The Way of Initiation

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The Way of Initiation

By Rudolf Steiner


Enlightenment is the result of very simple processes. Here, too, it is a matter of developing certain feelings and thoughts which are dormant within all men, but must be awakened. Only he who carries out these simple processes with complete patience, continuously and strenuously, can be led by them to the reception of inner illumination. The primary step is taken by observing in a particular way different natural objects—a transparent stone of beautiful form (a crystal), a plant, and an animal. One should endeavor at first to direct one's whole attention to a comparison of the stone with the animal, as follows: The thoughts which, accompanied by strong emotions, are thus induced, must pass through the soul, and no other emotions or thoughts must be mixed with them, or disturb the intense contemplation. One then says to oneself: "The stone has a form and the animal also has a form. The stone remains motionless in its place, but the animal is able to move about. It is impulse (desire) which causes the animal to change its place, and it is these impulses to which the form of the animal is of use. Its organs and instruments are the expression of these impulses. The form of the stone, on the contrary, is fashioned, not in accordance with impulses, but in accordance with an impulseless force." [9]

If one sinks deeply into such thoughts, and while so doing observes the stone and the animal with fixed attention, then there arise in the soul two separate kinds of emotion. From the stone into the soul there streams one kind of emotion, and from the animal, another. Probably in the beginning the experiment will not succeed, but little by little, with genuine and patient practice, these emotions become manifest. Again and again one should practice. At first the emotions last only as long as the contemplation. Later on, they work afterwards, and then they grow to something which remains alive in the soul. One then needs only to reflect, and both emotions invariably arise, apart from all contemplation of an external object.

Out of these emotions, and the thoughts which are bound up with them, clairvoyant organs are formed. Should the plant be added to the contemplation, one will notice that the feeling outflowing from it, both in its quality and in its degree, lies between that which emanates from the stone and that from the animal. The organs which are so formed are spiritual eyes. We learn by degrees and through their means to see both astral and mental colors. As long as one has attained only the condition described as Probation, the spiritual world with its lines and figures remains dark, but through Enlightenment it will become clear. It must be noted here that the words "dark" and "light," as well as the other common expressions, only approximately describe what is really meant; for language as usually understood is constructed to suit physical conditions alone.

Occult science describes what emanates from the stone and is seen by clairvoyant eyes, as "blue" or "bluish-red," and that which is observed as coming from the animal is described as "red" or "reddish-yellow." In reality they are colors of a spiritual kind which are discerned. The color proceeding from the plant is "green." Plants are just those natural phenomena whose qualities in the higher worlds are similar to their qualities in the physical world, but it is not so with stones and animals. It must now be clearly understood that the above-mentioned colors only suggest the prevailing shades of the stone, the plant, or the animal. In reality, all possible overtones exist, for every animal, every stone, every plant has its own peculiar shade of color. In addition to these there are the creatures of the higher worlds, who always incorporate themselves with colors not their own, often marvellous, often horrible. In short, the variety of colors in these higher worlds is immeasurably greater than in the physical world.

If a man has once acquired the faculty of seeing with spiritual eyes, he sooner or later, meets with the beings here mentioned, some of them higher, some lower than man himself; beings who never entered into physical existence.

When he has advanced thus far, the way to a great deal lies open before him; but it is inadvisable to proceed further without an experienced guide. Indeed, for all that has here been described, such experienced guidance is desirable, and he who has the endurance to fulfil the elementary conditions of enlightenment, will assuredly seek and discover his guide.

Under all circumstances it is important to give warning, and he who will not heed it had better leave untrodden all the steps of occult science. It is necessary that he who would become an occult student should lose none of his attributes as a good and noble man, and one susceptible to all physical truths. Indeed, throughout his apprenticeship he must continually increase his moral strength, his inner purity, and his powers of observation. Let us give an example: During the preliminary practices of Enlightenment, the student must be careful always to be enlarging his sympathy with the animal and human worlds, and his sense of nature's beauty. If he is not careful to do this he continually dulls both sense and feeling; his heart grows cold and his sympathies dwarfed; which lead to perilous results.

How enlightenment proceeds, in the sense of the foregoing practices, if one rises from the stone, the plant, and the animal, up to man, and how, after enlightenment, under all circumstances, the gentle hand of the Pilot comes on a certain day, and leads to Initiation—of these things the next chapter will deal in so far as it can and may do so.

In our time, the path to occult science is sought after by many. It is sought in various ways, and many dangerous and even objectionable modes are practiced. Therefore it is that those who know of the truth and dangers concerning these things have allowed a greater portion of the occult training and the necessary warning to be published. Only so much is here imparted as this permission allows, and it is necessary that something of the truth should be known in order that it may counteract the great danger of these errors. If nothing be forced, there is no danger for him who follows the way already described; only one thing should be noted: no one ought to spend more time or power upon such practices than is at his disposal with due regard to his circumstances and his duties. No one ought suddenly to change anything in the external conditions of his life. If one desires genuine results, one must have patience; one should be able to cease the practice after a few minutes, and then peacefully to continue one's daily work, and no thought of these practices ought to be mingled with the work of the day. He who has not learned to wait, in the best and highest sense of the word, is of no use as an occult student, nor will he ever attain results of much real value.

He who is in search of occult knowledge, by the means indicated in the foregoing pages, must fortify himself throughout the whole course of his efforts by the understanding that after persevering for some time he may have made suitable progress without becoming conscious of it in the precise way which he had expected. He who does not remember this is likely to lose heart, and in a little while to abandon his efforts altogether. The mental powers and faculties about to be developed are at first of the most subtle kind, and their nature differs entirely from the conceptions of them which may be formed in the student's mind. He has been accustomed to occupy himself with the physical world alone, and the mental and astral worlds seem to elude his gaze, and baffle his conceptions. It is, therefore, not remarkable if, at first, he fails to realize the new forces, mental and astral, which are developing in his own being. This is why it is dangerous to enter the path leading to occult knowledge without experienced guidance. The teacher can see the progress made by the pupil, long before the latter becomes conscious of it for himself. He sees the delicate organs of spiritual vision beginning to form themselves, before the pupil is aware of their existence, and a great part of the duties of the teacher consists in perpetual watchfulness, lest the disciple lose confidence, patience, and perseverance, before he becomes conscious of his own progress. The teacher, as we know, can confer upon the student no powers which are not already latent within him, and his sole function is to assist in the awakening of slumbering faculties. But he may be a pillar of strength to him who strives to penetrate through darkness into the light.

There are many who leave the occult path soon after setting foot upon it, because they are not immediately conscious of their own progress. And even when higher experiences begin to dawn upon the seeker, he is apt to regard them as illusions, because he had anticipated them quite differently. He loses courage, either because he regards these first experiences as of no value, or because they appear so insignificant that he has no hope of their leading to any appreciable results within a measurable time. Courage and self-confidence are the two lamps which must never be allowed to burn themselves out on the pathway to the occult. He who cannot patiently repeat an exercise which has failed for an apparently unlimited number of times, will never travel far.

Long before one is aware of any distinct perception of progress, comes an inarticulate mental impression that the right road has been found. This is a feeling to be welcomed, and to be encouraged, since it may evolve into a trustworthy guide. Above all, it is imperative to extirpate the idea that any fantastic, mysterious practices are required for the attainment of higher experiences. It must be clearly realized that ordinary every-day human feelings and thoughts must form the basis from which the start is to be made, and that it is only needful to give these thoughts and feelings a new direction. Everyone must say to himself: "In my own sphere of thoughts and sensations lie enfolded the deepest mysteries, but hitherto I have been unable to perceive them." In the end it all resolves itself into the fact that man, ordinarily, carries body, soul and spirit about with him, yet is conscious only of the body, not of the soul and spirit, and that the student in due time attains to a similar consciousness of soul and spirit.

Hence it is highly important to give the proper direction to thoughts and feelings, in order that one may develop the perception of that which is invisible to a person living the ordinary life. One of the ways by which this development may be carried out will now be indicated. Again, like almost everything else we have explained so far, it is quite a simple matter. Yet the results are of the greatest consequence, if the experiment is carried out with perseverance, and in the right frame of mind.

Place before you the small seed of a plant. It is then necessary, while contemplating this significant object, to create with intensity the right kind of thoughts, and through these thoughts to develop certain feelings. In the first place, let the student clearly grasp what is really presented to his vision. Let him describe to himself the shape, color, and all other qualities of the grain of seed. Then let his mind dwell upon the following train of thought: "This grain of seed, if planted in the soil, will grow into a plant of complex structure." Let him clearly picture this plant to himself. Let him build it up in his imagination. And then let him reflect that the object now existing only in his imagination will presently be brought into actual physical existence by the forces of the earth and of light. If the thing contemplated by him were an artificially-made object, though such a close imitation of nature that no external difference could be detected by human eyesight, no forces inherent in the earth or light could avail to produce from it a plant. He who thoroughly grasps this thought and inwardly assimilates it will also be able to form the following idea with the right feeling. He will reasons thus: "That which is ultimately to grow out of this seed is already, as a force, now secretly enfolded within it. The artificial duplicate of the seed contains no such force. And yet both appear to be alike to my eyes. The real seed, therefore, contains something invisible which is not present in the imitation." It is this invisible something on which thought and feeling are now to be concentrated. [10] Let the student fully realize that this invisible something will later on translate itself into a visible plant, perceptible by him in shape and color. Let him dwell upon the thought: "The invisible will become visible. If I could not think, then I could not now realize, that which will become visible later on."

Particular stress must be laid on the importance of feeling with intensity that which one thinks. In calmness of mind a single thought must be vitally experienced within oneself to the exclusion of all disturbing influences. Sufficient time must be taken to allow the thought, and the state of feeling connected therewith, to become, as it were, imbedded in the soul. If that is accomplished in the right way—possibly not until after numerous attempts—an inward force will make itself felt. And this force will create new powers of perception. The grain of seed will appear as if enclosed in a small luminous cloud. The spiritualized vision of the student perceives it as a kind of flame. This flame is of a lilac color in the centre, blue at the edges. Then appears that which one could not see before, and which was created by the power of thought and feeling brought into life within oneself. That which was physically invisible (the plant which will not become visible until later on) has there revealed itself to the spiritual eye.

It is pardonable if, to many men, all this appears to be mere illusion. Many will say: "What is the value of such visions or such hallucinations?" And many will thus fall away, and no longer continue to tread the path. But this is precisely the important point—not to confuse, at this difficult stage of human evolution, spiritual reality with the mere creations of phantasy, and to have the courage to press manfully onward, instead of growing timorous and faint-hearted. On the other hand, however, it is necessary to insist on the necessity of maintaining unimpaired, and of perpetually cultivating, the healthy attitude of mind which is required for the distinguishing of truth from illusion. Never during all these exercises must the student surrender the fully conscious control of himself. He must continue to think as soundly and sanely in these spiritual conditions as he does with regard to the things and occurrences of ordinary life. It would be unfortunate if he lapses into reveries. He must at every moment be clear-headed and sober-minded and it would be the greatest mistake if the student, through such practices, lost his mental equilibrium, or if he were prevented from judging as sanely and clearly as before, the matters of work-a-day life. The disciple should, therefore, examine himself again and again to find out whether he has remained unaltered in relation to the circumstances among which he lives, or whether perchance he has lost his mental balance. He must ever maintain a calm repose within his own individuality, and an open mind for everything, being careful at the same time not to drift into vague reveries or to experiment with all sorts of exercises.

The lines for development here indicated, belong to those which have been followed, and whose efficacy has been demonstrated in the schools of occultism from the earliest ages, and none but such will here be given. Anyone attempting to employ methods of meditation devised by himself, or which he may have come across in the course of promiscuous reading will inevitably be led astray, and will lose himself in a boundless morass of incoherent phantasies.

A further exercise which may succeed the one described above, is the following: Let the disciple place himself in front of a plant which has attained the stage of full development. Now let his mind be absorbed by the reflection that the time is near at hand when this plant will wither and die. "Nothing," he should say to himself, "nothing of what I now see before me will endure. But this plant will have evolved seeds which in their turn will grow into new plants. Again I become aware that in what I see something lies concealed which I cannot see. I will fill my mind wholly with the thought that this plant-form with its colors will cease to be. But the reflection that the plant has produced seeds teaches me that it will not disappear into nothing. That which will prevent this disappearance, I can at present no more see with my eyes than I could originally discern the plant in the grain of seed. The plant, therefore, contains something which my eyes are unable to see. If this thought fully lives in me, and combines with the corresponding state of feeling, then, in due time, there will again develop a force in my soul which will ripen into a new kind of perception." Out of the plant there grows once more a flame-like appearance, which is, of course, correspondingly larger than that which was previously described. This flame is greenish at the centre, and is tinged with yellow at the outer edge.

He who has won this vision has gained greatly, inasmuch as he sees things, not only in their present state of being, but also in their development and decay. He begins to see in all things the spirit, of which the bodily organs of sight have no perception, and he has taken the initial steps on that road, which will gradually lead him to the solution, by direct vision, of the secret of birth and death. To the outer senses, a being begins to exist at its birth, and ceases to exist at its death. This, however, only appears to be so, because these senses are unable to apprehend the concealed spirit. Birth and death are only, for this spirit, transformations, just as the unfolding of the flower from the bud is a transformation enacted before our physical eyes. But if one desires to attain to direct perception of these facts, one must first awaken the spiritual vision by the means here indicated.

In order to meet an objection which may be raised by certain people already possessed of some psychical experience, let it be at once admitted that there are shorter ways than this, and that there are persons who have direct perception of the actualities of birth and death, without having had to pass through all the stages of discipline here set forth. There are also human beings endowed with high psychical faculties, to whom only a slight impulse is necessary for the developing of these powers. But they are exceptional, and the methods described above are safer, and are capable of general application. Similarly, it is possible to gain some knowledge of chemistry by special methods; but in order to make safer the science of chemistry, the recognized, reliable course must be followed.

An error fraught with serious consequences would result from the assumption that the goal could be reached more simply by allowing the mind to dwell merely on an imaginary plant or a grain of seed. It may be possible by such means to evoke a force which would enable the soul to attain the inner vision. But this vision will be, in most cases, a mere figment of the imagination, for the main object is not to create arbitrarily a mental vision, but to allow the veritable nature of things to form an image within one's mind. The truth must come up from the depth of one's own soul, not at the call of one's ordinary self, but rather must the objects of one's perception themselves exercise their magical power, if one is to perceive their inner reality.

After the disciple has evolved, by such means, the rudiments of spiritual vision, he may proceed to the contemplation of human nature itself. Simple appearances of ordinary life must be chosen first. But before making any attempts in this direction, it is imperative for the student to strive after an absolute sincerity of moral character. He must banish all thoughts of ever using the insight to be attained in these ways for his own selfish ends. He must be absolutely determined that under no circumstances will he avail himself, in an evil sense, of any power which he may gain over his fellow-creatures. This is the reason why everyone who desires to gain direct insight into the secrets of human nature must follow the golden rule of true Occultism. And the golden rule is this: For every one step that you take in the pursuit of the hidden knowledge, take three steps in the perfecting of your own character. He who obeys this rule can perform such exercises as that which is now to be explained.

Begin by observing a person filled with a desire for some object. Direct your attention to this desire. It is best to choose a time when this desire is at its height, and when it is not yet certain whether the object of the desire will be attained or not. Then surrender yourself entirely to the contemplation of that which you observe, but maintain the utmost inner tranquility of soul. Make every endeavor to be deaf and blind to everything that may be going on around you at the same time, and bear in mind particularly that this contemplation is to evoke a state of feeling in your soul. Allow this state of feeling to arise in your soul, like a cloud rising on an otherwise cloudless horizon. It is to be expected, of course, that your observation will be interrupted, because the person on whom it is directed will not remain in this particular state of mind for a sufficient length of time. Presumably you will fail in your experiment hundreds and hundreds of times. It is simply a question of not losing patience. After many attempts you will ultimately realize the state of feeling spoken of above as fast as the corresponding mental phenomena pass through the soul of the person under observation. After a time you will begin to notice that this feeling in your own soul is evoking the power of spiritual vision into the psychical condition of the other. A luminous image will appear in your field of vision. And this luminous image is the so-called astral manifestation evoked by the desire-state when under observation. Again we may describe this image as flame-like in appearance. It is yellowish red in the centre and reddish-blue or lilac at the edges. Much depends upon treating such experiences of the inner vision with great delicacy. It will be best for you at first to talk of them to nobody except your teacher, if you have one. The attempt to describe such appearances in appropriate words usually leads to gross self-deception. One employs ordinary terms not applicable to such purposes, and therefore much too gross and clumsy. The consequence is that one's own attempt to clothe this vision in words unconsciously leads one to blend the actual experience with an alloy of imaginary details. It is, therefore, another important law for the occult inquirer that he should know how to observe silence concerning his inner visions. Observe silence even towards yourself. Do not endeavor to express in words that which you see, or to fathom it with reasoning faculties that are inadequate. Freely surrender yourself to these spiritual impressions without any mental reservations, and without disturbing them by thinking about them too much. For you must remember that your reasoning faculties were, at first, by no means equal to your faculties of observation. You have acquired these reasoning faculties through experiences hitherto confined exclusively to the world as apprehended by your physical senses, and the faculties you are now acquiring transcend these experiences. Do not, therefore, try to measure your new and higher perceptions by the old standard. Only he who has already gained some certainty in his observation of inner experiences ought to speak about them with the idea of thereby stimulating his fellow-beings.

As a supplementary exercise the following may be set forth. Direct your observation in the same way upon a fellow-being to whom the fulfilment of some wish, the gratification of some desire has just been granted. If the same rules and precautions are adopted as in the previous instance, you will once more attain to spiritual perception. You will distinguish a flame-like appearance which is yellow in the centre and greenish at the edges. By such observations of one's fellow-creatures one may easily be led into a moral fault—one may become uncharitable. All conceivable means must be taken to fight against this tendency. Anyone exercising such powers of observation should have risen to the level on which one is absolutely convinced that thoughts are actual things. He may then no longer allow himself to admit thoughts incompatible with the highest reverence for the dignity of human life and of human liberty. Not for one moment must he entertain the idea of regarding a human being as a mere object for observation. It must be the aim of self-education to see that the faculties for a psychic observation of human nature go hand in hand with a full recognition of the rights of each individual. That which dwells in each human being must be regarded as something holy, and to be held inviolate by us even in our thoughts and feelings. We must be possessed by a feeling of reverential awe for all that is human.

For the present, only these two examples can be given as to the methods by which an insight into human nature may be achieved, but they will at least serve to point out the way which must be followed. He who has gained the inner tranquility and repose which are indispensable for such observations, will by so doing, already have undergone a great transformation. This will soon reach the point at which the increase of his spiritual worth will manifest itself in the confidence and composure of his outward demeanor. Again, this alteration in his demeanor will react favorably on his inner condition, and thus he will be able to help himself further along the road. He will find ways of penetrating further and further into those secrets of human nature, those hidden from our external senses, and will then become qualified for a deeper insight into the mysterious correlations between the nature of man, and all else that exists in the universe. By following this path, the disciple will approach closer and closer to the day on which he will be deemed worthy of taking the first steps of initiation; but before these can be taken it is necessary to assure oneself of unflinching courage. At first it may not be at all apparent to the student why it should be necessary, but he cannot fail to be convinced of it in the end.

The quality which is indispensable to him who would be initiated is a certain measure of courage and fearlessness. He must absolutely go out of his way to find opportunities for developing these virtues. In the occult schools they are cultivated quite systematically; but life in this respect is itself an excellent school of occultism, nay, possibly the best. To face danger calmly, to try to overcome difficulties unswervingly, this is what the student must learn to do; for instance, in the presence of some peril, he must rise at once to the conception that fears are altogether useless, and ought not to be entertained for one moment, but that the mind ought simply to be concentrated on what is to be done. He must reach a point where it has become impossible for him ever again to feel afraid or to lose his courage. By self-discipline in this direction he will develop within himself distinct qualities which he needs if he is to be initiated into the higher mysteries. Just as man in his physical being requires nervous force in order to use his physical senses, so also, in his psychic nature, he requires the force which is only produced in the courageous and the fearless. For in penetrating to the higher mysteries he will see things not yet revealed to the physical eyesight nor to any other of the human senses. The latter, by hiding from our gaze, the higher verities (things which we could not bear to behold) are in reality our benefactors, since they prevent us from perceiving that which, if realized without due preparation, would throw us into unutterable consternation. The disciple must be prepared to endure this sight, although he has lost certain supports in the outer world by a realization of the very illusions that encompassed him. It is truly and literally as if his attention were suddenly drawn to a certain danger by which for some time he had been unconsciously threatened. He was not afraid hitherto, but now that he sees his peril, he is overcome by terror, even though the danger has not been rendered any greater by his knowledge thereof.

The forces at work in the world are both destructive and creative. The destiny of manifested beings is birth and death. The Initiate is to behold this march of destiny. The veil, which in the ordinary course of life clouds the spiritual eyes, is to be uplifted, and the man is to see himself as one interwoven with these forces, with this destiny. His own nature contains destructive and creative powers. As undisguisedly as the other objects of his vision are revealed to the eye of the seer, his own soul is bared to his gaze. In the face of this self-knowledge, the disciple must not suffer himself to droop, and in this he will succeed only if he has brought with him an excess of the necessary strength. In order that this may be the case he must learn to maintain inner calm and confidence in the most difficult circumstances; he must nourish within himself a firm faith in the beneficent forces of existence. He must be prepared to find that many motives which have actuated him hitherto will actuate him no longer. He must needs perceive that he has hitherto often thought or acted in a certain manner, because he was still in the toils of ignorance. Reasons which formerly influenced him will now disappear. He has done many things out of personal vanity; he will now perceive how utterly futile all such vanity is in the eyes of the Initiate. He has done much from motives of avarice; he will now be aware of the destructive effect of all avariciousness. He will have to develop entirely new springs for his thought and action, and it is for this that courage and fearlessness are required.

It is especially a matter of cultivating this courage and this fearlessness in the inmost depths of the mental life. The disciple must learn never to despair. He must always be equal to the thought: "I will forget that I have again failed in this matter. I will try once more, as though nothing at all had happened." Thus he will fight his way on to the firm conviction that the universe contains inexhaustible fountains of strength from which he may drink. He must aspire again and again to the Divine which will uplift and support him, however feeble and impotent the mortal part of his being may prove. He must be capable of pressing on towards the future, undismayed by any experiences of the past. Every teacher of Occultism will carefully ascertain how far the disciple, aspiring to Initiation into the higher mysteries, has advanced on the road of spiritual preparation. If he fulfil these conditions to a certain degree, he is then worthy to hear uttered those Names of things which form the key that unlocks the higher knowledge. For Initiation consists in this very act of learning to know the things of the universe by those Names which they bear in the spirit of their Divine Author. And the mystery of things lies in these Names. Therefore it is that the Initiate speaks another language than that of the uninitiate, for he knows the Names by which things were called into existence.



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