“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”


I was surprised when someone wrote and asked about this one, saying that he doubted it was a genuine quote from the Buddha. It had never occurred to me that anyone would think this was a Buddhist quote and I’d never heard this described as Buddhist. And yet, seek, and ye shall find (also not one of the Buddha’s). It turns out that it’s all over the internet, including on at least one quotes site, although as a “Buddhist proverb” rather than directly attributed to the Buddha. But the quote is also ascribed to the Buddha, not just on websites, but in several books.

When I first began investigating this quote it quickly became clear that it likely had a Theosophical origin. If you’re not familiar with Theosophy (which was still popular in certain circles into the mid-20th century, and is still around), Wikipedia tell us,

In 1875 Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge co-founded The Theosophical Society. Blavatsky combined Eastern religious traditions with Western esoteric teachings to create a synthesis she called the Perennial Religion. She developed this in Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), her major works and exposition of her Theosophy.

For example in a 1914 periodical, The Herald of the Star (a publication of a Theosophical organization, “The Order of the Star in the East”), we’re told that “in the various occult Orders which seem always to have existed throughout the world, it has been expressed in the words, ‘When the pupil is ready, the Master will appear.’”

And in Theosophy magazine of 1918, we have “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

In a Masonic publication from 1922, The New Age magazine, we also read “It is said, in what is called Occultism, that when the pupil is ready the Master will appear.” “Occultism” here is another term for Theosophy.

And in a 1927 publication, Steps to Self-Mastery, S. R. Parchment says:

“When the pupil is ready, the Master appears” is an old Theosophical statement, and I have been able on several occasions to prove its truthfulness.

Other forms are “When the Seeker is ready, the Master will appear.” “the Master will appear when the disciple is ready” “When the student is ready, the master will appear.”

“An old Theosophical statement” is as close as I got until the magnificent Barry Popik came to the rescue, with his awe-inspiring research skills. Mr. Popik, according to his website,

is a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Yale Book of Quotations and Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. Since 1990 he has also been a regular contributor to Gerald Cohen’s Comments on Etymology. He is recognized as an expert on the origins of the terms Big Apple, Windy City, hot dog, and many other food terms, and he is an editor of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.

I bow deeply!

From page 48 of Light on the Path, by Mabel Collins.
From page 48 of Light on the Path, by Mabel Collins.
Mr. Popik traced the quote further back, to Light on the Path, by Mabel Collins. The third edition, which is on Google Books, is dated 1886, although presumably the first edition was published at least a year earlier.

Light on the Path is an odd work, describing itself as “A treatise written for the personal use of those who are ignorant of the Eastern wisdom, and who desire to enter within its influence.” The title page of the book is inscribed “Written down by M.C., Fellow of the Theosophical Society.” Why “written down by” rather than “written by”? The Theosophists claimed to be in contact with “Masters” or “mahatmas” in the East who dictated works to them. Therefore, M. C (Mabel Collins) presents herself not as an author, but as the Stenographer to the Awakened.

And on page 48 we find, “For when the disciple is ready the Master is ready also.”

Incidentally, the Enlightened Masters with whom the Theosophists were in mystical communion (some of the contact appears to have been telepathic) seem to have been influenced by the King James version of the Bible, for Light on the Path is full of passages like this:

If thou look not for him, if thou pass him by, then there is no safeguard for thee. Thy brain will reel, thy heart grow uncertain, and in the dust of the battle-field thy sight and senses will fail, and thou wilt not know thy friends from thy enemies. (p. 16)

Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society, was widely accused of faking teachings, and of plagiarism. A New York Times review of K. Paul Johnson’s The Masters Revealed, a book exposing Blavatsky says:

In 1884, Richard Hodgson of the British Society for Psychical Research went to India to investigate Blavatsky and called her “one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting impostors in history.”

William Emmette Coleman, in The Sources of Madame Blavatsky’s Writings, points out that in one Blavatsy’s Isis Unveiled there were “2000 passages copied from other books without proper credit” and that one work she claimed was a translation of a Tibetan teaching, was in fact “a compilation of ideas and terminology from various nineteenth-century books.”

Faking an entire Sutra takes Fake Buddha Quotes to a whole new level! Madame Blavatksy, Fake Buddha Quoter Extraordinaire, I salute you!

Mabel Collins later regretted having claimed that the book was dictated to her by the Mahatmas. In a letter of April 18, 1889, she wrote:

So far as I can remember I wrote you that I had received “Light on the Path” from one of the Masters who guide Madame Blavatsky. I wish to ease my conscience now by saying that I wrote this from no knowledge of my own, and merely to please her [Blavatsky]; and that I now see I was very wrong in doing so.

Blavatsky herself maintained her cover story to the bitter end.

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26 thoughts on ““When the student is ready the teacher will appear.””

  1. This is a great way to uncover old phases – I too thought it was an old buddhist teaching – I like how you put your articles together – well done!

      1. Though, since Theosophy admittedly gleaned their teachings from ancient philosophies, beliefs and religions, I think it may still be possible that the idea of this quote might still have come from some ancient text. Did Mr, Popik eliminate all other source texts? I don’t want to belabor the subject, and question the stated assertion that it is not Vedic or some other ancient quote, it has some import to my research for a book I am developing. Thanks.

        1. If this quote had originated in the Vedas, or some other ancient source, it would surely have come to light by now, Linda.

          1. Thanks for your reply. I read something similar in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Living Buddha, Living Christ just this afternoon after I sent the other comment. Thây attributed the quote to Buddha: “When conditions are sufficient, the body reveals itself, ands we say the body exists. When conditions are not sufficient, the body cannot be perceived by us, and we say the body does not exist.” Granted, he was writing about the ultimate dimension of reality, through mindfulness of our no-body, but the statement echoes of “when the seeker is ready

          2. Hi, Linda.

            In that particular context, what Thich Nhat Hanh is talking about is how the human body arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, and then ceases to be (dies) when those conditions can no longer be sustained. And so, in a sense, any perception we have of the body as a “thing” is just a snapshot, losing a dynamic appreciation of the body as part of the cycle of the elements. It isn’t connected, in any way that I can see, at least. with the idea of the teacher appearing when the student is ready.

            I’d also very much doubt whether this is something the Buddha said. Thay’s books seem to contain a number of paraphrases masquerading as quotes. I think what happens is that he gives a talk in which he says “The Buddha said…” and then gives a description, in his own words, of a Buddhist teaching. Then when his editors are turning his talks into books, they take these as actual quotes. I’ve seen several instances of this.

      2. its a buddhist saying , in the 3rd century text by lengthen pa, there is a saying , DUL ZA YO NA DULZED NANG

        1. Most interesting! Do you mean Longchenpa, Khamsung? Which text is that, and is it available in English? It’s extremely unlikely that Mabel Collins would have had access to any Tibetan texts, so this may just be a coincidence. But you never know.

    1. Thanks, Bill. That’s later than Collins’ book, of course. I wonder if she was one of the sources the “three initiates” drew on? Or perhaps they just picked up on the phrase somewhere after it went into circulation.

  2. i have read in a 11 century buddhist text saying when the disciple is ready teacher appears , it also gives an example of a pot full of water which reflect the moon,,,

    1. I’d like to know what that text is, Khamsung. I prefer to look at primary texts rather than simply take people’s word. It’s nothing personal — just that our recollection is often faulty. Please do let me know!

  3. Its all from ancient Egypt…that’s who Crowely and Madame B were most influenced by 🙂 Hermetiscm and Hindu philosophy are their basis. And Daniel is correct….

    1. Claims like this aren’t really meaningful without a source, Amelia. Anyone can make a claim that the quote came from a particular source, but those competing claims simply muddy the waters unless you can point to an actual text (rather than, say, someone else repeating the same claim).

  4. Can one really claim that any spiritual teaching are plagiarized? Plagiarism implies that one person owns the work. Surely concepts like “all is one” or “god is love” cannot be attributed to one person, regardless of who wrote them down. The entire history of spiritual knowledge, going back to the first cave paintings and art forms, in little more than an attempt to understand the same concept within the contexts of the current culture. When John Wheeler called Richard Feynman as 2AM in the spring of 1940 and said, “Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass” “Why?” “Because, they are all the same electron!” was he plagiarizing whomever was the first to say “all is one”?

    1. The charming example you quote from the interaction between Wheeler and Feynman is clearly not plagiarism. Plagiarism is taking another person’s words and claiming them as your own. If Blavatsky took passages from other people’s works, cobbled them together, and said it was her work, then this is plagiarism. Concepts can’t be plagiarized, although specific wordings of those concepts can.

      1. Actually, concepts can be plagiarized! You can take someone else’s ideas, repackage them, and claim they’re original to you. But what Blavatsky was accused of was copying entire passages wholesale, not merely recycling ideas.

  5. This comment is regarding the reference made to “seek and ye shall find”. That is a quote from Jesus, The Christ in the Holy Scriptures recorded in the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew. Both Luke 11:9 and Matthew 7:7 record, ” Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” The next verse in each reference continues on with this message. The above quote is taken from the New International Version translation of the Holy Bible.

    1. Laurie, perfect tie-in thanks!!! and much better in my case to quote Jesus than some fake budhist quote lol… and so clearly, better actually, gets to the heart of the original quote… busted… & supremely authenticated

  6. This website is great, both ‘Fake Buddha Quotes’ and ‘Real Buddha Quotes’. There are many ‘Buddhist’ quotes in Social Media and this website allowed me to see which quote is a genuine quote from the Lord Buddha. This is a great deed, all the best on your journey to open eyes!

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