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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 Masters of Wisdom.

General description

A chela is a candidate to undergo a training which, if successful, will make of him an Adept. Although being accepted as a chela is in itself a difficult task, it cannot be compared with the efforts needed to succeed and become and Adept. 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.[1]

The path of chelaship begins with the acceptance of the aspirant as a chela in probation. About the acceptance as a chela, Master M. wrote:

It is he alone who has the love of humanity at heart, who is capable of grasping thoroughly the idea of a regenerating practical Brotherhood who is entitled to the possession of our secrets. He alone, such a man - will never misuse his powers, as there will be no fear that he should turn them to selfish ends. A man who places not the good of mankind above his own good is not worthy of becoming our chela - he is not worthy of becoming higher in knowledge than his neighbour.[2]

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

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.[3]

Chelaship should not be approached as a goal to be attained, but it is frequently recommended that the aspirant should prepare himself to work for humanity and let the opportunity present itself when the time is ready. 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.[4]

Rules for Chelaship

In 1883 Mme. Blavatsky published some of the qualifications a lay chela has to develop to some extent before he can be accepted as a chela in probation:

From Book IV of Kiu-ti, chapter on “the Laws of Upasana,” we learn that the qualifications expected in a Chela were:

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 law of Karma, independent of any power in nature that could interfere: a law whose course is not to be obstructed by any agency, not to be caused to deviate by prayer or propitiatory exoteric ceremonies;
5. A courage undaunted in every emergency, even by peril to life;
6. An intuitional perception of one’s being the vehicle of the manifested Avalokiteshvara or Divine Atman (Spirit);
7. Calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of everything that constitutes the objective and transitory world, in its relation with, and to, the invisible regions.

Such, at the least, must have been the recommendations of one aspiring to perfect Chelaship. With the sole exception of the first, which in rare and exceptional cases might have been modified, each one of these points has been invariably insisted upon, and all must have been more or less developed in the inner nature by the Chela’s UNHELPED EXERTIONS, before he could be actually put to the test.[5]

In 1887 Mme. 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.?" To this, she 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]

After having attained the necessary qualifications the aspirant can be taken as a probationary chela. During a period that 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."[7]

In the Theosophical Journal Lucifer, April, 1888, Mme. Blavatsky writes the article "Practical Occultism" where she gives some very specific "conditions under which alone the study of Divine Wisdom can be pursued with safety." Several of the rules published had to do with the external conditions (physical and magnetic) as well as the relationship among co-disciples. However, some rules are mentioned about the attitudes necessary in an accepted chela who is being trained to develop psychic and spiritual powers:

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.[8]

After this article was published some members questioned the "practicality" of some of the requirements for chelaship as given in "Practical Occultism". 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.[9]

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"[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

See also

Online resources

Articles and pamphlets





  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 607.
  2. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 33 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  3. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 7 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), ???.
  4. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 9 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), ???.
  5. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), fn. 607-608.
  6. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 292-293.
  7. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1962), 155-162.
  8. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1962), 159-160.
  9. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), fn. 300-301.
  10. Leadbeater, C. W., The Masters And The Path (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925),53.
  11. Besant, Annie, Discipleship And Some Karmic Problems (Adyar Pamphlets, No 195, Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, March 1935),6-7.
  12. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, First Principles of Theosophy, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 336-343.