Theosophical University Press Online Edition
There have been so many secret societies during the Christian era, by whom claims were made to knowledge of nature's secret laws, that a natural question arises: "In what do the Theosophic Eastern Sages differ from the many Rosicrucians and others so often heard of?" The old bookshelves of Germany are full of publications upon Rosicrucianism, or by pretended and genuine members of that order, and today it is not uncommon to find those who have temerity enough to dub themselves "Rosicrucians."
The difference is that which exists between reality and illusion, between mere ritualism and the signs printed by nature upon all things and beings passing forever up the road to higher states of existence. The Rosicrucian and Masonic fraternities known to history rely upon outward signs and tokens to indicate the status in the order of their members, who, without such guarantees, are only uninitiated outsiders.
But the Sages we speak of, and their disciples, carry with them the indelible mark and speak the well-known words that show they are beings developed under laws, and not merely persons who, having undergone a childish ordeal, are possessed of a diploma. The Adepts may be called rugged oaks that have no disguise, while the undeveloped man dabbling in Masonic words and formulas is only a donkey wearing a lion's skin.
There are many Adepts living in the world, all of whom know each other. They have means of communication unknown to modern civilization, by using which they can transmit to and receive from each other messages at any moment and from immense distances, without using any mechanical means. We might say that there is a Society of Adepts, provided that we never attach to the word "society" the meaning ordinarily conveyed by it. It is a society which has no place of meeting, which exacts no dues, which has no constitution or by-laws other than the eternal laws of nature; there are no police or spies attached to it and no complaints are made or received in it, for the reason that any offender is punished by the operation of law entirely beyond his control — his mastery over the law being lost upon his infringing it.
Under the protection and assistance and guidance of this Society of Adepts are the disciples of each one of its members. These disciples are divided into different degrees, corresponding to the various stages of development; the least developed disciples are assisted by those who are in advance of them, and the latter in a similar manner by others, until the grade of disciple is reached where direct intercourse with the Adepts is possible. At the same time, each Adept keeps a supervisory eye upon all his disciples. Through the agency of the disciples of Adepts many effects are brought about in human thought and affairs, for from the higher grades are often sent those who, without disclosing their connection with mysticism, influence individuals who are known to be main factors in events about to occur.
It is claimed that the Theosophical Society receives assistance in its growth and the spreading of its influence from the Adepts and their accepted disciples. The history of the Society would seem to prove this, for unless there were some hidden but powerful force operating for its advantage it would have long ago sunk into obscurity, destroyed by the storm of ridicule and abuse to which it has been subjected. Promises were made, in the early history of the Society, that assistance would at all times be rendered, and prophecies were hinted that it would be made the target for vilification and the object of opposition. Both prophecies have been fulfilled to the letter.
In just the same way as a polished diamond shows the work which gives it value and brilliancy, so the man who has gone through probation and teaching under the Adepts carries upon his person the ineffaceable marks. To the ordinary eye untrained in this department, no such indications are visible; but those who can see describe them as being quite prominent and wholly beyond the control of the bearer. For this reason that one who has progressed, say, three steps along the way, will have three marks, and it is useless to pretend that his rank is a step higher, for, if it were, then the fourth mark would be there, since it grows with the being's development. Now, as these signatures cannot be imitated or forged, the whole inner fraternity has no need for concealment of signs. No one can commit a fraud upon or extract from them the secrets of higher degrees by having obtained signs and pass-words out of a book or in return for the payment of fees, and none can procure the conferring of any advancement until the whole nature of the man exactly corresponds to the desired point of development.
In two ways the difference between the Adept fraternity and worldly secret societies can be seen — in their treatment of nations and of their own direct special disciples. Nothing is forced or depends upon favor. Everything is arranged in accordance with the best interests of a nation, having in view the cyclic influences at any time prevailing, and never before the proper time. When they desire to destroy the chains forged by dogmatism, they do not make the error of suddenly appearing before the astonished eyes of the people; for they know well that such a course would only alter the dogmatic belief in one set of ideas to a senseless and equally dogmatic adherence to the Adepts as gods, or else create in the minds of many the surety that the devil was present.