Ali Ritsema – the Netherlands
[This article appeared in Dutch, being a part of a booklet published by the Dutch Section of the Theosophical Society-Adyar entitled Theosofie, eeuwige wijsheid voor deze tijd. This publication is primarily meant as an introduction to Theosophy.]
In the founding and the history of the Theosophical Society (TS) the Mahatmas have played an important role. They have been the truly inspirational force in the coming about of the TS. The Mahatma’s have insight in the evolutionary process of the Universe and the Laws of Nature and thus They stimulate all movements meant to help the progress of the world in the spiritual sense. The intention of initiating the foundation of the TS was, and still is, to assist mankind in showing that “such a thing as Theosophy exists and to help humans to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities” (The Key to Theosophy, Section 4). The Mahatmas emphasize over and over again the importance and practice of a truly Universal Brotherhood of Humanity. They are said to be members of the Inner White Brotherhood, also called the White Lodge.
What is a Mahatma?
The word “Mahatma” means “great soul.” H. P. Blavatsky (HPB), one of the founders of the TS, states that the Mahatmas are living men, not “spirits”; that their knowledge and wisdom are immeasurable compared to that of a “normal” person. A Mahatma is said to be someone who mastered his lower nature and is in the possession of knowledge proportionate to his degree of spiritual development. Mahatmas are also referred to as Elder Brothers, Masters of Wisdom, Masters of Compassion, Adepts, Arhats, or Rishis.
In an article on “Mahatmas and Chelas,” it is stated that “a Mahatma is a personage, who by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge, which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of re-incarnations during the process of cosmic evolution, provided of course, that they do not go, in the meanwhile, against the purposes of Nature and thus bring on their own annihilation”(Collected Writings (CW) VI, 239).
According to Mahatma Koot Hoomi (KH): “The adept is the rare efflorescence of a generation of enquirers; and to become one, he must obey the inward impulse of the soul irrespective of the prudential considerations of worldly science or sagacity” (Mahatma Letters to A.P Sinnett (ML) Letter No.2, chronological sequence).
The Real Mahatma
The real Mahatma is not his physical body but the higher mind, Manas pure, inseparably linked to Atma and Buddhi. This connection has been brought about by a Mahatma through the process of self-purification and inner development as indicated by esoteric philosophy. Whoever wants to get into contact with a Mahatma must elevate his Manas in such a way that the inner perception will be clear and the illusions of the outer world have been transcended. This is an inner process and therefore to “see” a Mahatma does not depend on a certain place but on a state of consciousness. That’s why it may be said that the Mahatmas are everywhere. According to the esoteric philosophy that which is of a higher nature can only be perceived by a sense that is connected to that higher nature. When a Mahatma has been incarnated again, he or she (there are male and female Mahatmas) has to once again go through the process of self-purification in order to get his or her body and mind subjugated to the higher principles.
A Mahatma is Conscious of His Thinking
Unlike ordinary people a Mahatma is conscious of the working of his mind and its effect. In one of The Mahatma Letters (ML 65), Mahatma KH states “it is with jealous care that we have to guard our mind-plane from all adverse influences which daily arise in our passage through earth-life.” As a result a Mahatma is able to make use of his mind consciously; he determines which thought he throws off or lets in. Since a Mahatma is aware of the fact that emotions and passions are wasting his life force, he will avoid them. To be able to do his work properly he has to protect his powers and therefore will live outside the influence of the masses. This is the reason why a Mahatma is able to make much longer use of his body and will become much older than “normal” people.
However, a Mahatma is not infallible as they say themselves, They cannot foresee everything every moment of the day. A Mahatma is an ordinary mortal in daily life unless the inner, real Mahatma is active. When a Mahatma is taking rest, his powers are also at rest.
The Mahatmas and the Mahatma Letters
Within the Theosophical literature The Mahatma Letters take an important place. The original title of the book is The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett and consist of letters written by Mahatma Koot Hoomi (KH) and Mahatma Morya (M) to A.P. Sinnett and a few letters to A.O. Hume during the first years of the Theosophical Society. A.P. Sinnett was an English journalist who came into contact with H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) and H.S. Olcott –two of the founders of the TS and through HPB he came in contact with the Mahatmas. A.O. Hume, an ornithologist and a civil servant with the Indian Civil Service, was a friend of the Sinnetts. The letters are in fact a private correspondence and, with a few exceptions, answer unknown questions (to the reader) by KH and M. The answers show great depth and wisdom about a great variety of subjects. The letters contain teachings that have been and still are a source of inspiration for students of the esoteric philosophy. Although the letters were private and not meant for publication, they were published in 1923 after Sinnett’s death. The original letters are kept in the British Museum in London and can be seen when requested. In the original Mahatma letters, the letters written by KH are in blue ink and the ones by M in red ink. Many of the events described in the letters are nowadays not of much interest for the reader but for a serious enquirer it is very much worthwhile to study the teachings they contain. The Mahatmas indicate what a challenge it is for them to pass on something of their science to people who have been trained in a western way of thinking. It is not easy to let go of fixed ideas and it requires quite some courage to learn to think for oneself.
Letters from the Masters of Wisdom
Then there are also the Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, addressed to family members of HPB, H.S. Olcott, C.W. Leadbeater and many others. The first series of these letters were published in 1919. These letters are not answers to questions and therefore easier to understand.
Subjects in the Mahatma Letters
In order to get an understanding of the point of view of the Mahatmas on any particular esoteric subject mentioned in the ML, the student has first to assemble together all the information about that subject spread ad hoc throughout many letters. Very abstract subjects are discussed like the absolute, akasa, universal laws, but also less abstract subjects like good and evil, life and death, adepts, discipleship, esoteric wisdom etc.
The Mahatmas and the Secret Doctrine
The Secret Doctrine (SD) is, as KH states in a letter, “the triple production”of Mahatma M, Upasika (HPB) and Mahatma KH and was published in 1888. Mahatma M states in a letter that The Secret Doctrine has been dictated partly by Him and partly by KH. It has also been explained by KH that every mistake or incorrect idea has been corrected either by Him or under his guidance.
In Collected Writings XIII is an article attributed to HPB in which she states that “Knowledge comes in visions, first in dreams and then in pictures presented to the inner eye during meditation . Thus have I been taught the whole system of evolution, the laws of being and all else that I know—the mysteries of life and death, the workings of karma . Not a word was spoken to me of all this in the ordinary way, except, perhaps, by way of confirmation of what was thus given me—nothing taught me in writing . And knowledge so obtained is so clear, so convincing, so indelible in the impression it makes upon the mind, that all other sources of information, all other methods of teaching with which we are familiar dwindle into insignificance in comparison with this . ”
And she adds to this that it is very difficult to represent in sufficiently accurate language what was given to her in the pictures.
The Secret Doctrine consists of two parts, “Cosmogenesis,” the coming about of the Cosmos, and “Anthropogenesis,” the evolutionary process of humanity. On the title page of SD it is explained that the book is the synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy.
The study of this book is not so much about accumulating mental knowledge but a new kind of mental effort, the carving out of “new brain paths” as HPB puts it, a means of exercising and developing the mind never touched by other studies. HPB says: “If one imagines that one is going to get a satisfactory picture of the constitution of the Universe from the SD, one will get only confusion from its study. It is not meant to give any such final verdict on existence, but to lead towards the Truth” (Bowen notes in Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy ).
The motto of the SD is like the seal of the TS: “There is No Religion Higher than Truth.”
The SD is in large part a commentary on selected stanzas from an ancient work, the Book of Dzyan . These Stanzas are poetical verses and have a meditative quality which might have a transformative effect. The word “Dzyan” refers to esoteric schools and their literature and is defined as “to reform one’s self by meditation and knowledge.”
Esoteric Schools Are of All Ages
Esoteric schools have always existed although they are often called mystery schools. The true objective of mystery schools is – and always has been – to develop the spiritual powers in humans and to establish a society based on altruism. Mysteries have always been of a deep religious nature with highly moral and ethical values. According to Master KH “the mysteries never were, never can be, put within the reach of the general public, not, at least, until that longed for day when our religious philosophy becomes universal” ( ML 2)
True knowledge can only be passed on when the requisite conditions are being met and then insight comes from within, not from without.
The Mahatmas are humans belonging to our humanity who by their inner self-education and self-training activate the higher powers which are latent in every one of us. Their greatest drive is to establish a practical universal brotherhood without any distinction and They are a stimulating force for everyone who is willing to work towards that objective.