april 1999

The Guru-Chela Relationship

Katinka Hesselink

(col. Wr. X, p. 96):"It is this pernicious doctrine of ever relying upon extraneous help that leads to the collapse-physical, mental, moral and spiritual- of well-meaning, but weak and unbalanced minds." and again in the same place: " Neither success nor safety can be found outside self-development."

Despite this idea, H.P.Blavatsky was still very clear that she believed in the Guru-chela (student)- relationship. The subject of secrecy in occult life should not, in my opinion be viewed as separate from this. In this article I will share with all of you some of the statements by H.P.B. and Subba Row that I have found and also a statement by someone initiated in Tibetan Buddhism. As most of you know, H.P.Blavatsky considered Subba Row to be equal to herself in insight and knowledge. I have two reasons for writing this article: 1) the understanding of the Guru-chela relationship has implications (indirectly of course) for the E.S. and 2) this subject goes to the heart of the question of authority in spiritual life. Anyone acquainted even superficially with Krishnamurti knows that he also felt very strongly that there should be no authorities.

So, we are told to think for ourselves and check everything we read against our common sense and intuition. This does not, as far as I am concerned, deny the fact that there are people in this world who know more than we do, who are more saintly than we are. These people can guide us, if they are willing and think us fit. Some people have trouble accepting or imagining people having capacities and knowledge that we do not. It is as though a child in kindergarten would ignore the knowledge of a mathematics professor, simply because the professor has no way of informing the child of his science. Perhaps there is also no need for the professor to prove to the child that he knows what he or she knows. In fact the Mahatma's were very clear to Sinnett that they did not want it proved beyond doubt that they existed.

To stay with this simile, to be able to learn mathematics to a high degree, we have to practice first arithmetic, later elementary mathematics and geometry, and if we would become mathematicians at a scientific level, we must not only practice, but ponder, be creative and be highly motivated. Understanding the theory of mathematics is directly linked to the ability to practice it. The same for occultism. What use is it to know that the law of karma exists, if we cannot point out its place in our lives? H.P.B. in her writings repeatedly showed where she saw the law acting to her disadvantage. She also pointed to a few things that happened which in her opinion had been caused by the actions of the T.S. membership at large. In short: she knew to a large extent how to observe the law of karma in daily life. The next step is of course to learn how to work with that law. Once one tries that, one has to go beyond the superficial facts to causes of those facts. This also means, every once in a while that a chela acts contrary to what society expects from them. This also can be very clearly seen in H.P.B.'s life.

Spiritual life is like that, because it has to do not only with our mental development, but also with our moral development. And contrary to mathematics, the basics are not taught in every school. None the less a few of the basics were taught by H.P.Blavatsky and other teachers. In my opinion Krishnamurti was one of them. Both emphasized thinking for ourselves and observing as essentials.

Some people argue that spiritual experience comes from within and the knowledge attached to it does likewise and that therefore the idea of a Guru is not logical. Though knowledge does come primarily from within and certainly no earlier than we are ready, but that does not, in my opinion, clash with the fact that "the office of Guru or guide is to adjust the disciple in his progress, and not to drag or push him forward." (H.P.B. Coll. Wr. XII p. 496) In fact, without a mentor we are left being mystics, with mystical experiences and perhaps a bit more self-knowledge and therefore wisdom than our neighbors. Mystical experiences in themselves do not open the door to the kind of knowledge that helps us to help others more effectively. And that should be our goal, if we would follow in H.P.Blavatsky's footsteps.

" The secrecy that has been kept by these secondary lodges, as well as by the one and highest lodge, has always been proportional to the activities of religious persecution, and at present their very existence becomes a secret due to growing materialism." Isis p. 307 (English edition) 

This suggests that at least part of the secrecy is not needed in this century due to lack of religious persecution. On the other hand, with wars raging in Europe, Africa and Asia, very often on religious grounds, perhaps this reason for secrecy is still relevant. As to growing materialism, this tendency has obviously not stopped.

" Chelaship has nothing 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 rule, on the physical plane. This applies especially to the earlier probationary period,"... "It should never be forgotten that Occultism is concerned with the inner man, who must be strengtened 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." p. 10 'Studies in Occultism' by H.P.B. Lucifer IV, p348 , note.
" The powers of Chelas vary with their progress; and every one should know that if a chela has any 'powers', he is not permitted to use them save in rare and exceptional cases, and never may he boast of their possession. So it must follow that those who are only beginners have no more or greater power than an ordinary man." Chela's, theosophist oct. 1884, Coll. Wr. vol VI, p. 286

There are various powers that are talked about abundantly in New Age-circles in this century. There are even training schools for clairvoyance, in the form of aura-reading. As is also known, these powers can be trained. Groups are formed here in the Netherlands at least, where people help each other to distinguish between their own projections and their clairvoyant sight. We must keep in mind that only a moral training involving every aspect of our life can safeguard against unconscious misuse of powers. On the other hand: one who has eyes, has to learn how to see and know some of the difficulties and limitations that eyes have. It is often said that chelaship is a speeding up of natural evolution. About this, Subba Row has the following to say, explaining the philosophy of Southern India, which is an area known for its sages:

"This philosophy recognizes two paths, both having the same end, a glorified immortality. The one is a steady natural path of progress through moral effort, and practice of the virtues. A natural, coherent and sure growth of the soul is the result, a position of firm equilibrium is reached and maintained, which cannot be overthrown or shaken by any unexpected assault. It is the normal method followed by the vast mass of humanity, and this is the course Sankaracharya recommended to all his sanyasis and successors. The other road is the precipitous path of occultism, through a series of incarnations. Only a few specially organized and peculiar natures are fit for this path.

" Occult progress, growth along this path, is effected by the adept directing through the chela various occult forces, which enable him to obtain prematurely, so to speak, a knowledge of his spiritual nature: and to obtain powers to which he is not morally entitled by degree of his progress. Under these circumstances it may happen that the chela loses his moral balance, and falls into the dugpa path. From this it must not be concluded that the Southern Indian School of occultism regards adeptship and initiation as a mistake. "

Again it is made clear that though not relevant for most people, there is a training for chela's and that this training is not accessible to just anybody. This automatically includes *secrets*. Subba Row goes on to explain the function of this school of occultism:

" the adept hierarchy " ... " has a definite and indispensible purpose and function in the development of the human race. This function is to keep open the upward path, through which descend the light and leading without which our race would require to make each step by the wearisome, never-ending method of trial and failure in every direction, until chance showed the right way. In fact the function of the adept hierarchy is to provide religious teachers for the stumbling masses of mankind."

To sum it all up, I think there is plenty of evidence that the fact that we should all grow as independent upon outside authority as we can, does not at all exclude the fact that there are teachers and they do keep things secret. These teachers should perhaps be called guides or mentors, in order to not suggest to western minds the relationship that a traditional priest had to his congregation. I conclude that they existe, though obviously still very hard to find. I close with a quotation from a book on Tibetan Buddhism. Contrary to what some people think the Dalai Lama still keeps secrets from us and leaves stuff till after initiation. I will quote from the book 'Essential Tibetan Buddhism' by Robert A.F. Thurman, who is a student of Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama is a personal mentor of his. In theosophical wordings we would probably say that Robert is a chela to the Dalai Lama himself. Here goes from page 45 about chapter 7 and 8 of his book.

" These materials are usually not for presentation to an uninitiated audience. I have nevertheless decided to present them in this case, following the green light given by my personal mentor, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has himself published initiation ceremonies, considering it now necessary to present at least the general outlines of these sublime visions and yogas in order to disarm those who, for various propaganda reasons, have misrepresented Tibetan Buddhism as corrupt. I have also left out enough detail so that a person who wanted to go beyond reading to actual meditation on the 'Esotheric Communion' would have to seek a teacher, accomplish the prerequisites, and receive initiation to do so."

This makes it clear that the Dalai Lama has not given more than a general outline of the texts in his books. My conclusion from the above: initiation and the secrets that are kept are as real now as they have been since the beginning of Kali Yuga.