The Need for Personal Responsibility
Each Student Has to Do His Own
Homework, So to Say, and Learn His Lessons
Steven H. Levy
In her article “Practical Occultism” H. P. Blavatsky begins by distinguishing between theoretical and practical occultism, and what it takes to become a Theosophist, versus an occultist.
Whereas it is necessary to develop the heart qualities to become a Theosophist, a practical occultist has to fully develop the spiritual faculties of true clairvoyance, will and intuition. The latter qualities endow the individual with three powers, natural in the mind united to the spiritual soul.
The first higher psychic power is the ability to see and know what is good to do. The word “good” as used here goes beyond the normal meaning of good intentions, the altruistic desire to help another, or all relative value judgments. It is full knowledge of the consequences of action to the individual in all departments of their nature, as well as the effect such action will have on others, now and in the future. It is knowledge of the karma of many lives that have led to the present circumstance with all its apparent obstacles and difficulties.
The second higher psychic power is the right discrimination between good and evil. It includes all the abilities of the previously mentioned power, plus the ability to know what is pleasing to and needed by the Soul. All evil is the result of ignorance. As each human being is the partial and temporary vehicle of an individual spiritual monad pursuing its own evolution over many lifetimes, it is necessary to know what spiritual lessons have been learned or not by the monad, in order to truly know what is good or evil for another.
The third higher psychic power is the ability to do that good, without apparently lifting a finger. This ability requires the full use of meditation, concentration, and will, plus a knowledge of the occult laws and chemistry of nature.
Occult chemistry refers to the hidden sympathies, interactions, and correspondences between the beings in every visible and invisible department of nature, as well as their interaction with the nature of the occultist. All human beings are inherently and potentially creative forces in nature; however, the occultist, thoroughly uniting thought and will, thinks what is willed and wills to create whatever is thought.
Thus, it is clear why a teacher of the Sacred Sciences assumes an enormous responsibility for the regular disciple, whose sins of commission and omission present a real danger to him whenever he begins to really teach the pupil. The teachers take upon themselves the responsibility for the errors of their accepted and proven, but not fully initiated, disciples.
What does this have to do then with those who aspire to be true Theosophists? As soon as students decide to take a step on the path of spiritual self-development by cultivating the heart qualities, they are preparing themselves to pursue the highest path of discipleship in this or some future life. A rent in the veil of silence and secrecy of the sanctuaries for ages was made when H.P.B. published “The Secret Doctrine”. On the dedication page she writes:
“This Work I Dedicate to all True Theosophists, In every Country, And of every Race, for they called it forth, and for them it was recorded.”
It is no small matter to deprive True Theosophists, regardless of their race, creed, sex, condition, or theosophical affiliation, access to the genuine doctrines of the Occult Philosophy, consciously or unconsciously, with good or evil intentions, by acts of commission or omission.
From those to whom much is given, much is expected. Every true Theosophist shares in the responsibility of calling forth publicly this knowledge and in different degrees shares the karma of its misuse, misrepresentation, and misinterpretation. Not everyone can be a practical occultist. However, anyone can compassionately and impersonally correct the misunderstanding and misdirection of the teachings by others. If not by actually promulgating the teachings themselves, they can at least point to where those pure teachings can be found. Assuming responsibility for the promulgation of the Teachings, to the best one is able, as if its presence and influence in the world personally depended in part on one’s individual action, is a key component in Self-development.
As H.P.B. writes in “Practical Occultism”:
“But it is quite another matter to put oneself upon the path which leads to the knowledge of what is good to do, as to the right discrimination of good from evil; a path which also leads a man to that power through which he can do the good he desires, often without even apparently lifting a finger.”
And she added:
“Moreover, there is one important fact with which the student should be made acquainted. Namely, the enormous, almost limitless, responsibility assumed by the teacher for the sake of the pupil. From the Gurus of the East who teach openly or secretly, down to the few Kabalists in Western lands who undertake to teach the rudiments of the Sacred Science to their disciples - those western Hierophants being often themselves ignorant of the danger they incur - one and all of these ‘Teachers’ are subject to the same inviolable law. From the moment they begin really to teach, from the instant they confer any power - whether psychic, mental or physical - on their pupils, they take upon themselves all the sins of that pupil, in connection with the Occult Sciences, whether of omission or commission, until the moment when initiation makes the pupil a Master and responsible in his turn. (…) Thus it is clear why the ‘Teachers’ are so reticent, and why ‘Chelas’ are required to serve a seven years’ probation to prove their fitness, and develop the qualities necessary to the security of both Master and pupil.” 
While the above passage is obviously emphasizing the responsibility and risks assumed by the Masters for their accepted disciples, these words in no way imply that the disciple is not also responsible. They do not interfere with the actions of a disciple, as disciples are permitted to act autonomously until the end of their regular discipleship.
The conditions of this special relationship do not apply to those who affiliate themselves with the theosophical movement or aspire to one day be an accepted disciple.
The Masters may be Founders of the theosophical movement and work behind the scenes and in public to further the fulfillment its objects. Nevertheless, they do not assume the karma of individual theosophists, lead us by the hand in our evolution, or vicariously atone for our mistakes. Each of us has to do his or her own homework, so to speak, and learn his own lessons.
The Need for Personal Responsibility
 “Practical Occultism”. The article is included in the three-volume compilation entitled “Theosophical Articles”, by H. P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, 1981. See volume II, pp. 91-92.
The above text was first published at the July 2014 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”.
On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.