THE OCCULT HIERARCHY.
The present volume would indeed be a very fragmentary fragment if allowed to go forth without a more detailed account of those spiritually exalted men, the Adept-Teachers of the Esoteric Doctrine, to whom such constant references have been made in these pages. The subject is in order here, not only because to one of that body the authors are largely indebted for the teachings which they have so imperfectly presented, but because, of all facts regarding himself that man has forgotten, the nature and existence of these beings is the most important. There was a time, before the dark shadows of materialism, ecclesiastical and scientific, spread over humanity, when the Adept, as king and as priest, guided the progress of our race; and even in the desert tract of time through which mankind has been passing during the cycle of its descent, the stream of Adeptship has not altogether ceased to flow. It is only during the last five hundred years that the temples have been entirely deserted, and the voice of the priest has become completely stifled by the weight of selfishness and materiality. The spiritual knowledge of which the Adepts are the custodians is the result of study and investigation, carried on and accumulated by generations of them from the first appearance of our race. It has been mentioned before, that at the birth of man, a Dhyan Chohan came to dwell upon our planet and instruct the children of Earth. For the same purpose it is necessary that these spiritual beings should appear at important junctures, and especially at the two ends of the great cycles. "But", says  our Teacher, "They remain with man no longer than the time required for the eternal truths, they teach, to impress themselves so forcibly upon the plastic minds of the new races as to prevent them form being entirely lost or forgotten by the future generations in the succeeding ages. The mission of the Planetary spirit is but to strike the key-note of Truth. Once that he has directed the vibration of the latter to run its course uninterruptedly along the catenation of the race to the end of the cycle, the denizen of the highest inhabited sphere disappeared from the surface of our planet until the following resurrection of flesh. The vibrations of the primitive truths are what your philosophers call innate ideas."
Almost all the principal religions of the world have preserved traditions as to how the Planetary spirit appeared to mankind and communicated to it eternal truths through men who were "set apart" for the purpose. The Brahmans claim that Brahma, the great Creator (not the Supreme Principle), appeared on earth near the Lake Mansarawar, in Thibet, and revealed the Vedas to the seven Rishis. This is an exoteric version of the fact that the Planetary spirit imparted to mankind spiritual knowledge and established the Adept hierarchy. The tradition of the Zoroastrians regarding the first Zoroaster is also to the same effect. The inquiry may be pursued into the Egyptian, Chaldean, and other archaic religions with unvarying results. According to the teaching of the Esoteric Doctrine, the Brahmans, the Magi, and all other sacerdotal orders, had their origin in the same source. The hierarchy of Adepts for many ages consisted of men, profoundly versed in physical and spiritual science, and inheritors of the knowledge communicated by the Planetary spirit. They were all celibates, and they perpetuated their knowledge by initiating voluntary neophytes. In course of time the number of Adepts became too large to be contained in their original home, and they had, on consequence, to spread over the face of the globe, establishing fresh centres of occult organization upon the model of the original one. Constant influx of members into the occult brotherhood finally led to the adoption of stricter rules of admission, and the rejection of less competent members. It was at this time that the experiment was tried whether a line of Adepts could be perpetuated by heredity. The heads of the Adept hierarchy advised the half-Adepts, whose chances of further progress were not great, to return to the world and marry. The experiment turned out a failure, and imposed upon the world a tyranny of priestcraft which is lingering on to this day. It must not be forgotten, however, that, though the experiment did not produce the desired result, the class of men it produced has furnished a large number of Adepts than any other. The return of half-Adepts to the world gave rise to the rituals of ceremonial magic, which exist in all ecclesiastical systems in more or less elaborate forms, and have in a great many instances been turned into sorcery and black magic. The institution of married priests-hood, sanctioned by religious injunctions, swallowed up the larger number of the neophytes seeking admission into the Adept brotherhood. None whose spiritual aspirations were not higher than could find satisfaction in the lay priesthood wandered for knowledge any farther. The real Adepts, who were undistinguishable by the world from the general body of priests except for their celibacy, had to resort to the temple mysteries and other secret institutions for the instruction and development of themselves and their pupils. Isolated mystical communities, neglected or persecuted, are the remnants of these institutions. They are not affiliated to any regular lodges, and very rarely include any true Adepts in their numbers.
The Adept hierarchy, we have seen, was established by the Dhyan Chohan to watch over and protect the growing race. The sphere occupied by this hierarchy in the general scheme of evolutionary necessity is not very difficult to perceive. The truth has been known in all ages, and even now its echoes are distinct, that the Unknown Something, underlying all the phenomenal manifestations which in their totality form the Cosmos, is absolute consciousness. From this reality, by a process which the idealists and mystics of all ages have regarded as error or wandering out, the Universe has arisen. Again, this reality is the only eternal substance, and as its manifestation involves the necessity of time, manifestation, viewed in itself, must be terminable; the Cosmos will have to retire into the silence of unmanifestation, which, of course, is by no means annihilation. And since the Manifested once emerged from the Unmanifested, it must, in the absence of any reason to the contrary, repeat the process. This is the metaphysical necessity of the doctrine of cycles or periodicity, which dots off eternity into an indefinite number of manifestations and absorptions. Following this great truth, we find that the manifestation of consciousness now known as a human being will once more attain the state of unmanifested consciousness. But in order that such a consummation be possible, it must be present as a constant potentiality; nay, the silver thread of connection between the different states, actual and potential, must be maintained by their realization in the universe at every point of time. To render the ultimate return of any imprisoned monad to its parent source a reality, there must be ever present in the universe all the various grades of consciousness, ranging from the state of that monad to the state of the unmanifested consciousness, for, if the chain is broken for a single moment by the slightest gap or rupture, there is no conceivable reason why that gap should be filled up, or that rupture repaired. Any contrary supposition would rob reason itself of reasonableness. It is obvious from these considerations that, on a smaller scale, there must be always present on our earth human beings on different planes of consciousness ( not intelligence). It is hardly necessary to remark that the objects of consciousness will vary according to those planes, and that the extent of knowledge will also vary according as we approach to or recede from the limiting omniscience, realizable in the absolute. The Adepts and their hierarchy are the logical offspring of this necessity.
The classes of Adepts are seven. This number, it must be remembered, is not seized upon for any puerile or arbitrary reason, but because nature works by septenaries, and all attempts at justifying the great importance attached to this number by the mystics of all ages and countries show that such is the fact; seven is the mystic number, not because it is seven, but because it is a universal law that every natural order is completed by sevens. The absolute wisdom in the universe is the spiritual central sun mentioned in mystical treatises. When the day of nature arrives, this sun sends out seven rays, which are each sub-divided in series of seven. All men, or rather their spiritual selves, lie along some one or other of these seven main rays of wisdom. Hence it is the necessity for the seven types of Adepts. Of these seven, five alone are ordinarily spoken of; the last two are understood only by the higher Initiates. The heads of the five classes are known in Thibet as the Chutuktu, or the jewels of wisdom. All Adepts the world over, excepting a few who belong to the two mysterious orders, must owe allegiance to one of these five, who are associated with no particular lodge of Adepts, but are the recognized heads of all lodges, of which there are now three in existence — one in Thibet, one in Egypt, and the third has its seat in a locality which we are not permitted to mention. The Chutuktu have to visit these different lodges periodically, but they usually reside in Thibet. The two highest Adepts, so far as is known, live in an oasis in the desert of Gobi, where only the Adepts of the higher order are permitted to visit them. Their nature and character are as little understood by the ordinary Initiates as those of the Adepts by the outside world. The different lodges, though pursuing the same study upon the same general principles, have differences of procedure in matters of detail. Adepts, as is well known, owe allegiance to no ecclesiastical system; in fact, at a particular stage of their development they must solemnly declare their independence of all formal religion; nor are they allowed to engage in any ritual of magical efficiency. Adeptship, moreover, is not confined to any country. Among the living Adepts there are Englishmen, Hungarians, Greeks, Red Indians, besides Asiatics of all nationalities.
There are nine grades of Adepts, each grade having seven subdivisions. In the Brahmanical system, the nine grades are referred to as the nine jewels ( nava nidhi ), When the tenth intiation is reached by any individual, the earth ceases to furnish further room for his evolution. The first grade is thus symbolized in some Tantrika (magical) treatises. On the ground lies the prostrate body of a man entwined round by serpents. With feet planted on its breast, stands a dark woman of hideous aspect. Weapons are seen in her hand, her ornaments consist of a garland of decapitated heads of Asuras (giants), and a waistband of their dismembered limbs with blood streaming from them. This is Kali, or Bhawani, the deity so misconceived and abused by the Thugs of vile memory. Here the serpents symbolize wisdom, by the help of which the neophyte binds his physical body, represented by the prostrate figure which his awakened spiritual nature has trampled down. The true man, ordinarily inactive and therefore fitly typified by the woman, the spouse of the physical man, then, with a terrific struggle, throws off the yoke of her tyrant lord, and, cutting down the host of Asuras — the passions and cravings of our earthly nature — decks her person with heir dismembered limbs. The whole symbol represents the terrible aspect of the endeavours of a person to get rid of the bonds of flesh. It also means that an Adept has to contend with all the evil powers in nature; not only his own, but also their correlatives in the external world, represented by forces of a very malefic character.
When a man gets to this stage he becomes a member of the secret brotherhood, and prepares himself for other and higher degrees. He is also symbolized as a beggar who has nine jewels, each of which represents symbolically one of the degrees of initiation, the way in which it is achieved and the results that follow it.
The tenth is not attained on this earth. As soon as person is qualified for the tenth degree he passes away to other spheres. It is pictured in a very impressive manner. A woman is seen standing on an unblown lotus, with one hand holding her head, which she has cut off with sword grasped in the other; and women similar to her stand one on either side. Three streams of blood flow out of the trunk of the decapitated woman. One falls into her own mouth, and the other two into the mouths of her two companions. The meaning of the symbol is this: the lotus always represents our Cosmos, and is unblown because the Cosmos is not fully comprehensible by man until this last state is reached. The severance of one's own head shows the necessity of getting entirely rid of one's egoism; and the three streams of blood indicate that when a man has thus got rid of his personality and selfishness, he obtains the power of infusing life into the three worlds, which stands for the whole of our universe. [ The explanation of these symbols was given elsewhere by one of the writers, and hence is quoted without acknowledgement, as also are other quotations from the same source. ]
Below the lowest grade of Adepts there are various degrees of initiation. A neophyte on attaining the lowest of these degrees ceases to belong to the profane, [ The word "profane", as is well known, is derived from Latin terms meaning "before the temple", and is synonymous with the Sanscrit Antevasin , "one who sits beyond." ] and is admitted into the sanctuary, and is thenceforth recognized as a member of the occult brotherhood.
Students of the esoteric science below the rank of Initiates are usually called in India chelas; these again are divided into two classes, regular accepted chelas and probationary chelas. The latter are those who present themselves as candidates for training, and receive the recognition of the Adepts to the extent of permission to try. While on the difficult path they have undertaken to travel, they receive no more help and encouragement than is to be found in their own personal earnestness of purpose and strength of will. The emotional sentimentalist, who enters upon the study with a vague sense of spiritual need, little realizes the qualifications requisite for the task. Apprenticeship is a severe test of will-power and unselfishness, and, lacking these, one may be sure of failure. Usually such persons fancy, because of the interest they take in occult literature, that they would like to be students under the Adepts, who possess the secrets of nature and have spiritual power to a degree little dreamed of by the generality of mankind. Such interest grows or weakens according to the impelling motive governing the character of the person. Appreciation of the study is the first step, and desire for more light is the applicant's passport to the probationary stage. His progress depends upon several conditions, which, if complied with in the main, will secure him a reasonable hope of success. These are a sound mind in a sound body, right moral principles, and a well-disciplined nature. Then begins the work of — what? Obeying certain set rules and regulations, issued like the ukases of a czar or the commands of a military chief? Many would like to have such, for it is easier to follow the directions of a leader than to discover the way without guidance. No. The impelling force must be in the neophyte, and without it he has nothing to hope for. Once it is shown that the desire to succeed is stronger than the distracting, engrossing, material cares of life which enthral the vast majority of people, the next step is made plain for the struggler, but it may require a much longer time and a greater test of patience than even a strong-willed person can always bring to the task. Those who persevere in the right direction succeed, but intuition must be developed to discover which is the true way. Temperamental differences are such that what is easy for one is a pitiless trial for another, and the inexorable rule of the Adepts of occult science is to leave each and all to make the attempt without any other inducement than what their lofty example furnishes. If one succeeds another may, and so the battle is to be given up or won as the aspirant decides. It is wholly a matter of determined, sustained perseverance in the right direction. The accepted chela has entered upon new difficulties when he has passed the probationary stage, but he has also additional strength with which to contend against them. The resolution once formed to be a chela, and that resolution fed by constant mental effort, the teacher is impelled to recognize that chela's qualifications and to direct his future steps. Chelas, it may be said with truth, are not created by any sudden zeal or spasmodic sentimental desire. They are those who know and realize that there is knowledge for them to possess if they can find it; powers in themselves which they can develop if they but understand the laws governing such powers, and teachers who know wisdom and can impart it, if one can merit and win their approval. Accepted chelas live in the light of knowledge gained through spiritual unfoldment; they see the world with vision less dimmed and distorted by delusions, by carnal desires. They reach their goal by tortuous paths perhaps, and attain to their victory through trials which discourage any but the firmest and most determined. The road which the chela walks is strewn, every inch of it, with remainders of frays and skirmishes with himself. He has no other enemy half so powerful as his own selfish earthly nature, which he undertakes to discipline, and of whose strength he has no conception until he deliberately and earnestly begins the work of purification. To eliminate self, to care for the welfare of all others as being his own truest interest; to be chaste and pure, humble and patient — these are the tasks he has set himself to. The Delphic oracle said, "Man, know thyself"; and the only road to self-knowledge lies through the knowledge of duty; to sacrifice one's self otherwise than in the performance of one's duty is a form of selfishness which is as dangerous as it is insidious. Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: "It is right to die in the performance of one's own duty; the duty of another is surrounded with dangers." Just as avarice is produced by a perverted appreciation of money, so a morbid desire for self-sacrifice, divorced from the performance of duty, is begotten of a warped mind which mistakes the means for the end.
To the true chela the conventionalities of daily life are as unsatisfactory as the materialism of exoteric religious doctrines is distasteful; he, failing to find rest for the spirit, has rushed into duty as the only safeguard against despair. He is one who has lived so wisely as to have found the bondage of selfishness in self, as in others, too hard to bear, and for whom there is no life in any other than the higher principles of his being.
Happy are such natures if they find the way and the truth, and thrice happy are such when, having found it, they are accepted as pupils of the great teachers, in whom there is no shadow of selfishness, no sign of injustice, no thought of earthly reward or recognition!
According to the Brahmanical treatises on occultism, and the testimony of its living devotees, there are four steps, technically called "accomplishments", which lead the neophyte to the rank of an accepted chela.
The first "accomplishment" which he must have is the right knowledge of the real and the unreal. The object to be attained by the help of the "Great Science", as it is called, being the realization of the true, and Adeptship being but the mark of a certain stage of this realization, it is clear that the first step to be taken is to gain an intellectual apprehension of what the truth is. But what is the truth? It will not do for the neophyte to ask the question like the jesting Proconsul, and refuse to wait for the answer. Had Pilate asked the question in Sanscrit, he might have been answered out of his own mouth. For the Sanscrit word itself offers a clue to the nature of truth. In that language truth and reality bear the same name, and reality is defined to be that which is unaffected by time, or, in the quaint phraseology of the original, remains witness of the three division of time — the past, the present, and the future. The first accomplishment, therefore, consists in an intimate intellectual conviction of the fact that all and everything which appears to have an existence separate from Parabrahm is merely phenomenal change (Maya).
The second "accomplishment" marks the next step on the path, and is the permanent effect produced on the mind by the theoretical knowledge which forms the preceding accomplishment. When the neophyte has once grasped the illusive character of the objects around him, he ceases to crave for them; and is thus prepared to acquire the second accomplishment, which is a perfect indifference to the enjoyment of the fruit of one's actions, both here and hereafter.
Exoteric students fall into a grievous error by their failure to catch the true spirit of the injunction against acting under the impulse of desire. They erroneously suppose that the best preparation for spiritual life is to forcibly repress all outward expression of desire, entirely losing sight of the fact that even the most rigid abstinence from physical acts does not produce inactivity on the higher planes of spiritual or mental existence. Sankaracharya, in his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita — one of the most authoritative of the Brahmanical sacred writings — says that such a conclusion is simply delusive. A hasty supposition might here be made that these considerations will have the effect of sanctioning persistence in evil; but when the desire for improvement is constantly present in the mind, and the character of the evil thoroughly realized, each failure to harmonise the inward with the outward nature will, by the revulsion of feeling thus produced, strengthen the determination to such an extent that the evil desire will be speedily crushed. This is why Eliphas Levi so vehemently denounces the institution of forced celibacy among the Romish priests. The personality of a man at any one moment is the result of all his previous acts, thoughts, and emotions, the energy of which constantly inclines the mind to act in a particular way. All attempts, therefore, to cure this mental bias by repressing its expression on the outer plane is as hurtful as to throw back into the circulation unhealthy blood seeking a natural outlet. The internal desire is always forging fresh links in the chain of material existence, even though denied outward manifestation. The only way to free oneself from the bonds of Karma, producing birth and death, is to let the store-up energy exhaust itself merely as a portion of the great cosmic energy, and not to colour it with personality by referring it to self. The Bhagavad Gita itself speaks on this subject with no uncertain sound. The great Teacher Krishna reproves his pupil Arjuna for having expressed a disinclination to perform the duties pertaining to his sphere of life. The reason is perfectly plain: in reference to the great reality everything of this world is unreal; therefore, to renounce the duties entailed upon us by our birth for something equally unreal, only accentuates the ignorance which makes the unreal appear as the real. The wisest course, suggested by Krishna, is that Arjuna should perform all his duties, unselfishly. "Thy right is only to the act", says the Teacher; "it ends with the performance of the act, and never extends to the result." We must perform our duty for its own sake, and never allow the mind to dwell on the fruit of our actions, either with pleasure or with pain. Purified from the taint of selfishness, the act passes by, like water over the lotus-leaf, without wetting it. But if the act is done as a means to the attainment of a personal end, the mind acquires a tendency to repeat the act, and thus necessitates further incarnations to exhaust that tendency.
From the above considerations it is abundantly clear that occultism enjoins upon its votaries the necessity of an ardent and sleepless desire for the performance of duty, the sphere of which is enlarged by the first accomplishment, which requires a thorough recognition of the unity of the individual with the all. It is not enough to have a sentimental perception of this great truth, but it must be realized in every act of life. The student, therefore, to begin with, must do everything in his power to benefit all on the ordinary physical plane, transferring his activity, however, to the higher intellectual and spiritual planes as his development proceeds.
This leads us to the consideration of the third accomplishment, which is the acquisition of the "six qualifications" in the order they are treated of here. The first of them is called in Sanscrit "Sama"; it consists in obtaining perfect mastery over the mind (the seat of emotions and desires), and in forcing it to act in subordination to the intellect, which has been purified and strengthened in attaining the two degrees of development already dwelt upon. This done, the mind is thoroughly cleansed of all evil and foolish desires.
The injunction to chasten our minds before purifying our acts might at first sight appear strange, but the practical utility of the course laid down will be obvious on reflection. We have already seen how varying effects are produced by a fixed amount of energy, according to the plane on which it is expended, and certainly the plane of the mind is superior to the plane of our senses. In the next place, forced abstinence from physical evil goes but very little way towards the evolution of that energy which alone can give us the power of approaching the truth. Our thoughts, governed under ordinary circumstances by the law of association, make us contemplate incidents in our past life, and thus produce as much mental disturbance and draw as much on our mental energy as if we had repeated the acts in question many times over. "Sama" then, is really the breaking-up of the law of the association of ideas, which enslaves our imagination; when our imagination is purified, the chief difficulty is removed.
The next qualification, the complete mastery over our bodily acts ("Dama" in Sanscrit) follows, as a necessary consequence, from the one already discussed, and does not require much explanation.
The third qualification, known by the Brahmans as "Uparati", is the renunciation of all formal religion and the power of contemplating objects without being in the least disturbed in the performance of the great tasks one has set before oneself. What is here expected of the aspirant for spiritual knowledge is that he should not allow his sympathies and usefulness to be narrowed by the domination of any particular ecclesiastical system, and that his renunciation of worldly objects should not proceed merely from an incapacity to appreciate their value. When this state is reached, danger from temptation is removed. They alone, the Hindu poet says, are possessed of true fortitude who preserve the equanimity of their minds in the presence of temptation.
Fourth in order comes the cessation of desire and a constant readiness to part with everything in the world (Titiksha). The typical illustration of this given in our mystical literature is the absence of resentment of wrong. When this qualification is completely attained there arises in the mind a perennial spring of cheerfulness, washing away every trace of solicitude and care.
Then is acquired the qualification called Samadhana, which renders the student constitutionally incapable of deviating from the right path. In one sense this qualification is the complement of the third as given above. First, all egotistical motives tempting the man to travel out of his chosen path lose their hold over him, and finally he perfects himself to such an extent that, at the call of duty, he can unhesitatingly engage in any worldly occupation with the certainty of returning to his habitual life after completing his self-imposed task.
One other qualification is necessary to crown the neophyte's work, and that is an implicit confidence in his master's power to teach and his own power to learn (Sraddha). The importance of this qualification is liable to be misunderstood. An unswerving confidence in the master is not required as a means to build up a system of priestcraft, but for an entirely different reason. It will perhaps be readily granted that the capacity for receiving truth is not the same in every mind. There exists a saturation-point for truth in the human mind, as there is one for aqueous vapour in the atmosphere. When that point is reached in any mind, fresh truth becomes to it undistinguishable from falsehood. Truth must by slow degrees grow in our minds, and a strict injunction is laid down in the Bhagavad Gita against "unsettling the faith of the multitude" by a too sudden revelation of esoteric knowledge. At the same time it must be remembered that no man can be expected to seek after a thing the reality of which is improbable; the dreamland of an opium-eater will never be a subject of exploration to any one else. The truth perceived by the higher faculties of the Adepts cannot be proved to one who has not developed those faculties, otherwise than by showing its consistency with known truths and by the assertion of those who claim to know. The sanction of a competent authority is a sufficient guarantee that the investigation will not be fruitless. But to accept any authority as final, and to dispense the necessity of independent investigation, is destructive of all progress. Nothing, in fact, should be taken upon blind, unquestioning faith. Indeed, the Eastern sages go so far as to say that to rely solely on the authority of even the Scripture is sinful. "Alone" says  our Master," the Adepts — that is, the embodied spirits — are forbidden by our wise and intransgressible laws to completely subject to themselves another and a weaker will, that of free born man." The wisdom of the course actually followed is almost self-evident. Reason is the immediate perception of the fact that the eternal alone is true, and reasoning is the attempt to trace the existence of a thing all through the scale of time; the longer the period over which this operation extends the more complete and satisfactory is the reasoning considered to be. But the moment any fact of knowledge is realized on the plane of eternity, reason becomes changed into consciousness — the son is merged in the father, as the Christian mystic would say. Why, then, it may be asked, should confidence in the teachings of the Master be a requisite qualification at all? The reply lies on the surface. No one takes the trouble to inquire about what he does not believe to be true. Such confidence in no way demands surrender of reason. The second part of this qualification, the confidence in one's own power to learn, is an indispensable basis of all endeavours to progress. The poet uttered a deeper truth than he was aware of when he sang:
"Yes, self-abasement leads the way
To villain bonds and despot's sway."
The moment a man thoroughly believes himself incapable of realizing the highest ideal he can conceive of, he becomes so; the conviction of weakness that apparently supports him really robs him of his strength; none aspire for what they consider absolutely beyond their reach. Occultism teaches us that infinite perfection is the heritage of man. He must not blaspheme against his innermost divine self, the Augoeides of the Greeks and the Atma of the Brahmans, by self-abasement, for that would be the unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost. Christian doctors have tried in vain to identify this particular sin, the deadliest of all; its true significance lies far beyond the narrow horizon of their theology.
The last accomplishment required is an intense desire for liberation from conditioned existence and for transformation into the One Life (Mumukshatva). It may be thought at first sight that this qualification is a mere redundancy, being practically involved in the second. But such a supposition would be as erroneous as to conceive Nirvana as the annihilation of all life. The second accomplishment is absence of desire for life as a means of selfish enjoyment; while the fourth is a positive and intense desire for a kind of life of which none but those who have attained the first three accomplishments can form any adequate conception. All that need here be stated is that the neophyte is expected to know the real nature of his ego, and to have a fixed determination to retain that knowledge permanently, and thus get rid of the body, created by allowing the notion of "I" to fasten itself upon an illusory object.
We shall now pass to the consideration of the minimum amount of these accomplishments indispensable to a successful study of occultism. If the desire for liberation, which constitute the last accomplishment is only moderately strong, but the second, indifference to the fruits of one's action, is fully developed, and the six qualifications well marked, success is attained by the help of the Master, who moulds the future incarnations of the pupil and smoothes his path to Adeptship. But if all the accomplishments are equally strong, Adeptship is reached by the pupil in the same incarnation. Without the second and fourth accomplishments, however, the six qualifications "water but the desert."
The accepted chelas are those who have acquired the four accomplishments up to a certain point, and are being practically trained for Adeptship in this life; to the probationary class belong such pupils as are qualifying themselves, under the guidance of their masters, for acceptance.
A few words may here be said regarding the "lay chelas" — those who study occultism without any intention of aspiring for regular chelaship. It is evident that, by theoretical study of the esoteric doctrine, the first of the four accomplishments can be achieved; the effect of this in regulating a person's next incarnation cannot be over-estimated. The spiritual energy thus generated will cause him to be born under conditions favourable to the acquirement of the other qualifications, and to spiritual progress in general.
Lay chelas, as the name implies, are men and women in the world who, while they understand the higher teaching and life, and revere the teachers, are yet unable to overcome their personal desire for a worldly career. They limit their spiritual growth by adherence to bonds imposed upon themselves by their own Karma, and, while realizing the possibilities of the human spirit, have not reached the point where they can evoke with an iron will the dormant powers in themselves. They are captives in worldly chains, who, peering over the prison walls, breathe ardent wishes for their comrades engaged in the struggle of self-conquest. Lay chelas have it in their power to terminate their self-inflicted imprisonment, and become probationary chelas whenever they choose; and, when they are ready, the door of admission is open to them. It is each man's privilege to attain to all that is possible to any man, Karmic laws governing one and all. The German poet-philosopher, Goethe, has wisely said: — "Despair is the only true Atheism."
An intellectual appreciation of the esoteric doctrine is not without its merits. On this point one of the greatest of India's occult teachers, Sankara, says: — "A theoretical study of the philosophy, though unaccompanied by the requisite accomplishments, produces more merit than the performance of all the duties enjoined by the formalities of religion eighty times over."
A great misapprehension regarding the Mahatmas has grown up in the outside world, and altogether distorted views are entertained of their nature, spiritual attainments, and fellowship with their brother-man. They are erroneously represented as utterly devoid of human feeling or sympathy with the imperfections and weaknesses of the race. They are characterized as lictors of an iron law which knows no mercy or compassion, and has no concern with the daily trials and sorrows of human nature. This false conception of them is due to several causes, the chief one being our own selfishness, which prevents the realization of perfect unselfishness. They are the votaries of abstract justice; the servant of the unvarying, immutable law; the greater their power, the greater is their obedience to the law. They are self-less, having neither personal interests to subserve nor individual preferences to express. Because they are self-less, and in their dealings show no hostilities or friendship, they are misunderstood by men who cannot appreciate such lofty ideals and exalted motives. Unlike the ordinary man in his personal weaknesses; above the limitations of daily wants and needs; untrammelled by the bonds that hold in subjection the man of flesh; they live wholly in the spirit. The lake in the mountain-height of their being is never a tossing waste of waters, for the gusts of caprice and desire never sweep through their souls; it is always a clear mirror, that reflects life eternal, and spreads the image of peace over the "house of life." The Mahatma's unselfishness produces a standard of justice that will sanction no act which wrongs the least of us, even though it would benefit the majority. They look upon an individual and determined purpose of attaining Nirvana (the culmination of all knowledge) as, after all, "only exalted and glorified selfishness, and it is only the self-sacrificing pursuit of the best means to lead on the right path our neighbours, to cause as many of our fellow-creatures as we possibly can to benefit by it, that constitutes true Adeptship."  They shake off their personal ego, the illusory apparent self, and recognize their true self in a transcendental divine life. Our Master says, "If we would not be selfish, we must strive to make other people see that truth, to recognize the reality of that transcendental self, The Buddha, the Christ, or God of every creature." 
If men could understand what existence would be without that "struggle for life" which is the real and most prolific source of woes, sorrows, and crimes, they would have the first realization of the moral height and spiritual outlook of the Mahatma's life. While recognizing the causes of this struggle, and rightly appreciating the motives which actuate man in his desire to be above want and to properly discharge his duties as the head of his family and a member of society, it is to be stated that there is a plane of life where these causes do not exist, and the struggle is unknown. A conviction of this truth, which is deep hidden in the recesses of our inner being, comes from the spirit within, and is brought home to us by a knowledge of the worth and worthlessness of this earthly life and the infinite possibilities that lie beyond it. The Mahatmas do not ignore the conditions of daily life; they are aware of its self-imposed limitations, and fully sympathize with and feel for the struggling masses of humanity, but the higher cannot stoop to the lower, the lower must see the heights above and scale them if it will. It must never be thought that the Mahatmas are creators; they are only inspirers and educators. With their perfected spiritual eye they can discern the smallest spark of spirituality flickering in a human breast, and they lose no proffered opportunity to fan the flame into life and activity. It is only the spiritual suicides, or the culpably indifferent, contented with negative virtues, who will completely shut out the beneficent influence of these great souls.
The Mahatmas undoubtedly have a human side to their characters, but it is so inseparably interblended with their higher spiritual nature that no one who tries to dissociate the two parts of their being will ever understand either correctly. The commonplace plausibilities which largely make up our daily life do not enter into the serener atmosphere where they dwell .Ordinary notions of conventionality, which are often mistaken for life itself, have no place in the true life. To approach the Mahatmas from this side is utterly hopeless. They look not to the exterior man, high or low, rich or poor, polished or coarse; the spiritual eye penetrates the outer mask of existence and perceives the inner springs of our nature. But, while surveying the soul-plane of each individual, they are unable to help any beyond the limits of their own Karmic deserts. The Mahatmas are co-workers with Nature and not its subverters.
: footnotes, referencing related information elsewhere in
classic theosophical teachings
[comments] comments by Mohini Chatterji and Laura C. Holloway in original text, or footnotes.