The Path – February 1890


(See PATH for Nov., 1889.)

After collecting the notes printed in the paper referred to above, I came across some more extracts on the same subject which seemed to me to throw some additional light upon the matter. The first of these was taken from the "Seclusion of the Adept", part of the commentary on the Light on The Path, published in Lucifer, (Vol. I. p. 380) and reads as follows:

"Here in London, as in Paris and St. Petersburgh, there are men high in development. But they are only known as mystics by those who have the power to recognise; the power given by the conquering of self. Otherwise, how could they exist, even for an hour, in such a mental and psychic atmosphere as is created by the confusion and disorder of a city? Unless protected and made safe, their own growth would be interfered with, their work injured. And the neophyte may meet an adept in the flesh, may live in the same house with him, and yet be unable to recognise him, and unable to make his own voice heard by him. For no nearness in space, no closeness of relations, no daily intimacy, can do away with the inexorable laws which give the adept his seclusion. No voice penetrates to his inner hearing till it has become a divine voice, a voice which gives no utterance to the cries of self. Any lesser appeal would be as useless, as much a waste of energy and power, as for mere children who are learning their alphabet to be taught it by a professor of philology. Until a man has become, in heart and spirit, a disciple, he has no existence for those who are teachers of disciples."

Here the adept is referred to as still capable of growth, while in the same volume of Lucifer, p. 257, we read: "The occult idea of Mahatmahood is a soul of higher rank in the realms of life, conceived to drink in the wealth of spiritual power closer to the fountain-head, and to distil its essence into the interior of receptive souls. In harmony with this idea, Emerson writes: "The will of the pure runs down from them into other natures, as water runs down from a higher into a lower vessel; this natural force is no more to be withstood than any other natural force. A healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole, so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person."

In the Key to Theosophy, lately published, Mme. Blavatsky again uses the terms Adept, Initiate, Master, and Mahatma in the same sense. She says (p. 289) that "the word Mahatma means simply 'a great soul' great through moral elevation and intellectual attainment. We call them Masters because they are our teachers. They are men of great learning, whom we call Initiates, and still greater holiness of life." And on p. 293 she continues: "They have no right, except by falling into Black Magic, to obtain full mastery over any one's immortal Ego, and can therefore act only on the physical and psychical nature of the subject, leaving thereby the free-will of the latter wholly undisturbed. Hence, unless a person has been brought into psychic relationship with the Masters, and is assisted by virtue of his full faith in and devotion to his Teachers, the latter, whenever transmitting their thoughts to one with whom these conditions are not fulfilled, experience great difficulties in penetrating into the cloudy chaos of that person's sphere."

This extract suggests that all communication with the Masters must be upon higher planes than that of the purely physical, and explains why we cannot expect to make them hear till we too speak with "a divine voice." Nevertheless, there is nothing in it to lead one to interpret the word Mahatma (at least as it is ordinarily used) as meaning only "the great soul," and therefore rendering it impossible to speak of "a Mahatma." There still remains the idea of individuality. While it is very possible to think of Mahatma as the great Soul with whom all spiritual existences are at one, in that sense it becomes a condition rather than an individuality, and all sense of human relations dependent upon that individuality is lost. Considered in the abstract, light is one and indivisible, but to our physical eye is individualised in every star of the firmament, every lamp of the earth. No matter how lofty our idea of "a Mahatma" may be, it must have limitations and qualifications, and cannot therefore be the same as the idea of the Great Soul, which is the Infinite and Unlimited. When the ascetic has arrived at the point spoken of by Patanjali in the Aphorisms quoted in the former paper, he stands even then upon the threshold only of that higher state called Isolation or Emancipation. Till then his individuality persists, as we may see by the 4th and 5th Aphorisms of Book IV, where the mind or ego of the ascetic is spoken of as controlling the various minds acting in the bodies which he voluntarily assumes.

In an article on the "Sevenfold Principle in Man," by Mme. Blavatsky, (Five Fears of Theosophy, p. 153) she tells us that from the first appearance of life up to the state of Nirvana, the progress is, as it were, continuous and by imperceptible gradations. But nevertheless four stages are recognised in this progress, where the change is of a peculiar kind:

1. Where life makes its appearance.

2. Where the existence of mind becomes perceptible in conjunction with life.

3. Where the highest state of mental abstraction ends, and spiritual consciousness begins.

4. Where spiritual consciousness disappears, leaving the 7th principle (Atma) in a complete state of Nirvana or nakedness; (defined further on as the condition of final negation, negation of individual, or separate, existence, or, in other words, complete identification with the Absolute.) Atma is here used as the emanation from the Absolute called "the seventh principle," but, properly speaking, no principle, being identical with the Absolute.

It seems, then, that until spiritual consciousness disappears in Nirvana, we have a right to consider that the individuality persists, and, while that continues, the highest adept is not yet lost in the Universal Soul. So that the phrase "a Mahatma," used as an equivalent to the expression "a Master," is the use of a word in a restricted sense, which might be kept, as the Aryan Society has suggested, to its higher meaning as a condition rather than an entity, but which, in its general acceptation, has no such restricted signification. We might as well refuse to say "Bring me a light," because light is an abstract and general term and cannot be individualised.

It certainly would be a good thing if the terminology of Theosophy were more accurate and well-defined, and especially that the many Sanskrit terms which have no exact English equivalents should be officially defined, once for all, and then accurately employed. Theosophy has the advantage over all other metaphysical systems, of the possession of a vocabulary drawn from the subtlest of languages; and it is a pity to lose this advantage through our own ignorance or carelessness. Any discussion, therefore, which tends to throw light upon the precise meaning of an important word, cannot be considered as lost time.

The Path