What is Initiation?
"Initiation is the process of undergoing an expansion toward higher levels of consciousness. "
Alice A. Bailey
The journey to enlightenment is one governed by initiation. This is a fact often overlooked by those who yearn for spiritual growth. In the Esoteric Tradition, the study of spiritual initiation is a cornerstone of inquiry. To understand it is to grasp the requirements for walking the Path with greater comprehension and assurance. Often people hold the view that enlightenment is a state of consciousness suggesting spiritual perfection, and freedom from further incarnational life. From one perspective this is true. Enlightenment can be viewed as a final consummation. Unfortunately, when strictly holding to this definition, there is the tendency to forget that spiritual evolution is gradual. As such, it is valid to view enlightenment as an incremental process as well.
Over countless lives, the soul is progressively learning how to express itself in the outer world. Each incarnation sees the soul gain a measure of added effectiveness in this regard. And, with each step forward, the soul is able to radiate more of its inherent light into the outer world. Herein is given another understanding of enlightenment. For when consciousness expands, so too does the individual’s capacity to radiate the soul’s light. The soul’s radiation “enlightens”, or brings light to life. It is therefore true to say that enlightenment is incremental as well as terminal. In this article we will examine the nature of spiritual initiation as a function of enlightenment. Discussion will be offered regarding each of the ten initiations, their challenges and implications. Though this presentation is an overview only, it will nonetheless provide the reader with a deeper appreciation of the spiritual path, and the milestones of achievement that point the way.
To understand initiation, we must first consider the nature of the soul’s incarnational predicament. When incarnate, it is enwrapped in three layers of substance loosely referred to as the mental body, emotional body and physical body. These bodies are really vehicles that the soul seeks to utilize in order to interact with the outer world. In their sumtotal, they represent the personality (lower self). Yet, for most of the soul’s long incarnational history, the personality has had the upper hand in defining one’s behavior. All spiritually inclined people know this oh too well.
Though we sense the soul within, the demands of the lower self will often take precedence over its agenda. The reason for this is that the three vehicles of the personality have not yet been mastered by the soul. From one perspective it can be said that the soul’s evolution is based upon its gradual ability to master these vehicles. Eventually the soul will demonstrate its control over the unbridled appetites of the physical body. This then is followed by its demonstration of authority over the ungoverned passions of the emotional nature. Finally, the soul must eventually gain the upper hand over the independent tendencies of the mind itself. These three steps represent the major milestones of development for the soul, and are the markers related to the first three initiations. They are the transitions most relevant to disciples today, particularly the first initiation and second initiation.
When speaking of initiation, the reader would do well to avoid thinking of it as a physical event. Initiation is not something experienced by the outer personality. Rather, it is the soul, on its own level, that is initiated. Each initiation indicates that the soul has gained dominion over some aspect of the lower nature. The process of gaining such mastery is really the basis for all spiritual disciplines. Inherent within our lower nature is found a variety of distortions and impurities. This is true whether considering the mental, emotional or physical bodies.
Such contamination is due to the misuse of these vehicles over countless incarnations. Yet, when one is spiritually disciplining his/her life, purification of the personality is the gradual byproduct of this effort. Slowly the soul inspires the personality to work toward cleansing itself. Only when these instruments are stainless will the soul have full mastery over the personality. And, it is the spiritual disciplines implemented in one’s life that make it possible for progress toward this end. Even so, the process of mastery is exceedingly slow, requiring many incarnations of effort. This is an important idea to keep in mind. There are many who claim that most (if not all) of the initiations can be taken in a single life. Though emotionally appealing, this notion is extremely misleading. Each of the initiations represents a major achievement in the long history of the soul’s journey through many incarnations. When an individual goes through an initiation, such an event is rare indeed. It has been said that there are no spiritual shortcuts in cosmos. This idea is very true, for soul evolution requires much inner labor, and many incarnations for full mastery to be achieved.
Initiation is a concept in Theosophy that there are nine levels of spiritual development that beings who live on Earth can progress upward through. Within these levels, there are four basic levels of spiritual development that human beings on Earth progress through as they reincarnate, although evil acts may cause bad karma which may cause one to temporarily regress. It is believed that when souls have advanced to the fourth level of initiation, they have reached enlightenment and have no further need to reincarnate. At the fifth level of initiation and beyond, souls have the opportunity to become members of the Spiritual Hierarchy. This concept was developed by both C.W. Leadbeater and Alice A. Bailey beginning in the 1920s.
Initiation is a process by which we try to develop ourselves not that we may become great and wise, but that we may have the power and knowledge to work for humanity to the best effect.
It is believed by Theosophists that all souls that have reached the fourth level of initiation evolved beyond the necessity to reincarnate. Those who do not elect become pratyeka buddhas and go directly into Nirvana gradually evolving upward through all of these six higher levels of consciousness over thousands or millions of years, and later over billions or trillions of years, with many other higher levels beyond.
The concept of Initiation is also recognized in the Ascended Master Teachings, a group of spritual beings, such as Ashtar Sheran, He is a beautiful being full of Love, Good, Wisdom, Harmony and Joy.
The first six initiations were named by C.W. Leadbeater and Alice A. Bailey after the six most important events in the life of Jesus.
Below is a brief discussion of each of the ten initiations.
The vast majority of ordinary humanity lies on the probationary path (below the first initiation).
According to Alice A. Bailey, at the first initiation one gains full control of the physical body. According to Benjamin Creme, there are 800,000 people at this level of initiation.
Alice A. Bailey states that at the second initiation, one gains full control of the astral body.According to Benjamin Creme, there are 240,000 people at this level of initiation.
- third initiation has acquired fully developed clairvoyance and clairaudience. According to Benjamin Creme, there are somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people at this level of initiation.
An individual reaching the fourth initiation is known as the perfected one, or an Arhat (Pali) or a Paramahamsa (Sanskrit). Symbolically the fourth initiation is denoted as the crucifixion initiation. An Arhat is supposed to be one who does not need to be incarnated again to develop spiritually. According to Benjamin Creme, there are 450 people at this level of initiation.
fifth initiation, called the resurrection, comprises the first rung of beings designated in Theosophy as Masters of the Ancient Wisdom and in the Ascended Master Teachings as Ascended masters.
According to C. W. Leadbeater, Alice Bailey and Benjamin Creme, there are a total of 43 beings at this level of initiation; this figure is arrived at because all three have stated there are a total of 60 Masters in all—subtracting from the 60 the 17 Masters at level six and above identified by C. W. Leadbeater, leaves a total of 43 Masters of the Ancient Wisdom at the fifth level of initiation.
Of these 43 Masters, a total of 12 have been identified by name, one by C. W. Leadbeater, nine by Alice Bailey, and two by Benjamin Creme.
Benjamin Creme identified two previously unidentified Masters at this level in 2001—he stated that there is a Master in Moscow and a Master in Tokyo, but did not give their personal names.
Forty-three minus 12 equals 31 Masters of the Ancient Wisdom at this level that are still unidentified by name.
The sixth initiation, called the ascension or masterhood and the Chohans (Lords) of the Seven Rays are at this level of initiation .
The seventh initiation is known as the initiation of the Bodhisattva (Buddhism) or the Avatar (Hinduism). The Maitreya or World Teacher is at this level of initiation.
The eighth initiation is known as the Buddha.
The ninth initiation is known as the Lord of the World.
The tenth initiation is considered to symbolize perfection and is used to describe the Planetary Logos, also called the Spirit of the Earth, and specifically denoted as the Planetary Logos of Earth.
In the theosophical teachings of Alice Bailey, there is a powerful being living inside the sun serving the Solar Logos called the Avatar of Synthesis. This being is several levels of initiations beyond the tenth level.
- Initiation - The Perfecting of Man by Annie Besant
- The Masters and the Path, Part III. The Great Initiations by C. W. Leadbeater