Initiation is a rite of passage, ceremony, marking entrance, or acceptance into a group or society. In an extended sense it can also signify a transformation in which the initiate is 'reborn' into a new role.
In the Theosophical tradition this refers to a series of events that take place out of the body on the inner planes, and in the presence of the Masters of Wisdom, where the disciple is taught and trained in some aspects of the Occult Science and the Esoteric Philosophy. The process of Initiation also involves an expansion of consciousness to higher planes.
In the Theosophical view it is frequently applied to the initiation into the occult sciences, which marks the acceptance as a member of the Brotherhood of Adepts. The person who is a candidate for initiation is denominated disciple or chela. H. P. Blavatsky wrote:
Initiate. From the Latin Initiatus. The designation of anyone who was received into and had revealed to him the mysteries and secrets of either Masonry or Occultism. In times of antiquity, those who had been initiated into the arcane knowledge taught by the Hierophants of the Mysteries; and in our modern days those who have been initiated by the adepts of mystic lore into the mysterious knowledge, which, notwithstanding the lapse of ages, has yet a few real votaries on earth.
Annie Besant defined it as follows:
Now what does this Initiation in the Mysteries mean? Quite frankly, it means an expansion of consciousness. Initiation itself is a certain series of events through which the man passes; actual events and experiences taking a certain amount of time, not a vague indefinite series of feelings, but actual communications and thoughts and actions gone through by a man out of the physical body, in the presence of a great assembly of the Masters. The result is that the man becomes conscious of a new world, as though some great new sense had been given to him which opened to him a new world surrounding him. As a man born blind might know the world by hearing, taste, touch, but if his eyes were opened would see a new world he had not dreamed of stretching around him on every side, so is it with the man who, having passed through the great ceremony of Initiation, comes back into his body, into the mortal world of men. Another world is around him, a new phase of consciousness belongs to him. He sees, where before he was blind. He knows, where before he only hoped or guessed.
H. P. Blavatsky talks about seven degrees of initiation:
There are four grades of initiation mentioned in exoteric works, which are known respectively in Sanskrit as “Shrôtâpanna,” “Sagardagan,” “Anagamin,” and “Arhan”—the four paths to Nirvana, in this, our fourth Round, hearing the same appellations. The Arhan, though he can see the Past, the Present, and the Future, is not yet the highest Initiate; for the Adept himself, the initiated candidate, becomes chela (pupil) to a higher Initiate. Three further higher grades have to be conquered by the Arhan who would reach the apex; of the ladder of Arhatship.
The first initiation expands the consciousness of the disciple into the Buddhic plane:
The new Initiate . . . is born into this new life of the Spirit, and the expansion of consciousness he attains consists in his having opened to him, for the first time, that great spiritual world in which all truths are known by Intuition, not by reasoning; in which the eyes of the Spirit are opened, and direct knowledge of spiritual truths is gained; knowledge becomes intuitive, instead of rational.
When the great ceremonial is over, then it is that, either by his own Teacher or by some high disciple to whom the work is delegated, the new Initiate finds open within him that new consciousness which is gradually to grow, so that he may master the knowledge which at first is only presented to him in a dazzling panorama. Because of that new world into which he is born, the first of the great Initiations is spoken of as “the second birth”, the “birth of the Spirit”. He has become now the twice-born. . . .
The ego having brought the lower self into harmony with himself is now reaching upwards into the buddhic plane, the plane of unity. It is only in this way that the man can begin to cast off the delusion of self which stands in the way of his further progress, and that is why the buddhic experience is necessary at the first Initiation.
After this, the work of the initiate is to ascend through the buddhic plane:
Having passed the first Initiation and consciously entered the buddhic plane, this work of developing himself on sub-plane after sub-plane now lies before the candidate, in order that he may get rid of the three great fetters, as they are technically called, which embarrass his further progress.
The three great fetters the candidate to the Second Initiation has to get rid of has been described as the delusion of self (or sense of separateness), doubt or uncertainty regarding the fundamental laws of karma, reincarnation, etc., and superstition, as the idea that any particular religion or ceremony are indispensable.
When those three fetters are utterly cast aside, when they no longer have power to hold him back, then he has grown to young manhood, when he is ready to pass the second of the great Initiations. In the Christian drama it is called the Baptism. It is written that the Spirit of God came down upon Jesus, and abode with Him. That is the Christian form; the Spirit comes down, the Spirit of Intuition, and before he can go further, to the third Initiation, he must learn to bring it down, through his enlarged causal and mental bodies, to his physical consciousness, so that it may “abide on him”, and guide him.
A very great expansion and development of the mental body takes place in connection with this second Initiation, but it is usually some years before the effects of this can show themselves in the physical brain. As they begin to do so they unquestionably put a great strain upon that brain, as it cannot be instantaneously tuned to the necessary pitch.
At this stage no additional fetters are cast off, but it is usually a period of considerable psychic and intellectual advancement. If what are commonly called psychic faculties have not been previously acquired, it is the tradition that they should be developed at this stage.
The period after the taking of the second Initiation is in many ways the most dangerous on the Path. . . . In nearly all cases the danger comes through pride; if there is the least tinge of pride in the man's nature, he is in serious risk of a fall . . . and if he once starts on that line he will have a terribly hard time getting back again. Nothing but unceasing and increasing vigilance can enable him to pass through this stage successfully, and it must be his constant endeavour to kill out every trace of pride, selfishness and prejudice.
It is said that he who has reached this initiation should need only one more incarnation before attaining the third and fourth Initiations.
Just as the second Initiation is principally concerned with the quickening of the lower mental body, so at this stage the causal body is especially developed. The ego is brought more closely into touch with the Monad, and is thus transfigured in very truth. Even the personality is affected by that wondrous outpouring. The higher and the lower self became one at the first Initiation, and that unity is never lost, but the development of the higher self that now takes place can never be mirrored in the lower worlds of form, although the two are one to the greatest possible extent.
Once the third Initiation is attained, it is expected that the initiate will attain the fourth Initiation in the same incarnation, after which there is no compulsory physical rebirth.
During the time which intervenes between the third and the fourth Initiations, two more weaknesses have to be got rid of for ever, attraction and repulsion to all outer things . . . so the disciple learns in this stage to rise above attractions and repulsions, to cast them aside for ever; they no longer have power to touch him.
While in this stage he has to throw off any lingering remains of what are called the fourth and fifth fetters, kamaraga and patigha, attachment to the enjoyment of sensation, typified by earthly love, and all possibility of anger or hatred. The aspirant must free himself from the possibility of being enslaved in any way by external things. It is not by any means that he will not feel the attraction of what is pleasant or beautiful or clean, nor the repulsion for the opposites of these things. He will still take them into account in the course of his work; but he will not let them be a deciding element in duty, and will override them entirely on those emergent occasions when it is necessary for his work.
Between the third Initiation and the fourth there is that gulf of silence, where the disciple hangs alone in the void with nothing on earth to trust to, nothing in heaven to look to, no friend whose heart can be relied upon - nay, even the vision of the Supreme blurred and dimmed. It is symbolised by the Agony in the Garden, where the human heart cries out “If it be possible, let this cup pass away”, and still the human will arises, strong in renunciation: “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done”.
The attainment of this Initiation is said to involve the hardest trial in the path, after which comes the prize of the last initiation that makes him a Master of Wisdom. It is sometimes compared with crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus:
Onward he passes through the stages of the Passion; sees his beloved flee; sees himself betrayed, denied, rejected, until at last, upon the cross of agony, he is held up for all men to mock at, for all men to despise; sees at last no friend, but only a ring of enemies triumphant; hears the taunt: “He saved others; himself he cannot save” - the deepest truth of all; utters at last the cry of the breaking heart: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and in that uttermost loneliness finds himself for evermore; losing the God without him, he finds the God within. For when the great darkness comes down, and nothing can be seen, then arises the light of the Spirit in the human heart, and then through the darkness are heard the final words of triumphant success: “It is finished”. Those are the words that ring out from the assembled hosts of Men made perfect and of Angels, when the great trial is over, and the agony of the cross is past.
He has also to experience for a moment the condition called Avichi, which means “the waveless,” that which is without vibration. The state of Avichi is not, as has been popularly supposed, some kind of hell, but it is a condition in which the man stands absolutely alone in space, and feels cut off from all life, even from that of the Logos; and it is without doubt the most ghastly experience that it is possible for any human being to have. It is said to last only for a moment, but to those who have felt its supreme horror it seemed an eternity, for at that level time and space do not exist. That appalling trial has, I think, two object--first, that the candidate may be able fully to sympathize with those to whom Avichi comes as a result of their actions; and secondly, that he may learn to stand absolutely apart from everything external, triumphant in his utter certainty that he is one with the Logos and that this overwhelming consternation, caused by the sensation of isolation from Him, is nothing but an illusion and a temptation. Some have collapsed before this terrible test, and have had to go back and begin over again their climb towards the higher Initiation; but for the man who can stand firm through its awful nightmare it is indeed a wonderful experience. . .
The fourth initiation has two marked opposing aspects--one of defeat and one of victory:
This Initiation differs from all the others in that it has this strange double aspect of suffering and victory. . . . Always at this stage there is suffering, physical, astral and mental; always there is the condemnation by the world, and the apparent failure; always there is the splendid triumph upon higher planes--which, however, remains unknown to the outer world. The peculiar type of suffering which invariably accompanies this Initiation clears off any arrears of karma which may still stand in the Initiate's way; and the patience and joyousness with which he endures them have great value in the strengthening of his character, and help to determine the extent of his usefulness in the work which lies before him.
Regarding the reality behind the symbol of "Resurrection", C. W. Leadbeater said:
It is impossible for us to describe that resurrection; all words that we can employ seem to sully its splendour, and any attempt at description seems almost blasphemy, but this much may be said, that a complete triumph has been obtained over all sorrows, troubles and difficulties, temptations and trials, and it is his for ever because he has conquered by knowledge and inner strength.
The breaking through attained on this Initiation is the entering into the atmic plane--Nirvāṇa:
During the stages following the first, second and third Initiations the candidate is gradually developing the buddhic consciousness; but at the fourth Initiation he enters the nirvanic plane, and from then onward he is engaged in climbing steadily through that, or rather through that division of it, consisting of its five lower sub-planes, on which the human ego has being. This initiation is in one way a midway point, as it is usually said that seven lives are occupied on the average at normal times between the first and the fourth Initiations, and seven lives also between the fourth and fifth; but these figures are capable of very great reduction or increase, as I have said before, and the actual period of time employed is in most cases not very great, since usually the lives are taken in immediate succession, without interludes in the heaven-world.
The fifth Initiation, that of the Adept [is] the final step that makes him Superman--Asekha, as the Buddhists call Him, because He has no more to learn, and has exhausted the possibilities of the human kingdom of nature; Jivanmukta, as the Hindus speak of Him, a liberated life, a free being, free not because of any separate independence, but because His will is one with the universal Will, that of the One without a second. He stands ever in the light of Nirvana, even in His waking consciousness, should He choose to remain on earth in a physical body, and when out of that body He rises still higher into the Monadic plane, beyond not merely our words but our thought.
- Initiation - The Perfecting of Man by Annie Besant
- The Masters and the Path, Part III. The Great Initiations by C. W. Leadbeater
- The Path to the Masters of Wisdom by Clara Codd
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 156.
- Annie Besant, Initiation. The Perfecting of Man, (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923), 90-91.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 206.
- Annie Besant, Initiation. The Perfecting of Man, (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923), 92.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 180.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 182.
- Annie Besant, Initiation. The Perfecting of Man, (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923), 96-97.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 187.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 189.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 187-188.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 190.
- Annie Besant, Initiation. The Perfecting of Man, (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923), 98.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 191.
- Annie Besant, Initiation. The Perfecting of Man, (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923), 99.
- Annie Besant, Initiation. The Perfecting of Man, (Chicago: The Theosophical Press, 1923), 99-100.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 195.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 196.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 197.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 193.
- Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), 205-206.