From "Fohat" magazine summer 1999

What Is Initiation?

M. R. Jaqua

When Blavatsky occasionally calls someone an Initiate, just what does she mean? As with many terms, Initiation also must have several meanings. One meaning is to be given privy knowledge or teachings in an esoteric school. Another meaning is to go through a ritual or ceremony as an entrance or stage in a fraternity, genuinely esoteric or not. Yet another meaning, and the most important I believe, is to undergo a certain level of mystic experience. The latter in other traditions is called "Enlightenment," "Moksha," "Satori," "Cosmic Consciousness," "Christ Consciousness" and many other terms and allusions. It is probably not arguable that there are different levels of mystic experience and not all of these should be correctly labeled Initiation. "Small" initiations might be considered the gaining of some sort of knowledge or successfully passing tests of character in life. Initiation in its chief meaning should probably refer to a significant or perhaps quantum-level change in consciousness. I think this is called the "Fourth" Initiation in Theosophical literature and can also aptly be termed the "Death Experience" in mystical terminology.

There are many mystical experience accounts in literature that fit this term, some more so than others. Perhaps some less impressive accounts in which the later life supports the idea, might be recapitulations or a soul-remembrance of a more profound and determining experience in a former life and lives. If an Adept was reborn and had to go through this stage again in a new life, the experience would not be traumatic as it would be to the never before Initiated. The soul would have a place for it from having experienced it before.

While possibly describing a point in evolution of the race as a whole (and Initiation is reaching this state before the majority of the human race), Blavatsky describes what seems the equivalent of Initiation as:

"[The] day 'Be-With-Us;' that day when man, freeing himself from the trammels of ignorance, and recognising fully the non-separateness of the Ego within his personality - erroneously regarded as his own - from the UNIVERSAL EGO (Anima Supra-Mundi), merges thereby into the One Essence to become not only one 'with us' (the manifested universal lives which are 'ONE'LIFE), but that very life itself." [1]

So what is the dividing line between mystical experience in general and the level of mystical experience that is Initiation? I believe it is what can be called "ego-death," which is really a destruction of the personality or ego's innate perspective of itself as permanent and isolated from the rest of the universe. In Initiation the personal self realizes that it really doesn't exist, except as a maya co-equal with all other maya-egos. What does exist is the Universal SELF, which also has an individualized aspect, or the monad. This Death Experience or Initiation is the Human Monad becoming self-conscious. It is a realization by the human self and personality of its own and individual divine source. A man's "higher self" or the Manasaputra and Dhyan Chohan he is overshadowed by does not need this realization, as it has passed this stage long ago.

In many accounts I've seen of what I assume to be this Initiation, it is not a pleasant experience, but terrifying. Other mystic experiences in which the personal ego remains intact can be pleasant and infinitely elevating. When the personal ego realizes it does not ultimately exist it is a terrible experience. The problem in seeking enlightenment is that that which is doing the seeking is innately the problem itself.

Blavatsky gives an allegory from mythology:

"Ahriman destroys the Bull created by Ormazd - which is the emblem of terrestrial illusive life, the 'germ of sorrow' - and, forgetting that the perishing finite seed must die, in order that the plant of immortality, the plant of spiritual, eternal life, should sprout and live, Ahriman is proclaimed the enemy, the opposing power, the devil." [2]

The personal ego is the seed developed by evolution that it might die to give birth to Universal Ego or Self.

Blavatsky writes elsewhere on this death of the personality in Initiation:

"When Josephus, speaking of Elijah and Enoch ... remarks that 'it is written in the sacred books they (Elijah and Enoch) disappeared, but so that nobody knew that they died,' it means simply that they had died in their personalities, as Yogis die to this day in India, or even some Christian monks to the world. They disappear from the sight of men and die - on the terrestrial plane - even for themselves. A seemingly figurative way of speaking yet literally true."[3]

L. Gordon Plummer in his talk The Sacred Seasons and Initiation, [4] claims that in all there are seven degrees of initiation. The first three are preparatory and the fourth is experiential:

"When one moves into the fourth Initiation, which is related to the Winter Solstice, he has learned that the four seasons of the year relate generally to the four periods of human life: infancy, adolescence, maturity, and then death, or the passing. The Initiation at the Winter Solstice, which is the fourth, brings the Initiant to the point where he experiences what he had previously been taught: he be-gins actually to learn by experience. And when he comes back, he then is able to Teach."

In analogy, the first three preparatory and unspecific initiations correspond to Spring, Summer, and Fall. The Fourth Initiation corresponds to Winter and Death.
Plummer writes elsewhere in commenting on Purucker's Dialogues chapter, The Cross of Initiation, [5] and the Christian crucifixion story as an Initiation myth that:

"[The] first Cry translated as 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' was the death-cry of the personality of the Neophyte, its death being by the rite of the spear thrust. It was indeed the anguished cry from the personal man who is dying, and who feels forsaken by all of the higher parts of his nature."[6]

Purucker states in the same chapter that "death and initiation are identical." He further explains that after the death-experience in Initiation, a glorification follows, the neophyte, now Initiate, is at one with the All. He is now inspired by his own inner god or Monad and is not dependent on outside spiritual inspiration. He thereafter has the potential of teaching from his own source of understanding.

Even in a genuine Mystery School a prepared student is not assured of success - all depends on his own strength, motivation and purity. Purucker writes:

"...the soul which cannot stand the burning fire returns either a madman or returns but to die - that or success."[7]

As genuine mystery schools are far and few between, one wonders what is the fate of those who undergo this experience outside such a school.
Initiation is not a special state created by Theosophy, Buddhism or any Mystery School. It is a specific experience and naturally occurring level of perspective in the order of the Cosmos. A real Mystery School emulates Nature and its processes. The attempt at striving for Enlightenment is a speeding of what occurs to every successful member of the human race over long eons of time. This natural process has been observed with all its ramifications and the school established to best insure safety and success through proper knowledge and purity. A Mystery School is based on the principles of Nature. It does not synthetically create anything. A Mystery School is not necessary to achieve Enlightenment or Initiation, but the idea is that it would be a priceless and possibly life-saving aid.
If Initiation is a natural process or occurrence, then it would seem obvious that many undergo this "Death Experience" without being a part of any philosophic school or having any previous knowledge of it. I would bet that nine times out of ten the experience is "accidental" without the person striving for it, and the results of the experience multitudinous. Some, as Purucker infers above, lose their reason.

I first heard of the idea of Enlightenment as a "death experience" about twenty-five years ago from a leader of a small esoteric group. The group's founder had undergone such an experience and had formulated a system around it. When I began studying Theosophy I found that his "death experience" and Enlightenment were compatible with Theosophical descriptions. I joined the group for a number of years and began searching in literature and among encounters for similarly described current experiences. So far I think I've found about half a dozen cases I'm fairly sure of. One was a high profile lawyer, who, after a serious car accident robbed him of his abilities and then losing his family and becoming homeless, had a profound experience while sleeping in a graveyard. Another was a man who spent much of his life in and out of mental institutions. Another possible case was also a short-term resident of a mental institution. One also reads isolated accounts here and there in literature. The article in Reader's Digest of some years back I Died at 10:52 P.M. is one example. A question arises that if the Soma breaks the vessel, is the Soma of any use?
Thus far I would only possibly classify one Theosophist I've encountered in the "death experience" category of initiation, a life-long mystically oriented man who described some "terrifying" experiences he went through when young. Of the conventional philosophic schools and religions, probably Buddhism, Zen and Chan have the highest number of experiential Initiates, as Initiation (Enlightenment) is part of the goals of Buddhism and the chief goal of Zen and Chan. I'm not knowledgeable about Hindu Yogis and schools, although Ramana Maharshi is one sure case of Enlightenment it seems.
One thing I have learned is that one must be careful what he "asks for" and seeks, because one has to pay the full price for every genuine accomplishment, with bankruptcy a possibility if the accomplishment and price is too high. Some of the terrors of chelahood are outlined in The Mahatma Letters, and striving for chelahood is doubtless in some aspects identical with the search for Enlightenment and Initiation. Personally, the wind is blowing, my ladder is sliding around on the building, and I have gone far enough -for this lifetime.


[1] The Secret Doctrine I, 130-1 [U.L.T.].
[2] The Secret Doctrine II, 93.
[3] The Secret Doctrine II, 532.
[4] Theosophy World, May 1998.
[5 ]The Dialogues of G. de Purucker III, [Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1948], 261
[6] The Eclectic Theosophist, March 15, 1974, [San Diego, CA], 5
[7] Dialogues III, 265.