The Theosophical Forum – December 1936


Sunday Evening, April 12, 1936 (1)

[A resume of Chapter XLVII of Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, entitled "Teacher and Pupil. Requisites of Chelaship," was made by Miss Madeline Savage and Mr. Allan Stover, and then the meeting was thrown open by the Chairman to discussion and questions from the audience.]

G. de P. — I would like to know, Mr. Chairman and Companions, what in your judgment is the characteristic or distinguishing mark of chelaship. I do not mean any outward sign. Those can be imitated; but what is it really which makes or distinguishes or characterizes the chela as compared with other men?

Madeline Savage — I would like to answer this question. In my study of the present chapter, this thought came to me: That the true chela is he who in his merely human part utterly surrenders to that higher part which the Leader in this chapter so beautifully calls the Companion of Stars, the inner god; and the influence of which is stepped down to the human ego by the Reincarnating Ego. It is the human ego surrendering entirely to the spiritual law as given to it by the Reincarnating Ego.

H. T. Edge — As the signs which indicate chelaship are not of an external nature, they would not be such as could be communicated to anyone except perhaps another chela; and further they would be of a kind which the chela would be reluctant to speak about.

G. de P. — What Dr. Edge says is quite true. Perhaps I had better rephrase my question. It may not have been clear, but I think Miss Madeline has got the fundamental idea. Instead of asking then, "What is the distinguishing mark or characteristic," I will phrase my question this way: What is it in or of the chela which makes him such?

C. J. Ryan — When H. P. B. said that the first test of true apprenticeship was devotion to the interest of others, she gave the secret password to open the door to the path. This was, of course, only the first test, but whatever comes later, such as the attainment of knowledge and power, will turn to ashes unless inseparably combined with a burning desire to help suffering humanity.

Grace Knoche, Jr. — I should think that what would characterize a chela as distinct from the ordinary man would be the acquiring of a vision, or, perhaps, the conquering of illusion in a fuller degree, so that through the conscious tearing away of the veils of maya, he would get a vision of what life really meant. Then, having this Vision, he would know that the only possible way to live in accordance with Reality, consciously to live, would be a positive decision to devote himself to the service of others.

J. H. Fussell — One of the characteristic marks of chelaship I would say is a love for truth and a searching for it, as a drowning man struggles for air as the one thing above all most desirable. Naturally the love of truth is of varying degree, and the attainment of it, to be in any way successful, must include what Professor Ryan referred to as "the first test: Devotion to the interests of another" and ultimately of all men — in a word, impersonality. We can come to a knowledge of truth only in the degree that we seek for it impersonally — not solely for ourselves or our own satisfaction, but for the sake of all men, for the service of all.

H. T. Edge — So far we have heard of several attributes which a chela might or might not possess; but as he would possess these in common with other people who are not chelas, they cannot be said to "be characteristic of chelaship. What we need is a definition, not an enumeration of attributes.

Sven Eek — "Chela" in a technical sense means slave, slave to the command or behest of a Guru or of Truth as the Higher Self points it out. It does not mean perfection, however — far from it. A chela can have all the wonderful qualities enumerated tonight, but also quite a few pretty bad ones not mentioned.

We must distinguish between "chelaship" as it is understood in the Orient and the "chelaship" of Theosophists in the West. There are strict rules governing the lives of the chelas in India and Tibet and they all have some sort of Guru or Teacher who directly or indirectly guides their lives. "Chelaship" among Western people, or more particularly Theosophists, is something less tangible. As I see it, it means a focussing of one's thoughts, aspiration, and desires along lines of spiritual endeavor and in accordance with the teachings that we have received.

It is erroneous to imagine that chelas are necessarily altogether saintly people. In fact their efforts to forge ahead along lines of least resistance react on them in many ways and the animal nature of man rises up in protest; it is here that a chela has to win or lose. So when we see any Companion troubled by evil, let us judge not too hastily his character.

E. V. Savage — I want to express my agreement with what Mr. Eek said, because I think that what constitutes a chela is setting one's feet on the Path; and this does not mean that suddenly one begins to manifest all the virtues. In fact, we are told that when one becomes a chela, he is immediately faced with all the difficulties and weaknesses of his nature. Therefore we ordinary beings can't judge of each other, as to who is a chela or who isn't, by the difficulties he has in his life; because one who is having the hardest times and the greatest trials to overcome may be one who has advanced far on the path. And even failure does not mean giving up one's status as a chela, as long as one continues fighting (that is, wisely), and keeping at least a foothold on the path.

I also agree with Dr. Edge. I don't think anyone less than a Teacher can tell who is a chela; but I think it is fairly simple to say who isn't. Anyone who advertises the fact that he is one, whether openly or by creating a mystery about himself, certainly isn't one; nor is one who is condemnatory of others and always trying to show how much more evil others are than himself. So I suppose we could arrive at it by a process of elimination.

Grace Knoche, Sr. — I think it might be called the mark of the Hierarchy of Compassion, speaking broadly and including the noble qualities that this term implies, at least aspiration and strong effort towards them. It is the mark the soul would set, in a way, upon those who are living for others and not for self, consciously and determinedly so living. It would not be a visible mark or sign, and would not be perceived by the majority, though they might see in us a certain kindliness and sympathetic understanding; but those who bear this mark, and above all the Teachers, I believe, would see it definitely as a distinguishing mark or sign.

Oluf Tyberg — A chela is one who is dominated by something greater than himself, the innermost part of his being, the Master, and whose faith and devotion are so unswerving that in spite of personal shortcomings, this Master can infill his mind with a vision of universal truth and guide it to the Teacher in possession of this very truth.

A. B. Clark — The characteristic which distinguishes the chela from other men is the flame of pure impersonal love burning in his heart. As the dominant characteristic of the Master of Compassion is the spirit of divine harmony and compassion, so it is by the similitude to the Master that a man becomes a chela. It is this similitude by which the disciple is recognised and drawn to the Master. It is kinship of spirit.

Lydia Ross — A chela is one whose great hunger for Truth makes him willing to pay the price of his personal self that he may become the Truth. This would include all degrees of chelaship and all the virtues required for it.

Julia Hecht — Katherine Tingley often said it was so difficult to find an honest man; and I should think chelaship would mean absolute sincerity.

O. I. Clark — It seems much easier to enumerate qualities which a chela should or should not possess, than to tell what it is that constitutes one a chela. Let me offer the following: That which constitutes one a chela is a definite alliance by deliberate choice with the Order of Compassion. If there are unconscious chelas, they have made that alliance in previous incarnations. The possession of many noble qualities does not itself constitute chelaship. All the religions have had saints and heroes, who were not chelas. Chelas may have bad qualities, even very bad qualities, but being chelas they are on the best road for the rapid overcoming of those qualities. They are chelas because they are definitely and by continuing choice devoted to the work of the Order of Compassion. That devotion causes them to be accepted as chelas. If they adhere to that choice and devotion, the noble qualities which a chela should have will be developed in them more quickly than by any other means.

Foster Griffiths — The question can be answered in a very few words. One who has an unceasing love for humanity would through this love express all the attributes and qualities that we have been talking about: impersonality, compassion, service, etc.

George Davenport — To my mind, any individual aspiring to chelaship has had a vision of truth conveyed to his brain-mind and intelligence from his higher spiritual essence, and henceforth his whole life is devoted to the search for truth in self-forgetful service to his Teacher and all humanity.

Allan Stover — Sooner or later, to a serious student of Theosophy comes the urge to devote everything — every faculty, all he possesses, to the service of humanity. In other words, he wishes to live the life of a chela. He sees that the farther reaches of the chela-life are greatly to be desired. He soon learns that if he live the life he shall know the doctrine — the deeper teachings — and with this desire in his heart he feels the need of a Teacher.

What are the requisites for one wishing to lead the chela-life, for one wishing to become a chela? We are told that among others there are three leading ones: Devotion, Duty, and Loyalty — Devotion to an ideal which requires the utmost of our spiritual will to follow day after day; duty — one's own duty — rightly performed, the doing of which brings indescribable peace, as when, after wandering over and having retraced many roads, we find the right one at last; and which rightly done leaves no thing to be undone; and Loyalty, which brings trust and confidence in oneself and in others. These three requisites for chelaship have among all peoples been considered the foremost virtues. We, as Theosophists, owe the observance of these qualities to ourselves, to others, and especially to our chosen Teacher. It is expected of us.

The Teacher gives inner life and inner light. He guides the soul of the chela through its development, onwards and upwards through greater trials, greater responsibilities. For the chela meets a karmic quickening which may condense into his present incarnation the experiences of many ordinary lives. He meets trials joyfully, knowing that each trial successfully passed means the dropping of one more veil of illusion on the path to Masterhood.

I. L. Harris — The Leader's question was: "What is it in or of a chela that makes him such?" May I venture a brief definition: A progressively more and more complete identification of oneself with impersonal ends for the betterment of Humanity, coupled with an ever-increasing effort to fit oneself to carry out better the duties which such service entails.

W. E. Small — In terms of the seven principles of man and nature, we might say that the Mahatman lives in the Buddhic principle, the average man in the Kama-Manasic. The nearer an individual shifts his center of consciousness to the Buddhic part of his constitution and keeps it there, the closer is his approach to Mahatmahood. The chela is one who has learned to do this with a larger degree of concentration than the average man.

Stanley Zurek — Wouldn't a chela be one in whom the inner god has become awakened to some extent, and who has a teacher, whether he is conscious of it or not?

E. J. Dadd — I think that the answer by Mr. Zurek is the best yet. When we consider that man is the expression of a divinity on earth, and that any good man and a myriad Christians can feel, by aspiration, the presence of this divinity — the "Father in secret" spoken of in the New Testament — we see that something more than sensing that divine Presence is needed in order to get direct teaching and instruction from that source. The Mahatmans are in contact with that divinity, and we, if we understand how to constitute ourselves their pupils, have their help in learning to reach our own divinity. A chela, then, is one who is being taught by a Master of that art, the means to make his divinity vocal within him.

G. de P. — Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, and Companions: I think that my question has been beautifully answered by all who have spoken, and anything that I could say would merely be in addition. Indeed, if we analyse the answers that we have heard, I think we may divide them into two classes: those weighing heavily on what we may call the Life, and those weighing heavily on what we may call the Knowing. It is an interesting study in psychology to me, knowing you all as well as I do, to see how the individual swabhava has come out in your answers. Some are profound and devoted students who are reaching the Light along the Path of Wisdom. Others, equally profound and devoted students, are marching steadily towards the inner glory by what we describe as living it. Now, if you will combine these two ways, unify them into one, in which both blend indistinguishably, then I think you will have not only the signs and marks and characteristics of all chelas, who you will remember are of many grades from the supergods downwards to us, but you will likewise know how to become a chela, a greater chela, a still greater chela, yourselves.

There are many characteristics and distinguishing marks, if we analyse the chela in his life, and many of them have been pointed out. But do you know, I think if I were asked what is it in and of a man which makes him a chela, I think I should ponder quite a long time, and then I believe I should give this answer: A growing indifference to himself, and an increasing interest in all that is. There we have the path of morals, of ethics, of wisdom; and we have the Life: a man who has completely lost interest in himself, has no pleasure in evil-doing, because all evil-doing is selfish, for personal, selfish ends. It is just as simple as that. Not my will, as the great Syrian Chela and Master said, but Thine, his inner god's, a Ray of the spirit of the Universe, the law of infinite love and compassion and harmony and pity and wisdom and peace. Man, when he thus loses interest in himself, grows progressively greater. It is a strange and interesting paradox. By expanding, his interests enlarge instead of being constricted around his own core of being; he breaks the bonds and expands. His former and present self becomes uninteresting. The world, all mankind, the Universe, he loses himself in, and becomes it; and there is the secret of all initiations, from the greatest to the least. Indeed, no man can pass through an initiation until he can do this in some degree. He cannot simply because he cannot lose himself. He cannot enter into other things. He is all "I." The Universe is "I" and "thou," I, and the world — the duality. He never can forget himself and be the other, for his whole understanding, his whole compass of thought and feeling is I. Do you catch the thought? That is all there is to it. The chela is he who is becoming uninterested in himself and accordingly more interested in others, in the world. That is why there are three grades of training. Experience of ages has shown that three are required: training, study, and a growing lack of interest in yourself. And then comes the fourth stage, when you really feel that all other men's interests are infinitely more important than your own. The greatest Buddha, the greatest teacher, the greatest man or woman, is he who is uninterested in himself and loses himself in what we call others. That is chelaship. It is a reversion of feeling, to embrace the Universe and recognise it. The "I" is no longer "I," it is All. And yet how difficult it is for Occidentals to understand that we are all one, and yet for ever individuals.

There are as many chelas as there are individuals in the Universe. I sometimes think that everybody is a chela in degree. I sometimes think that even the greatest sinner, as we say, is a chela, because he is learning, poor devil! Of course he is not a great chela, he is a very weak and humble one, a poor, stumbling, weak specimen of mankind. A true chela hence is one who is living the Life and knows the Knowing, and combines the two into one, and thereby loses interest in himself, forgets himself. Self-forgetfulness, love of others: if men could only follow this as a life even in their ordinary intercourse, if we could only realize how uninteresting I am and how awfully interesting the other fellow is. That is all there is to chela-ship; and the greatest man is he who can express that the most, the best. That is why, as the Buddha said, we attain Nirvana, we attain the stage of the "samma-sambuddha," when the dew-drop slips into the shining sea, when the little knot and point and focus of I-consciousness expands to be the Universe.

I will add this: I for one have no patience with those who segregate themselves from others and go out, away from others, and think that they are holier than others. That is not chelaship. You can starve till your bones stick through your skin, and you can burn yourself and torture yourself until the body, wracked with pain, dies; and you are no more a chela than a snap of the fingers, because all your searching is upon yourself; you become an imbodiment of self-seeking egoism. That is not the way to attain chelaship. Chelaship is an inner being, an utter self-forgetfulness in its greater reaches, it is an inner change and forgetting yourself; and in proportion as you do it, so much farther will you be on the chela-path, because of an ever-enlarging consciousness and wisdom and love. Thank you.


1. Note: These "Transactions," as they are printed from time to time in the pages of The Theosophical Forum, do not necessarily appear in serial order, but depend often upon requests of visitors to the Lodge who have found some particular subject of especial interest, and have felt the present to be a good time to have these thoughts given wider broadcast. — Eds. (return to text)

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