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Chelaship or Discipleship is a term that denotes the process of probation and training by which an aspirant is prepared for Initiation by a Master of Wisdom.

General description

Master K.H. wrote to C. W. Leadbeater:

Chelaship is an educational as well as 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.[1]

The path begins with the placing of the aspirant on probation under the watch of a Master. It is only after the aspirant passes the tests and trials of this stage that he or she can be accepted as a regular chela and begin a training which, when successful, will end with the attainment of Adeptship. H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

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, etc., 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 selfsame tests and probations, and go through the same self-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.[2]

Because of its difficulty and the need to be ready for chelaship, it is frequently recommended that the aspirant should simply work for humanity and let the opportunity present itself when the time is ripe. In this connection, Master K.H. wrote to a member of the Theosophical Society:

Sigh not for chelaship; pursue not that, the dangers and hardships of which are unknown to you.

Verily many are the chelas offering themselves to us, and as many have failed this year as were accepted on probation. Chelaship unveils the inner man and draws forth the dormant vices as well as the dormant virtue. Latent vice begets active sins and is often followed by insanity. Out of 5 lay chelas chosen by the Society and accepted under protest by us, 3 have become criminals and 2 are insane...

Be pure, virtuous, and lead a holy life and you will be protected. But remember, he who is not as pure as a young child better leave chelaship alone.[3]

During the period of probation, which typically (but not always) lasts seven years, the aspirants are subjected to tests "to prove their fitness, and develop the qualities necessary to the security of both Master and pupil".[4] This marks the beginning of the chela's training. This training, however, is not one where the Master is constantly guiding the chela and telling him or her what to do. The necessary learning takes place through what happens in daily life and the chela's efforts to act according to the ideal put before him. In a letter to Franz Hartmann, Master M. writes:

We are leaders but not child-nurses. The weak ones, not the strong ones, are in a constant need of definite 'orders,' and at times our chelas satisfy their wishes. This is willing slavery, but no healthy growth. Step forward and try to see clearly yourself what is most needed for the Society. Seek out what your duty may be, and carry it out. If you do the right thing, I will be at your side; but I will not give any advice, and will not involve myself in anything, unless it be unavoidably required, and you were in great doubt.[5]

Rules for Chelaship

In 1887 H. P. Blavatsky received the query "Whether a would-be-theosophist-occultist is required to abandon his worldly ties and duties such as family affection, love of parents, wife, children, friends, etc.?" H.P.B answered:

No follower of theosophy, least of all a disciple of the "Masters of Theosophy" (the chela of a guru), would ever be accepted on such conditions. Many were the candidates, but "few the chosen." Dozens were refused, simply because married and having a sacred duty to perform to wife and children. None have ever been asked to forsake father or mother; for he who, being necessary to his parent for his support, leaves him or her to gratify his own selfish consideration or thirst for knowledge, however great and sincere, is "unworthy" of the Science of Sciences, "or ever to approach a holy MASTER".[6]

To illustrate her point, Mme. Blavatsky published some of the rules that the Masters had in Tibet to admit chelas into their Temples:

The Rules, however, of chelaship, or discipleship, are there, in many a Sanskrit and Tibetan volume. In Book IV of Kiu-ti, in the chapter on "the Laws of Upasans" (disciples), the qualifications expected in a "regular chela" are:
(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 laws of Karma.
(5) A courage undaunted in the support of truth, even in face of peril to life.
(6) An intuitive perception of one's being the vehicle of the manifested divine Atman (spirit).
(7) Calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of, everything that constitutes the objective and transitory world.
(8) Blessing of both parents and their permission to become an Upasan (chela); and
(9) Celibacy, and freedom from any obligatory duty.[7]

In April, 1888, Mme. Blavatsky publishes the article "Practical Occultism" in her periodical Lucifer. There, she gives some more specific "conditions under which alone the study of Divine Wisdom can be pursued with safety." Several of the rules published in this article have to do with the necessary external conditions (physical and magnetic) as well as the relationship among co-disciples. Regarding this last point, there is an interesting concept given by Master K.H. in one of his letters:

Even the chelas of the same guru are often made to separate and keep apart for long months while the process of development is going on — simply on account of the two contrary magnetisms that attracting each other prevent mutual and INDIVIDUALIZED development in some one direction.[8]

Other rules describing the expected attitudes in an accepted chela who is being trained to develop psychic and spiritual powers were also published, as for example:

6. Those who desire to acquire the knowledge leading to the Siddhis (occult powers) have to renounce all the vanities of life and of the world (here follows enumeration of the Siddhis).
7... His thoughts must be predominantly fixed upon his heart, chasing therefrom every hostile thought to any living being. It (the heart) must be full of the feeling of its non-separateness from the rest of beings as from all in Nature; otherwise no success can follow.
9. The mind must remain blunt to all but the universal truths in nature. . . .
10. No animal food of whatever kind, nothing that has life in it, should be taken by the disciple. No wine, no spirits, or opium should be used: for these are like the Lhamayin (evil spirits), who fasten upon the unwary, they devour the understanding.
11. Meditation, abstinence in all, the observation of moral duties, gentle thoughts, good deeds and kind words, as good will to all and entire oblivion of Self, are the most efficacious means of obtaining knowledge and preparing for the reception of higher wisdom.
12. It is only by virtue of a strict observance of the foregoing rules that a Lanoo can hope to acquire in good time the Siddhis of the Arhats, the growth which makes him become gradually One with the UNIVERSAL ALL.[9]

After this article was published some members questioned the "practicality" of some of the requirements for chelaship, especially those dealing with the external conditions required. In June, 1889, she answers:

Chelaship has nothing whatever to do with means of subsistence or anything of the kind, for a man can isolate his mind entirely from his body and its surroundings. Chelaship is a state of mind, rather than a life according to hard and fast rules on the physical plane. This applies especially to the earlier, probationary period, while the rules given in Lucifer for April last pertain properly to a later stage, that of actual occult training and the development of occult powers and insight. These rules indicate, however, the mode of life which ought to be followed by all aspirants so far as practicable, since it is the most helpful to them in their aspirations.
It should never be forgotten that Occultism is concerned with the inner man who must be strengthened and freed from the dominion of the physical body and its surroundings, which must become his servants. Hence the first and chief necessity of Chelaship is a spirit of absolute unselfishness and devotion to Truth; then follow self-knowledge and self-mastery. These are all-important; while outward observance of fixed rules of life is a matter of secondary moment.[10]

According to A. Besant and C. W. Leadbeater

Both Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater promoted the book At the Feet of the Master as "a statement so concise and yet so complete, so simple and yet so all-inclusive"[11] about the necessary preparation to pass through the portal of Initiation. In this book, the qualifications given by Shankaracharya in his Vivekacudamani (viveka, vairagya, shatsampatti, and mumukshutva) are used as a model, though in some cases are translated differently. The qualifications are: Discrimination, Desirelessness, Good Conduct (Self-control as to the Mind, Self-control in Action, Tolerance, Cheerfulness, One-pointedness, and Confidence), and Love. About these qualifications Dr. Besant said:

What of the famous qualifications for initiation which he must now seek to make his own? They are not asked for in perfection, but some possession of them there must be ere the portal may swing open to admit him. . . . The completion of the qualities may be left for the other side, if the beginnings are seen; but the initiate must fill up the full tale, and the more there is lacking the more will there be to be done.[12]

Stages of Chelaship

The path of chelaship is sometimes called "probationary path", and when successfully trodden leads to the Path Proper, which begins at the first Initiation. The stages of chelaship were not described in detail in early theosophical literature. They were developed in the writings of Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater. Its stages were described by C. Jinarājadāsa as follows:

The first stage is that of the Probationary Pupil, when a Master of the Wisdom puts the aspirant “on Probation”. This is done either on the physical or the astral plane, but more usually on the latter. . . . If, after seven years of testing, the pupil on Probation is found to have grown in self-sacrifice to man and to God, his Master then finally receives the pupil into the stage of Acceptance. . . . A still closer link between Master and pupil takes place at the next stage, when the pupil becomes the “Son of the Master”. . . . Coincident usually with the stage of the Son of the Master, the pupil is presented by his Master to the Great White Brotherhood for Initiation.[13]

See also

Additional resources


Books and pamphlets




  1. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 7 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 30.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 607.
  3. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 9 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 31.
  4. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1962), 155-162.
  5. Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 605.
  6. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 292.
  7. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 294.
  8. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in Chronological Sequence No. 129 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 430. See Mahatma Letter No. 129 page 1.
  9. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1962), 159-160.
  10. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), fn. 300-301.
  11. Leadbeater, C. W., The Masters And The Path (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925),53.
  12. Besant, Annie, Discipleship And Some Karmic Problems (Adyar Pamphlets, No 195, Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, March 1935), 6-7.
  13. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, First Principles of Theosophy, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 336-343.