Now bend thy head and listen well, O Bodhisattva — Compassion speaks and saith: "Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?" — The Voice of the Silence, p. 71There are certain beings whose love is so all-encompassing, whose self-abnegation is so great, whose sense of unity with the One is so relatively complete, that at a certain period of their evolution they turn back on the path and become beneficent forces in the spiritual and intellectual life of humanity, sacrificing their own advancement for aeons upon aeons to come, and enduring what is to them little less than a living hell, in order to help by remaining as a spiritual fire in the atmosphere of a planet or of a solar system. These are the Buddhas of Compassion.
All nature bows in reverence and awe before them; for they stand higher than the gods whom otherwise they would have joined and gone beyond.
The Great Ones of the earth live for the world, in it but not of it, linked with it by their own act of mighty compassion; and they will enter no permanent nirvana until humanity, through the natural course of evolution, shall have progressed to the point of no longer needing the spiritual stimulation that is given by the Buddhas of Compassion.
Greater love hath no man than that he give up his life for his brother. But when the Buddha of Compassion gives up everything that he is, gives up all individual advancement, in order to go back into the murk of the physical sphere to help and save humanity, there indeed is divinity itself at work!
The Pratyeka Buddha, on the other hand, is one who strives after and achieves buddhahood for himself. He raises himself to the spiritual realms of his own inner being where he enwraps himself, not heeding the call to return and help mankind. He is a very pure and holy individual; otherwise he could not possibly reach nirvana. But he is so completely absorbed in the beauty and glory and wonder of the spiritual spheres, that that very beauty is like a veil which beclouds his eyes and dims his memory of the struggling hosts of beings behind him. Though exalted, the Pratyeka Buddha does not rank with the unutterable sublimity of the Buddha of Compassion.
The Buddha of Pity puts all that lives before himself in the measure of importance; the Pratyeka, the Buddha 'for self alone,' puts himself before all that lives. Both are on the right-hand path; but the one lives for the world, and the other lives for himself in the world for the purpose of gaining individual nirvana.
If we were to perform a deed of mercy solely in order to stifle something within or to be more at peace with ourselves, then in the last analysis this would be selfish; it would exemplify just what a Pratyeka Buddha is. Yearning for self-advancement is spiritual selfishness. No one who has ever felt stirring in his heart a self-forgetful glow of pity, of universal love, the instinct of self-sacrifice for others, could ever conceive that all this is a moving of the soul based upon mere self-interest. The ideas are as utterly apart as the two poles.
The Pratyeka Buddhas and the Buddhas of Compassion in a certain sense may be likened to the old fable of the tortoise and the hare. The Pratyekas are like the hare; they leap forward into the future and win for themselves a glorious place in the spheres. But the Buddhas of Compassion remain behind in order to accomplish the noblest work that it is given even unto the gods to do — to lead the army of those less evolved than they: to lead them to the Light, to the Great Peace; and although their individual progress seems slower than that of the Pratyekas, nevertheless the time will come when the Buddhas of Compassion will pass beyond the Pratyekas, who will be found crystallized in their spiritual purity and, for the time being, unable to advance farther.
But, because the Buddhas of Compassion have renounced the personal self for the Self of the universe, the very heart of the universe is active within them and thus their progress will actually be accelerated. When, in the far distant aeons of the future, the Pratyekas emerge from their nirvanic state, they will have to begin a new path of evolution as learners, whereas the Buddhas of Compassion will already by then be far ahead of them.
Do the Buddhas of Compassion have no joy in their work? Indeed they do, for their hearts are at peace, knowing they are allied with the gods, and that through them flows the stream of illumination from the Silent Watcher. They are the Great Helpers, helping always whenever karma permits, which means the karma of the individual, whether it be a human being or a race.
Each one of us is an unexpressed buddha, even now. It is our higher self, and as we conquer in the battle with self — for that is our only impediment, strange paradox, because it is the pathway we must tread — as we conquer the self in order to become the greater self, we approach with every step nearer and nearer to the 'sleeping' buddha within. And yet truly it is not the buddha which is 'asleep'; it is we who are sleeping on the bed of matter, dreaming evil dreams brought about by our passions, egoism and selfishness — making thick and heavy veils of personality around the buddha within.
H.P.B. has called the Buddhas of Compassion the very incarnation of wisdom and love, the two greatest elements in the universe: wisdom, which is supreme vision, knowledge from recollections of eternities past, and utter acquiescence in and forming part of nature's laws; and love, impersonal and majestic, leading to the sacrifice of self even when on the very threshold of nirvana.
It may be at first very confusing to hear about so many gods, dhyani-chohans, buddhas, bodhisattvas, and what not. But it need not be so if we remove the old idea from our minds that the gods are one family of beings, and men are some other and quite distinct family. We are children of the gods, literally, embryo gods; and the gods who now are, were once men. What the dhyani-buddhas are to the dhyani-bodhisattvas, the human buddhas are on this plane to the human bodhisattvas. The rule is the same.
Every dhyani-buddha or 'buddha of contemplation' has his mind-born sons, so to speak, his spiritual offspring, who are the dhyani-bodhisattvas. Let me illustrate: when a teacher arouses the soul in a man and leads him to a greater, nobler life, that now understanding man is then a bodhisattva of his teacher. The teacher has transplanted a portion of his own life-essence, a part of his own mind, into the life of the disciple, thereby awakening within him the manasaputric fires. This is what the dhyani-buddhas do to other high entities on their own plane; they have their pupils in whom they arouse the bodhisattvic faculty, the buddhic splendor, thus bringing about the coming into being of the dhyani-bodhisattvas, and, later, the human or manushya-buddhas.
Similarly so on the human plane: when the manushya-buddhas find fit disciples, they inspire them, infill them with holy spiritual and intellectual fire, so that when these pupils themselves are relatively complete in spirituality, they become manushya-bodhisattvas, on their way to becoming manushya-buddhas. And this is so because the buddha-light is awakened within them; each one feels the god within himself, and from that moment he knows neither pause nor rest until he too attains human buddhahood.
Concerning the various kinds of buddhas: one common procedure and structure runs throughout, so that if we understand the nature and function of one class of buddhas, we shall understand in outline the entire range of the teaching. For instance, every round is under the governance of a dhyani-buddha who is divisible into seven 'children,' making the maha-buddhas of the seven globes. Each one of such maha-buddhas is again divisible into seven 'children,' making the racial buddhas.
Of the two buddhas appearing in every root-race — one towards the beginning and the other towards the middle or the end, depending upon circumstances — one of them is particularly devoted to the root-race as a race. The same buddhic influence, however, working through the especial racial buddha, manifests itself in quite a large number of bodhisattvas, all belonging to the same race, who may be called minor buddhas; and these appear at periodic intervals during the race. Gautama the Buddha was such a bodhisattva in and through whom the racial buddha manifested its transcendent power. These bodhisattvas usually are also the individuals who appear at the beginning of every so-called Messianic cycle, which averages some 2,160 years.
The buddha who appears about the middle or towards the end of a race is the particular buddha of the following root-race, who thus appears a little ahead of his own time in order to guide, in collaboration with the racial buddha himself, the end of the race towards coalescing and connecting with the succeeding root-race.
Source : http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/fso/fso10b.htm