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In this seminal work, Steiner lays out practical means of attaining metaphysical knowledge and mystical experience. "There slumber in every human being faculties by means of which he can acquire for himself a knowledge of higher worlds. Mystics, Gnostics, Theosophists — all speak of a world of soul and spirit which for them is just as real as the world we see with our physical eyes and touch with our physical hands. At every moment the listener may say to himself: that, of which they speak, I too can learn, if I develop within myself certain powers which today still slumber within me. There remains only one question — how to set to work to develop such faculties."This version has been custom formatted for Kindle and checked for typos. It includes an interactive table of contents.
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First ditigal edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
THE WAY OF INITIATION
THE STAGES OF INITIATION
THE CONTROL OF THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
SOME PRACTICAL ASPECTS
THE CONDITIONS OF ESOTERIC TRAINING
SOME RESULTS OF INITIATION
THE TRANSFORMATION OF DREAM LIFE
THE CONTINUITY OF CONSCIOUSNESS
THE PARTITION OF HUMAN PERSONALITY
THE GUARDIAN OF THE THRESHOLD
THE GREAT OR SECOND GUARDIAN OF THE THRESHOLD
There slumber in every human being, faculties by means of which he can acquire for himself a knowledge of higher worlds. Mystics, Gnostics, Theosophists - all speak of a world of soul and spirit, which for them is just as real as the world we see with our physical eyes and touch with our physical hands. At every moment the listener may say to himself: that, of which they speak, I too can learn, if I develop within myself certain powers which to-day still slumber within me. There remains only one question - how to set to work to develop such faculties. For this purpose, they only can give advice who already possess such powers. As long as the human race has existed there has always been a method of training, in the course of which, individuals possessing these higher faculties gave instruction to others who were in search of them. Such a training is called occult (esoteric) training, and the instruction thereby received is called occult (esoteric) teaching, or spiritual science. This designation naturally awakens misunderstanding. The listener may very easily be misled into the belief that this training is the concern of a special, privileged class, withholding its knowledge arbitrarily from its fellow-creatures. He may even think that nothing of real importance lies behind such knowledge, for it if were a true knowledge - he is tempted to think - there would be no need to make a secret of it; it might be publicly imparted and its advantages made to all. They who have been initiated into the nature of this higher knowledge, are not in the least surprised that the uninitiated should so think, for the secret of Initiation can only be understood by those who have to a certain degree experienced this Initiation into the higher knowledge of existence. The question may be raised: how, then, are the uninitiated, under these circumstances, to develop any human interest in this so-called esoteric knowledge? How and why are they to seek for something of whose nature they can form no idea! Such a question is based upon an entirely erroneous conception of the real nature of esoteric knowledge. There is, in truth, no difference between esoteric knowledge and all the rest of man’s knowledge and proficiency. This esoteric knowledge is no more of a secret for the average human being, than writing is a secret for those who have never learnt. And just as all can learn to write, who choose the correct method, so too, can all who seek the right way become esoteric students, and even teachers. In one respect only, do the conditions here differ from those that apply to external knowledge and proficiency. The possibility of acquiring the art of writing may be withheld from someone through poverty, or through the conditions of civilisation into which he is born; but for the attainment of knowledge and proficiency in the higher worlds, there is no obstacle for those who earnestly seek them.
Many believe that they must discover, at one place or another, the Masters of higher knowledge, in order to receive enlightenment from them. [footnote: See Appendix and the Editorial Preface.] Now in the first place, whoever strives earnestly after higher knowledge will shun no exertion, and fear no obstacle in his search for an Initiate who can lead him into the higher knowledge of the world. On the other hand, everyone may be certain that Initiation will find him under all circumstances, if he gives proof of an earnest and worthy endeavour to attain this knowledge. It is a natural law among allInitiates to withhold from no man the knowledge that is due to him; but there is an equally natural law which lays down that no word of esoteric knowledge shall be imparted to anyone not qualified to receive it. And the more strictly he observes these laws, the more perfect is an Initiate. The bond of union embracing all Initiates is spiritual and not external, but the two laws here mentioned, form, as it were, strong clasps, by which the component parts of this bond are held together. You may live in intimate friendship with an Initiate, and yet a gap severs you from his essential self, so long as you have not become an Initiate yourself. You may enjoy in the fullest sense, the heart, the love of an Initiate, yet he will only confide his knowledge to you, when you are ripe for it. You may flatter him; you may torture him; nothing can induce him to betray anything to you, inasmuch as you, at the present stage of your evolution, are not competent to receive it into your soul in the right way.
The methods by which a student is prepared for the reception of higher knowledge are minutely prescribed. The direction he is to take is traced with unfading, everlasting letters in the worlds of the spirit, where the Initiates guard the higher secrets. In ancient times, anterior to our history, the temples of the spirit were also outwardly visible; to-day, because our life has become so unspiritual, they are not to be found in the world visible to external sight; yet they are present spiritually everywhere, and all who seek, may find them.
Only within his own soul can a man find the means to unseal the lips of an Initiate. He must develop within himself certain faculties to a definite degree, and then the highest treasures of the spirit can become his own.
He must begin with a certain fundamental attitude of the soul. In Spiritual Science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration, of devotion for truth and knowledge. Without this attitude no one can become a student. The disposition shown in their childhood by subsequent students of higher knowledge, is well known to the experienced in these matters. There are children who look up with religious awe to those whom they venerate. For such people they have a respect which forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thought of criticism or opposition. Such children grow up into young men and women who feel happy when they are able to look up to anything that fills them with veneration. From the ranks of such children are recruited many students of higher knowledge. Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated person, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed on the handle to enter the room which for you is a holy place? If so, a feeling has been manifested within you, which may be the germ of your future adherence to the path of knowledge. It is a blessing for every human being in process of development, to have such feelings upon which to build. Only it must not be thought that this disposition leads to submissiveness and slavery. What was once a childish veneration for persons, becomes, later, a veneration for truth and knowledge. Experience teaches that they can best hold their heads erect, who have learnt to venerate where veneration is due; and veneration is always due when it flows from the depths of the heart.
If we do not develop within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve to something higher. The Initiate has only acquired the strength to lift his head to the heights of knowledge by guiding his heart to the depths of veneration and devotion. The heights of the spirit can only be climbed by passing through the portals of humility. You can only acquire right knowledge when you have learnt to esteem it. Man has certainly the right to turn his eyes to the light, but he must first acquire this right. There are laws in the spiritual life, as in the physical life. Rub a glass rod with an appropriate material, and it will become electric, that is, it will receive the power of attracting small bodies. This is in keeping with a law of nature. It is known to all who have learnt a little physics. Similarly, acquaintance with the first principles of Spiritual Science shows that every feeling of true devotion harboured in the soul, develops a power which may, sooner or later, lead further on the path of knowledge.
The student who is gifted with this feeling, or who is fortunate enough to have had it inculcated in a suitable education, brings a great deal along with him, when, later in life, he seeks admittance to higher knowledge. Failing such preparation, he will encounter difficulties at the very first step, unless he undertakes, by rigorous self-education, to create within himself this inner life of devotion. In our time,it is especially important that full attention be paid to this point. Our civilisation tends more towards critical judgment, and condemnation, than towards devotion and selfless veneration. Our children already criticize far more than they worship. But every criticism, every adverse judgment passed, disperses the powers of the soul for the attainment of higher knowledge, in the same measure that all veneration and reverence develops them. In this we do not wish to say anything against our civilization. There is no question here of levelling criticism against it. To this critical faculty, this self-conscious human judgment, this ‘prove all things and hold fast what is best’, we owe the greatness of our civilization, Man could never have attained to the science, the industry, the commerce, the legal advantages of our time, had he not applied to all things the standard of his critical judgment. But what we have thereby gained in external culture, we have had to pay for with a corresponding loss of higher knowledge of spiritual life. It must be emphasized that higher knowledge is not concerned with the veneration of persons, but the veneration of truth and knowledge.
Now the one thing that everyone must at once admit, is the difficulty for those involved in the external civilization of our time to advance to the knowledge of the higher worlds. They can only do so if they work energetically at themselves. At a time when the conditions of material life were simpler, the attainment of spiritual knowledge was also easier. Objects of veneration and worship stood out in better relief from the ordinary things of the world. In an epoch of criticism, ideals are lowered; other feelings take the place of veneration, respect, prayer and wonder. Our own age thrusts these feelings further and further into the background, so that they can only be conveyed to man, through his everyday life, in a very small degree. Whoever seeks higher knowledge, must create it for himself. He must instil it into his soul. It cannot be done by study; it can only be done through life. Whoever, therefore, wishes to become a student of higher knowledge, must assiduously cultivate this inner life of devotion. Everywhere in his environment and in his experiences, he must seek motives of admiration and homage. If I meet a man and blame him for his weakness, I rob myself of power to attain higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I gather such power. The student must continually be intent upon following this advice. The spiritually experienced know how much they owe to the circumstance, that in face of all things, they ever again turn to the good, and withhold adverse judgment. But this must not remain an external rule of life; rather it must take possession of our innermost soul. Man has it in his power to perfect himself, and, in time, completely to transform himself. But this transformation must take place in his innermost self, in his thought-life. It is not enough that I show respect only in my outward bearing; I must have this respect in my thoughts. The student must begin by absorbing this devotion into his thought-life. He must be wary of thoughts of disrespect, of adverse criticism, existing in his consciousness, and he must endeavour straightaway to cultivate thoughts of devotion.
Every moment that we set ourselves to discover in our consciousness, whatever there remains in it of adverse, disparaging and critical judgment of the world and of life; every such moment brings us nearer to higher knowledge. And we rise rapidly when we fill our consciousness in such moments with thoughts evoking in us admiration, respect and veneration for the world and for life. It is well known to those experienced in these matters, that, in every such moment, powers are awakened which otherwise remain dormant. In this way the spiritual eyes of man are opened. He begins to see things around him which he could not have seen before. He begins to understand that hitherto he had only seen a part of the world around him. A human being standing before him, now presents a new and different aspect. Of course this rule of life alone will not yet enable him to see, for instance, what is described as the human aura, because, for this purpose, a still higher training is necessary. But he can rise to this higher training, if he has previously undergone a rigorous training in devotion. [footnote: In the last chapter of his book, Theosophy, the author describes fully this Path of Knowledge; here it is only intended to give some practical details.]
Noiseless and unnoticed by the outer world is the treading of the Path of Knowledge. No change need be noticed in the student. He performs his duties as hitherto; he attends to his business as before. The transformation goes on only in the inner part of the soul hidden from outward sight. At first his entire inner life is flooded by this harmony of devotion for everything which is truly venerable. Hisentire soul-life finds in this fundamental feeling its pivot. Just as the sun’s rays vivify everything living, so does reverence, in the student, vivify all feelings of the soul.
It is not easy, at first, to believe that feelings like reverence and respect have anything to do with cognition. This is due to the fact that we are inclined to set cognition aside as a faculty by itself - one that stands in no relation to what otherwise transpires in the soul. In so thinking, we do not bear in mind that it is the soul which exercises the faculty of cognition; and feelings are, for the soul, what food is for the body. If we give the body stones in place of bread, its activity will cease. It is the same with the soul. Veneration, homage, devotion are as nutriment making it healthy and strong, especially strong for the activity of cognition. Disrespect, antipathy, under-estimation of what deserves recognition, exert a paralysing and withering effect on this faculty of cognition. For the spiritually experienced, this fact is visible in the aura. A soul which harbours feelings of reverence and devotion, produces a change in its aura. Certain spiritual colourings, as they may be called, yellow-red and brown-red in tone, vanish, and are replaced by blue-red tints. Thereby the cognitional faculty is ripened; it receives intelligence of facts in its environment, of which it has hitherto no idea. Reverence awakens a sympathetic power through which we attract qualities in the beings around us, which would otherwise remain concealed. The power obtained through devotion can be rendered still more effective, when the life of feeling is enriched by yet another quality. To achieve this the student learns to give himself up less and less to impressions of the outer world, and to develop instead a vivid inner life. A person who darts from one impression of the outer world to another, who constantly seeks ‘distraction’, cannot find the way to higher knowledge. The student must not blunt himself to the outer world, but while lending himself to its impressions, he should be directed by his rich inner life. When passing through a beautiful mountain district, the traveller with depth of soul and wealth of feeling has different experiences from one who is poor in feeling. Only what we experience within ourselves unlocks for us the beauties of the outer world. One person sails across the ocean, and only a few inward experiences pass through his soul; another will hear the eternal language of the cosmic spirit; for him are unveiled the mysterious riddles of existence. We must learn to remain in touch with our own feelings and ideas, if we wish to develop any intimate relationship with the outer world. The outer world, with all its phenomena, is filled with divine splendour, but we must have experienced the divine within ourselves, before we can hope to discover it in our environment.
The student is told to set apart moments in his daily life, in which to withdraw into himself, quietly and alone. He is not to occupy himself with the affairs of his own Ego, in such moments This would result in the contrary of what is intended. He should rather let his experiences and the messages from the outer world, re-echo within his own completely silent self. Every flower, every animal, every action will unveil to him in such silent moments, secrets undreamed of. And thus he will prepare himself to receive quite new impressions of the outer world, through quite different eyes. For the desire to enjoy impression after impression merely blunts the faculty of cognition; the latter, however, is nurtured and cultivated, if the enjoyment once experienced is allowed to reveal its message. Thus the student must accustom himself not merely to let the enjoyment reverberate, as it were, but rather to renounce any further enjoyment, and work upon the past experience. The peril here is very great. Instead of working inwardly, it is very easy to fall into the opposite habit of trying to exploit the enjoyment. Let no one undervalue the fact that unforeseen sources of error here confront the student. He must pass through a host of tempters of his soul. They would all harden his Ego and imprison it within itself. He should rather open it wide for all the world. It is necessary that he should seek enjoyment, for only through enjoyment can the outer world reach him. If he blunts himself to enjoyment, he becomes as a plant which cannot any longer draw nourishment from its environment. Yet if he stops short at the enjoyment, he shuts himself up within himself. He will only be something to himself and nothing to the world. However much he may live within himself, however intensely he may cultivate his Ego - the world will reject him. For the world he is dead. The student of higher knowledge considers enjoyment only as a means of ennobling himself for the world. Pleasure is to him as a scout informing him concerning the world; but once instructed by pleasure, he passes on to work. He does not learn in order to accumulate learning as his own treasure, but not to occupy in order that he may devote his learning to the service of the world.
In all Spiritual Science there is a fundamental principle which cannot be transgressed without sacrificing success, and it should be impressed on the student in every form of esoteric training. It runs as follows: ‘Every knowledge pursued merely for the enrichment of personal learning and the accumulation of personal treasure, leads you away from the path; but all knowledge pursued for growth to ripeness within the process of human ennoblement and cosmic development, brings you a step forward.’ This law must be rigidly observed, and no student is genuine until he has adopted it as a guide for his whole life. This truth can be expressed in the following short sentence - every idea which does not become your ideal, slays a force in your soul; every idea which becomes your ideal, creates within you life-forces.
At the very beginning of his course, the student is directed tothe ‘Path of Reverence’ and the development of theinner life. Spiritual Science now also gives him practical rules,by observing which, he may tread that path and develop that innerlife. These practical rules have no arbitrary origin. They restupon ancient experience and ancient wisdom, and are given out inthe same manner, wheresoever the ways to higher knowledge areindicated. All true teachers of the spiritual life are in agreementas to the character of these rules, even though they do not alwaysclothe them in the same words. This difference, which is of a minorcharacter, and is more apparent than real, is due to circumstanceswhich need not be dwelt upon here.
No teacher of the spiritual life wishes to establish a masteryover other persons by means of such rules. He would not tamper withany person’s independence. Indeed, none respect and cherishhuman independence more than the spiritually experienced. It wasstated in the preceding pages, that the bond of union embracing allInitiates is spiritual, and that two laws form, as it were, clasps,by which the component parts of this bond are held together.Whenever the Initiate leaves his enclosed spiritual circuit andsteps forth before the world, he must immediately take a third lawinto account. It is this: adapt each one of your actions, and frameeach one of your words in such a way that you infringe upon noman’s free-will.
The recognition that all true teachers of the spiritual life arepermeated through and through with this principle, will convinceall who follow the practical rules proffered to them, that theyneed sacrifice none of their independence.
One of the first of these rules can be expressed somewhat in thefollowing words of our language: ‘Provide for yourselfmoments of inner tranquillity, and learn, in these moments, todistinguish between the essential and the non-essential.’ Itis said advisedly: ‘Expressed in the words of ourlanguage.’ Originally all rules and teachings of SpiritualScience were expressed in a symbolical sign-language, someunderstanding for which must be acquired before its whole meaningand scope can be realized. This understanding is dependent on thefirst steps towards higher knowledge, and these steps result fromthe exact observation of such rules as are here given. For all whoearnestly will, the path stands open to tread.
Simple, in truth, is the above rule concerning moments of innertranquillity; equally simple is its observation. But it onlyachieves its purpose when it is observed in as earnest and strict amanner, as it is, in itself, simple. How this rule is to beobserved, will be explained, therefore, without digression.
The student must set aside a small part of his daily life, inwhich to concern himself with something quite different from theobjects of his daily occupation. The way, also, in which heoccupies himself at such a time, must differ entirely from the wayin which he performs the rest of his daily duties. But this doesnot mean that what he does in the time thus set apart, has noconnection with his daily work. On the contrary, he will soon findthat just these secluded moments, when sought in the right way,give him full power to perform his daily task. Nor must it besupposed that the observance of this rule will really encroach uponthe time needed for the performance of his duties. Shouldanyonereally have no more time at his disposal, five minutes a daywill suffice. It all depends on the manner in which these fiveminutes are spent.
At these periods, the student should wrest himself entirely freefrom his work-a-day life. His thoughts and feelings should take ona different colouring. His joys and sorrows, his cares, experiencesand actions must pass in review before his soul; and he must adoptsuch a position that he may regard all his sundry experiences froma higher point of view.
We need only bear in mind how, in ordinary life, we regard theexperiences and actions of others quite differently from our own.This cannot be otherwise, for we are interwoven with our ownactions and experiences, whereas those of others we onlycontemplate. Our aim in these moments of seclusion, must be so tocontemplate and judge our own actions and experiences, as thoughthey applied not to ourselves but to some other person. Suppose,for example, a heavy misfortune befalls us. How different would beour attitude towards a similar misfortune, had it befallen ourneighbour! This attitude cannot be blamed as unjustifiable; it ispart of human nature, and applies equally to exceptionalcircumstances and to the daily affairs of life. The student mustseek the power of confronting his own self, at certain times, as astranger. He must stand before his own self with the innertranquillity of a judge. When this is attained, our own experiencespresent themselves in a new light. As long as we are interwovenwith them and stand, as it were, within them, we cling to thenon-essential just as much as to the essential. If we attain thecalm inner survey, the essential is severed from the non-essential.Sorrow and joy, every thought, every resolve, appear different whenwe confront ourselves in this way. It is as though we had spent thewhole day in a place where we saw the smallest objects at the sameclose range as the largest, and in the evening climbed aneighbouring hill, and surveyed the whole scene at a glance. Thenthe various parts appear related to each other in differentproportions from those they bore when seen from within. Thisexercise will not and need not succeed with current blows of fate,but it should be attempted by the student in connection withmisfortune experienced in the past. The value of such innertranquil self-contemplation depends far less on what is actuallycontemplated, than on our finding within ourselves the power whichsuch inner tranquillity develops.
For every human being bears within himself, besides what we maycall the work-a-day man, a higher man. And each individual can onlyhimself awaken this higher being within him. As long as this higherbeing is not awakened, the higher faculties, slumbering in everyhuman being, and leading to supersensible knowledge, will remainconcealed. The student must resolve to persevere in the strict andearnest observation of the rule here given, so long as he does notfeel within himself the fruits of this inner tranquillity. To allwho thus persevere, the day will come when spiritual light willenvelope them, and a new world will be revealed to an organ ofsight of whose existence, within them, they were hithertounaware.
And no change need take place in the outward life of the studentin consequence of this new rule. He performs his duties, and, atfirst, feels the same joys, sorrows and experiences as before. Inno way can it estrange him from life; he can rather devote himselfthe more thoroughly to this life, for the remainder of the day,having gained a higher life in the moments set apart. Little bylittle this higher life will make its influence felt on hisordinary life. The tranquillity of the moments set apart willaffect also everyday existence. In his whole being, he will growcalmer, he will attain firm assurance in all his actions, and willcease to be put out of countenance by all manner of incidents. Bythus advancing he will gradually become more and more his ownguide, and will allow himself, less and less, to be led bycircumstances and external influences. He will soon discover howgreat a source of strength is available to him in these momentsthus set apart. He will begin no longer to get angry at thingswhich formerly angered him; countless things which he formerlyfeared cease to alarm him. He acquires a new outlook on life.Formerly he may have approached some occupation in a faint-heartedway. He would say: ‘Oh, I lack the power to do this as wellas I could wish.’ Now this thought does not occur to him, butrather a quite different thought. Henceforth he says to himself:‘I will summon up all my strength to do my work as well as Ipossibly can.’ And he suppresses the thought which makes himfaint-hearted; for he knows that this very thought might be thecause of a worse performance on his part, and that, in any case, itcannot contribute to the improvement of his work. And thus thoughtafter thought, eachfraught with advantage to his whole life, flowinto the student’s outlook. They take the place of those thathad a hampering, weakening effect. He begins to steer his own shipon a secure course through the waves of life, whereas it wasformerly battered to and fro by these waves.
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