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Rudolf Steiner’s Road to Self Knowledge consists of eight ‘meditations’ or spiritual-guides. The eight topics explored are: The Physical Body, The Etheric Body, Clairvoyant Cognition of the Elemental World, The Guardian of the Threshold, The Astral Body, The Ego Body or Thought Body, The Character of Experience in the Supersensible Worlds and The Way in Which Man Beholds His Repeated Earth Lives.This new digital edition of Steiner’s seminal work presents a new text optimized for digital reading, with a revised translation using modern American English spelling and punctuation.
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Road to Self Knowledge
Published by Occult Classics, 2017.
Road to Self Knowledge by Rudolf Steiner. First published as A Road to Self Knowledge by Rudolf Steiner, translation edited by H. Collison, in 1918. This edition published 2017 by Occult Classics.
Cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 Occult Classics. All rights reserved.
First e-book edition 2017.
Road to Self Knowledge
Further Reading: Maxims and Reflections
A Road to Self-Knowledge
In Eight Meditations
It is the endeavor of this treatise to convey spiritual-scientific knowledge concerning the being of man. The method of representation is arranged in such a way that the reader may grow into what is depicted, so that, in the course of reading, it becomes for him a kind of self-conference. If this soliloquy takes on such a form that thereby hitherto concealed forces, which can be awakened in every soul, reveal themselves, then the reading leads to a real inner work of the soul; and the latter can see itself gradually urged on to that soul-journeying, which truly advances towards the beholding of the spiritual world. What has to be imparted, therefore, has been given in the form of eight meditations, which can be practiced. If this is done, they can be adapted for imparting to the soul, through its own inner deepening, that about which they speak.
It has been my aim on the one hand, to give something to those readers who have already made themselves conversant with the literature dealing with the domain of the supersensible, as it is here understood. Thus through the style of the description, through the communication directly connecting with the soul's experience, perhaps those who have knowledge of supersensible life will here find something that may appear of importance to them. On the other hand, many a one can find that just through this method of representation profit may be gained by those who yet stand far distant from the achievements of ‘Spiritual Science.’
Although this work is intended as an amplification of my other writings in the domain of Spiritual Science, it should nevertheless be possible to read it independently.
It has been my endeavor in my books, Theosophy and Occult Science, to represent the things as they show themselves to observation, when it ascends to the Spiritual. In these works the method of representation is descriptive and its direction prescribed by conformity to the law manifesting out of the things themselves. In this, Road to Self Knowledge, the method of representation is different. Herein is stated that which can be experienced by a soul which sets out on the path to the Spirit in a certain manner. The treatise may therefore be regarded as an account of experiences of the soul; only it must be taken into consideration that the experiences which can be gained in such a way as is here described, must assume an individual form in each soul according to its own peculiarity. It has been my endeavor to do justice to this fact, so that one can also imagine that what is depicted here has been actually lived through by an individual soul, exactly as represented. The title of this treatise is, therefore, Road to Self Knowledge. On that account it may serve the purpose of assisting other souls to live into this portrayal and attain to corresponding goals, and is an amplification of my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment.
Only isolated fundamental experiences of a spiritual scientific nature are represented. The giving of information in this manner of the further spheres of ‘Spiritual Science’ is suspended for the present.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 1912.
In which the Attempt is made to obtain a True Idea of the Physical Body
When the soul is surrendered to the phenomena of the outer world by means of physical perception, it cannot be said—after true self-analysis—that the soul perceives these phenomena, or that it actually experiences the things of the outer world. For, during the time of surrender, in its devotion to the outer world, the soul knows in truth nothing of itself. The fact is rather that the sunlight itself, radiating from things through space in various colors, lives or experiences itself within the soul. When the soul enjoys any event, at the moment of enjoyment it actually is joy in so far as it is conscious of being anything. Joy experiences itself in the soul. The soul is one with its experience of the world. It does not experience itself as something separate which feels joy, admiration, delight, satisfaction, or fear. It actually is joy, admiration, delight, satisfaction, and fear. If the soul would always admit this fact, then and only then would the occasions when it retires from the experience of the outer world and contemplates itself by itself appear in the right light. These moments would then appear as forming a life of quite a special character, which at once shows itself to be entirely different from the ordinary life of the soul. It is with this special kind of life that the riddles of the soul's existence begin to dawn upon our consciousness. And these riddles are, in fact, the source of all other riddles of the world. For two worlds—an outer and an inner—present themselves to the spirit of man, directly the soul for a longer or shorter time ceases to be one with the outer world and withdraws into the loneliness of its own existence.
Now this withdrawal is no simple process, which, having been once accomplished, may be repeated again in much the same way. It is much more like the beginning of a pilgrimage into worlds previously unknown. When once this pilgrimage has been begun, every step made will call forth others, and will also be the preparation for these others. It is the first step which makes the soul capable of taking the next one. And each step brings fuller knowledge of the answer to the question: “What is Man in the true sense of the word?” Worlds open up which are hidden from the ordinary conception of life. And yet only in those worlds can the facts be found which will reveal the truth about this very conception. And even if no answer proves all-embracing and final the answers obtained through the soul's inner pilgrimage go beyond everything which the outer senses and the intellect bound up with them can ever give. For this “something more” is necessary to man, and he will find that this is so, when he really and earnestly analyses his own nature.
At the outset of such a pilgrimage through the realms of our own soul, hard logic and common sense are necessary. They form a safe starting-point for pushing on into the supersensible realms, which the soul, after all, is yearning to reach. Many a soul would prefer not to trouble about such a starting point, but rather penetrate directly into the supersensible realms; though every healthy soul, even if it has at first avoided such commonsense considerations as disagreeable, will always submit to them later. For however much knowledge of the supersensible worlds one may have obtained from another starting-point, one can only gain a firm footing there through some such methods of reasoning as follow here.
In the life of the soul moments may come in which it says to itself: “You must be able to withdraw from everything that an outer world can give you, if you do not wish to be forced into confessing that you are but self-contradictory nonsense; but this would make life impossible, because it is clear that what you perceive around you exists independently of you; it existed without you and will continue to exist without you. Why then do colors perceive themselves in you, whilst your perception may be of no consequence to them? Why do the forces and materials of the outer world build up your body? Careful thought will show that this body only acquires life as the outward manifestation of you. It is a part of the outer world transformed into you, and, moreover, you realize that it is necessary to you. Because, to begin with, you could have no inner experiences without your senses, which the body alone can put at your disposal. You would remain empty without your body, such as you are at the beginning. It gives you through the senses inner fullness and substance.”
And then all those reflections may follow which are essential to any human existence if it does not wish to get into unbearable contradiction with itself at certain moments which come to every human being. This body—as it exists at the present moment—is the expression of the soul's experience. Its processes are such as to allow the soul to live through it and to gain experience of itself in it.
A time will come, however, when this will not be so. The life in the body will someday be subject to laws quite different from those which it obeys today whilst living for you, and for the sake of your soul's experience. It will become subject to those laws, according to which the material and forces in nature are acting, laws which have nothing more to do with you and your life. The body to which you owe the experience of your soul, will be absorbed in the general world-process and exist there in a form which has nothing more in common with anything that you experience within yourself.
Such a reflection may call forth in the inner experience all the horror of the thought of death, but without the admixture of the merely personal feelings which are ordinarily connected with this thought. When such personal feelings prevail it is not easy to establish the calm, deliberate state of mind necessary for obtaining knowledge. It is natural that man should want to know about death and about a life of the soul independent of the dissolution of the body. But the relation existing between man himself and these questions is—perhaps more than anything else in the world—apt to confuse his objective judgment and to make him accept as genuine answers only those which are inspired by his own desires or wishes. For it is impossible to obtain true knowledge of anything in the spiritual realms without being able with complete unconcern to accept a “No” quite as willingly as a “Yes.”
And we need only look conscientiously into ourselves to become distinctly aware of the fact that we do not accept the knowledge of an extinction of the life of the soul together with the death of the body with the same equanimity as the opposite knowledge which teaches the continued existence of the soul beyond death. No doubt there are people who quite honestly believe in the annihilation of the soul on the extinction of the life of the body, and who arrange their lives accordingly. But even these are not unbiased with regard to such a belief. It is true that they do not allow the fear of annihilation, and the wish for continued existence, to get the better of the reasons which are distinctly in favour of such annihilation. So far the conception of these people is more logical than that of others who unconsciously construct or accept arguments in favour of a continued existence, because there is an ardent desire in the secret depths of their souls for such continued existence.
And yet the view of those who deny immortality is no less biased, only in a different way. There are amongst them some who build up a certain idea of what life and existence are. This idea forces them to think of certain conditions, without which life is impossible. Their view of existence leads them to the conclusion that the conditions of the soul's life can no longer be present when the body falls away. Such people do not notice that they have themselves from the very first fixed an idea of the conditions necessary for the existence of life, and cannot believe in a continuation of life after death for the simple reason that, according to their own preconceived idea, there is no possibility of imagining an existence without a body. Even if they are not biased by their own wishes, they are biased by their own ideas from which they cannot emancipate themselves.
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