Explanations on Chelas
The word chela means student, in Sanskrit. In occult and eastern philosophy a chela is a person who is a student of occultism. Chelas are called by various names like disciples, devotees and lanoos. In theosophical circles the term means that the person is the student of a Mahatma ( explanations ) and tries to the best of their ability not only to be a good person, but also to actively help humanity. Which form this help takes, will differ with the chela. One of the prime tasks of the chela is precisely this: to find out what the best way is to serve humanity. Therefore it is not so that in general the Mahatma (boss and teacher of the chela) gives very many orders. The chela is left to his/her own devices and through developing self-knowledge and TRY-ing to help, and meanwhile observing his/her own motives learns more and more what humanity needs and how best to help.
The above is in general true, but because misunderstandings have come up, I feel it is necessary to elaborate on it.
In theosophical terminology a chela is not just a disciple of a mahatma, but an accepted disciple. This means that the character of the student has been through the mill and it has been found that he or she can be counted on to act for the best interests of humanity and not follow pride or even sustenance. A lay-chela is a more common phenomenon. A lay-chela is anyone who studies theosophy (or truth in general), acts with the best interest of others at heart, most of the time and is otherwise a normal person. Being a chela means learning to ACT. It is far easier to refrain from wrong actions than it is to actively do right in all circumstances. The challenge a chela has to face is to learn to act well in all circumstances. This action will usually start physically, but in the end each one of us has to face the fact that our words and our thoughts are actions as well, and they too need to be pure, truthful and just.
In a sense a chela is any student of a master. This means that even people who would be regarded as masters in their own right, if they came among us, are still chelas in the sense that they are still learning.
Katinka Hesselink [amended januari 2004]