A Mahatma endowed with power over space, time, mind, and matter, is a possibility just because he is a perfected man. Every human being has the germ of all the powers attributed to these great Initiates, the difference lying solely in the fact that we have in general not developed what we possess the germ of, while the Mahatma has gone through the training and experience which have caused all the unseen human powers to develop in him, and conferred gifts that look god-like to his struggling brother below. — W. Q. JUDGE: The Ocean of Theosophy, pp. 11-12
Two things are involved in the development of spiritual powers. First, we must understand ourselves, then comprehend the universe of which we are a part. It is the same with any student. He who would research in a scientific laboratory must begin by learning the theory and then how to use the equipment with which to conduct experiments.
No door opens without the right key. The knowledge of our own constitution, of our own capacities and powers, is the key which will unlock the door to the inner worlds of being lying within and behind and beyond the physical world. Here is the meaning of the expression "self-directed evolution." The world lags in its evolution, suffering and confusion prevail, because for so long we have been taught to look outside ourselves for strength and spiritual wisdom. Religion tells us to rely on a vague and distant God, while science offers the barren idea of a ruthless nature as the great evolutionary force.
But theosophy says: know thyself, for within lie all the wisdom and potencies of the universe. The urge to evolution through self-expression and experience does not come from blind physical nature. It comes from our own higher spiritual self, so only within ourselves can we find the knowledge and the power to achieve the aims of evolution. Without our own vision, willpower, and courage we could never get anywhere. A child can be helped and guided by parents and teachers. But only it can make itself walk, eat, study, or use its physical and mental faculties.
So one of the passwords of theosophy is self-directed evolution, which puts into our own hands the science of self-knowledge. It teaches what the seven basic elements of our constitution are, giving us the spiritual laws by which we can understand, control, and direct these elements. Only we ourselves can apply this knowledge in our daily lives to bring about a higher and quicker evolution of our own natures. Therefore the student no longer looks outside of himself for the strength to accomplish this, but becomes his own savior, powerful enough at last to make of himself a god in human form. Did not Jesus say: "Know ye not that ye are gods?"; "Greater things than these shall ye do"; and "the kingdom of God is within you" — thus pointing the way to the spiritual basis of self-directed evolution?
It is this kind of self-directed evolution that a mahatma has been practicing for many lives on earth. When we too grasp its importance and start to apply it practically to ourselves, we shall be putting our feet on the path that leads to the goal of human evolution, mahatmaship.
Some of the highest forms of mahatmic powers exist even now in all of us. There is the creative imagination, the power to visualize what we want or need or wish to do, and then give it mental form and direction. Successful business people inevitably possess this power, as do artists and scientists. All are highly gifted with creative imagination, yet everyone has it in some degree, and it can be developed in ourselves. Katherine Tingley wrote:
Visualize! Visualize! You touch a mystic law when you create in imagination the picture of mighty things, for you open a door to new powers within yourself. . . . If you aspire, visualize your aspirations. Make a mind-picture of your spiritual ideals, a picture of the spiritual life as you know it to be, and carry that picture with you day by day. — Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, p. 49
Another great power most people possess is willpower. Without a strong and active will the creative imagination is useless. There are people of talent everywhere who are yet so irresolute and procrastinating that they go through life without accomplishing anything. There are also those like Beethoven who, with his terrible handicap of total deafness, had the courage and indomitable will to bring into being those superb masterpieces which later he could not hear.
In a mahatma the creative imagination and the spiritual will have been raised to their ultimate in human development. The words "spiritual will" are emphasized, for the personal will, actuated as it often is by selfish desires and narrow interest, will not get us far. It too often results in a form of mere willfulness that may injure others and make difficult karma for the person himself. Personal will cannot serve in the inner spiritual realms of nature where the mahatma works, but must first be purified and made impersonal. Only then does it become a spiritual power, trained and actuated by impersonal love.
One of the first things a student of occultism has to learn is the meaning and might of impersonal love. Occultism is practical or applied theosophy. One may be a student of theosophy without becoming an occultist. For example, one may be convinced that karma and reincarnation, as theories, offer a completely satisfactory explanation of life — and let it go at that. Another, once convinced of the truth of these teachings, will use creative imagination to change his thoughts and actions, perhaps to avoid making negative karma. This latter has begun to be an occultist, making practical use of theosophy. But such a motive — taking care of his own karma — is still personal, and so inadequate spiritually. No matter how justly it leads him to deal with others, he is still doing it for himself. It is a personal, not a spiritual, motive.
The human spiritual nature is called in theosophy atma-buddhi-manas. Atman is the spiritual essence at the center of us, the root of being which is the same in every creature. It is therefore universal, common to all things. Buddhi is the spiritual vesture, the highest aspect of soul. Through buddhi, atman is stepped down to the individual, manas the thinker. Atman, clothed or ensouled by the buddhic vesture, is a pure ray of the cosmic self. It is an emanation of the great self of the universe. People must visualize their atma-buddhi and aspired to it. Until they have felt in their hearts the throb and thrill of the universal atmic spirit they cannot understand and practice impersonal love.
It is not enough to love just our children, parents, and friends, and be willing to sacrifice our interest to theirs. This is fine, and the first beautiful step on the path, but to reach higher levels in occultism one must still go farther. It is comparatively easy to love and sacrifice for our own children. More difficult is so to work for the well-being or happiness all other people. So begins impersonal love, and when we have expanded our love and sense of responsibility to the whole world, we are beginning to be true occultists. We are sacrificing the personal to the spiritual will, becoming gradually incapable of harming any living creature.
The thoughtful seeker will admit that such genuinely practiced thought and action demands an intense, continuous, and arduous self-training, but its rewards are beyond price. We lose all fear for ourselves, all worry over our own success. We are able to train our children to a higher level of service and happiness, and to save them from many of the mistakes and sufferings caused by selfishness. We acquire a broader wisdom in all the relationships and circumstances of life, because we are bringing the cosmic universal light of atma-buddhi to illumine our minds and hearts. This is what Jesus meant when he told us to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and "all these things" shall be added unto us.
The mahatma has been training himself along these lines for ages. He has so changed, developed, and transfigured the very atoms of his whole being that he is complete responsive to the divine intelligence and the will of the cosmic universal self. He no longer lives for himself in any way. It would be impossible for his refined nature to return from the range and freedom, the peace and bliss of cosmic harmony, to the fevers and petty rivalries, the limited and ignoble aims of personal life. Those who have even faintly experienced the wondrous happiness of impersonal living can understand this, and bend their spiritual will towards attaining such freedom and peace.
We now have a better idea of the spiritual powers of a mahatma. Having finally allied himself with the universal soul of nature, all its many realms — spiritual, psychological, psychic, astral, and physical — lie before him like an open book. Perhaps we may make a picture that will give us a clearer idea of such a state of being. Think of one who for a lifetime has lived in a narrow shut-in valley, but as old age approaches gets the idea to see what the world is really like. He determines to climb the mountains that hem his valley in. After great labor he reaches the almost inaccessible peaks. For the first time he sees the earth spread before his gaze — its plains and valleys, rivers and forests, its mighty cities. Overhead stretches the immensity of the sky where at night he sees a whole universe of wheeling suns and the far-scattered constellations of the Milky Way. It is a magnificent revelation to his dazzled eyes and to his mind that had never been able to think beyond the narrow valley where he lived so long. For the first time he begins to understand the nature of the world at large.
So with the human soul. Dwelling for long in the dark and narrow limitations of the personality, but at last aspiring through awakened imagination, it turns to the mountain peaks of the Mystic East. Calling upon all its powers of strength and endurance it toils long and often painfully upward. Then at last this soul can stand upon the inner heights of its own spiritual nature seeing and understanding what a different universe it is from the one seen before from the dark, narrow valley.
So the mahatma too stands at last at a summit of his own universe, where he has brought himself by the use of creative imagination and spiritual will. The forces of occult nature are now his to use. Through the powers attained by this slow upward progress, he can employ these forces of occult nature to produce phenomena that to the ignorant seem like miracles. In fact they are in fact only an enlightened and impersonally directed use of these powerful and hidden energies of nature.
Better still, he now sees clearly the causes of human misery and has the ability to help. He has reached wisdom and has the power which enables him to send currents of spiritual energy into the thought-atmosphere of mankind. Many of the most beneficent movements in history are the result of these spiritual thought-currents broadcast by the mahatmas among mankind. These currents touch here and there men and women who are ripe for spiritual activity, and great ameliorations for humanity result. For example, some of the most beneficial and far-reaching discoveries of modern science are said to have been due to the help given to their discoveries by the mahatmas. We quote here a reference from Charles J. Ryan's H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement:
Professor Crookes, the chemist to whom science owes the great discovery of 'radiant matter' as he called it (now known as 'ionized' matter), which led directly in his and other hands to the modern atomic theories and the 'New Physics,' became a councillor of the London Lodge, and, it is said, received communications from the Master Morya, who took great interest in his work. The Master's attention was attracted to him by the moral courage he showed in daring to investigate psychic phenomena [which at that time were ridiculed by materialistic science and those who 'dabbled' in them ostracized], and in publicly declaring that they were facts, scientifically demonstrable, whatever their interpretation might be. Crookes suffered bitter persecution from many of his scientific colleagues, but even under the strongest pressure he never modified his statements or withdrew his records. — p. 163
The student of modern history and the events of past centuries will be interested in tracing where the influences of the spiritual thought currents broadcast by the mahatmas may have been at work. The influence of the writings of the so-called Dionysius the Areopagite is a case in point. He was a mysterious writer who lived in the third century AD. His ideas had a remarkable influence in shaping the thought of early medieval Christianity, preserving much of Neoplatonic thought in Christian theology which otherwise would have been forgotten. No one knows who he actually was, but his writing molded Christian thinking into a more spiritual form than it would have taken. He has been called the founder of Christian mysticism.
The thinkers, philanthropists, and scientists influenced by the mahatmas are not used by them like puppets — that would be an utterly unjustifiable forcing of the free will of men and women, something entirely contrary to every teaching and law of occultism. It is only that some people, and especially searchers for truth and a way to help the world, have made themselves ready to be touched and inspired by these spiritual lightwaves, sent out constantly from the heights where the mahatmas watch over and encourage and inspire all who are advanced enough to feel them.