The Word Foundation
Share this page

When ma has passed through mahat, ma will still be ma; but ma will be united with mahat, and be a mahat-ma.

—The Zodiac.



Vol. 9 JULY 1909 No. 4

Copyright 1909 by H. W. PERCIVAL


THESE words have been in general use for many years. The first two come from the Latin, the last from the Sanscrit. Adept is a word which has been in popular use for many centuries and has been applied in many ways. It was, however, used in a particular way by the mediaeval alchemists, who in using the term, meant one who had attained to the knowledge of the alchemical art, and who was proficient in the practice of alchemy. In common use, the term was applied to anyone who was proficient in his art or profession. The word master has been in common use from early times. It is derived from the Latin magister, a ruler, and has been used as a title to indicate one who had authority over others by reason of employment or power, as the head of a family, or as a teacher. It was given a special place in the terminology of the alchemists and rosicrucians of mediaeval times as meaning one who had become master of his subject, and who was capable of directing and instructing others. The term mahatma is a Sanscrit word, the common meaning being great soul, from maha, great, and atma, soul, dating back many thousands of years. It has not, however, been incorporated into the English language until recent times, but may now be found in lexicons.

The term mahatma is now applied in its native country as well to anyone who is considered great in soul as to Indian fakirs and yogis. In the occident, the word is usually applied to those who are considered to have attained the highest degree of adeptship. So these terms have been in common use for hundreds and for thousands of years. A special meaning has been given to them within the last thirty-five years.

Since the founding of the Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York by Madam Blavatsky, these terms, through the use by her, have assumed somewhat different and more pointed meaning than before. Madam Blavatsky said that she had been instructed by adepts, masters or mahatmas to form a society for the purpose of making known to the world certain teachings concerning God, Nature and Man, which teachings the world had forgotten or was not aware of. Madam Blavatsky stated that the adepts, masters and mahatmas of whom she spoke were men possessed of the highest wisdom, who had a knowledge of the laws of life and death, and of the phenomena of nature, and who were able to control the forces of nature and produce phenomena according to natural law as they desired. She said that these adepts, masters and mahatmas from whom she received her knowledge were located in the East, but that they existed in all parts of the world, though unknown to mankind in general. Further it was said by Madam Blavatsky that all adepts, masters and mahatmas were or had been men, who through long ages and by continuous effort had succeeded in mastering, dominating and controlling their lower nature and who were able and did act according to the knowledge and wisdom to which they had attained. In the Theosophical Glossary, written by Madam Blavatsky, we find the following:

“Adept. (Lat.) Adeptus, ‘He who has attained.’ In Occultism one who has reached the stage of Initiation, and become a Master in the science of Esoteric philosophy.”

“Mahâtma. Lit., ‘great soul.’ An adept of the highest order. Exalted beings who, having attained to the mastery over their lower principles are thus living unimpeded by the ‘man of flesh,’ and are in possession of knowledge and power commensurate with the stage they have reached in their spiritual evolution.”

In the volumes of “The Theosophist” and of “Lucifer” prior to 1892, Madam Blavatsky has written a great deal concerning adepts, masters and mahatmas. Since then a considerable literature has been developed through the Theosophical Society and in which many uses have been made of these terms. But Blavatsky is the authority and witness before the world as to the existence of the beings of whom she spoke as adepts, masters and mahatmas. These terms have been used by theosophists and others in a different sense than the meaning given them by Blavatsky. Of this we will speak later. All those, however, who came in contact with and accepted the doctrines given by her and who then spoke and later wrote concerning adepts, masters and mahatmas confessedly obtained their knowledge of them from her. Madam Blavatsky by her teachings and writings has given evidence of some source of knowledge from which came the teachings known as theosophical.

While Madam Blavatsky and those who understood her teaching have written about adepts, masters and mahatmas, there has been not much definite nor direct information given as to the particular meaning of each as distinguished from the other of these terms, nor about the position and stages which these beings fill in evolution. Owing to the use made of the terms by Madam Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, these terms have then been adopted by others who, with many theosophists, use the terms as synonymous and in a confused and indiscriminate manner. So there is an ever-increasing need of information as to whom and what the terms mean, for what, where, when, and how, the beings whom they represent exist.

If there are such beings as adepts, masters and mahatmas, then they must occupy a definite place and stage in evolution, and this place and stage must be found in every system or plan which deals truly with God, Nature and Man. There is a system which is furnished by nature, the plan of which is in man. This system or plan is known as the zodiac. The zodiac of which we speak, however, are not the constellations in the heavens known by this term, though these twelve constellations symbolize our zodiac. Neither do we speak of the zodiac in the sense in which it is used by modern astrologers. The system of the zodiac of which we speak has been outlined in many editorials which have appeared in The Word.

It will be found by consulting these articles that the zodiac is symbolized by a circle, which in turn stands for a sphere. The circle is divided by a horizontal line; the upper half is said to represent the unmanifested and the lower half the manifested universe. The seven signs from cancer (♋︎) to capricorn (♑︎) below the horizontal line relate to the manifested universe. The signs above the middle horizontal line are symbols of the unmanifested universe.

The manifested universe of seven signs is divided into four worlds or spheres which, beginning with the lowest, are the physical, the astral or psychic, the mental and the spiritual spheres or worlds. These worlds are considered from an involutionary and evolutionary standpoint. The first world or sphere called into existence is the spiritual, which is on the line or plane, cancer—capricorn (♋︎♑︎) and in its involutionary aspect is the breath world, cancer (♋︎). The next is the life world, leo (♌︎); the next is the form world, virgo (♍︎ ); and the lowest is the physical sex world, libra (♎︎ ). This is the plan of involution. The complement to and completion of these worlds is seen in their evolutionary aspects. The signs which correspond to and complete those mentioned are scorpio (♏︎), sagittary (♐︎), and capricorn (♑︎). Scorpio (♏︎), desire, is the attainment reached in the form world, (♍︎♏︎); thought (♐︎), is the control of the life world (♌︎♐︎); and individuality, capricorn (♑︎), is the completion and perfection of the breath, the spiritual world (♋︎♑︎). The spiritual, mental and astral worlds are equilibrated and balanced in and through the physical world, libra (♎︎ ).

Each world has its own beings who are conscious of their being in the particular world to which they belong and in which they live. In involution, the beings of the breath world, those of the life world, those in the form world, and those in the physical world were each conscious of its particular world, but each class or kind in its world was not or is not conscious of those in either of the other worlds. As for instance, the strictly physical man is not conscious of the astral forms which are within him and which surround him, nor of the sphere of life in which he lives and which pulses through him, nor of the spiritual breaths which endow him with his distinctive being and in and by which perfectibility is possible for him. All of these worlds and principles are within and around physical man, as they are within and around the physical world. The purpose of evolution is that all these worlds and their intelligent principles should be equilibrated by and act intelligently through the physical body of man, so that man within his physical body should be conscious of all the manifested worlds and be able to act intelligently in any or all of the worlds while still in his physical body. To do this steadily and continuously, man must make for himself a body for each of the worlds; each body must be of the material of the world in which he is to act intelligently. In the present stage of evolution, man has within him the principles which have been named; that is to say, he is a spiritual breath through a pulsing life in a definite form within his physical body acting in the physical world. But he is conscious of his physical body only, and of the physical world only because he has built no permanent body or form for himself. He is conscious of the physical world and his physical body now because he is functioning in the physical body here and now. He is conscious of his physical body so long as it lasts and no longer; and inasmuch as the physical world and the physical body are only a world and a body of equilibrium and balance, he is therefore unable to build a physical body to last through the change of time. He continues to build physical bodies one after the other through numerous lives in which he lives for a short span, and at the death of each he withdraws into the state of sleep or rest in the form world or in the world of thought without having equilibrated his principles and found himself. He comes again into the physical and will so continue to come life after life until he shall establish for himself a body or bodies other than physical, in which he may live consciously in or out of the physical.

♈︎ ♉︎ ♊︎ ♋︎ ♌︎ ♍︎ ♏︎ ♐︎ ♑︎ ♒︎ ♓︎ ♈︎ ♉︎ ♊︎ ♋︎ ♌︎ ♍︎ ♎︎ ♏︎ ♐︎ ♑︎ ♒︎ ♓︎ ♎︎
Figure 30

Mankind now lives in physical bodies and is conscious of the physical world only. In future mankind will still live in physical bodies, but men will grow out of the physical world and be conscious of each of the other worlds as they build a body or garment or vesture with or through which they may act in those worlds.

The terms adept, master and mahatma represent the stages or degrees of each of the other three worlds. These stages are marked according to the degree by the signs or symbols of the universal plan of the zodiac.

An adept is one who has learned to make use of the inner senses analogous to that of the physical senses and who can act in and through the inner senses in the world of forms and desires. The difference is that whereas man acts through his senses in the physical world and perceives through his senses things which are tangible to the physical senses, the adept uses senses of sight, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching in the world of forms and desires, and that whereas the forms and desires could not be seen nor sensed by the physical body, he is now able by the cultivation and development of the inner senses, to perceive and deal with the desires acting through form which desires impelled the physical to action. The adept as such acts in a body of form similar to the physical, but the form is known to be what it is according to the nature and degree of its desire and is known to all who can act intelligently on the astral planes. That is to say, as any intelligent man may tell the race and rank and degree of culture of any other physical man, so any adept may know the nature and degree of any other adept which he may meet in the form–desire world. But whereas one living in the physical world may deceive another man in the physical world, as to his race and position, no one in the form–desire world can deceive an adept as to his nature and degree. In physical life the physical body is held intact in form by the form which gives the matter shape, and this physical matter in form is impelled to action by desire. In physical man the form is distinct and defined, but the desire is not. The adept is one who has built a body of desire, which body of desire may either act through his astral form or by itself as a body of desire, to which he has given form. The ordinary man of the physical world has plenty of desire, but this desire is a blind force. The adept has moulded the blind force of desire into form, which is no longer blind, but has senses corresponding to those of the form body, which act through the physical body. An adept, therefore, is one who has attained to the use and function of his desires in a form body apart from or independent of the physical body. The sphere or world in which the adept as such functions is the astral or psychic world of form, on the plane of virgo–scorpio (♍︎♏︎), form–desire, but he acts from the point of scorpio (♏︎) desire. An adept has attained to the full action of desire. The adept as such is a body of desire acting in a form apart from the physical. The characteristics of an adept are that he deals with phenomena, such as the producing of forms, the changing of forms, the summoning of forms, the compelling to action of forms, all of which is controlled by the power of desire, as he acts from desire on forms and things of the sense world.

A master is one who has related and balanced the sex nature of the physical body, who has overcome his desires and the matter of the form world, and who controls and directs the matter of the life world on the plane of leo–sagittary (♌︎♐︎) from his position and by the power of thought, sagittary (♐︎). An adept is one who, by the power of desire, has attained to free action in the form–desire world, separate and apart from the physical body. A master is one who has mastered the physical appetites, the force of desire, who has control of the currents of life, and who has done this by the power of thought from his position in the mental world of thought. He is a master of life and has evolved a body of thought and may live in this thought body clear and free from his desire body and physical body, though he may live in or act through either or both. The physical man deals with objects, the adept deals with desires, a master deals with thought. Each acts from his own world. The physical man has senses which attract him to the objects of the world, the adept has transferred his plane of action but still has the senses corresponding to those of the physical; but a master has overcome and risen above both to the ideals of life from which the senses and desires and their objects in the physical are mere reflections. As objects are in the physical and desires are in the form world, so thoughts are in the life world. Ideals are in the mental thought world what desires are in the form world and objects in the physical world. As an adept sees desires and forms invisible to the physical man, so a master sees and deals with thoughts and ideals which are not perceived by the adept, but which may be apprehended by the adept similarly to the manner in which the physical man senses desire and form which is not physical. As desire is not distinctive in form in the physical man, but is so in the adept, so in the adept thought is not distinct, but thought is a distinctive body of a master. As an adept has full command and action of desire apart from the physical which the physical man has not, so a master has the full and free action and power of thought in a body of thought which the adept has not. The characteristic features of a master are that he deals with life and the ideals of life. He directs and controls the currents of life according to ideals. He so acts with life as a master of life, in a thought body and by the power of thought.

A mahatma is one who has overcome, grown out of, lived through and risen above the sex world of physical man, the form–desire world of the adept, the life–thought world of the master and is acting freely in the spiritual breath world as a fully conscious and immortal individual, having the right to be entirely freed and apart from or be connected with or act through the thought body, the desire body and the physical body. A mahatma is the perfection and completion of evolution. Breath was the beginning of the involution of the manifested worlds for the education and perfection of mind. Individuality is the end of the evolution and perfection of mind. A mahatma is such full and complete development of individuality or mind, which marks the end and accomplishment of evolution.

A mahatma is an individualized mind free from the necessity of further contact with any of the worlds lower than the spiritual breath world. A mahatma deals with breath according to the law by which all things are breathed into manifestation from the unmanifested universe, and by which all things manifested are breathed again into the unmanifested. A mahatma deals with ideas, the eternal verities, the realities of ideals, and according to which the sensuous worlds appear and disappear. As objects and sex in the physical world, and the senses in the desire world, and ideals in the thought world, cause action by the beings in those worlds, so are ideas the eternal laws according to which and by which mahatmas act in the spiritual breath world.

An adept is not free from reincarnation because he has not overcome desire and is not freed from virgo and scorpio. A master has overcome desire, but may not be freed from the necessity to reincarnate because whereas he has mastered his body and desires he may not have worked out all of the karma connected with his past thoughts and actions, and where it is not possible for him to work out in his present physical body all of the karma which he has engendered in the past, it will be incumbent on him to reincarnate in as many bodies and conditions as will be necessary that he may fully and completely work out his karma according to the law. A mahatma differs from the adept and the master in that the adept must still reincarnate because he is still making karma, and a master must reincarnate because, although he is no longer making karma he is working out that which he has already made, but the mahatma, having ceased to make karma and having worked out all karma, is entirely freed from any necessity to reincarnate. The meaning of the word mahatma makes this clear. Ma indicates manas, the mind. Ma is the individual ego or mind, while mahat is the universal principle of mind. Ma, the individual mind, acts within mahat, the universal principle. This universal principle includes all the manifested universe and its worlds. Ma is the principle of mind which is individual as distinct from, though it is within the universal mahat; but ma must become a complete individuality, which it is not in the beginning. In the beginning the ma, a mind, acts from the spiritual world of breath at the sign cancer (♋︎), breath, and there remains until by involution and the development of other principles the lowest point of the involution is reached at libra (♎︎ ), the physical world of sex, from which point the other principles necessary to the development and perfection of mind are to be evolved. The ma or mind acts within the mahat or universal mind through all its phases of involution and by evolution until it emerges and rises plane by plane, world by world, to the plane on the rising arc corresponding to the plane from which it started on the descending arc. It began its descent at cancer (♋︎); the lowest point reached was libra (♎︎ ); from there it began its ascent and rises to capricorn (♑︎), which is the end of its journey and is the same plane from which it descended. It was ma, the mind, in the beginning of involution at cancer (♋︎); it is ma, the mind, at the end of evolution at capricorn (♑︎). But the ma has passed through mahat, and is a mahat-ma. That is to say, the mind has passed through all phases and degrees of the universal mind, mahat, and having united with it and at the same time completed its full individuality is, therefore, a mahatma.

(To be continued)