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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

There is sometimes the wrong impression that a chela has the advantage of the Master's protection from harm or suffering. But in truth, he is subjected to what Master K. H. said would appear to Westerners as a "shocking discipline". He wrote in one of his letters:

The fact is, that to the last and supreme initiation every chela — (and even some adepts) — is left to his own device and counsel. We have to fight our own battles, and the familiar adage — "the adept becomes, he is not made" is true to the letter. Since every one of us is the creator and producer of the causes that lead to such or some other results, we have to reap but what we have sown. Our chelas are helped but when they are innocent of the causes that lead them into trouble; when such causes are generated by foreign, outside influences. Life and the struggle for adeptship would be too easy, had we all scavengers behind us to sweep away the effects we have generated through our own rashness and presumption. Before they are allowed to go into the world they, — the chelas — are everyone of them endowed with more or less clairvoyant powers; and, with the exception of that faculty that, unless paralyzed and watched would lead them perchance to divulge certain secrets that must not be revealed — they are left in the full exercise of their powers — whatever these may be: — why don't they exercise them? Thus, step by step, and after a series of punishments, is the chela taught by bitter experience to suppress and guide his impulses; he loses his rashness, his self sufficiency and never falls into the same errors.[1]

Rules for Chelaship

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.[2]

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."[3] In a later issue published in June, 1889, she answers a question about the "practicality" of some of the requirements for chelaship as given in "Practical Occultism":

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.[4]

In 1883 Mme. Blavatsky published some of the qualifications a person have to possess 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]

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"[6] 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.[7]

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.[8]

Online resources

Articles and pamphlets





  1. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 92 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 294.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 607.
  3. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1962), 155-162.
  4. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), fn. 300-301.
  5. Blavatsky, H. P., Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1954), fn. 607-608.
  6. Leadbeater, C. W., The Masters And The Path (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925),53.
  7. Besant, Annie, Discipleship And Some Karmic Problems (Adyar Pamphlets, No 195, Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, March 1935),6-7.
  8. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, First Principles of Theosophy, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 336-343.