Chelas and Chelaship Along the New Cycle
John Garrigues (1868 – 1944)
The following article was first published
in “Theosophy” magazine, August, 1925,
pp. 433-440, with no indication as to its
authorship. Original title: “The Cycle Moveth –
Chelas and Chelaship”. We have added six notes.
The one characteristic of LIFE is that it unfolds. Ceaseless is that process. Consciousness reaches awareness of itself and attains self-consciousness in the human kingdom. From the state of self-consciousness man evolves into a Self-Conscious Being, the Adept retaining his individuality, untrammeled by the overpowering influence of Living Nature which produces sleep, death, pralaya. Within the conscious being are all powers of the whole of Nature. The Adept develops those latent powers by the power of his will; he subdues Nature by the self-same process which she uses to put us to sleep or to kill us, to dissolve one planet or myriads of stellar universes. Thus he attains immortality called Nirvana – the condition of profound awareness of one’s own existence, not apart from but as the whole of Nature.
The one and only kingdom of Nature which is capable of perceiving and understanding the ceaseless perpetual motion of Nature’s Will is the human kingdom. In it consciousness has gained senses keen enough to observe her, intelligence necessary to understand her and compassion essential to master her. When man abrogates the use of these he runs the risk of ceasing to be man. Having gained the perception of their self-conscious state and the possibility of retaining it, daring souls enter upon the great adventure of conquering Nature. Invading her secret recesses, persevering in his quest, man succeeds in wresting from the deathless Mother her mighty magic and attains Mastery even over her by serving her.
The Lodge of Adepts and aspirants to its membership are thus but natural products of evolution. In full knowledge the Lodge cooperates with Nature, its main task to enlighten the heart of every man. Wherever and whenever the grinding mill of evolution begets a living-form ready to be lighted up by the Fire of the Wisdom, there and then the Brothers of the Lodge are present in action. On our earth, the Lodge began its active operation some 18 million years ago. By the process described in the Secret Doctrine. It lighted up the living-forms of the human kingdom with the Light of Manas. The early frustrations of its noble efforts and the vicissitudes which followed when early humanities disregarded its guidance and directions are also narrated. It is all a matter of Record as to how the seeds of White and Black Magic were sown and how lying latent for some time they sprouted in the early period of our fifth race. The forces of Buddhic-Altruism and kamic-selfishness have fought each other in cycle after cycle, and eventful human history is but a record of that great struggle – even now in progress.
In every age Theosophists are the instruments of the Lodge for Its continuous task of lighting up the Manas of the race in ever increasing measure. They are able to do this because they have kept their own heart-fires burning, feeding them with the fuel of study, practice and service. Theosophists (not members of any particular organization) from the front ranks of the race; thence the Lodge derives its new Members. The stage in the very long trail of evolution between men and Super-Men, between slaves and Masters of Nature, is that of Discipleship, while the Lodge may be said to be composed of two classes – Gurus and Chelas, both of varying degrees. Likewise the work of the Lodge falls into two divisions – (1) that of fecundating the mind of the race, or mass movement; and (2) the gaining new adherents and chelas to be trained as future members of the Lodge, or work with individuals. This work goes on in every cycle, and the existence of the Lodge and the Path to It are truths which every civilization has been taught. The qualifications and requirements, the rules of life and conduct, however differently arranged, enumerated, or explained, are the same. The exigencies of cycles are calculated by the Lodge. Rearrangements, recodification, re-formations of Teachings and Rules are the response to human aspirations, endeavors and achievements. Thus in historic times Gautama, the man who became Buddha, the Enlightened, was the reformer and codifier of the occult system; once again Sang-Ko-Pa of Kokonor, in the fourteenth century, became the reformer of esoteric as well as of vulgar Lamaism. Among his commandments there is one that enjoins Those concerned to make an attempt to enlighten the world, including the “white barbarians” every century, at a certain specified period of the cycle. Ever since the fourteenth, every century has seen the dual attempt to change the manas of Western humanity and to draw from within its ranks those ready, however few, for the Path of Discipleship leading to Emancipation-Enlightenment. The attempts of earlier centuries were private, though their influence and the mark they have left behind are traceable by any intuitive student of history; but in pursuance of the fiat of this Tibetan World-Reformer, the Theosophic Movement of our era, fulfilling the requirement of the cyclic law, was launched on the stormy ocean of publicity. Time had come and the Benediction of the Chiefs sent H.P.B. to our world.
By 1888, she had already accomplished the task of giving a death-blow to scientific materialism as well as to religious supernaturalism, to doubt and superstition alike. Man’s mind, was opened to enquiry of the hidden – the force behind form, the spirit behind matter. Her insistent proclamation about Living Wise Men whose knowledge transcended that of Science; whose philanthropy was rooted not in feeling but in knowledge; who had emancipated Themselves from the five fetters of sex, caste, creed, nation, race, by that knowledge; whose compassion led Them to impart it to all who were ready to receive it by a proper compliance with the rules of Their Science: all this had produced in the world and especially in the Theosophic Movement individuals fired by the intense desire to obtain that knowledge and know its Masters. Also it had produced false claimants, charlatans, adventurers eager to supply the demand her efforts had created. The time had come to organize into a band all those who were awakened.
H.P.B. produced phenomena, talked about the Masters and the Lodge, trained individuals into Chelaship and proclaimed the fact of such training to the world, – all with a purpose. One of the prime objects of her mission was to open up communication between the world of men and that of Masters, and to create a suitable Embassy in the former domain through which the work of the Lodge could be carried on there.
Chelaship as a process of unfoldment belongs to the metaphysical world. Chelas and chelaship belong to the world of the occult, wherein speech is silent, vision clear and action free of fetters. H.P.B.’s work was to create an organism in which human egos would be drawn by a natural attraction to its principles and rules and undertake the heavy labor of self-purification, self-education and self-attainment. This organism was meant to lead the successful students to direct chelaship under the great Gurus – the position, condition, rules and pledges whereof have always remained esoteric and always will. The efforts of the Lodge in the preceding centuries had succeeded in transforming the race-mind to such an extent that now, i.e., in 1888, there were sufficient people ready to receive a plan and programme of life which, carried out, would bring them to the Occult World.
The creation of such an organism had been intended from the beginning. H.P.B. clearly refers to it in that epoch-marking article “Chelas and Lay-Chelas” (Theosophist-Supplement, July, 1883) in which she speaks of how and why “the rules of Chela Selection have become slightly relaxed in one respect.” That memorable pronouncement contains everything in plasmic-condition: the rules, regulations, difficulties, operations of and about Chelaship. This was followed in June, 1884, by “Are Chelas Mediums?” which told what chelas are not; what they are, as also the Masters, come next in sequence in July and October of the same year.
All this was meant for those individuals who were aspiring and striving for Chelaship; they were not yet linked together in a formal way. The trials, failures and successes of neophytes followed and precipitated events which are matters of record in the Theosophical Movement. The churning of the ocean of discipleship led H.P.B. to write another epoch-making article – “The Theosophical Mahatmas” in The Path for December, 1886, wherein once again she traced the land-marks of the Ancient Path and the Narrow Way. Three other contributions from her sure pen remain to be cited. Having written for those concerned “Theosophical Mahatmas,” she waited for a year and on the eve of the formation of the organism for lay-chelas in 1888 she wrote in Lucifer “Practical Occultism” in April, “Occultism vs. the Occult Arts,” in May and “Lodges of Magic,” in October. This was followed by what may be called a warning-article to the newly formed E.S.T. – “Is Theosophy a Religion?” If her earlier articles were hints, suggestions, advice and instructions to individuals aspiring to be esotericists, the last named was to the corporate E.S.T.; the danger of making Theosophy a cult would be the natural temptation of an organized band of would-be esotericists.
In the Western world, not even in the days of Pythagoras, had the effort been made to draw candidates for discipleship from the ranks of the public. Add to this the fact that the planet of occultism had been under obscuration since the first century of our era; that the persecution of knowledge had produced the reaction of disbelief in spiritual concepts of life – disbelief, the arrogant child of the fanatic mother blind-belief; that the methods of materialistic science arose out of the reversal of everything pertaining to soul-science that the orthodox creeds of the west in rejecting Gnosis brought to birth Agnosticism – and the reader will see what H.P.B. had to deal with.
But she had proved exoteric religions to be in the wrong; modern science to be inexact, with no moral principles to guide man’s life; spiritualism to be devoid of philosophy. She had awakened the questioning mind and the yearning heart of many hundreds. She could not let these return to the churches or the temples, go stargazing in observatories or vivisecting in laboratories, or to astral grave-yards called séance-rooms; they had to be shown the upward way.
From the very beginning her philanthropic mission was misunderstood – the philanthropic basis of her phenomena; the philanthropic basis of her philosophy; the philanthropic basis of the Path to her Masters which she showed as ready for treading. Men’s minds were bent on miracle-working, on intellectualism and personal growth. Western arrogance pooh-poohed the idea of tests and trials of chelaship; eastern traditional devotion relied on the good-weal of the Gurus to lift drowning souls from the ocean of samsara. What is there which I cannot do for myself? – said the former; what is there which a Mahatma cannot do for me? – said the latter. Neither heard the cry of H.P.B. and the Lodge – Who will sacrifice for the poor orphan humanity?
Brotherhood and Service are the roots of the tree of Chelaship – not the gaining of powers or self-growth or emancipation: these are its flowers and fruits. Each Chela is as one newly born; the gaining of psychic and spiritual strength takes time; but quick results were looked for and the travails of birth and the growing pains were not given due consideration.
H.P.B. reiterated the ancient teaching about Chelaship: the life of chelaship begins with a resolute pledge-vow; then comes the period of probation and test; and finally direct chelaship, accepted chelaship, the end of which in its turn is Initiation.
What brings a man to the approach of the Sacred Path? The whisperings of Buddhi listened to by Manas. If we encourage them they will not fade away like the dissolving mirage in the Shamo desert, but grow stronger and stronger until one’s whole life becomes the expression and outward proof of the divine motive within. What brings a man to the notice of the Holy Ones? Like the light in the sombre valley seen by the mountaineer from his peaks every bright thought in mortal mind sparkles and attracts the attention of the Brothers of the Great Lodge. Thus They discover Their natural allies in the shadow-world of mortals. It is Their Law to approach every one if there be in him but the feeblest glimmer of the true Wisdom-Light.
“Every step made by one in our direction will force us to make one toward him”, said a Master. When the inner development has gone far enough to bring to birth in the privacy of one’s heart the Desire to Serve and therefore the Will to Know how service can be rendered, the first step is taken. Each man, being immortal and divine in his inner nature, arrives at such a stage in the progress of time. The good in him impels him to be less selfish, to practice personal sacrifices in daily living. Between a good man and a spiritual one there is a gulf, the result of self-energizing intelligence.
The Path of Chelaship is the path of intelligent service of human souls; but intelligent or otherwise the motive of service, altruism at the cost of personal sacrifices, is the ensouling power. Men possessing the courage of their convictions and serving the Truth they feel are more apt to enter the communion of Chelaship than those who dare not pursue their convictions so that action ensues. “He who damns himself in his own estimation and agreeably to the recognized and current code of honour to save a worthy cause may some day find out that he has reached thereby his loftiest aspirations.” Such self-sacrificing action rooted in altruistic motive purifies the man of his ignorance and brings him the necessary knowledge. The service of truth thus acquired by the process of life is to be rendered by the Individual life itself.
Aspirants to Chelaship are candidates for living the ordinary life in an extraordinary way – by the use of a code of rules of conduct which is based on a profound realization of the workings of the laws of nature. These preliminary requirements H.P.B. reiterated for the candidates of the first decade; but the large majority regarded her advice and warning as “grandmother’s sermons.” They did not see the significance of “Time enough to discuss the terms of Chelaship when the aspirant has digested what has already been given out, and mastered his most palpable vices and weakness;” or “there are rules of conduct controlling chelas which cannot be departed from in the slightest degree;” they did not take the statements seriously.
If the altruistic and philanthropic basis of chelaship was not appreciated, the psychological effects of obtaining occult knowledge were likewise disregarded when H.P.B. pointed them out. One set of students wanted to study Occultism as they would study one of the modern sciences – ask, get properly tabulated answers, and proceed with experimentation. Moral requirements were somewhat of a novelty to them – a physicist need not possess a character of moral excellence, why a super-physicist? Such was the line of reasoning. Observation of heavenly bodies which struck awe to the brains of the astronomer did not precipitate any “tests”; why should contact with Stars of the Occult Magnitude? Another set of students could not fathom why earnest devotion alone was not sufficient to make the mind duly receptive and ready to absorb every species of esoteric doctrine. “As the shower cannot fructify the rock, so the occult teaching has no effect upon the unreceptive mind; and as the water develops the heat of caustic lime so does the teaching bring into fierce action every unsuspected potentiality latent in him.” This puzzled and annoyed them.
H.P.B. defined what lay-chelaship meant in “Chelas and Lay-Chelas.” The knowledge about the Ancient Path and its requirements were clearly portrayed by her and to the lay-aspirants she gave the broadest kind of a hint:
“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.”
Why the second of the three declared objects? The conditions for the treading of the old, old way were enumerated and explained in ancient lore; further, when an individual through study of ancient traditional presentations showed the discrimination of picking the gems of Theosophy therein, he developed within himself the conviction that there does exist an immemorial Wisdom-Religion, the source and fountain head of all knowledge. Many students do not perceive the import of H.P.B.’s prolonged and trying wanderings. Why did she roam the wide earth, wild in parts, seeking knowledge after she met the “Master of her dreams” in London in 1851? Was she sent to gain for her Russian brain the necessary conviction that a universal science of soul-growth was in existence?
Again, the principle of self-energization was not grasped. Having come to recognize the existence of the Sacred Science and its Wise Masters, remains for the student the effort to realize in his own life those intellectual deductions. Says the Master:
“To accept any man as a chela does not depend on my personal will. It can only be the result of one’s personal merit and exertions in that direction. Force any one of the ‘Masters’ you may happen to choose; do good works in his name and for the love of mankind; be pure and resolute in the path of righteousness (as laid out in our rules); be honest and unselfish; forget your self but to remember the good of other people – and you will have forced that ‘Master’ to accept you.” 
A man puts himself on the probationary path and enters the circle of lay-chelaship; his own Higher Self becomes his own vital tester.
“You ask me, ‘What rules I must observe during this time of probation, and how soon I might venture to hope that it could begin?’ I answer: You have the making of your own future in your own hands, and every day you may be weaving its woof. If I were to demand that you should do one thing or the other, instead of simply advising, I would be responsible for every effect that might flow from the step, and you acquire but a secondary merit. Think, and you will see that this is true. So cast the lot yourself into the lap of Justice, never fearing but that its response will be absolutely true. Chelaship is an educational as well as a probationary stage, and the chela alone can determine whether it shall end in adeptship or failure. Chelas, from a mistaken idea of our system, too often watch and wait for orders, wasting precious time which should be taken up with personal effort. Our cause needs missionaries, devotees, agents, even martyrs, perhaps. But it cannot demand of any man to make himself either.” 
This is the first, the individualistic step. The Theosophical Movement of H.P.B. dealt with individuals during the first septenary cycle; then came the semi-esoteric group arrangement during the second cycle. Through much failure but also some success, the necessary experience accumulated and gathering force precipitated into being the E.S.T. in 1888. The candidate-members were distinctly told that its purpose was to prepare and fit the student for the study of Practical Occultism of the Kingly Science or Raja Yoga. Students in their efforts towards spiritual culture require that help which solidarity in the ranks can alone give them the right to ask – therefore they were called upon to practice brotherhood. H.P.B. assisted by Mr. Judge provided the necessary rules of daily living; admission by the taking of a Pledge aiming at self-improvement and service entitled the members to receive Instructions from H.P.B. as the mouth-piece of the Masters, and out of her heart’s generosity she shouldered the grave responsibility of teaching the esoteric principles. Very quickly the immutable law in the domain of the occult demonstrated itself.
“The mass of human sin and frailty is distributed throughout the life of man who is content to remain an average mortal. It is gathered in and centred, so to say, within one period of the life of a chela – the period of probation. That, which is generally accumulating to find its legitimate issue only in the next rebirth of an ordinary man, is quickened and fanned into existence in the chela – especially in the presumptuous and selfish candidate who rushes in without having calculated his forces.” 
The Pledge taken and repeated in the name of the Higher Self draws forth the dormant qualities. Latent vice begets active sins: latent virtue active sacrifices. Chelaship is not a matter of years but of lives. Mistakes made and blunders committed themselves become avenues for purification and growth. “If you would recover the lost ground do two things: make the amplest, most complete reparation and to the good of mankind devote your energies. Try to fill each day’s measure with pure thoughts, wise words, kindly deeds.”  “Like the ‘true man’ of Carlyle, who is not to be seduced by ease, ‘difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death are the allurements that act’ during the hours of trial on the heart of a true chela.”
Among her several important missions H.P.B. had this task of testing the ranks of the students of the occult, of leading them on to the Path of Probation, of leaving them there armed with weapons to fight their own lower natures which the Path and Pledge brought fiercely to the front; and then – wait to welcome the triumphant souls at the Golden Gate of the Sacred City.
Her recorded philosophy and instructions are as alive and inspiring today as ever; the Path as inviting and as full of pit-falls as ever; exist the same obstacles to be removed by the same methods for this generation as the preceding ones.
 Sang-Ko-Pa; a name also spelled as Tsong-kha-pa.
 “The Mahatma Letters”, TUP, Pasadena, California, Letter LXV, p. 366.
 “Letters From the Masters of the Wisdom”, TPH, Adyar, 1973, first series, see Letter 7, p. 28.
 “Letters From the Masters of the Wisdom”, TPH, Adyar, 1973, first series, see Letter 7, pp. 29-30.
 “The Mahatma Letters”, TUP, Pasadena, California, Letter LXIV, pp. 359-360.
 “Letters From the Masters of the Wisdom”, TPH, Adyar, 1973, first series, see Letter 24, p. 59.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.