The following is a work-in-progress, an attempt to collate all notable references to the subject of Initiation in the known writings of the theosophical Adepts or Mahatmas, and their direct students (Chelas), including H. P. Blavatsky, H. S. Olcott, T. Subba Row, Damodar K. Mavalankar, W. Q. Judge, A. P. Sinnett, and others.
As the reader will soon see, very little is openly said by the Mahatmas and their Chelas on the exact details of initiation, its degrees, the knowledge and powers obtained, etc. There is no shortage of later writers who have had a great deal to say about the initiatory process, but at the outset here, we caution the reader against too rashly accepting such explanations. Instead, we encourage them 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). The subject of initiation has always been shrouded in deep mystery and purposely veiled from the public eye, and thus, as always, it is up to each student to decide for themselves what may or may not be accurate in public writings on such subjects, and to keep an open mind to possibilities without foolishly accepting any given claim before investigating the subject thoroughly.
“To make an adept requires years of study and preparation and a solemn initiation under some competent Hierophant.” (Blavatsky, “A Word with the Theosophists”)
Initiate. From the Latin Initiatus. The designation of anyone who was received into and had revealed to him the mysteries and secrets of either Masonry or Occultism. In times of antiquity, those who had been initiated into the arcane knowledge taught by the Hierophants of the Mysteries; and in our modern days those who have been initiated by the adepts of mystic lore into the mysterious knowledge, which, notwithstanding the lapse of ages, has yet a few real votaries on earth.
Initiation. From the same root as the Latin initia, which means the basic or first principles of any Science. The practice of initiation or admission into the sacred Mysteries, taught by the Hierophants and learned priests of the Temples, is one of the most ancient customs. . . . (Theosophical Glossary)
The word “initiation” is sometimes used in reference to initiation into Chelaship and sometimes in reference to initiation into Adeptship and the degrees therein. It is not always obvious which the term applies to when used in early theosophical literature, and one must be on guard not to confuse the two stages. In regards to this distinction, we find T. Subba Row, for instance (see BL 161, final paragraph) using the term “real initiates” to refer to Chelas, while distinguishing such “real initiates” from the Adepts themselves. Furthermore, the word “initiation” is also used to signify initiation into organizations like Masonry, or into the inner circles of any given tradition—Buddhist, Vedanta, Yoga, Qabbalah, etc.—and such initiations should not be confused with either initiation into Chelaship or Adeptship within the Brotherhood to which Blavatsky and her Teachers belonged. Finally, the term “initiation” was also used by Blavatsky, Olcott and others in regards to the simple act of joining the Theosophical Society in it’s early years, when joining the T.S. required one to sign a certain pledge of secrecy etc.; in this context it was referred to casually as “being initiated” into the T.S.
Thus it is very important to take note of the context in which this term is used in theosophical literature. In the following compilation we have tried to restrict references and quotations to instances where the term is used either in reference to initiation into real Chelaship or initiation into Adeptship.
The Purpose of Initiation
On the chief aim of initiation, one of the Mahatma’s explains:
“The [individuality], to run successfully its seven-fold downward & upward course, has to assimilate to itself the eternal life-power residing but in the 7th [principle] and then blend the three (4th, 5th & 7th) into one—the 6th. Those who succeed in doing so become Buddhas, Dhyan Chohans, etc. The chief object of our struggles and initiations is to achieve this union while yet on this earth.” (ML 44)
The Nature and Mystery of Initiation
In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky tells us a little about the mystery of initiation:
There are four grades of initiation mentioned in exoteric works, which are known respectively in Sanskrit as “Srotāpanna,” “Sakṛdāgāmin,” “Anāgāmin,” and “Arhan”—the four paths to Nirvana, in this, our fourth Round, bearing the same appellations. The Arhan, though he can see the Past, the Present, and the Future, is not yet the highest Initiate; for the Adept himself, the initiated candidate, becomes chela (pupil) to a higher Initiate. Three further higher grades have to be conquered by the Arhan who would reach the apex of the ladder of Arhatship. There are those who have reached it even in this fifth race of ours, but the faculties necessary for the attainment of these higher grades will be fully developed in the average ascetic only at the end of this Root-Race, and in the Sixth and Seventh. Thus there will always be Initiates and the Profane till the end of this minor Manvantara, the present life-cycle. The Arhats of the “fire-mist” of the 7th rung are but one remove from the Root-Base of their Hierarchy—the highest on Earth, and our Terrestrial chain. This “Root-Base” has a name which can only be translated by several compound words into English—“the ever-living-human-Banyan.” This “Wondrous Being” descended from a “high region,” they say, in the early part of the Third Age, before the separation of the sexes of the Third Race.
This Third Race is sometimes called collectively “the Sons of Passive Yoga,” i.e., it was produced unconsciously by the second Race, which, as it was intellectually inactive, is supposed to have been constantly plunged in a kind of blank or abstract contemplation, as required by the conditions of the Yoga state. In the first or earlier portion of the existence of this third race, while it was yet in its state of purity, the “Sons of Wisdom,” who, as will be seen, incarnated in this Third Race, produced by Kriyasakti a progeny called the “Sons of Ad” or “of the Fire-Mist,” the “Sons of Will and Yoga,” etc. They were a conscious production, as a portion of the race was already animated with the divine spark of spiritual, superior intelligence. It was not a Race, this progeny. It was at first a wondrous Being, called the “Initiator,” and after him a group of semi-divine and semi-human beings. “Set apart” in Archaic genesis for certain purposes, they are those in whom are said to have incarnated the highest Dhyanis, “Munis and Rishis from previous Manvantaras”—to form the nursery for future human adepts, on this earth and during the present cycle. These “Sons of Will and Yoga” born, so to speak, in an immaculate way, remained, it is explained, entirely apart from the rest of mankind.
The “Being” just referred to, which has to remain nameless, is the Tree from which, in subsequent ages, all the great historically known Sages and Hierophants, such as the Rishi Kapila, Hermes, Enoch, Orpheus, etc., etc., have branched off. As objective man, he is the mysterious (to the profane—the ever invisible) yet ever present Personage about whom legends are rife in the East, especially among the Occultists and the students of the Sacred Science. It is he who changes form, yet remains ever the same. And it is he again who holds spiritual sway over the initiated Adepts throughout the whole world. He is, as said, the “Nameless One” who has so many names, and yet whose names and whose very nature are unknown. He is the “Initiator,” called the “great sacrifice.” For, sitting at the threshold of light, he looks into it from within the circle of Darkness, which he will not cross; nor will he quit his post till the last day of this life-cycle. Why does the solitary Watcher remain at his self-chosen post? Why does he sit by the fountain of primeval Wisdom, of which he drinks no longer, as he has naught to learn which he does not know—aye, neither on this Earth, nor in its heaven? Because the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth-Life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, though but a few Elect may profit by the great sacrifice.
It is under the direct, silent guidance of this Maha—(great)—Guru that all the other less divine Teachers and instructors of mankind became, from the first awakening of human consciousness, the guides of early Humanity. It is through these “Sons of God” that infant humanity got its first notions of all the arts and sciences, as well as of spiritual knowledge; and it is they who have laid the first foundation-stone of those ancient civilizations that puzzle so sorely our modern generation of students and scholars. (SD 1:206-207)
The following from Blavatsky gives a hint as to the general process of the initiatory cycle:
“The cycle of Initiation was a reproduction in miniature of that great series of Cosmic changes to which astronomers have given the name of tropical or sidereal year. Just as, at the close of the cycle of the sidereal year [25,868 years], the heavenly bodies return to the same relative positions as they occupied at its outset, so at the close of the cycle of Initiation the inner man has regained the pristine state of divine purity and knowledge from which he set out on his cycle of terrestrial incarnation.” (SD 1:314)
Elsewhere, in explaining the esoteric significance of baptism by water and baptism by fire, she says:
“In the Cycle of Initiation, which was very long, water represented the first and lower steps toward purification, while trials connected with fire came last. Water could regenerate the body of matter; fire alone, that of the inner Spiritual man.” (SD 2:566)
Degrees or Grades of Initiation
As noted above, we are told that there are, in total, seven grades or degrees of initiation, making up the ranks of the Adepts, at the head of which stands the “Great Initiator.”
“The degrees of an Adept’s initiation mark the seven stages at which he discovers the secret of the sevenfold principles in nature and man and awakens his dormant powers.” (ML 67)
We consistently find the number seven associated with initiation, for instance Blavatsky speaks also of the “seven-fold mystery of initiation” (SD 2:529).
Some further details and definitions are given of the first four grades as named in the quote above, while very little is explicitly said of the higher three. The terms Blavatsky uses for the first four degrees have their exoteric and their esoteric meaning, and we need to be careful not to superimpose the exoteric on the esoteric. That said, some definitions offered by Blavatsky are as follows:
Srotāpatti—(lit.) “he who has entered the stream” that leads to the Nirvāṇic ocean. This name indicates the first Path. The name of the second is the Path of Sakṛdāgāmin, “he who will receive birth (only) once more.” The third is called Anāgāmin, “he who will be reincarnated no more,” unless he so desires in order to help mankind. The fourth Path is known as that of Rahat or Arhat. This is the highest. An Arhat sees Nirvāṇa during his life. For him it is no post-mortem state, but Samādhi, during which he experiences all Nirvāṇic bliss. (VOS p. 50fn)
Srotāpatti. “He who has entered the stream,” i.e., the stream or path that leads to Nirvana. . . .
Sakṛdāgāmin. “He who will receive birth (only) once more” before Nirvana is reached by him; he who has entered the second of the four paths which lead to Nirvana and has almost reached perfection.
Anāgāmin. One who is no longer to be reborn into the world of desire. One stage before becoming Arhat and ready for Nirvana. The third of the four grades of holiness on the way to final Initiation.
Arahat. Also pronounced and written Arhat, Arhan, Rahat, etc., “the worthy one”, lit., “deserving divine honours.” . . . The Arhat is one who has entered the best and highest path, and is thus emancipated from rebirth. (Theosophical Glossary)
In the quote above, Blavatsky had noted that “three further higher grades have to be conquered by the Arhan who would reach the apex of the ladder of Arhatship.” In the following she mentions further divisions within Arhatship, as quoted by “the chief assistant priest of the Paramananda Vihara, at Galle” (Sri Lanka):
“By the term Rahat [or Arhat] we meant an adept, or one who ‘has developed his psychical powers to their fullest extent.’ Such a person is known in India as a Rishi or a Yogi, and there are many stages and degrees of development before the pinnacle of spiritual perfectibility is reached. Thus a Rahat may be of a lower or higher degree of development. The four degrees or stages are Sukkha-vipassaka (lowest), Tevijja (third), Chaḷabhiñña (second), and Paṭisambhidapatto (first) the highest. We affirmed and repeat that neither in India, Egypt, nor Ceylon, has this ancient wisdom died out, and if we believe that there still survive its adepts and initiates, it is because we speak from personal knowledge and not by hearsay.” (See “On Rahatship” and “Rahatship.” Note: we have corrected the spelling of the Pali terms.)
Thus here we have four degrees of Arhats. The following is a summary drawing from exoteric definitions, counting from the lowest to the highest.
- Sukkha-vipassaka [Sk. śuṣka-vipaśyaka]: possessing “dry-insight” (dry vipaśyanā).
- Tevijja [Sk. trividya]: possessing “three knowledges” (i.e. memory of past lives, the “divine eye,” and extinction of the āsavas (influxes, karmic propensities)).
- Chaḷabhiñña [Sk. ṣaḍ abhijña]: possessing “six higher knowledges” (i.e. the previous three knowledges, plus: psychic powers (iddhis), clairaudience, and mind-penetrating-knowledge or “telepathy”).
- Paṭisambhidappatto or Paṭisambhidā [Sk. pratisaṃvidaprāpta or pratisaṃvidā]: possessing “four kinds of analytical knowledge” (i.e. knowledge of objects, of dharmas, of etymological meanings (the science of language), and of illumination (or knowledge of the other three knowledges)).
It is worth noting here that Blavatsky (along with Sinnett) connects the term Arhat with the term Mahatma (see, for example, TG p. 301). According to independent testimonies, several of the above-mentioned powers attributed to an Arhat were demonstrated by Blavatsky’s teachers to their students. Others, such as the power to recall past lives, are also mentioned in relation to degrees of initiation (see below).
Thus, to give “seven grades of initiation” as mentioned in the above quotes, we may summarize thus (using the Sanskrit forms):
- Arhat: Śuṣka-Vipaśyaka
- Arhat: Trividya
- Arhat: Ṣaḍ-Abhijña
- Arhat: Pratisaṃvidā
In Buddhist teachings, these are associated with accomplishment of the jhanas (Pali) or dhyanas (Sk.), i.e. stages of meditation. Blavatsky marks the same association between adeptship and the dhyanas:
“Esoteric Buddhism and Brahmanism are one, for the former is derived from the latter. It well-known, the most important feature of reform, perhaps, was that Buddha made adeptship or enlightenment (through the dhyâna practices of Iddhi) open to all, whereas the Brahmans had been jealously excluding all men without the pale of their own haughty caste from this privilege of learning the perfect truth.” (“Esoteric Axioms and Spiritual Speculations”)
While the above terminology is drawn from Buddhism, the specifics on how to interpret these grades of initiation, what occurs therein, what knowledge and power come with each step, may differ between the system of the Brotherhood to which Blavatsky belonged and the system as explained by one or another of the known schools of Buddhism. Blavatksy points out in several places that the system of the Brotherhood is not Buddhism as popularly understood. (See, for instance, the Introductory to The Secret Doctrine; see also “Adeptship,” the section on Non-Sectarianism.)
In addition to the above, another approach, this time of “nine degrees of initiation” in Raja Yoga, is hinted at by Blavatsky:
“The person who guides [the power of levitation] must be partially, if not wholly, acquainted with that which, in the Sanskrit works on Occultism, is called the “Nava Nidhi” or the nine jewels of Raja-Yoga.* The most perfect “Samadhi,” the highest of the “Siddhis” of “Hatha-Yoga” can at best guide the subject to the threshold of the world of invisible matter, not to those of the world of spirit, where the hidden and subtler potencies of nature lie dormant until disturbed.
* The student of Yoga philosophy must not confound these nine degrees of Initiation with the “Ashta Siddhis” or the minor eight degrees of “Hatha-Yoga.” In knowledge and powers, the latter stand in the same proportion to the former as rudiments of Arithmetic to the highest degrees of Mathematics. (“Whipped into Admission”)
The nine Nidhis (see here and here) are listed as: 1. mahāpadma (great lotus), 2. padma (lotus) or padmarāga (red lotus or ruby), 3. śaṅkha (conch), 4. makara (crocodile), 5. kacchapa (turtle), 6. kumuda (camphor) or nanda (joy), 7. kunda (jasmine) or mukunda (jewel), 8. nīla (sapphire), 9. kharva (“the innumerable”). The true symbolic meaning of these terms is not explained in exoteric texts.
In his comments and criticism of “The Philosophy of Spirit,” T. Subba Row also mentions a sixteen stage system:
“The Rishis also recognized 16 stages of ascent—not 12 as the author has erroneously supposed—from Prithwi Tatwam up to “the eternal and infinite monad”—the augoides that overshadows every man, the blazing star at the end of Shodasantum (end of the 16th stage of ascent). . . . From the stand-point of Aryan philosophy, the author is right in saying that a man becomes perfect on reaching the 11th stage, but he is wrong in saying that, on attaining the next higher step, he becomes an ‘angel’ or Deva. The nature of the last 5 stages, spoken of by the ancient Rishis, is not clearly understood even by the ordinary initiate (An initiate of the preliminary degrees).”
This would seem to relate to the doctrine of the ṣoḍaśa vikārāḥ or “Sixteen Transformations” mentioned in the Tattva Samasa and other texts and thus to the system of tattvas of the Sankhya and Saiva traditions, though the exoteric meanings attached to the “sixteen vikaras” may not be what is meant by Subba Row as “sixteen stages of ascent.” In Sankhya the sixteen vikaras are: the 5 Elements (thus beginning from Pṛthvī-tattva), Manas, and the 10 Indriyas (5 Karma-, 5 Jnāna-Indriyas). Blavatsky makes mention of the vikāras in her introduction to The Secret Doctrine:
“When Buddhi absorbs our Ego-tism (destroys it) with all its Vikāras, Avalokiteśvara becomes manifested to us, and Nirvāṇa, or Mukti, is reached” (SD 1:xix)
How the “sixteen stages of ascent” may relate to the other methods of counting stages or degrees of initiation is not made clear by Subba Row.
Blavatsky also mentions an almost universal threefold system:
Three Degrees (of Initiation). Every nation had its exoteric and esoteric religion, the one for the masses, the other for the learned and elect. For example, the Hindus had three degrees with several sub-degrees. The Egyptians had also three preliminary degrees, personified under the “three guardians of the fire” in the Mysteries. The Chinese had their most ancient Triad Society: and the Tibetans have to this day their “triple step”; which was symbolized in the Vedas by the three strides of Vishnu. Everywhere antiquity shows an unbounded reverence for the Triad and Triangle—the first geometrical figure. The old Babylonians had their three stages of initiation into the priesthood (which was then esoteric knowledge); the Jews, the Kabbalists and mystics borrowed them from the Chaldees, and the Christian Church from the Jews. . . . (TG p. 333)
In connection with the triangle, we might note that different forms of a triangle are used as markers or signatures by both Chelas and Adepts. See, for instance, the letters signed as such by the Mahatmas, as well as the signatures of certain chelas (see “A Protest” for examples), and see the explanation given in The Voice of the Silence, p. 21.
Thus, throughout various lists using various terms, we find always several degrees of Adepts, each associated with specific accomplishments, powers and knowledge. When we note that each degree or stage may be divided into its own sub-degrees, we can begin to see how the path of initiation may be counted and explained in a myriad of ways.
In one of the Mahatma Letters, there is reference made to being an initiate of the “fifth circle” (ML 22). How this might connect with the above grades or degrees is not clear.
The “highest” initiation is qualified by the following:
“Owing to the highest initiation performed by one overshadowed by the ‘Spirit of Buddha’ . . . a candidate becomes virtually a Bodhisattva, created such by the High Initiator.” (SD 1:109)
Again, in regards to the final or “supreme initiation” Blavatsky hints at a mystery:
“At the last moment of the Supreme Initiation, when the Initiator had divulged the last mysterious word, either the Hierophant or the “newly born,” the worthier of the two, had to die, since two Adepts of equal power must not live, and he, who is perfect, has no room on earth.” (“[Notes on Symbolism in Selections by Eliphas Levi]”)
But again, we lack context for how terms like “highest,” “final,” or “supreme” initiation may connect with the above exploration of specific degrees.
Classes of Adepts
In addition to the degrees, which we may think of as hierarchical (or ascending, thus “vertical”), the Adepts are also divided into seven natural “classes” (which we may view as a “horizontal” arrangement). This is explored in the following quotes:
“When [Jesus] is made to say . . . ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father,’ it . . . was simply to show that the group of his disciples and followers attracted to Him belonged to the same Dhyani Buddha, ‘Star,’ or ‘Father,’ again of the same planetary realm and division as He did. It is the knowledge of this occult doctrine that found expression in the review of ‘The Idyll of the White Lotus,’ when Mr. T. Subba Row wrote: ‘Every Buddha meets at his last initiation all the great adepts who reached Buddhahood during the preceding ages . . . every class of adepts has its own bond of spiritual communion which knits them together. . . . . The only possible and effectual way of entering into such brotherhood . . . . is by bringing oneself within the influence of the Spiritual light which radiates from one’s own Logos. I may further point out here . . . . that such communion is only possible between persons whose souls derive their life and sustenance from the same divine ray, and that, as seven distinct rays radiate from the ‘Central Spiritual Sun,’ all adepts and Dhyan Chohans are divisible into seven classes, each of which is guided, controlled, and overshadowed by one of the seven forms or manifestations of the divine Wisdom.’” (SD 1:574)
“Jesus the initiate (or Jehoshua)—the type from whom the “historical” Jesus was copied . . . did [not] worship any planetary god beside his own ‘Father,’ whom he knew, and with whom he communed as every high initiate does, ‘Spirit to Spirit and Soul to Soul.’” (SD 1:577-78)
“The star under which a human Entity is born, says the Occult teaching, will remain for ever its star, throughout the whole cycle of its incarnations in one Manvantara. But this is not his astrological star. The latter is concerned and connected with the personality, the former with the individuality. The ‘Angel’ of that Star, or the Dhyani-Buddha, will be either the guiding or simply the presiding ‘Angel,’ so to say, in every new rebirth of the monad, which is part of his own essence, though his vehicle, man, may remain for ever ignorant of this fact. The adepts have each their Dhyani-Buddha, their elder ‘twin Soul,’ and they know it, calling it ‘Father-Soul,’ and ‘Father-Fire.’ It is only at the last and supreme initiation, however, that they learn it when placed face to face with the bright ‘Image.’” (SD 1:572-573)
One may, perhaps, imagine the “seven degrees” and “seven classes” so arranged as to produce 49 distinct types of Adeptship, corresponding to the “49 fires,” “49 root-races,” “49 Manus,” etc. (see The Secret Doctrine), but this is only speculation on our part.
Blavatsky elsewhere mentions “three distinct types of Adeptship”—Durvāsā, Dattātreya and Candra—each immaculately conceived by Anasūyā, “a female adept of the ancient times.” (see “The Future Occultist”). Stories of Anasūyā and her sons can be found in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, etc. In the mythology, Anasūyā is granted a boon and uses it to request that the trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Siva) be born to her as children. Thus she gave immaculate birth to her three sons, each connected to one of the three gods. She also gave birth to one daughter, Shubhatreyi. The connection between “three distinct types of Adeptship” and Anasūyā’s children may perhaps relate to the main denominations of the Hindu tradition: Vaishnavism (of Vishnu), Shaivism (of Siva), Smartism (of Brahman), and Shaktism (of the female Sakti), but this is again speculation.
Methods and Processes
In regards to the methodology of Initiation, little is openly said. The following are some of the few topics touched upon.
The Soma Drink
One aspect of initiation that is hinted at in several places is the role of the “Soma drink”:
“Soma is the moon astronomically; but in mystical phraseology, it is also the name of the sacred beverage drunk by the Brahmins and the Initiates during their mysteries and sacrificial rites. The ‘Soma’ plant is the asclepias acida, which yields a juice from which that mystic beverage, the Soma drink, is made. Alone the descendants of the Rishis, the Agnihôtri (the fire priests) of the great mysteries knew all its powers. But the real property of the true Soma was (and is) to make a new man of the Initiate, after he is reborn, namely once that he begins to live in his astral body (See “The Elixir of Life”); for, his spiritual nature overcoming the physical, he would soon snap it off and part even from that etherealized form.
“The partaker of Soma finds himself both linked to his external body, and yet away from it in his spiritual form. The latter, freed from the former, soars for the time being in the ethereal higher regions, becoming virtually ‘as one of the gods,’ and yet preserving in his physical brain the memory of what he sees and learns. Plainly speaking, Soma is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge forbidden by the jealous Elohim to Adam and Eve or Yah-ve, ‘lest Man should become as one of us.’
“Soma was never given in days of old to the non-initiated Brahman—the simple Grihasta, or priest of the exoteric ritual.” (SD 2:498-99)
Soma is said to have been drunk at initiation (TG p. 64), and it “makes a new man of the initiate; he is reborn and transformed, and his spiritual nature overcomes the physical; it bestows the divine power of inspiration, and develops the clairvoyant faculty to the utmost.” But to this is added that “the Soma-drink known to Europeans is not the genuine beverage, but its substitute; for the initiated priests alone can taste of the real Soma . . . We were positively informed that the majority of the sacrificial priests of the Dekkan have lost the secret of the true Soma. It can be found neither in the ritual books nor through oral information.” (TG p. 304.) The Soma drink is also connected with the “Amrita,” or the “nectar of the gods,” (see TG p. 20, SD 1:523fn, SD 2:45fn, SD 2:378, etc.).
While the exact nature and use of the Soma drink is not explained in more detail than in the above quotes, we can observe that nearly all ancient traditions from around the world had some manner of ceremonial drink used in the above-mentioned manner. However, whether the real Soma drink resembles these drinks in content or result, we cannot say with certainty. In some places, Blavatsky suggests a deeper significance to the Soma drink than we would usually find among known traditions and their drinks. See, for instance, TG, p. 371-72.
Samadhi, Trance States, Death, etc.
An additional aspect of the initiatory process seems to involve types of sleep or trance condition, which free the “inner man” temporarily, during which time he passes through inner experiences and trials. On this topic, see, for instance, SD 2:558-59, etc.; see also “Coffin-Rite,” TG p. 87 and “Crypt”, p. 91. There is a connection here also to the esoteric meaning of baptism (see TG p. 49 and elsewhere) and also to the symbolism in various religious allegories, esp. elements of the story of Christ, the story of Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad, etc., etc.
During the early years of the T.S. (late 1881) one of the Brothers (K.H.) is said to have gone through an initiation wherein he went into a Samadhi trance condition for a three month period. See ML 21 where K.H. informs Sinnett of this, and ML 29, where M. mentions it, and then ML 47, K.H.’s first letter to Sinnett afterwards, where he tells him “I have been on a long journey after supreme knowledge.” Blavatsky, writing to Mrs. Hollis Billings (Oct 2, 1881), explains:
“K. H. or Koot-Hoomi is now gone to sleep for three months to prepare during this Samadhi or continuous trance state for his initiation, the last but one, when he will become one of the highest adepts. Poor K. H. his body is now lying cold and stiff in a separate square building of stone with no windows or doors in it, the entrance to which is effected through an underground passage from a door in Toong-ting (reliquary, a room situated in every Thaten (temple) or Lamisery; and his Spirit is quite free. An adept might lie so for years, when his body was carefully prepared for it beforehand by mesmeric passes etc. It is a beautiful spot where he is now in the square tower. The Himalayas on the right and a lovely lake near the lamisery. His Cho-han (spiritual instructor, master, and the Chief of a Tibetan Monastery takes care of his body. M . . also goes occasionally to visit him. It is an awful mystery that state of cataleptic sleep for such a length of time . . .” (printed in The Theosophical Forum, May, 1936)
In a comment on certain passages by Eliphas Levi, Blavatsky say the following about the three month period:
“To this day, the initiation beyond the Himalayas is followed by temporary death (from three to six months) of the disciple, often that of the Initiator . . .” (“[Notes on Symbolism in Selections by Eliphas Levi]”)
In an as yet unpublished letter, Blavatsky notes the date of the end of K.H.’s Samadhi:
“Koot Hoomi awoke from his Samadhi on December 24th . On the 1st of January , he communicated with us, and is now teaching Mr. Sinnett philosophy again.”
We may take notice that his period of Samadhi occurred from shortly after the autumnal equinox and concluded three days after the winter solstice. There are hints and suggestions among many ancient traditions of the connection between such cyclic dates and the initiatory processes.
Blavatsky mentions in a few places that the original purpose of the Pyramids found around the world was to facilitate the initiatory process.
[In 1882, a work by C. Staniland Wake entitled The Origin and Significance of the Great Pyramid was published in London by Reeves and Turner. In H.P.B.’s copy of this work, now in the Adyar Archives, there is a pencil note in her handwriting, on page 85, with reference to Wake’s statement that the Cheops Pyramid “was erected during the reign of Cheops” and that this “is almost universally admitted.” H.P.B. says:]
“Cheops never built it. It was built ages before him and he only desecrated it by giving it another use. In his day no more initiations took place in it and he consecrated it to Tet, or Seth-Typhon.” (see CW 4:287)
“It is on [astronomical] ‘knowledge’ that the programme of the mysteries and of the series of Initiations was based: thence, the construction of the Pyramids, the everlasting record and the indestructible symbol of these Mysteries and Initiations on Earth, as the courses of the stars are in Heaven.” (SD 1:314)
“The date of the hundreds of pyramids in the Valley of the Nile is impossible to fix by any of the rules of modern science; but Herodotus informs us that each successive king erected one to commemorate his reign, and serve as his sepulchre. But, Herodotus did not tell all, although he knew that the real purpose of the pyramid was very different from that which he assigns to it. Were it not for his religious scruples, he might have added that, externally, it symbolized the creative principle of nature, and illustrated also the principles of geometry, mathematics, astrology, and astronomy. Internally, it was a majestic fane, in whose sombre recesses were performed the Mysteries, and whose walls had often witnessed the initiation-scenes of members of the royal family. The porphyry sarcophagus, which Professor Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, degrades into a corn-bin, was the baptismal font, upon emerging from which, the neophyte was “born again,” and became an adept.” (IU 1:518-519)
Some other stray details as to the nature of “initiation rooms” are given by Blavatsky and her Teachers, including rooms in which a Adepts leave their body during the above-mentioned Samadhis or trances, as in the following description:
“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)
A very curious description of a room used by a Chela and a Lama is described in one of the letters of the Mahatma K.H. to A. P. Sinnett:
“The methods used for developing lucidity in our chelas may be easily used by you. Every temple has a dark room, the north wall of which is entirely covered with a sheet of mixed metal, chiefly copper, very highly polished, with a surface capable of reflecting in it things, as well as a mirror. The chela sits on an insulated stool, a three-legged bench placed in a flat-bottomed vessel of thick glass, — the lama operator likewise, the two forming with the mirror wall a triangle. A magnet with the North Pole up is suspended over the crown of the chela’s head without touching it. The operator having started the thing going leaves the chela alone gazing on the wall, and after the third time is no longer required.” (ML 72)
See also the “Occult Room” that Blavatsky was designing and constructing near the end of her life, intended to be of use for her “Inner Group.” See, for instance in The Inner Group Teachings of H. P. Blavatsky, Compiled and Annotated by Henk J. Spierenburg.
As to the details of what is experienced, unfolded and learned through the cycle of initiation, only fragments and hints are given.
Knowledge and Teachings Revealed through Initiations
Symbology, Allegory and the Mystery Language
It is often explained that the real occult doctrines are taught publicly only in veiled forms, through allegory and symbol. The method of interpreting these allegories and symbols are dependent upon certain “keys,” which the Adepts possess.
“As a learned Mason and Theosophist, the late Mr. Kenneth Mackenzie, has shown in his Royal Masonic Cyclopædia, there is a great difference between emblem and symbol. The former “comprises a larger series of thoughts than a symbol, which may be said rather to illustrate some single special idea.” Hence, the symbols (say lunar, or solar) of several countries, each illustrating such a special idea, or series of ideas, form collectively an esoteric emblem. The latter is “a concrete visible picture or sign representing principles, or a series of principles, recognizable by those who have received certain instructions” (initiates). To put it still plainer, an emblem is usually a series of graphic pictures viewed and explained allegorically, and unfolding an idea in panoramic views, one after the other. Thus the Purânas are written emblems. So are the Mosaic and Christian Testaments, or the Bible, and all other exoteric Scriptures.” (SD 1:306)
Even the terminology used by the Adepts in their own science is kept secret. Hence, for instance, Blavatsky, in writing The Secret Docrtine, had to rely on terminology from existing traditions instead of using the terminology of the actual occult philosophy.
“Our terms are untranslatable; and without a good knowledge of our complete system (which cannot be given but to regular initiates) would suggest nothing definite to your perceptions but only be a source of confusion as in the case of the terms ‘Soul’ and ‘Spirit’ with all your metaphysical writers.” (ML 46)
See here, for instance, Mahatma M. explaining to Sinnett that he cannot tell him the name of a certain cosmic principle:
“The latent design exists from the eternity in the one unborn eternal atom or the central point which is everywhere and nowhere, called —— (our most secret incommunicable name given at the initiation to the highest adepts). So I can give you the six names of the principles of our solar system, but have to withhold the rest and even the name of the seventh. Call it the unknown and explain why.” (Cosmological Notes)
Blavatsky notes the same in The Secret Doctrine. For instance, when translating a certain Stanza of Dzyan, she comments that:
“This stanza is translated from the Chinese text, and the names, as the equivalents of the original terms, are preserved. The real esoteric nomenclature cannot be given, as it would only confuse the reader. The Brahmanical doctrine has no equivalent to these.” (SD 1:136fn)
Again, in reference to Brahmanical terms, she repeats the same:
“Let it be understood that the terms Brahmā and Parabrahma are not used here because they belong to our Esoteric nomenclature, but simply because they are more familiar to the students in the West. Both are the perfect equivalents of our one, three, and seven vowelled terms . . .” (SD 1:20)
Some very few exceptions seem to have been made in using genuinely occult terms, for instance the term Oeaohoo, described as “the One, Three and Seven-syllabled Oeaohoo of the Archaic doctrine.” (SD 1:73fn)
In regards to the esoteric teachings being allegorical when taught publicly, Blavatsky explained to Sinnett:
“. . . I have never said . . . that the existence of our seven objective planets was an allegory. What I said was, that the objectivity and actuality of the septenary chain had nothing to do with the correct understanding of the seven rounds. That outside of the initiates no one knew the mot final of this mystery. That you could not understand it thoroughly, nor explain it, because Mahat. K.H. told you hundred times that you could not be told the whole doctrine . . . In short that you gave the truth, but by far not the whole truth especially about rounds and rings which was only at best allegorical.” (ML 132)
The same is repeated in The Secret Doctrine, even as regards “esoteric” teachings:
“To some extent, it is admitted that even the esoteric teaching is allegorical. To make the latter comprehensible to the average intelligence, requires the use of symbols cast in an intelligible form. Hence the allegorical and semi-mythical narratives in the exoteric, and the (only) semi-metaphysical and objective representations in the esoteric teachings. For the purely and transcendentally spiritual conceptions are adapted only to the perceptions of those who ‘see without eyes, hear without ears, and sense without organs,’ according to the graphic expression of the Commentary.” (SD 2:81)
The position taken by Blavatsky and her Teachers is that all the major world traditions arose initially out of the efforts of the one Brotherhood, but that the real teachings are always kept secret, and the worldly teachings are but allegories or symbolic representations of those real teachings. Blavatsky references the statement by Jesus that he only teaches his disciples the real doctrines (see Mark 4:11, etc.) as an example of this. In the following she illustrates the point by reference to ancient Egypt:
“It does not stand to reason that, outside those occult truths that were known to, and revealed by, the great Hierophants during the final initiation, we should accept all that either the Egyptians or any other people may have regarded as true. The Priests of Isis were the only true initiates, and their occult teachings were still more veiled than those of the Chaldeans. There was the true doctrine of the Hierophants of the inner Temple; then the half-veiled Hieratic tenets of the Priest of the outer Temple; and, finally, the vulgar popular religion of the great body of the ignorant who were allowed to reverence animals as divine.” (“Transmigration of the Life Atoms”)
In terms of language, there is said to be inner meanings in all genuinely occult texts which only an initiate can properly understand (see BL 34). An unnamed Chela explores this subject in a fascinating article titled “Was Writing Known Before Panini?”:
“As the Egyptian hierophants had their private code of hieratic symbols, and even the founder of Christianity spoke to the vulgar in parables whose mystical meaning was known only to the chosen few, so the Brahmans had from the first (and still have) a mystical terminology couched behind ordinary expressions, arranged in certain sequences and mutual relations, which none but the initiate would observe. That few living Brahmans possess this key but proves that, as in other archaic religious and philosophical systems, the soul of Hinduism has fled (to its primal imparters—the initiates), and only the decrepit body remains with a spiritually degenerate posterity.*
“Not only are the Upanishads a secret doctrine, but in dozens of other works as, for instance, in the Aitareya Aranyaka, it is plainly expressed that they contain secret doctrines, that are not to be imparted to any one but a Dwija (twice-born, initiated) Brahman.”
The same author adds:
“Before the final division and classification of the languages, there existed two languages in every nation: (a) the profane or popular language of the masses; (b) the sacerdotal or secret language of the Initiates of the temples and mysteries—the latter being one and universal. Or, in other words, every great people had, like the Egyptians, its Demotic and its Hieratic writing and language, which had resulted first in a pictorial writing or the hieroglyphics, and later on in a phonetic alphabet.” (“Was Writing Known Before Panini?”)
Thus the Adepts are said to have a language of their own, used across the world by Adepts of different cultures and eras. The name given to this language in the writings of Blavatsky is Senzar.
Senzar. The mystic name for the secret sacerdotal language or the “Mystery-speech” of the initiated Adepts, all over the world. (TG p. 295)
For a summary of mentions of Senzar in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky, as well as an exploration into the meaning of the term, see: “On the Etymology of Senzar.”
It is explained that in order to properly understand the esoteric teachings, and to see the inner meaning behind the exoteric allegories and symbols, certain “keys” are needed. On this subject, see The Secret Doctrine, 1:xxv, xxix, xxxiv, xxxviii, 155fn, 264fn, 308, and especially 1:310 etc. “The Mystery Language and its Keys.” There Blavatsky explains that there are seven primary keys to the Mysteries.
“The last four keys of the seven that throw wide open the portals to the mysteries of Nature are in the hands of the highest Initiates, and cannot be divulged to the masses at large—not in this, our century, at any rate.” (SD 2:517)
From the above considerations we can see that there is knowledge that is obtainable only through initiation, something stated in several places by Blavatsky. The Adepts thus make clear that there are many doctrines in their system that they are unwilling to teach publicly and openly. In defending this position, the following was addressed to a critic:
“[The] seeming unwillingness [of the Adepts] to share with the world some of Nature’s secrets that may have come into the possession of the few, arises from causes quite different from the one generally assigned. It is not Selfishness erecting a Chinese wall between occult science and those who would know more of it, without making any distinction between the simply curious profane, and the earnest, ardent seeker after truth. Wrong and unjust are those who think so; who attribute to indifference for other people’s welfare a policy necessitated, on the contrary, by a far-seeing universal philanthropy; who accuse the custodians of lofty physical and spiritual though long rejected truths, of holding them high above the people’s heads. In truth, the inability to reach them lies entirely with the seekers. Indeed, the chief reason among many others for such a reticence, at any rate, with regard to secrets pertaining to physical sciences—is to be sought elsewhere.* It rests entirely on the impossibility of imparting that the nature of which is at the present stage of the world’s development, beyond the comprehension of the would-be learners, however intellectual and however scientifically trained may be the latter.
“* what is said here, applies only to secrets the nature of which when revealed will not be turned into a weapon against humanity in general, or its units—men. Secrets of such class could not be given to any one but a regular chela of many years’ standing and during his successive initiations; mankind as a whole has first to come of age, to reach its majority, which will happen but toward the beginning of its sixth race—before such mysteries can be safely revealed to it.” (“Reply to An English F.T.S.”)
Blavatsky echoes the same position:
“There are secrets of initiation that it is impossible to communicate promiscuously to the world at large, for it would amount to throwing many a mind into a direful confusion, unless the whole doctrine is explained; and this no adept or even advanced neophyte would consent to do at this stage of the teaching.” (Blavatsky, “Karma: An Appendix to ‘Fragments of Occult Truth’”)
In The Secret Doctrine, she poses the following question and answer:
“‘Why do not the adepts reveal that which they know?’
“To this, one might answer, ‘Why should they, since one knows beforehand that no man of science will accept, even as an hypothesis, let alone as a theory or axiom, the facts imparted. Have you so much as accepted or believed in the A B C of the Occult philosophy contained in the Theosophist, Esoteric Buddhism, and other works and periodicals? Has not even the little which was given, been ridiculed and derided . . .’” (SD 1:306)
We find, then, that part of the initiatory process is the unfolding of knowledge that is not publicly available.
Conditions Related to the Unfolding of Knowledge
Initiation is portrayed as granting profound knowledge that goes beyond the limits of the greatest minds of any given epoch or civilization.
“So true it is that the noblest ideal to which the religious Spirit of one age can soar, will appear but a gross caricature to the philosophic mind in a succeeding epoch! The philosophers themselves had to be initiated into perceptive mysteries, before they could grasp the correct idea of the ancients in relation to this most metaphysical subject. Otherwise—outside such initiation—for every thinker there will be a ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no farther,’ mapped out by his intellectual capacity, as clearly and as unmistakeably as there is for the progress of any nation or race in its cycle by the law of Karma. Outside of initiation, the ideals of contemporary religious thought must always have their wings clipped and remain unable to soar higher; for idealistic as well as realistic thinkers, and even free-thinkers, are but the outcome and the natural product of their respective environments and periods. The ideals of both are only the necessary results of their temperaments, and the outcome of that phase of intellectual progress to which a nation, in its collectivity, has attained. Hence, as already remarked, the highest flights of modern (Western) metaphysics have fallen far short of the truth.” (SD 1:326-27)
“. . . the sacred immutability of the primitive truths [was] revealed only during the mysteries of initiation.” (SD 1:312)
“Maha Vidya. The great esoteric science. The highest Initiates alone are in possession of this science, which embraces almost universal knowledge.” (TG p. 200)
The knowledge gained is associated with the inner condition of the learner, from the very beginning of Chelaship through the stages of Adeptship, and the accessibility of the knowledge is dependent upon the receptivity of the student.
“The Occult Science is not one, in which secrets can be communicated of a sudden, by a written or even verbal communication. If so, all the ‘Brothers’ should have to do, would be to publish a Hand-book of the art which might be taught in schools as grammar is. It is the common mistake of people that we willingly wrap ourselves and our powers in mystery—that we wish to keep our knowledge to ourselves, and of our own will refuse—‘wantonly and deliberately’ to communicate it. The truth is that till the neophyte attains to the condition necessary for that degree of Illumination to which, and for which, he is entitled and fitted, most if not all of the Secrets are incommunicable. The receptivity must be equal to the desire to instruct. The illumination must come from within.” (ML 20)
“If you would learn the Secret of Secrets by which the highest heavens can be brought within the easy reach of your soul’s vision and grasp, you must go to those sources of knowledge which have been long closed except to the initiate. I cannot even name to you the Body which has these secrets in charge, much less impart to you any of those I have learned, unless I find your mind after long acquaintance in such a stable mood as to indicate its receptivity.” (Blavatsky, letter to Hiram Corson, 1875)
“The world of force, is the world of Occultism and the only one whither the highest initiate goes to probe the secrets of being. Hence no-one but such an initiate can know anything of these secrets. Guided by his Guru the chela first discovers this world, then its laws, then their centrifugal evolutions into the world of matter. To become a perfect adept takes him long years, but at last he becomes the master. The hidden things have become patent, and mystery and miracle have fled from his sight forever. He sees how to guide force in this direction or that—to produce desirable effects. . . .” (ML 90)
“It had been declared from the first and has been repeatedly asserted since that . . . no Theosophist, not even as an accepted chela—let alone lay students—could expect to have the secret teachings explained to him thoroughly and completely, before he had irretrievably pledged himself to the Brotherhood and passed through at least one initiation . . .” (SD 1:164)
“The exact extent, depth, breadth, and length of the mysteries of Nature are to be found only in Eastern esoteric sciences. So vast and so profound are these that hardly a few, a very few of the highest Initiates—those whose very existence is known but to a small number of Adepts—are capable of assimilating the knowledge.” (SD 1:611-12)
On this subject, the following quote gives another clue as to the required conditions:
“There are certain facts which can be divulged only to such of the Fellows of the Theosophical Society as have proved their worthiness to receive them; others can be taught only to chelas as they progress; while the rest unfold themselves to Initiates in their onward march towards Buddhahood. For a comprehension of many of these truths the development of the “sixth sense” . . . is an essential qualification.” (Damodar Mavalankar, “[Answers to Questions on Adepts]”)
The Adepts are said to have retained accurate historical records going back millions of years, but such knowledge is taught only to initiates.
“The religious and esoteric history of every nation was embedded in symbols; it was never expressed in so many words. All the thoughts and emotions, all the learning and knowledge, revealed and acquired, of the early races, found their pictorial expression in allegory and parable. Why? Because the spoken word has a potency unknown to, unsuspected and disbelieved in, by the modern ‘sages.’ Because sound and rhythm are closely related to the four Elements of the Ancients; and because such or another vibration in the air is sure to awaken corresponding powers, union with which produces good or bad results, as the case may be. No student was ever allowed to recite historical, religious, or any real events in so many unmistakable words, lest the powers connected with the event should be once more attracted. Such events were narrated only during the Initiation, and every student had to record them in corresponding symbols, drawn out of his own mind and examined later by his master, before they were finally accepted.” (SD 1:307)
“The forty-nine Stanzas [of Dzyan on Anthropogenesis] and the few fragments from the Commentaries just given are all that can be published in these volumes. These, with some still older records—to which none but the highest Initiates have access—and a whole library of comments, glossaries, and explanations, form the synopsis of Man’s genesis. . . . Whether the Masters of Wisdom have a consecutive and full history of our race from its incipient stage down to the present times; whether they possess the uninterrupted record of man since he became the complete physical being . . . is not for the writer to say. Most probably they have, and such is our own personal conviction. But if so, this knowledge is only for the highest Initiates, who do not take their students into their confidence.” (SD 2:437-38)
“It does not at all stand to reason, that because Professor Monier Williams says so, no one in India should know anything on the subject. Many of the initiated Brahmans claim to, and we firmly believe, they do know, when the Vedas, the Mahabharata, and especially the Bhagavad-Gita, were written, and by whom.” (“[Notes on ‘The Philosophy of Spirit’]”)
Many examples of where the history known by the initiates differs from that of exoteric sources are given in Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine. T. Subba Row addresses these differences in the following pointed remarks:
“The initiated Brahmans know the positive dates of their eras and remain therefore unconcerned. What the ‘Adepts’ have once said, they maintain; and no new discoveries or modified conjectures of accepted authorities can exert any pressure upon their data. Even if Western archæologists or numismatists took it into their heads to change the date of our Lord and Glorified Deliverer from the 7th century ‘B.C.’ to the 7th century ‘A.D.,’ we would but the more admire such a remarkable gift for knocking about dates and eras, as though they were so many lawn-tennis balls.” (“Philological and Archæological ‘Difficulties’”)
In his articles “Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine” and “Sakya Muni’s Place in History,” he gives the position on the initiates on the date of both Sankaracharya and Buddha. See also: “Historical Difficulty—Why?” for more on the same subject.
The Knowledge of Cycles
One subject often mentioned as taught openly only after initiation is real Astrology and the details and methods of calculation of past and future Cycles, of which the world at large does not have the keys.
“This stupendous conception [i.e. Occult Cosmogony], the ancients synthesized for the instruction of the common people, into a single pictorial design—the Zodiac, or celestial belt.” (IU 2:456)
“The Secret Doctrine teaches that every event of universal importance, such as geological cataclysms at the end of one race and the beginning of a new one, involving a great change each time in mankind, spiritual, moral and physical—is pre-cogitated and preconcerted, so to say, in the sidereal regions of our planetary system. Astrology is built wholly upon this mystic and intimate connection between the heavenly bodies and mankind; and it is one of the great secrets of Initiation and Occult mysteries.” (SD 2:500)
“These cycles—wheels within wheels . . . do not affect all mankind at one and the same time—as explained in the Racial division of Cycles. . . . This system cannot be comprehended if the spiritual action of these periods—pre-ordained, so to say, by Karmic law—is separated from their physical course. The calculations of the best astrologers would fail, or at any rate remain imperfect, unless this dual action is thoroughly taken into consideration and dealt with upon these lines. And this mastery can be achieved only through initiation.” (SD 1:641-42)
“The actual duration of the first two and a-half Races is withheld from all but the higher Initiates.” (SD 2:312)
“You know that in order to enable you to read you have first to learn your letters—yet you want to know the course of events before and after the Pralayas, of every event here on this globe on the opening of a new cycle, namely a mystery imparted at one of the last initiations.” (ML 90)
“‘I want to make out how the next superior Round forms are evolved.’ My friend, try to understand that you are putting me questions pertaining to the highest initiations. That I can give you a general view, but that I dare not nor will I enter upon details— though I would if I could satisfy you. Do not you feel that it is one of the highest mysteries than which there is no higher one? (ML 93b)
“Even the teaching about the Septenary constitution of the sidereal bodies and of the macrocosm—from which the septenary division of the microcosm, or Man—has until now been among the most esoteric. In olden times it used to be divulged only at the Initiation and along with the most sacred figures of the cycles.” (SD 1:168)
In a letter to A. P. Sinnett, one of the Mahatmas hints as the extent of their knowledge of cyclic law:
“When the time comes and he [Hume] is allowed to have a full glimpse into the world of esoterism, with its laws based upon mathematically correct calculations of the future—the necessary results of the causes which we are always at liberty to create and shape at our will but are as unable to control their consequences which thus become our masters—then only will, both you and he understand why to the uninitiated our acts must seem often unwise, if not actually foolish.” (ML 1)
Knowledge of Past Lives
In addition to “doctrinal” or scientific knowledge, there are also hints of other types of knowledge that come to the initiate, including, for instance, a memory of past lives.
“There are Initiates, and not the highest either, who are placed in a condition to remember more than one of their past lives.” (TG p. 309)
Knowledge Associated with Specific Degrees of Initiation
There are, here and there, hints given as to specific teachings associated with specific degrees of initiation. It should be noted that references to, say, a “third initiation” are not necessarily always speaking of the exact same initiation, as, for instance, one reference may be speaking of a third stage of initiation in chelaship, another of a third initiation of an adept, or to third sub-degrees of different stages, etc. These topics, since they are not spoken of openly by those who know, are not always easy to place into proper context.
In a letter from T. Subba Row to H. P. Blavatsky, he mentions a “third stage of initiation” associated with certain powers:
“You will find from the letters that he [Sinnett] is very anxious to know beforehand the nature of the Siddhis or wonder-working powers that he is expected to obtain by the process or ritual I intend prescribing for him. The power to which he will be introduced by the process in question will no doubt develop wonderful clairvoyant powers both as regards sight and sound in some of its higher correlations; and that the highest of its correlations is intended by our Rishi—M—to lead the candidate through the first three stages of initiation if he is properly qualified for it. But I am not prepared to assure Mr. Sinnett NOW that I will teach him any of its higher correlations. What I mean to teach him now is a necessary preliminary preparation for studying such correlations.” (ML 59)
In The Secret Doctrine, mention is made of certain knowledge connected with a “third degree of initiation”:
“. . . there are seven rounds, of which we have passed three, and are now in the fourth; and . . . there are seven dawns and seven twilights or fourteen Manvantaras; . . . at the beginning of every Round and at the end, and on, and between the planets there is an awakening to illusive life, and an awakening to real life; and . . . moreover, there are root-Manus, and what we have to clumsily translate as the seed-Manus—the seeds for the human races of the forthcoming Round (or the Sishtas—the surviving fittest; a mystery divulged only to those who have passed their third degree in initiation) . . .” (SD 2:307-08)
In a letter to A. P. Sinnett, one of the Brothers again mentions a third initiation in regards to certain knowledge:
“When our first correspondence began, there was no idea then of any publications being issued on the basis of the replies you might receive. You went on putting questions at random, and the answers being given at different times to disjointed queries, and so to say, under a semi-protest, were necessarily imperfect, often from different standpoints. When the publication of some of these were permitted for the Occult World, it was hoped that among your readers some may be able, like yourself, to put all the different pieces together and evolve out of them the skeleton, or a shadow of our system, which, although not exactly the original—this would be an impossibility—would be as near an approach to it as could be made by a non-initiate. But the results have proved quasi-disastrous! We had tried an experiment and sadly failed! Now we see that none but those who have passed at least their third initiation are able to write upon those subjects comprehensively. (ML 128)
In the same letter, the Brother goes on to say that The Secret Doctrine will correct some of the earlier mistakes, perhaps hinting that the author or authors of that work had passed the requisite initiation to enable them to write upon such subjects.
The following touches knowledge obtained at a “fourth initiation”:
“The specific properties, for occult purposes, of the ‘fourteen precious things,’ [are] explained only at the fourth Initiation.” (SD 1:67)
Powers and Faculties
The Development of Will-power
“The chief agent in [magical] operation, the alpha and the omega of the “magical” force [is]—human will. All the paraphernalia of ceremonial magic—perfumes, vestments, inscribed hieroglyphics and mummeries, are good but for the beginner; the neophyte whose powers have to be developed, his mental attitude during the operations defined, and his will educated by concentrating it on such symbols. The Kabalistic axiom that the magician can become the master of the Elemental Spirits only by surpassing them in courage and audacity in their own elements, has an allegorical meaning. It was but to test the moral strength and daring of the candidate that the terrible trials of initiation into ancient mysteries were invented by the hierophants; and hence the neophyte who had proved fearless in water, fire, air and in the terrors of a Cimmerian darkness, was recognized as having become the master of the Undines, the Salamanders, Sylphs and Gnomes. He had ‘forced them into obedience,’ and ‘could evoke the spirits’ for, having studied and acquainted himself with the ultimate essence of the occult or hidden nature and the respective properties of the Elements, he could produce at will the most wonderful manifestations or ‘occult’ phenomena by the combination of such properties, combinations hitherto unknown to the profane, as progressive and exoteric science, which proceeds slowly and cautiously, can marshal its discoveries but one by one and in their successive order, for hitherto it has scorned to learn from those who had grasped all the mysteries of nature for long ages before. Many are the occult secrets ferreted out by her and wrung from the old magic, and yet it will not give it credit even for that which has been proved to have been known by the ancient esoteric scientists or ‘Adepts.’” (“The Five-Pointed Star”)
Blavatsky often contrasts the medium and the adept, explaining that the medium is ultimately a passive condition whereas the adept represents an active, self-controlled condition, which is dependent upon a strong Will.
“Mediumship is the opposite of adeptship; the medium is the passive instrument of foreign influences, the adept actively controls himself and all inferior potencies.” (IU 2:588)
She relates her own experience in regards to mediumship and the development of will in an article:
“It is on a number of such instances, and our own personal experiences during over forty years—ten of which were passed in a state very like, if not entirely, that of mediumship, until by a supreme effort of will and with the help of initiated friends, we got rid of it, that we speak so confidently.” (“Spirit Identity and Recent Speculations”)
So we see that an Adept an active, not a passive condition, and that to become an Adept we must begin to develop and control our will-power.
Awakening of the “Inner Sight” and the Development of the Senses
Blavatsky and her Teachers connect initiation with the further development of the senses, an increase in their acuteness, along with the development of latent inner senses. The following note by Blavatsky, appended to an observation by another author, touches on this point:
“Suppose our senses could be made to undergo some change, while the universe remained all along the same, it is evident quite a new world would arise before us, though objectively and materially the world would be exactly the same as it was before.* Let us suppose that we were endowed with some new sense, say a sixth sense; how much the more manifold would our very same universe appear to us. . . .”
“* And this is precisely the change claimed by the initiated adepts of Occultism; and that alone is sufficient to account for their great opposition to many a scientific action of modern science and the greater trustworthiness of the teachings of the former. Once that we admit the possibility of such a ‘change,’ and as a result therefrom, the greater acuteness and perfection of all their senses—granting even that the 6th and 7th senses do not exist for any one outside those who claim either of them or both, and thus cannot be proved scientifically—we have to admit at any rate that they see, hear, taste, feel, and smell more acutely than the rest of humanity, untrained and uninitiated, how can we then avoid trusting more in their than in our senses? . . .
“Apart and quite distinct from the variety in the subjective perceptions of the one and same object—by mankind in general,—stands the unvarying perception of the trained Occultist. Perceiving the actuality, for him the modes of the presentation of an object cannot vary; for the initiated adept perceives and discerns the ultimate and actual state of things in nature by means of his spiritual perception, trammelled by none of his physical senses, and only when the former have been called forth from their latent into their active state and developed sufficiently to stand the final tests of initiation.” (“[Notes on Evolution and Perception]”)
Related to the subject of further sensory development are the teachings on the awakening of the “inner sight”:
“When the Fourth (Race) arrived at its middle age, the inner vision had to be awakened, and acquired by artificial stimuli, the process of which was known to the old sages. . . . The Inner sight could henceforth be acquired only through training and initiation.” (SD 2:294)
“At this period of our racial development, it is of course the ‘Buddhas’ or Initiates alone who enjoy in full the faculty of the ‘third eye,’ as it is more or less atrophied in everyone else.” (TG p. 350)
This also relates physiologically to the pineal gland. Blavatsky touches on this subject in a few places, most notably in The Secret Doctrine, Voice of the Silence, and in her teachings to her esoteric students.
The “Inner Sight” is also referred to as the “eye of Dangma” or the “eye of Siva” etc.
Dangma (Sk.). In Esotericism a purified Soul. A Seer and an Initiate; one who has attained full wisdom. (TG p. 96)
“Alone the Initiate, rich with the lore acquired by numberless generations of his predecessors, directs the ‘Eye of Dangma’ toward the essence of things in which no Maya can have any influence.” (SD 1:45)
The Power of Sound and Mantras
“An adept, acquainted with one Centre, knows them all—since there is but one centre of Occult Force in nature. He knows that in the centre of the Astral Fire must he search in nature for the origin of every sound—and it is sound—the Vach—that is the curative agent in a mantra. Such a man knows that it is from this centre alone, never from the circumference of the Shatkona Chakra (The hexagonal wheel, or six-pointed star . . .), that the sounds transmitted (even by the external currents of Astral Light or Ether) proceed, while the six diverging points (which represent the radiations of this central point) but convey and echo them from within without, and vice versa, in every occult process of nature. It is within and from a given point in space (which must always be central, wheresoever it is placed) that the force which is at the basis of any phenomena, in whatsoever element, proceeds; for this centre is the ‘seat’ of the unmanifested deity—says the esoteric Brahmanical doctrine—of the ‘Avyakta-brahma,’ and stands for the seventh principle within the six points of the chakra. All the forces in nature, whether great or small, are trinities completed by quaternaries; all—except the One, the Crown of the Astral Light. If we say that nature has in reality seven, not five or even four, elements, some of our readers may laugh at our ignorance, but an initiate would never do so, since he knows very well what we mean. He knows that, in the case in point (the power of a mantra), it is through occult sounds that the adept commands the elemental forces of nature. Sabdabrahman’s vehicle is called Shadja, and the latter is the basic tone in the Hindu musical scale. It is only after reaching the stage called Tribeni and passing through the study of preliminary sounds, that a Yogi begins to see Kala Brahman, i.e., perceives things in the Astral Light. When our correspondent will have mastered the nadis and niddhis of the Raj-Yog, and reached at least the above-named stage, then will he comprehend what we mean in saying that a gradual development of the mental and physical occult faculties is the method used by the true adept in studying the Raj-Yog.” (“‘Tharana,’ or Mesmerism”)
For more on this subject, see the several articles by W. Q. Judge on “Aum,” as well as his teachings to E.S. students on the subject (see Echoes of the Orient, Vol. 3), and Blavatsky’s teachings to her students on the power of sound, etc.
Magnetism and Mesmerism
“In regard to the Occultism of the initiated Brâhmanas, the Rishis and the Arhats, magnetism and mesmerism are its foundation stones. The Oriental initiates believe in no ‘miracles,’ and the ‘ceremonial magic’ of the Theosophists and hermetic philosophers of the Middle Ages is repudiated by them with as much vehemence . . .” (“Theosophy and Spiritism”)
A Note of Caution
As noted above, we caution against too rashly or blindly accepting any person’s claims about the nature and details of the initiatory process, especially if those claims cannot be grounded in verifiable teachings from the Brothers (Mahatmas) themselves. The Brothers are quite clear that accomplishing Adeptship is extremely rare, and becoming a genuinely accepted Chela under the direct supervision of an adept is also an extreme rarity. And thus, there are very few among us who may actually have direct knowledge of the process of initiation and what it entails. It is much easier to claim for oneself the status of a chela or an adept that it is to be a chela or an adept. It is better, we believe, to gradually unfold one’s own perception and experience of the path, than it is to blindly follow any outside source. Even the above, then, ought to be challenged and direct knowledge sought out, rather than to view any of the statements given therein as dogmatic truth. The following quote may be kept in mind whenever we consider any teachings on the nature of the Path.
“The Path is one for all, the means to reach the goal must vary with the Pilgrims.”—Voice of the Silence