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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Probation

The testing of individuals who aspire to become pupils of spiritual teachers. The concept is a universal one among the initiatory traditions. In the Old Testament, Job was so tested. In the New Testament, even Jesus was tested in the wilderness. After the Spirit of God descended upon him, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted: “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matt 4:1).

During the early years of the Theosophical Society (TS), when the Mahātmas KOOT HOOMI and MORYA openly communicated with many of the members of the Theosophical Society, it was known that certain members were put under probation in view of their desire to become chelas or pupils of the Masters. Most of them failed. Direct descriptions of their probation were given in the letters of the Mahātmas themselves. They also laid down some of the elements of probation in their letters:

  1. All persons who desire to come into the circle of the Adepts must undergo probation. “No one comes in contact with us, no one shows a desire to know more of us, but has to submit to being tested and put by us on probation” (The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, Letter No. 101).
  2. The real initiator of the probationary trials is the aspirant himself or herself. “It is not I who create them, but yourself — by your struggle for light and truth against the world’s dark influences” (No. 114).
  3. The purpose of probation is to draw out one’s inner nature and conquer it. “We allow our candidates to be tempted in a thousand various ways, so as to draw out the whole of their inner nature and allow it the chance of remaining conqueror either one way or the other” (Letter No. 92).
  4. In the case of ordinary individuals, the karmic burdens, sins and weakness are distributed generally throughout life, but in the case of the aspirant, they are concentrated during the period of probation. “It is gathered in and centered, so to say, within one period of the life of a chela — the period of probation. That which is generally accumulating to find its legitimate issue only in the next rebirth of an ordinary man, is quickened and fanned into existence in the chela” (No. 134).
  5. “Unshaken faith” is a fundamental quality of the aspirant. “. . . The first element of success in a candidate — unshaken faith, once that his conviction rests upon, and has taken root in knowledge, not simple belief in certain facts” (No. 92).
  6. The aspirant must guard against “Self personality, vanity and conceit” in one’s higher principles, for they are “enormously more dangerous than the same defects inherent only in the lower physical nature of man.” These qualities “are the breakers against which the cause of chelaship, in its probationary stage, is sure to be dashed to pieces unless the would-be disciple carries with him the white shield of perfect confidence and trust in those he would seek out through mount and vale to guide him safely toward the light of Knowledge” (No. 134).

Helena P. Blavatsky stresses the seriousness of probation in these words:

There is a strange law in Occultism which has been ascertained and proven by thousands of years of experience; nor has it failed to demonstrate itself, almost in every case, during the fifteen years that the T. S. has been in existence. As soon as anyone pledges himself as a “Probationer,” certain occult effects ensue. Of these the first is the throwing outward of everything latent in the nature of the man: his faults, habits, qualities, or subdued desires, whether good, bad, or in different.

For instance, if a man is vain or a sensualist, or ambitious, whether by Atavism or by Karmic heirloom, all those vices are sure to break out, even if he has hitherto successfully concealed and repressed them. They will come to the front irrepressibly, and he will have to fight a hundred times harder than before, until he kills all such tendencies in himself.

On the other hand, if he is good, generous, chaste, and abstemious, or has any virtue hitherto latent and concealed in him, it will work its way out as irrepressibly as the rest. Thus a civilized man who hates to be considered a saint, and therefore assumes a mask, will not be able to conceal his true nature, whether base or noble. (CW XII:515)

She considered this law as immutable.

V.H.C.

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