This article is an excerpt from the much lengthier article
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Who are these Masters we have been referring to so often? An accurate understanding in this regard seems crucial to an accurate understanding of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement.
“Our MASTERS … are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually and spiritually,” says H.P. Blavatsky in one of her articles. “However holy and advanced in the science of the Mysteries – they are still men, members of a Brotherhood, who are the first in it to show themselves subservient to its time-honoured laws and rules.” 
In the chapter titled “The Theosophical Mahatmas” in “The Key to Theosophy,” she advises the enquirer:
“If you listen to what people say, you will never have a true conception of them. In the first place they are living men, born as we are born, and doomed to die like every other mortal. … Some Adepts do exceed, by a good deal, what you would call the ordinary age; yet there is nothing miraculous in it, and very few of them care to live very long. … We call them “Masters” because they are our teachers; and because from them we have derived all the Theosophical truths, however inadequately some of us may have expressed, and others understood, them. They are men of great learning, whom we term Initiates, and still greater holiness of life. They are not ascetics in the ordinary sense, though they certainly remain apart from the turmoil and strife of your western world. … the philosophy preached by the “Masters” is one of the grandest and most beneficent philosophies once it is properly understood. … Great are the desecrations to which the names of two of the Masters [i.e. Morya and Koot Hoomi] have been subjected. There is hardly a medium who has not claimed to have seen them. Every bogus swindling Society, for commercial purposes, now claims to be guided and directed by “Masters,” often supposed to be far higher than ours! Many and heavy are the sins of those who advanced these claims, prompted either by desire for lucre, vanity, or irresponsible mediumship. Many persons have been plundered of their money by such societies, which offer to sell the secrets of power, knowledge, and spiritual truth for worthless gold. Worst of all, the sacred names of Occultism and the holy keepers thereof have been dragged in this filthy mire, polluted by being associated with sordid motives and immoral practices, while thousands of men have been held back from the path of truth and light through the discredit and evil report which such shams, swindles, and frauds have brought upon the whole subject. I say again, every earnest Theosophist regrets to-day, from the bottom of his heart, that these sacred names and things have ever been mentioned before the public, and fervently wishes that they had been kept secret within a small circle of trusted and devoted friends.” 
The names applied in Theosophy to the Masters are understood to be mystic names rather than their actual birth names or family names. “The personage known to the public under the pseudonym of “Koot Hoomi,” is called by a totally different name among his acquaintance. … The real names of Master Adepts and Occult Schools are never, under any circumstances, revealed to the profane; and the names of the personages who have been talked about in connection with modern Theosophy, are in the possession only of the two chief founders of the Theosophical Society.”  Next to nothing in the way of personal details or information is divulged about them by HPB, nor is there any clear reason why it should be. It is said to be a very difficult thing to come in direct contact with the Masters and that they have little interest in initiating communication with even the vast majority of Theosophists. For one thing, it is not necessary.
They have made it abundantly clear in their own words that no Theosophist has any right to special contact or communications unless they have earned the right through persistent unselfish work for the great Theosophical Cause, which is their Cause of Universal Brotherhood, and which far transcends any particular theosophical society or organisation. There is an old saying that “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.” But even then, one still shouldn’t count on it or expect it but should simply do what has to be done to alleviate the suffering, on all levels, of one’s fellow beings.
Much misunderstanding seems to exist in regard to the nature, aims, and character of the Masters. They were first referred to amongst Theosophists as “The Brothers” and later came also to be known as the Masters, Masters of Wisdom, Adepts, and Mahatmas. The latter is an ancient Sanskrit term which literally means “Great Soul.”
They are misunderstood by many people today due largely to their misrepresentation by later Theosophists after the time of HPB and by those persons within the New Age Movement who purport to be in contact with the same Masters and who call them “Ascended Masters” and portray them as some sort of disembodied angelic or god-like beings living in other realms and liberally dispensing sentimental commonplaces and inane quasi-Christian ideas, replete with all the latest New Age jargon and buzzwords, whilst flatly denying and contradicting all the teachings given out through HPB and in their own Letters. If these so-called “Ascended Masters” have any existence at all outside of the imagination and hallucinations of their self-proclaimed channellers and worshippers, it is safe to say that they are most certainly not the same individuals as the Masters connected with HPB and the Theosophical Movement.
The Masters of Theosophy are said to be living in physical bodies right here on Earth, for this is where they are needed and they have certain important work to do on the physical plane. They tend to dwell in purposeful seclusion and isolation from the impure and truly toxic psychic atmosphere and magnetism of the modern world.
The Masters most often spoken of are the Master Morya and the Master Koot Hoomi, belonging to a hidden Esoteric Brotherhood with its main base in the Trans-Himalayan region, the Chief of whom being referred to as the Maha Chohan, the Master of the Masters. It is often called the “Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood” but this is only a geographical designation rather than the actual name of the Brotherhood, which is the most important of numerous such Brotherhoods of Adepts around the world which are linked together, forming one Great Brotherhood of Initiates.
HPB spoke plainly about the Masters in a letter to Franz Hartmann of April 1886:
“As to … that portion of your letter where you speak of the “army” of the deluded – and the “imaginary” Mahatmas of Olcott – you are absolutely and sadly right. Have I not seen the thing for nearly eight years? Have I not struggled and fought against Olcott’s ardent and gushing imagination, and tried to stop him every day of my life? Was he not told by me … that if he did not see the Masters in their true light, and did not cease speaking and enflaming people’s imaginations, that he would be held responsible for all the evil the Society might come to? …
“Ah, if by some psychological process you could be made to see the whole truth! … I was sent to America on purpose and sent to the Eddys. There I found Olcott in love with spirits, as he became in love with the Masters later on. I was ordered to let him know that spiritual phenomena without the philosophy of Occultism were dangerous and misleading. I proved to him that all that mediums could do through spirits others could do at will without any spirits at all. … Well, I told him the whole truth. I said to him that I had known Adepts, … That, whether they were called Rosicrucians, Kabalists, or Yogis, Adepts were everywhere. Adepts – silent, secret, retiring, and who would never divulge themselves entirely to anyone, unless one did as I did – passed seven and ten years’ probation and given proofs of absolute devotion, and that he, or she, would keep silent even before a prospect and a threat of death. I fulfilled the requirements and am what I am; and this no Hodgson, no Coulombs, … can take away from me. …
“When we arrived [i.e. in India], and Master coming to Bombay bodily, paid a visit to us … Olcott became crazy. He was like Balaam’s she-ass when she saw the angel! Then came … other fanatics, who began calling them “Mahatmas”; and, little by little, the Adepts were transformed into Gods on earth. They began to be appealed to, and made puja to, and were becoming with every day more legendary and miraculous. … Well, between this idea of the Mahatmas and Olcott’s rhapsodies, what could I do? I saw with terror and anger the false track they were all pursuing. The “Masters,” as all thought, must be omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. … The Masters knew all; why did they not help the devotee? If a mistake or a flapdoodle was committed in the Society – “How could the Masters allow you or Olcott to do so?” we were asked in amazement. The idea that the Masters were mortal men, limited even in their great powers, never crossed anyone’s mind.” 
It is fairly well known today that there are a few Yogis and ascetics in India who have puzzled and confounded scientists by their possession of unusual faculties of perception and abilities to control certain forces of Nature. Some of these cases have been reported worldwide in the news. Is it too unreasonable then to suppose that there may be Yogis, both of Indian and other nationalities, who possess and can demonstrate even more advanced powers and knowledge than this? Such are the Masters spoken of in Theosophy, whose non-existence would imply a break in the chain of evolution, an illogical gap in the natural order of things. But “if they were to come out openly and be heard of everywhere, they would be worshipped as gods by some and hunted as devils by others,”  neither of these probable outcomes being desirable for them.
It is through “self-induced and self-devised efforts” over the course of many lifetimes that these souls have become Great Souls. They could never have become Masters of esoteric wisdom and knowledge had they not first mastered themselves, by entirely subjugating and renouncing their personal and passional nature, in order to live solely to be of the utmost possible help and service to humanity.
Through perfection in altruism and purity running parallel with perfection in knowledge, they have pushed themselves ahead – albeit with many struggles and difficulties along the way, as is to be expected – of the average evolutionary rate of the human race and now stand as representative of what the rest of mankind will be like only thousands of years from now. The motive in doing so is always one of the greatest love and compassion for others.
Some of them have already reached to the point of being able to enter into Nirvana, if they so wish, meaning literal reabsorption of their soul after death into the Absolute, the One Infinite Divine Essence, resulting in eternal bliss and separation forever from all manifested existence, from all the sufferings and sorrows of this Earth. But as this would mean the loss of all possibility to help in any way what they call “the great orphan Humanity,” they have chosen to renounce Nirvana for the sake of their fellow men. This is known in Mahayana Buddhism as the Bodhisattva ideal and is unfailingly recommended in Theosophy as the right aim and motive for any spiritual aspirant to adopt, anything else being selfishness.
Abilities and powers of these Masters are such as involve in an advanced way the faculties of clairvoyance, clairaudience, psychic perception, telepathy, the ability to bring about unusual phenomena such as producing sounds, sights, and materialisation of objects without there being any discernible physical cause, and an extensive usage and application of the astral body, including perfection in such sciences as those now popularly referred to as astral travel and astral projection.
HPB herself exhibited similar powers, abilities, and knowledge on numerous occasions throughout her life, prompting some, especially amongst her closest colleagues who had been witness to her daily life and activities for some years, to privately conclude that she was inwardly a Master in her own right.
Around thirty different people in various different parts of the world reported and described having seen or met some of these Masters during HPB’s lifetime. In a few of these instances the Master or Masters were present in their physical body but for the majority they were in their astral body and appearing at a distance from wherever they may have been physically at that moment in time. Even some of the enemies of the Theosophical Movement admitted the existence of the Masters, especially as some of their visitations had occurred in front of whole groups of people, who had afterwards all testified in writing, under their own signatures and on their word of honour, to having witnessed the same thing. Sometimes the Masters were seen near HPB or in her presence and other times in entirely different countries or continents from where she was.
In early 1879, HPB and Colonel Olcott arrived in India, having relocated the headquarters of the Theosophical Society there from New York. William Judge and a few others remained behind in the USA to carry on the work there, although public interest was very minimal in those early years.
From 1880 to 1884, the Masters K.H. and M. maintained a written correspondence with A.P. Sinnett, a prominent upper class Englishman then living in India who had joined the Society and expressed the wish to help present and promulgate the Masters’ teachings. Their hundreds of letters to him were donated after his death to the oriental department of the British Museum in London and are now housed in the British Library, where anyone can see them by prior appointment. These letters, also published after his death in the book “The Mahatma Letters,” provided the basis and inspiration for Sinnett’s own books “The Occult World” and “Esoteric Buddhism,” which had the effect of drawing worldwide interest to Theosophy and the Movement.
The very idea of the existence of such Masters was considered fantastical and ridiculous by many people of the time, just as it is today. When it was discovered that numerous people were claiming to have received letters and written communications from these Masters, the conclusion of the sceptically inclined was that HPB herself must have been engaged in forging hundreds of letters to people around the world to trick them into thinking they were in correspondence with those Beings.
HPB consented to allow the suspiciously minded SPR, or Society for Psychical Research, to investigate into the matter for themselves, by analysing all the evidence available and interviewing anyone willing who claimed to have either seen, met, or received letters from the Masters. Richard Hodgson’s report, published by the SPR in 1885, accused HPB of forgery and fraud, despite furnishing no actual proof or evidence of this.
Anyone interested in this matter may like to read Prof. Vernon Harrison’s 1986 and 1997 report and critique on such accusations. Harrison, a trained expert in forgery and counterfeit himself, showed that the Hodgson Report was by no means “the model of impartial investigation so often claimed for it over the past century. It is flawed and untrustworthy; and Hodgson’s observations and conclusions need to be taken with a considerable port of salt. The case of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky needs re-examination in this light. She deserves no less.” Prof. Harrison’s report and findings were so conclusive that the SPR was forced to publish and acknowledge them in their own journal. Today all except the uninformed and the bigoted cannot but agree with Harrison’s remarks that the Hodgson Report was “riddled with slanted statements and downright falsity.” 
HPB, knowing perfectly well that she was no fraud, wanted to take the SPR to court. Olcott, president of the Theosophical Society, would not agree to let her do so, fearing that it would result in even further scandal and public commotion which would damage and be detrimental to the Society’s aims, influence, and public reputation. HPB, caring more for truth and justice than public image and reputation, was dejected and disheartened by what she perceived as lack of support and lack of confidence on the part of Olcott and others and left India for Europe, never to return.
She herself received very few “Mahatma Letters” in comparison with others, as she was understood to be in regular telepathic contact and communication with the Adepts and thus had little need for written letters. She asserted that it would not be too long before scientists would acknowledge that no distance exists in the realm of mind and that there is nothing abnormal or supernatural about two harmoniously attuned minds being able to communicate at a distance with the same ease and clarity as two individuals in the same room.
Letters from the same Masters continued to be received in various ways after HPB’s death, less frequently but in the same handwritings and style and extolling the same principles and teachings as before, along with wise advice and in some cases prophetically accurate warnings about the condition and future of the Movement. The last known was in 1900, nine years after HPB had passed away, and at the very close of the 25 year centennial cycle.
This article is an excerpt from the much lengthier article
~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~
Footnote References:  H.P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Mahatmas” H.P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles Vol. 1, p. 302, Theosophy Company.  H.P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 288, 289, 298, 301, Theosophy Company.  H.P. Blavatsky, “Lodges of Magic” H.P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles Vol. 1, p. 288, Theosophy Company.  “The Theosophical Movement: 1875-1950″ p. 175-176, Cunningham Press.  William Q. Judge, “The Ocean of Theosophy” p. 3, Theosophy Company.  Vernon Harrison, Ph.D., “H.P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885″ Theosophical University Press.
SOME RELATED ARTICLES: The Masters and Madame Blavatsky, Photos and Pictures of The Masters of Wisdom, The Final Mahatma Letter, Words from The Masters about H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Movement after H.P. Blavatsky, The Fake Photo, The Letter from the Maha Chohan, What is a Chohan?, On The Publication and Use of “The Mahatma Letters”, Who wrote The Secret Doctrine? and Some Facts about Adeptship.