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H P Blavatsky


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Chelas and Lay Chelas


H P Blavatsky




A "chela" is a person who has offered himself to a master as a pupil to

learn practically the "hidden mysteries of Nature and the psychical

powers latent in man."  The master who accepts him is called in India a

Guru;  and the real Guru is always an adept in the Occult Science.  A

man of profound knowledge, exoteric and esoteric, especially the latter;

and one who has brought his carnal nature under the subjection of the

WILL;  who has developed in himself both the power (Siddhi) to control

the forces of Nature, and the capacity to probe her secrets by the help

of the formerly latent but now active powers of his being--this is the

real Guru.  To offer oneself as a candidate for Chelaship is easy

enough, to develop into an adept the most difficult task any man could

possibly undertake.  There are scores of "natural-born" poets,

mathematicians, mechanics, statesmen, &c.  But a natural-born adept is

something practically impossible.  For, though we do hear at very rare

intervals of one who has an extraordinary innate capacity for the

acquisition of occult knowledge and power, yet even he has to pass the

self-same tests and probations, and go through the self-same training as

any less endowed fellow aspirant.  In this matter it is most true that

there is no royal road by which favourites may travel.


For centuries the selection of Chelas--outside the hereditary group

within the gon-pa (temple)--has been made by the Himalayan Mahatmas

themselves from among the class--in Tibet, a considerable one as to

number--of natural mystics.  The only exceptions have been in the cases

of Western men like Fludd, Thomas Vaughan, Paracelsus, Pico di

Mirandolo, Count St. Germain, &c., whose temperament affinity to this

celestial science, more or less forced the distant Adepts to come into

personal relations with them, and enabled them to get such small (or

large) proportion of the whole truth as was possible under their social

surroundings.  From Book IV. of Kui-te, Chapter on "The Laws of

Upasanas," we learn that the qualifications expected in a Chela were:--


1. Perfect physical health;


2. Absolute mental and physical purity;


3. Unselfishness of purpose;  universal charity;  pity for all

animate beings;


4. Truthfulness and unswerving faith in the law of Karma, independent of

the intervention of any power in Nature:  a law whose course is not to

be obstructed by any agency, not to be caused to deviate by prayer or

propitiatory exoteric ceremonies;


5. A courage undaunted in every emergency, even by peril to life;


6. An intuitional perception of one's being the vehicle of the

manifested Avalokiteswara or Divine Atma (Spirit);


7. Calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of, everything that

constitutes the objective and transitory world, in its relation with,

and to, the invisible regions.


Such, at the least, must have been the recommendations of one aspiring

to perfect Chelaship.  With the sole exception of the first, which in

rare and exceptional cases might have been modified, each one of these

points has been invariably insisted upon, and all must have been more or

less developed in the inner nature by the Chela's unhelped exertions,

before he could be actually "put to the test."


When the self-evolving ascetic--whether in, or outside the active

world--has placed himself, according to his natural capacity, above,

hence made himself master of his (1) Sarira--body;  (2) Indriya--senses;

(3) Dosha--faults;  (4) Dukkha--pain;  and is ready to become one with

his Manas--mind;  Buddhi--intellection, or spiritual intelligence;  and

Atma--highest soul, i.e., spirit; when he is ready for this, and,

further, to recognize in Atma the highest ruler in the world of

perceptions, and in the will, the highest executive energy (power), then

may he, under the time-honoured rules, be taken in hand by one of the

Initiates.  He may then be shown the mysterious path at whose farther

end is obtained the unerring discernment of Phala, or the fruits of

causes produced, and given the means of reaching Apavarga--emancipation

from the misery of repeated births, pretya-bhava, in whose determination

the ignorant has no hand.


But since the advent of the Theosophical Society, one of whose arduous

tasks it is to re-awaken in the Aryan mind the dormant memory of the

existence of this science and of those transcendent human capabilities,

the rules of Chela selection have become slightly relaxed in one

respect.  Many members of the Society who would not have been otherwise

called to Chelaship became convinced by practical proof of the above

points, and rightly enough thinking that if other men had hitherto

reached the goal, they too, if inherently fitted, might reach it by

following the same path, importunately pressed to be taken as

candidates.  And as it would be an interference with Karma to deny them

the chance of at least beginning, they were given it.  The results have

been far from encouraging so far, and it is to show them the cause of

their failure as much as to warn others against rushing heedlessly upon

a similar fate, that the writing of the present article has been

ordered.  The candidates in question, though plainly warned against it

in advance, began wrong by selfishly looking to the future and losing

sight of the past.  They forgot that they had done nothing to deserve

the rare honour of selection, nothing which warranted their expecting

such a privilege;  that they could boast of none of the above enumerated

merits.  As men of the selfish, sensual world, whether married or

single, merchants, civilian or military employees, or members of the

learned professions, they had been to a school most calculated to

assimilate them to the animal nature, least so to develop their

spiritual potentialities.  Yet each and all had vanity enough to suppose

that their case would be made an exception to the law of countless

centuries, as though, indeed, in their person had been born to the world

a new Avatar!  All expected to have hidden things taught, extraordinary

powers given them, because--well, because they had joined the

Theosophical Society.  Some had sincerely resolved to amend their lives,

and give up their evil courses:  we must do them that justice, at all



All were refused at first, Col. Olcott the President himself, to begin

with:  and he was not formally accepted as a Chela until he had proved

by more than a year's devoted labours and by a determination which

brooked no denial, that he might safely be tested.  Then from all sides

came complaints--from Hindus, who ought to have known better, as well as

from Europeans who, of course, were not in a condition to know anything

at all about the rules.  The cry was that unless at least a few

Theosophists were given the chance to try, the Society could not endure.

Every other noble and unselfish feature of our programme was ignored--a

man's duty to his neighbour, to his country, his duty to help,

enlighten, encourage and elevate those weaker and less favoured than he;

all were trampled out of sight in the insane rush for adeptship.  The

call for phenomena, phenomena, phenomena, resounded in every quarter,

and the Founders were impeded in their real work and teased

importunately to intercede with the Mahatmas, against whom the real

grievance lay, though their poor agents had to take all the buffets.  At

last, the word came from the higher authorities that a few of the most

urgent candidates should be taken at their word.  The result of the

experiment would perhaps show better than any amount of preaching what

Chelaship meant, and what are the consequences of selfishness and

temerity.  Each candidate was warned that be must wait for year in any

event, before his fitness could be established, and that he must pass

through a series of tests that would bring out all there was in him,

whether bad or good.  They were nearly all married men, and hence were

designated "Lay Chelas"--a term new in English, but having long had its

equivalent in Asiatic tongues.  A Lay Chela is but a man of the world

who affirms his desire to become wise in spiritual things.  Virtually,

every member of the Theosophical Society who subscribes to the second of

our three "Declared Objects" is such;  for though not of the number of

true Chelas, he has yet the possibility of becoming one, for he has

stepped across the boundary-line which separated him from the Mahatmas,

and has brought himself, as it were, under their notice.  In joining the

Society and binding himself to help along its work, he has pledged

himself to act in some degree in concert with those Mahatmas, at whose

behest the Society was organized, and under whose conditional protection

it remains. The joining is then, the introduction;  all the rest depends

entirely upon the member himself, and he need never expect the most

distant approach to the "favour" of one of our Mahatmas or any other

Mahatmas in the world--should the latter consent to become known--that

has not been fully earned by personal merit. The Mahatmas are the

servants, not the arbiters of the Law of Karma.


Lay-Chelaship confers no privilege upon any one except that of working

for merit under the observation of a Master.  And whether that Master be

or be not seen by the Chela makes no difference whatever as to the

result:  his good thought, words and deeds will bear their fruits, his

evil ones, theirs.  To boast of Lay Chelaship or make a parade of it, is

the surest way to reduce the relationship with the Guru to a mere empty

name, for it would be prima facie evidence of vanity and unfitness for

farther progress.  And for years we have been teaching everywhere the

maxim "First deserve, then desire" intimacy with the Mahatmas.


Now there is a terrible law operative in Nature, one which cannot be

altered, and whose operation clears up the apparent mystery of the

selection of certain "Chelas" who have turned out sorry specimens of

morality, these few years past.  Does the reader recall the old proverb,

"Let sleeping dogs lie?"  There is a world of occult meaning in it.  No

man or woman knows his or her moral strength until it is tried.

Thousands go through life very respectably, because they were never put

to the test.  This is a truism doubtless, but it is most pertinent to

the present case. One who undertakes to try for Chelaship by that very

act rouses and lashes to desperation every sleeping passion of his

animal nature.  For this is the commencement of a struggle for mastery

in which quarter is neither to be given nor taken.  It is, once for all,

"To be, or Not to be;"  to conquer, means Adept-ship: to fail, an

ignoble Martyrdom;  for to fall victim to lust, pride, avarice, vanity,

selfishness, cowardice, or any other of the lower propensities, is

indeed ignoble, if measured by the standard of true manhood.  The Chela

is not only called to face all the latent evil propensities of his

nature, but, in addition, the momentum of maleficent forces accumulated

by the community and nation to which he belongs.  For he is an integral

part of those aggregates, and what affects either the individual man or

the group (town or nation), reacts the one upon the other.  And in this

instance his struggle for goodness jars upon the whole body of badness

in his environment, and draws its fury upon him. If he is content to go

along with his neighbours and be almost as they are--perhaps a little

better or somewhat worse than the average--no one may give him a

thought.  But let it be known that he has been able to detect the hollow

mockery of social life, its hypocrisy, selfishness, sensuality, cupidity

and other bad features, and has determined to lift himself up to a

higher level, at once he is hated, and every bad, bigotted, or malicious

nature sends at him a current of opposing will-power.  If he is innately

strong he shakes it off, as the powerful swimmer dashes through the

current that would bear a weaker one away.  But in this moral battle, if

the Chela has one single hidden blemish--do what he may, it shall and

will be brought to light.  The varnish of conventionalities which

"civilization" overlays us all with must come off to the last coat, and

the inner self, naked and without the slightest veil to conceal its

reality, is exposed. The habits of society which hold men to a certain

degree under moral restraint, and compel them to pay tribute to virtue

by seeming to be good whether they are so or not--these habits are apt

to be all forgotten, these restraints to be all broken through under the

strain of Chelaship.  He is now in an atmosphere of illusions--Maya.

Vice puts on its most alluring face, and the tempting passions attract

the inexperienced aspirant to the depths of psychic debasement.  This is

not a case like that depicted by a great artist, where Satan is seen

playing a game of chess with a man upon the stake of his soul, while the

latter's good angel stands beside him to counsel and assist.  For the

strife is in this instance between the Chela's will and his carnal

nature, and Karma forbids that any angel or Guru should interfere until

the result is known.  With the vividness of poetic fancy Bulwer Lytton

has idealized it for us in his "Zanoni," a work which will ever be

prized by the occultist while in his "Strange Story" he has with equal

power shown the black side of occult research and its deadly perils.

Chelaship was defined, the other day, by a Mahatma as a "psychic

resolvent, which eats away all dross and leaves only the pure gold

behind." If the candidate has the latent lust for money, or political

chicanery, or materialistic scepticism, or vain display, or false

speaking, or cruelty, or sensual gratification of any kind the germ is

almost sure to sprout;  and so, on the other hand, as regards the noble

qualities of human nature.  The real man comes out.  Is it not the

height of folly, then, for any one to leave the smooth path of

commonplace life to scale the crags of Chelaship without some reasonable

feeling of certainty that he has the right stuff in him?  Well says the

Bible:  "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall"--a text that

would-be Chelas should consider well before they rush headlong into the

fray!  It would have been well for some of our Lay Chelas if they had

thought twice before defying the tests.  We call to mind several sad

failures within a twelve-month.  One went wrong in the head, recanted

noble sentiments uttered but a few weeks previously, and became a member

of a religion he had just scornfully and unanswerably proven false.  A

second became a defaulter and absconded with his employer's money--the

latter also a Theosophist.  A third gave himself up to gross debauchery,

and confessed it, with ineffectual sobs and tears, to his chosen Guru.

A fourth got entangled with a person of the other sex and fell out with

his dearest and truest friends.  A fifth showed signs of mental

aberration and was brought into Court upon charges of discreditable

conduct.  A sixth shot himself to escape the consequences of

criminality, on the verge of detection!  And so we might go on and on.

All these were apparently sincere searchers after truth, and passed in

the world for respectable persons.  Externally, they were fairly

eligible as candidates for Chelaship, as appearances go;  but "within

all was rottenness and dead men's bones."  The world's varnish was so

thick as to hide the absence of the true gold underneath;  and the

"resolvent" doing its work, the candidate proved in each instance but a

gilded figure of moral dross, from circumference to core.


In what precedes we have, of course, dealt but with the failures among

Lay Chelas;  there have been partial successes too, and these are

passing gradually through the first stages of their probation.  Some are

making themselves useful to the Society and to the world in general by

good example and precept.  If they persist, well for them, well for us

all:  the odds are fearfully against them, but still "there is no

impossibility to him who Wills."  The difficulties in Chelaship will

never be less until human nature changes and a new order is evolved.

St. Paul (Rom. vii. 18,19) might have had a Chela in mind when he said

"to will is present with me;  but how to perform that which is good I

find not.  For the good I would I do not;  but the evil which I would

not, that I do."  And in the wise Kiratarjuniyam of Bharavi it is



     The enemies which rise within the body,

     Hard to be overcome--the evil passions--

     Should manfully be fought; who conquers these

     Is equal to the conqueror of worlds. (XI. 32.)


H P Blavatsky



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Blavatsky and The Masters


The Existence of the Masters


Koot Hoomi By W Q Judge


The Mahatmas as Ideals and Facts

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The Masters as Ideals and Facts

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Characteristics of the Masters


Mahatmas and Chelas


"The Brothers"  of Theosophy

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The Theosophical Mahatmas

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Masters and Men

By Ernest Egerton Wood


The Puranas on the Dynasty of the Moryas and on Koot Hoomi By R Ragoonath Row


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Accounts by Theosophists who have proved the existence of Mahatmas for themselves


Mr A Lillies Delusions

 H P Blavatsky robustly defends herself against allegations that she had never visited Tibet and that Master Koot Hoomi did not exist





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