The Way of Initiation

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The Way of Initiation

By Rudolf Steiner

How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds

the world which we see with our physical eyes, or touch with our physical hands. And those who wish to develop the spiritual senses, which unfold psychic knowledge, should understand that safe advice can be given only by those who have already developed such power within themselves. As long as the human race has existed, there have been lodges and schools in which those who possessed these higher faculties have given instruction to those who were in search of them. Such are called occult schools, and the instruction which is imparted therein is called esoteric science, or occult teaching. This designation sometimes leads to misunderstanding. He who hears it may be very easily misled into the belief that those who work in these schools desire to represent a special, privileged class, which arbitrarily withholds its knowledge from its fellow-creatures. Indeed, he may even think that perhaps there is nothing really important behind such knowledge. For he is tempted to think that, if it were a true knowledge, there would be no need of making a secret of it: one might then communicate it publicly to the advantage of all men.

Those who have been initiated into occult knowledge are not in the least surprised that the uninitiated should so think. Only he who has to a certain degree experienced this initiation into the higher knowledge of being can understand the secret of that initiation. But it may be asked: How, then, shall the uninitiated, considering the circumstances, develop any interest at all in this so-called mystic knowledge? How and why ought they to search for something of the nature of which they can form no idea? Such a question is based upon an entirely erroneous conception of the real nature of occult knowledge. There is, in truth, no fundamental difference between occult knowledge and all the rest of man's knowledge and capacity. This mystic knowledge is no more a secret for the average man than writing is a secret to him who has never learned to read. And just as everyone who chooses the correct method may learn to write, so too can everyone who searches after the right way become a disciple, and even a teacher. In only one respect are the conditions here different from those that apply to external thought-activities. The possibility of acquiring the art of writing may be withheld from someone through poverty, or through the state of civilization into which he has been born; but for the attainment of knowledge in the higher worlds there is no obstacle for him who sincerely searches for it.

Many believe that it is necessary to find, here or there, the Masters of the higher knowledge, in order to receive enlightenment from them. In the first place, he who strives earnestly after the higher knowledge need not be afraid of any difficulty or obstacle in his search for an Initiate who shall be able to lead him into the profounder secrets of the world. Everyone, on the contrary, may be certain that an Initiate will find him, under any circumstances, if there is in him an earnest and worthy endeavor to attain this knowledge. For it is a strict law with all Initiates to withhold from no man the knowledge that is due him. But there is an equally strict law which insists that no one shall receive any occult knowledge until he is worthy and well prepared. And the more strictly he observes these two laws, the more perfect is an Initiate. The order which embraces all Initiates is surrounded, as it were, by a wall, and the two laws here mentioned form two strong principles by which the constituents of this wall are held together. You may live in close friendship with an Initiate, yet this wall will separate him from you just as 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 impart to you his secret when you yourself are ready for it. You may flatter him; you may torture him; nothing will induce him to divulge to you anything which he knows ought not be disclosed, inasmuch as you, at the present stage of your evolution, do not understand rightly how to receive the secret into your soul.

The ways which prepare a man for the reception of such a secret are clearly prescribed. They are indicated by the unfading, everlasting letters within the temples where the Initiates guard the higher secrets. In ancient times, anterior to "history," these temples were outwardly visible; to-day, because our lives have become so unspiritual, they are mostly quite invisible to external sight. Yet they are present everywhere, and all who seek may find them.

Only within his soul may a man discover the means which will open for him the lips of the Initiate. To a certain high degree he must develop within himself special faculties, and then the greatest treasures of the Spirit become his own.

He must begin with a certain fundamental attitude of the soul: the student of Occultism calls it the Path of Devotion, of Veneration. Only he who maintains this attitude can, in Occultism, become a disciple. And he who has experience in these things is able to perceive even in the child the signs of approaching discipleship. There are children who look up with religious awe to those whom they venerate. For such people they have a respect which forbids them to admit, even in the innermost sanctuary of the heart, any thought of criticism or opposition. These children grow up into young men and maidens who feel happy when they are able to look up to anything venerable. From the ranks of such children are recruited many disciples.

Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated man, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed the handle, in order to enter the room which for you is a holy place? Then there has been manifested in you an emotion which may be the germ of your future discipleship. It is a blessing for every developing person to have such emotions upon which to build. Only it must not be thought that such qualities contain the germ of submissiveness and slavery. Experience teaches us that those can best hold their heads erect who have learned to venerate where veneration is due. And veneration is always in its own place when it rises 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 enough strength to evolve to something higher. The Initiate has only acquired the power of lifting his intellect to the heights of knowledge by guiding his heart into the depths of veneration and devotion. The heights of the Spirit can only be reached by passing through the portals of humility. Man can certainly have the right to gaze upon the Reality, but he must first earn this right. You can only acquire right knowledge when you are ready to esteem it. 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 to say, it will acquire the power of attracting small bodies. This exemplifies natural law. (And if one has learned even a little of physics, one knows this.) Similarly, if one is acquainted with the first principles of Occultism, one knows that every feeling of true devotion aids in developing qualities, which sooner or later, lead to the Path of Knowledge.

He who possesses within himself this feeling of devotion, or who is fortunate enough to receive it from his education, brings a great deal along with him, when, later in life, he seeks an entrance to the higher knowledge. But he who has had no such preparation will find himself confronted with difficulties, even upon the first step of the Path of Knowledge, unless he undertakes, by rigorous self-education, to create the devotional mood within himself. In our time it is especially important that full attention be given to this point. Our civilization tends much more toward criticism, the giving of judgments, and so forth, than toward devotion, and a selfless veneration. Our children criticize much more than they worship. But every judgment, every carping criticism, frustrates the powers of the soul for the attainment of the higher knowledge, in the same measure that all heartfelt devotion develops them. In this we do not wish to say anything against our civilization nor pass judgment upon it. For it is to this critical faculty, this self-conscious human discernment, this "prove all things and hold fast to the good," that we owe the greatness of our civilization. We could never have attained the science, the commerce, the industry, the law of our time, had we not exercised our critical faculty everywhere, had we not everywhere applied the standard of our judgment. But what we have thereby gained in external culture we have had to pay for with a corresponding loss of the higher knowledge, of the spiritual life.

Now the important thing that everyone must clearly understand is that, for him who is right in the midst of the objective civilization of our time, it is very difficult to advance to the knowledge of the higher worlds. He can do so only if he work energetically within himself. At a time when the conditions of outward life were simpler, spiritual exaltation was easier of attainment. That which ought to be venerated, that which should be kept holy, stood out in better relief from the ordinary things of the world. In a period of criticism these ideals are much lowered; other emotions take the place of awe, veneration, respect, and prayer. Our own age continually pushes these better emotions further and further back, so that in the daily life of the people they play but a very small part. He who seeks for higher knowledge must create it within himself; he himself must instil it into his soul. It cannot be done by study; it can only be done through living. He who wishes to become a disciple must therefore assiduously cultivate the devotional mood. Everywhere in his environment he must look for that which demands of him admiration and homage. Whenever his duties or circumstances permit, he should try to abstain entirely from all criticism or judgment. If I meet a brother and blame him for his weakness, I rob myself of power to win the higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I then gather such power. The disciple should seek to benefit both himself and others. Experienced occultists are aware how much they owe to the continual searching for the good in all things, and the withholding of all harsh criticism. This must be not only an external rule of life; but it must take possession of the innermost part of our souls. We have it in our power to perfect ourselves, and by and by to transform ourselves completely. But this transformation must take place in the innermost self, in the mental life. It is not enough that I show respect only in my outward bearing toward a person; I must have this respect in my thought. The disciple must begin by drawing this devotion into his thought-life. He must altogether banish from his consciousness all thoughts of disrespect, of criticism, and he must endeavor straightway to cultivate thoughts of devotion.

Every moment, in which we set ourselves to banish from our consciousness whatever remains in it of disparaging, suspicious judgment of our fellow-men, brings us nearer to the knowledge of higher things. And we rise rapidly when, in such moments, we fill our consciousness with only those thoughts that evoke admiration, respect, and veneration for men and things. He who has experience in these matters will know that in every such moment powers are awakened in man which otherwise would remain dormant. In this way the spiritual eyes of a man are opened. He begins to see things around him which hitherto he was unable to perceive. He begins to understand that hitherto he had seen only a part of the world around him. The man with whom he comes in contact now shows him quite a different aspect from that which he showed before. Of course, through this single rule of life, he will not yet be able to see what has elsewhere been described as the human aura, because, for that, a still higher training is necessary. But he may rise to that higher development if he has previously had a thorough training in devotion. [6]

Noiseless and unnoticed by the outer world is the following of the "Path of Discipleship." It is not necessary that anyone should observe a change in the disciple. He performs his duties as hitherto; he attends to his business as usual. The transformation goes on only in the inner part of the soul, hidden from outward sight. At first the entire soul-life of a man is flooded by this fundamental spring of devotion for everything which is truly venerable. His entire soul-life finds in this devotional mood its pivot. Just as the sun, through its rays, will vivify everything living, so in the life of the disciple this reverence vivifies all the perceptions of the soul.

At first it is not easy for people to believe that feelings like reverence, respect, and so forth, have anything to do with their perceptions. This comes from the fact that one is inclined to think of perception as a faculty quite by itself, one that stands in no relation to what otherwise happens in the soul. In so thinking, we do not remember that it is the soul which perceives. 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 which makes it healthy and strong, especially strong for the activity of perception. Disrespect, antipathy, and under-estimation, bring about the starvation and the withering of this activity. For the occultist this fact is visible in the aura. A soul which harbors the feelings of devotion and reverence, brings about a change in its aura. Certain yellowish-red or brown-red tints will vanish, and tints of bluish-red will replace them. And then the organ of perception opens. It receives information of facts in its environment of which it hitherto had no knowledge. Reverence awakens a sympathetic power in the soul, and through this we attract similar qualities in the beings which surround us, that would otherwise remain hidden. More effective still is that power which can be obtained by devotion when another feeling is added. One learns to give up oneself less and less to the impressions of the outer world, and to develop in its place a vivid inward life. He who darts from one impression of the outer world to another, who constantly seeks dissipations, cannot find the way to Occultism. Neither should the disciple blunt himself to the outer world; but let his rich inner life point out the direction in which he ought to lend himself to its impressions. When passing through a beautiful mountain district, the man with depth of soul and richness of emotion has different experiences from the man with few emotions. Only what we experience within ourselves reveals the beauties of the outer world. One man sails across the ocean, and only a few inward experiences pass through his soul; but another will then hear the eternal language of the world-spirit, and for him are unveiled the mysteries of creation.

One must have learned to control one's own feelings and ideas if one wishes to develop any intimate relationship with the outer world. Every phenomenon in that outer world is full of divine splendor, but one must have felt the Divine within oneself before one may hope to discover it without. The disciple is told to set apart certain moments of his daily life during which to withdraw into himself, quietly and alone. At such times he ought not to occupy himself with his own personal affairs, for this would bring about the contrary of that at which he is aiming. During these moments he ought rather to listen in complete silence to the echoes of what he has experienced, of what the outward world has told him. Then, in these periods of quiet, every flower, every animal, every action will unveil to him secrets undreamed of, and thus will he prepare himself to receive new impressions of the external world, as if he viewed it with different eyes. For he who merely desires to enjoy impression after impression, only stultifies the perceptive faculty, while he who lets the enjoyment afterwards reveal something to him, thus enlarges and educates it. He must be careful not merely to let the enjoyment reverberate, as it were; but, renouncing any further emotions of joy, begin to work upon his pleasurable experiences with an inward activity. The danger at this point is very great. Instead of working within one-self, it is easy to fall into the opposite habit of afterward trying to completely exhaust the enjoyment. Let us not undervalue the unforeseen sources of error which here confront the disciple. He must of necessity pass through a host of temptations, each of which tends only to harden his Ego and to imprison it within itself. He ought to open it wide for the whole world. It is necessary that he should seek enjoyment, for in this way only can the outward world get at him; and if he blunts himself to enjoyment he becomes as a plant which cannot longer draw nourishment from its environment. Yet, if he stops at the enjoyment, he is then shut up within himself, and 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 exclude him. He is dead to the world. The disciple considers enjoyment only as a means of ennobling himself for the world. Pleasure to him is as a scout who informs him concerning the world, and after having been taught by pleasure he passes on to work. He does not learn in order that he may accumulate wisdom as his own treasure, but in order that he may put his learning at the service of the world.

In all forms of Occultism there is a fundamental principle which must not be transgressed, if any goal at all is to be reached. All occult teachers must impress upon their pupils that, Every branch of knowledge which you seek only to enrich your own learning, only to accumulate treasure for yourself, leads you away from the Path; but all knowledge which you seek for working in the service of humanity and for the uplifting of the world brings you a step forward. This law must be rigidly observed; nor is one a genuine disciple until he has adopted it as the guide for his whole life. In many occult schools this truth is expressed in the following short sentence: Every idea which does not become an ideal for you, slays a power within your soul: every idea which becomes an ideal creates within you a vital force.

 

 

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