Evolution and the Ascending Arc
The Secret Doctrine teaches the fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul . . . 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. (The Secret Doctrine 1:17)
The Path of Adeptship is intimately connected with the theosophical teachings on Evolution. In those teachings, the general outline is that evolution proceeds in a helicoidal manner, i.e. following progressive cycles, in spiral fashion, like the threads of a screw. Each cycle includes a “descent” from spirit into matter, reaching the bottom of an arc, at which time the process reverses, “ascending” from matter back to spirit. The downward process involves the development of a series of vehicles or forms in which the indwelling monad (spiritual soul) becomes embodied. As the bottom of the arc is neared, the lowest or most material vehicle (our physical body) becomes complex enough for self-consciousness to arise. This is poetically phrased as the “lighting up of manas (mind).” Once self-consciousness is established in the lowest vehicle, the possibility of self-induced and self-devised efforts arises, and we begin to take a more active, conscious and deliberate role in our own evolution. The ascending arc can then begin, during which Man begins to unfold his latent powers and faculties, along with refining and “spiritualizing” his vehicles.
Under normal, or average conditions, this process of unfolding will take place over vast periods of time, through a great number of reincarnations. Within each life, a little progress is made in this or that direction, and gradually humanity collectively unfolds its inner nature. The Path of Adeptship may be understood as a speeding up of this process for a single individual.
“It has been often put forth in various theosophical and other occult writings that the only difference between an ordinary man who works along with Nature during the course of cosmic evolution and an occultist, is that the latter, by his superior knowledge, adopts such methods of training and discipline as will hurry on that process of evolution, and he thus reaches in a comparatively short time that apex to ascend to which the ordinary individual will take perhaps billions of years. In short, in a few thousand years he approaches that type of evolution which ordinary humanity attains in the sixth or seventh round of the Manvantara, i.e., cyclic progression.” (Blavatsky, “Is the Desire to Live Selfish?”)
Because we are self-conscious, our will-power is beginning to become more deliberately active. The implication of this is that on the ascending arc, individuals do not necessarily progress at the same rate. With determination, discipline, and a focused will-power, one may take the reigns of their development into their own hands and progress at a much faster rate than the bulk of humanity. This is what makes the Adept possible. In short: an Adept is simply one who has unfolded more of their inner nature than the bulk of humanity, and thus is today what humanity will collectively be at some point in the future. In this sense, an Adept is a kind of window into our future possibilities.
Even though it is possible to speed up our development, this does not imply that it is possible to skip any necessary steps in that unfolding. Thus, the Adept must pass through all the developmental stages that would normally occur over millions of years, but in a few short lives. The obvious implication is that the Path of Adeptship is one of extreme difficulty. When a plant grows, it must do so gradually, so as to unfold itself without damaging its constitution. Man under normal conditions is the same, but the possibility exists to greatly speed up that process, while enhancing instead of damaging his constitution. That which is being developed or unfolded in us, is our entire nature—from the physical to the emotional, mental and spiritual parts of ourselves—and thus the challenges faced are physical, emotional, psychological, moral, spiritual. It is said that the blossoming of an Adept is extremely rare, a once in a generation occurrence, because of the great difficulty of the endeavor. The reward of success is a more fully realized Self and a more complete manifestation of our inner potential.
“In every country and in every age there were and there will be people, pure of heart, who, conquering their earthly thoughts and the passions of the flesh, raise their spiritual faculties to such a pitch that the mysteries of being and the laws governing Nature and hidden from the uninitiated, are revealed to them. Let blind men persecute them; let them be burned and hunted from ‘societies acknowledged by law’; let them be called Magi, Wise Men, Raj Yogis or saints—they have lived and they still live everywhere, recognized or unrecognized. For these people who have illumined themselves during their life-time, there are no obstacles, there are no bodily ties. They do not know either distance or time. They are alive and active in the body as well as out of it. They are, wherever their thought and their will carries them. They are not tied down by anything, either by a place, or by their temporary mortal covering.” (Blavatsky, in a letter to her family; see The Path, July, 1895)
Terms and Definitions
Adeptship marks the stage beyond Chelaship, after one has gone through Initiation. Chelaship appears to involve degrees or stages, with the more advanced Chelas referred to as “high chelas.” At some point, a Chela may be ready for the next step, at which time they must successfully pass through initiation into adeptship (see ML 66, 104, etc.). A. P. Sinnett gives us context for the state of the Adept in relation to a Chela thus:
“The level of elevation which constitutes a man—what the outer world calls a Mahatma or ‘Brother’—is only attained after prolonged and weary probation, and anxious ordeals of really terrible severity. One may find people who have spent twenty or thirty years or more, in blameless and arduous devotion to the life-task on which they have entered, and are still in the earlier degrees of chelaship, still looking up to the heights of adeptship as far above their heads. And at whatever age a boy or man dedicates himself to the occult career, he dedicates himself to it, be it remembered, without any reservations and for life. The task he undertakes is the development in himself of a great many faculties and attributes which are so utterly dormant in ordinary mankind, that their very existence is unsuspected—the possibility of their development denied. And these faculties and attributes must be developed by the chela himself, with very little, if any, help, beyond guidance and direction from his master. ‘The adept,’ says an occult aphorism, ‘becomes: he is not made.’” (Esoteric Buddhism, p. 10-12)
The following are some helpful definitions related to Adeptship:
Adept (Lat.). Adeptus, “He who has obtained.” In Occultism one who has reached the stage of Initiation, and become a Master in the science of Esoteric philosophy.
Arahat or Rahat [Sinhala], Arahant [Pali], Arhat [Sanskrit]. “The worthy one,” lit., “deserving divine honours.” This was the name first given to the Jain and subsequently to the Buddhist holy men initiated into the esoteric mysteries. The Arhat is one who has entered the best and highest path, and is thus emancipated from rebirth.
Hierophant. From the Greek “Hierophantes”; literally, “One who explains sacred things.” The discloser of sacred learning and the Chief of the Initiates. A title belonging to the highest Adepts in the temples of antiquity, who were the teachers and expounders of the Mysteries and the Initiators into the final great Mysteries. The Hierophant represented the Demiurge, and explained to the postulants for Initiation the various phenomena of Creation that were produced for their tuition.
Mahatma. Lit., “great soul.” An adept of the highest order. Exalted beings who, having attained to the mastery over their lower principles are thus living unimpeded by the “man of flesh,” and are in possession of knowledge and power commensurate with the stage they have reached in their spiritual evolution. Called . . . Rahats and Arhats. (Theosophical Glossary)
A. P. Sinnett also makes the terms Arhat and Mahatma equivalent.
“Arhat is a Buddhist designation. That which is more familiar in India, where the attributes of Arhatship are not necessarily associated with professions of Buddhism, is Mahatma. . . . The older [i.e. anceint] Mahatmas are generally spoken of as Rishis; but the terms are interchangeable . . . All the attributes of the Arhats mentioned in Buddhist writings are described with no less reverence in Indian literature, as those of the Mahatmas . . . In reality, the Arhats and the Mahatmas are the same men.” (Esoteric Buddhism, p. 7-8)
He describes an Arhat as follows:
“The Arhat has two aspects, that in which he is presented to the world at large, and that in which he lives, moves, and has his being. In the popular estimation he is a saint waiting for a spiritual reward of the kind the populace can understand—a wonder-worker meanwhile by favour of supernatural agencies. In reality he is the long-tried and proved-worthy custodian of the deepest and innermost philosophy of the one fundamental religion which Buddha refreshed and restored, and a student of natural science standing in the very foremost front of human knowledge, in regard not merely to the mysteries of spirit, but to the material constitution of the world as well.” (Esoteric Buddhism, p. 7)
Blavatsky gives the following explanation of the nature of a Mahatma:
“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. . . . The real Mahatma is 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. . . . 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.”—Blavatsky, “Mahatmas and Chelas”
Charles Johnston notes that Blavatsky marked a distinction between an Adept and a Mahatma:
“She told me something about other Masters and adepts she had known,—for she made a difference, as though the adepts were the captains of the occult world, and the Masters were the generals.” (see “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”)
Thus we may initially suggest two distinct conditions: 1) Adept, 2) Arhat or Mahatma. For more on this and other distinctions between grades, stages or degrees of Adepts, see “On Initiation.”
On the word “Yogi,” Blavatsky explains:
“A real Yogi is a person who, having entirely divorced himself from the world, its attractions and pleasures, has succeeded after a more or less long period of training, to re-unite his soul with the “Universal Soul” or to “join” with Parabrahm. If by the word “Yogi” our correspondent means the latter individual, viz., one who has linked his 7th and 6th principles or Atman and Buddhi and placed thereby his lower principles (Manas, the animal soul and the personal ego) en rapport with the Universal Principle, then he may be classed with the Mahatmas, since this word means simply a ‘great soul.’ . . .
“Theoretically every real Yogi knows more or less the Occult sciences; that is to say, he must understand the secret and symbolical meaning of every prescribed rite, as the correct significance of the allegories contained in the Vedas and other sacred books. Practically, now-a-days very few, if any, of those Yogis whom one meets with occasionally are familiar with occultism. It depends upon their degree of intellectual development and religious bigotry. A very saintly, sincere, yet ignorantly pious ascetic, who has not penetrated far beyond the husks of his philosophical doctrine would tell you that no one in Kali-Yuga is permitted to become a practical occultist; while an initiated Yogi has to be an occultist; at any rate, he has to be sufficiently powerful to produce all the minor phenomena (the ignorant would still call even such minor manifestation—“miracles”) of adeptship. The real Yogis, the heirs to the wisdom of the Aryan Rishis, are not to be met, however, in the world mixing with the profane and allowing themselves to be known as Yogis. Happy are they to whom the whole world is open, and who know it from their inaccessible ashrams; while the world (with the exception of a very few) knowing them not, denies their very existence. But, it really is not a matter of great concern with them whether people at large believe in, or know of them.” (“Pertinent Questions”)
In addressing a distinction in the use of the term Yogi, Blavatsky says that:
“In the Fraternity—with which we claim to have some acquaintance—the Hindus are in a minority. Even these cannot be strictly called ‘Yogis’ since their modes of life, habits, religious worship and form of Initiation differ entirely from those of the Hindu Yogis as known to the general public. In one respect only are the adepts we know, like Yogis; namely, in their great purity of life, self-abnegation, and the practice of Dhyana and Samadhi.” (“[Notes on ‘Who are the Aryas and the Buddhists’]”)
Two other terms, drawn from northern Buddhism, were commonly used in association with the highest degrees of Adeptship, these being “Bodhisattva” and “Nirmanakaya.” For more on the use of these terms, see The Voice of the Silence, esp. Fragment III.
It is worth noting that during the early years of the theosophical movement, none of the above eastern terms were used to designate Blavatsky’s teachers. The most common terms used were: Brothers, Adepts, and Masters. It was only when the theosophical movement took hold in India that terms such as Mahatma, Arhat, Yogi, etc. began to be employed.
“The term ‘Mahatma,’ now so subtly analysed and controverted, for some mysterious reasons, had never been applied to our Masters before our arrival in India. For years they were known as the ‘Adept-Brothers,’ the ‘Masters,’ etc. It is the Hindus themselves who began applying the term to the two Teachers. This is no place for an etymological disquisition, and the fitness or unfitness of the qualification, in the case in hand. As a state, Mahatmaship is one thing, as a double noun, Maha-atma (Great Soul) quite another one. Hindus ought to know the value of metaphysical Sanskrit names used; and it is they the first, who have used it to designate the Masters.” (Blavatsky, “The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society”)
One of the central subjects in relation to Adeptship is Initiation. Adeptship is said to be obtained only through an initiatory process, though the exact details of what occurs during that process are not openly or publicly taught.
For details on Initiation, drawn from early theosophical literature, including the Stages or Degrees of Adeptship, Classes of Adepts, Knowledge and Powers obtained through Initiation, etc. see: “On Initiation.”
White and Black Adepts
Throughout the writings of Blavatsky, her Teachers, and fellow Chelas, there is mention of two paths: the right and the left hand path, resulting in black or white Adepts. William Q. Judge explains the situation well in an article titled “Considerations on Magic”:
“In both the publications and conversations of the day, frequently occur the expressions ‘black magic,’ and ‘white magic’ and those who follow these studies are designated as followers of the ‘left hand path,’ or the ‘right hand path.’ It ought to be understood that up to a certain point all students of magic, or occultism, journey together. By and by is reached a place where two roads meet, or where the common path divides, and the awful voice from the silence, heard only in the recesses of the individual soul utters the stern command: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” Instead of black and white magic, read, black and white motive.
“The student of occultism is rushing on his destiny, but up to a certain point that destiny is in his own hands, though he is constantly shaping his course, freeing his soul from the trammels of sense and self, or becoming entangled in the web, which, with warp and woof will presently clothe him as with a garment without a seam.
“If early in the race he finds it difficult to shake off his chains, let him remember that at every step they grow more and more tyrannical, and often before the goal is reached where the ways divide, the battle is lost or won, and the decision there is only a matter of form. That decision once made is irrevocable, or so nearly so that no exception need be made. . . . Throughout this vast universe, the good will seek the good, and the evil the evil, each will be unconsciously drawn to its own kind.
“But when man faces his destiny in full consciousness of the issues involved, as he must before the final decision is reached, he will be no longer unconscious of these influences, but will recognize his companions: companions, alas! no longer, Masters now, inhuman, pitiless; and the same law of attraction which has led him along the tortuous path, unveils its face, and by affinity of evil, the slave stands in the presence of his master, and the fiends that have all along incited him to laugh at the miseries of his fellow men, and trample under his feet every kindly impulse, every tender sympathy, now make the measureless hells within his own soul resound with their laughter at him, the poor deluded fool whose selfish pride and ambition have stifled and at last obliterated his humanity.
“Blind indeed is he who cannot see why those who are in possession of arcane wisdom, hesitate in giving it out to the world, and when in the cycles of time its day has come, they put forth the only doctrine which has power to save and bless, Universal Brotherhood with all that the term implies.
“There may be those who have already in this new era, entered the left-hand road. But now as of old, ‘by their works ye shall know them.’ To labor with them is in vain. Selfishness, pride and lust for power are the signs by which we may know them. They may not at once cast off disguise, and they will never deceive the true Theosophist. They can nevertheless deceive to their ruin the ignorant, the curious, the unwary, and it is for such as these that these lines are penned, and the worst of it is, that these poor deluded souls, are led to believe that no such danger exists, and this belief is fortified by the so-called scientists, who are quoted as authority, and who ridicule everything but rank materialism. Yet notwithstanding all this, these simple souls flutter like moths around the flame till they are drawn within the vortex. It is better a million times, that the proud, the selfish and time-serving should eat, drink and be merry, and let occultism alone, for these propensities unless speedily eradicated, will bear fruit and ripen into quick harvests, and the wages thereof is death, literally the “second death.”
Blavatsky and her Teachers explain that in our history there was a time (during the “Atlantean” era) that humans en masse were engaged in the left-hand path and black magic. Eventually this resulted in a “war” between the white and black Adepts, at the close of the Atlantean era when the great cataclysms and sinking of continents occurred. On this history, see Vol. 2 of The Secret Doctrine. The following quotes are a few that touch on this subject:
“In the Esoteric Doctrine, one war takes place before the building of the Solar system; another, on earth, at the ‘creation’ of man; and a third ‘war’ is mentioned as taking place at the close of the 4th Race, between its adepts and those of the 5th Race, i.e., between the Initiates of the ‘Sacred Island’ and the Sorcerers of Atlantis.” (SD 1:419)
“Bear in mind, that almost every ancient King and priest was an initiate; that from toward the close of the Fourth Race there had been a feud between the Initiates of the Right and those of the Left Path.” (SD 2:494)
“Éliphas Lévi refers to the secret tradition, among Occultists, about the great struggle that took place, in those far away prehistoric days of Atlantis, between the ‘Sons of God’—the initiated Adepts of Sham-bha-la (once a fair island in the inland Sea of the Tibetan plateau, now as fair a land, an oasis surrounded by barren deserts and salt lakes)—and the Atlanteans, the wicked magicians of Thevetat. (See Isis, Vol. I, pp. 589-94). It is a well-established belief among the Eastern and especially the Mongolian and Tibetan Occultists that toward the end of every race, when mankind reaches its apex of knowledge in that cycle, dividing into two distinct classes, it branches off—one as the ‘Sons of Light’ and the other as the ‘Sons of Darkness,’ or initiated Adepts and natural-born magicians or—mediums. Toward the very close of the race, as their mixed progeny furnishes the first pioneers of a new and a higher race, there comes the last and supreme struggle during which the ‘Sons of Darkness’ are usually exterminated by some great cataclysm of nature—by either fire or water. Atlantis was submerged, hence the inference that that portion of the mankind of the fifth race which will be composed of ‘natural-born magicians’ will be exterminated at the future great cataclysm by—fire.” (“[Notes on Symbolism in Selections by Eliphas Levi]”)
“Even before the real advent of the Fourth or Atlantean race, the majority of mankind had fallen into iniquity and sin, save the hierarchy of the ‘Elect,’ the followers and disciples of the ‘Sons of Will and Yoga’—called later the ‘Sons of the Fire Mist.’
“Then came the Atlanteans; the giants whose physical beauty and strength reached their climax, in accordance with evolutionary law, toward the middle period of their fourth sub-race. But, as said in the Commentary: The last survivors of the fair child of the White Island (the primitive Sveta-dwipa) had perished ages before. Their (Lemuria’s) elect, had taken shelter on the sacred Island (now the ‘fabled’ Shamballah, in the Gobi Desert) . . .” (SD 2:319)
The Brotherhood to which Blavatsky and her Teachers belong claims to trace its lineage back to the “White Adepts,” these initiated Adepts of “Shambala.” While today’s “Black Adepts” belong to what Blavatsky refers to generally as the “Brothers of the Shadow” (TG p. 64), also referred by her as “Dugpas,” or generally as sorcerers and black magicians. Even today there is a constant “war” between these two “Brotherhoods.”
The fundamental difference between the right and left hand paths is said to be selfishness. Magic and occult powers are, generally speaking, in and of themselves neutral, but whether they are learned and wielded for selfish or unselfish purposes is what determines whether they are “black” or “white.” Blavatsky defines “Black Magic” as “Sorcery . . . selfish abuses of abnormal powers. This abuse may be unintentional; yet it is still “black magic” whenever anything is produced phenomenally simply for one’s own gratification” (TG p. 58).
Damodar Mavalankar explains the difference between Black and White Magic thus:
“The powers of black magic are due to the will-power engendered by a concentrated form of selfishness. This is possible only when the Manas—the fifth principle of man, as the occultist calls it—resides very firmly in his lower principles. . . . the greater the powers of a black magician, the greater must be his selfishness. . . .
“While, on the other hand, the white magician, by his training . . . gradually kills his lower principles, without any suffering, . . . and his Manas identifies itself with his higher—the sixth and seventh—principles. . . .” (“White and Black Magic”)
“White magic,” and the “White Adept,” is thus defined by the unselfish nature of one’s motive, and the direction to which one tends to direct their mind—to the higher, nobler, more spiritual principles, or to the lower, more personal, more material principles; or we might simply say: whether one’s mind is centered in buddhi or kama (see The Constitution of Man for more on these principles).
The “right hand path” is described throughout modern theosophical literature, and its foundation-stone is always unselfishness. On this subject, see especially The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path.
Note well, in regards to Chelaship, what W. Q. Judge says above, that “up to a certain point all students of magic, or occultism, journey together. By and by is reached a place where two roads meet, or where the common path divides . . .” This, and the above definitions of white and black magic, demonstrate the extreme importance of the ethical teachings in regards to the path of Chelaship, and why such ethics are always placed at the forefront by all genuine occult teachers of the “right hand” path. In this is a warning we can quite easily apply: if a teacher ignores or dismissed the importance of those ethics, or if a teacher demonstrates that they themselves have not mastered those ethics, i.e. that they are not thoroughly unselfish in their motives and actions, we can know “by their fruits” that they are not an Adept of the right hand path.
The Brotherhood or Fraternity of White Adepts
The Brotherhood of Adepts belonging to the right hand path, is said to have developed an occult science based on their shared explorations over nearly countless generations. In this we see that they work together as a single body with shared aims. In the Mahatma Letters we often find references to this fact, along with indications of the hierarchical structure of the Brotherhood, wherein even the Mahatmas are bound to the rules of the Brotherhood and the orders of their superiors.
The science developed by this Brotherhood is the foundation or source of the doctrines taught in modern day theosophy, which represent only a few small fragments of that total knowledge (see The Theosophical Movement for more on that subject). The following quotes discuss the Brotherhood and their Science.
“It has been explained repeatedly that the continuity of occult knowledge amongst initiated adepts is the attribute about it which commends their explanations—absolutely to the acceptance of those who come to understand what initiation means, and what kind of people adepts are. From Swedenborg onwards there have been many seers who profess to gather their knowledge of other worlds from actual observation, but such persons are isolated, and subject to the delusions of isolation. Any intelligent man will have an intuitive perception of this, expressing itself in a reluctance on his part to surrender himself entirely to the assurances of any such clairvoyants. But in the case of regularly initiated seers it must be remembered that we are dealing with a long—an extraordinarily long—series of persons who, warned of the con fusing circumstances into which they pass when their spiritual perceptions are trained to range beyond material limits, are so enabled to penetrate to the actual realities of things, and who constitute a vast organized body of seers, who check each other’s conclusions, test each other’s discoveries and formulate their visions into a science of spirit as precise and entirely trustworthy as, in their humble way, are the conclusions, as far as they go, of any branch of physical science. Such initiates are in the position, as regards spiritual knowledge, that the regularly taught professor of a great university is in, as regards literary knowledge, and anyone can appreciate the superior claims of instruction which might be received from him, as compared with the crude and imperfect instruction which might be offered by the merely self- taught man. The initiate’s speculations, in fact, are not spun at all; they are laid out before him by the accumulated wisdom of ages, and he has merely followed, verified and assimilated them.” (Blavatsky, “Spiritualism and Occult Truth”)
“We have received our doctrines from those who do not need, in order to explore and learn the mysteries of the Universe, to avail themselves of either the disincarnate spirits or their ‘shells,’ . . . For them [the Adepts], the evidence is not second-hand, nor post-mortem, but really the evidence of their own faculties, purified and prepared through long years to receive it correctly and without any foreign influence that would make them deviate from the straight road. For thousands of years, one initiate after another, one great hierophant succeeded by other hierophants, has explored and re-explored the invisible Universe, the worlds of the interplanetary regions, during long periods when his conscious soul, united to the spiritual soul and to the ALL, free and almost omnipotent, left his body. It is not only the initiates belonging to the ‘Great Brotherhood of the Himâlayas,’ who give us these doctrines; it is not only the Buddhist Arhats who teach them, but they are found in the secret writings of Śankaracharya, of Gautama Buddha, of Zoroaster, as well as in those of the Rishis.
“The mysteries of life as well as of death, of the visible and invisible worlds, have been fathomed and observed by initiated adepts in all epochs and in all nations. They have studied these during the solemn moments of union of their divine monad with the universal Spirit, and they have recorded their experiences. Thus by comparing and checking the observations of one with those of another, and finding none of the contradictions so frequently noticed in the dicta, or communications of the mediums, but on the contrary, having been able to ascertain that the visions of adepts who lived 10,000 years ago are invariably corroborated and verified by those of modern adepts, to whom the writings of the former never do become known until later—the truth has been established. A definite science, based on personal observation and experience, corroborated by continuous demonstrations, containing irrefutable proofs, for those who study it, has thus been established.” (Blavatsky, “Theosophy and Spiritism”)
“The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system: e.g., even in the exotericism of the Purânas. But such is the mysterious power of Occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs. The flashing gaze of those seers has penetrated into the very kernel of matter, and recorded the soul of things there, where an ordinary profane, however learned, would have perceived but the external work of form. But modern science believes not in the “soul of things,” and hence will reject the whole system of ancient cosmogony. It is useless to say that the system in question is no fancy of one or several isolated individuals. That it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity. That for long ages, the “Wise Men” of the Fifth Race, of the stock saved and rescued from the last cataclysm and shifting of continents, had passed their lives in learning, not teaching. How did they do so? It is answered: by checking, testing, and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts; i.e., men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic, and spiritual organisations to the utmost possible degree. No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions—so obtained as to stand as independent evidence—of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences.” (SD 1:272-73)
Despite the high degree of development in their Science, Blavatsky and the Brothers themselves point out that Adepts are not infallible. For instance, see the following from Blavatsky:
“We do claim to receive [the tenets of the esoteric science] from adepts and initiates, yet, . . . we call neither the teaching, nor the Teachers absolutely infallible.” (“The Chosen ‘Vessels of Election’”)
Blavatsky and her teachers suggest a place of primary importance in the Brotherhood to Guatama Buddha. This is summarized by Sinnett in his Esoteric Buddhism:
“Adeptship, when Buddha incarnated, was not the condensed, compact hierarchy that it has since become under his influence. There has never been an age of the world without its adepts; but they have sometimes been scattered throughout the world, they have sometimes been isolated in separate seclusions, they have gravitated now to this country, now to that; and finally, be it remembered, their knowledge and power has not always been inspired with the elevated and severe morality which Buddha infused into its latest and highest organization. The reform of the occult world by his instrumentality was, in fact, the result of his great sacrifice, of the self-denial which induced him to reject the blessed condition of Nirvana to which, after his earth-life as Buddha, he was fully entitled, and undertake the burden of renewed incarnations in order to carry out more thoroughly the task he had taken in hand, and confer a correspondingly increased benefit on mankind.”
Thus Buddha is portrayed as not only a reformer in the outer world, but a reformer of the Adept hierarchy itself. He is also referred to as the highest of all known Nirmanakayas:
“To be enabled to help humanity, an Adept who has won the right to Nirvāṇa, ‘renounces the Dharmakāya body’ in mystic parlance; keeps, of the Sambhogakāya, only the great and complete knowledge, and remains in his Nirmāṇakāya body. The esoteric school teaches that Gautama Buddha with several of his Arhats is such a Nirmāṇakāya, higher than whom, on account of the great renunciation and sacrifice to mankind there is none known.” (Voice of the Silence, p. 77fn)
While Gautama Buddha is placed in such a high position in the Brotherhood, and viewed as a reformer of it, it is also explained that the Brotherhood is not directly associated with any one exoteric religion to the exclusion of any other.
Non-Sectarianism and the Relation of the Adepts to Exoteric Traditions
In an article on the “Himalayan Brothers,” Blavatsky explains “a few facts about the adepts in general,” wherein she outlines the non-sectarian nature of real Adeptship:
“(1) No true adept will on any consideration whatever reveal himself as one, to the profane. . . .
“(2) There never was a true Initiate [who did not know] of the secret Fraternities in the East. . . .
“(3) One who ever perorates upon his occult knowledge, and speaks of practising his powers in the name of some particular prophet, deity, or Avatar, is but a sectarian mystic at best. He cannot be an adept in the Eastern sense—a Mahatma, for his judgment will always be biased and prejudiced by the colouring of his own special and dogmatic religion.
“(4) The great science, called by the vulgar ‘magic,’ and by its Eastern proficients Gupta Vidya, embracing as it does each and every science, since it is the acme of knowledge, and constitutes the perfection of philosophy, is universal: hence—as very truly remarked—cannot be confined to one particular nation or geographical locality. But, as Truth is one, the method for the attainment of its highest proficiency must necessarily be also one. It cannot be subdivided, for, once reduced to parts, each of them, left to itself, will, like rays of light, diverge from, instead of converging to, its centre, the ultimate goal of knowledge; and these parts can rebecome the Whole only by collecting them together again, or each fraction will remain but a fraction.
“. . . There is but one royal road to ‘Divine Magic’; neglect and abandon it to devote yourself specially to one of the paths diverging from it, and like a lonely wanderer you will find yourself lost in an inextricable labyrinth. . . .
“It is but the Occultist, the Eastern adept, who stands a Free Man, omnipotent through its own Divine Spirit as much as man can be on earth. He has rid himself of all human conceptions and religious side-issues; he is at one and the same time a Chaldean Sage, a Persian Magi, a Greek Theurgist, an Egyptian Hermetist, a Buddhist Rahat and an Indian Yogi. He has collected into one bundle all the separate fractions of Truth widely scattered over the nations, and holds in his hand the One Truth, a torch of light which no adverse wind can bend, blow out or even cause to waver. . . .
“True, ‘Koot Hoomi’ mentions Buddha. But it is not because the brothers hold him in the light of God or even of ‘a God,’ but simply because he is the Patron of the Thibetan Occultists, the greatest of the Illuminati and adepts, self-initiated by his own Divine Spirit or ‘God-self’ unto all the mysteries of the invisible universe. Therefore to speak of imitating ‘the life of Christ,’ or that of Buddha, or Zoroaster, or any other man on earth chosen and accepted by any one special nation for its God and leader, is to show oneself a Sectarian even in Kabbalism, that fraction of the one ‘Universal Science’—Occultism. The latter is pre-historic and is coeval with intelligence. The Sun shines for the heathen Asiatic as well as for the Christian European and for the former still more gloriously, I am glad to say.”
Elsewhere, she states directly that:
“The esoteric philosophies of both the eastern and western initiates, whether Greek or Hindu, Egyptian or Hebrew, agree on the whole. Whenever they seem to clash, it will be always found due rather to the difference of terms and mode of expression than to any essential difference in the systems themselves.” (“[Notes on Planetary Spirits and ‘Always Existing’ Entities]”)
In one of his letters, the Mahatma K.H. uses two known chelas to illustrate an example of the non-sectarianism of the Brotherhood:
“It is an every day occurrence to find students belonging to different schools of occult thought sitting side by side at the feet of the same Guru. Upasika (Madam B. [Blavatsky]) and Subba Row, though pupils of the same Master, have not followed the same Philosophy — the one is Buddhist and the other an Adwaitee.” (ML 120)
On Adepts Living Apart from Society and the Locations of Adept Fraternities
The “laws [of the Adepts] are antagonistic to their mixing with the uninitiated.” (ML 10)
“[The British Theosophical Society’s] esteemed President, Dr. G. Wyld, informs us of an extraordinary opinion held by one of its Members—one who lived in India, and is personally acquainted, as it seems, with a Society of Initiates in Tibet—that “those who live there in the snow (?) are not adepts but under training, and that a true adept can defy all magnetisms and live in society if he chooses.” Most undoubtedly he can. . . . The question is not ‘could the Eastern initiates’ so live or not, but will they, and why should they consent to do so, having no better reason for it than the satisfaction of the curiosity of—to them—an alien race, five-sixths of which would regard them as clever impostors and charlatans, and the other sixth—the best disposed to believe in their psychological powers, regard them as wonderful physical mediums controlled by ‘spirits.’” (“[On Adepts Living Apart from Society]”)
“True, there is no need of going absolutely to Thibet or India to find some knowledge and power ‘which are latent in every human soul’; but the acquisition of the highest knowledge and power require not only many years of the severest study enlightened by a superior intelligence and an audacity bent by no peril; but also as many years of retreat in comparative solitude, and association with but students pursuing the same object, in a locality where nature itself preserves like the neophyte an absolute and unbroken stillness if not silence! where the air is free for hundreds of miles around of all mephytic influence; the atmosphere and human magnetism absolutely pure, and—no animal blood is spilt.” (“Madame Blavatsky on ‘The Himalayan Brothers’”)
“European and even Hindu students of Occultism are often deploring and even wondering, why all the ‘Initiates’ or ‘adepts’ seem to have died out in India? They have not ‘died’ out, nor is their absence due to ‘Kali Yuga’ as popularly yet erroneously supposed. The ‘adepts’ have simply and gradually if not altogether forsaken India, at least retired from its public populated portions, keeping their knowledge and often their very existence as secret as they can. Many of them are gone beyond the Himalayas. Some yet remain—especially in Southern India, but few are the privileged ones who know of them; still fewer those who could point out their places of retreat.” (“[Note on the Presence of Adepts in India]”)
Several examples of Adepts living in seclusion are given in early theosophical literature. Most prominently among these are the two Mahatmas behind the theosophical movement, who lived together in a remote area of modern-day Kashmir. In a letter, Damodar Mavalankar relates a story of visiting another Adept on a mysterious seaside location in Ceylon. Blavatsky also mentions some Adepts who live in forests or islands apart from human societies. Between Blavatsky and Olcott mention is made of a number of Adepts living in various countries, including Mediterranean locations (Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus) and some unspecified locations in Europe, as well as India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Kashmir, and Tibet. Charles Johnston relates the following from a discussion between himself and Blavatsky:
“She told me something about other Masters and adepts she had known,—for she made a difference, as though the adepts were the captains of the occult world, and the Masters were the generals. She had known adepts of many races, from Northern and Southern India, Tibet, Persia, China, Egypt; of various European nations, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, English; of certain races in South America, where she said there was a Lodge of adepts.” (see “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”)
In addition to Adepts living in secluded places all over the globe, it is mentioned that there are certain places that belong to the Brotherhood, with several centers and ashrams mentioned. See, for instance, “A Great Riddle Solved,” by Damodar Mavalankar, where he mentions having visited Ashrams of the Brotherhood. See also several mentions of Himalayan retreats found in early theosophical writings, for instance, as described by one of the Brothers:
“At a certain spot not to be mentioned to outsiders, there is a chasm spanned by a frail bridge of woven grasses and with a raging torrent beneath. The bravest member of your Alpine clubs would scarcely dare to venture the passage, for it hangs like a spider’s web and seems to be rotten and impassable. Yet it is not; and he who dares the trial and succeeds—as he will if it is right that he should be permitted—comes into a gorge of surpassing beauty of scenery—to one of our places and to some of our people, of which and whom there is no note or minute among European geographers. At a stone’s throw from the old Lamasery stands the old tower, within whose bosom have gestated generations of Bodhisatwas. It is there, where now rests your lifeless friend—my brother, the light of my soul, to whom I made a faithful promise to watch during his absence over his work.” (ML 29)
As mentioned above, the Brotherhood traces its history through the white adepts of the “sacred island” after the fall of Atlantis. Centers of this Brotherhood are said to currently exist in Egypt, India, Tibet, and elsewhere. In this regard, Blavatsky mentions that “the seat of [several esoteric schools] is beyond the Himalayas, whose ramifications may be found in China, Japan, India, Tibet, and even in Syria, besides South America” (SD 1:xxiii). However, special place is still afforded to the east, especially “beyond the Himalayas.”
“It is around the plateau of the Pamirs—they say with the Biblical scholars—that the cradle of the true race must be located: but the cradle of initiated humanity only; of those who have for the first time tasted of the fruit of knowledge, and these are in Tibet Mongolia, Tartary, China and India, where also the souls of their pious and initiated brethren transmigrate, and rebecome ‘sons of God.’” (Blavatsky, “Lamas and Druses”)
“There is no accepted neophyte on the whole globe but at least knows of the Himalayan Fraternity. The sanction to receive the last and supreme initiation, the real ‘word at low breath’ can come but through those fraternities in Egypt, India, and Thibet to one of which belongs ‘Koot Hoomi Lal Singh.’” (“Madame Blavatsky on ‘The Himalayan Brothers’”)
A specific example of this is mentioned by both Blavatsky and Olcott. An Adept (Hillarion) known to some early theosophists, is said to have travelled from his home in the west to the east for his “final initiation” (see Light, Aug. 9, 1884 and Olcott’s Diary entry of Feb. 19, 1881; referenced in CW 3:211).
A. P. Sinnett also echoes the importance of the seat “beyond the Himalayas”:
“All over the world there are occultists of various degrees of eminence, and occult fraternities even, which have a great deal in common with the leading fraternity now established in Tibet. But all my inquiries into the subject have convinced me that the Tibetan Brotherhood is incomparably the highest of such associations, and regarded as such by all other associations—worthy of being looked upon themselves as really ‘enlightened’ in the occult sense of the term.” (Esoteric Buddhism, p. 9)
In a letter, the Mahatma K.H. mentions three centers without naming them:
“There are even at the present moment three centres of the Occult Brotherhood in existence, widely separated geographically, and as widely exoterically—the true esoteric doctrine being identical in substance though differing in terms; all aiming at the same grand object, but no two agreeing seemingly in the details of procedure.” (ML 120)
In the same letter he refers to himself as belonging to the “Tibetan Brotherhood.” However, this “Tibetan Brotherhood” should not be equated with any of the known schools of philosophy or religions of Tibet, nor exclusively with Tibetan peoples. In a letter to a friend in 1890, Blavatsky explains:
“My masters and the Masters are Yogis and Munis de facto, not de jure; in their life not in appearance. They are members of an occult Brotherhood, not of any particular School in India. One of their highest Mahachohans lived in Egypt and went to Tibet only a year before we did (in 1878) and he is neither a Tibetan nor a Hindu; this occult Brotherhood has not originated in Tibet, nor is it only in Tibet now; but what I always said and maintain to this day is, that most of its members and some of the highest are, and live constantly, in Tibet, because of its isolation and freedom from Christians; that its origin is of untold antiquity . . . and finally that if I spoke only (to our Fellows of T.S.) of two or three Masters it is because my own Masters happen to be a Rajput by birth, and ‘Koot Hoomi’ a Cashmerian, and therefore these were likely to be more authoritative with the Hindus than the rest of them. Ask Olcott, Sinnett, and even Hume, and even the latter could not without saying a lie tell you that I had not repeated this to them over and over again adding many a time that even few lamas knew the whole truth about the ‘Chapa’ (menspirits) as they call them on account of their having so little to do with the general mass of the people. I said and repeat, that they are living men, not ‘spirits,’ or even Nirmanakayas, that their knowledge and learning are immense, and their personal holiness of life is still greater—still they are mortal men and none of them live 1000 years old as imagined by some.” (see Theosophia, May-June, 1947, p. 10)
And again, in a letter to Franz Hartmann:
“I [have] known Adepts, the ‘Brothers,’ not only in India and beyond Ladakh, but in Egypt and Syria,—for there are ‘Brothers’ there to this day. . . . Whether they were called Rosicrucians, Kabalists, or Yogis—Adepts [are] everywhere Adepts—silent, secret, retiring, and who would never divulge themselves entirely to anyone, unless one did as I did—passed seven and ten years probation and given proofs of absolute devotion, and that he, or she, would keep silent even before a prospect and a threat of death. I fulfilled the requirements and am what I am . . .
“There is beyond the Himalayas a nucleus of Adepts, of various nationalities; and the Teschu Lama knows them, and they act together, and some of them are with him and yet remain unknown in their true character even to the average lamas—who are ignorant fools mostly. My Master and K. H. and several others I know personally are there, coming and going, and they are all in communication with Adepts in Egypt and Syria, and even Europe.” (Letter printed in The Path, March, 1896)
The Egyptian center of the Brotherhood is mentioned several times in early letters from Adepts to Co. Olcott, and has been referred to as the “Brotherhood of Luxor.”
On the Adepts of India, see the letter from T. Subba Row to Blavatsky (with notes and highlights by their Teacher) on that subject.
While little else is said (for obvious reasons) about specific locations, we can begin to see the general outline of the Brotherhood: A “center” derived from the “sacred island”; three main centers, seemingly referring to Tibet, India, and Egypt; individuals living throughout the world, generally in some degree of seclusion, with Ashrams or schools for disciples; Adepts participating together in shared work, study and development with a non-sectarian approach, even when working within the systems of outward religions; some members taking on the task of teaching Chelas and some occasionally undergoing specific work in the world; and always with the efforts focused on aiding humanity in its development.
Responsibilities of Adeptship and the Work of the Adepts
Little is said about the real responsibilities and activities of the Adepts, except for some explanations relating to those among them who take on specific projects in the outward world of society. We know that some Adepts take on students and aid them through the Chelaship process, but this does not mean that all Adepts do so. We are told that the Brotherhood in general works constantly on behalf of humanity, aiding in its long-term development, but exact details as to what this work involves are only sparsely hinted at.
In an article by Charles Johnston he relates parts of a conversation between himself and Blavatsky, wherein he directly asked her what the Adepts do. Her answer:
“You would hardly understand, unless you were an adept. But they keep alive the spiritual life of mankind.” (see “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”)
In a response article to “The Elixir of Life,” Blavatsky goes into more details:
“The very high Adepts . . . do help humanity, but only spiritually: they are constitutionally incapable of meddling with worldly affairs. But this applies only to very high Adepts. There are various degrees of Adept-ship, and those of each degree work for humanity on the planes to which they may have risen. It is only the chelas that can live in the world, until they rise to a certain degree. And it is because the Adepts do care for the world that they make their chelas live in and work for it, as many of those who study the subject are aware. Each cycle produces its own occultists who will be able to work for the humanity of those times on all the different planes; but when the Adepts foresee that at a particular period the then humanity will be incapable of producing occultists for work on particular planes, for such occasions they do provide by either giving up voluntarily their further progress and waiting in those particular degrees until humanity reaches that period, or by refusing to enter into Nirvana and submitting to re-incarnation in time to reach those degrees when humanity will require their assistance at that stage. And although the world may not be aware of the fact, yet there are even now certain Adepts who have preferred to remain statu quo and refuse to take the higher degrees, for the benefit of the future generations of humanity. In short, as the Adepts work harmoniously, since unity is the fundamental law of their being, they have, as it were, made a division of labour, according to which each works on the plane at the time allotted to him, for the spiritual elevation of us all—and the process of longevity mentioned in the Elixir of Life is only the means to the end which, far from being selfish, is the most unselfish purpose for which a human being can labour.” (“Is the Desire to Live Selfish?”)
The “Guardian Wall”
In The Voice of the Silence, Blavatsky hints at part of the work of the Adepts, that of protecting humanity:
“Self-doomed to live through future Kalpas, unthanked and unperceived by man; wedged as a stone with countless other stones which form the ‘Guardian Wall,”* such is thy future if the seventh gate thou passest. Built by the hands of many Masters of Compassion, raised by their tortures, by their blood cemented, it shields mankind, since man is man, protecting it from further and far greater misery and sorrow.
“* The “Guardian Wall” or the “Wall of Protection.” It is taught that the accumulated efforts of long generations of Yogīs, Saints and Adepts, especially of the Nirmāṇakāyas—have created, so to say, a wall of protection around mankind, which wall shields mankind invisibly from still worse evils.” (VOS p. 74)
Teaching and Guiding Chelas
In a conversation with Charles Johnston, Blavatsky related something of the manner in which the Adepts instruct their students:
“How do the adepts guide the souls of men?”
“In many ways, but chiefly by teaching their souls direct, in the spiritual world. But that is difficult for you to understand.”
She then explained the nature of their outward teaching in the world and its relation to traditional religious systems:
“At certain regular periods, they try to give the world at large a right understanding of spiritual things. One of their number comes forth to teach the masses, and is handed down to tradition as the Founder of a religion. Krishna was such a Master; so was Zoroaster; so were Buddha and Shankara Acharya, the great sage of Southern India. So also was the Nazarene. He went forth against the counsel of the rest, to give to the masses before the time, moved by a great pity, and enthusiasm for humanity; he was warned that the time was unfavorable, but nevertheless he elected to go, and so was put to death at the instigation of the priests.” (see “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”)
On the role and difficulties of the Adept in teaching chelas, one of the Brothers explains:
“I am of opinion that few candidates imagine the degree of inconvenience—nay suffering and harm to himself—the said initiator submits to for the sake of his pupil. The peculiar physical, moral, and intellectual conditions of neophytes and Adepts alike vary much, as anyone will easily understand; thus, in each case, the instructor has to adapt his conditions to those of the pupil, and the strain is terrible for to achieve success we have to bring ourselves into a full rapport with the subject under training. And as, the greater the powers of the Adept the less he is in sympathy with the natures of the profanes who often come to him saturated with the emanations of the outside world, those animal emanations of the selfish, brutal, crowd that we so dread—the longer he was separated from that world and the purer he has himself become, the more difficult the self-imposed task. Then—knowledge, can only be communicated gradually; and some of the highest secrets—if actually formulated even in your well prepared ear—might sound to you as insane gibberish, notwithstanding all the sincerity of your present assurance that “absolute trust defies misunderstanding.” This is the real cause of our reticence. This is why people so often complain with a plausible show of reason that no new knowledge is communicated to them, though they have toiled for it for two, three or more years. Let those who really desire to learn abandon all and come to us, instead of asking or expecting us to go to them. . . .
“. . . the misuse of knowledge by the pupil always reacts upon the initiator; nor, do I believe you know yet, that in sharing his secrets with another, the Adept by an immutable Law, is delaying his own progress to the Eternal Rest.” (ML 20)
For more on this subject, see: “Knowledge and Teachings Revealed through Initiations,” in “On Initiation.”
On the Life, Knowledge and Powers of an Adept
A beautiful description of the real condition of an Adept is given by Blavatsky in an article thus:
“A real adept will either conceal forever his adeptship from the world’s gaze, or, if forced to live among the common herd, will prove far above it, by his moral grandeur, the loftiness of his cultivated mind, his divine charity and his all-forgiveness of injury. He will correct the faults of those who strive—as he himself has once striven—after initiation, with polite kindness, not by using Billingsgate language. A true adept is above any petty feeling of personal resentment—least of all of ridiculous vanity. He cares not whether he is physically handsome or plain, but ever shows the moral beauty of his spotless nature in every act of life. Finally we say, it is not enough to be a learned Kabalist, a successful mesmerizer, a great alchemist or even a commentator upon Occult Science—what one would call a “theoretical” occultist—to deserve the name of an Adept in the real sense of that word.” (“Doomed!”)
General Conditions of an Adept
Stray details as to the conditions of an Adept are given throughout early theosophical literature, though most of these are fragmentary and tend to but suggest or hint at the reality of that condition. One example worth highlighting is Damodar Mavalankar’s reply to questions in The Theosophist, see “[Answers to Questions on Adepts].” For some important distinctions in relation to the conditions of an Adept, see A. P. Sinnett’s “Annotation” on page 16 of his Esoteric Buddhism (1885 Ed.). See also Chapters IX and X in the same book.
Lifespan and Immortality
In theosophical teachings it is said that the highest principles in us (Atma and Buddhi) are inherently immortal, but that the Ego must “win” its immortality. See the following by Blavatsky:
“The Ego then, to which we concede only a conditional immortality, is the purely human individuality. Half vital energy, half an aggregation of personal qualities and attributes, necessary to the constitution of every human being as distinct from his neighbor, . . . and, as such, and apart from its higher intelligence, it is but the element of individuality possessed by man in common with every creature . . . It is only by identifying itself with that divine intelligence that the Ego, soiled with earthly impurities, can win its immortality.” (“Erroneous Ideas Concerning the Doctrines of the Theosophists”)
“Immortality is conditional, as we have ever stated. It is the reward of the pure and good. The wicked man, the material sensualist only survives. He who appreciates but physical pleasures will not and cannot live in the hereafter as a self-conscious Entity.” (“Stray Thoughts on Death and Satan”)
This is, as above noted, the result of successfully treading the “right hand path,” in which one’s Manas (mind) tends towards and becomes absorbed within Buddhi. See also “Dialogue on the Mysteries of the After Life: On the Constitution of the Inner Man,” for more on immortality.
The following from A. O. Hume, with notes by Blavatsky, touches on the immortality of the highest initiate:
“There is a recast and therefore a change in personality after every life, and with this change (not a mere forgetting but) a loss of all memory, the experiences which constituted this, having been melted up into the body of the new personality.
“The Perfect adept, of course, claims to be able to avert this change of personality and so through thousands of births and through millions on millions of years to preserve his personality, and not merely his individuality, unchanged. But he must be a perfect adept* which our immediate adept masters cannot, they tell us, claim to be.**
* One who has successfully passed the highest degree of initiation beyond which is perfect Adi-Buddhaship, than which there is no higher one on this earth.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
** May not this confession of our Brothers be partially due to one more attribute they are found to share so “grudgingly” and rarely with the too “educated Europeans,” namely—Modesty?—Ed. [H.P.B.]
Much more is said on this subject in theosophical literature, and the path to this immortality is outlined in The Voice of the Silence.
While this “immortality” is within reach of the highest adepts, it is also explained that this does not mean that one can indefinitely prolong the life of the physical body, as it has its own limitations that can only be partially overcome.
In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky says:
“If [Abrahamic] theology asks us to believe that four or five thousand years ago men lived 900 years and more . . . we decline to believe that such a thing existed in Nature 5,000 years back. For Nature never proceeds by jumps and starts, and logic and common sense, besides geology, anthropology and ethnology, have justly rebelled against such assertions. But if that same theology, giving up her fantastic chronology, had claimed that men lived 969 years—the age of Methuselah—five million years ago, we would have nothing to say against the claim. For in those days the physical frame of men was, compared to the present human body, as that of a megalosaurus to a common lizard.” (SD 1:194-95)
Since “Man” became the physical being he is now, the general agreement seems to be that the upper limit of life in the same physical body is somewhere around 400 years. In some Hindu texts, this is explained in connection with the Yugas, where in the Satya Yuga (“golden age”) the upper end of the human lifespan is said to be 400 years, whereas in Kali Yuga (“black age”) it drops to around 100. It is suggested by early theosophists that an Adept, even in the Kali Yuga, by means of his training and purity of life, etc., is able to extend his physical life near to that as it would be in the Satya Yuga. In a letter to W. Q. Judge, Damodar Mavalankar supports an approximate 400 year limit: “At the most, how long can a human life last? Not more than four hundred years” (Letter of September 6th, 1881)
Judge then echoes the same in The Ocean of Theosophy:
“This quaternary or lower man is a product of cosmic or physical laws and substance. It has been evolved during a lapse of ages, like any other physical thing, from cosmic substance, and is therefore subject to physical, physiological, and psychical laws which govern the race of man as a whole. Hence its period of possible continuance can be calculated just as the limit of tensile strain among the metals used in bridge building can be deduced by the engineer. Any one collection in the form of man made up of these constituents is therefore limited in duration by the laws of the evolutionary period in which it exists. Just now, that is generally seventy to one hundred years, but its possible duration is longer. Thus there are in history instances where ordinary persons have lived to be two hundred years of age; and by a knowledge of the occult laws of nature the possible limit of duration may be extended nearly to four hundred years.” (p. 33)
How the Adept may go about lengthening the lifespan in a single physical body is partially explored in the article “The Elixir of Life.” See also “Is the Desire to Live Selfish?,” by Blavatsky. In the Elixir of Life article, there is a suggestion that one may life “a thousand years or so,” but this claim is countered by Blavatsky in a letter where she states:
“I said and repeat, that they [the Adept-Masters] are living men, not ‘spirits,’ or even Nirmanakayas, that their knowledge and learning are immense, and their personal holiness of life is still greater—still they are mortal men and none of them live 1000 years old as imagined by some.” (see Theosophia, May-June, 1947, p. 10)
Charles Johnston recorded a discussion he had with Blavatsky, a portion of which addresses the age of her own Master:
“If ever I saw genuine awe and reverence in a human face, it was in hers, when she spoke of her Master. He was a Rajput by birth, she said, one of the old warrior race of the Indian desert, the finest and handsomest nation in the world. Her Master was a giant, six feet eight, and splendidly built; a superb type of manly beauty. Even in the picture, there is a marvelous power and fascination; the force, the fierceness even, of the face; the dark, glowing eyes, which stare you out of countenance; the clear-cut features of bronze, the raven hair and beard—all spoke of a tremendous individuality, a very Zeus in the prime of manhood and strength. I asked her something about his age. She answered:
“My dear, I cannot tell you exactly, for I do not know. But this I will tell you. I met him first when I was twenty,—in 1851. He was in the very prime of manhood then. I am an old woman now, but he has not aged a day. He is still in the prime of manhood. That is all I can say. You may draw your own conclusions.” (“Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”)
Several powers of Adepts were discussed in early theosophical literature. Of these, some of the most commonly mentioned are:
The power of “precipitation” is said to be that by which an image held in the mind may be made to become an actual, physical object through the power of imagination and will and some occult process. The most common example of this in early theosophical literature is the use of it to write letters, whereby the image of the sentences is first “photographed” in the brain or “impressed in the mind” and then “precipitated” onto the paper. The Mahatma K.H. briefly explains the process thus:
“I have to think it over, to photograph every word and sentence carefully in my brain before it can be repeated by ‘precipitation.’ As the fixing on chemically prepared surfaces of the images formed by the camera requires a previous arrangement within the focus of the object to be represented, for otherwise—as often found in bad photographs—the legs of the sitter might appear out of all proportion with the head, and so on, so we have to first arrange our sentences and impress every letter to appear on paper in our minds before it becomes fit to be read. For the present, it is all I can tell you. When science will have learned more about the mystery of the lithophyl (or lithobiblion) and how the impress of leaves comes originally to take place on stones, then will I be able to make you better understand the process. But you must know and remember one thing: we but follow and servilely copy nature in her works.” (ML 12)
Many of the “Mahatma Letters” sent to A. P. Sinnett were created in this way, rather than written out by hand. The originals of these letters are held in the British Library. Some theosophists who have viewed these letters in person have observed for themselves some peculiarities in the way in which the ink is “impressed” into the paper with a kind of cross-hatching, and the noticable lack of indentation in the paper that one would normally expect if a pen was used. See, for instance, the description given by George McNamara following his visit to the British Library in 2006: “The Mahatma Papers at the British Library,” archived from a theosophical forum, October 13, 2006.
Another example of precipitation is a portrait drawing done by Blavatsky in 1877. Olcott described the event thus:
“At the close of the dinner we had drifted into talk about precipitations, and Judge asked H. P. B. if she would not make somebody’s portrait for us. As we were moving towards the writing-room, she asked him whose portrait he wished made, and he chose that of this particular yogi, whom we knew by name as one held in great respect by the Masters. She crossed to my table, took a sheet of my crested club-paper, tore it in halves, kept the half which had no imprint, and laid it down on her own blotting-paper. She then scraped perhaps a grain of the plumbago of a Faber lead pencil on it, and then rubbed the surface for a minute or so with a circular motion of the palm of her right hand; after which she handed us the result. On the paper had come the desired portrait . . .” (Old Diary Leaves, 1:367-368)
The use of subtle bodies, the “Mayavi Rupa” (Illusion-Body), etc.:
“Admit that man’s soul—his real living soul—is a thing perfectly separate from the rest of the organism; that this perisprit is not stuck with paste to the physical ‘innerds’; and that this soul which exists in everything living . . . is different from its physical double only inasmuch as being more or less overshadowed by the immortal spirit, it is capable of acting freely and independently. In the case of the uninitiated profane, it acts during their sleep: in the case of an initiated adept, it acts at any moment he chooses according to his will.” (Blavatsky, Letter to her family, 1877)
Besides the physical body, Theosophy teaches that within Man there are also subtler “bodies” or forms or “upadhis” (vehicles) through which the spirit or consciousness of Man operates. It is said that the Adept learns to use and control these subtler vehicles and becomes able to “separate” them from each other at will, and thus to operate in one or another of the subtler vehicles independently of the physical body.
“Though there are seven principles in man, there are but three distinct Upadhis (bases), in each of which his Atma may work independently of the rest. These three Upadhis can be separated by an Adept without killing himself. He cannot separate the seven principles from each other without destroying his constitution.” (SD 1:158)
Blavatsky gives some further explanation thus:
“Our occult philosophy teaches us that there are three kinds of ‘doubles,’ to use the word in its widest sense. (1) Man has his ‘double’ or shadow, properly so called, around which the physical body of the fœtus—the future man—is built. . . . This ‘double’ is born with man, dies with him and can never separate itself far from the body during life, and though surviving him, it disintegrates, pari passu, with the corpse. . . . This ‘double’ is what we have agreed to call lingasarira, but which I would propose to call, for greater convenience, ‘Protean’ or ‘Plastic Body.’ . . .
“ The second is the ‘Thought’ body, or Dream body, rather; known among Occultists as the Mayavi-rupa, or ‘Illusion-body.’ During life this image is the vehicle both of thought and of the animal passions and desires, drawing at one and the same time from the lowest terrestrial manas (mind) and Kama, the element of desire. It is dual in its potentiality, and after death forms, what is called in the East, Bhoot, or Kama-rupa, but which is better known to theosophists as the ‘Spook.’
“ The third is the true Ego, called in the East by a name meaning ‘causal body’ but which in the trans-Himalayan schools is always called the ‘Karmic body,’ which is the same. For Karma or action is the cause which produces incessant rebirths or ‘reincarnations.’ It is not the Monad, nor is it Manas proper; but is, in a way, indissolubly connected with, and a compound of the Monad and Manas in Devachan.” (“On Astral Bodies, or Doppelgangers”)
It is the second of these three that is responsible for the phenomena observed by early theosophists of an Adept or Mahatma appearing and disappearing at will. Blavatsky touches on the phenomena in the same article:
“H.P. B. . . . The adept may at his will use his Mayavi rupa, but the ordinary man does not, except in very rare cases. It is called Mayavi rupa because it is a form of illusion created for use in the particular instance, and it has quite enough of the adept’s mind in it to accomplish its purpose. The ordinary man merely creates a thought-image, whose properties and powers are at the time wholly unknown to him. . . . Every thought evolved with energy from the brain, creates nolens volens a shape. [Such a shape is] perfectly unconscious unless it is the creation of an adept, who has a pre-conceived object in giving it consciousness, or rather in sending along with it enough of his will and intelligence to cause it to appear conscious. . . .
“M. C. Then one may say that the form of an adept appearing at a distance from his body . . .?
“H. P. B. Exactly. It is a walking thought.
“M. C. In which case an adept can appear in several places almost simultaneously.
“H. P. B. He can. Just as Apollonius of Tyana, who was seen in two places at once, while his body was at Rome. But it must be understood that not all of even the astral adept is present in each appearance.” (“On Astral Bodies, or Doppelgangers”)
In a footnote to a reply article to a British Theosophist, Blavatsky approaches the same subject:
“The critic . . . wants to know whether the two disembodied entities are ‘really and truly affected the one by the other’; or, ‘is it merely that the one personality imagines the presence of the other,’ . . . The critic may also be asked, how he can conceive of a real conscious intercourse on both sides, unless he understands the peculiar, and—to him as yet unknown—intellectual reaction and inter-relation between the two. [This sympathetic reaction is no fanciful hypothesis but a scientific fact known and taught at initiations, though unknown to modern science and but hazily perceived by some metaphysicians—spiritualists.]* . . .
“* It is demonstrated to Occultists by the fact that two adepts separated by hundreds of miles, leaving their bodies at their respective habitations and their astral bodies (the lower manas and volition, kama) to watch over them, can still meet at some distant place and hold converse and even perceive and sense each other for hours as though they were both personally and bodily together, whereas, even their lower mayavi-rupas are absent.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
Much more is said about this phenomena in early theosophical literature. For several accounts of those who witnessed the appearance of Adepts in their “Mayavi-Rupas,” see A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Mahatmas, compiled by Daniel H. Caldwell.
Communication at a distance:
“The powers with which occultism invests its adepts include, to begin with, a control over various forces in Nature which ordinary science knows nothing about, and by means of which an adept can hold conversation with any other adept, whatever intervals on the earth’s surface may lie between them. This psychological telegraphy is wholly independent of all mechanical conditions or appliances whatever. And the clairvoyant faculties of the adept are so perfect and complete that they amount to a species of omniscience as regards mundane affairs.” (Sinnett, The Occult World, p. 15)
Many other such powers are related, though little is fully explained in terms of function. For some accounts of phenomena performed by Blavatsky and her Adept-Teachers in the early years of the theosophical movement, see The Occult World, by A. P. Sinnett, as well as Old Diary Leaves, Vols. 1-3, by H. S. Olcott.
The unfolding of specific occult powers are associated with degrees of Adeptship and stages of initiation. For more, see “On Initiation.”
For some details on the Knowledge unfolded through the initiatory process of Adeptship, see “On Initiation.”
Two mundane topics related to Adeptship are also worth mentioning.
On Marriage and the Sexes
As noted above in regards to Chelaship, Blavatsky and her teachers make it clear that no Adept can be (or has ever been) married or a parent.
“We doubted, and now doubt, and will doubt for ever, and not only doubt, but positively deny, that one married and the father of a family, can ever be a practical adept, least of all a ‘Hierophant’ . . .” (Mahatma M., reply to correspondence by Mr. Joseph Wallace)
“No adept—while one at any rate—has ever ‘lived with a widow (or no widow) princess’; nor has he married anyone; least of all, no adept had, since the world’s evolution, even one, let alone a ‘thousand wives.’ (Blavatsky, note on “Adepts and Marriage,” re: the allegories of Krishna, Arjuna and Sankara having had wives etc.)
“The student must be aware that Jethro is called the ‘father-in-law’ of Moses; not because Moses was really married to one of his seven daughters. Moses was an Initiate, if he ever existed, and as such an ascetic, a nazar, and could never be married.” (Blavatsky, SD 2:465fn)
Blavatsky explains the allegories of married Adepts, found in various scriptures, as follows:
“The occultist, when he has identified himself thoroughly with his Atma, acts upon the Buddhi, for, according to the laws of Cosmic Evolution, the Purusha—the universal seventh principle—is perpetually acting upon and manifesting itself through Prakriti—the universal sixth principle. Thus the Mahatma, who has become one with his seventh principle—which is identical with Purusha, since there is no isolation in the spiritual monad—is practically a creator, for he has identified himself with the evoluting and the manifesting energy of nature. It was in this sense that the Rishis are said to have married. And the union of Śiva and Śakti represents the same allegory. . . . The marriage of the occultist . . . is a ‘holy union,’ devoid of sin, in the same manner as Krishna’s union with thousands of Gopîs. Sensual-minded men have taken this fact up too literally; and, out of a wrong interpretation of the text, has arisen a sect which indulges in the most degrading practices. But, in fact, Krishna represents the seventh principle, while the Gopîs indicate the innumerable powers of that principle manifested through its ‘vehicle.’ Its union ‘without sin,’ or rather the action or manifestation of each of these powers through the ‘female principle’ gives rise to the phenomenal appearances. In such a union the occultist is happy and ‘without sin’ for the ‘conception’ of his other-half—the female principle—is ‘immaculate.’” (“The Future Occultist”)
Given the patriarchal attitudes in nearly all ancient societies and their religious traditions, the question naturally arose among early theosophists whether or not a female could become an adept. Damodar Mavalankar penned a response to this question, in which he answers that neither he, nor any of the Chelas, know of any reason why they should not be able to. See: “Can Females Become Adepts?” See also “The Future Occultist,” by Blavatsky, for more on male and female Adepts.
One thing (seemingly trivial, but perhaps not) that Blavatsky mentions as being common among all true initiates is allowing their hair to grow naturally.
“Jesus and his Apostles are shown to have worn long hair—every one of them except Paul. The Nazars of the Old Testament never allowed the razor to touch their head. The Aryan Rishis, the Yogis, the Sadhus of every kind wore and still wear their hair long. The initiates of Tibet do the same. In Europe, the Greek and Russian clergy alone, along with their monks, have preserved the wise habit, and the longevity of some of the last named is proverbial.” (“Should Men Cut Their Hair?”)
“Occult philosophy considers the hair (whether human or animal) as the natural receptacle and retainer of the vital essence which often escapes with other emanations from the body. It is closely connected with many of the brain functions—for instance memory. . . . (see The Theosophical Glossary, p. 132, “Hair.”)
A Word of Caution
The above explanations, as well as those given in “On Initiation,” are not meant to be exhaustive as to the life, nature, powers, knowledge, etc. of Adepts and Mahatmas, but may give some general starting point for further investigation, and place into context some general ideas about the Path and its results.
After the death of H. P. Blavatsky, many ideas about the nature of a Mahatma became popularized—both within and outside of theosophical organizations—but a great deal of these ideas do not necessarily accord well with what we know of the Mahatmas through their own published writings and letters, and the writings of their known Chelas (Blavatsky, Olcott, Subba Row, Damodar, W. Q. Judge, etc.). Many of the writings about Mahatmas that have appeared in the century plus since Blavatsky’s passing read as fictitious caricatures of them, weaving in pseudo-spiritual ideas of ascension and angelic or godlike descriptions, often combined with heavily Christianized iconography and depictions. There have also been no shortage of claims of having “channeled” this or that Mahatma or Chela, or having contacted H.P.B. or other deceased theosophists via mediumistic methods, and so on. These, along with fantastic ideas about religious figures like Jesus Christ and historical figures like St. Germain, have become in vogue among votaries of various “new age” movements and among more than a few theosophists. Such ideas about the Mahatmas have almost entirely detached themselves from any reasonable relation to their own descriptions of themselves and their Brotherhood. As such, we caution all readers to weigh any claims about the nature of an Adept or Mahatma carefully and with a healthy degree of skepticism, and to refer whenever possible to the writings of the theosophical Mahatmas themselves or those of their Chelas (and note well that by this we mean those who we can objectively verify to have indeed been accepted Chelas, the number of which is very few).
On this subject, see the Letter by Blavatsky to Franz Hartmann, wherein she pushes back against such mistaken notions and fantastic ideas about the Mahatmas that were already arising in her time, even among some of the core workers in the theosophical movement.
“In New York already, Olcott and Judge went mad over the thing; but they kept it secret enough then. When we went to India, their [the Mahatmas] very names were never pronounced in London or on the way . . . When we arrived, and Master coming to Bombay bodily, paid a visit to us at Girgaum, and several persons saw him, Wimbridge for one—Olcott became crazy. He was like Balaam’s she-ass when she saw the angel! Then came Damodar, Servai, and several other fanatics, who began calling them ‘Mahatmas’; and, little by little, the Adepts were transformed into Gods on earth. They began to be appealed to, and made puja to, and were becoming with every day more legendary and miraculous. Now, if I tell you the answer I received from Keshow Pillai you will laugh, but it characterizes the thing. ‘But what is your idea of you Hindus about the Masters?’—I asked him one day when he prostrated himself flat before the picture in my golden locket. Then he told me that they (the Mahatmas) were their ancient Rishis, who had never died, and were some 700,000 years old. That they were represented as living invisibly in sacred trees, and when showing themselves were found to have long green hair, and their bodies shining like the moon, etc., etc. Well, between this idea of the Mahatmas and Olcott’s rhapsodies, what could I do? I saw with terror and anger the false track they were all pursuing. The ‘Masters,’ as all thought, must be omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. If a Hindu or Parsi sighed for a son, or a Government office, or was in trouble, and the Mahatmas never gave a sign of life—the good and faithful Parsi, the devoted Hindu, was unjustly treated. The Masters knew all; why did they not help the devotee? If a mistake or a flapdoodle was committed in the Society—‘How could the Masters allow you or Olcott to do so?’ we were asked in amazement. The idea that the Masters were mortal men, limited even in their great powers, never crossed anyone’s mind, though they wrote this themselves repeatedly. It was ‘modesty and secretiveness’—people thought. ‘How is it possible,’ the fools argued, ‘that the Mahatmas should not know all that was in every Theosophist’s mind, and hear every word pronounced by each member?’ That to do so, and find out what the people thought, and hear what they said, the Masters had to use special psychological means, to take great trouble for it at the cost of labor and time—was something out of the range of the perceptions of their devotees.” etc.
Primary Sources for further reading on the path of Adeptship:
Selected Writings on Adeptship
- A Great Riddle Solved
- Answers to Correspondents—Mr. “Joseph Wallace”
- Answers to Queries
- Answers To Questioners
- Are Chelas Mediums?
- Can Females Become Adepts?
- Can The Mahatmas Be Selfish?
- Chelas and Lay Chelas
- Do the Rishis Exist?
- Existence of the Himalayan Mahatmas
- Hints on Esoteric Theosophy [1-2]
- How a “Chela” Found His “Guru”
- Letter from Col. Olcott to Mr. H— X—
- Letters That Have Helped Me (Vol. 2)
- Letters That Have Helped Me [Vol. 1]
- Madame Blavatsky on “The Himalayan Brothers”
- Mahatmas and Chelas
- On Rahatship
- Pertinent Questions
- Projection of the Double
- Qualifications for Chelaship
- Questions About Esoteric Theosophy Answered
- Rotation—Individual Evolution
- Seeds and Seedlings: The Doctrine of Perfectibility
- Sham Asceticism
- Spiritual Progress
- The Application of Theosophical Theories
- The Future Occultist
- The Himalayan Brothers—Do They Exist?
- The Metaphysical Basis of “Esoteric Buddhism”
- The Occult World
- The Voice of the Silence
- The “Blessing” of the Brothers
- The “Occult World” and the “Spiritualist”
- Western “Adepts” and Eastern Theosophists
- [Answers to Questions on Adepts]
- [Dhyana & The Company of Mahatmas]
- [Evidence of the Existence of Mahatmas]
- [Notes on Evolution and Perception]
- [Notes on the Origin of Freemasonry and the Presence of Adepts in India]
- [Notes on “Fragments of Occult Truth” 1-3]
- [Notes on “Who are the Aryas and the Buddhists”]
- [On Adepts Living Apart from Society]
- [On Sufis and Mahatmas as Non-Religious]
- [On the “Brothers” and Real Adepts]
- “The Theosophical Mahatmas”