Probation is a technical term for the first stage of personal relationship between a Master of Wisdom and a would-be disciple. In it, he or she has to face difficulties, temptations, and challenging situations which put to a test his or her moral strength. It is said that it normally lasts about seven years, although the period may be shortened or lengthened. Once the chela has successfully gone through the probation he is ready to start the path of chelaship to prepare himself for Initiation.
No one comes in contact with us, no one shows a desire to know more of us, but has to submit being tested and put by us on probation.
He who approaches our precincts even in thought, is drawn into the vortex of probation.
Probation [is] something every chela who does not want to remain simply ornamental, has nolens volens to undergo for a more or less prolonged period.
One of the reasons for this was explained by him as follows: "Few men know their inherent capacities—only the ordeal of crude chelaship develops them. (Remember these words: they have a deep meaning). Elaborating on this concept, Mme. Blavatsky wrote:
Those who have been so perplexed and puzzled over our policy as regards the London Lodge will understand its necessity better when they become better acquainted with the very occult art of drawing out the hidden capacities and propensities of beginners in occult study.
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 pinch. This is a truism doubtless, but it is most pertinent to the present case.
The previous quotes give the impression that it is the Master himself who puts the disciple under probation. But there seems to be another aspect to this, in which the trials are a natural reaction from the forces of nature against those who upset the status quo. Mme. Blavatsky explained:
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. . . . 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 the 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 ADEPTSHIP; 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 whole volume of maleficent power 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 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, or bigoted, 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 period of probation typically (but not always) lasts seven years, in which the would-be disciples have "to prove their fitness, and develop the qualities necessary to the security of both Master and pupil." During this period the pupil is--
...tested, tempted and examined by all and every means, so as to have his real nature drawn out. This is a rule with us as inexorable as it is disgusting in your Western sight, and I could not prevent it even if I would. It is not enough to know thoroughly what the chela is capable of doing or not doing at the time and under the circumstances during the period of probation. We have to know of what he may become capable under different and every kind of opportunities.
The need for the period of probation was explained by H. P. Blavatsky as follows:
[T]here is one important fact with which the student should be made acquainted. Namely, the enormous, almost limitless, responsibility assumed by the teacher for the sake of the pupil. From the Gurus of the East who teach openly or secretly, down to the few Kabalists in Western lands who undertake to teach the rudiments of the Sacred Science to their disciples—those western Hierophants being often themselves ignorant of the danger they incur—one and all of these “Teachers” are subject to the same inviolable law. From the moment they begin really to teach, from the instant they confer any power—whether psychic, mental or physical—on their pupils, they take upon themselves all the sins of that pupil, in connection with the Occult Sciences, whether of omission or commission, until the moment when initiation makes the pupil a Master and responsible in his turn. . . . Thus it is clear why the "Teachers" are so reticent, and why “Chelas” are required to serve a seven years probation to prove their fitness, and develop the qualities necessary to the security of both Master and pupil.
This responsibility is but the result of a natural law. Again, in Mme. Blavatsky's words:
The “Spiritual Guru” . . . taking the student by the hand leads him into, and introduces him to a world entirely unknown to the pupil. . . . So long then, as the pupil acts upon this principle, but is too ignorant to be sure of his vision and powers of discrimination, is it not natural that it is the guide who should be responsible for the sins of him whom he has led into those dangerous regions?
During this period, the Master cannot guide or advise the would-be disciple as to how to act.
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.
In a similar vein, Master K.H. wrote to Mr. Sinnett:
Every human being contains within himself vast potentialities, and it is the duty of the adepts to surround the would-be chela with circumstances which shall enable him to take the "right-hand path," — if he have the ability in him. We are no more at liberty to withhold the chance from a postulant than we are to guide and direct him into the proper course. At best, we can only show him after his probation period was successfully terminated — that if he does this he will go right; if the other, wrong. But until he has passed that period, we leave him to fight out his battles as best he may; and have to do so occasionally with higher and initiated chelas such as H.P.B., once they are allowed to work in the world, that all of us more or less avoid. More than that . . . we allow our candidates to be tempted in a thousand various ways, so as to draw out the whole of their inner nature and allow it the chance of remaining conqueror either one way or the other. . . . The victor's crown is only for him who proves himself worthy to wear it; for him who attacks Mara single handed and conquers the demon of lust and earthly passions; and not we but he himself puts it on his brow. It was not a meaningless phrase of the Tathagata that "he who masters Self is greater than he who conquers thousands in battle": there is no such other difficult struggle. If it were not so, adeptship would be but a cheap acquirement.
The period of probation is generally said to last about seven years, although the period may be shortened or lengthened for different reasons. For example, Master K.H. wrote:
The process of self-purification is not the work of a moment, nor of a few months, but of years, nay extending over a series of lives. The later a man begins living the higher life the longer must be his period of probation. For he has to undo the effects of a long number of years spent in objects diametrically opposed to the real goal.
As to the nature of this process, Master K.H. wrote:
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.
To be accepted as a chela on probation—is an easy thing. To become an accepted chela—is to court the miseries of “probation”. Life in the ordinary run is not entirely made up of heavy trials and mental misery: the life of a chela who offers himself voluntarily is one long sacrifice. He, who would control hereafter the events of his life here and beyond, has first of all to submit himself to be controlled, yet triumph over every temptation, every woe of flesh and mind. The Chela “on probation” is like the wayfarer in the old fable of the sphinx; only the one question becomes a long series of every day riddles propounded by the Sphinx of Life, who sits by the wayside, and who, unless her ever changing and perplexing puzzles are successfully answered one after the other, impedes the progress of the traveller and finally destroys him.
A chela under probation is allowed to think and do whatever he likes. He is warned and told beforehand: “You will be tempted and deceived by appearances; two paths will be open before you, both leading to the goal you are trying to attain; one easy, and that will lead you more rapidly to the fulfilment of orders you may receive; the other — more arduous, more long; a path full of stones and thorns that will make you stumble more than once on your way; and, at the end of which you may, perhaps, find failure after all and be unable to carry out the orders given for some particular small work, — but, whereas the latter will cause the hardships you have undergone on it to be all carried to the side of your credit in the long run, the former, the easy path, can offer you but a momentary gratification, an easy fulfilment of the task.” The chela is at perfect liberty, and often quite justified from the standpoint of appearances — to suspect his Guru of being “a fraud” as the elegant word stands. More than that: the greater, the sincerer his indignation — whether expressed in words or boiling in his heart — the more fit he is, the better qualified to become an adept. He is free to, and will not be held to account for using the most abusive words and expressions regarding his guru’s actions and orders, provided he comes out victorious from the fiery ordeal; provided he resists all and every temptation; rejects every allurement, and proves that nothing, not even the promise of that which he holds dearer than life, of that most precious boon, his future adeptship — is able to make him deviate from the path of truth and honesty, or force him to become a deceiver.
- Probation at Theosopedia
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 92 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 294.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 131 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 435.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 74 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 221.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 110 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 371.
- Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 18 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), ???.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 611.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 611-612.
- Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1962), 155-162.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 74 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 227.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 155-156.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 285-286.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 612-613.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 92 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 299.
- Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 9 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), ???.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 134 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 441.
- Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa (comp.), Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, Second Series (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), 124-125.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 74 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 222.