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Occult Science - An Outline

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Occult Science - An Outline

Chapter V

Knowledge of the Higher Worlds

(Concerning Initiation)

Part 2

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The ascent to a supersensible state of consciousness has necessarily to take its start from ordinary waking consciousness. The pupil is living in this consciousness before he sets out on the ascent, and the school of spiritual training holds out to him means whereby he may be led forth from it. Among the first of the means put forward in the school which concerns us here, are activities that are already familiar to the pupil in his everyday consciousness. The most significant of them are in fact those that consist in still and silent activities of the soul. The pupil has to give himself up entirely to certain thought-pictures. These are of such a kind as to have in them an awakening power; they awaken hidden faculties of the soul. They differ therefore from the thought-pictures that belong to everyday life, whose purpose it is to portray some external object. Indeed the more faithfully these do so, the truer they are; it belongs to their very nature to be true in this sense. The thought-pictures to which the soul has to devote itself for the purpose of spiritual training have no such part to play. Their function is not to depict an external object; they are formed in such a way as to have in themselves the property of awakening the soul. The best for the purpose are symbolic pictures. Others, however, can also be used. For the actual content is, in fact, of little importance, the main point being that the pupil shall direct the whole power of his soul upon the thought-picture and have nothing else whatever in his consciousness. Whereas in everyday life the soul's powers are distributed among many things, and thought-pictures are continually coming and going, in spiritual training everything depends on the entire concentration of the soul upon one idea of thought-picture, placed, by an act of will, in the very center of consciousness. It is for this reason that symbolic thought-pictures do better than those that depict external objects or activities; for the latter have their point of support in the external world, so that the soul is not driven to rely upon itself alone, as is the case with the symbolic thought-pictures which have been built up by the soul's own exertions. The essential thing is, not what the picture represents, but that it is formed and imagined in such a way as to set the soul entirely free from dependence on the physical.

It will help us to form a clear conception of what this absorption in a thought-picture implies, if we call up before us the concept of memory. Say we have been looking at a tree and have then turned away so that we no longer see it. We can call up before our mind's eye the thought -picture or mental image of the tree. This thought-picture that we have when the tree is not in view is a memory of the tree. Suppose we hold on to this memory; we let our soul, as it were, come to rest in the memory-picture and try to shut out every other thought. Our soul is now immersed in the memory-picture of the tree. There you have an instance of absorption in a thought-picture — one that reproduces an outer object perceived by the senses. If we now do the same with a thought-picture we ourselves have placed into the field of consciousness, entirely of our will, we shall in time become able to achieve the desired end.

In order to make this quite clear, let us take an example of absorption of the soul in a symbolic thought-picture. The first thing to be done is to build it up, and this we may do in the following way. We think of a plant, how it has its roots in the soil, how it sends out leaves one after another, and blossoms at length into flower. Now we imagine a man standing beside the plant. The thought lights up in our mind that the man has characteristics and capabilities which can truthfully be called more perfect than are those of the plant. He can move about at will, he can go this way or that way as he feels inclined; whereas the plant is rooted to the spot where it is growing. We may, however, then go on to think to ourselves: Yes, that is so, the human being is more perfect than the plant; but I also find qualities in him, the absence of which in the plant makes it appear to me more perfect in other respects than the human being. For he is filled with desires and passions, and these he sometimes follows in his behavior, with the result that he goes astray, falls into error. When I look at the plant, I see how it follows the pure laws of growth from leaf to leaf, how it opens its blossom, calmly and tranquilly, to the chaste rays of the sun. I perceive therefore that while man is in some respects more perfect than the plant, he buys this comparative perfection at the price of letting impulses and desires and passions have their seat within him, instead of what appear to be the pure forces at work in the plant. Then we can go on to picture to ourselves how the green sap flows right through the plant, and how this green sap is the expression of the pure, unimpassioned laws of growth. And if we then think of the red blood as it flows through the veins and arteries of man, we find in this red blood the expression of impulses and desires and passions.

We then let this whole thought live in our soul. Carrying it a little farther, we call to mind how man is after all capable of development; he possesses higher faculties of soul, by means of which he can refine and purify his impulses and passions. We recognize that thereby the baser element in them is purged away, and they are re-born on a higher level. The blood can then be thought of as the expression of these purified and chastened impulses and passions. And now we turn our thought, let us say, to a rose. We look in spirit at the rose and say to ourselves: In the red sap of the rose, I see the green color of the plant-sap changed to red; and the red rose follows still, no less than the green leaf, the pure, unimpassioned laws of growth. I can let the red of the rose be for me a symbol of a blood that is the expression of chastened impulses and passions which have thrown off their baser part and resemble in their purity the forces that are at work in the rose. And then we try, not merely to go on turning such thoughts over and over in our mind, but to let them come to life in our heart and feeling. A sensation of bliss can come over us as we contemplate the pure and dispassionate nature of the growing plant; and we feel obliged to admit that certain higher perfections have to be purchased by the acquisition at the same time of impulses and desires. This thought can change the bliss that we experienced before into a solemn feeling; and then a sense of liberation can come over us, a feeling of true happiness when we give ourselves up to the thought of the red blood that can become the bearer--even as the red sap in the rose — of experiences that are inwardly pure. In pursuing thus a train of thought that serves to build up such a symbolic picture, it is important to accompany the thought all the time with feeling. Then, having entered right into the experience of the thoughts and feelings, we can re-cast them in the following symbolic picture.

Imagine you see before you a black cross. Let this black cross be for you a symbol for the baser elements that have been case out of man's impulses and passions; and at the point where the beams of the cross meet, picture to yourself seven resplendent bright red roses arranged in a circle. Let these roses symbolize for you a blood that is the expression of passions and impulses that have undergone purification.1 Some such symbolic thought-picture shall the pupil of spiritual training call up before his soul, and he can do this in the same way as was explained above for a memory-picture. Devoting himself to it in deep, inner contemplation, he will find that the picture has power to call his soul awake. He must try to banish for the time being everything else from his mind. The symbol in question, and that alone, should now hover before him in spirit, as livingly as ever possible.

There is meaning in the fact that the symbolic picture has not simply been put forward as a picture that has in itself as an awakening power, but that it was first built up by a sequence of thoughts concerning plant and man. What such a picture can do for the pupil depends, before he uses it as an object of meditation. Were he to picture it without having gone through the construction of it in his own soul, it would remain cold and would have far less effect, for it is the preparation that endows it with power to enlighten the soul. The pupil should however not be recalling the preparatory steps while engaged in the meditation, but have then merely the symbolic picture hovering before him in spirit, quick with life — letting only the feelings that were aroused by the preparatory chain of thought echo on within him. In this way does the symbolic picture come to be a sign, appropriate to and accompanying the inner experience.

The efficacy if the experience depends upon how long the pupil is able to continue in it . The longer he can do so, without allowing any other idea to disturb the meditation, the greater its value for him. It is, however, also good if, apart from the times that he devotes to the meditation as such, he will frequently build up the picture all over again, letting the thoughts and feelings rise up in him in the way we have described, that the mood of the experience may not pale. The more ready the pupil is patiently to continue renewing the picture in this way, the greater significance will it have for his soul. (In my book Knowledge in the Higher Worlds and its Attainment, other subjects are suggested for meditations on the coming-into-being and passing-away of a plant, on the forces of growth that lie dormant in the seed, on the forms of crystals, etc. In the present book, the intention has been merely to illustrate, by means of an example, the nature of meditation.)

A symbolic picture such as we have here described does not represent some external object that Nature has produced; and to this very fact it owes its power to awaken capabilities that belong entirely to the soul. Some persons may beg to differ! They may, for instance, say: Agreed, the symbolic picture as a whole is not to be found in Nature, but all its details are borrowed from Nature — the black color, the roses, and so forth; these have every one of them been first perceived by the senses. If any reader be disturbed in his mind by such an objection, let him reflect that these component parts of the picture, which are undoubtedly derived from sense-perception, do not in themselves lead to the awakening of higher faculties in the soul; the awakening is brought about solely by the way in which the single details have been put together to form the picture. For that, no prototype is to be found in the outer world.

The endeavor has here been made, taking a particular symbolic picture as an example, to give a clear account of how meditation can take its course. For the purpose of spiritual training, a great variety of pictures of this kind can be used, and they can be built up in many different ways. Sentences, formulae, even single words, may also be given as subjects for meditation. In every instance the aim will be to wrest the soul free from sense-perception and rouse it to an activity for which the outer impressions of the physical senses are without significance, the whole import and aim of the activity being to unfold dormant faculties of the soul. Meditations that are directed wholly to certain feelings or emotions are also possible; they are indeed particularly valuable for the soul. Take the feeling of joy. In the ordinary course of life we can rejoice over something we see taking place. Suppose a man who has a healthily developed life of feeling observes someone performing an action that is inspired by real goodness of heart. He will be pleased, he will rejoice in the kind deed. And it may be, he will then to on to ponder over a deed of this nature in somewhat the following way. A deed that proceeded from kindness of heart, he may think to himself, is one in which the doer follows, not his own interests, but the interests of his fellow-man; I may therefore call it a “good” deed. But now he can go further. He can turn right away form the particular action that he observed and that gave him such pleasure, and create for himself the comprehensive idea of loving-kindness, “goodness of heart.” He can picture to himself how it arises in the soul, namely through the person's absorbing, as it were, the interest of his fellow, making them his own. And he can rejoice in this moral conception of kindness. The joy that he now has is no longer over this or that event in the physical world, it is joy in an idea as such. If we try to let joy of this kind live on in our soul for a considerable time we shall actually be practicing meditation upon a feeling. It is not the mere idea that will awaken the inner faculties, but he prolonged surrender of the soul to a feeling that is not just due to a particular external impression.

Supersensible cognition being able to penetrate more deeply into the real nature of things, feelings evoked by spiritual knowledge can be imparted and used for meditation. These will be all the more efficacious in unfolding the inner faculties of the soul. Necessary as this enhanced development will be for the higher stages of the pupil's training, he should nevertheless understand that meditations upon simple feelings and emotions such as the one concerning goodness of heart, if diligently carried out, can take him very far. Since people differ in nature and character, the means that prove most useful for individual pupils will naturally vary. As to the length of time that should be given to meditation, the thing of prime importance is that while engaged in it, the pupil shall remain calm and collected; its efficacy indeed depends on this. In the matter of time he should also be careful not to overshoot the mark. The exercises themselves will help him to acquire a certain inner tact which will teach him how far he may rightly go in this respect.

The pupil will as a rule have to carry out such exercises for quite a long while before he himself is able to notice any result. Patience and perseverance are absolute essentials in spiritual training. Unless the pupil evokes these qualities within him, going through his exercises so quietly and so regularly that patience and perseverance may be said to constitute the fundamental mood of his soul, he will make little progress.

It will be clear, from what has been said so far, that deep inner contemplation — meditation — is a means for the attainment of knowledge of higher worlds, and moreover that not just any thought-picture can be taken for meditation, but only one that has been built up in the way described.

The path that has been indicated leads in the fist place to what may be called “Imaginative cognition” — the first stage, that is, of higher cognition. The cognition that depends upon sense-perception and upon the elaboration of sense-perceptions by an intellect that is bound to the senses — “objective cognition.” Above it are the various stages of higher cognition, the Imaginative being the first. The word Imagination may well raise distrust in the minds of those who take it to mean some idea that is engendered by mere fancy — some “imaginary” idea or mental picture unrelated to reality. In spiritual science however, Imaginative cognition is to be understood as a cognition that results from the soul's having attained to a supersensible state of consciousness. What is perceived in this condition of consciousness are spiritual facts and spiritual beings whereto the senses have no access. Since this first supersensible consciousness is awakened in the pupil by his giving himself up in meditation to symbolic pictures or “imaginations,” it may be termed “Imaginative consciousness” and the cognition connected with it “Imaginative cognition” — meaning by this a cognition that is able to have knowledge of what is real in another sense than are the facts and objects perceived with the physical senses. The content of the thought-picture in the imaginative meditation is not the important thing; what is important is the faculty of soul that is thereby developed.

Another very understandable objection may be put forward to the employment of symbolic mental pictures. The building up of such pictures, it may be alleged, is carried out by a dreamlike thinking that makes use of arbitrary fancy, and the result can only be of questionable value. There is, however, no occasion to harbor any such misgiving in regard to the thought-pictures which form the basis of a right and sound spiritual training. Such thought-pictures are expressly chosen with this end in view — namely, that the relation they may have to external reality can be disregarded and their value sought purely in the power with which they work upon the soul when attention has been withdrawn from the outer world, when all sense-impressions and even all the thoughts the mind can entertain in response to sense-impressions have been eliminated.

If we want to form a clear and true picture of the process of meditation, we shall find it helpful to comp[are it with sleep. On the one hand it resembles sleep, while on the other hand it is the very opposite. For it is a sleep which in comparison with ordinary day-consciousness gives signs of a higher awakeness. The truth of the matter is that, having to concentrate upon one particular symbolic or other thought-picture, the soul is obliged to summon up from its depths much stronger forces than it is accustomed to employ in ordinary life or for the ordinary process of cognition. Its inner activity is enhanced thereby. The soul liberates itself from the body, even as it does in sleep. Only, instead of going over into unconsciousness, it now has living experience of a world it did not know before. Thus, the soul is in a condition which, although in its liberation from the body it may be likened to sleep, has nevertheless to be described as an enhanced awakeness in comparison with ordinary consciousness. The soul comes in this way to a living experience of itself in its inmost, true and independent being, whereas in ordinary waking life, when its forces are less strongly developed, it is only with the help of the body that the soul attains consciousness at all. It does not under these conditions have any conscious experience of itself, becoming conscious only in the picture which, like a reflection from a mirror, the body — or, one should rather say, the bodily processes conjure up before it.

The symbolic pictures that are built upon in the way described cannot of course be said to have relation as yet to anything real in the spiritual world. Their purpose is to detach the soul from sense-perception, and from the instrument of the brain with which in ordinary life the intellect is bound up. This detachment cannot be effected until man feels; Now I am forming a thought-picture by the use of forces that need not assistance from the senses or from the brain. The very first experience that befalls the pupil on his path is this liberation from the physical organs. He can then say to himself, My consciousness is not extinguished when I abandon sense-perceptions and abandon also my ordinary intellectual thinking; I can lift myself right out of this thinking, and I then feel myself a living spiritual being, side by side with what I was before. Here then we have the first purely spiritual experience: the pupil becomes aware of himself as an I, an Ego, purely in the soul and spirit. A new self has arisen out of the self that is bound up with the physical senses and the physical intellect. Had the pupil freed himself from the world of the senses and the intellect without deep inner meditation, he would have fallen into the void of unconsciousness. Naturally, he already had in him this being of pure soul and spirit before he practiced meditation, but it had then no instruments whereby it could observe in the spiritual world. It was not unlike a physical body that has no eyes to see with, no ears to hear with. The force that has been expended in achieving meditation has created organs of soul and spirit, has called them forth out of what was hitherto unorganized soul-and-spirit being.

What the pupil has in this way himself created, is also what he first perceives. Therefore his first experience is a kind of self-perception. It is in accord with the whole nature of spiritual training that, thanks to the self-education that he is undergoing, man is at this stage fully conscious that he is perceiving himself in the picture-worlds (Imaginations) which appear as a result of the exercises. These pictures seem to the pupil to be alive, and in a new world; yet he must recognize that, to begin with, they are nothing else than the reflection of his own being, strengthened as this now is by reason of the exercises he has carried out. Moreover not only has the pupil to come to a right conclusion on this point; he must in addition develop such a strong will that he is able at any moment to wipe out the pictures, to dismiss them altogether from consciousness. He must have it in his power to exercise authority over them in perfect freedom and confidence. And he will be able to do this, provided the training has been on sound lines. Otherwise, the pupil would be in the same plight in the realm of spiritual experience, as a man would be in the physical world if, when he turned to look at some object, his eye were to remain fettered to that object so that he was quite unable to look away from it. There is however one exception. One group of inner picture-experiences must not be blotted out at this stage of spiritual training. It is a group that relates to the heart and kernel of the pupil's own being; in the Imaginations of this group he is made acquainted with the very ground of his being, with that within him which passes through repeated earth lives. At this moment in his development he begins to feel — as a direct experience — the reality of repeated earth lives. In respect of everything else that he experiences in this realm there must be the freedom of which we spoke.

Only after the pupil has acquired the faculty of wiping out the Imaginations, does he approach the real external world of the spirit. In place of the pictures that have been wiped out, something else appears, and in this the pupil begins to attain knowledge of spiritual reality. His feeling of himself, from being dim and vague, reaches a clarity and definition hitherto unknown. And he has now to go further; he has to advance from this perception of himself to observation of the world of soul and spirit that surrounds him. This he will be able to do when he directs his inner experience in a way that will now be indicated.

To begin with, the soul is weak over against all that offers itself for perception in the world of soul and spirit. The pupil will already have had to expend considerable energy of soul in order to hold fast in meditation the symbolic or other pictures which he built up out of the data of the world of sense. But if he wants in addition to attain to actual observation in a higher world, he will have to do more than this. He must be able to abide in a condition wherein not only the stimuli of the external world no longer influence his soul, but even the Imaginative thought-pictures are completely obliterated from his consciousness. For the moment has now arrived when that which has been formed and fashioned within him by dint of deep inner concentration of soul can come to view. Everything now depends upon the pupil's having sufficient inner energy of soul to allow it to be actually seen by him spiritually; it must not escape his notice, as invariably happens when the forces of the soul are too little developed. The soul-and-spirit organism that has come to development within him and that the pupil has now to apprehend in self-perception is frail and evanescent. Many and serious are the disturbances that come from the outer world of sense and from memories of the same, and that persist in the mind even when the pupil does his utmost to shut them out. Nor is it only the disturbances of which we can be aware that come into question; still more serious are those of which we are totally unaware in ordinary life.

The very conditions however under which the life of man takes its course make possible here a transition stage. What the soul is unable to achieve when awake on account of these disturbances from the physical world, it can achieve in sleep. One who devotes himself to meditation will, if sufficiently attentive, begin to notice something new about his sleep. He will be aware that he is not always fully asleep the whole time, but that there are moments when his soul, although he is asleep, is nevertheless active in some way. At such times, the natural processes of sleep keep away the influences of the external world which he is not yet strong enough to keep away by his own efforts while awake. And now that the exercises in concentration and meditation have begun to take effect, the soul is released from complete unconsciousness during sleep and is able to eel the world of soul and spirit. This can come home to the pupil in either of two ways. He may be well aware during his sleep: “I am now in another world,” or he may have the memory when he wakes up: “I have been in another world.” A greater inner energy is of course required for the first way than for the second, which will accordingly for a beginner be the more frequent of the two. And it may be that gradually the point is reached when the pupil, on awakening, has the impression: During the whole time that I have been asleep I have been in another world; I emerged from it only when I awoke. Moreover his memory of the beings and facts of this outer world will grow more and more definite. This will mean that the pupil has attained in one or another form what may be called “continuity of consciousness” (the persistence of consciousness during sleep.) There is no implication that he will always retain consciousness during sleep. He will have made good progress in this direction if, while in general he sleeps as others do, there are times when during sleep he can be consciously giving into a world of soul and spirit; or again if, when awake, he can look back upon short periods of such consciousness.

It must not be forgotten that this is only a transition state. It is good for his spiritual training that the pupil should go through this stage, but he must not imagine that it can afford him conclusive evidence in regard to the world of soul and spirit. He is, in this condition, still uncertain and cannot yet rely on his perceptions. Thanks however to experiences of this nature he does gradually gather power to attain the like result also in waking life — that is, to hold off the disturbing influences of the physical world upon his senses and upon his inner life, and so attain that “observing” in soul and spirit where no impressions enter by way of the senses, where the brain-bound intellect is silent, and where even those thought-pictures are banished from consciousness, upon which he had been meditating in preparing for seeing in the spirit. (Things published in the name of spiritual science should invariably be the outcome of spiritual observations made in a fully wide-awake condition.)

There are two inner experiences, important in the course of spiritual training. The one enables the pupil to say to himself: If I now turn aside from every impression that can reach me from the surrounding physical world, I do not, when I look within, behold there a being that is totally inactive, but a being that is conscious of itself in a world of which I can know nothing as long as I only lay myself open to impressions that come to me through sense-perception and through everyday thinking. At this moment, the pupil can have the feeling that he has himself given birth to a new being that is there within him as the very heart and kernel of his soul, a being possessed moreover of entirely different qualities from those that have been his up to now.

The second experience is as follows. The pupil discovers that he can now have beside him the self he has been hitherto, as if it were another and distinct self. He is in a sense confronted by the being within which he has until now been confined. He feels he is temporarily outside what he has hitherto been accustomed to call his very own self, his I. It is as if he were living, with perfect calm and composure, in two selves. The first of them he knew before; the second self now confronts the first as a new-born entity. Moreover he feels the first becoming in a way self-subsistent, independent of the second, rather as man's body has an independent existence of its own apart from this first self. This is an experience of very great moment; for the pupil knows now what it means to live in that higher world which, with the help of his training, he has been endeavoring to reach.

The second, the new-born self, can now be brought to perceive in the spiritual world. Within it there can unfold for the spiritual world what the sense-organs are for the physical. When this development has reached the required stage, the pupil will be able to do more than feel himself as a new-born I. Just as he perceives the physical world by means of his senses, so will he now begin to perceive around him spiritual facts and spiritual beings. Here we have then a third significant experience. In order to pass through this stage successfully, the pupil will have to reckon with the fact that along with the strengthening of the soul's forces, self-love and self-conceit begin to assume proportions that are quite unknown in ordinary life. It would argue a complete lack of understanding, were we to imagine that this was no more than the ordinary kind of selfishness and self-love. Self-love grows so strong at this stage of the pupil's development, that it can actually seem to him like a force of Nature working within him, and a strenuous disciple of the will is required to et the better of this prodigious self-conceit. The latter does not come as a result of spiritual training. This self-conceit is always there in man, but only when the pupil comes to have real experience of the Spirit is it raised up into consciousness. Hand in hand therefore with spiritual training must always go the training of the will. The pupil is conscious of a tremendous urge to feel blissfully happy in the world which he has created within him. What he must now be able to do is to wipe out, as described above, the very thing he has taken such pains to achieve. Having reached the Imaginative world, he must there contrive to extinguish self. In opposition to this self-effacement are ranged within him the excessively strong impulses of self-opinion and self-conceit. It might easily be imagined that exercises for spiritual training were something quite apart and had nothing whatever to do with moral development. To this one can only reply that the moral force needed to overcome this self-conceit cannot possibly be acquired unless the whole ethical tone and disposition of the pupil be raised to a proportionate level. Progress in spiritual training is out of the question, unless progress be made at the same time in the ethical sphere. Lack of moral strength makes conquest of self-conceit impossible . The allegation that genuine spiritual training is not ipso facto moral training is entirely mistaken

Only one who has no personal knowledge of such experience could here interpose the question: How are we to know, when we think we have spiritual perceptions, that we are facing realities and not the mere creations of our fancy — visions, hallucinations and the like? As a matter of ace, a pupil who has reached the above stage in proper spiritual training can distinguish between the figments of his own fancy and spiritual reality, just as a person of normal intelligence is able to distinguish between the mental picture of a hot iron and a real one he touches with his hand; he knows the difference by virtue of a sound and healthy experience of life. So too in the spiritual world, life itself provides the touchstone. In the world of the senses, we know that if we imagine a hot iron, then however hot we picture it, it will not burn our fingers; so does the pupil of Spirit know whether he is only imagining that he confronts a spiritual fact or whether real facts and real beings are making their impressions on the organs of spiritual perception that have been awakened in him. The instructions he will need to follow during his training to save him from falling a victim to illusion in this regard will be set forth in the following pages.

It is of the utmost importance that by the time the pupil becomes conscious of a new-born self within him, his whole character and morale shall have reached a high level. For it is like this. It belongs to man's I or Ego, to control his sensations and feelings and ideas, also his impulses, desires and passions. Perceptions, mental pictures and ideas cannot be simply let loose in the soul; they must e regulated by the exercise of a thoughtful discretion. The I, the self, administers the laws of thought, thereby bringing order into man's thinking and ideation. It is the same with his desires and impulses, his inclinations and passions. These are guided and controlled by his moral principles. Thus the self, by the exercise of ethically sound judgment and discretion, becomes man's guide in this domain. When now we have succeeded in drawing out of our ordinary self a higher self, the former will become to some extent independent. But it will at the same time be deprived of the energies now devoted to the higher self. Let us see what will happen if a pupil wants to give birth to his higher self, when he has not yet developed adequate ability or certainty in his application of the laws of thought nor in his power of judgment and discretion. He cannot leave to his ordinary self any more ability in the field of thought than he has hitherto developed. Should this not suffice, then his everyday self, continuing on its own, will exhibit a thinking that is disordered, confused and fantastic. Since for such a person the new-born self can only be weak, the lower self, confused as it is, will gain control over his beholding in the supersensible, and he will fail to show discrimination in regard to what he observes there. Had he developed sufficiently his faculty for logical thinking, there would have been no difficulty in allowing his everyday self to assume independence.

The same applies in the realm of ethics. If a pupil has not acquired firmness in moral judgment, if he is not sufficiently master of his inclinations, his impulses and passions, he will be conferring independence on his everyday self when it is still in a condition of relative subjection to them. It can happen that such a person will not recognize in reference to his supersensible experience the same need to conform to a high standard of truth as he does in respect of what the outer physical world presents to his consciousness. Should he thus have a lax regard or truth, he could easily take for spiritual reality all manner of things that are nothing but figments of his own fancy. What is needed is that, before the higher self begins to be active in its quest for knowledge of the supersensible, the pupil's sense of truth be infused with a firmness of moral judgment and with a stability of character and of conscience, that have been developed in the self now left behind. This is not by any means said with intention to frighten people away from spiritual training; it is nevertheless a consideration that needs to be taken very seriously.

If the pupil is firmly resolved to leave nothing undone that will help to make his first self reliable in the strict performance of its functions, then he has no need to be afraid of this event that comes as a result of spiritual training — the liberation, that is, of a second self for attainment of knowledge in the supersensible. He must however not forget that self-deception is apt to be particularly strong when one is deeming oneself “ripe” for some new step. In the school of spiritual training we have here described, the pupil's life of thought undergoes a development which precludes the danger, so very often alleged, of being led astray. Thanks to the development of the life of thought, the pupil is able to undergo all necessary experiences of the inner life in such a way that there is no fear of their being accompanied by delusive and mischievous creations of the fancy. Where adequate development of the life of thought has been lacking, the experiences can well evoke serious uncertainty in the soul of the pupil. If the pupil is prepared in the way here recommended, he will acquire knowledge of the new experiences in much the same way as a man of healthy mind gets to know the objects he perceives in the physical world. Development of the life of thought tends rather to make him an observer of what he himself is experiencing, whereas without it he is absorbed in the experience — as it were, unreflective and unheeding.

In a proper school of spiritual training certain qualities are set forth that require to be cultivated by one who desires to find the path to the higher worlds. First and foremost, the pupil must have control over his thoughts (in their course and sequence.) over his will, and over his feelings. The control has to be acquired by means of exercises , and these are planned with two ends in view. On the one hand, the soul has to become so firm, so secure and balanced that it will retain these qualities when a second self is born. And on the other hand, the pupil has to endow this second self, from the start, with strength and steadfastness.

The quality that thinking needs above all is objectivity. In the world of the physical senses life itself is our great teacher in this respect. Let a man fling his thoughts hither and thither in a purely arbitrary manner, he will find himself obliged to suffer life to correct him if he does not want to come into conflict with it. He must of necessity bring his thinking into correspondence with the facts. But when he turns his attention away from the physical world, this compulsory correction fails him; and if his thinking has not then the ability to be its own corrector, it will inevitably follow will-o'-the-wisps. The pupil of the spirit must therefore undertake exercises in thinking in order that his thinking may be able to mark out its own path and goal. Stability, and the capacity to adhere firmly to a once chosen subject, are what the pupil's thinking has to acquire. There is therefore no occasion for the exercises to deal with remote or complicated objects, much rather should they have reference to simple objects that are ready to hand. Whoever succeeds in directing his thought, for at least five minutes daily, and for months on end, to some quite commonplace object — say, for example, a needle or a pencil — and in shutting out during those five minutes all thoughts that have no connection with the object, will have made very good progress in this direction. (A fresh object may be chosen each day, or one may be continued for several days.) Even a person who considers himself a trained intellectual thinker should not be too proud to qualify for spiritual training by an exercise of this simple nature. For when we are riveting our thought for a considerable time upon something that is entirely familiar, we may be quite sure that our thinking is in accord with reality. If we ask ourselves: what is a lead pencil made of? How are the different materials prepared? How are they put together? When were lead pencils invented? And so on, we can be more sure of our thoughts being consistent with reality than if we were to ponder the question of the descent of man — or, let us say, of the meaning of life. Simple exercises in thinking are a far better preparation for forming commensurate conceptions of Saturn, Sun and Moon evolution than are complicated and learned ideas. As to our thinking, what is important at this stage is not the object or event to which it is directed, but that it should be strong and vigorous and to the point. If it has been educated to be so in reference so simple physical realities that lie open to view, it will acquire the tendency to be so even when it finds itself no longer under the control of the physical world and its laws. The pupil will find he gets rid in this way of any tendency he had before to loose and extravagant thinking.

As if in the world of thought, so also in the sphere of the will, the self has to become master. Here too, as long as we remain in the world of the physical senses, life itself may be said to be our master. Some vital need asserts itself and the will feels impelled to satisfy the need. But one who undergoes a higher training has to acquire the habit of strict obedience to what he tells himself to do on his own initiative. In learning this he will be less and less inclined to cherish pointless desires. Dissatisfaction and instability in the life of will come from setting one's heart on some aim, of the realization of which one has formed no clear notion. Dissatisfaction of this kind can bring the whole inner life into disorder at the moment when a higher self is ready to come forth from the soul. A good exercise for the will is, every day for months on end, to give oneself the command: Today you are to do this, at this particular hour. One will gradually manage to fix the hour and the nature of the task so as to render the command perfectly possible to carry out. In this way we rise above that deplorable state of mind which finds expression in words such as: I would like to do this, I wish I could do that — when all the time there is no real expectation of fulfillment. A great poet made a prophetess say: “Him I love who craves for the impossible”2 And the same poet says in his own name: “To live in the Idea is to treat the impossible as thought it were possible.”3 Such words should however not be quoted as refuting the above recommendation. For the demand that Goethe and his prophetess (Manto) are making can only be met by one who has first educated himself in the achievement of desires that are possible of fulfillment — in order then, by dint of his strengthened will, to be able to treat the “impossible” in such a way as to change it by his will into the possible.

Passing on now to the world of feeling, the pupil must succeed in reaching a certain equanimity of soul. For this he will need to have under his control all outward expression of pleasure or pain, of joy or sorrow. Such advice will be certain to meet with prejudice. Surely, if he is not to rejoice over what is joyful, not to sorrow over what is sorrowful, the pupil will become utterly indifferent to the life that is going on around him! But this is not at all what is meant. The pupil shall by all means rejoice over what if joyful and sorrow over what is sorrowful. It is the outward expression of joy and sorrow, of pleasure and pain that he must learn to control. If he honestly tries to attain this, he will soon discover that he does not grow less, but actually more sensitive than before to everything in his environment that can arouse emotions of joy or of pain. If the pupil is really to succeed in cultivating this control it will undoubtedly involve keeping close watch upon himself for a long time. He must not be slow to enter with fullness of feeling into pleasure and pain, but must be able to do so without losing self-control and giving involuntary expression to it. What he has to suppress is not the pain — that is justified — but the involuntary weeping; not the horror at a base action, but the outburst of blind fury; not the caution in face of danger, but the giving way to panic — which does no good whatever.

Only by the practice of an exercise of this kind can the pupil attain the inner poise and quiet that he will have need of when the time comes for the higher self to be born in the soul, and more especially when this higher self becomes active there. Otherwise the soul may lead an unhealthy lie of its own alongside the higher self — like a kind of double. It is important not to fall a victim to self-deception in this manner. It may seem to many a pupil that he already possesses a good measure of equanimity in ordinary life and will not therefore need this exercise. In point of fact, such a one is doubly in need of it. A man may remain perfectly calm and composed in relation to the exigencies of everyday life, and then, when he rises into a higher world, exhibit a sad lack of poise — all the more so indeed, since the tendency to let himself go was there all the time, only suppressed. It must be clearly understood that what a pupil appears to have already of some attribute of the soul is a little account for spiritual training; what is far more important is that he should practice regularly and systematically the exercises he needs. Contradictory as such a statement may sound, it is true nevertheless. Say that life has endowed us with this or that virtue; for spiritual training it is the virtues we ourselves have cultivated that are of value. Are we by nature easily excitable, it is for us to rid ourselves of this excitability; are we by nature calm and imperturbable, we must bestir ourselves to bring it about through our own self-education that the impressions we receive from without awake in us the right response. A man who cannot laugh has just ad little control over his life as a man who without self-control is perpetually giving way to laughter.

It will be a further help to the education of his thinking and feeling, if the pupil acquire a virtue that I will call positiveness. A lovely legend is related of Christ Jesus. It tells how He is walking with a few other persons, and they pass by a dead dog. The other turn away from the revolting sight. Christ Jesus speaks admiringly of the beautiful teeth of the animal. One can train oneself to meet the world with the disposition of soul that this legend displays. The spurious, the bad and the ugly should not hinder us from finding, wherever they are present, the true, the good and the beautiful. Positiveness must not be confused lack of discrimination, or with an arbitrary shutting of one's eyes to what is bad, or false, or “good for nothing.” He who admires the “beautiful teeth” of a dead animal sees also the decaying body. The unsightly corpse does not, however, prevent him from seeing the beautiful teeth. We cannot deem a bad thing good or an error true; but we can take care not to be put off by the bad from seeing the good, nor by the false from seeing the true.

The thinking, and together with it the willing, reaches a certain maturity if one tries never to let past experiences rob one of open-minded receptivity for new ones. To declare in the face of some new experience: “I never heard of such a thing, I don't believe it!” should make no sense at all to a pupil of the Spirit. Rather let him make the deliberate resolve, during a certain period of time to let every thing or being he encounters tell him something new. A breath of wind, a leaf falling from a tree, the prattle of a little child, can all teach us something, are we but ready to adopt a point of view to which we have perhaps not hitherto been accustomed. One can, it is true, carry this too far. We must not, at whatever age we have reached, put right out of our minds everything we have experienced hitherto. We have most decidedly to base our judgment of what confronts us now upon past experience. That is on the one side of the balance, but on the other there is the need for the pupil of the Spirit to be ready all the time for entirely new experiences; above all, to admit to himself the possibility that the new may contradict the old.

These then are five qualities of soul the pupil has to acquire n the coursed of a right and proper training: control over the direction of his thoughts, control of his impulses of will, equanimity in the face of pleasure and pain, positiveness in his attitude to the world around him, readiness to meet life with an open mind. Lastly, when he has spent consecutive periods of time in training himself for the acquisition of these five qualities, the pupil will need to bring them into harmony in his soul. He will have to practice them in manifold combinations — two by two, three and one at a time, and so on, in order to establish harmony among them.4

These exercises have been assigned a place in spiritual training, because when thoroughly and effectually carried out they have not only their more immediate result in the cultivation of the desired qualities, but indirectly a great deal more will follow from them that is of no less importance for the pupil on his path to the spiritual worlds. Whoever gives sufficient time and care to their practice will, while he is doing them, come up against many blemishes and shortcomings in his soul, and will moreover find in the exercises themselves the means of strengthening and stabilizing his thought life, as well as his life of feeling and indeed his whole character. He will undoubtedly need many more exercises, adapted to his own individual faculties, to his particular character and temperament. These will emerge when the above have been practiced in all thoroughness. One will indeed discover, as time goes on, that these six exercises give one indirectly more than at first appears to be contained in them. Suppose the pupil is lacking in self-confidence. He will after a time begin to notice that, thanks to the exercises, he is gaining the self-confidence of which he stands in need. And it will be the same with other qualities of soul wherein he may be deficient. (Several exercises, described in more detail, will be found in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment.)

It is important that the pupil shall find it possible to go on developing the said six qualities in ever increasing measure. His control over this thoughts and sensations must become great enough to enable him to set aside times of complete inner quiet, when all the joys and sorrows, all the satisfactions and anxieties of everyday life — nay more, even all its tasks and demands are banished from mind and heart. In such times that alone which he himself wills to admit shall be allowed entry to his soul. Here again it is possible that some reader may feel misgiving. Will not the pupil become estranged from daily life and its tasks, if he withdraws from it in this way, banishing it from mind and heart for certain stated times during the day? In reality, however, this is far from being so. One who devotes himself in this way to periods of inner quiet, will find that he grows stronger in many respects for the tasks of daily life, and fulfils them, not only no less well, but decidedly better than before.

Such periods will have special value for the pupil if during them he refrains entirely from thinking of his own personal affairs and rises to the contemplation of the concerns of mankind at large. Should he be able at such times to fill his soul with communications that come from higher spiritual worlds, letting these take no less firm hold upon his interest than do his personal cares and concerns in ordinary life, he will be richly rewarded.

One who makes serious endeavor to gain this mastery over his life of soul will also find his way to a self-observation by means of which he will be able to regard his own concerns as coolly and quietly as if they had no connection with himself. To be able to look upon all experiences that come to one in life, all joys and sorrows, in the very same way as one looks upon those of others is a good preparation for spiritual training. The pupil will find he can gradually attain the necessary ability in this direction, if every evening when the day's work is done, he lets pass before his mind's eye pictures of the day's experiences, watching himself go through them. This will mean that he is looking at himself as he is in daily life — from without. To begin with, let him take small sections of the day. That will give him practice; and he will find that he grows more and more skilful in this “looking backward” until at last he is able to picture the whole day through in quite a short span of time. This beholding of our experiences in backward direction has a special value for spiritual training: it helps us disengage our thinking from its accustomed habit of holding on to the outer, material and sense-perceptible events. When we think backwards, we picture the events correctly, but we are no longer sustained by the obvious external sequence. The pupil needs this liberation if he is to make his way into the supersensible world. He will find too that by this freedom his thinking and ideation are strengthened, and in a thoroughly healthy manner. It is accordingly good also to review other things in backward order — a play, for example, a story, a melody, and so on.

A pupil of the Spirit will have it increasingly as his ideal to meet the events of life with inner quiet and confidence, forming his judgment on them, not as to how they accord with his own particular disposition but on the basis of their inherent meaning and inner value. By holding this ideal ever before him, he will be laying in his soul the foundation for that deep inner contemplation — of symbolic and other thoughts and also of feelings — of which we have been hearing.

It is essential for the pupil to fulfill the above conditions, for supersensible experience has to be built upon the ground on which he stands in ordinary life before he enters the supersensible world. His experience there is dependent in two ways on the point he reached before setting out. If he has not taken special care to see that an ability for sound judgment is at the very foundation of his spiritual training, he will develop supersensible faculties which perceive the spiritual world inaccurately and falsely. His organs of spiritual perception will evolve in a wrong way. As in the world of the senses we cannot see correctly with imperfect or diseased eyes, so in the spiritual world we cannot perceive correctly with organs lacking the foundation of sound judgment and discrimination.

Should it happen that a pupil sets out on the path with an immoral character, his power of vision, when he mounts up into the spiritual worlds, will be dim and clouded. He will be like a man in the world of the senses who gazes at it in a condition of stupor. With this difference, however: whereas the latter will have little of any consequence to tell, the observer in the spiritual world — even in his stupor — is more awake than man is in ordinary consciousness, and will accordingly give information of what he sees there. The information will however be erroneous.



  1. It is of no consequence how far the above thoughts can be justified from the side of Natural Science, the whole point being to evolve thoughts in regard to plant and man, which can be arrived at without reference to any theory, by simple and direct observation. Thoughts of this kind concerning objects in the world around us have their significance, alongside of the theoretical ideas of science which are, in their right place, no less significant. Here we are not putting forward thoughts for the purpose of presenting facts in scientific terms; what we ant to do is to create a symbolic picture that shall prove capable of influencing the soul, irrespective of any criticisms that could be leveled at the composition of the picture.

  2. Goethe, Faust, Part II, Act II.

  3. Goethe: Proverbs in Prose.

  4. Note by Translators. In other writings and in lectures, Rudolf Steiner often referred to this harmonizing and uniting of the preceding five as a sixth exercise. Collectively they are then known as the six ‘accessory exercises’ (Nebenübungen).


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