Masters of Wisdom

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The Masters of Wisdom, or simply "The Masters" are initiates in the occult science and esoteric philosophy, who take disciples or chelas. H. P. Blavatsky, in the glossary of her book The Key to Theosophy defined the Theosophical concept of "Master" as follows:

Master. A translation from the Sanskrit Guru, "Spiritual teacher," and adopted by the Theosophists to designate the Adepts, from whom they hold their teachings.[1]

The Masters of Wisdom are sometimes referred indistinctly as "Brothers", "Adepts", or "Mahatmas."

General description

The Masters are occultists who have developed the psychic and spiritual powers that are still latent in most human beings:

A Mahatma is a personage who, by special training and education, has evolved those higher faculties and has attained that spiritual knowledge which ordinary humanity will acquire after passing through numberless series of incarnations during the process of cosmic evolution, provided, of course, that they do not go, in the meanwhile, against the purposes of Nature. . .[2]

The occultist, when he has identified himself thoroughly with his Atma, acts upon the Buddhi, for, according to the laws of Cosmic Evolution, the Purusha — the universal seventh principle––is perpetually acting upon and manifesting itself through Prakriti—the universal sixth principle. Thus the MAHATMA, who has become one with his seventh principle—which is identical with Purusha, since there is no isolation in the spiritual monad—is practically a creator, for he has identified himself with the evoluting and the manifesting energy of nature.[3]

However, this should not give the impression that the Masters are "ascended" or incorporeal spirits. Blavatsky stated, "They are living men, not 'spirits' or even Nirmanakayas."[4] Similarly, in her book The Key to Theosophy we find the following dialogue:

ENQUIRER. Who are they, finally, those whom you call your "Masters"? Some say they are "Spirits," or some other kind of supernatural beings, while others call them "myths."
THEOSOPHIST. They are neither. I once heard one outsider say to another that they were a sort of male mermaids, whatever such a creature may be. But if you listen to what people say, you will never have a true conception of them. In the first place they are living men, born as we are born, and doomed to die like every other mortal.[5]

The Masters are thus incarnated in a body, and live in physical locations in different parts of the world. For this reason, even Masters are subject to physical limitations when acting through the body. As Master K.H. wrote in one of his letters to A. P. Sinnett:

For you know — or think you know, of one K.H. — and can know but of one, whereas there are two distinct personages answering to that name in him you know. The riddle is only apparent and easy to solve, were you only to know what a real Mahatma is. You have seen by the Kiddle incident — perchance allowed to develop to its bitter end for a purpose — that even an "adept" when acting in his body is not beyond mistakes due to human carelessness.[6]

Although the Masters known through the Theosophical literature use a male body, there are testimonies by a number of chelas that there are women adepts, even of the highest degree.


Blavatsky said that the Masters "have discovered means to make their bodies last far longer than the norm." This is connected to the popular idea of the "elixir of life," which, according to her, is a metaphor for "a real occult process, warding off age and dissolution for periods which would seem fabulous."[7]

In a famous article, The "Elixir of Life", written by a former disciple of the Masters, the author claims that those who follow this process can live a thousand years or so. However, Blavatsky rejected this notion, saying:

Their [the Masters'] knowledge and learning are immense, and their personal holiness of life is still greater — still they are mortal men and none of them 1,000 years old, as imagined by some.[8]

Similarly, she stated:

I have never heard of mortal man, layman, or Adept, who could live even half the [969] years allotted to Methuselah. Some Adepts do exceed, by a good deal, what you would call the ordinary age; yet there is nothing miraculous in it, and very few of them care to live very long.[9]

A reference as to how long a human body may last was given by Damodar K. Mavalankar in a letter to W. Q. Judge, saying, "At the most, how long can a human life last? Not more than four hundred years."[10] This is repeated by Judge in his book The Ocean of Theosophy.[11]

Renouncing Nirvana

An important feature of the Masters of Wisdom is that, although they have attained the right to enter in Nirvāṇa they renounce to it in order to stay in touch with humanity. This is the same concept of the Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism, which was not very well know at the time to the Western world:

. . .the hitherto very esoteric doctrine of the Nirmanakayas was lately brought forward as a proof and explained in the treatise called The Voice of the Silence. These Nirmanakayas are the Bodhisattvas or late Adepts, who having reached Nirvana and liberation from rebirth, renounce it voluntarily in order to remain invisibly amidst the world to help poor ignorant Humanity within the lines permitted by Karma.[12]

This is evidently a sacrifice on their part, renouncing to live in a state of bliss on higher planes to incessantly work on the lower ones. As Mahatma K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett:

I will be busy night and day, morning, noon, and evening. At times I feel a passing regret that the Chohans should not evolute the happy idea of allowing us also a "sumptuary allowance" in the shape of a little spare time. Oh, for the final Rest! for that Nirvana where — "to be one with Life, yet — to live not." Alas, alas! having personally realized that: ". . . the Soul of Things is sweet, The Heart of Being is celestial Rest," one does long for — eternal REST![13]

The work of the Masters

When asked by Charles Johnston about their work she answered: "You would hardly understand, unless you were an adept. But they keep alive the spiritual life of mankind."[14] He then asked her how the adepts guide the souls of men, to which H. P. Blavatsky answered:

In many ways, but chiefly by teaching their souls direct, in the spiritual world. But that is difficult for you to understand. This is quite intelligible, though. At certain regular periods, they try to give the world at large a right understanding of spiritual things. One of their number comes forth to teach the masses, and is handed down to tradition as the Founder of a religion. Krishna was such a Master; so was Zoroaster; so were Buddha and Shankara Acharya, the great sage of Southern India. So also was the Nazarene. He went forth against the counsel of the rest, to give to the masses before the time, moved by a great pity, and enthusiasm for humanity; he was warned that the time was unfavorable, but nevertheless he elected to go, and so was put to death at the instigation of the priests. . . .
But that is not the only work of the adepts. At much shorter periods, they send forth a messenger to try to teach the world. Such a period comes in the last quarter of each century, and the Theosophical Society represents their work for this epoch.[15]

One must bear in mind, however, that there are different types of Adepts corresponding to the Seven Rays of the Logos, and they may have different functions. As T. Subba Row stated:

In the adept hierarchy, there are always seven classes of adepts, corresponding to the seven rays of the Logos. Two of these classes of adepts are so mysterious, and their representatives on earth are so rare, that they are seldom spoken of. Perhaps one or two adepts of these two mysterious orders appear every two or three thousand years.[16]

There are some references to some kind of involvement of the Masters in political or social matters. For example in The Mahatma Letters, the Master K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett around November 1880:

A crisis, in a certain sense, is upon us now, and must be met. I might say two crises — one, the Society's, the other for Tibet. For, I may tell you in confidence, that Russia is gradually massing her forces for a future invasion of that country under the pretext of a Chinese War. If she does not succeed it will be due to us; and herein, at least we will deserve your gratitude. You see then, that we have weightier matters than small societies to think about; yet, the T.S. must not be neglected.[17]

Another reference by the same Master, written around July, 1882, states:

The Egyptian operations of your blessed countrymen involve such local consequences to the body of Occultists still remaining there and to what they are guarding, that two of our adepts are already there, having joined some Druze brethren and three more on their way. I was offered the agreeable privilege of becoming an eye-witness to the human butchery, but — declined with thanks. For such great emergency is our Force stored up, and hence — we dare not waste it on fashionable tamasha.[18]

T. Subba Row described the function of the Masters in nature as follows:

The adept hierarchy is as strictly a product of nature as a tree is: it has a definite and indispensable purpose and function in the development of the human race: this function is to keep open the upward path, through which descend the light and leading without which our race would require to make each step by the wearisome, never ending method of trial and failure in every direction, until chance showed the right way. In fact the function of the adept hierarchy is to provide religious teachers for the stumbling masses of mankind.[19]

In one of his letters to A. P. Sinnett, Master K.H. talks about another aspect of their work. He mentions the Masters' "prime duty of gaining knowledge and disseminating through all available channels such fragments as mankind in the mass may be ready to assimilate".[20]

Regarding their roles as teachers, they do not impart information to their chelas as regular teachers do, but rather train them to develop their abilities so that they can perceive truths by their own means. As Subba Row explained:

Our Gurus, be it remember, never teach us as our English school masters. Nothing by word. They simply impress in our minds and help us develop the higher fifth rounder's faculty.[21]

This is confirmed in the following testimony from H. P. Blavatsky:

Knowledge comes in visions, first in dreams and then in pictures presented to the inner eye during meditation. Thus have I been taught the whole system of evolution, the laws of being and all else that I know—the mysteries of life and death, the workings of karma. Not a word was spoken to me of all this in the ordinary way, except, perhaps, by way of confirmation of what was thus given me—nothing taught me in writing.[22]

According to C. W. Leadbeater

The number of adepts who retain physical bodies in order to help the evolution of the world is but small-- perhaps some fifty or sixty in all. But it must be remembered that the great majority of these do not take pupils, as They are engaged in quite other work. Madame Blavatsky employed the term adept very loosely, for in one place she actually speaks of adepts who have been initiated, and adepts who have not been initiated. In all later writings we have reserved the word “initiate” for those who have passed at least the first of the four great stages upon the Path of Holiness, and the word adept we have restricted to those who have attained the Asekha level, and so have finished the evolution required of them in this chain of worlds. The consciousness of the Asekha rests normally upon the nirvanic or atmic plane while his physical body is awake. But out of the number who have already attained adeptship only the very small proportion above-mentioned retain physical bodies, and remain in touch with the earth in order to help it; and out of this a still smaller proportion are willing under certain conditions to accept men as pupils or apprentices; and it is to these last (the smallest number) only that we give the name of Masters. Yet few though They be Their office is of incalculable importance, since without Their aid it would be impossible for man to enter the portals of initiation.[23]

The work the Masters do on the inner planes was explained by C. W. Leadbeater as follows:

The Adepts are dealing with the entire world in enormous comprehensive sweeps of power; They are influencing millions in their causal bodies or on the buddhic plane, and all the time steadily, though by almost imperceptible degrees, raising the higher bodies of the people on a wholesale scale. And yet the same Master who spends His life in doing that work will sometimes turn aside and pay personal attention to little details connected with one pupil.[24]

See also

Online resources

Articles and pamphlets




Additional resources


  1. Helena Ptrovna Blavatsky, The Key To Theosophy, Glossary (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1972), 348.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 239.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 261-262.
  4. Manly P. Hall, "Madam Blavatsky - A Tribute," Theosophia (May-June, 1947), 11.
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), Section 14, p. ???.
  6. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 130 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 433.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1960) 399-400
  8. Manly P. Hall, "Madam Blavatsky - A Tribute," Theosophia (May-June, 1947), 11.
  9. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), Section 14, p. ???.
  10. See Letters by Damodar K. Mavalankar to William Quan Judge
  11. William Quan Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 2011), 37.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 12 (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 31.
  13. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 203-204.
  14. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 8 (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1960), 401.
  15. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 8 (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1960), 401-402.
  16. Tallapragada Subba Row, Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 106.
  17. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 5 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 15.
  18. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 203.
  19. Tallapragada Subba Row, Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 113.
  20. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 112 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 382.
  21. Tallapragada Subba Row, T. Subba Row Collected Writings vol. I (San Diego, USA: Point Loma Publications, 2001), 15.
  22. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 13 (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982), 285.
  23. Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Inner Life, (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1942), 18-19.
  24. Charles Webster Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), ???.