said, on account of any jealous feeling, but simply because the magnetic rapport between the two once broken, it becomes at each time doubly difficult to re-establish it again; and that it is neither just nor fair, that the Masters should strain their powers for those whose future course and final desertion they very often can plainly foresee. Yet, how many of those who, expecting as I would call it “favours by anticipation,” and being disappointed, instead of humbly repeating mea culpa, tax the Masters with selfishness and injustice? They will deliberately break the thread of connection ten times in one year, and yet expect each time to be taken back on the old lines! I know of one theosophist-let him be nameless though it is hoped he will recognize himself–a quiet, intelligent young gentleman, a mystic by nature, who, in his ill-advised enthusiasm and impatience, changed Masters and his ideas about half a dozen times in less than three years. First he offered himself, was accepted on probation and took the vow of chelaship; about a year later, he suddenly got the idea of getting married, though he had several proofs of the corporeal presence of his Master, and had several favours bestowed upon him. Projects of marriage, failing, he sought “Masters” under other climes, and became an enthusiastic Rosicrucian; then be returned to theosophy as a Christian mystic; then again sought to enliven his austerities with a wife; then gave up the idea and turned a spiritualist. And now having applied once more “to be taken back as a chela” (I have his letter) and his Master remaining silent-he renounced him altogether, to seek in he words of the above manifesto-his old “Essenian Master and to test the spirits in his name.”
The able and respected editor of the Occult Word and her Secretary are right, and have chosen the only true path in which with a very small dose of blind faith, they are sure to encounter no deceptions or disappointments. “It is pleasant for some of us,” they say, “to obey the call of the ‘Man of Sorrows’ who will not turn any away, because they are unworthy or have not scored up a certain percentage of personal merit.” How do they know? unless they accept the cynically awful and pernicious dogma of the Protestant Church, that teaches the forgiveness of the blackest crime, provided the murderer believes sincerely that the blood of his “Redeemer” has saved him at the last hour-what is it but blind unphilosophical faith? Emotionalism is not philosophy; and Buddha devoted his long self-sacrificing life to tear people away precisely from that evil breeding superstition. Why speak of Buddha then, in the same breath? The doctrine of salvation by personal merit, and self-forgetfulness is the comer-stone of the teaching of the Lord Buddha. Both the writers may have and very likely they did” hunt after strange gods”; but these were not our MASTERS. They have “denied Him thrice” and now propose “with bleeding feet and prostrate spirit” to “pray that He (Jesus) may take us (them) once more under his wing,” etc. The “Nazarene Master” is sure to oblige them so far. Still they will be “living on husks” plus “blind faith.” But in this they are the best judges, and no one has a Tight to meddle with their private beliefs in our Society; and heaven grant that they should not in their fresh disappointment turn our bitterest enemies one day.
Yet, to those Theosophists, who are displeased with the Society in general, no one has ever made to you any rash promises; least of all, has either the Society or its founders ever offered their “Masters” as a chromo-premium to the best-behaved. For years every new member has been told that he was promised nothing, but bad everything to expect only from his own personal merit. The Theosophist is left free and untrammeled in his actions. Whenever displeased–alia tentanda via est–no harm in trying elsewhere; unless, indeed one has offered himself and is decided to win the Masters’ favors. To such especially, I now address myself and ask: Have you fulfilled your obligations and pledges? Have you, who would fain lay all the blame on the Society and the Masters-the latter the embodiment of charity, tolerance, justice and universal love-have you led the life requisite, and the conditions required from one who becomes a candidate? Let him who feels in his heart and conscience that he has,–that he has never once failed seriously, never doubted his Master’s wisdom, never sought other Master or Masters in his impatience to become an Occultist with powers; and that he has never betrayed his theosophical duty in thought or deed,-let him, I say, rise and protest. He can do so fearlessly; there is no penalty attached to it, and he will not even receive a reproach, let alone be excluded from the Society-the broadest and most liberal in its views, the most catholic of all the Societies known or unknown. I am afraid my invitation will remain unanswered. During the eleven years of the existence of the Theosophical Society I have known, out of the seventy-two regularly accepted chelas on probation and the hundreds of lay candidates-only three who have not hitherto failed, and one only who had a full success. No one forces anyone into chelaship; no promises are uttered, none except the mutual pledge between Master and the would-be chela. Verily, Verily, many are the called but few are chosen-or rather few who have the patience of going to the bitter end, if bitter we can call simple perseverance and singleness of purpose.
What about the Society, in general, outside of India? Who among the many thousands of members does lead the life? Shall anyone say because be is a strict vegetarian-elephants and cows are that or happens to lead a celibate life, after a stormy youth in the opposite direction; or because he studies the Bhagavad-Gita or the “Yoga philosophy” upside down, that he is a theosophist according to the Masters’ hearts? As it is not the cowl that makes the monk, so, no long hair with a poetical vacancy on the brow are sufficient to make of one a faithful follower of divine Wisdom. Look around you, and behold our UNIVERSAL Brotherhood so called! The Society founded to remedy the glaring evils of Christianity, to shun bigotry and intolerance, cant and superstition and to cultivate real universal love extending even to the dumb brute, what has it become in Europe and America in these eleven years of trial? In one thing only we have succeeded to be considered higher than our Christian Brothers, who, according to Lawrence Oliphant’s graphic expression, “kill one another for Brotherhood’s sake and fight as devils for the love of God”-and this is that we have made away with every dogma and are now justly and wisely trying to make away with the last vestige of even nominal authority. But in every other respect we are as bad as they are: backbiting, slander, uncharitableness, criticism, incessant war-cry and ding of mutual rebukes that Christian Hell itself might be proud of! And all this, I suppose, is the Masters’ fault: THEY will not help those who help others on the way of salvation and liberation from selfishness–with kicks and scandals? Truly we are an example to the world, and fit companions for the holy ascetics of the snowy Range!
And now a few words more before I close. I will be asked: “And who are you to find fault with us? Are you, who claim nevertheless communion with the Masters and receive daily favors from Them; Are you so holy, faultless, and so worthy?” To this I answer: I AM NOT. Imperfect and faulty is my nature; many and glaring are my shortcomings–and for this my Karma is heavier than that of any other Theosophist. It is–and must be so–since for so many years I stand set in the pillory, a target for my enemies and some friends also. Yet I accept the trial cheerfully. Why? Because I know that I have, all my faults notwithstanding, Master’s protection extended over me. And if I have it, the reason for it is simply this: for thirty-five years and more, ever since 1851 that I saw any Master bodily and personally for the first time, I have never once denied or even doubted Him, not even in thought. Never a reproach or a murmur against Him has escaped my lips, or entered even my brain for one instant under the heaviest trials. From the first I knew what I had to expect, for I was told that, which I have never ceased repeating to others: as soon as one steps on the Path leading to the Ashrum of the blessed Masters–the last and only custodians of primitive Wisdom and Truth–his Karma, instead of having to be distributed throughout his long life, falls upon him in a block and crushes him with its whole weight. He who believes in what he professes and in his Master, will stand it and come out of the trial victorious; he who doubts, the coward who fears to receive his just dues and tries to avoid justice being done–FAILS. He will not escape Karma just the same, but he will only lose that for which he has risked its untimely visits. This is why, having been so constantly, so mercilessly slashed by my Karma using my enemies as unconscious weapons, that I have stood it all. I felt sure that Master would not permit that I should perish; that he would always appear at the eleventh hour–and so he did. Three times I was saved from death by Him, the last time almost against my will; when I went again into the cold, wicked world out of love for Him, who has taught me what I know and made me what I am. Therefore, I do His work and bidding, and this is what has given me the lion’s strength to support shocks–physical and mental, one of which would have killed any theosophist who would go on doubting of the mighty protection. Unswerving devotion to Him who embodies the duty traced for me, and belief in the Wisdom–collectively, of that grand, mysterious, yet actual Brotherhood of holy men–is my only merit, and the cause of my success in Occult philosophy. And now repeating after the Paraguru–my Master’s MASTER–the words He had sent as a message to those who wanted to make of the Society a “miracle club” instead of a Brotherhood of Peace, Love and mutual assistance–“Perish rather, the Theosophical Society and its hapless Founders,” I say perish their twelve years’ labour and their very lives rather than that I should see what I do today: theosophists, outvying political “rings” in their search for personal power and authority; theosophists slandering and criticizing each other as two rival Christian sects might do; finally theosophists refusing to lead the life and then criticizing and throwing slurs on the grandest and noblest of men, because tied by their wise laws–hoary with age and based on an experience of human nature millenniums old–those Masters refuse to interfere with Karma and to play second fiddle to every theosophist who calls upon Them and whether he deserves it or not.
Unless radical reforms in our American and European Societies are speedily resorted to–I fear that before long there will remain but one centre of Theosophical Societies and Theosophy in the whole world–namely, in India; on that country I call all the blessings of my heart. All my love and aspirations belong to my beloved brothers, the Sons of Old Aryavarta–the Motherland of my MASTER.
— Path, December, 1886
Notwithstanding the many articles which have appeared in this magazine upon the above subject, much misunderstanding and many false views seem still to prevail. What are Chelas, and what are their powers? Have they faults, and in what particular are they different from people who are not Chelas? Is every word uttered by a Chela to be taken as gospel truth?
These questions arise because many persons have entertained very absurd views for a time about Chelas, and when it was found that those views should be changed, the reaction has been in several cases quite violent.
The word “Chela” simply means a disciple; but it has become crystallized in the literature of Theosophy, and has, in different minds, as many different definitions as the word “God” itself. Some persons have gone so far as to say that when a man is a Chela he is at once put on a plane when each word that he may unfortunately utter is taken down as ex cathedra, and he is not allowed the poor privilege of talking like an ordinary person. If it be found out that any such utterance was on his own account and responsibility, he is charged with having misled his hearers.
Now this wrong idea must be corrected once for all. There are Chelas and Chelas, just as there are MAHATMAs and MAHATMAS. There are MAHATMAS in fact who are themselves the Chelas of those who are higher yet. But no one, for an instant, would confound a Chela who has just begun his troublous journey with that greater Chela who is a MAHATMA.
In fact the Chela is an unfortunate man who has entered upon “a path not manifest,” and Krishna says that “that is the most difficult path.”
Instead of being the constant mouthpiece of his Guru, he finds himself left more alone in the world than those who are not Chelas, and his path is surrounded by dangers which would appall many an aspirant, were they depicted in natural colors, so that instead of accepting his Guru and passing an entrance examination with a view to becoming Bachelor of the Art of Occultism under his master’s constant and friendly guidance, he really forces his way into a guarded enclosure, and has from that moment to fight and conquer–or die. Instead of accepting he has to be worthy of acceptance. Nor must he offer himself. One of the Mahatmas has, within the year, written–“Never thrust yourself upon us for Chelaship; wait until it descends upon you.”
And having been accepted as a Chela, it is not true that he is merely the instrument of his Guru. He speaks as ordinary men then as before, and it is only when the master sends by means of the Chela’s Magnetism an actual written letter, that the lookers-on can say that through him a communication came.
It may happen with them, as it does with any author occasionally, that they evolve either true or beautiful utterances, but it must not be therefore concluded that during that utterance the Guru was speaking through the Chela. If there was the germ of a good thought in the mind, the Guru’s influence, like the gentle rain upon the seed, may have caused it to spring into sudden life and abnormally blossom, but that is not the master’s voice. The cases in fact are rare in which the masters speak through a Chela.
The powers of Chelas vary with their progress; and every one should know that if a Chela has any “powers,” he is not permitted to use them save in rare and exceptional cases, and never may he boast of their possession. So it must follow that those who are only beginners have no more or greater power than an ordinary man. Indeed the goal set before the Chela is not the acquisition of psychological power; his chief task is to divest himself of that overmastering sense of personality which is the thick veil that hides from sight our immortal part–the real man. So long as he allows this feeling to remain, just so long will he be fixed at the very door of Occultism, unable to proceed further.
Sentimentality then, is not the equipment for a Chela. His work is hard, his road stony, the end far away. With sentimentality merely he will not advance at all. Is he waiting for the master to bid him show his courage by precipitating himself from a precipice, or by braving the cold Himalayan steeps? False hope; they will not call him thus. And so, as be is not to clothe himself in sentiment, the public must not, when they wish to consider him, throw a false veil of sentimentality over all his actions and words.
Let us therefore, henceforth, see a little more discrimination used in looking at Chelas.
—Theosophist, October, 1884
Chelas and Lay Chelas
Chelas And Lay Chelas
AS the word Chela has, among others, been introduced by Theosophy into the nomenclature of Western metaphysics, and the circulation of our magazine is constantly widening, it will be as well if some more definite explanation than heretofore is given with respect to the meaning of this term and the rules of Chelaship, for the benefit of our European if not Eastern members. A “Chela” then, is one who has offered himself or herself as a pupil to learn practically the “hidden mysteries of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man.” The spiritual teacher to whom he proposes his candidature is called in India a Guru; and the real Guru is always an Adept in the Occult Science. A man of profound knowledge, exoteric and esoteric, especially the latter; and one who has brought his carnal nature under subjection of the WILL; who has developed in himself both the power (Siddhi) to control the forces of nature, and the capacity to probe her secrets by the help of the formerly latent but now active powers of his being:–this is the real Guru. To offer oneself as a candidate for Chelaship is easy enough, to develop into an Adept the most difficult task any man could possibly undertake. There are scores of “natural-born” poets, mathematicians, mechanics, statesmen, etc., but a natural-born Adept is something practically impossible. For, though we do hear at very rare intervals of one who has an extraordinary innate capacity for the acquisition of occult knowledge and power, yet even he has to pass the self-same tests and probations, and go through the same self-training as any less endowed fellow aspirant. In this matter it is most true that there is no royal road by which favourites may travel. For centuries the selection of Chelas–outside the hereditary group within the gon-pa (temple)–has been made by the Himalayan Mahatmas themselves from among the class–in Tibet, a considerable one as to number–of natural mystics. The only exceptions have been in the cases of Western men like Fludd, Thomas Vaughan, Paracelsus, Pico di Mirandola, Count St. Germain, etc., whose temperamental affinity to this celestial science more or less forced the distant Adepts to come into personal relations with them, and enabled them to get such small (or large) proportion of the whole truth as was possible under their social surroundings. From Book IV of Kiu-te, Chapter on “the Laws of Upasans,” we learn that the qualifications expected in a Chela were:– 1. Perfect physical health; 2. Absolute mental and physical purity; 3. Unselfishness of purpose; universal charity; pity for all animate beings; 4. Truthfulness and unswerving faith in the law of Karma, independent of any power in nature that could interfere: a law whose course is not to be obstructed by any agency, not to be caused to deviate by prayer or propitiatory exoteric ceremonies; 5. A courage undaunted in every emergency, even by peril to life; 6. An intuitional perception of one’s being the vehicle of the manifested Avalokitesvara or Divine Atman (Spirit); 7. Calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of everything that constitutes the objective and transitory world, in its relation with, and to, the invisible regions. Such, at the least, must have been the recommendations of one aspiring to perfect Chelaship. With the sole exception of the 1st, which in rare and exceptional cases might have been modified, each one of these points has been invariably insisted upon, and all must have been more or less developed in the inner nature by the Chela’s UNHELPED EXERTIONS, before he could be actually put to the test. When the self-evolving ascetic–whether in, or outside the active world–had placed himself, according to his natural capacity, above, hence made himself master of, his (1) Sarira–body; (2) lndriya–senses; (3) Dosha–faults; (4) Dukkha–pain; and is ready to become one with his Manas–mind; Buddhi–intellection, or spiritual intelligence; and Atma–highest soul, i.e., spirit. When he is ready for this, and, further, to recognize in Atma the highest ruler in the world of perceptions, and in the will, the highest executive energy (power), then may he, under the time-honoured rules, be taken in hand by one of the Initiates. He may then be shown the mysterious path at whose thither end the Chela is taught the unerring discernment of Phala, or the fruits of causes produced, and given the means of reaching ,Apavarga–emancipation, from the misery of repeated births (in whose determination the ignorant has no hand), and thus of avoiding Pratya-bhava–transmigration. But since the advent of the Theosophical Society, one of whose arduous tasks it was to re-awaken in the Aryan mind the dormant memory of the existence of this science and of those transcendent human capabilities, the rules of Chela selection have become slightly relaxed in one respect. Many members of the Society becoming convinced by practical proof upon the above points, and rightly enough thinking that if other men had hitherto reached the goal, they too if inherently fitted, might reach it by following the same path, pressed to be taken as candidates. And as it would be an interference with Karma to deny them the chance of at least beginning–since they were so importunate, they were given it. The results have been far from encouraging so far, and it is to show these unfortunates the cause of their failure as much as to warn others against rushing heedlessly upon a similar fate, that the writing of the present article has been ordered. The candidates in question, though plainly warned against it in advance, began wrong by selfishly looking to the future and losing sight of the past. They forgot that they had done nothing to deserve the rare honour of selection, nothing which warranted their expecting such a privilege; that they could boast of none of the above enumerated merits. As men of the selfish, sensual world, whether married or single, merchants, civilian or military employees, or members of the learned professions, they had been to a school most calculated to assimilate them to the animal nature, least so to develope their spiritual potentialities. Yet each and all had vanity enough to suppose that their case would be made an exception to the law of countless centuries’ establishment as though, indeed, in their person had been born to the world a new Avatar! All expected to have hidden things taught, extraordinary powers given them because–well, because they had joined the Theosophical Society. Some had sincerely resolved to amend their lives, and give up their evil courses; we must do them that justice, at all events. All were refused at first, Col. Olcott, the President, himself, to begin with; and as to the latter gentleman there is now no harm in saying that he was not formally accepted as a Chela until he had proved by more than a year’s devoted labours and by a determination which brooked no denial, that he might safely be tested. Then from all sides came complaints–from Hindus, who ought to have known better, as well as from Europeans who, of course, were not in a condition to know anything at all about the rules. The cry was that unless at least a few Theosophists were given the chance to try, the Society could not endure. Every other noble and unselfish feature of our programme was ignored–a man’s duty to his neighbour, to his country, his duty to help, enlighten, encourage and elevate those weaker and less favoured than he; all were trampled out of sight in the insane rush for adeptship. The call for phenomena, phenomena, phenomena, resounded in every quarter, and the Founders were impeded in their real work and teased importunately to intercede with the Mahatmas, against whom the real grievance lay, though their poor agents had to take all the buffets. At last, the word came from the higher authorities that a few of the most urgent candidates should be taken at their word. The result of the experiment would perhaps show better than any amount of preaching what Chelaship meant, and what are the consequences of selfishness and temerity. Each candidate was warned that he must wait for years in any event, before his fitness could be proven, and that he must pass through a series of tests that would bring out all there was in him, whether bad or good. They were nearly all married men and hence were designated “Lay Chelas”–a term new in English, but having long had its equivalent in Asiatic tongues. A Lay Chela is but a man of the world who affirms his desire to become wise in spiritual things. Virtually, every member of the Theosophical Society who subscribes to the second of our three “Declared Objects” is such; for though not of the number of true Chelas, he has yet the possibility of becoming one, for he has stepped across the boundary-line which separated him from the Mahatmas, and has brought himself, as it were, under their notice. In joining the Society and binding himself to help along its work, he has pledged himself to act in some degree in concert with those Mahatmas, at whose behest the Society was organized, and under whose conditional protection it remains. The joining is then, the introduction; all the rest depends entirely upon the member himself, and he need never expect the most distant approach to the “favor” of one of our Mahatmas, or any other Mahatmas in the world–should the latter consent to become known–that has not been fully earned by personal merit. The Mahatmas are the servants, not the arbiters of the Law of Karma. LAY-CHELASHIP CONFERS NO PRIVILEGE UPON ANY ONE EXCEPT THAT OF WORKING FOR MERIT UNDER THE OBSERVATION OF A MASTER. And whether that Master be or be not seen by the Chela makes no difference whatever as to the result: his good thoughts, words and deeds will bear their fruits, his evil ones, theirs. To boast of Lay Chelaship or make a parade of it, is the surest way to reduce the relationship with the Guru to a mere empty name, for it would be primâ facie evidence of vanity and unfitness for farther progress. And for years we have been teaching everywhere the maxim “First deserve, then desire” intimacy with the Mahatmas. Now there is a terrible law operative in nature, one which cannot be altered, and whose operation clears up the apparent mystery of the selection of certain “Chelas” who have turned out sorry specimens of morality, these few years past. Does the reader recall the old proverb, “Let sleeping dogs lie”? There is a world of occult meaning in it. No man or woman knows his or her moral strength until it is tried. Thousands go through life very respectably, because they were never put to the pinch. This is a truism doubtless, but it is most pertinent to the present case. One who undertakes to try for Chelaship by that very act rouses and lashes to desperation every sleeping passion of his animal nature. For this is the commencement of a struggle for the mastery in which quarter is neither to be given nor taken. It is, once for all, “To be, or Not to be”; to conquer, means ADEPTSHIP; to fail, an ignoble Martyrdom: for to fall victim to lust, pride, avarice, vanity, selfishness, cowardice, or any other of the lower propensities, is indeed ignoble, if measured by the standard of true manhood. The Chela is not only called to face all the latent evil propensities of his nature, but, in addition, the whole volume of maleficent power accumulated by the community and nation to which he belongs. For he is an integral part of those aggregates, and what affects either the individual man, or the group (town or nation) reacts upon the other. And in this instance his struggle for goodness jars upon the whole body of badness in his environment, and draws its fury upon him. If he is content to go along with his neighbours and be almost as they are–perhaps a little better or somewhat worse than the average–no one may give him a thought. But let it be known that he has been able to detect the hollow mockery of social life, its hypocrisy, selfishness, sensuality, cupidity and other bad features, and has determined to lift himself up to a higher level, at once he is hated, and every bad, or bigoted, or malicious nature sends at him a current of opposing will power. If he is innately strong he shakes it off, as the powerful swimmer dashes through the current that would bear a weaker one away. But in this moral battle, if the Chela has one single hidden blemish–do what he may, it shall and will be brought to light. The varnish of conventionalities which “civilization” overlays us all with must come off to the last coat, and the Inner Self, naked and without the slightest veil to conceal its reality, is exposed. The habits of society which hold men to a certain degree under moral restraint, and compel them to pay tribute to virtue by seeming to be good whether they are so or not, these habits are apt to be all forgotten, these restraints to be all broken through under the strain of chelaship. He is now in an atmosphere of illusions–Maya. Vice puts on its most alluring face, and the tempting passions try to lure the inexperienced aspirant to the depths of psychic debasement. This is not a case like that depicted by a great artist, where Satan is seen playing a game of chess with a man upon the stake of his soul, while the latter’s good angel stands beside him to counsel and assist. For the strife is in this instance between the Chela’s Will and his carnal nature, and Karma forbids that any angel or Guru should interfere until the result is known. With the vividness of poetic fancy Bulwer Lytton has idealised it for us in his Zanoni, a work which will ever be prized by the occultist; while in his Strange Story he has with equal power shown the black side of occult research and its deadly perils. Chelaship was defined, the other day, by a Mahatma as a “psychic resolvent, which eats away all dross and leaves only the pure gold behind.” If the candidate has the latent lust for money, or political chicanery, or materialistic scepticism, or vain display, or false speaking, or cruelty, or sensual gratification of any kind, the germ is almost sure to sprout; and so, on the other hand, as regards the noble qualities of human nature. The real man comes out. Is it not the height of folly, then, for any one to leave the smooth path of common-place life to scale the crags of chelaship without some reasonable feeling of certainty that he has the right stuff in him? Well says the Bible: “Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall”–a text that would-be Chelas should consider well before they rush headlong into the fray! It would have been well for some of our Lay-Chelas it they had thought twice before defying the tests. We call to mind several sad failures within a twelvemonth. One went bad in the head, recanted noble sentiments uttered but a few weeks previously, and became a member of a religion he had just scornfully and unanswerably proven false. A second became a defaulter and absconded with his employer’s money–the latter also a Theosophist. A third gave himself up to gross debauchery, and confessed it with ineffectual sobs and tears, to his chosen Guru. A fourth got entangled with a person of the other sex and fell out with his dearest and truest friends. A fifth showed signs of mental aberration and was brought into Court upon charges of discreditable conduct. A sixth shot himself to escape the consequences of criminality, on the verge of detection! And so we might go on and on. All these were apparently sincere searchers after truth, and passed in the world for respectable persons. Externally, they were fairly eligible as candidates for Chelaship, as appearances go; but “within all was rottenness and dead men’s bones.” The world’s varnish was so thick as to hide the absence of the true gold underneath; and the “resolvent” doing its work, the candidate proved in each instance but a gilded figure of moral dross, from circumference to core. . . . In what precedes we have, of course, dealt but with the failures among Lay-Chelas; there have been partial successes too, and these are passing gradually through the first stages of their probation. Some are making themselves useful to the Society and to the world in general by good example and precept. If they persist, well for them, well for us all: the odds are fearfully against them, but still “there is no Impossibility to him who WILLS.” The difficulties in Chelaship will never be less until human nature changes and a new sort is evolved. St. Paul (Rom. vii, 18, 19) might have had a Chela in mind when he said “to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” And in the wise Kirátárjuniya of Bharávi it is written:– The enemies which rise within the body, Hard to be overcome–the evil passions– Should manfully be fought; who conquers these Is equal to the conqueror of worlds. (xi, 32.)
—Supplement to Theosophist, July, 1883
From the writings of William Quan Judge
Three Great Ideas
THREE GREAT IDEAS
Among many ideas brought forward through the theosophical movement there are three which should never be lost sight of. Not speech, but thought, really rules the world; so, if these three ideas are good let them be rescued again and again from oblivion.
The first idea is, that there is a great Cause – in the sense of an enterprise – called the Cause of Sublime Perfection and Human Brotherhood. This rests upon the essential unity of the whole human family, and is a possibility because sublimity in perfectness and actual realization of brotherhood on every plane of being are one and the same thing. All efforts by Rosicrucian, Mystic, Mason and Initiate are efforts toward the convocation in the hearts and minds of men of the Order of Sublime Perfection.
The second idea is, that man is a being Who may be raised up to perfection, to the stature of the Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate. This noble doctrine was in the mind of Jesus, no doubt, when he said that we must be perfect even as is the father in heaven. This is the idea of human perfectibility. It will destroy the awful theory of inherent original sin which has held and ground down the western Christian nations for centuries.
The third idea is the illustration, the proof, the high result of the others. It is, that the Masters those who have reached up to what perfection this period of evolution and this solar system will allow are living, veritable facts, and not abstractions cold and distant. They are, as our old H. P. B. so often said, living men. And she said, too, that a shadow of woe would come to those who should say they were not living facts, who should assert that “the Masters descend not to this plane of ours.” The Masters as living facts and high ideals will fill the soul with hope, will themselves help all who wish to raise the human race.
Let us not forget these three great ideas.
WILLIAM Q. JUDGE
Irish Theosophist, February, 1895
William Quan Judge on the Masters (from Ocean of Theosophy)
That man possesses an immortal soul is the common belief of humanity; to this Theosophy adds that he is a soul; and further that all nature is sentient, that the vast array of objects and men are not mere collections of atoms fortuitously thrown together and thus without law evolving law, but down to the smallest atom all is soul and spirit ever evolving under the rule of law which is inherent in the whole. And just as the ancients taught, so does Theosophy; that the course of evolution is the drama of the soul and that nature exists for no other purpose than the soul’s experience. The Theosophist agrees with Prof. Huxley in the assertion that there must be beings in the universe whose intelligence is as much beyond ours as ours exceeds that of the black beetle, and who take an active part in the government of the natural order of things. Pushing further on by the light of the confidence had in his teachers, the Theosophist adds that such intelligences were once human and came like all of us from other and previous worlds, where as varied experience had been gained as is possible on this one. We are therefore not appearing for the first time when we come upon this planet, but have pursued a long, an immeasurable course of activity and intelligent perception on other systems of globes, some of which were destroyed ages before the solar system condensed. This immense reach of the evolutionary system means, then, that this planet on which we now are is the result of the activity and the evolution of some other one that died long ago, leaving its energy to be used in the bringing into existence of the earth, and that the inhabitants of the latter in their turn came from some older world to proceed here with the destined work in matter. And the brighter planets, such as Venus, are the habitation of still more progressed entities, once as low as ourselves, but now raised up to a pitch of glory incomprehensible for our intellects.
The most intelligent being in the universe, man, has never, then, been without a friend, but has a line of elder brothers who continually watch over the progress of the less progressed, preserve the knowledge gained through aeons of trial and experience, and continually seek for opportunities of drawing the developing intelligence of the race on this or other globes to consider the great truths concerning the destiny of the soul. These elder brothers also keep the knowledge they have gained of the laws of nature in all departments, and are ready when cyclic law permits to use it for the benefit of mankind. They have always existed as a body, all knowing each other, no matter in what part of the world they may be, and all working for the race in many different ways. In some periods they are well known to the people and move among ordinary men whenever the social organization, the virtue, and the development of the nations permit it. For if they were to come out openly and be heard of everywhere, they would be worshipped as gods by some and hunted as devils by others. In those periods when they do come out some of their number are rulers of men, some teachers, a few great philosophers, while others remain still unknown except to the most advanced of the body.
It would be subversive of the ends they have in view were they to make themselves public in the present civilization, which is based almost wholly on money, fame, glory, and personality. For this age, as one of them has already said, “is an age of transition,” when every system of thought, science, religion, government, and society is changing, and men’s minds are only preparing for an alteration into that state which will permit the race to advance to the point suitable for these elder brothers to introduce their actual presence to our sight. They may be truly called the bearers of the torch of truth across the ages; they investigate all things and beings; they know what man is in his innermost nature and what his powers and destiny, his state before birth and the states into which he goes after the death of his body; they have stood by the cradle of nations and seen the vast achievements of the ancients, watched sadly the decay of those who had no power to resist the cyclic law of rise and fall; and while cataclysms seemed to show a universal destruction of art, architecture, religion, and philosophy, they have preserved the records of it all in places secure from the ravages of either men or time; they have made minute observations, through trained psychics among their own order, into the unseen realms of nature and of mind, recorded the observations and preserved the record; they have mastered the mysteries of sound and color through which alone the elemental beings behind the veil of matter can be communicated with, and thus can tell why the rain falls and what it falls for, whether the earth is hollow or not, what makes the wind to blow and light to shine, and greater feat than all — one which implies a knowledge of the very foundations of nature — they know what the ultimate divisions of time are and what are the meaning and the times of the cycles.
But, asks the busy man of the nineteenth century who reads the newspapers and believes in “modern progress,” if these elder brothers are all you claim them to be, why have they left no mark on history nor gathered men around them? Their own reply, published some time ago by Mr. A. P. Sinnett, is better than any I could write.
“We will first discuss, if you please, the one relating to the presumed failure of the ‘Fraternity’ to ‘leave any mark upon the history of the world.’ They ought, you think, to have been able, with their extraordinary advantages, to have ‘gathered into their schools a considerable portion of the more enlightened minds of every race.’ How do you know they have made no such mark? Are you acquainted with their efforts, successes, and failures? Have you any dock upon which to arraign them? How could your world collect proofs of the doings of men who have sedulously kept closed every possible door of approach by which the inquisitive could spy upon them? The prime condition of their success was that they should never be supervised or obstructed. What they have done they know; all that those outside their circle could perceive was results, the causes of which were masked from view. To account for these results, men have, in different ages, invented theories of the interposition of gods, special providences, fates, the benign or hostile influences of the stars. There never was a time within or before the so-called historical period when our predecessors were not moulding events and ‘making history,’ the facts of which were subsequently and invariably distorted by historians to suit contemporary prejudices. Are you quite sure that the visible heroic figures in the successive dramas were not often but their puppets? We never pretended to be able to draw nations in the mass to this or that crisis in spite of the general drift of the world’s cosmic relations. The cycles must run their rounds. Periods of mental and moral light and darkness succeed each other as day does night. The major and minor yugas must be accomplished according to the established order of things. And we, borne along on the mighty tide, can only modify and direct some of its minor currents.”
It is under cyclic law, during a dark period in the history of mind, that the true philosophy disappears for a time, but the same law causes it to reappear as surely as the sun rises and the human mind is present to see it. But some works can only be performed by the Master, while other works require the assistance of the companions. It is the Master’s work to preserve the true philosophy, but the help of the companions is needed to rediscover and promulgate it. Once more the elder brothers have indicated where the truth — Theosophy — could be found, and the companions all over the world are engaged in bringing it forth for wider currency and propagation.
The Elder Brothers of Humanity are men who were perfected in former periods of evolution. These periods of manifestation are unknown to modern evolutionists so far as their number are concerned, though long ago understood by not only the older Hindus, but also by those great minds and men who instituted and carried on the first pure and undebased form of the Mysteries of Greece. The periods, when out of the Great Unknown there come forth the visible universes, are eternal in their coming and going, alternating with equal periods of silence and rest again in the Unknown. The object of these mighty waves is the production of perfect man, the evolution of soul, and they always witness the increase of the number of Elder Brothers; the life of the least of men pictures them in day and night, waking and sleeping, birth and death, “for these two, light and dark, day and night, are the world’s eternal ways.”
In every age and complete national history these men of power and compassion are given different designations. They have been called Initiates, Adepts, Magi, Hierophants, Kings of the East, Wise Men, Brothers, and what not. But in the Sanskrit language there is a word which, being applied to them, at once thoroughly identifies them with humanity. It is Mahatma. This is composed of Maha great, and Atma soul; so it means great soul, and as all men are souls the distinction of the Mahatma lies in greatness. The term Mahatma has come into wide use through the Theosophical Society, as Mme. H. P. Blavatsky constantly referred to them as her Masters who gave her the knowledge she possessed. They were at first known only as the Brothers, but afterwards, when many Hindus flocked to the Theosophical movement, the name Mahatma was brought into use, inasmuch as it has behind it an immense body of Indian tradition and literature. At different times unscrupulous enemies of the Theosophical Society have said that even this name had been invented and that such beings are not known of among the Indians or in their literature. But these assertions are made only to discredit if possible a philosophical movement that threatens to completely upset prevailing erroneous theological dogmas. For all through Hindu literature Mahatmas are often spoken of, and in parts of the north of that country the term is common. In the very old poem the Bhagavad-Gita, revered by all Hindu sects and admitted by the western critics to be noble as well as beautiful, there is a verse reading, “Such a Mahatma is difficult to find.”
But irrespective of all disputes as to specific names, there is sufficient argument and proof to show that a body of men having the wonderful knowledge described above has always existed and probably exists today. The older mysteries continually refer to them. Ancient Egypt had them in her great king-Initiates, sons of the sun and friends of great gods. There is a habit of belittling the ideas of the ancients which is in itself belittling to the people of today. Even the Christian who reverently speaks of Abraham as “the friend of God,” will scornfully laugh at the idea of the claims of Egyptian rulers to the same friendship being other than childish assumption of dignity and title. But the truth is, these great Egyptians were Initiates, members of the one great lodge which includes all others of whatever degree or operation. The later and declining Egyptians, of course, must have imitated their predecessors, but that was when the true doctrine was beginning once more to be obscured upon the rise of dogma and priesthood.
The story of Apollonius of Tyana is about a member of one of the same ancient orders appearing among men at a descending cycle, and only for the purpose of keeping a witness upon the scene for future generations.
Abraham and Moses of the Jews are two other Initiates, Adepts who had their work to do with a certain people; and in the history of Abraham we meet with Melchizedek, who was so much beyond Abraham that he had the right to confer upon the latter a dignity, a privilege, or a blessing. The same chapter of human history which contains the names of Moses and Abraham is illuminated also by that of Solomon. And thus these three make a great Triad of Adepts, the record of whose deeds can not be brushed aside as folly and devoid of basis.
Moses was educated by the Egyptians and in Midian, from both of which he gained much occult knowledge, and any clear-seeing student of the great Universal Masonry can perceive all through his books the hand, the plan, and the work of a master. Abraham again knew all the arts and much of the power in psychical realms that were cultivated in his day, or else he could not have consorted with kings nor have been “the friend of God”; and the reference to his conversations with the Almighty in respect to the destruction of cities alone shows him to have been an Adept who had long ago passed beyond the need of ceremonial or other adventitious aids. Solomon completes this triad and stands out in characters of fire. Around him is clustered such a mass of legend and story about his dealings with the elemental powers and of his magic possessions that one must condemn the whole ancient world as a collection of fools who made lies for amusement if a denial is made of his being a great character, a wonderful example of the incarnation among men of a powerful Adept. We do not have to accept the name Solomon nor the pretense that he reigned over the Jews, but we must admit the fact that somewhere in the misty time to which the Jewish records refer there lived and moved among the people of the earth one who was an Adept and given that name afterwards. Peripatetics and microscopic critics may affect to see in the prevalence of universal tradition naught but evidence of the gullibility of men and their power to imitate, but the true student of human nature and life knows that the universal tradition is true and arises from the facts in the history of man.
Turning to India, so long forgotten and ignored by the lusty and egotistical, the fighting and the trading West, we find her full of the lore relating to these wonderful men of whom Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Solomon are only examples. There the people are fitted by temperament and climate to be the preservers of the philosophical, ethical, and psychical jewels that would have been forever lost to us had they been left to the ravages of such Goths and Vandals as western nations were in the early days of their struggle for education and civilization. If the men who wantonly burned up vast masses of historical and ethnological treasures found by the minions of the Catholic rulers of Spain, in Central and South America, could have known of and put their hands upon the books and palm-leaf records of India before the protecting shield of England was raised against them, they would have destroyed them all as they did for the Americans, and as their predecessors attempted to do for the Alexandrian library. Fortunately events worked otherwise.
All along the stream of Indian literature we can find the names by scores of great adepts who were well known to the people and who all taught the same story — the great epic of the human soul. Their names are unfamiliar to western ears, but the records of their thoughts, their work and powers remain. Still more, in the quiet unmovable East there are today by the hundred persons who know of their own knowledge that the Great Lodge still exists and has its Mahatmas, Adepts, Initiates, Brothers. And yet further, in that land are such a number of experts in the practical application of minor though still very astonishing power over nature and her forces, that we have an irresistible mass of human evidence to prove the proposition laid down.
And if Theosophy — the teaching of this Great Lodge — is as said, both scientific and religious, then from the ethical side we have still more proof. A mighty Triad acting on and through ethics is that composed of Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus. The first, a Hindu, founds a religion which today embraces many more people than Christianity, teaching centuries before Jesus the ethics which he taught and which had been given out even centuries before Buddha. Jesus coming to reform his people repeats these ancient ethics, and Confucius does the same thing for ancient and honorable China.
The Theosophist says that all these great names represent members of the one single brotherhood, who all have a single doctrine. And the extraordinary characters who now and again appear in western civilization, such as St. Germain, Jacob Boehme, Cagliostro, Paracelsus, Mesmer, Count St. Martin, and Madame H. P. Blavatsky, are agents for the doing of the work of the Great Lodge at the proper time. It is true they are generally reviled and classed as impostors — though no one can find out why they are when they generally confer benefits and lay down propositions or make discoveries of great value to science after they have died. But Jesus himself would be called an impostor today if he appeared in some Fifth Avenue theatrical church rebuking the professed Christians. Paracelsus was the originator of valuable methods and treatments in medicine now universally used. Mesmer taught hypnotism under another name. Madame Blavatsky brought once more to the attention of the West the most important system, long known to the Lodge, respecting man, his nature and destiny. But all are alike called impostors by a people who have no original philosophy of their own and whose mendicant and criminal classes exceed in misery and in number those of any civilization on the earth.
It will not be unusual for nearly all occidental readers to wonder how men could possibly know so much and have such power over the operations of natural law as I have ascribed to the Initiates, now so commonly spoken of as the Mahatmas. In India, China, and other Oriental lands no wonder would arise on these heads, because there, although everything of a material civilization is just now in a backward state, they have never lost a belief in the inner nature of man and in the power he may exercise if he will. Consequently living examples of such powers and capacities have not been absent from those people. But in the West a materialistic civilization having arisen through a denial of the soul life and nature consequent upon a reaction from illogical dogmatism, there has not been any investigation of these subjects and, until lately, the general public has not believed in the possibility of anyone save a supposed God having such power.
A Mahatma endowed with power over space, time, mind, and matter, is a possibility just because he is a perfected man. Every human being has the germ of all the powers attributed to these great Initiates, the difference lying solely in the fact that we have in general not developed what we possess the germ of, while the Mahatma has gone through the training and experience which have caused all the unseen human powers to develop in him, and conferred gifts that look god-like to his struggling brother below. Telepathy, mind-reading, and hypnotism, all long ago known to Theosophy, show the existence in the human subject of planes of consciousness, functions, and faculties hitherto undreamed of. Mind-reading and the influencing of the mind of the hypnotized subject at a distance prove the existence of a mind which is not wholly dependent upon a brain, and that a medium exists through which the influencing thought may be sent. It is under this law that the Initiates can communicate with each other at no matter what distance. Its rationale, not yet admitted by the schools of the hypnotizers, is, that if the two minds vibrate or change into the same state they will think alike, or, in other words, the one who is to hear at a distance receives the impression sent by the other. In the same way with all other powers, no matter how extraordinary. They are all natural, although now unusual, just as great musical ability is natural though not usual or common. If an Initiate can make a solid object move without contact, it is because he understands the two laws of attraction and repulsion of which “gravitation” is but the name for one; if he is able to precipitate out of the viewless air the carbon which we know is in it, forming the carbon into sentences upon the paper, it is through his knowledge of the occult higher chemistry, and the use of a trained and powerful image making faculty which every man possesses; if he reads your thoughts with ease, that results from the use of the inner and only real powers of sight, which require no retina to see the fine-pictured web which the vibrating brain of man weaves about him. All that the Mahatma may do is natural to the perfected man; but if those powers are not at once revealed to us it is because the race is as yet selfish altogether and still living for the present and the transitory.
William Quan Judge on Mahatmas and Adepts (from Echoes from the Orient)
It is well now to say, more definitely than I have as yet, a few words of the two classes of beings, one of which has been much spoken of in Theosophical literature, and also by those on the outside who write of the subject either in seriousness or in ridicule. These two classes of exalted personages are the Mahatmas and Nirmanakayas.
In respect to the Mahatmas, a great many wrong notions have currency, not only with the public, but as well with Theosophists in all parts of the world.
In the early days of the Theosophical Society the name Mahatma was not in use here, but the title then was “Brothers.” This referred to the fact that they were a band of men who belonged to a brotherhood in the East. The most wonderful powers and, at times, the most extraordinary motives were attributed to them by those who believed in their existence.
They could pass to all parts of the world in the twinkling of an eye. Across the great distance that India is from here they could precipitate letters to their friends and disciples in New York. Many thought that if this were done it was only for amusement; others looked at it in the light of a test for the faithful, while still others often supposed Mahatmas acted thus for pure love of exercising their power. The Spiritualists, some of whom believed that Mme. Blavatsky really did the wonderful things told of her, said that she was only a medium, pure and simple, and that her Brothers were familiar spooks of seance rooms. Meanwhile the press in general laughed, and Mme. Blavatsky and her Theosophical friends went on doing their work and never gave up their belief in the Brothers, who after a few years came to be called Mahatmas. Indiscriminately with Mahatma, the word Adept has been used to describe the same beings, so that we have these two titles made use of without accuracy and in a misleading fashion.
The word Adept signifies proficiency, and is not uncommon, so that, when using it, some description is necessary if it is to be applied to the Brothers. For that reason I used Theosophical Adepts in a previous paper. A Mahatma is not only an Adept, but much more. The etymology of it will make the matter clearer, the word being strictly Sanskrit, from maha, great, and atma, soul — hence Great Soul. This does not mean a noble-hearted man merely, but a perfected being, one who has attained to the state often described by mystics and held by scientific men to be an impossibility, when time and space are no obstacles to sight, to action, to knowledge or to consciousness. Hence they are said to be able to perform the extraordinary feats related by various persons, and also to possess information of a decidedly practical character concerning the laws of nature, including that mystery for science — the meaning, operation and constitution of life itself — and concerning the genesis of this planet as well as of the races upon it. These large claims have given rise to the chief complaint brought forward against the Theosophical Adepts by those writers outside of the Society who have taken the subject up — that they remain, if they exist at all, in a state of cold and selfish quietude, seeing the misery and hearing the groans of the world, yet refusing to hold out a helping hand except to a favored few; possessing knowledge of scientific principles, or of medicinal preparations, and yet keeping it back from learned men or wealthy capitalists who desire to advance commerce while they turn an honest penny. Although, for one, I firmly believe, upon evidence given me, in all that is claimed for these Adepts, I declare groundless the complaint advanced, knowing it to be due to a want of knowledge of those who are impugned.
Adepts and Mahatmas are not a miraculous growth, nor the selfish successors of some who, accidentally stumbling upon great truths, transmitted them to adherents under patent rights. They are human beings trained, developed, cultivated through not only a life but long series of lives, always under evolutionary laws and quite in accord with what we see among men of the world or of science. Just as a Tyndall is greater than a savage, though still a man, so is the Mahatma, not ceasing to be human, still greater than a Tyndall. The Mahatma-Adept is a natural growth, and not produced by any miracle; the process by which he so becomes may be to us an unfamiliar one, but it is in the strict order of nature.
Some years ago a well-known Anglo-Indian, writing to the Theosophical Adepts, queried if they had ever made any mark upon the web of history, doubting that they had. The reply was that he had no bar at which to arraign them, and that they had written many an important line upon the page of human life, not only as reigning in visible shape, but down to the very latest dates when, as for many a long century before, they did their work behind the scenes. To be more explicit, these wonderful men have swayed the destiny of nations and are shaping events today. Pillars of peace and makers of war such as Bismarck, or saviors of nations such as Washington, Lincoln and Grant, owe their elevation, their singular power, and their astonishing grasp upon the right men for their purposes, not to trained intellect or long preparation in the schools of their day, but to these very unseen Adepts, who crave no honors, seek no publicity and claim no acknowledgment. Each one of these great human leaders whom I have mentioned had in his obscure years what he called premonitions of future greatness, or connection with stirring events in his native land.
Lincoln always felt that in some way he was to be an instrument for some great work, and the stray utterances of Bismarck point to silent hours, never openly referred to, when he felt an impulse pushing him to whatever of good he may have done. A long array of instances could be brought forward to show that the Adepts have made “an ineffaceable mark upon diverse eras.” Even during the great uprising in India that threatened the English rule there, they saw long in advance the influence England and India would have in the affairs of the world through the very psychic and metaphysical changes of today, and often hastened to communicate, by their own occult and wonderful methods, the news of successes for English arms to districts and peoples in the interior who might have risen under the stimulus of imaginary reports of English disasters. At other times, vague fears were spread instantly over large masses of the Hindus, so that England at last remained master, even though many a patriotic native desired another result. But the Adepts do not work for the praise of men, for the ephemeral influence of a day, but for the future races and man’s best and highest good.
—Chapter 10, Echoes from the Orient.
The Mahatmas as Ideals and Facts
The Mahatmas as Ideals and Facts
A visitor from one of the other planets of the solar system who might learn the term Mahatma after arriving here would certainly suppose that the etymology of the word undoubtedly inspired the believers in Mahatmas with the devotion, fearlessness, hope, and energy which such an ideal should arouse in those who have the welfare of the human race at heart. Such a supposition would be correct in respect to some, but the heavenly visitor after examining all the members of the Theosophical Society could not fail to meet disappointment when the fact was clear to him that many of the believers were afraid of their own ideals, hesitated to proclaim them, were slothful in finding arguments to give reasons for their hope, and all because the wicked and scoffing materialistic world might laugh at such a belief.
The whole sweep, meaning, and possibility of evolution are contained in the word Mahatma. Maha is “great,” Atma is “soul,” and both compounded into one mean those great souls who have triumphed before us not because they are made of different stuff and are of some strange family, but just because they are of the human race. Reincarnation, karma, the sevenfold division, retribution, reward, struggle, failure, success, illumination, power, and a vast embracing love for man, al1 these lie in that single word. The soul emerges from the unknown, begins to work in and with matter, is reborn again and again, makes karma, developes the six vehicles for itself, meets retribution for sin and punishment for mistake, grows strong by suffering, succeeds in bursting through the gloom, is enlightened by the true illumination, grasps power, retains charity, expands with love for orphaned humanity, and thenceforth helps all others who remain in darkness until all may be raised up to the place with the “Father in Heaven” who is the Higher Self. This would be the argument of the visitor from the distant planet, and he in it would describe a great ideal for all members of a Society such as ours which had its first impulse from some of these very Mahatmas.
Without going into any argument further than to say that evolution demands that such beings should exist or there is a gap in the chain — and this position is even held by a man of science like Professor Huxley, who in his latest essays puts it in almost as definite language as mine — this article is meant for those who believe in the existence of the Mahatmas, whether that faith has arisen of itself or is the result of argument. It is meant also for all classes of the believers, for they are of several varieties. Some believe without wavering; others believe unwaveringly but are afraid to tell of their belief; a few believe, yet are always thinking that they must be able to say they have set eyes on an Adept before they can infuse their belief into others; and a certain number deliberately hide the belief as a sort of individual possession which separates them from the profane mortals who have never heard of the Adepts or who having heard scoff at the notion. To all these I wish to speak. Those unfortunate persons who are ever trying to measure exalted men and sages by the conventional rules of a transition civilization, or who are seemingly afraid of a vast possibility for man and therefore deny, may be well left to themselves and to time, for it is more than likely they will fall into the general belief when it is formed, as it surely will be in the course of no long time. For a belief in Mahatmas — whatever name you give the idea — is a common property of the whole race, and all the efforts of all the men of empirical science and dogmatic religion can never kill out the soul’s own memory of its past.
We should declare our belief in the Adepts, while at the same time we demand no one’s adherence. It is not necessary to give the names of any of the Adepts, for a name is an invention of a family, and but few persons ever think of themselves by name but by the phrase ‘I am myself.’ To name these beings, then, is no proof, and to seek for mystery names is to invite condemnation for profanation. The ideal without the name is large and grand enough for all purposes.
Some years ago the Adepts wrote and said to H.P.B. and to several persons that more help could be given to the movement in America because the fact of their existence was not concealed from motives of either fear or doubt. This statement of course carries with it by contradistinction the conclusion that where, from fear of schools of science or of religion, the members had not referred much to the belief in Mahatmas, the power to help was for some reason inhibited. This is the interesting point, and brings up the question “Can the power to help of the Mahatmas be for any cause inhibited?” The answer is, It can. But why?
All effects on every plane are the result of forces set in motion, and cannot be the result of nothing, but must ever flow from causes in which they are wrapped up. If the channel through which water is meant to flow is stopped up, the water will not run there, but if a clear channel is provided the current will pass forward. Occult help from Masters requires a channel just as much as any other help does, and the fact that the currents to be used are occult makes the need for a channel greater. The persons to be acted on must take part in making the channel or line for the force to act, for if we will not have it they cannot give it. Now as we are dealing with the mind and nature of man, we have to throw out the words which will arouse the ideas connected with the forces we desire to have employed. In this case the words are those which bring up the doctrine of the existence of Adepts, Mahatmas, Masters of wisdom. Hence the value of the declaration of our belief. It arouses dormant ideas in others, it opens up a channel in the mind, it serves to make the conducting lines for the forces to use which the Mahatmas wish to give out. Many a young man who could never hope to see great modern professors of science like Huxley and Tyndall and Darwin has been excited to action, moved to self-help, impelled to seek for knowledge, by having heard that such men actually exist and are human beings. Without stopping to ask if the proof of their living in Europe is complete, men have sought to follow their example. Shall we not take advantage of the same law of the human mind and let the vast power of the Lodge work with our assistance and not against our opposition or doubt or fear? Those who are devoted know how they have had unseen help which showed itself in results. Those who fear may take courage, for they will find that not all their fellow beings are devoid of an underlying belief in the possibilities outlined by the doctrine of the existence of the Adepts.
And if we look over the work of the Society we find wherever the members boldly avow their belief and are not afraid to speak of this high ideal, the interest in theosophy is awake, the work goes on, the people are benefitted. To the contrary, where there are constant doubt, ceaseless asking for material proof, incessant fear of what the world or science or friends will think, there the work is dead, the field is not cultivated, and the town or city receives no benefit from the efforts of those who while formally in a universal brotherhood are not living out the great ideal.
Very wisely and as an occultist, Jesus said his followers must give up all and follow him. We must give up the desire to save ourselves and acquire the opposite one, — the wish to save others. Let us remember the story in ancient writ of Arjuna, who, entering heaven and finding that his dog was not admitted and some of his friends in hell, refused to remain and said that while one creature was out of heaven he would not enter it. This is true devotion, and this joined to an intelligent declaration of belief in the great initiation of the human race will lead to results of magnitude, will call out the forces that are behind, will prevail against hell itself and all the minions of hell now striving to retard the progress of the human soul.
—The Path, March 1893 (Eusebio Urban) W. Q. JUDGE
From other Theosophical Authors
Seeds & Seedlings: The Doctrine of Perfectibility
SEEDS AND SEEDLINGS
[The short articles comprising this series are derivations from characteristic platform talks given during the years 1915-35. As often as was practicable, the words of the speaker have been used — hoping thus to convey some of the force originally imparted to the ideas. It is hoped, further, that the original expressions may awaken perspectives which have long lain dormant in other student-minds, as in the mind of the present compilers. — Editors.]
THIS doctrine of the perfectibility of man is easily comprehended by some men, but is extremely difficult for others — due to centuries of dissemination of the degrading and infamous doctrine that man is originally sinful, basically defective, inherently imperfect. If it may be said of man, the microcosm of the Universe, it may also be said of the Universe, the macrocosm: This universe is originally sinful, is inherently imperfect, was damned from the beginning — all the rest is merely carrying that sentence into execution. Yet no one would think of maligning the universe in this manner, even materialistic scientists have more respect than that for the mysteries of Nature.
The whole story of original sin is a monstrous, priestly invocation of the power of evil, making deliberate appeal to man’s fear. This is a dreadful crime. For man, through ignorance, listens to the priestly voice; listening, he becomes a slave when he should be free. Better to be the worst sinner who ever lived upon this earth, than to be a man who, in the name of the Most High, demands the moral obedience, the intellectual servility, the spiritual blindness of millions through their love. For the man who is a forthright sinner damns only himself, whereas the man who preaches original sin (“sin” merely by being born!) damns at its source the current of divinity that should flow through a human life.
Why is a man willing to assume this burden of guilt handed to him by priests? Partly, no doubt, because he is ever-conscious of his many failures to live up to his better impulses and higher aspirations; but in greater measure, it is due to emphasis on outward action, especially on forms of worship, rather than on inner motive. Thus, one man may feel “guilty” because he is not perfect, though another may throw off all responsibility for himself because he is “just a poor, miserable sinner — so what can you expect?” Both are wrong.
Theosophy says that each man must live his own life, not another’s: must do his own work, attend to his own duties, accept his own responsibilities. Howsoever more enriching or rewarding the life may seem to a man, he is not free to try to live that life until he has fulfilled himself in his own place. Take an example from mechanics: a cam, with its axis off center, gives eccentric motion, or a back-and-forth movement; whereas a wheel has uniform rotation in one direction. The cam is constructed for a specific purpose, has a definite function which is just as important in its place as the work of a wheel is in its. Each belongs just where it is. So with a man! each man belongs where he is, and nowhere else.
Yet a man is, so to say, an intelligent cam. He can see that he is a cam because his axis is off-center — that is, his principles are not in line, his motivations are not “true” to the center of his being, the Higher Ego. Must he, then, always remain a cam, seesawing back-and-forth, never going directly toward his goal? Theosophy says, No: a man may, by studying the principles expounded in Theosophy, by observing the “principle” from which he acts, by cleansing his mind of personal bias, and purifying his motives of selfish intent, gradually shift his “axis” toward the true center. Slowly the “cam” approximates the wheel, whose uniform rotation and motionless hub symbolize perfection in action.
The doctrine of the perfectibility of man synthesizes the fundamental concepts of Theosophy: that there is one source of life and consciousness pervading the universe; that life and consciousness move according to a law inherent in them; that self-conscious beings progress by effort directed in accordance with these laws. Great Nature has herself impelled us far along the road of evolution. We can see that however inferior we may be to the highest being, we can already conceive even if we cannot BE; we can already imagine, even though we cannot yet embody. However short we may fall from the high ideal of the Soul, the Spiritual Being, the Perceiver, yet we can see that we stand far, far higher in the school of life than our brothers in the lesser halls of learning. In the great school of life the lowest of men is immeasurably higher than the highest animal. The lowest animal is immeasurably higher in the scale than the highest of the vegetable kingdom. And what a godsome monarch is a green-leafed plant on a stony hillside creeping forth from a crevice in the rock, compared with the mineral kingdom! Then, when we think of the voiceless air and of the immense, silent and, to us, untrod spaces that fill most of the universe visible to us, we can see that the humble dust under our feet represents an immense graduated advance over what, to us, is a void.
In the seemingly infinite gradations of beings making up the universe, we call those men who have attained perfection in action “Adepts.” Adepts are facts in Nature, and ideals for men to emulate. This emulation consists in studying to know one’s self, and in working for Humanity. As we learn more and more of the philosophy that these Adepts first tested, then formulated and preserved, and finally presented to the world through H. P. Blavatsky, we find ourselves gradually growing in human stature. Despite recurrent failures, despite interims of passivity, perhaps even despite wayward wandering, we find ourselves becoming better human beings.
The ability to improve one’s nature a little proves the ability to continue improvement. Given the process of reincarnation, there is no necessary stopping-point save the “perfection” of this Great Day of evolution. This is the “logic” of the doctrine of perfectibility. It becomes fact for those who attain.
— THEOSOPHY, Vol. 44, No. 11, September, 1956 (Number 1 of a 7-part series)
COMPILER’S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
Commentary on WQJ's 'Three Great Ideas'
THREE GREAT IDEAS
Under this title, Three Great Ideas, William Q. Judge wrote in The Irish Theosophist for February, 1895, as follows:
Among many ideas brought forward through the theosophical movement there are three which should never be lost sight of. Not speech, but thought, really rules the world; so, if these three ideas are good let them be rescued again and again from oblivion.
The first idea is, that there is a great Cause — in the sense of an enterprise — called the Cause of Sublime Perfection and Human Brotherhood. This rests upon the essential unity of the whole human family, and is a possibility because sublimity in perfectness and actual realization of brotherhood on every plane of being are one and the same thing. . . .
The second idea is, that man is a being who may be raised up to perfection, to the stature of the Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate. This noble doctrine was in the mind of Jesus, no doubt, when he said that we must be perfect even as is the father in heaven. This is the idea of human perfectibility. . . .
The third idea is the illustration, the proof, the high result of the others. It is, that the Masters — those who have reached up to what perfection this period of evolution and this solar system will allow — are living, veritable facts, and not abstractions cold and distant. They are, as our old H. P. B. so often said, living men. . . . The Masters as living facts and high ideals will fill the soul with hope, will themselves help all who wish to raise the human race.
Let us not forget these three great ideas.
THE FIRST GREAT IDEA
The core of the first of these Three Great Ideas is that of universal brotherhood based upon the essential spiritual unity of the whole human family. Never was it more necessary than now to remind ourselves of this fundamental, basic fact in nature; for “truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.” This idea of inescapable human brotherhood I firmly believe expresses a truth without whose recognition a lasting cure of the world’s scourges is impossible. And never doubt that man’s highest aspirations and yearnings will eventually triumph over their temporary negation. Yadyad devata kamayate, tattad devata bhavati, taught the ancient Vedic Sages: “Whatever a divine being longs for, that very thing the divine being becomes.” And the Lord Buddha proclaimed twenty-four hundred years ago: “Hatred ceaseth never by hatred; hatred ceaseth only by love.” Each one of us can prove this in his own individual life; and be it remembered that communities, states, nations, and races, are aggregates of individuals — individuals with conflicting wills and desires, to be sure, which fact is the basic cause of the world’s ills; but even conflicting wills in their deepest reaches hunger for harmony and peace and enlightenment; and hunger of any kind must eventually be satisfied, even if, alas! the hunger must first be aroused by labor, suffering, or starvation.
Endeavoring to see somewhat beyond present world-outlooks I am convinced that the time is coming when it will dawn on the consciousness of men at the helm of affairs in all countries that persistent individual or national self-aggrandisement, which fails to recognise the fundamental fact of human brotherhood, of the essential unity of all men, is self-doomed to ultimate failure. Since divine justice, law, and order exist in the Universe — and they surely do, because the hunger for them exists in the souls of men, children of the Universe — then justice, law, and order must ultimately triumph over everything which works against the universal harmony. As Dr. G. de Purucker writes in Golden Precepts of Esotericism:
Nature will not tolerate for long persistent self-preferment to the detriment of others: for the very heart of Nature is harmony, the very fabric and structure of the Universe is co-ordination and cooperation, spiritual union; and the human being who seeks self-preferment unremittingly, without surcease, ends in that far-distant country of the “Mystic West,” the Land of Forgotten Hopes, the land of spiritual decay; for Nature will have none of him for long. He has set his puny, undeveloped will against the mighty currents of the Cosmos, and sooner or later he is washed on to some sand-bank of the River of Life, where he decays. Nature will not tolerate persistent and inveterate selfishness.
The only prerequisite to fellowship in the Theosophical Society is a sincere acceptance of this first great idea — this principle of Universal Brotherhood; and the only heresy that I have ever seen referred to in Theosophical literature is “the heresy of separateness” — the denial of one’s spiritual unity with his fellow-men. Let any serious and thoughtful man ask himself: Is not this heresy of separateness at the root of all the dire calamities which beset a world turned into an international bedlam? And the remedy? It is as simple as this — so simple that few will see it: A universal recognition of human solidarity, a sincere acknowledgment by each man to himself that when he injures his brother he actually injures himself — not merely from a sentimental viewpoint, not alone even because he will reap the consequences of his wrong-doing by at least marring his own character — but also from the standpoint of absolute law and fact, because in our higher parts, I and my brother are actually one, just as in our highest parts, as Jesus told us, “I and my Father are one.”
The clashes of men and of aggregates of men never come when they are functioning on the higher planes of thought and feeling. These clashes come solely when men’s center of consciousness is focused in the lower reaches of the stream of consciousness which is man. Men do not fight when they are occupied with the grand, universal, impersonal problems or achievements of life, or even when occupied with the humbler harmonious things that preserve our conviction of Universal Brotherhood. For example, one could hardly imagine a serious altercation, on the one hand, over the composing of a Beethoven symphony, the painting of a Chinese landscape, the writing of a Shakespearean drama, the building of the Taj Mahal, the discovery of radium, the enunciation of the Theory of Relativity; no, nor on the other hand, are world-conflicts started over a mother tenderly caring for her child, a father conscientiously providing for his family, a physician ministering to his patient, an artisan diligently practising his skill, or a laborer proving himself worthy of his hire. These are the things that attest the truth of this first great idea, that of universal brotherhood based upon the essential unity of the whole human family. As the Master Koot Hoomi Lal Singh writes in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (page 17):
The term “Universal Brotherhood” is no idle phrase. Humanity in the mass has a paramount claim upon us. . . . It is the only secure foundation for universal morality. If it be a dream, it is at least a noble one for mankind: and it is the aspiration of the true adept.
THE SECOND GREAT IDEA
This brings us to a consideration of the second great idea, that of human perfectibility. If we would understand the truth of this second great idea we shall have to share in the aspiration of the true Adept towards realization of Universal Brotherhood. We can grasp the idea of human perfectibility by opening our eyes to the relative perfection of the great spiritual Sages and Seers, the Buddhas and the Christs, who have trodden the path ahead of us, and by comparing our own past and present imperfection with, hopefully, our yearnings and aspirations towards ever greater perfection in the endless journey before us. Such aspirations lie at the heart of every right-thinking man and woman.
The proof of the verity of this second great idea, i. e., that man is a being who may raise himself towards perfection, to the stature of Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate, is found in the response of every normal human being to the innate godlike qualities made manifest in individual lives. We all admire the man of courage; we reverence the woman of compassion; we seek help from the learned and guidance from the wise; we rejoice in generosity and we are in love with love. Our higher self triumphantly responds to the call of duty even when the performance of that duty may involve the destruction of the outer man. That within us which is less than Godhead, alas, often veils the shining splendor which is our real self marching on towards perfection. But it is this real self which forever assures us in our moments of aspiration of the truth of this second great idea, which the Master Jesus reminded us of when he said that we must be perfect even as the Father in Heaven is perfect.
The greatest and most enduring thoughts in our literary heritage are those which proclaim in some form the perfectibility of man. “Come up higher” is the essence of every truly inspired message appealing to the god within us. This Inner Buddha, this Christ Immanent, is the source of the grand manner in poetry and in prose, in epic and in saga, in psalm and in sastra. The hunger of our inmost being for perfection will not permit us to be satisfied with the husks of merely limited, selfish, personal, animal existence. This spiritual hunger is the cause of our divine discontent. It is the origin of every sincere effort to make the world a better world to live in.
The innate hunger in the soul of man for perfection is nourished and satisfied by the enduring truths of religion and philosophy and science, and by the creative labors of mind and hand. Said a wise man: “Perfection is the standard of Heaven; the desire for perfection is the standard of men.”
Many have been the sign-posts which the spiritual Teachers of all ages have left us, by following which we may tread the path towards perfection. The scriptures of ancient China, India, Persia, Palestine, Greece, Rome, the Moslem Empire, and old Scandinavia, as well as the most enduring literature of the modern world, are full of spiritual food to satisfy man’s hunger for ever-increasing perfection.
The Voice of the Silence, translated by H. P. Blavatsky from an ancient Eastern scripture called “The Book of the Golden Precepts,” is a veritable treasure-chest of priceless jewels of thought set in exquisite words, all evidencing the truth of this second great idea of human perfectibility and pointing to the path of its realization.
Have patience, Candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy Soul’s gaze upon the star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown.
Have perseverance as one who doth for evermore endure. Thy shadows live and vanish; that which in thee shall live forever, that which in thee knows, for it is knowledge, is not of fleeting life: it is the man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike.
Do these directions of the Exalted Ones bearing witness to their realization of the perfectibility of man seem too transcendental for us ordinary mortals? To be sure, they are beacon-lights from the mountain-tops beckoning us to come up higher, ever higher; but the mountain-tops must be scaled step by step. I know of nothing more helpful and reassuring to the humble traveler along the path of human perfectibility than the following inspiring passage from The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (page 372):
Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your “family duties?” Nay, but what better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? Believe me my “pupil,” the man or woman who is placed by Karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and loving-kindnesses, will through those faithfully fulfilled rise to the larger measure of Duty, Sacrifice and Charity to all Humanity — what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of Self, the perseverance in spite of want of visible psychic progress, the bearing of ill-fortune with that serene fortitude which turns it to spiritual advantage — since good and evil are not to be measured by events on the lower or physical plane.
THE THIRD GREAT IDEA
The third great idea proclaimed by William Q. Judge is, as he tells us, “the illustration, the proof, the high result of the others. It is that the Masters — those who have reached up to what perfection this period of evolution and this solar system will allow — are living veritable facts.”
Perhaps no idea with which H. P. Blavatsky and the early Fellows of the Theosophical Society made the Western world familiar caused so much controversy as did this one about living Adepts, Masters of Wisdom, Elder Brothers, Mahatmans, Initiates, as they are variously called. It was at once the most startling, the most inspiring, the most intriguing, the most controversial, and the most abused of all the doctrines introduced into occidental thought by the Theosophical Society.
The whole question of the actual existence of the Theosophical Mahatmans and of the abuse of sacred names and terms is admirably summarized by H. P. Blavatsky in Section XIV of The Key to Theosophy. The gist of her argument is that if these Adepts and Masters from whom she stated she received her teachings are mere figments of her own fertile imagination, as alleged by her enemies, then she must be credited with being herself three times over a Mahatman by virtue of the magnificent system of science, philosophy, and religion which she promulgated but which she never for one moment claimed to have originated out of her own mind or studies. In her greatest work, The Secret Doctrine, she says, in substance, that the teachings therein contained are not hers, but Theirs who sent her.
Now, some intuitive, spiritually-minded people of my acquaintance, whose good faith I would no more question than I would doubt that the sun shines, actually know of the existence of the Masters in ways that to them are conclusive. Others have had to arrive at a conviction of the existence of living Masters by a process of hard thinking. For the benefit of those who may be of this latter type of mind, I will briefly rehearse the logical processes of thought through which one such, whom I shall call Mr. X, became satisfied as to the existence of living Masters of Wisdom.
1. This individual was startled into thinking along this line by reading that Thomas Henry Huxley, the great English biologist, had come to the conclusion that there must be beings as far more
evolved than we ourselves are, as we are above the black beetle.
2. X began by saying to himself: “My father and my mother, my teachers and my friends, grand and lovable people as they are, surely cannot be the last word in evolution, even on this globe of ours.”
3. X read Carlyle’s lectures on Heroes and Hero-Worship and began to acquire a philosophical understanding of the basis of man’s innate admiration and love for the great qualities of genius
in men more highly evolved than ourselves.
4. X began to study and to familiarize himself in some measure with the lives and teachings of the spiritually Enlightened Ones — the founders of the great religions and philosophies; and X
soon recognised that here, at least, were historical characters who were obviously far more evolved than any of the good people whom it had been his privilege to know personally.
5. X attended meetings in the Theosophical Temple at Point Loma, and heard Dr. de Purucker say over and over again, in substance: “What nature has produced once, nature can produce again.”
(X was getting “hot on the trail” of a deep-seated conviction as to the actual existence of living Adepts and Masters.)
6. X read The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, and he knew that those letters could not possibly have been written by men less evolved than members of the Brotherhood of Mahatmans or “Great Souls.”
7. In those Mahatma Letters X came across two passages among many others, which he thought might have been directed to him — generically speaking, in other words, to men of his type of mind. Here they are. On page 246, X read:
It is not physical phenomena that will ever bring conviction to the hearts of the unbelievers in the “Brotherhood” but rather phenomena of intellectuality, philosophy and logic, if I may so express it.
The other passage had to do with the founding of The Theosophical Society and occurs on page 263. The letter from which it is quoted, was received in February, 1882, by Mr. A. P. Sinnett, a distinguished Anglo-Indian journalist at Allahabad. It was written by the Master Morya and reads in part as follows:
On the 17th of November next the Septenary term of trial given the Society at its foundation in which to discreetly “preach us” will expire. One or two of us hoped that the world had so far advanced intellectually, if not intuitionally, that the Occult doctrine might gain an intellectual acceptance, and the impulse given for a new cycle of occult research. Others — wiser as it would now seem — held differently, but consent was given for the trial. . .
In a few more months the term of probation will end. If by that time the status of the Society as regards ourselves — the question of the “Brothers” be not definitely settled (either dropped out of the Society’s programme or accepted on our own terms) that will be the last of the “Brothers” of all shapes and colours, sizes or degrees. We will subside out of public view like a vapour into the ocean. Only those who have proved faithful to themselves and to Truth through everything, will be allowed further intercourse with us.
That last sentence also contains the implied promise that those who do prove faithful to themselves and to truth through everything shall be allowed further intercourse with the Masters. In any case they have left us abundant teaching and guidance.
Having become convinced in his own mind of the actual existence of this Brotherhood of the Masters, X was amazed to find in his serious reading, even outside of specifically Theosophical literature, many hints hitherto hidden from him of the existence of the Adepts throughout the ages, also valuable directions as to how to become like unto them. In the November, 1940, issue of THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM there is an article by Elsie V. Savage on this very subject: “How to Become an Adept.” I commend it to everyone who is interested. The November issue of The Reader’s Digest has a fine article by Walter B. Pitkin, author of Life Begins at Forty. He tells about the most unforgettable character he ever knew, Henry Sherrard, who taught Greek at the Detroit High School in the 1890’s. Mr. Pitkin describes his hero in these words: “. . . Sherrard was that rarest of humans, a perfectionist whose devotion to perfection was itself perfection,” and he quotes Sherrard as saying to his pupils on the first day in class: “I don’t like good students. I like only the best. I don’t like a good translation. I like only the right translation.”
The goal of adeptship is not to be reached without toil and strict adherence to the ideal of doing every single task as perfectly as possible. If we do this, we shall be able to appreciate the following passage from Emerson’s Essay on Nature:
Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the Creator in the finite. This view, which admonishes me where the sources of wisdom and power lie, and points to virtue as to
“The golden key
Which opes the palace of Eternity,”
carries upon its face the highest certificate of truth, because it animates me to create my own world through the purification of my soul.
— Iverson L. Harris, The Theosophical Forum, February 1941
The Goal, from Life’s Riddle by Nils A. Amneus
“Theosophy considers Humanity as an emanation from Divinity on its return path thereto.” — H. P. Blavatsky
The Ancient Wisdom tells us that the goal of Man’s existence on Earth is to become godlike, and to express actively and fully in his daily life the godlike qualities which, though dormant, are innate. It is Man’s limited and self-centered personality that prevents these godlike qualities from finding expression. The purpose of Man’s evolution is, therefore, to broaden, refine and raise the personality until it becomes a fit instrument to express the godlike qualities within him.
All great Teachers such as Christ and Buddha were at one time ordinary human beings. Compassion for their suffering fellow men aroused in their hearts a desire to bring relief and establish a happier and more harmonious relationship between men. To accomplish this they had to hasten their evolution by a self–directed effort, continued during many lives. Thus they forged ahead of their fellows, advancing in perfection until they reached union with their inner god. The attainment of this union made them the highly evolved, outstanding characters they were, with a far deeper understanding of Nature’s Laws than ordinary men, hence a greater control over known and unknown forces in the Universe.
Christ and Buddha always taught that their attainment could be achieved by all. Jesus showed his belief in the perfectibility of Man when he admonished his listeners: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matt. V, 48). The “Father in Heaven,” says the Ancient Wisdom, is the Divinity innate in every man. Jesus said also, in John, X, 30: “I and my Father are one,” indicating thereby that his human self had been refined and raised into full and conscious union with his inner god.
The purpose of Man’s existence — here on Earth — shall have been accomplished and the goal of evolution attained when, in the distant future, the human race as a whole has become Christ-like. Then godlike men will walk the Earth, harmony will reign, and the Kingdom of Heaven will be a reality on Earth.
A Conversation on Mahatmas
A CONVERSATION ON MAHATMAS
BETWEEN SMITH, AN INQUIRER, AND JONES, AN F. T. S.
Smith. — I have been dipping a little into Theosophy lately and have become quite interested. Some persons of ability seem to be taking part in the movement, and I like many things that they say, but many others seem to me to be fanciful, either unproved, or in their very nature wholly unsusceptible of proof.
Jones. — To what points do you especially refer?
S. — Well, for instance, I have read and heard a good deal about Mahatmas; the authority of these real or imaginary beings seems to count for a great deal, but I have yet to come across any real proof of their existence.
J. — What kind of proof do you want?
S. — Any proof. I should like to see one. That would be the best kind of proof.
J. — Why would it? What would he look like?
S. — Like a Mahatma of course.
J. — What does a Mahatma look like?
S. — How should I know, never having seen one? If I had, of course I would be less skeptical.
J. — Very logical: but I am really trying to put myself in your frame of mind so as to understand you, so I will change the form of my question. What have you decided a real Mahatma should look like, if merely seeing one is to be proof to you of the existence of such a being?
S. — [After a little thought.] I see what you are driving at. I was speaking off-hand when I said that seeing a Mahatma would prove that he was one. I should not expect to see a monster; he would have to look like any other man of course, except that his face might show some evidence of nobility and power. That alone I know would not prove anything, but what was really in my mind was the exhibition of some powers transcending those of common men.
J. — What would you expect him to do?
S. — I don’t know exactly; some miraculous thing such as floating in the air, making gold, dematerializing something, himself for instance, and again reappearing, doing all this, of course, under test conditions so that I could be sure that there was no fraud.
J. — What would be the use of his taking so much trouble?
S. — To prove to me and through me to others that he was a Mahatma, and that consequently if there was one there might be more of them.
J. — Would these performances prove that he was a Mahatma?
S. — It seems to me that they would.
J. — What is your idea of a Mahatma?
S. — I am told that the word means “great soul”. If so, it should refer to one who has overcome all animal and selfish passions and ambitions, whose knowledge and wisdom extend far into the unseen world, and who is therefore able to give tangible proof of this wisdom.
J. — I will not criticize your definition; but the proof you demand, apparantly considered by you so exacting, would seem to me wholly inadequate. I should be more skeptical, and you, on the other hand, would be more credulous than I take you to be, if the production of these phenomena, genuine and remarkable as they might be, would be sufficient to convince you of the wisdom and purity of the producer.
S. — Perhaps I may still be a little off; but what are you driving at?
J. — If you lived in India, a half-naked juggler might come into your court yard, and on your own ground, surrounded by your own friends and servants and in broad daylight, produce phenomena as remarkable as anything you have named. You might see the floating of heavy bodies in the air, the production and disappearance of solid objects, even of living persons, without any possibility of stage machinery, the visible growth of plants, even of trees reaching a height of fifty feet or more, solid and tangible, yet vanishing into thin air at the close of the performance. These and many similar things are exhibited by these strolling performers, who receive your coins with a thankful salaam and depart like an organ-grinder to repeat the performance elsewhere. Would you call these men “great souls”? Mr. Crookes, the eminent English scientist, made many experiments in the phenomena of so-called materialization, and was nearly turned out of the Royal Society for saying that he believed in occult forces, although specially organized committees of experts were unable even to suggest an explanation. Would you say that the ignorant school-girl through whom many of these phenomena were produced was a “great soul”? Mr. Home, the celebrated medium, has floated in the air scores of times, in many places, and in presence of many competent and critical witnesses. Other phenomena, if possible still more extraordinary, have been produced either by or through him under the most exacting test conditions, yet his life was one long exhibition of petty jealousy and ill-temper, and not a sentence of his has left the world wiser or better. Would you call him a “great soul”?
S. — Hold on there. I will come down of my own accord, like the coon, so you need not load again. I see that phenomena alone are insufficient, although I confess I had not fully realized it before; but still I think you will admit that the Mahatmas need not make themselves so scarce. They might show some phenomena, just enough to attract and interest people, and then having arrested attention might proceed to explain the phenomena and give some of their higher wisdom to the world.
J. — What would you have them say?
S. — Jones, seeing that it is you I do not mind telling you that you have a most exasperating and disagreeable way of asking questions when I am trying to get some solid information, or at least some points from you, yet I don’t suppose you intend it in that way.
J. — I certainly do not, and am glad you do not really misunderstand me. Even a single question will often clear up an issue amazingly, so with your leave please consider my question repeated.
S. — Of course I don’t know what they would say, for if I did it would be because I knew these things myself: you must see that. But I should expect them to tell us things that were wise and true, susceptible of verification and tending to the elevation of mankind.
J. — How would you know that they were wise and true?
S. — Why, because some things we might know to be true, and others we would feel must be true, and others again if they seemed strange and incredible ought to be capable of verification.
J. — Very good. Now let me analyze your answer. It involves no wisdom to tell us things that we already know to be true; this alone would be mere repetition and platitude, although a starting point from the well-known is necessary. Other truths which are new we feel to be true because the elements of this new experience are already in our minds, although not brought to the surface or combined before. New truths are truths relatively only to a certain number of persons, those who are ready to receive them. The simplest geometrical demonstration would sound like nonsense to a savage; a lecture on calculus would be unintelligible to a class of school-boys. This would be because the elementary conceptions of abstract form and of indiscrete and simultaneously varying qualities exist in but a rudimentary stage in undeveloped minds. An Adept’s power of explaining consciousness and modes of existence on other planes would be limited by the capacity of the listeners and could compel the attention of but very few. You say also that statements seeming strange and incredible ought to be capable of verification. That of course is true, broadly speaking, but wholly untrue if coupled with the tacit assumption that the verification must of necessity be an easy thing, convenient to the idly curious. We may listen to a lecture from an astronomer, but to verify his statements would require a telescope like his own, to say nothing of the skill to use it and the mathematical knowledge involving long years of patient study. If there are Adepts, their powers are the results of lives of constant effort, carried on under the most favorable circumstances. How many are there who will even enter upon the rough and rugged road that leads to adeptship, and even of these few how many will follow it for any great distance?
S. — I appreciate the force of your remarks, but still it appears to me that the Adepts or Mahatmas, without going wholly into incomprehensible profundities, could give to the world some of their wisdom in a form that would be partly understood by the more intelligent or intuitional, could at least indicate the lines of research that would lead most directly to new discoveries. They might smooth the path that leads to higher knowledge and better life, hard enough for common humanity, even if it be less rugged and dangerous than that which leads more directly to adeptship. They might tell us something of the past of our own race and this globe, and of its probable future; something of the unseen world and its forces, even if language could not be found to make it all very plain.
J. — Suppose that they did so and that people were not interested enough to read or to listen.
S. — You are making a very foolish supposition. I do not overrate the numbers of the really thinking portion of the community, for I know them to be relatively small, but still if such knowledge was put in book form the printers would hardly be able to work fast enough.
J. — Are you quite sure of that? I will venture to say that it would be a long time before it would be read by any considerable proportion of the members of the Theosophical Society, still longer before the majority would really study it.
S. — You astonish me. You seem to place a very low estimate upon the intelligence of your fellow members. I should have rated them more highly, although I am not a member of the Society.
J. — I do not underrate them. On the contrary, I consider them a body of men and women of more than average intelligence; but I do rate the proportion of really independent opinion in any community at a very low figure. People are not so hungry for the higher knowledge as they think they are.
S. — I do not agree with you, and should like to see the matter put to the test.
J. — It has been put to the test. The knowledge you are so eager for has been published in book form.
S. — When, where? Is it in English or any language I can learn?
J. — You will not have to study Sanskrit. You know all about the book and have looked into it. It is called the Secret Doctrine.
S. — What, that book! Why yes, I have seen it and looked into it a little bit here and there, but then you know there is so much of it, and it seemed rather dry, and you have no idea how busy I have been.
J. — I don’t suppose I have.
S. — Besides, I thought Madame Blavatsky wrote that book.
J. — Suppose she did; some human fingers had to be employed, whether those of an Adept or an agent. She drew almost wholly upon the wisdom of the Masters, unless she lies. That book goes straight to the center of every great question in science, religion, and metaphysics, with a boldness of statement and clearness of thought for which there is no parallel in the history of literature. Setting aside its philosophy and history drawn from occult records, no single writer ever equalled its wealth of learning, illustration, and quotation; drawn from the most varied and often recondite sources, from history, theology, and comparative mythology, from science in all its branches and from the philosophical writings of all ages. It is well known and can be amply proved, that this great work was written rapidly and without library or references; yet its quotations and statements are accurate and there is food for profound thought on every page. H. P. Blavatsky was a woman of remarkable intellect, it is true, but neither scholarly nor systematic. During her life of travel and adventure she had no opportunity of evolving this wonderful philosophy or accumulating this enormous mass of literary and philosophical learning, nor did she ever make any pretense of having done so. In my judgment she could no more have composed that work from her own resources than she could have built the pyramids of Egypt. If after reading it with more attention you still find no evidence of the existence of more highly evolved men, call them what you will, further search would be a waste of time.
You must excuse me, Smith, for I have an appointment elsewhere and am overdue.
Come and see me if you think I can help you at any time.
S. — [Soliloquizing.] Now that is the way with these Theosophical people. I have an independent mind and have attended several of their meetings and asked a good many questions with a view of finding things out for myself without so much studying. They seem to answer you, but have an annoying way of throwing a man back upon himself that I don’t like.
I wish I knew whether there are any Mahatmas, without reading all of that big book.
I don’t much believe there are, perhaps shouldn’t know when I got through. [Exit Smith with a puzzled and somewhat disgruntled air.]
— William Main, The Path, October 1892
Some Notes on the Mahatmas
SOME NOTES ON THE MAHATMAS
In accordance with the suggestion of our President last Tuesday evening, I have tried to collect such evidence as to the nature of the Mahatmas as I could from the Theosophical books I had in my own library, not having had time to go elsewhere. If I rightly understood Mr. Judge on the occasion referred to, he defined Mahatma, or the great souled, as a purely spiritual existence, and therefore only to be properly spoken of in the singular, as pure spirit is necessarily undifferentiated and therefore one and the same. I have not yet succeeded in finding any definition of “the Mahatma” that implies quite so impersonal an entity. The nearest approach to this idea is in an anonymous article on page 92 of Five Years of Theosophy, entitled “Mahatmas and Chelas,” which begins thus: “A Mahatma is an individual who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of reincarnations during the process of cosmic evolution,” (provided, of course, that it moves in the right direction). Such a person having, by proper training in successive incarnations, gradually purged himself of the lower principles of his nature, there arrives a time when the entity consists solely of “that higher Manas which is inseparably linked to the Atma and its vehicle” (the sixth principle). “When, therefore,” continues the writer, “people express a desire to see a Mahatma, they really do not seem to understand what it is they ask for. How can they, with their physical eyes, hope to see that which transcends sight? Higher things can be perceived only by a sense pertaining to those higher things; whoever therefore wants to see the real Mahatma must use his intellectual sight. The Mahatma has identified himself with that Universal Soul which runs through Humanity, and to draw his attention one must do so through that Soul.”
This definition makes of the Mahatma a purely spiritual existence, and therefore part and parcel of the Divine element of which we all to some extent partake.
But the Glossary of the book quoted (Five Years of Theosophy) defines “Mahatma, a great soul: an adept in occultism of the highest order,” and other papers in the book by Ramaswamier, Damodar, and Mohini speak of “the living physical body of the Mahatma” (p. 452), of “the Himalayan Brothers as living men, and not disembodied spirits” (p. 45S), and of the Mahatma Koothoomi “as a living person like any of us.”
Mrs. Sinnett’s Purpose of theosophy (p. 70) says that “the custodians of the secret Knowledge are variously called Mahatmas, Rishis, Arhats, Adepts, Guru Devas, Brothers, etc. The majority of them now live in Tibet. They can defy matter, distance, even death itself, and have in the routine of their training arrived at such perfection that the real spiritual man is independent of and altogether master of the material body. Far above the best of the Yogis stand the Mahatmas. Their existence as human beings has been questioned, but, on the other hand, hundreds of people have not only seen and spoken with them, but some have even lived under the same roof with their own Mahatmas for years together.” Mrs. Sinnett also says that it is well-known that “in the formation of the T. S. the founders were acting under the direct wishes of certain of the Mahatmas,” and that the Hindus had to be convinced “not of the actual existence of the Mahatmas as living men, for of this they had ample proof but that the visible founders of the Society were really their agents.”
According to Mr. Sinnett, Arhat, Mahatma, Rishi, are interchangeable terms. (Esot. B. p. 49 et seq.) “The Arhats and the Mahatmas are the same men. At that level of spiritual exaltation, supreme knowledge of the esoteric doctrine blends all original sectarian distinctions. By whatever name such illuminati may be called, they are the adepts of occult knowledge, sometimes spoken of in India now as the Brothers. The Tibetan Brotherhood is incomparably the highest of such associations. The Mahatmas themselves are subordinate by several degrees to the chief of all” (in the Tibetan organization).
In the book called “Man,” we are told that “the Adept hierarchy was established by the Dhyan Chohan to watch over and protect the growing race. That there are seven classes of Adepts, of which five alone are ordinarily spoken of; the last two are understood only by the higher initiates. The heads of the five classes are known in Tibet as the Chutuktu or jewels of wisdom.”
On the next page the authors tell us that “there are nine grades of Adepts, each grade having seven subdivisions. In the Brahmanical system, the nine-grades are referred to as the nine jewels (nava nidhi).”
“Unlike the ordinary man, the Mahatmas live wholly in the spirit. The Mahatmas do not ignore the conditions of daily life; they fully sympathize with the struggling masses of humanity, but the higher cannot stoop to the lower; the lower must see the heights above, and scale them if it will. It must never be thought that the Mahatmas are creators: they are only inspirers and educators. They have undoubtedly a human side to their characters, but it is so inseparably blended with their higher spiritual nature that no one who tries to dissociate the two parts of their being will ever understand either correctly.”
In the PATH, Vol. I, No. 9, there is an article on “The Theosophical Mahatmas” by Mme. Blavatsky, in which she says, “Our MASTERS are not a ‘jealous god’; they are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually, and spiritually. However holy and advanced in the science of the mysteries, they are still men, members of a Brotherhood, who are the first in it to show themselves subservient to its time-honored laws and rules.” In the same article H. P. B. speaks of “the Paraguru, my Master’s MASTER.” I have been unable to find any other article in the first volume of the PATH on the subject, except one on “The Reticence of the Mahatmas,” which does not enter into any definition of their nature. In No. 3, vol. II, a letter signed “Julius” says that “the beings spoken of by Edwin Arnold as Mahatmas are not considered ‘men‘ in the East.”
In Vol. II, No. 4, in an article signed “S. B.” on the “Reincarnations of Mahatmas,” we read: “While the personality of the reincarnated Master is a human being, with all the attributes which make up any other human being, its constitution is naturally of a finer order, so as to make it an instrument adapted to the work for which it has been brought into the world. This idea, that the finer soul naturally falls, in re-incarnating, into a finer body, is expressed in the Wisdom of Solomon, 8:20, “Being good, I came into a body undefiled.”
In the Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 46, Mme. Blavatsky defines Dangma as “a purified soul, one who has become a Jivanmukta, the highest adept, or rather a Mahatma so-called.” In Vol. II, p. 173, she says that the Third Race “created the so-called Sons of Will and Yoga, or the ‘ancestors’ (the spiritual forefathers) of all the subsequent and present Arhats or Mahatmas.” And on p. 423 she speaks of “the great Mahatmas or Buddhas, these Buddhas representing, as we are taught, once living men, great Adepts and Saints, in whom the ‘Sons of Wisdom’ had incarnated, and who were therefore, so to speak, minor Avatars of the Celestial Beings.”
Patanjali tells us in his 3rd Book, Aph. No. 46, that “”the ascetic who has acquired complete control over the elements obtains certain perfections: to wit, the power to project his inner-self into the smallest atom, to expand his inner-self to the size of the largest body, to render his material body light or heavy at will, to give indefinite extension to his astral body or its separate members, to exercise an irresistible will upon the minds of others, to obtain the highest excellence of the material body, and the ability to preserve such excellence when attained.” And in Aphorism 39 we are told that “the inner-self of the ascetic may be transferred to any other body and there have complete control.” The ascetic who has acquired the perfection of discriminative power possesses the “Knowledge that saves from re-birth.” That Knowledge “has all things and the nature of all things for its objects, and perceives all that hath been and that is, without limitations of time, place, or circumstance, as if all were in the present and in the presence of the contemplator.” This can only mean the virtual annihilation of time and space, and such an ascetic, Mr. Judge informs us, “is a Jivanmukta, and is not subject to reincarnation. He, however, may yet live upon earth, but is not in any way subject to his body, the soul being perfectly free at every moment. And such is held to be the state of those beings called in theosophical literature Adepts, Mahatmas, Masters.”
Jivanmukta means literally a “liberated life”; Arhat, a “worthy one”; Rishi, “a revealer”; Mahatma, “a great soul.” We see that all or any of these appellations may easily be applied to those Beings we also call “the Masters,” although the terms themselves may have an individual and distinct meaning. That they are thus promiscuously used, the above extracts sufficiently show. They show also, it seems to me, that “the garment that we see him by” is not the Mahatma, any more than the Othello we may see upon the stage this week is the real Salvini. To have obtained that lofty pinnacle of spiritual perfection known as “the great soul” is to have become independent of human conditions, and those who speak of the Masters as “men exactly like ourselves” can only refer to the special personality which for special needs they have chosen to assume for the moment. As well identify a man with his coats, as a being who can “transfer himself to any other body and there have complete control” with any form, however perfect in beauty, under which he may make himself visible to our purblind eyes. At the same time, if we are to believe Mme. Blavatsky, they are still individuals, and not pure spirit, for she says “they are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually, and spiritually.”
— K. H., The Path, November 1889
SOME NOTES ON THE MAHATMAS: II
(See PATH for Nov., 1889.)
After collecting the notes printed in the paper referred to above, I came across some more extracts on the same subject which seemed to me to throw some additional light upon the matter. The first of these was taken from the “Seclusion of the Adept”, part of the commentary on the Light on The Path, published in Lucifer, (Vol. I. p. 380) and reads as follows:
“Here in London, as in Paris and St. Petersburgh, there are men high in development. But they are only known as mystics by those who have the power to recognise; the power given by the conquering of self. Otherwise, how could they exist, even for an hour, in such a mental and psychic atmosphere as is created by the confusion and disorder of a city? Unless protected and made safe, their own growth would be interfered with, their work injured. And the neophyte may meet an adept in the flesh, may live in the same house with him, and yet be unable to recognise him, and unable to make his own voice heard by him. For no nearness in space, no closeness of relations, no daily intimacy, can do away with the inexorable laws which give the adept his seclusion. No voice penetrates to his inner hearing till it has become a divine voice, a voice which gives no utterance to the cries of self. Any lesser appeal would be as useless, as much a waste of energy and power, as for mere children who are learning their alphabet to be taught it by a professor of philology. Until a man has become, in heart and spirit, a disciple, he has no existence for those who are teachers of disciples.”
Here the adept is referred to as still capable of growth, while in the same volume of Lucifer, p. 257, we read: “The occult idea of Mahatmahood is a soul of higher rank in the realms of life, conceived to drink in the wealth of spiritual power closer to the fountain-head, and to distil its essence into the interior of receptive souls. In harmony with this idea, Emerson writes: “The will of the pure runs down from them into other natures, as water runs down from a higher into a lower vessel; this natural force is no more to be withstood than any other natural force. A healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole, so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person.”
In the Key to Theosophy, lately published, Mme. Blavatsky again uses the terms Adept, Initiate, Master, and Mahatma in the same sense. She says (p. 289) that “the word Mahatma means simply ‘a great soul’ great through moral elevation and intellectual attainment. We call them Masters because they are our teachers. They are men of great learning, whom we call Initiates, and still greater holiness of life.” And on p. 293 she continues: “They have no right, except by falling into Black Magic, to obtain full mastery over any one’s immortal Ego, and can therefore act only on the physical and psychical nature of the subject, leaving thereby the free-will of the latter wholly undisturbed. Hence, unless a person has been brought into psychic relationship with the Masters, and is assisted by virtue of his full faith in and devotion to his Teachers, the latter, whenever transmitting their thoughts to one with whom these conditions are not fulfilled, experience great difficulties in penetrating into the cloudy chaos of that person’s sphere.”
This extract suggests that all communication with the Masters must be upon higher planes than that of the purely physical, and explains why we cannot expect to make them hear till we too speak with “a divine voice.” Nevertheless, there is nothing in it to lead one to interpret the word Mahatma (at least as it is ordinarily used) as meaning only “the great soul,” and therefore rendering it impossible to speak of “a Mahatma.” There still remains the idea of individuality. While it is very possible to think of Mahatma as the great Soul with whom all spiritual existences are at one, in that sense it becomes a condition rather than an individuality, and all sense of human relations dependent upon that individuality is lost. Considered in the abstract, light is one and indivisible, but to our physical eye is individualised in every star of the firmament, every lamp of the earth. No matter how lofty our idea of “a Mahatma” may be, it must have limitations and qualifications, and cannot therefore be the same as the idea of the Great Soul, which is the Infinite and Unlimited. When the ascetic has arrived at the point spoken of by Patanjali in the Aphorisms quoted in the former paper, he stands even then upon the threshold only of that higher state called Isolation or Emancipation. Till then his individuality persists, as we may see by the 4th and 5th Aphorisms of Book IV, where the mind or ego of the ascetic is spoken of as controlling the various minds acting in the bodies which he voluntarily assumes.
In an article on the “Sevenfold Principle in Man,” by Mme. Blavatsky, (Five Fears of Theosophy, p. 153) she tells us that from the first appearance of life up to the state of Nirvana, the progress is, as it were, continuous and by imperceptible gradations. But nevertheless four stages are recognised in this progress, where the change is of a peculiar kind:
1. Where life makes its appearance.
2. Where the existence of mind becomes perceptible in conjunction with life.
3. Where the highest state of mental abstraction ends, and spiritual consciousness begins.
4. Where spiritual consciousness disappears, leaving the 7th principle (Atma) in a complete state of Nirvana or nakedness; (defined further on as the condition of final negation, negation of individual, or separate, existence, or, in other words, complete identification with the Absolute.) Atma is here used as the emanation from the Absolute called “the seventh principle,” but, properly speaking, no principle, being identical with the Absolute.
It seems, then, that until spiritual consciousness disappears in Nirvana, we have a right to consider that the individuality persists, and, while that continues, the highest adept is not yet lost in the Universal Soul. So that the phrase “a Mahatma,” used as an equivalent to the expression “a Master,” is the use of a word in a restricted sense, which might be kept, as the Aryan Society has suggested, to its higher meaning as a condition rather than an entity, but which, in its general acceptation, has no such restricted signification. We might as well refuse to say “Bring me a light,” because light is an abstract and general term and cannot be individualised.
It certainly would be a good thing if the terminology of Theosophy were more accurate and well-defined, and especially that the many Sanskrit terms which have no exact English equivalents should be officially defined, once for all, and then accurately employed. Theosophy has the advantage over all other metaphysical systems, of the possession of a vocabulary drawn from the subtlest of languages; and it is a pity to lose this advantage through our own ignorance or carelessness. Any discussion, therefore, which tends to throw light upon the precise meaning of an important word, cannot be considered as lost time.
— K. H., The Path, February 1890
Mahatmas: A Hindu's View
A HINDU’S VIEW.
I have read with great interest in November PATH the article headed “Some Notes on the Mahatmas.” The word Mahatma is but roughly translated “a great soul”; it means literally “High Self” — that is, our Higher Self. In the Key to Theosophy you will find that this Higher Self is called “Manas taijasi”, our three higher principles, or Atma-Budhi-Manas, which are yet undeveloped in us. Every one of us has therefore the germ of the Mahatma in him.
As an individual, we Hindus call only him a Mahatma who, having brought his lower self completely under control, has transferred his individual consciousness to the Divine consciousness. He acts in unison with it, and can therefore commit no sin. He may or may not have a body (physical or astral); in the former case we call him “Jivan Mukta”, meaning literally “Living Liberated”, in the latter case “Nideha Mukta”, or “Bodiless Liberated”.
Mukti with us does not necessarily mean Nirvana, which is but its highest aspect. A Mukta Purusha, or liberated individual, therefore can and often does remain in our Loka or sphere to assist us morally and spiritually until the last particle of his Karma or Vasana is exhausted, when he goes into Nirvana.
It is written that there are seven ways or seven Paths for an Upasaka; the first (or lowest and most primary) is the intellectual appreciation; the second is self restraint (self sacrifice); the third is a Spirit of humility and veneration for those who have reached the goal; the fourth is a feeling of nearness, close connection, or friendliness; the fifth, a feeling of attraction (compared to the attraction of a mother to her son); the sixth is love; the seventh (last and greatest) is one-ness — ” Soham.” Upasaka! choose for thyself and proceed.
— K. P. Mukkerji, The Path, February 1890
Rishees, Masters, and Mahatmas
RISHEES, MASTERS, AND MAHATMAS 1
Dear Brother: — I am a Hindu, and though in essence — in my inner man — the same as your fellow workers in the West, it happens through the subtle action of karma I now have a body born of the Hindus, with Hindu blood and all the history of the Hindus behind me. I do not regard this as any more than an “accident of birth”, as they say, but of course due to law and order, as we never admit any accidents in reality, and look on that word as one which designates for the time something which we cannot just for the moment explain. But being as I am it is easy for me to look at life, at man, at nature from quite another point of view than that which I see is often taken by the Western mind. And that other point of view will surely add something to the stock of general experience and knowledge.
From my stand and station it has seemed strange to me that in your West so many people have doubts of the existence of the personages who have been called by many appellations but all meaning the same. We call them Rishees, sometimes Mahatmas, sometimes Gurus, at other times Guru devas, and again Sadhus. But what of all these names: they all point to the same thing, the same end, the same law, and the same result. Looking over the old numbers of the Theosophist in our library here, I find now and then seeming protests from fellow-countrymen of mine against the use of the names of the Mahatmas, but never any protest contrary to declaring the existence of such beings. I remember one when the very wise and wonderful H. P. B. was at Adyar, in which the writer of it takes her severely to task for letting out any names, but all through it you can read if you wish, and as I can see plainly, the attempt to once more declare for the existence of those beings. We think it very queer the West should doubt the existence of men who must in the order of nature be facts or nature is a lie, and we sometimes wonder why you all have so many doubts. No doubts are in our minds. Perhaps some of us may now and then doubt if such and such a Rishee or Mahatma was the Guru of so-and-so, but the general fact of their existence we do not question; they must be, and if they be, then there must be a place for them on the earth. Now I know myself of some, and have conversed in private with some of my friends who have given up the world and are what you call yogis and bramacharis, who have told me of seeing and meeting others of the same class and all telling the same story and declaring the existence of their order. So many proofs of that sort exist for any sincere observer, we have no hesitation in our belief.
Once I thought the Westerns never had any record of such beings among themselves, and I excused them, as their karma seemed hard to have crowded out such noble men and women, or rather such noble souls. But after my Guru-deva told me to read certain works and records of the Western people, I discovered you had almost as much testimony as ourselves, allowing for the awful materiality of your civilization and the paralyzing power of priestcraft. You have a Paracelsus, the Rosicrucians, Boehme, Cagliostro, St. Germain, Apollonius, Plato, Socrates, and hosts of others. Here is a vast mass of testimony to the fact of the existence of a school or schools and of persons sent out by them to work in the world of the West. Looking further I hit on the Rosicrucians, an order now extinct evidently, and imitated by those who now carry on so-called orders that might be called in fact bazaars or shops. But the real order once existed, and I am sure some one or two or more of the old companions are on the earth. They were taught by our older Masters, and carried the knowledge home from the old eastern journies of the Crusaders. If you look you will find no trace of the order before that time. It is then another testimony to the Adepts, the Rishees, those known as Mahatmas. So karma did not leave the West without the evidence.
I have also with sorrow seen writings by men in literature who should never be guilty of the crime of falsification, wherein it was said in derision that the Mahatma is not known in India, that the word is not known, and that the name given out of one is not even Indian. All this is mere lie. The word Mahatma is well known, as well as Rishee; even the name attributed to one of the Masters of H. P. B. is known in India. I took the trouble to look it up in European sources at a time one of these scholars uttered the lie, so as to have the proof that the West had the information, and I found in an old and much used book, a dictionary of our Indian names, the name of the Mahatma. Such lies are unpardonable, and beyond doubt karma will give these men many lies to obstruct their progress in another life, for what you give you get back.
Some of us have objected to the giving out of the names of the Masters because we have a very great feeling of the sacredness of the name of such a person and do not wish to give it out to the ordinary man, just as a good man who has a good wife does not like to have her name thrown about and used by a lot of wicked or beastly men. But we never objected to the fact of the existence of the Rishees being discussed, for under that belief lies the other of the possibility of all men reaching to the same condition.
Lastly, it appears to me that the reason the West so much lays stress on the fact that the Masters do not come out to help them is, that the West is proud and personal, and thinks that any man who will not come forth and ask for their judgment and approval must by that mere fact be proven a myth or a useless and small person. But we know to the contrary, and any man can prove for himself that our humble fakirs and yogis do not want the approval of the West and will not go to it to procure any certificate. When one does go there, it is because his powers are on the wane and he has but little good to live for.
I hope your friends will not doubt the great fact under the existence of the Masters, but will feel it and put it into action for the good of the race.
— Lakshman, The Path, May 1893
1. This letter is published as a contribution on the question of the existence of the “Masters” so often spoken of in the literature of the T. S. and especially by H. P. B. The writer is a reader of this magazine and doubtless also of all the others throughout the Society. — Ed.