In dealing with these doctrines, one is compelled now and then to greatly extend the scope and meaning of many English words. The word “race” is one of these. In the Theosophical scheme, as given out by the sages of the East, seven great races are spoken of. Each one of these includes all the different so-called races of our modern ethnology. Hence the necessity for having seven great root-races, sub-races, family races, and countless offshoot races. The root-race sends off sub-races, and these divide into family groups; all, however, being included in the great root-race then undergoing development.
The appearance of these great root-races is always just when the world’s development permits. When the globe was forming, the first root-race was more or less ethereal and had no such body as we now inhabit. The cosmic environment became more dense and the second race appeared, soon after which the first wholly disappeared. Then the third came on the scene, after an immense lapse of time, during which the second had been developing the bodies needed for the third. At the coming of the fourth root-race, it is said that the present human form was evolved, although gigantic and in some respects different from our own. It is from this point — the fourth race — that the Theosophical system begins to speak of man as such.
The old book quoted by Mme. Blavatsky has it in this wise:
“Thus two by two on the seven zones the third race gave birth to the fourth”; and,
“The first race on every zone was moon-colored; the second, yellow, like gold; the third, red; the fourth, brown, which became black with sin.”
Topinard, in his Anthropology, gives support to this, as he says that there are three fundamental colors in the human organism — red, yellow and black. The brown race, which became black with sin, refers to the Atlantean sorcerer race of which I spoke in my last; its awfully evil practices, both mental and physical, having produced a change in the color of the skin.
The evolution of these seven great races covers many millions of years, and it must not be forgotten that when the new race is fully evolved the preceding race disappears, as the monads in it have been gradually reincarnated in the bodies of the new race. The present root-race to which we belong, no matter what the sub-race or family we may be in, is the fifth. It became a separate, distinct and completely-defined race about one million years ago, and has yet many more years to serve before the sixth will be ushered in. This fifth race includes also all the nations in Europe, as they together form a family race and are not to be divided off from each other.
Now, the process of forming the foundation, or great spinal column, for that race which is to usher in the sixth, and which I said is now going on in the Americas, is a slow process for us. Obliged as we are by our inability to judge or to count except by relativity, the gradual coming together of nations and the fusion of their offspring over and over again so as to bring forth something new in the human line, is so gradual as to seem almost without progress. But this change and evolution go on nevertheless, and a very careful observer can see evidences of it. One fact deserves attention. It is the inventive faculty displayed by Americans. This is not accorded much force by our scientists, but the occultist sees in it an evidence that the brains of these inventors are more open to influences and pictures from the astral world than are the brains of the older nations. Reports have been brought to me by competent persons of children, boys and girls, who were born with most abnormal faculties of speech, or memory or otherwise, and some such cases I have seen myself. All of these occur in America, and many of them in the West. There is more nervousness here than in the older nations. This is accounted for by the hurry and rush of our civilization; but such an explanation really explains nothing, because the question yet remains, “Why is there such hurry and push and change in the United States?” Such ordinary arguments go in a circle, since they leave out of sight the fundamental reason, so familiar to the Theosophist, that it is human evolution going on right before our eyes in accordance with cyclic laws.
The Theosophical Adepts believe in evolution, but not that sort which claims an ape as our ancestor. Their great and comprehensive system is quite able to account for rudimentary muscles and traces of organs found complete only in the animal kingdom without having to call a pithecoid ape our father, for they show the gradual process of building the temple for the use of the divine Ego, proceeding ceaselessly, and in silence, through ages upon ages, winding in and out among all the forms in nature in every kingdom, from the mineral up to the highest. This is the real explanation of the old Jewish, Masonic, and archaic saying that the temple of the Lord is not made with hands and that no sound of building is heard in it.
It is well now to say, more definitely than I have as yet, a few words of the two classes of beings, one of which has been much spoken of in Theosophical literature, and also by those on the outside who write of the subject either in seriousness or in ridicule. These two classes of exalted personages are the Mahatmas and Nirmanakayas.
In respect to the Mahatmas, a great many wrong notions have currency, not only with the public, but as well with Theosophists in all parts of the world.
In the early days of the Theosophical Society the name Mahatma was not in use here, but the title then was “Brothers.” This referred to the fact that they were a band of men who belonged to a brotherhood in the East. The most wonderful powers and, at times, the most extraordinary motives were attributed to them by those who believed in their existence.
They could pass to all parts of the world in the twinkling of an eye. Across the great distance that India is from here they could precipitate letters to their friends and disciples in New York. Many thought that if this were done it was only for amusement; others looked at it in the light of a test for the faithful, while still others often supposed Mahatmas acted thus for pure love of exercising their power. The Spiritualists, some of whom believed that Mme. Blavatsky really did the wonderful things told of her, said that she was only a medium, pure and simple, and that her Brothers were familiar spooks of seance rooms. Meanwhile the press in general laughed, and Mme. Blavatsky and her Theosophical friends went on doing their work and never gave up their belief in the Brothers, who after a few years came to be called Mahatmas. Indiscriminately with Mahatma, the word Adept has been used to describe the same beings, so that we have these two titles made use of without accuracy and in a misleading fashion.
The word Adept signifies proficiency, and is not uncommon, so that, when using it, some description is necessary if it is to be applied to the Brothers. For that reason I used Theosophical Adepts in a previous paper. A Mahatma is not only an Adept, but much more. The etymology of it will make the matter clearer, the word being strictly Sanskrit, from maha, great, and atma, soul — hence Great Soul. This does not mean a noble-hearted man merely, but a perfected being, one who has attained to the state often described by mystics and held by scientific men to be an impossibility, when time and space are no obstacles to sight, to action, to knowledge or to consciousness. Hence they are said to be able to perform the extraordinary feats related by various persons, and also to possess information of a decidedly practical character concerning the laws of nature, including that mystery for science — the meaning, operation and constitution of life itself — and concerning the genesis of this planet as well as of the races upon it. These large claims have given rise to the chief complaint brought forward against the Theosophical Adepts by those writers outside of the Society who have taken the subject up — that they remain, if they exist at all, in a state of cold and selfish quietude, seeing the misery and hearing the groans of the world, yet refusing to hold out a helping hand except to a favored few; possessing knowledge of scientific principles, or of medicinal preparations, and yet keeping it back from learned men or wealthy capitalists who desire to advance commerce while they turn an honest penny. Although, for one, I firmly believe, upon evidence given me, in all that is claimed for these Adepts, I declare groundless the complaint advanced, knowing it to be due to a want of knowledge of those who are impugned.
Adepts and Mahatmas are not a miraculous growth, nor the selfish successors of some who, accidentally stumbling upon great truths, transmitted them to adherents under patent rights. They are human beings trained, developed, cultivated through not only a life but long series of lives, always under evolutionary laws and quite in accord with what we see among men of the world or of science. Just as a Tyndall is greater than a savage, though still a man, so is the Mahatma, not ceasing to be human, still greater than a Tyndall. The Mahatma-Adept is a natural growth, and not produced by any miracle; the process by which he so becomes may be to us an unfamiliar one, but it is in the strict order of nature.
Some years ago a well-known Anglo-Indian, writing to the Theosophical Adepts, queried if they had ever made any mark upon the web of history, doubting that they had. The reply was that he had no bar at which to arraign them, and that they had written many an important line upon the page of human life, not only as reigning in visible shape, but down to the very latest dates when, as for many a long century before, they did their work behind the scenes. To be more explicit, these wonderful men have swayed the destiny of nations and are shaping events today. Pillars of peace and makers of war such as Bismarck, or saviors of nations such as Washington, Lincoln and Grant, owe their elevation, their singular power, and their astonishing grasp upon the right men for their purposes, not to trained intellect or long preparation in the schools of their day, but to these very unseen Adepts, who crave no honors, seek no publicity and claim no acknowledgment. Each one of these great human leaders whom I have mentioned had in his obscure years what he called premonitions of future greatness, or connection with stirring events in his native land.
Lincoln always felt that in some way he was to be an instrument for some great work, and the stray utterances of Bismarck point to silent hours, never openly referred to, when he felt an impulse pushing him to whatever of good he may have done. A long array of instances could be brought forward to show that the Adepts have made “an ineffaceable mark upon diverse eras.” Even during the great uprising in India that threatened the English rule there, they saw long in advance the influence England and India would have in the affairs of the world through the very psychic and metaphysical changes of today, and often hastened to communicate, by their own occult and wonderful methods, the news of successes for English arms to districts and peoples in the interior who might have risen under the stimulus of imaginary reports of English disasters. At other times, vague fears were spread instantly over large masses of the Hindus, so that England at last remained master, even though many a patriotic native desired another result. But the Adepts do not work for the praise of men, for the ephemeral influence of a day, but for the future races and man’s best and highest good.
For an exhaustive disquisition upon Adepts, Mahatmas and Nirmanakayas, more than a volume would be needed. The development illustrated by them is so strange to modern minds and so extraordinary in these days of general mediocrity, that the average reader fails to grasp with ease the views advanced in a condensed article; and nearly everything one would say about Adepts — to say nothing of the Nirmanakayas — requiring full explanation of recondite laws and abtruse questions, is liable to be misunderstood, even if volumes should be written upon them. The development, conditions, powers, and function of these beings carry with them the whole scheme of evolution; for, as said by the mystics, the mahatma is the efflorescence of an age. The Adepts may be dimly understood today, the Nirmanakayas have as yet been only passingly mentioned, and the Mahatmas are misconceived by believers and deniers alike.
But one law governing them is easy to state and ought not to be difficult for the understanding. They do not, will not, and must not interfere with Karma; that is, however apparently deserving of help an individual may be, they will not extend it in the manner desired if his Karma does not permit it; and they would not step into the field of human thought for the purpose of bewildering humanity by an exercise of power which on all sides would be looked upon as miraculous. Some have said that if the Theosophical Adepts were to perform a few of their feats before the eyes of Europe, an immense following for them would at once arise; but such would not be the result. Instead of it there would be dogmatism and idolatry worse than have ever been, with a reaction of an injurious nature impossible to counteract.
Hypnotism — though by another name — has long been known to them. The hypnotic condition has often aided the schemes of priests and churches. To compel recognition of true doctrine is not the way of these sages, for compulsion is hypnotism. To feed a multitude with only five loaves would be easy for them; but as they never act upon sentiment but continually under the great cosmic laws, they do not advance with present material aid for the poor in their hands. But, by using their natural powers, they every day influence the world, not only among the rich and poor of Europe and America, but in every other land, so that what does come about in our lives is better than it would have been had they not had part therein.
The other class referred to — Nirmanakayas — constantly engage in this work deemed by them greater than earthly enterprises: the betterment of the soul of man, and any other good that they can accomplish through human agents. Around them the long-disputed question of Nirvana revolves, for all that they have not been distinctly considered in it. For, if Max Muller’s view of Nirvana, that it is annihilation, be correct, then a Nirmanakaya is an impossibility. Paradoxically speaking, they are in and out of that state at one and the same time. They are owners of Nirvana who refuse to accept it in order that they may help the suffering orphan, Humanity. They have followed the injunction of the Book of the Golden Precepts: “Step out from sunlight into shade, to make more room for others.”
A greater part is taken in the history of nations by the Nirmanakayas than anyone supposes. Some of them have under their care certain men in every nation who from their birth are destined to be great factors in the future. These they guide and guard until the appointed time. And such proteges but seldom know that such influence is about them, especially in the nineteenth century. Acknowledgment and appreciation of such great assistance are not required by the Nirmanakayas, who work behind the veil and prepare the material for a definite end. At the same time, too, one Nirmanakaya may have many different men — or women — whom he directs. As Patanjali puts it, “In all these bodies one mind is the moving cause.”
Strange, too, as it may seem, often such men as Napoleon Buonaparte are from time to time helped by them. Such a being as Napoleon could not come upon the scene fortuitously. His birth and strange powers must be in the order of nature. The far-reaching consequences going with a nature like his, unmeasurable by us, must in the eastern Theosophical philosophy be watched and provided for. If he was a wicked man, so much the worse for him; but that could never deter a Nirmanakaya from turning him to his uses. That might be by swerving him, perchance, from a path that would have plunged the world into depths of woe and been made to bring about results in after years which Napoleon never dreamed of. The fear of what the world might think of encouraging a monster at a certain point never can deter a sage who sees the end that is best. And in the life of Napoleon there are many things going to show at times an influence more powerful than he could grapple. His foolhardy march to Moscow was perhaps engineered by these silent campaigners, and also his sudden and disastrous retreat. What he could have done had he remained in France, no present historian is competent to say. The oft-doubted story of the red letter from the Red Man just when Napoleon was in a hesitating mood, may have been an encouragement at a particular juncture. “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” Nor will the defeat at Waterloo be ever understood until the Nirmanakayas give their records up.
As a change in the thought of a people who have been tending to gross atheism is one always desired by the Sages of the Wisdom Religion, it may be supposed that the wave of spiritualistic phenomena resulting now quite clearly in a tendency back to a universal acknowledgment of the soul, has been aided by the Nirmanakayas. They are in it and of it; they push on the progress of a psychic deluge over great masses of people. The result is seen in the literature, the religion and the drama of today. Slowly but surely the tide creeps up and covers the once dry shore of Materialism, and, though priests may howl, demanding “the suppression of Theosophy with a firm hand” and a venal press may try to help them, they have neither the power nor the knowledge to produce one backward ripple, for the Master hand is guided by omniscient intelligence propelled by a gigantic force, and — works behind the scene.
There have been so many secret societies during the Christian era, by whom claims were made to knowledge of nature’s secret laws, that a natural question arises: “In what do the Theosophic Eastern Sages differ from the many Rosicrucians and others so often heard of?” The old bookshelves of Germany are full of publications upon Rosicrucianism, or by pretended and genuine members of that order, and today it is not uncommon to find those who have temerity enough to dub themselves “Rosicrucians.”
The difference is that which exists between reality and illusion, between mere ritualism and the signs printed by nature upon all things and beings passing forever up the road to higher states of existence. The Rosicrucian and Masonic fraternities known to history rely upon outward signs and tokens to indicate the status in the order of their members, who, without such guarantees, are only uninitiated outsiders.
But the Sages we speak of, and their disciples, carry with them the indelible mark and speak the well-known words that show they are beings developed under laws, and not merely persons who, having undergone a childish ordeal, are possessed of a diploma. The Adepts may be called rugged oaks that have no disguise, while the undeveloped man dabbling in Masonic words and formulas is only a donkey wearing a lion’s skin.
There are many Adepts living in the world, all of whom know each other. They have means of communication unknown to modern civilization, by using which they can transmit to and receive from each other messages at any moment and from immense distances, without using any mechanical means. We might say that there is a Society of Adepts, provided that we never attach to the word “society” the meaning ordinarily conveyed by it. It is a society which has no place of meeting, which exacts no dues, which has no constitution or by-laws other than the eternal laws of nature; there are no police or spies attached to it and no complaints are made or received in it, for the reason that any offender is punished by the operation of law entirely beyond his control — his mastery over the law being lost upon his infringing it.
Under the protection and assistance and guidance of this Society of Adepts are the disciples of each one of its members. These disciples are divided into different degrees, corresponding to the various stages of development; the least developed disciples are assisted by those who are in advance of them, and the latter in a similar manner by others, until the grade of disciple is reached where direct intercourse with the Adepts is possible. At the same time, each Adept keeps a supervisory eye upon all his disciples. Through the agency of the disciples of Adepts many effects are brought about in human thought and affairs, for from the higher grades are often sent those who, without disclosing their connection with mysticism, influence individuals who are known to be main factors in events about to occur.
It is claimed that the Theosophical Society receives assistance in its growth and the spreading of its influence from the Adepts and their accepted disciples. The history of the Society would seem to prove this, for unless there were some hidden but powerful force operating for its advantage it would have long ago sunk into obscurity, destroyed by the storm of ridicule and abuse to which it has been subjected. Promises were made, in the early history of the Society, that assistance would at all times be rendered, and prophecies were hinted that it would be made the target for vilification and the object of opposition. Both prophecies have been fulfilled to the letter.
In just the same way as a polished diamond shows the work which gives it value and brilliancy, so the man who has gone through probation and teaching under the Adepts carries upon his person the ineffaceable marks. To the ordinary eye untrained in this department, no such indications are visible; but those who can see describe them as being quite prominent and wholly beyond the control of the bearer. For this reason that one who has progressed, say, three steps along the way, will have three marks, and it is useless to pretend that his rank is a step higher, for, if it were, then the fourth mark would be there, since it grows with the being’s development. Now, as these signatures cannot be imitated or forged, the whole inner fraternity has no need for concealment of signs. No one can commit a fraud upon or extract from them the secrets of higher degrees by having obtained signs and pass-words out of a book or in return for the payment of fees, and none can procure the conferring of any advancement until the whole nature of the man exactly corresponds to the desired point of development.
In two ways the difference between the Adept fraternity and worldly secret societies can be seen — in their treatment of nations and of their own direct special disciples. Nothing is forced or depends upon favor. Everything is arranged in accordance with the best interests of a nation, having in view the cyclic influences at any time prevailing, and never before the proper time. When they desire to destroy the chains forged by dogmatism, they do not make the error of suddenly appearing before the astonished eyes of the people; for they know well that such a course would only alter the dogmatic belief in one set of ideas to a senseless and equally dogmatic adherence to the Adepts as gods, or else create in the minds of many the surety that the devil was present.
The training of the disciple by the teachers of the school to which the Theosophical Adepts belong is peculiar to itself, and not in accord with prevailing modern educational ideas. In one respect it is a specialization of the pilgrimage to a sacred place so common in India, and the enshrined object of the journey is the soul itself, for with them the existence of soul is one of the first principles.
In the East the life of man is held to be a pilgrimage, not only from the cradle to the grave, but also through that vast period of time, embracing millions upon millions of years, stretching from the beginning to the end of a Manvantara, or period of evolution, and as he is held to be a spiritual being, the continuity of his existence is unbroken. Nations and civilizations rise, grow old, decline and disappear; but the being lives on, spectator of all the innumerable changes of environment. Starting from the great All, radiating like a spark from the central fire, he gathers experience in all ages, under all rulers, civilizations and customs, ever engaged in a pilgrimage to the shrine from which he came. He is now the ruler and now the slave; today at the pinnacle of wealth and power, tomorrow at the bottom of the ladder, perhaps in abject misery, but ever the same being. To symbolize this, the whole of India is dotted with sacred shrines, to which pilgrimages are made, and it is the wish of all men in that so-called benighted land to make such a journey at least once before death, for the religious duties of life are not fully performed without visiting such sacred places.
One great reason for this, given by those who understand the inner significance of it, is that the places of pilgrimage are centers of spiritual force from which radiate elevating influences not perceptible to the pig-sticking, wine-drinking traveller. It is asserted by many, indeed, that at most of the famous places of pilgrimage there is an Adept of the same order to which the Theosophical Adepts are said to belong, who is ready always to give some meed of spiritual insight and assistance to those of pure heart who may go there. He, of course, does not reveal himself to the knowledge of the people, because it is quite unnecessary, and might create the necessity for his going elsewhere. Superstitions have arisen from the doctrine of pilgrimages, but, as that is quite likely to come about in this age, it is no reason why places of pilgrimage should be abolished, since, if the spiritual centers were withdrawn, good men who are free from superstition would not receive the benefits they now may have. The Adepts founded these places in order to keep alive in the minds of the people the soul idea which modern Science and education would soon turn into agnosticism, were they to prevail unchecked.
But the disciple of the Adept knows that the place of pilgrimage symbolizes his own nature, shows him how he is to start on the scientific investigation of it and how to proceed, by what roads and in which direction. He is supposed to concentrate into a few lives the experience and practice which it takes ordinary men countless incarnations to acquire. His first steps, as well as his last, are on difficult, often dangerous places; the road, indeed, “winds up hill all the way,” and upon entering it he leaves behind the hope for reward so common in all undertakings. Nothing is gained by favor, but all depends upon his actual merit. As the end to be reached is self-dependence with perfect calmness and clearness, he is from the beginning made to stand alone, and this is for most of us a difficult thing which frequently brings on a kind of despair. Men like companionship, and cannot with ease contemplate the possibility of being left altogether to themselves. So, instead of being constantly in the company of a lodge of fellow-apprentices, as is the case in the usual worldly secret society, he is forced to see that, as he entered the world alone, he must learn to live there in the same way, leaving it as he came, solely in his own company. But this produces no selfishness, because, being accomplished by constant meditation upon the unseen, the knowledge is acquired that the loneliness felt is only in respect to the lower, personal, worldly self.
Another rule this disciple must follow is that no boasting may be indulged in on any occasion, and this gives us the formula that, given a man who speaks of his powers as an Adept or boasts of his progress on the spiritual planes, we can be always sure he is neither Adept nor disciple. There have been those in the Theosophical Society who gave out to the world that they were either Adepts in fact or very near it, and possessed of great powers. Under our formula it follows that they were mere boasters, with nothing behind their silly pretensions but vanity and a fair knowledge of the weaknesses as well as the gullibility of human nature; upon the latter they play for either their profit or pleasure. But, hiding themselves under an exterior which does not attract attention, there are many of the real disciples in the world. They are studying themselves and other human hearts. They have no diplomas, but there resides in them a consciousness of constant help and a clear knowledge of the true Lodge which meets in real secrecy and is never found mentioned in any directory. Their whole life is a persistent pursuit of the fast-moving soul which, although appearing to stand still, can distance the lightning; and their death is only another step forward to greater knowledge through better physical bodies in new lives.