A popular term to indicate the way an individual leads a religious life, especially if the way is prescribed with stages leading toward a preset goal. With Theosophy this term has taken on a special meaning in that it is used to denote not only the path itself but also the probationary path along which an individual must journey before he can enter on the path proper.
In order to begin the journey down a path, the individual first must be wholeheartedly devoted to this service. At the entrance to the probationary path, one becomes the chela or disciple of one of the masters or perfected beings who have all finished the great journey, and one must devote oneself to acquiring four qualifications, which are (1) knowledge of what only is real; (2) rejection of what is unreal; (3) the six mental attributes of control over thought, control over outward action, tolerance, endurance, faith, and balance; and (4) the desire to be one with God.
During the period of efforts to acquire these qualifications, the chela advances in many ways. The master imparts wise counsel and teaches the chela through meditation how to attain divine heights unthought of by ordinary human beings. The chela constantly works for the betterment of others, usually in the hours of sleep. Striving thus and in similar directions, he or she becomes fitted for the first initiation at the entrance to the path proper. It may be mentioned that the chela has the opportunity either during probation or afterward to forego the heavenly life that is due. The chela may allow the world to benefit by the powers that he or she has gained, which in ordinary course would have been utilized in the heavenly life. In this case, the chela re-mains in the astral world, from whence he or she makes frequent returns to the physical world.
There are four initiations that begin a new stage on the path, and each manifests the knowledge of that stage. On the first stage there are three obstacles or, as they are commonly termed, fetters, that must be cast aside, and these are the illusion of self, which must be realized to be only an illusion; doubt, which must be cleared away by knowledge; and superstition, which must be cleared away by the discovery of what in truth is real.
After this stage is traversed, the second initiation follows, and after this comes the consciousness that earthly life will now be short; only once again will physical death be experienced and the disciple begins more and more to function in the mental body.
After the third initiation, the disciple has two other fetters to unloose—desire and aversion, and now knowledge becomes keen and piercing and the disciple can gaze deep into the heart of things.
After the fourth initiation, the disciple enters on the last stage and is finally freed of what fetters remain—the desire for life whether bodily or not and the sense of individual difference from fellow human beings. The disciple has now reached the end of the journey and is no longer trammelled with sin or with anything that can hinder him or her from entering the state of supreme bliss, where he or she is reunited with the divine consciousness.
This theosophical scheme of spiritual realization has similarities with other mystical paths both East and West, but has a special affinity with Hinduism.
Leadbeater, Charles W. The Masters and the Path. Chicago: Theosophical Press, 1925.