Maitreya (Theosophy)

Maitreya (Theosophy)

The Maitreya or Lord Maitreya is described in Theosophical literature of the late 19th-century and subsequent periods as an advanced spiritual entity and high-ranking member of a hidden Spiritual Hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom. According to Theosophical doctrine, one of the Hierarchy's functions is to oversee the evolution of Humankind; in accord with this function the Maitreya is said to hold the so-called Office of the World Teacher. Theosophical texts posit that the purpose of this Office is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge about the true constitution and workings of Existence. Humanity is thereby assisted on its presumed cyclical, but ever progressive, evolutionary path. Reputedly, one way the knowledge transfer is accomplished is by Maitreya occasionally manifesting or incarnating in the physical realm; the manifested entity then assumes the role of World Teacher of Humankind.

The Theosophical concept of Maitreya has many similarities to the earlier Maitreya doctrine in Buddhism. However, they differ in important aspects, and developed differently. The Theosophical Maitreya has been assimilated or appropriated by a variety of quasi-theosophical and non-theosophical New Age and Esoteric groups and movements. These have added, and advanced, their own interpretations and commentary on the subject.


Development of the concept

The first mention of the Maitreya in a Theosophical context occurs in the 1883 work Esoteric Buddhism by Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840–1921), an early Theosophical writer.[1] The concepts described by Sinnett were amended, elaborated on, and greatly expanded in The Secret Doctrine, a book originally published 1888.[2] The work was the magnum opus of Helena Blavatsky (1831–91), one of the physical founders of the Theosophical Society and of contemporary Theosophy. In it, the messianic Maitreya is linked to both Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions.[3] In the same work Blavatsky was to assert that there have been, and will be, multiple messianic (or messianic-like) instances in human history.[4] These successive appearances of "emissarie[s] of Truth"[5] are according to the Blavatsky writings part of the unceasing oversight of Earth and of its inhabitants by a physically hidden Spiritual Hierarchy, the called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom.[6][7]

Spiritual Hierarchy

Following Blavatsky's writings on the subject, other Theosophists progressively elaborated on the Spiritual Hierarchy.[8] Its members are presented as guardians and guides of Earth's total evolutionary process,[9] known in Theosophical cosmology as the doctrine of Planetary Rounds. According to teachings of Theosophists, evolution includes an occult or spiritual component that is considered of a higher order of importance than the related physical evolution.[10] The Hierarchy consists of spiritual entities at various evolutionary stages – these stages correspond to ever increasing ranks within the Hierarchy. Lower ranks are populated by individuals who can function more or less normally on the physical plane, while in the highest known rankings are highly evolved beings of the purest spiritual essence and consciousness.[11]

According to the teachings which are exposed in Theosophical writings, in the stage of Planetary Evolution the position of Maitreya in Earth's Hierarchy is that of the Boddhisatva, originally a Buddhist concept.[12] Since this position is thought to be at an exalted state, the Maitreya may have no direct or sustained contact with the physical realm. At this evolutionary level he is below only two other beings in the current Hierarchy: at its apex, the Sanat Kumara, (also referred to as The Lord of the World), followed by the Buddha; as such the Maitreya is held in high reverence and regard by Theosophists.[13] He is additionally described as having among other duties overall responsibility for humanity's development, including its education, civilization, and religion.[14]

Blavatsky held that members of the Hierarchy, often called the Masters or the Mahātmās in Theosophical literature, were the ultimate guides of the Theosophical Society.[15] The Society itself was said to be the result of one of the "impulses" from the Hierarchy. These "impulses" are believed to be a regular occurrence.[16] Furthermore, Blavatsky commented in her widely read 1889 work The Key to Theosophy on the next impulse, the "effort of the XXth century" which would involve another "torch-bearer of Truth". In this effort the Theosophical Society was poised to possibly play a major role.[5] More information regarding the future "impulse" was the purview of the Theosophical Society's Esoteric Section which was founded by Blavatsky and was originally led by her.[17] Its members had access to occult instruction and more detailed knowledge of the "inner order" and mission of the Society, and of its hidden guides.[18]

Christ Principle

Blavatsky having had direct access to the Spirtual Hierarchy, also elaborated on the so-called Christ Principle, which in her expressed view corresponds to the spiritual essence of every human being.[19] After Blavatsky’s death in 1891 influential Theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854–1934), whose knowledge on occult matters was highly respected by the Society's leadership, formulated a Christology in which he identified Christ with the Theosophical representation of the Buddhist deity Maitreya. He maintained that an aspect of Maitreya was the prototype for the Christ Principle described by Blavatsky. Leadbeater exhibited that Maitreya-as-Christ had previously manifested on Earth, often through specially prepared people who acted as the entity's "vehicles", like Jesus did. The manifested Maitreya then assumed the role of World Teacher, dispensing knowledge regarding underlying truths of Existence.[20] This knowledge, which according to Theosophists eventually crystallized in religious, scientific and cultural practices, had been reputedly disseminated to groups as small as a few carefully selected Initiates and as large as Humanity as a whole.


In Theosophical texts, the Maitreya is said to have had numerous manifestations or incarnations: in the theorized ancient continent of Atlantis; as a Hierophant in Ancient Egypt;[21] as the Hindu deity Krishna;[22] as a high priest in Ancient India;[23] and as Christ during the three years of the Ministry of Jesus.[22]

Expected reappearance

Annie Besant (1847–1933), another well-known and influential Theosophist (and future President of the Society) had also developed an interest in this area of Theosophy. In the decades of the 1890s and 1900s, along with Leadbeater (who became a close associate) and others, she became progressively convinced that the "next impulse" from the Hierarchy would happen sooner than Blavatsky's timetable. These Theosophists came to believe it would involve the imminent reappearance of Maitreya as World Teacher, a monumental event in the Theosophical scheme of things.[24] Besant had started commenting on the possible imminent arrival of the next emissary in 1896, several years before her assumption of the Society's presidency in 1907. By 1909 the coming Teacher was a main topic of her lectures and writings.[25]

After Besant became President of the Society the belief in Maitreya's imminent manifestation took on considerable weight. The subject was widely discussed and became a commonly held expectation among Theosophists. However not all Theosophical Society members accepted Leadbeater's and Besant's ideas on this; the dissidents charged them with straying from Theosophical orthodoxy and, along with other concepts developed by the two, Leadbeater's and Besant's writings on the Maitreya were derisively labeled Neo-Theosophy by their opponents.[26] The Adyar (India)-based international leadership of the Society eventually overcame the protests and by the late-1920s the organization had stabilized, but in the meantime additional World Teacher-related trouble was brewing.

World Teacher Project

In 1909 Leadbeater encountered fourteen-year-old Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) near the Theosophical Society Headquarters at Adyar, and came to believe the boy was a suitable candidate for the "vehicle" of the expected World Teacher.[27] Soon after, Leadbeater placed Krishnamurti under his and the Society's wing. In late 1909 Besant, by then President of the Society and head of its Esoteric Section, admitted Krishnamurti into both;[28] in March 1910 she became his legal guardian.[29][30] Krishnamurti was subsequently groomed extensively for his expected role as the future World Teacher, and a new organization, the Order of the Star in the East, was formed in 1911 to support him in this mission. The project received widespread publicity and enjoyed worldwide following, chiefly among Theosophists. However it also encountered opposition within and without the Theosophical Society, and lead to years of upheaval, serious splits within the Society, and doctrinal schisms in Theosophy.[31] Additional negative repercussions occurred in 1929, when Krishnamurti repudiated the role the Theosophists expected him to fulfill, and completely disassociated himself from the World Teacher Project; soon after he severed ties with the Society and Theosophy in general.[32] These events reputedly prompted Leadbeater to declare, "the Coming [of the Maitreya] has gone wrong",[33] and damaged Theosophical organizations and the overall standing of Theosophy.[34][35][36]

Later representations

Following the Krishnamurti debacle, major Theosophical organizations and writers became increasingly muted, at least publicly, on the subject of the reappearance of the Maitreya and on the possible next "impulse" from the Spiritual Hierarchy.[35] However the concepts of World Teacher, of a hidden Spiritual Hierarchy, and of Masters of Occult Wisdom as described in Theosophical literature, continued to have vocal supporters. These were found among Theosophical Society members and increasingly, among near-theosophical and non-theosophical New Age adherents.[37]

Cosmic Christ

A major proponent was Alice Bailey (1880–1949), who left the Theosophical Society in the 1920s to establish the quasi-theosophical Arcane School. She expanded Leadbeater's work and his Christology,[38] and referred to Maitreya as the Cosmic Christ, claiming his Second Coming would occur sometime after the year 2025.[39]

Ascended Master Teachings

The Theosophical Maitreya also holds a prominent position in the so-called Ascended Master Teachings. These encompass original Theosophical literature, as well as later additions and interpretations by various non-Theosophical commentators and groups – such as the I AM Activity[40] and Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009);[41] however, the validity of the later commentary has been disputed by Theosophical writers.

Claims of reappearance

Benjamin Creme (b. 1922), a student of Alice Bailey's teachings and founder of Share International (an organization whose doctrines have similarities with those of mainstream Theosophy), is a later promoter of the Maitreya. In 1975 Creme claimed to have received telepathic messages from Maitreya who reputedly stated that he had decided to soon manifest again, following the predicted collapse of the world economic system.[42] Creme claimed that more communications from Maitreya followed, and he eventually announced that Maitreya had materialized a physical body for himself in the Himalayas in early 1977 and moved to London.[43]

See also


  1. ^ Sinnett 1883, p. 144.
  2. ^ Blavatsky 1947.
  3. ^ Blavatsky 1947, I: Cosmogenesis p. 384. Phoenix, Arizona: United Lodge of Theosophists [web publisher]. Retrieved on 2011-04-13. "MAITREYA is the secret name of the Fifth Buddha, and the Kalki Avatar of the Brahmins—the last MESSIAH who will come at the culmination of the Great Cycle."
  4. ^ Blavatsky 1947, I: Cosmogenesis p. 653. Retrieved on 2011-04-13. "Why see in the Pisces a direct reference to Christ – one of the several world-reformers, a Saviour but for his direct followers, but only a great and glorious Initiate for all the rest – when that constellation shines as a symbol of all the past, present, and future Spiritual Saviours who dispense light and dispel mental darkness?" [Emphasis in original]. Blavatsky is referring to the actual constellation of Pisces (Latin for fish), as well as to its astrological meaning. A fish symbol, Ichthys, had been used in religious representations in several ancient cultures and it was an important symbol in Early Christianity. According to Blavatsky's writings and those of other Theosophists, cosmogony and theogony are intimately related, and significant events of a spiritual nature (such as the appearance of a messiah) correspond to physical, cosmological phenomena.
  5. ^ a b Blavatsky 1889, "[Chapter:] Conclusion; The Future of the Theosophical Society" pp. 304–307. Wheaton, Maryland: [web publisher]. Retrieved on 2011-04-13.
  6. ^ Blavatsky 1947, I: Cosmogenesis p. 612. Retrieved on 2011-04-13. "From the very beginning of Eons – in time and space in our Round and Globe – the Mysteries of Nature (at any rate, those which it is lawful for our races to know) were recorded by the pupils of those same now invisible 'heavenly men,' in geometrical figures and symbols. The keys thereto passed from one generation of 'wise men' to the other."
  7. ^ Blavatsky 1947, II: Anthropogenesis, § "Our Divine Instructors" pp. 365–378. Phoenix, Arizona: United Lodge of Theosophists [web publisher]. Retrieved on 2011-04-13.
  8. ^ Leadbeater 2007.
  9. ^ Leadbeater 2007, pp. 296–297.
  10. '^ Sinnett 1883, "Chapter IV: The World Periods" pp. 45–65; Blavatsky 1947, I: Cosmogenesis [Chapters:] "Our world, its growth and development", "Theosophical misconceptions", "Explanations concerning the Globes and Monads" pp. 136–191 [cumulative].
  11. ^ Leadbeater 2007, pp. 4–5, 10, 34, "Part IV: The Hierarchy" pp. 211–301.
  12. ^ Leadbeater 2007, pp. 31–32, 36, 277–278. Like other aspects of Theosophy, the doctrine of Earth's Spiritual Hierarchy expands or interprets many Buddhist and Hindu concepts within an occult or esoteric framework.
  13. ^ Leadbeater 2007, "Diagram 8" p. 256, "Chapter XIV: The Wisdom in the Triangles" pp. 261–295.
  14. ^ Leadbeater 2007, pp. 74, 251.
  15. ^ [In this context, the Masters refer to specific members of the Hierarchy, and not to the Masters of Ancient Wisdom as a group].
  16. ^ Blavatsky 1889, p. 306. "But I must tell you that during the last quarter of every hundred years an attempt is made by those 'Masters,' of whom I have spoken, to help on the spiritual progress of Humanity in a marked and definite way. Towards the close of each century you will invariably find that an outpouring or upheaval of spirituality – or call it mysticism if you prefer – has taken place. Some one or more persons have appeared in the world as their agents, and a greater or less amount of occult knowledge and teaching has been given out." In the same work (Blavatsky 1889, p. 301) Blavatsky lamented the fact that the idea of mysterious "Masters" dispensing occult "impulses" had become the foundation for unscrupulous practices. "Every bogus swindling Society, for commercial purposes, now claims to be guided and directed by 'Masters,' ..."
  17. ^ Blavatsky 1931.
  18. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, pp. 10–11.
  19. ^ Blavatsky 1889, pp. 67, 71, 155, "Glossary: C" (Chrestos). Wheaton, Maryland: [web publisher]. Retrieved on 2011-04-13.
  20. ^ Leadbeater 2007, pp. 31, 192, 232, "Chapter XII: The Trinity and the Triangles" pp. 250–260.
  21. ^ Besant & Leadbeater 1913, p. 520.
  22. ^ a b Leadbeater 2007, p. 278.
  23. ^ Besant & Leadbeater 1913, p. 339.
  24. ^ Blavatsky 1947, I: Cosmogenesis p. 470. Blavatsky's views on the specific matter of the reappearance of Maitreya (as opposed to the regular appearances of other, lower-ranked emissaries) were thought to be in general agreement with mainstream Buddhist eschatology. "He will appear as Maitreya Buddha, the last of the Avatars and Buddhas, in the seventh Race. This belief and expectation are universal throughout the East. Only it is not in the Kali yug, our present terrifically materialistic age of Darkness, the 'Black Age,' that a new Saviour of Humanity can ever appear." [Emphasis in original].
  25. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, pp. 11–12, 46.
  26. ^ Thomas c. 1930s.
  27. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, pp. 20–21.
  28. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, p. 30.
  29. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, p. 40.
  30. ^ Wood 1964. Eyewitness account of Krishnamurti's "discovery", and comments on related events and controversies, by one of Leadbeater's close associates. [Note weblink in reference is not at official Theosophical Society in America website. Link-specific content verified against original at New York Public Library Main Branch ("YBEA (American theosophist) [call number]". Classic Catalog (New York Public Library). Retrieved 2010-12-19 )].
  31. ^ Tillet 2007, Volume I, "Chapter 15: Conflict over Krishnamurti" pp. 506–553. Information on the contemporary controversies regarding Krishnamurti, inside and outside the Theosophical Society.
  32. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, pp. 276, 285. Krishnamurti went on to become a respected independent speaker and writer, on spiritual and philosophical issues.
  33. ^ M. Lutyens 1975, pp. 277–279, 315 [in "Notes and Sources": (notes to) pp. 278–279].
  34. ^ Campbell 1980, p. 130.
  35. ^ a b Vernon 2001, pp. 188–189, 268–270.
  36. ^ Alpheus 2001.
  37. ^ Schuller 1999.
  38. ^ Bailey 1989.
  39. ^ Bailey 1996.
  40. ^ King 1934.
  41. ^ Prophet 1986.
  42. ^ Creme 1990.
  43. ^ Creme 1990, p. 46.


  • Bailey, Alice A. (1989) [originally published 1957]. The externalisation of the Hierarchy (paperback) (4th ed.). New York: Lucis Publishing. ISBN 978-0853301066. 
  •    (1996) [originally published 1947]. The reappearance of the Christ. New York: Lucis Publishing. ISBN 978-0853301141. 
  • Leadbeater, Charles W. (2007) [originally published 1925. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House]. The masters and the path (reprint ed.). New York: Cosimo Classics. ISBN 978-1602063334. 
  • Lutyens, Mary (1975). Krishnamurti: the years of awakening (1st US ed.). New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0374182229. 
  • Vernon, Roland (2001). Star in the east: Krishnamurti: the invention of a messiah. New York: Palgrave. ISBN 978-0312238254. 

Further reading

  • Melton, J. Gordon, ed (1996). "Chapter 18: The Ancient Wisdom Family of Religions"; "Section 18". Encyclopedia of American Religions (5th ed.). New York: Gale Research. pp. 151–158; 717–757. ISBN 978-0810377141 

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