Masters and Chelas


The following passages are taken from letters written between 1880 and 1885 to several theosophists by Kuthumi (KH) and Morya (M), the two mahatmas most closely associated with the early history of the Theosophical Society.

- A.T. Barker (comp.), The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett (ML), Theosophical University Press, 2nd rev. ed., 2021. (Images of the original manuscripts (numbered chronologically) are available here.)
- C. Jinarajadasa (comp.), Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom (LMW), Theosophical Publishing House, Series 1, 1973, Series 2, 1977.
- Daniel H. Caldwell (comp.), Mrs. Holloway and the Mahatmas (H&M), Blavatsky Study Center,, 2012.

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‘How many times had we to repeat that he who joins the [Theosophical] Society with the sole object of coming in contact with us and if not of acquiring at least of assuring himself of the reality of such powers and of our objective existence – was pursuing a mirage? ... It is he alone who has the love of humanity at heart, who is capable of grasping thoroughly the idea of a regenerating practical Brotherhood who is entitled to the possession of our secrets. He alone, such a man – will never misuse his powers, as there will be no fear that he should turn them to selfish ends. A man who places not the good of mankind above his own good is not worthy of becoming our chela – he is not worthy of becoming higher in knowledge than his neighbor. If he craves for phenomena let him be satisfied with the pranks of spiritualism. ... There was a time when from sea to sea, from the mountains and deserts of the north to the grand woods and downs of Ceylon, there was but one faith, one rallying cry – to save humanity from the miseries of ignorance in the name of Him [Buddha] who taught first the solidarity of all men. How is it now? Where is the grandeur of our people and of the one Truth? ... The world has clouded the light of true knowledge, and selfishness will not allow its resurrection, for it excludes and will not recognize the whole fellowship of all those who were born under the same immutable natural law.’ (ML, p. 252, letter #38, M to A.P. Sinnett [APS])

‘... we are content to live as we do – unknown and undisturbed by a civilization which rests so exclusively upon intellect. Nor do we feel in any way concerned about the revival of our ancient arts and high civilization, for these are as sure to come back in their time, and in a higher form, as the Plesiosaurus and the Megatherium in theirs. We have the weakness to believe in ever recurrent cycles and hope to quicken the resurrection of what is past and gone. We could not impede it even if we would. The “new civilization” will be but the child of the old one, and we have but to leave the eternal law to take its own course to have our dead ones come out of their graves; yet, we are certainly anxious to hasten the welcome event. Fear not; although we do “cling superstitiously to the relics of the Past” our knowledge will not pass away from the sight of man. It is the “gift of the gods” and the most precious relic of all. The keepers of the sacred Light did not safely cross so many ages but to find themselves wrecked on the rocks of modern skepticism. Our pilots are too experienced sailors to allow us fear any such disaster. We will always find volunteers to replace the tired sentries, and the world, bad as it is in its present state of transitory period, can yet furnish us with a few men now and then.’ (ML 214-5, #28, KH to A.O. Hume [AOH])

‘I wish I could impress upon your minds the deep conviction that we do not wish Mr. Hume or you to prove conclusively to the public that we really exist. Please realize the fact that so long as men doubt there will be curiosity and enquiry, and that enquiry stimulates reflection which begets effort; but let our secret be once thoroughly vulgarized and not only will sceptical society derive no great good but our privacy would be constantly endangered and have to be continually guarded at an unreasonable cost of power.’ (ML 227, #29, M to APS)

‘... we have our schools and teachers, our neophytes and shaberons (superior adepts), and the door is always opened to the right man who knocks. And, we invariably welcome the new comer; – only, instead of going over to him he has to come to us. More than that: unless he has reached that point in the path of occultism from which return is impossible, by his having irrevocably pledged himself to our association, we never – except in cases of utmost moment – visit him or even cross the threshold of his door in visible appearance. (ML 8-9, #2, KH to APS)

‘... I should have thought that his [A.O. Hume’s] head, that is capacious enough to hold anything, had a corner in it for some common sense. And that sense might have told him that either we are what we claim, or we are not. That in the former case, however exaggerated the claims made on behalf of our powers, still if our knowledge and foresight do not transcend his, then we are no better than shams and impostors and the quicker he parts company with us – the better for him. But if we are in any degree what we claim to be, then he acts like a wild ass.’ (ML 269, #46, M to APS)

‘The sun of Theosophy must shine for all, not for a part. There is more of this movement than you have yet had an inkling of, and the work of the T.S. is linked in with similar work that is secretly going on in all parts of the world. ... We advise – and never order. But we do influence individuals.’ (ML 271, #47, M to APS)

‘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. Till then, no hocus pocus of incantations, or mummery of appliances, no metaphysical lectures or discussions, no self-imposed penance can give it. All these are but means to an end, and all we can do is to direct the use of such means as have been empirically found by the experience of ages to conduce to the required object. And this was and has been no secret for thousands of years. Fasting, meditation, chastity of thought, word, and deed; silence for certain periods of time to enable nature herself to speak to him who comes to her for information; government of the animal passions and impulses; utter unselfishness of intention, the use of certain incense and fumigations for physiological purposes, have been published as the means since the days of Plato and Iamblichus in the West, and since the far earlier times of our Indian Rishis.’ (ML 282-3, #49, KH to APS)

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‘We are taken to task for not giving out to every man of learning who had joined the T.S. the fruits of the researches of generations of occultists who had all devoted their lives to it, and who had as often lost them in the great struggle of wrenching her secrets from the heart of nature. ...
    ‘Why is it that doubts and foul suspicions seem to beset every aspirant for chelaship? My friend, in the Masonic Lodges of old times the neophyte was subjected to a series of frightful tests of his constancy, courage and presence of mind. By psychological impressions supplemented by machinery and chemicals, he was made to believe himself falling down precipices, crushed by rocks, walking spider-web bridges in mid-air, passing through fire, drowned in water and attacked by wild beasts. This was a reminiscence of and a programme borrowed from the Egyptian Mysteries. The West having lost the secrets of the East, had, as I say, to resort to artifice. But in these days the vulgarization of science has rendered such trifling tests obsolete. The aspirant is now assailed entirely on the psychological side of his nature. His course of testing – in Europe and India – is that of Raj-Yog [raya-yoga] and its result is – as frequently explained – to develop every germ good and bad in him in his temperament. The rule is inflexible, and not one escapes whether he but writes to us a letter, or in the privacy of his own heart’s thought formulates a strong desire for occult communication and knowledge. As the shower cannot fructify the rock, so the occult teaching has no effect upon the unreceptive mind; and as the water develops the heat of caustic lime so does the teaching bring into fierce action every unsuspected potentiality latent in him.’ (ML 364-6, #65, KH to APS)

‘The fact is, that to the last and supreme initiation every chela – (and even some adepts) – is left to his own device and counsel. We have to fight our own battles, and the familiar adage – “the adept becomes, he is not made” is true to the letter. Since every one of us is the creator and producer of the causes that lead to such or some other results, we have to reap but what we have sown. ...
    ‘I must remind you of that which you so heartily hate: namely, that no one comes in contact with us, no one shows a desire to know more of us, but has to submit to being tested and put by us on probation. ...
    ‘... we allow our candidates to be tempted in a thousand various ways, so as to draw out the whole of their inner nature and allow it the chance of remaining conqueror either one way or the other. ... It was not a meaningless phrase of the Tathagata [Buddha] that “he who masters Self is greater than he who conquers thousands in battle”: there is no such other difficult struggle. If it were not so, adeptship would be but a cheap acquirement.’ (ML 309-10, 316, #54, KH to APS)

‘Believe me, faithful friend, that nothing short of full confidence in us, in our good motives if not in our wisdom, in our foresight, if not omniscience – which is not to be found on this earth – can help one to cross over from one’s land of dream and fiction to our Truthland, the region of stern reality and fact. ...
    ‘... unless possessed of spiritual, as well as of physical unselfishness a chela whether selected or not, must perish as a chela in the long run. Self personality, vanity and conceit harboured in the higher principles are enormously more dangerous than the same defects inherent only in the lower physical nature of man. They are the breakers against which the cause of chelaship, in its probationary stage, is sure to be dashed to pieces unless the would-be disciple carries with him the white shield of perfect confidence and trust in those he would seek out through mount and vale to guide him safely toward the light of Knowledge. ... The mass of human sin and frailty is distributed throughout the life of man who is content to remain an average mortal. It is gathered in, and centred, so to say, within one period of the life of a chela – the period of probation. That which is generally accumulating to find its legitimate issue only in the next rebirth of an ordinary man, is quickened and fanned into existence in the chela – especially in the presumptuous and selfish candidate who rushes in without having calculated his forces.
    ‘... there are persons, who, without ever showing any external sign of selfishness, are intensely selfish in their inner spiritual aspirations. These will follow the path once chosen by them with their eyes closed to the interests of all but themselves, and see nothing outside the narrow pathway filled with their own personality. They are so intensely absorbed in the contemplation of their own supposed “righteousness” that nothing can ever appear right to them outside the focus of their own vision distorted by that self-complacent contemplation, and their judgment of right and wrong.’ (ML 358-60, #64, KH to APS)

‘A chela under probation is allowed to think and do whatever he likes. He is warned and told beforehand: you will be tempted and deceived by appearances ... [W]e seek to bring men to sacrifice their personality – a passing flash – for the welfare of the whole humanity, hence for their own immortal Egos ...’ (ML 230, #30, KH to AOH)

‘We ... always judge men by their motives and the moral effects of their actions: for the world’s false standards and prejudice we have no respect.’ (ML 386, #81)

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KH to APS:
‘Friend, beware of Pride and Egoism, two of the worst snares for the feet of him who aspires to climb the high paths of Knowledge and Spirituality. ...
    ‘One who would have higher instruction given to him has to be a true theosophist in heart and soul, not merely in appearance.’ (ML 369-70, #66)

‘I can come nearer to you, but you must draw me by a purified heart and a gradually developing will. ...
    ‘Your strivings, perplexities and forebodings are equally noticed, good and faithful friend. In the imperishable Record of the Masters you have written them all. There are registered your every deed and thought; for, though not a chela, as you say to my Brother Morya, nor even a “protégé” – as you understand the term – still, you have stepped within the circle of our work, you have crossed the mystic line which separates your world from ours, and now whether you persevere or not; whether we become later on, in your sight, still more living real entities or vanish out of your mind like so many dream fictions – perchance an ugly nightmare – you are virtually ours. Your hidden Self has mirrored itself in our Akasa; your nature is – yours, your essence is – ours. ... In thought and deed, by day, in soul-struggles by nights, you have been writing the story of your desires and your spiritual development. This, every one does who approaches us with any earnestness of desire to become our co-worker ...
    ‘Nature has linked all parts of her Empire together by subtle threads of magnetic sympathy, and there is a mutual correlation even between a star and a man; thought runs swifter than the electric fluid, and your thought will find me if projected by a pure impulse, as mine will find, has found, and often impressed your mind.’ (ML 266-7, #45)

‘Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your “family duties”? [W]hat better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? Believe me my “pupil” the man or woman who is placed by Karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and loving-kindnesses, will through these faithfully fulfilled rise to the larger measure of Duty, Sacrifice and Charity to all Humanity – what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of Self, the perseverance in spite of want of visible psychic progress, the bearing of ill-fortune with that serene fortitude which turns it to spiritual advantage – since good and evil are not to be measured by events on the lower or physical plane. Be not discouraged that your practice falls below your aspirations, yet be not content with admitting this, since you clearly recognize that your tendency is too often towards mental and moral indolence, rather inclining to drift with the currents of life, than to steer a direct course of your own. Your spiritual progress is far greater than you know or can realize, and you do well to believe that such development is in itself more important than its realization by your physical plane consciousness.’ (ML 372, #68)

KH to C.W. Leadbeater:
‘To accept any man as a chela does not depend on my personal will. It can only be the result of one’s personal merit and exertions in that direction. Force any one of the “Masters” you may happen to choose; do good works in his name and for the love of mankind; be pure and resolute in the path of righteousness (as laid out in our rules); be honest and unselfish; forget your Self but to remember the good of other people – and you will have forced that “Master” to accept you. ...
    ‘Chelaship is an educational as well as probationary stage and the chela alone can determine whether it shall end in adeptship or failure. Chelas from a mistaken idea of our system too often watch and wait for orders, wasting precious time which should be taken up with personal effort. Our cause needs missionaries, devotees, agents, even martyrs perhaps. But it cannot demand of any man to make himself either.’ (LMW 1:28-30, #7)

KH to a TS member:
‘Sigh not for chelaship; pursue not that, the dangers and hardships of which are unknown to you.
    ‘Verily many are the chelas offering themselves to us, and as many have failed this year as were accepted on probation. Chelaship unveils the inner man and draws forth the dormant vices as well as the dormant virtue. ...
    ‘Be pure, virtuous, and lead a holy life and you will be protected. But remember, he who is not as pure as a young child better leave chelaship alone. ...
    ‘The process of self-purification is not the work of a moment, nor of a few months, but of years, nay extending over a series of lives.’ (LMW 1:31, #9)

KH to Mohini M. Chatterjee:
‘Selfishness and the want of self-sacrifice are the greatest impediments on the path of adeptship.’ (LMW 1:32, #10)

KH to William T. Brown:
‘Young friend, study and prepare and especially master your nervousness. One who becomes a slave to any physical weakness never becomes the master of even the lower powers of nature. Be patient, content with little and – never ask for more if you would hope to ever get it. My influence will be over you and this ought to make you calm and resolute.’ (LMW 1:57, #22)

KH to a chela:
‘So then, you really imagined when you were allowed to call yourself my chela – that the black memories of your past offences were either hidden from my notice or that I knew and still forgave? Did you fancy that I connived at them? ... It was to help save you from your viler self, to arouse in you better aspirations; to cause the voice of your offended “soul” to be heard; to give you the stimulus to make some reparation ... for these only your prayer to become my chela was granted. We are the agents of Justice, not the unfeeling lictors of a cruel god. Base as you have been, vilely as you have misused your talents ... blind as you have been to the claims of gratitude, virtue and equity, you have still in you the qualities of a good man – (dormant indeed, so far!) and a useful chela. But how long your relations with us will continue – depends alone upon yourself. You may struggle up out of mire, or glide back into depths of vice and misery now inconceivable to your imagination ... remember, ... that you stand before your Atma, which is your judge, and which no smiles, nor falsehoods, nor sophistries can deceive. ... Though ... you shed oceans of tears and grovel in the dust, this will not move a hair’s breadth the balance of Justice. If you would recover the lost ground do two things: make the amplest, most complete reparation ... and to the good of mankind devote your energies ... Try to fill each day’s measure with pure thoughts, wise words, kindly deeds. I shall neither order, nor mesmerize, nor sway you. But unseen and when you perhaps come – like so many others – to disbelieve in my existence, I shall watch your career and sympathize in your struggles. If you come out victorious at the end of your probation I shall be the readiest to welcome you. And now – there run two paths before you, choose!’ (LMW 1:58-60, #24)

KH to Laura Holloway:
‘... the lake in the mountain heights of your being is one day a tossing waste of waters, as the gust of caprice or temper sweeps thro’ your soul; the next – a mirror as they subside, and peace reigns in the “house of life.” One day you win a step forward; the next you fall two back. Chelaship admits none of these transitions; its prime and constant qualification is a calm, even, contemplative state of mind (not the mediumistic passivity), fitted to receive psychic impressions from without, and to transmit one’s own from within. ...
    ‘How can you know the real from the unreal, the true from the false? Only by self-development. How get that? By first carefully guarding yourself against the causes of self-deception, and chief among them, the holding of intercourse with Elementaries as before, whether to please friends (?), or gratify your own curiosity. And then, by spending a certain fixed hour or hours each day, all alone, in self-contemplation, writing, reading, the purification of your motives, the study and correction of your faults, the planning of your work in the external life. These hours should be sacredly reserved for this purpose, and no one, not even your most intimate friends or friend, should be with you then. Little by little your sight will clear, you will find the mists pass away, your interior faculties strengthen, your attraction towards us gain force, and certainty replace doubts.’ (H&M 118-23)

KH to Francesca Arundale:
‘In the eyes of the “Masters” no one is ever “utterly condemned”. As the lost jewel may be recovered from the very depths of the tank’s mud, so can the most abandoned snatch himself from the mire of sin, if only the precious Gem of Gems, the sparkling germ of the Atma, is developed. Each of us must do that for himself, each can if he but will and persevere. Good resolutions are mind-painted pictures of good deeds: fancies, day-dreams, whisperings of the Buddhi to the Manas. If we encourage them they will not fade away like a dissolving mirage in the Shamo desert, but grow stronger and stronger until one’s whole life becomes the expression and outward proof of the divine motive within. ... The very society whose hypocritical rules of propriety you stand for so vehemently, is a festering mass of brutishness within a shell of decency. ... Learn, then, to look at men below the surface and to neither condemn nor trust on appearances.’ (LMW 1:52-4, #20)

‘It is not enough that you should set the example of a pure, virtuous life and a tolerant spirit; this is but negative goodness – and for chelaship will never do. You should, even as a simple member, much more as an officer, learn that you may teach, acquire spiritual knowledge and strength so that the work may lean upon you, and the sorrowing victims of ignorance learn from you the cause and remedy of their pain. ...
    ‘Time enough to discuss the terms of chelaship when the aspirant has digested what has already been given out, and mastered his most palpable vices and weaknesses. ...
    ‘The pendulum has swung from the extreme of blind faith towards the extreme materialistic skepticism, and nothing can stop it save Theosophy. ...
    ‘Think you truth has been shown to you for your sole advantage? That we have broken the silence of centuries for the profit of a handful of dreamers only? The converging lines of your karma have drawn each and all of you into this Society as to a common focus, that you may each help to work out the results of your interrupted beginnings in the last birth. None of you can be so blind as to suppose that this is your first dealing with Theosophy? You surely must realize that this would be the same as to say that effects came without causes. Know then that it depends now upon each of you whether you shall henceforth struggle alone after spiritual wisdom thro’ this and the next incarnate life, or, in company of your present associates and greatly helped by the mutual sympathy and aspiration.’ (LMW 1:16-20, #4)

‘We have one word for all aspirants: TRY.’ (ML 247, #35)

compiled by David Pratt. July 2021.

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