Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the most famous of 'mahatmas'. The Indian word Mahatma means great soul. Mahatma Gandhi was exemplary in many ways, so the title suits him. He was probably not a Mahatma (or adept, or master) in the theosophical sense of the term.
The theosophical term 'Mahatma' is in a sense a technical term. The term is used for the guardians of the spiritual evolution of mankind. They are perfected human beings (though by their own account not perfect at all), capable of all kinds of psychic feats (called siddhis). This may seem like their most important characteristic, but for theosophists it isn't.
The most important characteristic of the Mahatma is not what he or she is capable of, but what the person does with their powers. If a person is selfish, uses their powers to get money or power over other people, then they are not a mahatma. On the other hand, if someone shows an immense amount of practical wisdom, combined with metaphysical insight and reliable psychic powers not using these for their own good, then chances are that we have found ourselves a Mahatma. But this is by no means certain, as Mahatmas have a tendency to do their work outside of human sight. This means that their powers will usually not be exhibited and also that they will probably hide their knowledge and insight from the curious seeker.
Only a pure motive will attract their attention. A person who is purely motivated to help humanity (not with a wish to look good in the eyes of the world), may attract their attention. This does not mean that the person will know they are watching. In fact, for those who want to know how to get in touch with these beings, I would suggest you study not only my references to articles and quotes about Mahatmas, but also those on chelas. Real Mahatmas have pretty high standards when it comes to selecting those that deserve communication with them.
Most of our information about the Theosophical Mahatmas comes from "Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett" a book which in various editions is available from different theosophical publishing houses. I personally recommend the chronological version. The following Mahatmas have made their mark in theosophical history. Confusingly, they are usually referred to with abreviations:
- Koot Hoomi (other spellings are sometimes found). Most of the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett were written by K.H.
- Morya. This was Blavatsky 's personal teacher. He wrote some of the letters to A.P. Sinnett.
- Serapis. An Adept-brother that was mostly involved with the Theosophical Society in it's early days. He was instrumental in getting Blavatsky and Olcott to travel to India and corresponded with Col. Olcott in the New York days.
Mahatmas : articles on this subject