Rudolf Steiner’s thought is central in world culture of the past century and has contributed to the growth of humanity through a very particular path. His studies have embraced theosophy, anthroposophy and his knowledge of the paths of enlightenment has contributed to the development of a new planetary consciousness. Steiner addressed the issue of education as a primary in his thoughts, knowing that education was a key development important. Many are the texts that surround his educational thought. Here we present the first dedicated to personal growth and initiation. Are enclosed in the text of the wise who want to prove how in every man there are faculties which, if properly aroused, allow him to gain knowledge about the higher worlds, following the steps of Initiation: preparation, lighting, control of thoughts and feelings. The start along this path requires a very specific attitude of the soul must begin a process of self-education and subsequently eliminating the root dampening criticism, judgment, sentencing disposition which are proper to a being akin to veneration of knowledge. Of particular interest are the chapters devoted to the modification of the dream life of the Initiate and his meeting with the Small and the Great Guardian of the Threshold. In the description and commentary of this match Steiner recalls the significance of the multiple incarnations of the human being in the course of its evolution. The meaning of pedagogical work appears where it is recalled that man participates in the improvement of the world by implementing a universal regeneration of the spiritual dimension, linking its development to the natural cycles.
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Collection I grandi dell’educazione
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Original title: Wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse der höheren Welten?
Translation done by the team of editorial KKIEN Publishing International
First digital edition: 2014
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Preface to the Edition of May 1918
Preface to the Sixth Edition
Preface to the Third Edition
1. HOW IS KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS ATTAINED?
2. THE STAGES OF INITIATION
3. SOME PRACTICAL ASPECTS
4. THE CONDITIONS OF ESOTERIC TRAINING
5. SOME RESULTS OF INITIATION
6. THE TRANSFORMATION OF DREAM LIFE
7. THE CONTINUITY OF CONSCIOUSNESS
8. THE SPLITTING OF THE HUMAN PERSONALITY DURING SPIRITUAL TRAINING
9. THE GUARDIAN OF THE THRESHOLD
10. LIFE AND DEATH: THE GREATER GUARDIAN OF THE THRESHOLD
In preparing this new edition of Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment I have gone over every detail of the subject as I had presented it over ten years ago. The urge to make such a review is natural in the case of disclosures concerning soul experiences and paths such as are indicated in this book. There can be no portion of what is imparted which does not remain intimately a part of the one who communicates it, or which does not contain something that perpetually works upon his soul. And it is inevitable that this work of the soul should be joined by an endeavor to enhance the clarity and lucidity of the presentation as given years before. This engendered what I have endeavored to accomplish in this new edition. All the essential elements of the expositions, all the principal points, have remained as they were; yet important changes have been made. In many passages I have been able to increase the accuracy of characterization in detail, and this seemed to me important. If anyone wishes to apply what is imparted in this book to his own spiritual life, it is important that he should be able to contemplate the paths in question by means of a characterization as exact as possible. Misconceptions can arise in far greater measure in connection with the description of inner spiritual processes than with that of facts in the physical world. The mobility of the soul life, the danger of losing sight of how different it is from all life in the physical world—this and much else renders such misunderstandings possible. In preparing this new edition I have directed my attention to finding passages in which misconceptions might arise, and I have endeavored to forestall them.
At the time I wrote the essays that constitute this book, much had to be discussed in a different way from today, because at that time I had to allude in a different manner to the substance of what had been published since then concerning facts of cognition of the spiritual worlds. In my OccultScience, in The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind, in A Road to Self-Knowledge and the Threshold of the Spiritual World, as well as in other writings, spiritual processes are described whose existence, to be sure, was already inevitably indicated in this book ten years ago, but in words differing from those that seem right today. In connection with a great deal not described in this book I had to explain at that time that it could be learned by oral communication. Much of what this referred to has since been published. But these allusions perhaps did not wholly exclude the possibility of erroneous ideas in the reader's mind. It might be possible, for instance, to imagine that something much more vital in the personal relations between the seeker for spiritual schooling and this or that teacher than is intended. I trust I have here succeeded, by presenting details in a certain way, in emphasizing more strongly that for one seeking spiritual schooling in accord with present spiritual conditions an absolutely direct relation to the objective spiritual world is of far greater importance than a relation to the personality of a teacher. The latter will gradually become merely the helper; he will assume the same position in spiritualschooling as a teacher occupies, in conformity with modern views, in any other field of knowledge. I believe I have sufficiently stressed the fact that the teacher's authority and the pupil's faith in him should play no greater part in spiritual schooling than in any other branch of knowledge or life. A great deal depends, its seems to me, upon an increasingly true estimate of this relation between the one who carries on spiritual research and those who develop an interest in the results of his research. Thus I believe I have improved the book wherever I was in a position, after ten years, to find what needs improving.
A second part is to be added to this first part, bringing further explanations of the frame of mind that can lead a man to the experience of the higher worlds.
The new edition of the book, the printing completed, lay before me when the great war now being experienced by mankind broke out. I must write these prefatory remarks while my soul is deeply moved by the destiny-laden event.
Berlin, September 7, 1914.
Herewith appear in book form my expositions originally published as single essays under the title Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. For the present, this volume offers the first part; one that is to follow will constitute the continuation. This work on a development of man that will enable him to grasp the supersensible worlds cannot be presented to the public in a new form without certain comments which I shall now make. The communications it contains concerning the development of the human soul are intended to fill various needs.
First of all, something is to be offered those people who feel drawn to the results of spiritual research, and who must raise the question: “Well, whence do these persons derive their knowledge who claim the ability to tell us something of the profound riddles of life?”—Spiritual science does this. Whoever wishes to observe the facts leading to such claims must rise to supersensible cognition. He must follow the path I have endeavored to describe in this book. On the other hand, it would be an error to imagine these disclosures of spiritual science to be valueless for one who lacks the inclination or the possibility to pursue this path himself. In order to establish the facts through research, the ability to enter the supersensible worlds is indispensable; but once they have been discovered and communicated, even one who does not perceive them himself can be adequately convinced of their truth. A large proportion of them can be tested offhand, simply by applying ordinary common sense in a genuinely unprejudiced way. Only, one must not let this open-mindedness become confused by any of the pre-conceived ideas so common in human life. Someone can easily believe, for example, that some statement or other contradicts certain facts established by modern science. In reality, there is no such thing as a scientific fact that contradicts spiritual science; but there can easily seem to be contradictions unless scientific conclusions are consulted abundantly and without prejudice. The student will find that the more open-mindedly he compares spiritual science with positive scientific achievements, the more clearly is complete accord to be seen.
Another category of spiritual-scientific disclosures, it is true, will be found to elude purely mental judgment more or less; but the right relation to these also will be achieved without great difficulty by one who understands that not the mind alone but healthy feeling as well is qualified to determine what is true. And when this feeling does not permit itself to be warped by a liking or antipathy for some opinion or other, but really allows higher knowledge to act without prejudice, a corresponding sentient judgment results.
And there are many more ways of confirming this knowledge for those who cannot or do not wish to tread the path into the supersensible world. Such people can feel very clearly what value this knowledge has in life, even when it comes to them only through the communications of those engaged in spiritual research. Not everyone can immediately achieve spiritual vision; but the discoveries of those who have it can be health-giving life-nourishment for all. For everyone can apply them; and whoever does so will soon discover what life in every branch can be with their aid, and what it lacks without them. The results of supersensible knowledge, when properly employed in life, prove to be not unpractical, but rather, practical in the highest sense.
One who does not himself intend to follow the path to higher knowledge, but is interested in the facts it reveals, can ask: How does the seer arrive at these facts? To such a one this book is intended to picture the path in such a way that even one not following it can nevertheless have confidence in the communications of the person who has done so. Realizing how the spiritual scientist works, he can approve, and say to himself: The impression made upon me by the description of this path to higher worlds makes clear why the facts reported seem reasonable. Thus this book is intended to help those who want their sense of truth and feeling for truth concerning the supersensible world strengthened and assured.
No less, however, does it aim to offer aid to those who themselves seek the way to supersensible knowledge. The truth of what is here set forth will best be verified by those who achieve its reality within themselves. Anyone with this intention will do well to keep reminding himself that in an exposition on the development of the soul, more is called for than becoming acquainted with the substance, which is frequently the aim in other expositions. It is necessary to familiarize oneself intimately with the presentation. One must postulate the following: no single matter is to be comprehended only by means of what is said about the matter itself, but by means of much else that is disclosed concerning totally different matters. This will develop the conception that what is vital is to be found not in any single truth but in the harmony of all truths. This must be seriously considered by anyone intending to carry out the exercises. An exercise can be rightly understood and even rightly executed, and yet produce a wrong effect unless another be added to it—one that will resolve the one-sidedness of the first into a harmony of the soul. Whoever reads this book in an intimate way, so that the reading resembles an inner experience, will not merely familiarize himself with its content: one passage will evoke a certain feeling, another passage another feeling;and in that way he will learn how much importance should be seen in the one or the other in the development of his soul. He will also find out in what form he should try this or that exercise, what form best suits his particular individuality. When one has to do, as is the case here, with descriptions of processes that are to be experienced, it is necessary to refer again and again to the content; for it will become manifest that much can be satisfactorily assimilated only after trial, which in turn reveals certain finer points that at first are bound to be overlooked.
Even those readers who do not intend to take the way prescribed will find much in the book that can be of service to the inner life, such as maxims, suggestions that throw light on various puzzling problems, and so on.
And those who have had experiences in their lives that serve, to some extent, as an initiation through life may derive a certain satisfaction from finding clarified through co-ordination what had haunted them as separate problems—things they already knew, but perhaps without having been able to consolidate them in adequate conceptions.
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. 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 received therefrom is called occult (esoteric) teaching, or spiritual science. This designation naturally awakens misunderstanding. The one who hears it 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 if it were a true knowledge—he is tempted to think—there would be no need of making a secret of it; it might be publicly imparted and its advantages made accessible to all. Those 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, under these circumstances, are the uninitiated 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 learned it. 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 civilization 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 seek, at one place or another, the masters of higher knowledge in order to receive enlightenment. 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 to 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 endeavor to attain this knowledge. It is a natural law among all initiates to withhold from no man the knowledge that is due 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 as long 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; today, 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 soul. In spiritual science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration, of devotion to 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 harbor 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 childlike 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 fitting 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 harbored 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 civilization tends more toward critical judgment and condemnation than toward 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 leveling criticism against it. To this critical faculty, this self-conscious human judgment, this “test 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 rights relationships 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 acknowledge 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 clearer relief from the ordinary things of the world. In an epoch of criticism ideals are lowered; other feelings take the place of veneration, respect, adoration, 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 every-day life in a very small degree. Whoever seeks higher knowledge must create it for himself. He must instill 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 his experiences he must seek motives of admiration and homage. If I meet a man and blame him for his shortcomings, 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 this thought-life. He must be wary of thoughts of disrespect, of adverse criticism, existing in his consciousness, and he must endeavor 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 judgement 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 still higher training is necessary. But he can rise to this higher training if he has previously undergone a rigorous training in devotion. (In the last chapter of his book Theosophy, the author describes fully the Path of Knowledge; here it is 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 basic feeling of devotion for everything which is truly venerable. His entire 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 occurs 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 like nutriment making it healthy and strong, especially strong for the activity of cognition. Disrespect, antipathy, underestimation of what deserves recognition, all exert a paralyzing and withering effect on this faculty of cognition. For the spiritually experienced this fact is visible in the aura. A soul which harbors feelings of reverence and devotion produces a change in its aura. Certain spiritual colorings, 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 had hitherto no idea. Reverence awakens in the soul 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. This consists in giving oneself 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 traveler 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 splendor, 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 at such moments with the affairs of his own ego. 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. At such silent moments every flower, every animal, every action will unveil to him secrets undreamt of. And thus he will prepare himself to receive quite new impressions of the outer world through quite different eyes. 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 underestimate the fact that immense 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 to 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 is like 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. To the world he is dead. The student of higher knowledge considers enjoyment only as a means of ennobling himself for the world. Enjoyment is to him like a scout informing him about the world; but once instructed by enjoyment, he passes on to work. He does not learn in order to accumulate learning as his own treasure, but 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: All 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 strictly 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.
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