The Theosophical Society in America

How the Masters Know Truth

Originally printed in the Summer 2011 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Shirley J. Nicholson. "How the Masters Know Truth
." Quest  99. 3 (Summer 2011): 114 - 115.

by Shirley J. Nicholson

Shirley NicholsonHow do we know anything? Those who study thought processes tell us we work mostly with concepts, maps, descriptions, not with the reality they describe. We can see this for ourselves through observing our thinking. We may find that too often inaccurate perceptions are the basis for a mistaken concept, and that we form opinions and biases without being aware that they color our perception of the truth. We tend to exaggerate the size and importance of what we feel is our best interest. For example, studies show that underprivileged children perceive coins as being larger than do more affluent children. But we can move toward truth if we can learn to distinguish opinion from fact and see things as they really are, unmixed with our wishes and fears, which throw a kind of veil over the bare, direct truth.

Ordinarily we get knowledge from what the senses tell us, providing us with facts from which we make deductions. Sherlock Holmes is a good example. He might see a corpse, a bullet, a shoe print, or other physical evidence. He would use his "little gray cells" to deduce that a six-foot farmer had been present at the scene of the murder. Holmes used the scientific method of making predictions from hypotheses and concepts based on physical evidence. He also used intuition. He intuitively knew where to look for clues and how to put the pieces together. He used empathy as well. He had knowledge of the criminal mind and could feel as another would have felt.

The Master Koot Hoomi, the principal author of The Mahatma Letters, a book of letters from two Masters to two early Theosophists, hints that Masters know truth in a different way from our usual modes: "Believe me, there comes a moment in the life of an adept when the hardships he has passed through are a thousandfold rewarded. In order to acquire further knowledge, he has no more to go through a minute and slow process of investigation and comparison of various objects, but is accorded in instantaneous, implicit insight into every first truth. . . . The adept sees and feels and lives in the very source of all fundamental truths—the Universal Spiritual Essence of Nature" (Barker and Chin, 55).

Like Sherlock Holmes, the Masters use empathy to perceive, but their capacity for perception clearly surpasses ordinary human means. There is much evidence that K. H. and other adepts knew in ways scarcely available to us. At one point K. H. relates an incident that occurred when Henry Steel Olcott and H. P. Blavatsky had a serious disagreement. Olcott, on shipboard, was thinking dark thoughts about her. K. H. wrote to Olcott that he was aware of these thoughts and counseled him about them (Jinarajadasa, 50).

But the first truths that the Master referred to as a prize of adeptship are much grander. They are fundamental, primary, first principles from which other truths can be derived. They are changeless, eternal. In logic, these first principles consist of axioms, assumptions, theorems on which patterns of reasoning are built. In physics, gravity is an example of a first truth; falling apples and the orbiting behavior of spaceships are its effects.

The principles of Theosophy can be considered first truths. The fundamental truth is unity, the one source that is behind all interconnections and brotherhood. As the late Theosophical teacher Ianthe Hoskins said so often, quoting HPB, "Existence is one thing."

Another principle can be found in the cycles that occur everywhere in nature, of which reincarnation is an instance. Still another is the unfoldment of consciousness from within, which gives rise to evolution in the kingdoms of nature, as well as to races and rounds. This is associated with emanation of forms from higher or more ethereal levels of being to lower or denser ones. The planes of nature derive from this universal principle.

We know basic truths primarily as concepts, through words, thoughts, theories of which we are convinced. But Theosophical teacher and author Joy Mills tells us that we must learn to distinguish first truths from the mental concepts that derive from them. The Masters experience these first truths, not through thought processes, but as "instantaneous, implicit insight." This kind of knowing is a function of consciousness itself. Concepts and constructs have their place, but they cannot replace this fundamental knowing. Indeed such instantaneous insight suffers in the translation into content or ordinary knowledge. As is said in the Mahatma Letters, "‘Truthâ— is One; and cannot admit of diametrically opposite views; and pure spirits who see it as it is with the veil of matter entirely withdrawn from it—cannot err" (Barker and Chin, 67; emphasis in the original).

We live primarily in the personality, the physical body, the emotions, and the lower or concrete mind, whereas adepts are centered in the higher individuality: atma or essential being, buddhi or higher intuition, and manas or spiritual insight and knowledge. Adepts live, not in truths, but in Truth.

The adept sees and feels and lives in the very source of all fundamental truths—the Universal Spiritual Essence of Nature, that from which all emerges—Ultimate Reality. Noted Theosophical author I. K. Taimni has said that in Ultimate Reality all truths of existence are contained in an integrated and harmonized form. They appear as partial and different truths of infinite variety in the realm of manifestation. In occultism only Ultimate Reality is referred to as Truth.

Trying to portray a state of total contemplation, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross says that he passed beyond all ordinary knowledge and reached a state of knowing beyond words. Similarly, the Tao Teh Ching says that the Tao (the essential reality) that can be said is not the true Tao. The third Chinese Châ—an Buddhist patriarch advised that if you stop talking and thinking, "there is nothing you will not be able to know." Our ordinary state of mind is subject to distortion, fantasy, dreams, maya or illusion. We must quiet this mind in order to see Truth.

The Idyll of the White Lotus, a work by the nineteenth-century Theosophist Mabel Collins, says: "The principle that gives life dwells in us, and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard, or seen, or smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception" (Collins, 123). If we can still our minds and learn to perceive it, we move a step above our "land of dream and fiction" to the Mastersâ— "Truth land" (Barker and Chin, 440). It is then possible to have moments of "instantaneous, implicit insight."


Barker, A. T., and Vicente Hao Chin Jr., eds. The Mahatma Letters from the Mahatmas M. and K. H. in Chronological Sequence. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998.

Blavatsky, H. P. The Secret Doctrine. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1979.

Collins, Mabel. The Idyll of the White Lotus. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1952.

Jinarajadasa, C., ed. Letters from the Masters of Wisdom, First Series. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1948.

Shirley Nicholson, former chief editor for Quest Books, served as director of the Krotona School of Theosophy in Ojai, California, and later as administrative head of the Krotona Institute. She is corresponding secretary for the Esoteric School in North America. She is author of two books on Theosophy, compiler of several anthologies, and has written many articles for Theosophical journals.