One of the most frequent and most natural questions of the inquirer is the one at the head of this page: "How can I meet a mahatma? How would I know one if I were to see him?" The teaching about our Elder Brothers is so consoling, and holds so much inspiration and purely novel interest for a seeker that the first impulse is to reach out like doubting Thomas and be assured by means of the senses that the mahatmas actually exist. He longs to meet them, to secure their attention and guidance. And of course it is right for anyone who has lived the life and complied with the conditions they set for their chelas, to aspire and hope for such ultimate personal relationship with them. We naturally long to find our spiritual teacher and devote our life to the service of humanity.
Yet theosophical literature will have been written in vain if students do not soon learn that they must first earn the right to come under direct personal notice. As one of the mahatmas wrote long ago, in the very beginning of the Theosophical Society, to an applicant for chelaship:
If you really want to be a chela i.e. to become the recipient of our mysteries, you have to adapt yourself to our ways, not we to yours. Until you do so, it is useless for you to expect any more than we can give under ordinary circumstances. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 235
It is not only a question of having the right, but of individual development. If any one of us were to pass a mahatma on the street, the chances are 1000 to 1 that we would not recognize him as such, unless he chose to reveal his presence to us. The reason for this lies in our own undeveloped spirituality. It is rare almost to the point of impossibility to find anyone in whom the inner spiritual sense necessary to detect the presence of a mahatma is yet unfolded. His mere physical appearance will not necessarily proclaim the inner self. It is the developed spiritual nature, not the body, which makes the Master of Life.
"But," you may reply, "if the mahatma is so far ahead of us, why is his body too not different from ours?" It is different, certainly. But in what way is it different? Simply in the quality of the atoms and molecules and cells which build it. The material of our bodies, soaked as most of them are with fatigue poisons, and often with the germs of disease, or disturbed by nervous and emotional instability, could not be used by a pure and exalted being such as a mahatma. He has long, long ago so refined and transmuted his physical atoms that his body is built only of the finest and purest materials. The essence and vibration of all his atoms and molecules are of an inconceivably higher order than ours. He could no more live and breathe in such a body as ours than a bird could live under water, or a butterfly exist in its discarded chrysalis. This very unlikeness in essence and vibration would make it extremely unlikely that we could sense his physical presence. The same thing is true of his psychological apparatus — his mind and human feelings. They are all entirely different from ours, and that difference is as invisible to our mental apprehension as the ultraviolet ray is to our eyesight. Of course the higher we go in thinking of his constitution, the more remote the possibility that there could be any casual rapport between an ordinary person and a mahatma.
Just here we may answer the third question asked in Chapter 1: Where do the mahatmas live? The inner and highest Lodge of the mahatmas is situated in regions untrodden by the mass of mankind. Here they may live in an atmosphere, physical and spiritual, that makes their work possible. Moreover, here they can be uninterrupted. Even casual thought will show that if they lived where they could he easily reached, their work would suffer, as much from friends as enemies. Even physical science has had its enemies. Think what a long struggle science has had through three hundred years to earn its freedom for untrammelled investigation and research. This will easily suggest why the mahatmas find it expedient to isolate themselves. They are powerful enough to neutralize attacks of bigotry, curiosity, and all other kinds of investigation, opposition, and interruption, but they are too wise to waste their energies in this way. Why expend energy to protect their work against the hordes of human passion when by just withdrawing to the solitudes they can live and work at their easiest and best? This is another reason why it is almost impossible for an ordinary, spiritually undeveloped man or woman to meet a mahatma.
These facts have their parallel within the world at large. High executives of great commercial enterprises are protected against intrusion. It is almost impossible for anyone but the important and favored few to work through the cordon of office employees, secretaries, and contact men who surround and cut off an industrial executive from the public. The same is true of all important and highly placed people. They have such responsibilities and important work to do under so much intensity and strain that they have to be protected against useless and wasteful contacts. So we see that the mahatmas are not so different in their need for quiet and seclusion in their spiritual retreats. However, with them there is the all-important difference that they are always in inner and sympathetic and ministering touch with humanity and its problems.
Messengers of the Lodge are necessarily more like ourselves, at least in their physical bodies, so that if we will, we can recognize the agents of the Lodge by our own intuitive vision. Yet — how many can do even this much? If one cannot discover behind the personality of a man or woman the presence of a real spiritual teacher, how then recognize a Master and teacher-adept?
Happily, the Masters can see us, for they have developed spiritual and psychic clairvoyance which enables them to look over the whole world. Every act on our part of genuine self-mastery and unselfish devotion to the interests of another brings us nearer to their recognition and help.
This, then, is the first step in reaching the mahatmas: so to live that the inner light kindled in our hearts and minds will bring us to their attention. We may be sure that they are looking eagerly for disciples. If humanity is to be saved from the lower forces of its own nature, then this Brotherhood of Compassion must gradually spread its wings to take in as many of the human race as can make the grade in this great period of evolution, called a manvantara. The Theosophical Society was founded for that purpose, as a nucleus of universal brotherhood. Its aim was not only to establish a knowledge of our spiritual brotherhood as a fact in nature, but a training school in the practice of universal brotherhood. We must not only know that brotherhood is a fact, we must prove that fact by living it. We each should set an example to the world so that all will recognize that brotherhood is not only abstractly true, but possible to live.
One sure way of more closely approaching the mahatmas is to lend our help in the work of demonstrating and establishing universal brotherhood. As they said:
The Chiefs want a "Brotherhood of Humanity," a real Universal Fraternity started; an institution which would make itself known throughout the world and arrest the attention of the highest minds. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 24
the chief object of the T. S. is not so much to gratify individual aspirations as to serve our fellow men. — Ibid p. 7-8
The Brotherhood of Compassion is not a mere association of congenially thinking people, like a club, or a church, or a political or social fraternity. One does not become a member of that Brotherhood by signing a printed form or receiving a diploma. To become incorporated in this Brotherhood means that one must to some extent change one's nature into the same kind of psychological and spiritual stuff, so to speak. Only this can so change individuals that they becomes actual living cells in the tissue of this Brotherhood. It can almost be called a matter of alchemical or spiritual chemistry. You cannot combine into one substance two chemical elements which have no real vibrational affinity. You may bring them together under all sorts of conditions, but you cannot fool nature. Utterly disparate elements will not combine under any conditions. And a person's mind and soul must be in harmony to some extent with the nature of the Brotherhood of Compassion before being absorbed into its inner body.
Nearly every searcher has already something of this spiritual affinity with the mahatmas. Whoever goes on as a constantly more impersonal and selflessly devoted worker will find the very atoms of his mind and body altering, and this change will knit him still further into its living organism. Our personality no longer will float like a helpless insect caught in the web of individual and world karma. We gradually disentangles ourselves from that web by knitting ever more closely our personality with its immortal higher self. And then as we change, we become like a strand of light, an indestructible ray woven into that refulgent tissue of spiritual light which surrounds, permeates, and supports with its love and succor the toiling world of mankind, for that tissue of golden light is the Brotherhood of Compassion.
There is yet one point more that may prove of real interest. The mahatmas have not always needed to live in strict seclusion, nor will they need to do so in the future. There have been epochs in the cyclic rise and fall of evolution when the level of spirituality of the human race was high. At such times the great teachers can mingle with a certain amount of freedom in the outer world. There have also been times of crisis or spiritual emergency when they have felt compelled to appear in person to give counsel or aid, yet such rare appearances have generally been incognito, so to say. There are many fascinating historical legends that have grown up around these appearances. W. Q. Judge, on page 31 of Echoes from the Orient, reports one such incident said to have happened to Napoleon before personal ambition led to failure, and there are many other such instances scattered through the pages of history. We understand that if enough people are faithful to the work of true self-dedication and self-mastery, the time may not be too far distant before the mahatmas will find conditions in the world favorable to their occasional reappearance among us.
As a final keynote to this subject of mahatmas and chelas, we may quote the following from the mahatma Morya on page 252 of The Mahatma Letters:
How many times had we to repeat, that he who joins the Society with the sole object of coming in contact with us and if not of acquiring at least of assuring himself of the reality of such powers and of our objective existence — was pursuing a mirage? I say again then. It is he alone who has the love of humanity at heart, who is capable of grasping thoroughly the idea of a regenerating practical Brotherhood who is entitled to the possession of our secrets. He alone, such a man — will never misuse his powers, as there will be no fear that he will turn them to selfish ends. A man who places not the good of mankind above his own good is not worthy of becoming our chela — he is not worthy of becoming higher in knowledge than his neighbour.