The term “Chohan” appears quite often in Theosophical literature, beginning with references made by the two Masters known as “M.” and “K.H.” to their Spiritual Chief, their own Master and Guru, who they refer to variously as the Chohan, the Cho-Khan, and the Maha Chohan. In one of her letters, H.P. Blavatsky calls him the Chohan Rimpoche.
They also occasionally call him the Shaberon, a Tibetan Buddhist term which can be translated as “Exalted Officer” or “Revered Minister,” and the Hobilgan or Khobilgan, which is apparently a Mongolian word used to refer to the higher initiated Lamas of Tibet, those in whom a high spiritual being – a Bodhisattva or Nirmanakaya – has incarnated. Rimpoche or Rinpoche is a reverential Tibetan term.
The word “Chohan” has long been a source of confusion. Many people, Theosophists included, have claimed that there is no such word in either Tibetan or Sanskrit and that it must therefore have been invented by H.P. Blavatsky or others. What is even more surprising is the fact that such assertions are often confidently made by certain Theosophists who purport to be learned scholars and academics in Eastern studies and who pass themselves off as experts in everything relating to Tibet, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
“Chohan” or “Chokhan” is simply the Masters’ and HPB’s way of writing – as phonetically as possible in the days long before any standardised system of Tibetan or Sanskrit transliteration had been established – the Tibetan word “Chokyong.” In the Wylie system of transliteration, this same word is rendered as “chos skyong.”
An online dictionary and glossary of Tibetan Buddhist terms has a page about this word, which shows that it is the Tibetan equivalent of the Sanskrit term “Dharmapala.”
Both these words can be translated as “Dharma Protector,” “Defender of the Buddhist Faith,” “Protector of the Buddhist Doctrine,” “Guardian of the Teachings,” and so on.
As the Masters’ letters, HPB’s writings, and the Maha Chohan’s own famous letter, reveal the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood to be purely Buddhist, it isn’t too surprising to find such a distinctly Tibetan Buddhist term used as the reverential title for the living Head of this Brotherhood, this Esoteric School which we have shown in articles such as Alaya – The Universal Soul and Self and Non-Self in Buddhism and Theosophy to be the Esoteric Yogacharya School founded by the original Aryasanga, a direct disciple and Arhat of Gautama Buddha.
True Esoteric Buddhism is not different from Esoteric Budhism – “the anciently universal Wisdom-Religion” itself.
All through the history of Tibetan Buddhism and into the present day, many Lamas of various schools and sects have been called “Chokyong” or “Chohan.” In “The Theosophical Glossary” HPB rightly defines “Chohan” as being a Tibetan word. There is no mystery about it, no grounds on which to accuse Theosophists of ignorance or fraud. It is perhaps more astounding that those who insist that “the word “Chohan” doesn’t exist” have never heard of the historical Indian Rajput clan known as the Chauhans, Chouhans, or Chohans. To this day, “Chauhan” and “Chohan” are not uncommon surnames in India. This word, however, is not directly related to the Tibetan word.
In a letter to Col. Olcott, the Master K.H. wrote, “I came to you not alone of my own accord and wish, but also by order of the Maha Chohan, to whose insight the future lies like an open page.”
Whilst “Chohan” is Tibetan, “Maha” is a Sanskrit word and means “Great,” so the term “Maha Chohan” is actually a Sanskrit-Tibetan conjunction.
It is not only this one individual who is spoken of as a Chohan. There are apparently many Chohans, of various grades and degrees of initiation and advancement, who all form part of one hidden Esoteric Brotherhood on Earth.
The term is also used when speaking of celestial beings or spiritual entities, who are often spoken of in the teachings of Theosophy as Dhyan Chohans. “Dhyan-Chohan is a generic term for all Devas, or celestial beings,” says H.P. Blavatsky on p. 47 of “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge.” There are many hundreds of references to Dhyan Chohans throughout the two volumes of “The Secret Doctrine” and it is taught that they exist in seven distinct hierarchies.
Mention is made of “the “four Maharajahs” or great Kings of the Dhyan-Chohans, the Devas who preside, each over one of the four cardinal points. They are the Regents or Angels who rule over the Cosmical Forces of North, South, East and West, Forces having each a distinct occult property. These BEINGS are also connected with Karma, as the latter needs physical and material agents to carry out her decrees, such as the four kinds of winds, for instance,” (Vol. 1, p. 122-123).
As stated in the online Tibetan Buddhism glossary mentioned earlier, in the entry for “chos skyong” or “chokyong,” such a being “can be either ‘mundane’ (virtuous samsaric beings) or ‘wisdom Dharma protectors’ (emanations of buddhas or bodhisattvas)” and it is also a “name given to four Buddhist guardian kings.”
According to the Master M., there are not only Chohans of Light.
“There are Dhyan-Chohans and “Chohans of Darkness,” not what they term devils but imperfect “Intelligences” who have never been born on this or any other earth or sphere no more than the “Dhyan Chohans” have and who will never belong to the “builders of the Universe,” the pure Planetary Intelligences, who preside at every Manvantara while the Dark Chohans preside at the Pralayas. … as all in this universe is contrast so the light of the Dhyan Chohans and their pure intelligence is contrasted by the “Ma-Mo Chohans” – and their destructive intelligence.” (See “A Mahatma’s Message to Some Brahmans” published by William Q. Judge, “William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles” Vol. 2, p. 320; WQJ Pamphlet #27 “Issues in the T.S.”)
As regards the Maha Chohan, HPB explains in “The Theosophical Glossary” that he is “The chief of a spiritual Hierarchy, or of a school of Occultism; the head of the trans-Himalayan mystics.”
The Maha Chohan’s own letter, still of great relevance and importance for Theosophists and the Theosophical Movement, can be read in full by clicking here. In it one can read such statements as:
“Even exoteric Buddhism is the surest path to lead men toward the one esoteric truth … Why has that struggle [for life] become the almost universal scheme of the universe? We answer: because no religion, with the exception of Buddhism, has hitherto taught a practical contempt for this earthly life, while each of them, always with that one solitary exception, has through its hells and damnations inculcated the greatest dread of death. Therefore do we find that ‘struggle for life’ raging most fiercely in Christian countries, most prevalent in Europe and America. It weakens in pagan lands, and is nearly unknown among Buddhist populations … That we, the devoted followers of the spirit incarnate of absolute self-sacrifice, of philanthropy and divine kindness as of all the highest virtues attainable on this earth of sorrow, the man of men, Gautama Buddha, should ever allow the Theosophical Society to represent the embodiment of selfishness, to become the refuge of the few with no thought in them for the many, is a strange idea … And it is we, the humble disciples of the perfect Lamas, who are expected to permit the Theosophical Society to drop its noblest title, that of the Brotherhood of Humanity, to become a simple school of Psychology. No! No! our brothers, you have been labouring under the mistake too long already. … ours must be the true philosophy, the true religion, the true light, which gives truth and nothing but the TRUTH …”
The Buddhism expert Richard Taylor has written, “There are no Mahatma letters that back away from such a tight embrace of Buddhism: no Vedanta-leaning letters, no kudos given to Sufi traditions, etc. Thus there can be no doubt that Madame Blavatsky herself, her immediate Mahatma teachers, and her teachers’ teacher, are Buddhist by profession and vocabulary, in ever-increasing degree as one moves up the guruparampara chain. Blavatsky makes frequent reference to Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism, in her writings, while the Mahatma letters discuss Buddhism on practically every page, often using highly technical vocabulary in Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian.”
There is no point or use in denying or trying to evade this, nor the close relation and occult link between the Masters’ School and Tsong Kha-pa, the Gelugpa (yellow hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism which he founded, and the Panchen Lama. The connection between all of these and the sacred Shamballa is another vital link which must not be overlooked. Some articles which may be read in this regard are Damodar and the Hall of Initiation, Alaya – The Universal Soul, The Great Tsong Kha-pa, The Two Paths, The Letter from the Maha Chohan, H.P. Blavatsky on Shamballa, The Secret Book of Dzyan, To those Theosophists who distrust “The Mahatma Letters”, and Theosophy and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
As much as one may prefer to believe personal opinion to proven facts, this will not change the facts, nor will it draw one any closer to the portals of initiation and to the Masters and their Brotherhood but will rather have precisely the opposite effect.
The Maha Chohan spoken of in this article is not the fictitious Maha Chohan invented a few decades later by C.W. Leadbeater and later written about in the same vein by Alice Bailey.
Leadbeater, and Bailey after him, claimed that the Maha Chohan is a turbaned Indian man of youthful appearance and had held that particular role or office since Atlantean times. This was a direct insinuation on their part that both HPB and the actual Masters themselves in their own letters were somehow entirely mistaken in everything they said about the Maha Chohan, since their description of him is completely different from that presented in pseudo-Theosophy, just as the teachings of original and genuine Theosophy differ no end from their later imitations.
Leadbeater, again followed by Bailey, asserted that the Maha Chohan – who he called the “Lord of Civilization” – was part of a great “Hierarchical Triangle” with the Manu and the “Lord Christ,” whilst HPB and the Masters repeatedly taught and emphasised that neither Manu nor Christ are beings, entities, or individuals of any kind and that they are principles which should not be anthropomorphised. In 1925 Bailey wrote that this Maha Chohan – an entirely imaginary one in the first place – had been replaced by the “Master Rakoczy,” another non-existent Master who had been invented by Leadbeater several years before.
All this has been discussed in much more depth in other articles on this site, particularly those listed on the Articles page under the category of “Pseudo-Theosophy Revealed.”