The Path – November 1889


In accordance with the suggestion of our President last Tuesday evening, I have tried to collect such evidence as to the nature of the Mahatmas as I could from the Theosophical books I had in my own library, not having had time to go elsewhere. If I rightly understood Mr. Judge on the occasion referred to, he defined Mahatma, or the great souled, as a purely spiritual existence, and therefore only to be properly spoken of in the singular, as pure spirit is necessarily undifferentiated and therefore one and the same. I have not yet succeeded in finding any definition of "the Mahatma" that implies quite so impersonal an entity. The nearest approach to this idea is in an anonymous article on page 92 of Five Years of Theosophy, entitled "Mahatmas and Chelas," which begins thus: "A Mahatma is an individual 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 reincarnations during the process of cosmic evolution," (provided, of course, that it moves in the right direction). Such a person having, by proper training in successive incarnations, gradually purged himself of the lower principles of his nature, there arrives a time when the entity consists solely of "that higher Manas which is inseparably linked to the Atma and its vehicle" (the sixth principle). "When, therefore," continues the writer, "people express a desire to see a Mahatma, they really do not seem to understand what it is they ask for. How can they, with their physical eyes, hope to see that which transcends sight? Higher things can be perceived only by a sense pertaining to those higher things; whoever therefore wants to see the real Mahatma must use his intellectual sight. The Mahatma has identified himself with that Universal Soul which runs through Humanity, and to draw his attention one must do so through that Soul."

This definition makes of the Mahatma a purely spiritual existence, and therefore part and parcel of the Divine element of which we all to some extent partake.

But the Glossary of the book quoted (Five Years of Theosophy) defines "Mahatma, a great soul: an adept in occultism of the highest order," and other papers in the book by Ramaswamier, Damodar, and Mohini speak of "the living physical body of the Mahatma" (p. 452), of "the Himalayan Brothers as living men, and not disembodied spirits" (p. 45S), and of the Mahatma Koothoomi "as a living person like any of us."

Mrs. Sinnett's Purpose of theosophy (p. 70) says that "the custodians of the secret Knowledge are variously called Mahatmas, Rishis, Arhats, Adepts, Guru Devas, Brothers, etc. The majority of them now live in Tibet. They can defy matter, distance, even death itself, and have in the routine of their training arrived at such perfection that the real spiritual man is independent of and altogether master of the material body. Far above the best of the Yogis stand the Mahatmas. Their existence as human beings has been questioned, but, on the other hand, hundreds of people have not only seen and spoken with them, but some have even lived under the same roof with their own Mahatmas for years together." Mrs. Sinnett also says that it is well-known that "in the formation of the T. S. the founders were acting under the direct wishes of certain of the Mahatmas," and that the Hindus had to be convinced "not of the actual existence of the Mahatmas as living men, for of this they had ample proof but that the visible founders of the Society were really their agents."

According to Mr. Sinnett, Arhat, Mahatma, Rishi, are interchangeable terms. (Esot. B. p. 49 et seq.) "The Arhats and the Mahatmas are the same men. At that level of spiritual exaltation, supreme knowledge of the esoteric doctrine blends all original sectarian distinctions. By whatever name such illuminati may be called, they are the adepts of occult knowledge, sometimes spoken of in India now as the Brothers. The Tibetan Brotherhood is incomparably the highest of such associations. The Mahatmas themselves are subordinate by several degrees to the chief of all" (in the Tibetan organization).

In the book called "Man," we are told that "the Adept hierarchy was established by the Dhyan Chohan to watch over and protect the growing race. That there are seven classes of Adepts, of which five alone are ordinarily spoken of; the last two are understood only by the higher initiates. The heads of the five classes are known in Tibet as the Chutuktu or jewels of wisdom."

On the next page the authors tell us that "there are nine grades of Adepts, each grade having seven subdivisions. In the Brahmanical system, the nine-grades are referred to as the nine jewels (nava nidhi)."

"Unlike the ordinary man, the Mahatmas live wholly in the spirit. The Mahatmas do not ignore the conditions of daily life; they fully sympathize with the struggling masses of humanity, but the higher cannot stoop to the lower; the lower must see the heights above, and scale them if it will. It must never be thought that the Mahatmas are creators: they are only inspirers and educators. They have undoubtedly a human side to their characters, but it is so inseparably blended with their higher spiritual nature that no one who tries to dissociate the two parts of their being will ever understand either correctly."

In the PATH, Vol. I, No. 9, there is an article on "The Theosophical Mahatmas" by Mme. Blavatsky, in which she says, "Our MASTERS are not a 'jealous god'; they are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually, and spiritually. However holy and advanced in the science of the mysteries, they are still men, members of a Brotherhood, who are the first in it to show themselves subservient to its time-honored laws and rules." In the same article H. P. B. speaks of "the Paraguru, my Master's MASTER." I have been unable to find any other article in the first volume of the PATH on the subject, except one on "The Reticence of the Mahatmas," which does not enter into any definition of their nature. In No. 3, vol. II, a letter signed "Julius" says that "the beings spoken of by Edwin Arnold as Mahatmas are not considered 'men' in the East."

In Vol. II, No. 4, in an article signed "S. B." on the "Reincarnations of Mahatmas," we read: "While the personality of the reincarnated Master is a human being, with all the attributes which make up any other human being, its constitution is naturally of a finer order, so as to make it an instrument adapted to the work for which it has been brought into the world. This idea, that the finer soul naturally falls, in re-incarnating, into a finer body, is expressed in the Wisdom of Solomon, 8:20, "Being good, I came into a body undefiled."

In the Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 46, Mme. Blavatsky defines Dangma as "a purified soul, one who has become a Jivanmukta, the highest adept, or rather a Mahatma so-called." In Vol. II, p. 173, she says that the Third Race "created the so-called Sons of Will and Yoga, or the 'ancestors' (the spiritual forefathers) of all the subsequent and present Arhats or Mahatmas." And on p. 423 she speaks of "the great Mahatmas or Buddhas, these Buddhas representing, as we are taught, once living men, great Adepts and Saints, in whom the 'Sons of Wisdom' had incarnated, and who were therefore, so to speak, minor Avatars of the Celestial Beings."

Patanjali tells us in his 3rd Book, Aph. No. 46, that ""the ascetic who has acquired complete control over the elements obtains certain perfections: to wit, the power to project his inner-self into the smallest atom, to expand his inner-self to the size of the largest body, to render his material body light or heavy at will, to give indefinite extension to his astral body or its separate members, to exercise an irresistible will upon the minds of others, to obtain the highest excellence of the material body, and the ability to preserve such excellence when attained." And in Aphorism 39 we are told that "the inner-self of the ascetic may be transferred to any other body and there have complete control." The ascetic who has acquired the perfection of discriminative power possesses the "Knowledge that saves from re-birth." That Knowledge "has all things and the nature of all things for its objects, and perceives all that hath been and that is, without limitations of time, place, or circumstance, as if all were in the present and in the presence of the contemplator." This can only mean the virtual annihilation of time and space, and such an ascetic, Mr. Judge informs us, "is a Jivanmukta, and is not subject to reincarnation. He, however, may yet live upon earth, but is not in any way subject to his body, the soul being perfectly free at every moment. And such is held to be the state of those beings called in theosophical literature Adepts, Mahatmas, Masters."

Jivanmukta means literally a "liberated life"; Arhat, a "worthy one"; Rishi, "a revealer"; Mahatma, "a great soul." We see that all or any of these appellations may easily be applied to those Beings we also call "the Masters," although the terms themselves may have an individual and distinct meaning. That they are thus promiscuously used, the above extracts sufficiently show. They show also, it seems to me, that "the garment that we see him by" is not the Mahatma, any more than the Othello we may see upon the stage this week is the real Salvini. To have obtained that lofty pinnacle of spiritual perfection known as "the great soul" is to have become independent of human conditions, and those who speak of the Masters as "men exactly like ourselves" can only refer to the special personality which for special needs they have chosen to assume for the moment. As well identify a man with his coats, as a being who can "transfer himself to any other body and there have complete control" with any form, however perfect in beauty, under which he may make himself visible to our purblind eyes. At the same time, if we are to believe Mme. Blavatsky, they are still individuals, and not pure spirit, for she says "they are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually, and spiritually."

The Path