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In Theosophy, Maitreya or Lord Maitreya is an advanced spiritual entity and high-ranking member of a reputed hidden spiritual hierarchy, the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom. According to Theosophical doctrine, one of the hierarchy's functions is to oversee the evolution of humankind; in concert with this function Maitreya is said to hold the "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 to humankind. 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.
In early 20th century, prominent Theosophists believed a reappearance of Maitreya was imminent. A suitable candidate for the entity's physical "vehicle" was identified as the then–adolescent Jiddu Krishnamurti, and the World Teacher Project was built around him for this purpose. The Project received worldwide publicity and interest, but also caused serious dissension and splits in the Theosophical Society. It was eventually dismantled in 1929 by Krishnamurti, who disavowed any further relationship with it and Theosophy in general.
The Theosophical concept of Maitreya has many similarities to the earlier Maitreya doctrine in Buddhism. However, they differ in important aspects. The Theosophical Maitreya has been assimilated or appropriated by a variety of quasi-Theosophical and non-Theosophical New Age and Esoteric groups and movements; they have advanced their own views on the entity's reappearance.
Development of the Theosophical concept of Maitreya
The first mention of Maitreya in a Theosophical context occurs in the 1883 work Esoteric Buddhism by Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840–1921), an early Theosophical writer. The concepts described by Sinnett were amended, elaborated and greatly expanded in The Secret Doctrine (published 1888), a major work by Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891), a founder of the Theosophical Society and of contemporary Theosophy. In it, the messianic Maitreya is linked to both Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions. In the same work Blavatsky stated that there have been, and will be, multiple messianic (or messianic-like) instances in human history. These successive appearances of "emissarie[s] of Truth" are according to Blavatsky part of the unceasing oversight of Earth and its inhabitants by a hidden spiritual hierarchy, the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom.
Maitreya and the spiritual hierarchy
Following Blavatsky's writings on the subject other Theosophists progressively elaborated on the reputed spiritual hierarchy. Its members are presented as guardians and guides of Earth's total evolutionary process, known in Theosophical cosmology as the doctrine of Planetary Rounds. In Theosophy, evolution includes an occult or spiritual component that is considered more important than the related physical evolution. The hierarchy is said to consist of spiritual entities at various evolutionary stages; lower ranks are populated by individuals who can function more or less normally on the physical plane, while the highest known positions are occupied by beings of the purest spiritual essence and consciousness.
According to the later Theosophical texts, Maitreya's position in the current stage of planetary evolution is that of the Boddhisatva, originally a Buddhist concept. Since this position is thought to be at an exalted state, Maitreya may have no direct or sustained contact with the physical realm. At this evolutionary level he is reputedly below only two others in the current hierarchy: at its apex, the Sanat Kumara (referred to as "The Lord of the World"), followed by the Buddha. Maitreya is additionally described as having among other duties overall responsibility for humanity's development including its education, civilization and religion.
Blavatsky had stated that certain members of the hierarchy, often called "the Masters" or "the Mahātmās" in Theosophical literature, were the ultimate guides of the Theosophical Society. The Society itself was said to be the result of one of the hierarchy's regular "impulses" to help Humankind's evolution. Blavatsky further commented in her 1889 work The Key to Theosophy about 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. 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. Its members had access to occult instruction and more detailed knowledge of the inner order and mission of the Society and of its reputed hidden guides.
Maitreya and the Christ Principle
Blavatsky also elaborated on a "Christ Principle", which in her view corresponds to the spiritual essence of every human being. After her 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 that identified Christ with the Theosophical representation of the Buddhist deity Maitreya. He wrote that an aspect of Maitreya was the prototype for the Christ Principle described by Blavatsky. Leadbeater believed that Maitreya-as-Christ had previously manifested on Earth, often through specially prepared people who acted as the entity's "vehicles". The manifested Maitreya then assumed the role of World Teacher, dispensing knowledge regarding underlying truths of Existence. 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, Maitreya is said to have had numerous manifestations or incarnations: in the theorized ancient continent of Atlantis; as a Hierophant in Ancient Egypt; as the Hindu deity Krishna; as a high priest in Ancient India; and as Christ during the three years of the Ministry of Jesus.
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 (eventually 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. 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.
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 the matter; the dissidents charged them with straying from Theosophical orthodoxy and, along with other concepts developed by the two, the writings on Maitreya were derisively labeled Neo-Theosophy by their opponents. The Adyar (Chennai)-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. Soon after, he placed Krishnamurti under his and the Society's care. In late 1909 Besant, by then President of the Society and head of its Esoteric Section, admitted Krishnamurti into both; in March 1910 she became his legal guardian. Krishnamurti was subsequently groomed extensively for his expected role as the probable World Teacher, and a new organization, the Order of the Star in the East (OSE), was formed in 1911 to support him in this mission. The project received widespread publicity, and enjoyed worldwide following (mainly among Theosophists). It also faced opposition within and without the Theosophical Society, and led to years of upheaval, serious splits within the Society, and doctrinal schisms in Theosophy. The German Section, led by Rudolf Steiner, seceded from the Society and was eventually reorganized as the Anthroposophical Society. Additional negative repercussions occurred in 1929, when Krishnamurti repudiated the role the Theosophists expected him to fulfill, dissolved the Order of the Star and completely disassociated himself from the World Teacher Project; soon after he severed ties with the Society and Theosophy in general. These events reputedly prompted Leadbeater to declare, "the Coming [of Maitreya] has gone wrong", and damaged Theosophical organizations and the overall standing of Theosophy.
Later concepts of Maitreya
Following the Krishnamurti debacle, major Theosophical organizations and writers became increasingly muted, at least publicly, on the subject of the reappearance of Maitreya and the possible next impulse of the reputed spiritual hierarchy. However the concepts of World Teacher, of a hidden spiritual hierarchy, and of masters of occult wisdom continued to have supporters. Some were Theosophical Society members, but increasingly such beliefs were found among near-Theosophical and non-Theosophical New Age adherents.
Alice A. Bailey
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, and referred to Maitreya as the "Cosmic Christ", stating his Second Coming would occur sometime after the year 2025.
Ascended Master Teachings
The Theosophical Maitreya holds a prominent position in the 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 and Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009). However, the validity of such later commentary has been disputed by Theosophical writers.
Benjamin Creme (1922–2016), a follower of Alice Bailey and founder of Share International, an organization whose doctrines have similarities with those of mainstream Theosophy, is a later promoter of Maitreya. In 1975 Creme stated that he had started to telepathically channel Maitreya. The latter reputedly communicated to Creme that he had decided to return to Earth earlier than 2025. Other reputed communications from Maitreya followed, and Creme eventually announced that Maitreya materialized a physical body for himself in early 1977 in the Himalayas and then moved to London. Creme made a number of extraordinary statements and predictions based on reputed telepathic messages from Maitreya that failed to come true; as a result he had been considered a figure of amusement in the press.
- Sinnett 1883, p. 144.
- Blavatsky 1888, Volume I: Cosmogenesis, p. 384. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via United Lodge of Theosophists. "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." [Uppercase emphasis in original.]
- Blavatsky 1888, Volume I: Cosmogenesis, p. 653. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via United Lodge of Theosophists. "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 refers 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.
- Blavatsky 2002, p. 307.
- Blavatsky 1888, Volume I: Cosmogenesis, p. 612, Volume II: Anthropogenesis, § "Our Divine Instructors" pp. 365–378. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via United Lodge of Theosophists. "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".
- Leadbeater 2007, pp. 296–297.
- Sinnett 1883, "Chapter IV: The World Periods" pp. 45–65; Blavatsky 1888, Volume I: Cosmogenesis, §§ "Our world, its growth and development", "Theosophical misconceptions", "Explanations concerning the Globes and Monads" pp. 136–191 [cumulative]. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via United Lodge of Theosophists.
- Leadbeater 2007, pp. 4–5, 10, 34 and "Part IV: The Hierarchy" pp. 211–301.
- Leadbeater 2007, pp. 31–32, 36, 74, 251, 277–278, "Diagram 8" p. 256 and "Chapter XIV: The Wisdom in the Triangles" pp. 261–295. 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.
- Blavatsky 2002, § "The Future of the Theosophical Society" pp. 304–307. Retrieved 2022-09-07 – via United Lodge of Theosophists. "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." (pp. 306–307).
- Lutyens 1975, pp. 10–11; Blavatsky 1931.
- Blavatsky 2002, pp. 67, 71, 155; Blavatsky 1930, pp. 83–84, ¶ "Chréstos".
- Leadbeater 2007, pp. 31, 192, 232 and "Chapter XII: The Trinity and the Triangles" pp. 250–260.
- Besant & Leadbeater 1913, pp. 339, 520; Leadbeater 2007, p. 278.
- Blavatsky 1888, Volume I: Cosmogenesis, p. 470. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via United Lodge of Theosophists. "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.]
- Lutyens 1975, pp. 11–12, 46.
- Thomas c. 1930, "Section I: Differences in Teaching" pp. 1–34. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via Blavatsky Study Center.
- Lutyens 1975, pp. 20–21, 30, 40; Wood 1964. Eyewitness account of Krishnamurti's "discovery", and comments on related events and controversies, by one of Leadbeater's close associates.
- Tillett 1986, Volume I, "Chapter 15: Conflict over Krishnamurti" pp. 506–553. Information on contemporary controversies regarding Krishnamurti, inside and outside the Theosophical Society.
- Lutyens 1975, pp. 276–285. Krishnamurti went on to become an independent, respected speaker and writer on psychological, spiritual and philosophical issues.
- Lutyens 1975, pp. 277–279, 315n"[page]278–279".
- Campbell 1980, p. 130; Vernon 2001, pp. 188–189, 268–270; Schuller 2001.
- Vernon 2001, pp. 188–189, 268–270.
- Schuller 1999.
- Bailey 1989.
- Bailey 1996.
- King 1934; Prophet & Prophet 1986.
- Creme 1990.
- Creme 1990, p. 46.
- Wheen 1991."Alas and alack, on the great issue of the day poor Mr Maitreya seems to have stubbed his toe rather badly. After Saddam sent his tanks across the border last August, Maitreya suggested that 'a mystical power and force in nature will make Iraq withdraw totally and unconditionally from Kuwait'. In November, his message was unequivocal: 'The Gulf Crisis: Maitreya has made it clear from the beginning that there will be no war'"; The Evening Post 1995. "But it's not just the eruptions at issue. Benjamin Creme, based in London and a five-time visitor to New Zealand as ambassador for Maitreya, the saviour he claims is awaited by all religions, has extended the connection. John O'Donnell of the New Zealand Transmission Meditation Network said Mr Creme had told him the 5.9 South Island quake on Friday, November 24 had been caused by the fourth French atomic test two days before. Nobody has yet predicted plagues of locusts, frogs, flies, rivers of blood or other disasters for the fifth and subsequent tests"; Rosenbaum 2005.
- 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 (paperback). New York: Lucis Publishing. ISBN 978-0853301141.
- Besant, Annie & Leadbeater, C. W. (1913). Man: how, whence, and whither; a record of clairvoyant investigation (hardcover) (1st ed.). Adyar, Madras & Benares: Theosophical Publishing House. OCLC 871602.
- Blavatsky, Helena (1888). The secret doctrine: the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company. OCLC 8129381. Retrieved 2022-09-05 – via United Lodge of Theosophists.
- —— (1930) [originally published 1892. London: The Theosophical Publishing Society]. "C". The theosophical glossary (reprint ed.). Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company. pp. 71–92. OCLC 884270433. Retrieved 2022-09-05 – via United Lodge of Theosophists.
- —— (August 1931). "The Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society: Preliminary Memorandum, 1888". The Theosophist. Vol. 52. Adyar (Chennai): Theosophical Publishing House. pp. 594–595. ISSN 0040-5892.
- —— (2002) [originally published 1889. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company]. The key to theosophy (reprint of 1987 ed.). Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company. OCLC 315695318.
- Campbell, Bruce F. (1980). Ancient wisdom revived: a history of the Theosophical movement (hardcover). Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-03968-1.
- Creme, Benjamin (1990) [originally published 1986]. Maitreya's mission (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Share International Foundation. ISBN 978-9071484063.
- "Kiwis prove to Aussies they're not that gullible". The Evening Post. Wellington, New Zealand. 4 December 1995. ISSN 0113-9428. OCLC 220471141.
- Leadbeater, C. W. (2007) [originally published 1925. Chicago: Theosophical Press]. The masters and the path (paperback) (reprint ed.). New York: Cosimo Classics. ISBN 978-1-60206-333-4. Retrieved 2022-09-05 – via Google Books.
- Lutyens, Mary (1975). Krishnamurti: the years of awakening (hardcover) (1st US ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-18222-9.
- Prophet, Elizabeth Clare & Prophet, Mark (1986). Maitreya: on the image of god: a study in christhood by the great initiator. Livingston, Montana: Summit University Press. ISBN 978-0916766955.
- Rosenbaum, Ron (15 August 2005). "Voices in Our Head: Where Is Good Old American Weirdness?". New York Observer. p. 1. ISSN 1052-2948. Gale A136265199.
- Schuller, Govert W. (1999) [originally published 1997]. "The Masters and their emissaries: From H.P.B. to Guru Ma and beyond". Alpheus (2nd ed.). Carol Stream, Illinois: Self-published. Archived from the original on 2015-07-18. Retrieved 2022-09-05.
- ——, ed. (2001). "Krishnamurti". Alpheus. Carol Stream, Illinois: Self-published. Retrieved 2022-09-05.
- Sinnett, Alfred Percy (1883). Esoteric Buddhism (2nd ed.). London: Trubner and Co. OCLC 2014685. Retrieved 2022-09-05 – via Google Books.
- Thomas, Margaret A. (c. 1930) [originally mimeographed c. 1920]. Theosophy or Neo-Theosophy? (PDF). London: Self-published. OCLC 503841852. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-07-20. Retrieved 2022-09-06 – via Wayback Machine (original from third-party provider).
- Tillett, Gregory J. (1986). Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854–1934: a biographical study (PhD thesis). Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Sydney. hdl:2123/1623. OCLC 271774444.
- Vernon, Roland (2001). Star in the east: Krishnamurti: the invention of a messiah (hardcover). New York: Palgrave. ISBN 978-0-312-23825-4 – via Internet Archive.
- Wheen, Francis (27 January 1991). "Flight of fancy". Diary. The Independent. London. p. 21. ISSN 0951-9467.
- Wood, Ernest (December 1964). "No Religion Higher than Truth". The American Theosophist. Vol. 52, no. 12. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Society in America. pp. 287–290. ISSN 0003-1402. Archived from the original on 2004-02-16. Retrieved 2022-09-05 – via Wayback Machine (original from third-party provider).
- Godwin, Joscelyn (1994). The theosophical enlightenment. SUNY Series on Western Esoteric Traditions. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791421512.
- Johnson, K. Paul (1994). The masters revealed: madame Blavatsky and the myth of the great white lodge (illustrated ed.). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791420638 – According to this author, "the Masters" as described by Blavatsky were idealized depictions of her human mentors. The Great White Lodge is related to the Theosophical spiritual hierarchy.