Ascended Masters, in the Ascended Master Teachings is derived from the Theosophical concept of Masters of the Ancient Wisdom or “Mahatmas”. They are believed to be spiritually enlightened beings who in past incarnations were ordinary humans, but who have undergone a process of spiritual transformation. The term “Ascended Master” was first introduced in 1934 with the publication of Unveiled Mysteries  by Guy Ballard in The “I AM” Activity. This concept was further popularized by authors such as Baird T. Spalding during the 1930s, and in books like The Bridge to Freedom (1951), The Summit Lighthouse (1958), and various other organizations such as the White Eagle Lodge (1936).
Beliefs about Ascended Masters
Originally presented by H. P. Blavatsky in the 1870s, the “Masters of Wisdom” or “Mahatmas” or “Elder Brothers”  were further developed by C. W. Leadbeater, Alice Bailey, Helena Roerich, Manly P. Hall. Later on many others in theosophy-based organizations, especially in the United States, developed the concept of Ascended Masters which departs from the theosophical one in several aspects. It is believed that Ascended Masters are individuals who were formerly embodied on the Earth and learned the lessons of life during their incarnations. They gained mastery over the limitations of the matter planes, balanced at least 51% of negative karma, and fulfilled their Dharma (Divine Plan). An Ascended Master, in such an understanding, has become God-like and a source of unconditional “Divine Love” to all life, and through the Ascension has united with his or her own “God Self,” the “I AM Presence.”
It is further claimed by various groups and teachers that the Ascended Masters serve as the teachers of mankind from the realms of Spirit, and that all people will eventually attain their Ascension and move forward in spiritual evolution beyond this planet. According to these teachings, they remain attentive to the spiritual needs of humanity, and act to inspire and motivate its spiritual growth. In many traditions and organizations, they are considered part of the Spiritual Hierarchy for Earth, and members of the Great Brotherhood of Light, also known as the Great White Lodge, Great White Brotherhood, or Universal White Brotherhood (per Peter Deunov).
According to Alice Bailey and Benjamin Creme there are sixty Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, defined as beings who have reached the Fifth Level of Initiation or above, with Djwhal Khul in a pivotal role as the master who telepathically dictated the many esoteric teachings in Baileys’ books. Elizabeth Clare Prophet revealed the names of a number of these Ascended Masters that were previously unknown.
The concept of recognizing the spiritual self, one’s own psychological and karma battles and how to overcome them, and eventual Ascension of all humanity is covered in James Redfield‘s Celestine Prophecy and its sequels, The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision and The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight. These books, while controversial, are recent popularizations of the concept of Ascension.
The founder of the Theosophical Society, H. P. Blavatsky, in the late 19th century brought attention to the idea of secret initiatory knowledge, by claiming her ideas were based on traditions transmitted to her by occult means from a group of highly evolved humans which she called the Mahatmas or Masters. These Mahatmas, she claimed, were physical beings living in the Himalayas, usually understood as Tibet.
- “.. they are living men, born as we are born, and doomed to die like every mortal. We call them “masters” because they are our teachers; and because from them we have derived all the Theosophical truths… They are men of great learning, whom we call Initiates, and still greater holiness of life.” 
While some of her critics believe the Masters are pure fantasy, other writers suggest that her changing stories were meant to hide the identities of real human teachers guiding her work. Blavatsky claimed that she personally met numerous Masters on countless occasions, and was also the guest of the Master Koot Hoomi while visiting the “Little Tibet” region of Kashmir.
After Madame Blavatsky’s death in 1891, the Mahatma concept was developed by her successors in the Theosophical Society leadership, Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater, who described the Masters in great detail and added Jesus and Maitreya. In Leadbeater’s book, The Masters and the Path (1925), the Masters are presented as human beings full of wisdom and compassion, albeit still limited by human bodies. Later theosophy-based organizations developed the theory adding more elements developing the concept of Ascended Masters which bears some important differences with the Theosophical one.
Comparison of unascended and Ascended Masters
There is considerable difference between the concept of Masters of Wisdom in 19th century theosophy (as described by Blavatsky, Olcott, Sinnett, and others) and the current concept of Ascended Masters. The believers in “Immortal Saints and Sages”  claim that these individuals have gone through a series of Initiations symbolically represented in the life of Jesus by the stages of Birth, Baptism, Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Ascension. The twentieth century teachings of the Ballards, Prophets, and others interpreted these stages as actual events and claim that although Morya and Koot Hoomi (Kuthumi) were Adepts and Masters of the lower matter planes and the elemental forces of nature, they had not become Ascended Masters until 1898, while Serapis and the Maha Chohan, who were interacting with Theosophists during Blavatsky’s time, already were Ascended Masters. This is not supported by the original Theosophical view.
An unascended Master has, according to these later teachings, overcome the limitations of the lower matter octaves (physical, emotional, mental), yet has chosen to postpone the final Initiation of the Ascension to remain in time and space to externalize and focus the Consciousness of God for the evolutions of the Earth. If a person takes a Bodhisattva vow, they may choose to remain with the humanity of this Earth as an unascended Master in one of the lower Spirit/Matter Octaves, as was the case with Babaji. It is believed by proponents of these beliefs that if enough mastery and externalization of the Divine Nature has been developed, such an Adept becomes an Initiate of one of the Brotherhoods or Sisterhoods of Light under the auspices of the Great White Brotherhood. It is claimed that there can be a high degree of attainment within the lower body vehicles of expression (physical, emotional, mental, memory), yet that Adept may still not be Ascended (not primarily expressing through the Higher Bodies).
One such teaching claims that examples of unascended Masters are: Yogananda, Mataji, and Lao-tzu. The belief is that they have un-Ascended bodies that are not flesh and blood of the lowest of the sub-plane substance of the physical octave, but of the “finer matter” that composes the upper etheric sub-planes of the physical octave, as well as the emotional (astral) octave, and the mental octave.
The Great White Brotherhood
The Masters are collectively called the “Great White Brotherhood” in Theosophical system. The use of the term “white” refers to their advanced spirituality (i.e., that they have a white colored aura) and has nothing to do with race. Blavatsky described many of the Masters as ethnically Tibetan or Indian (Hindu), not European. She did, however, describe them as being from all cultures and races, such as the “Greek gentleman” known as Hilarion.
Belief in the Brotherhood and the Masters is an essential part of the syncretistic teachings of various organizations that have taken the Theosophical philosophical concepts and added their own elements. Examples of those believed to be Ascended Masters by these organizations are Jesus, Sanat Kumara, Gautama Buddha, Maitreya, Confucius, Lord Lanto (Confucius’ historical mentor), Mary the Mother of Jesus, Lady Master Nada, Enoch, Kwan Yin, Saint Germain, and Kuthumi, to name but a few. It is believed that all of these put aside any differences they might have had in their Earthly careers, and unite instead to advance the spiritual well-being of humanity.
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