The Way of Initiation

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The Way of Initiation

By Rudolf Steiner


Probation consists of a strict cultivation of the emotional and mental life. Through this cultivation the "spiritual body" becomes equipped with new instruments of perception and new organs of activity, just as, out of indeterminate living matter, the natural forces have fitted the physical body with the various organs so well known to the physical senses.

The beginning of this cultivation is made by directing the attention of the soul to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are the germinating, expanding, and flourishing of life in its myriad forms on the one hand, and, on the other, the fading, decaying, and passing out of life from all things so far as perceptible to the ordinary senses. Wherever we turn our eyes we can observe these things happening simultaneously, and everywhere they naturally evoke in men thoughts and feelings. But under ordinary circumstances a man fails to grasp the importance of these sensations. He hurries on too quickly from impression to impression. What is necessary, therefore, is that he should fix his attention intently and quite consciously upon these phenomena. Wherever he observes expansion and flourishing of a certain kind, he must banish everything else from his soul, and entirely surrender himself for a short time to this one impression. He will soon convince himself that a sensation which heretofore in a similar case would have merely flitted through his soul, is now so magnified that it becomes of a powerful and energetic nature. He should at once allow this thought-form to reverberate throughout his whole being, yet quietly within himself, and to do so he must become inwardly quite still. He should draw himself away from the outward world, and follow only that which his soul tells him.

Yet it must not be thought that we can make much progress if we blunt our senses to the world. For, one must first contemplate these objects as keenly and precisely as possible, and then give up to the sensations that result, and the thoughts that arise within the soul. What is most important is, that one should direct the attention, with perfect inner balance, upon both of these phenomena. If one obtains the necessary quiet and surrenders himself to that which arises in the soul, he will, in due time, experience many wonderful thoughts and feelings, unknown to him before. Indeed, the more one fixes the attention in such a way, alternately upon something growing, expanding, and flourishing, and upon something else that is fading and decaying, the more vivid will these feelings become. And just as natural forces evolve the physical eyes and ears of the physical body, out of living matter, so will the organs of clairvoyance evolve themselves from the spiritual feelings which are thus evoked. A definite thought-form unites itself with the germinating and expanding object, and another, equally definite, with that which is fading and decaying. But this will only take place if the cultivation of these feelings be striven for in the way described.

It is possible to describe only approximately what these feelings are like. Indeed, everyone must arrive at his own conception of them as he passes through these inward experiences. He who has frequently fixes his attention on the phenomena of germinating, expanding, and flourishing, will feel something remotely allied to the sensation caused by witnessing a sunrise; and the phenomena of fading and decaying will produce in him an experience comparable, in the same way, to the gradual uprising of the moon on the horizon. Both these feelings are forces which, when carefully cultivated, with a continually increasing improvement, will lead to the greatest occult results. To him who again and again, systematically and with design, surrenders himself to such feelings, a new world is opened. The "Spiritual" world, the so-called "Astral plane," begins to dawn upon him. Blooming and fading are facts which no longer make indefinite impressions on him, as of old, but instead they form themselves into spiritual lines and figures of which he had previously suspected nothing. And these lines and figures have for the different phenomena different forms. A blooming flower, an animal growing, a decaying tree, evoke in his soul definite lines. The astral plane slowly broadens out before him. Its forms are not in any sense arbitrary. For two students who find themselves at the same stage of development will always see the same lines and figures under the same conditions. Just as certainly as a round table will be seen as round by two normal persons, not as round by the one and square by the other; so, too, before the perception of two souls a blooming flower will present the same spiritual form. And just as the shapes of animals and plants are described in ordinary natural history, so, too, the teacher in an occult school describes and delineates the spiritual forms of growing and decaying processes after their nature and species.

If the student has progressed so far that he can see such aspects of phenomena which are also physically observable with his external eyes, he will then be not far from the condition which will enable him to behold things that have no physical existence, and must therefore remain entirely hidden to those who have undergone no training in an occult school.

It should be emphasized that the occult explorer ought never to lose himself in speculation on the meaning of this or that. By such intellectualizing he only directs himself away from the right road. He ought to look out on the sense-world freshly, with healthy senses and quickened observation, and then to give himself up to his own sensations. He ought not to wish, in a speculative manner, to make out what this or that means, but rather to allow the things themselves to inform him. [7]

A further point of importance is that which is called in occult science "orientation in the higher worlds." This point is attained when one realizes with complete consciousness that feelings and thoughts are veritable realities, just as much as are tables and chairs in the world of the physical senses. Feelings and thoughts act upon each other in the astral-world and in the thought (or mental) world, just as objects of sense act upon each other in the physical world. As long as anyone is not truly permeated with this realization, he will not believe that an evil thought projected from his mind may have as devastating an effect upon other thought forms as that wrought upon physical objects by a bullet shot at random. Such a one will perhaps never allow himself to perform a physically visible action which he considers to be wrong, yet he will not shrink from harboring evil thoughts or feelings, for these do not appear to him to be dangerous to the rest of the world. Nevertheless we can advance in occult science only when we guard our thoughts and feelings in just the same way as a man would guard the steps he takes in the physical world. If anyone sees a wall before him he does not attempt to dash right through it, but directs his course alongside; in other words, he guides himself by the laws of the physical world.

There are such laws also in the world of thought and feeling, but there they cannot impose themselves upon us from without. They must flow out of the life of the soul itself. We arrive at such a condition when we forbid ourselves, at all times, to foster wrong thoughts or feelings. All arbitrary goings to-and-fro, all idle fancies, all accidental ups-and-downs of emotion must be forbidden in the same way. But, in so doing, let it not be thought that we bring about a deficiency of emotion. On the contrary, if we regulate our inner life in this manner, we shall speedily find ourselves rich in feelings and in genuine creative imagination. In place of a mere chaos of petty feelings and fantastic trains of thought, there appear significant emotions, and thoughts that are fruitful, and it is emotions and thoughts of this kind that lead a man to "orientation in the higher world." He has entered into the right condition for the things of that world, and they entail for him definite consequences. Just as a physical man finds his way between physical things, so, too, his path now leads him straight between the growing and the fading, which he has already come to know in the way described above. For he follows all processes of growing and flourishing, (and, on the other hand, of withering and decaying) that is necessary for his own and the world's prosperity.

The occult student has also to bestow a further care on the world of sound. He must discriminate between the tones which are produced from the so-called inert (lifeless) bodies (for example, a bell, a musical instrument, or a falling mass), and those which proceed from a living creature (an animal or a person). He who hears the striking of a bell will receive the sound and attach to it a certain sensation, but he who hears the cry of an animal will, in addition to this sensation, become aware that the sound reveals also an inward experience of the animal, either of pain or of pleasure. The student is concerned with the latter aspect of the sound. He must concentrate his whole attention upon it, so that the sound reveals to him something that lies outside of his own soul, and, more than this, must merge himself in this exterior thing. He must closely connect his own emotion with the pleasure or pain communicated to him by means of the sound, and must care nothing whether the sound be pleasant or unpleasant to him, welcome or not; his soul must be filled with only that which proceeds from the creature out of whom the sound has come. He who systematically and deliberately performs such exercises will develop within himself the faculty of intermingling, as it were, with the creature from which the sound proceeded. A person sensitive to music will find it easier to cultivate his spiritual life in this respect than one who is unmusical, but no one should think that a mere sense of music will take the place of this culture.

As an occult student, one must learn to contemplate the whole of nature in this way. By so doing a new faculty is developed in the world of thought and feeling. Through her manifold sounds the whole of Nature begins to whisper secrets to the student. What hitherto was merely incomprehensible noise to his soul will become by this means a coherent language of Nature. And whereas, hitherto, he heard sound only from the resonance of so-called inanimate objects, he now understands a new speech of the soul. Should he advance in this culture of the soul, he will soon learn that he can hear what hitherto he did not even surmise. He begins to hear with the soul.

One thing more must be added before we can reach the topmost point in this direction. What is of special importance in the development of the student is the way in which he hears the speech of other men. He must accustom himself to do this in such a way that while doing so his inner self is absolutely still. If someone expresses an opinion and another hears it, the inner self of the latter will be stirring in general assent or contradiction. Many people in such a case feel themselves urged to an expression of their assent, or, more especially, of their contradiction. All such assent or contradiction must, in the occult student, be silenced. It is not imperative that he should, therefore, quite suddenly begin to make his life entirely different, in order that he may attain to this inward and fundamental calm. He might, therefore, begin by doing so in special cases, deliberately selected by himself. Thus quite slowly and by degrees will this new way of listening creep into his habits, as of itself: In the occult schools these things are systematically practiced. For the sake of practice the student is obliged to listen for a certain period to the most contradictory thoughts, and at the same time to suppress all assent, and more especially all adverse criticism. The point is that in such a way not only all intellectual judgment is silenced, but also all sense of displeasure, denial, or even acceptance. The student must be particularly watchful that such feelings, even if they are not upon the surface, do not still remain lurking in the innermost recesses of his soul. He must listen, for example, to the statements of people who in some respects are far beneath him, and, while so doing, suppress every feeling of greater knowledge or of superiority. It is useful for everyone to listen in this way to children, for even the wisest may learn very much from children. So does it come about that we hear the words of others impersonally, completely divested of our own personality with its opinions and feelings. He who thus makes a practice of listening uncritically, even when a completely contradictory opinion is advanced, learns again and again to blend himself, to become identified, with the being of another. He then hears, as it were, through the words and into the souls of others. Through continual exercise of this kind only, sound becomes the right medium for the revelation of the spirit and the soul. Of course, it implies the strictest self-discipline, but it leads to a high goal. When these practices are undertaken in connection with those that deal with the sounds of Nature, the soul develops a new sense of hearing. It is enabled to receive demonstrations from the spiritual world which do not find their expression in outward sounds apprehensible by the physical ear. The perception of the "inner word" awakens. Gradually truths from the spiritual world reveal themselves to the student, and he hears them expressed in a spiritual way. [8]

All high truths are attained through such "inner encouragement," and what we hear from the lips of a genuine occult teacher has been experienced in this manner. In so saying it must not be supposed that it is useless to acquaint oneself with the writings on occult science, before one can actually gain this inner encouragement. On the contrary, the reading of such writings, and the listening to eminent teachers of occult lore, are themselves the means of attaining a personal knowledge. Every sentence of the esoteric wisdom which one hears is adapted to direct the senses to that point which must be attained before the soul can experience a real advance. To the practice of all that has been indicated, must be added an ardent study of what the occult teacher gives out to the world. In all occult schools such a study belongs to the probationary period, and he who would employ other methods will attain no goal if he omits the instructions of the occult teacher, for inasmuch as these instructions proceed from an actual "inner word," an actual "encouragement," they possess in themselves a spiritual vitality. They are not mere words; they are living powers; and while you follow the words of an occultist, while you read a book which comes from a genuine inner experience, powers are at work in your soul which make you clairvoyant, just as natural forces have created out of living matter your eyes and ears.



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