I hold the perhaps very unorthodox opinion that no one can be made different by any ceremonial whatever from what he was ten minutes before it. Look at it in this way. A medical student, let us say, has studied the medical sciences for several years. From time to time he has to submit to examinations which, successfully passed, entitle him to continue his studies in the school he is attending and under the proper instructors. Finally he is given a parchment stating that he is an M. D. But he is not one whit different ten minutes after each examination than he was ten minutes before; nor is he in any way different ten minutes after his diploma is handed to him than he was ten minutes before. At no one moment has he been initiated into anything. You may, if you wish, call his successive examinations and his final graduation initiations, first, second, third, and so on. You may call the examiners initiators and the president of the college, who hands him his final diploma, the "Great Initiator," but it means nothing. At no one moment has he been initiated into anything — he has simply had a succession of labels stuck on him, and the sticking of these labels, as they do not in themselves accomplish anything, does not need to be accompanied with any sort of ceremonial whatsoever, and anything of the sort is just for show. A medical degree is doubtless of value, as it is required by the authorities before he is permitted to practise as a token that he has had sufficient training; it serves on his shingle or the wall of his office to tell what he is. But all that he is he has made himself, by study, aided by his instructors. But brush aside all these formalities and he would be just as good, or as bad, a doctor.
There is a certain parallelism between spiritual growth and growth in material knowledge, but with the difference that the former, being more an inner process, depends more on the development of the inner faculties and less on something coming from without. It is conceded that at proper times suitable instruction must be given, but this is rather with the aim of calling out the powers latent within one. It is needless to go into this further here. What I want to emphasize is that initiation is a gradual process, just as is the acquirement of medical knowledge, and that it is not something which proceeds by fits and jumps. To speak of a person being an initiate of the first, second, third degree and so on means about as much as dividing students into sophomores, juniors, seniors and finally graduates. It is quite true that moments may come when there is a rather sudden "expansion of consciousness," when ideas before only dimly or not at all perceived suddenly flash on one, just as one may suddenly have the solution of a problem flash on him, while in other cases the process is a slow one. I don't pretend to offer an explanation of this, though I object to the popular idea that whenever one gets a new conception it is because some superior being has thrust it into his mind. I object to this explanation because it is no explanation at all, for one must at once ask, how did this superior and external being get it? I see no essential difference between conceiving some useful invention and conceiving a new sort of safe-cracking or financial swindling. There are people aplenty who long ago abandoned the idea of being "tempted by the devil" who still attribute each brilliant idea to some kind-hearted angel anxious to help along.
Be that as it may, the idea that initiation is something sudden, rather than a gradual growth brought about by "self-induced and self-devised efforts," that it is something conferred rather than made by oneself is so alluring that the subject has been the field of exploitation without end. Do you really suppose that those wise beings who know the hearts of men will indulge in such puerile stunts as you find described in books on initiation? Do you think that they will put candidates through a course of interrogation and actually require a spoken oath just as if they were judges in a police court? I find the notion rather insulting. The perniciousness of this notion lies largely in the idea that an initiate is made from without rather than by his own efforts. Read the current literature on initiation. You will get the idea that as one progresses along the Path he finally comes to a closed door. This he cannot open himself; it has to be opened for him and he himself pushed or pulled through it by some sort of ceremonial supposed to stir up his spiritual bowels.
Make up your mind that "initiation" is a slow growth, brought about through your own efforts aided when necessary by higher instruction when you have already made the best use of what has been placed at your disposal, and have learned by the mistakes you will make. But pay no attention to the talk about being suddenly boosted by some external process, or perhaps by some surgical operation on your chakras, into a new and higher state.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE