KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT
THE STAGES OF INITIATION
THE information given in the following chapters forms part of an esoteric training, the name and character of which will be understood by all who apply this information in the right way. It refers to the three stages through which the training of the spiritual life leads to a certain degree of Initiation. But only so much will here be explained as can be publicly imparted. These are merely indications extracted from a still far deeper and more intimate doctrine. In esoteric training itself a quite definite course of instruction is followed. Certain exercises enable the soul to attain a conscious intercourse with the spiritual world. These exercises bear about the same relation to what will be imparted in the following pages, as the instruction given in a higher, strictly disciplined school, to the incidental teaching in a preparatory school. And yet the earnest and persevering pursuit of the course here indicated, will lead to a genuine esoteric training. But an impatient dabbling, devoid of earnest perseverance, can lead to nothing at all. The study of Spiritual Science can only be successful if the student will retain what has already been indicated in the preceding chapter, and on the basis of this proceed further.
The three stages which the above-mentioned tradition specifies, are as follows: (1) Probation; (2) Enlightenment; (3) Initiation. It is not altogether necessary that the first of these three stages should be completed before the second can be begun, nor that the second, in turn, be completed before the third be started. In certain respects it is possible to partake of Enlightenment, and even of Initiation, and in other respects still be in the probationary stage. Yet it will be necessary to spend a certain time in the stage of Probation, before any Enlightenment can begin, and at least in some respects, Enlightenment must be completed before it is even possible to enter upon the stage of Initiation. But in describing them, it is necessary, for the sake of clarity, that the three stages be made to follow in turn.
Probation consists of a strict and definite cultivation of the life of thought and feeling through which the psychic-spiritual ‘body’ becomes equipped with organs of sense activity, in the same way that natural forces have fitted the physical body with organs built out of indeterminate living matter.
To begin with, the attention of the soul is directed to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are, on the one hand, life that is budding, growing and flourishing, and, on the other hand, all phenomena connected with fading, decaying and withering. The student can observe these events simultaneously, wherever he turns his eyes, and on every occasion they naturally evoke in him feelings and thoughts; but under ordinary circumstances, he does not devote himself sufficiently to them. He hurries on too quickly from impression to impression. It is necessary, therefore, that he should fix his attention intently and consciously upon these phenomena. Wherever he observes a definite kind of blooming and flourishing, 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 feeling which heretofore, in a similar case, would merely have flitted through his soul, now swells out, and assumes a powerful and energetic form. He must now allow this feeling to reverberate quietly within himself while keeping inwardly quite still. He must cut himself off from the outer world, and simply and solely follow what his soul tells him of this blossoming and flourishing.
Yet it must not be thought that much progress can be made if the senses are blunted to the world. First look at the things as keenly and as intently as you possibly can; then only let the feeling which expands to life, and the thought which arises in the soul, take possession of you. The point is that the attention should be directed with perfect inner balance, upon both phenomena. If the necessary tranquillity be attained, and if you surrender yourself to the feeling which expands to life in the soul, then, in due time, the following experience will ensue. Thoughts and feelings will be noticed, of a new kind and unknown before, uprising in the soul. Indeed, the more the attention be fixed, in this way, upon something growing, blossoming and flourishing, and upon something else that is fading and decaying, the more vivid will these feelings become. And just as natural forces build out of living matter the eyes and ears of the physical body, so will the organs of clairvoyance build themselves from the feelings and thoughts thus evoked. A quite different form of feeling is connected with growth and expansion, and another equally definite with all that is fading and decaying. But this is only the case if the effort be made to cultivate these feelings in the way indicated. It is possible to describe approximately what these feelings are like. A full conception of them is within the reach of all who undergo these inner experiences. If the attention be frequently fixed on the phenomena of growing, blooming and flourishing, a feeling remotely allied to the sensation of a sunrise will ensue, while the phenomena of fading and decaying will produce an experience comparable, in the same way, to the slow rising of the moon on the horizon. Both these feelings are forces which, when duly cultivated and developed to ever-increasing intensity, lead to the most significant spiritual results. A new world is opened to the student if he systematically and deliberately surrenders himself to such feelings. The soul-world, the so-called astral plane, begins to dawn upon him. Growth and decay are no longer facts which make indefinite impressions on him, as of old, but rather they form 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, a young animal, a tree that is decaying, evoke in his soul different lines. The soul-world (astral plane) broadens out slowly before him. These lines and figures are not mere inventions. Two students who have reached the corresponding stage of development, will always see the same lines and figures, under the same conditions. Just as a round table will be seen as round by two normal persons and not as round by one and square by the other - so too, at the sight of a flower, the same spiritual figure is presented to the soul. And just as the forms of animals and plants are described in ordinary natural history, so, too, the spiritual scientist describes or draws the spiritual forms of the processes of growth and decay, according to species and kind.
If the student has progressed so far that he can perceive the spiritual forms of those phenomena which are physically visible to his external sight, he will then not be far from the stage, when he shall behold things which have no corresponding physical existence, and which therefore remain entirely hidden (occult) from those who have not received suitable instruction and training.
It should be emphasized that the student must never lose himself in speculations on the meaning of one thing or another. Such intellectualizing will only bring him away from the right road. He should look out on the world with keen, healthy senses, and quickened power of observation, and then give himself up to the feeling that arises within him. He should not try to make out, through intellectual speculation, what the things mean, but rather allow the things themselves to tell him. It should be remarked that artistic feeling, when coupled with a quiet introspective nature, forms the best preliminary condition for the development of spiritual faculties. This feeling pierces through the superficial aspect of things, and, in so doing, touches their secrets.
A further point of importance is what Spiritual Science calls ‘Orientation’ in the higher worlds. This is attained when the student is permeated, through and through, with the conscious realization that feelings and thoughts are veritable realities, just as much as are tables and chairs in the world of the physical senses. In the soul- and thought-world, feelings and thoughts react upon each other just as physical objects react upon each other in the physical world. As long as the student is not vividly permeated with this consciousness, he will not believe that a wrong thought in his mind may have as devastating an effect upon other thoughts that spread life in the thought-world, as the effect wrought by a bullet fired at random, upon the physical objects it hits. He will perhaps never allow himself to perform a physically visible action which he considers to be wrong, though he will not shrink from harbouring wrong thoughts and feelings, when these appear harmless to the rest of the world. There can be no progress, however, on the path to higher knowledge, unless we guard our thoughts and feelings in just the same way as we guard our steps in the physical world. If we see a wall before us, we do not attempt to dash right through it, but turn aside. In other words, we guide ourselves by the laws of the physical world. There are such laws, too, for the soul- and thought-world, only they cannot impose themselves on us from without. They must flow out of the life of the soul itself. This can be attained if we forbid ourselves to harbour wrong thoughts and feelings. All arbitrary flitting to-and-fro in thought, all accidental ebbing and flowing of emotion must be forbidden in the same way. In so doing we do not become deficient in feeling. On the contrary, if we regulate our inner life in this way, we shall soon find ourselves becoming rich in feelings and creative with genuine imagination. In the place of petty emotionalism, and capricious flights of thought, there appear significant emotions and thoughts that are fruitful. Feelings and thoughts of this kind lead the student to orientation in the spiritual world. He attains a right position in relation to the things of the spiritual world; a distinct and definite result comes into effect in his favour. Just as he, as a physical man, finds his way between physical things so, too, his path now leads him between growth and decay, which he has already come to know in the way described above. He follows, then, all processes of growing and flourishing, and, on the other hand, of withering and decaying, in a way that is necessary for his own and the world’s advancement.
The student has also to bestow a further care on the world of sound. He must discriminate between sounds that are produced by the So-called inert (lifeless) bodies, as, for instance, a bell, or a musical instrument, or a falling mass, and those which proceed from a living creature (an animal or a human being). When a bell is struck, we hear the sound and connect a pleasant feeling with it; but when we hear the cry of an animal, we can detect through it, besides our own feeling, the manifestation of an inward experience of the animal, whether of pleasure or of pain. It is with the latter kind of sound that the student sets to work. He must concentrate his whole attention on the fact that the sound tells him of something that lies outside his own soul. He must merge himself into this foreign thing. He must closely unite his own feeling with the pleasure or pain of which the sound tells him. He must get beyond the point of caring whether, for him, the sound is pleasant or unpleasant, agreeable or disagreeable, and his soul must be filled with whatever is transpiring in the being from which the sound proceeds. Through such exercises, if systematically and deliberately performed, the student will develop within himself the faculty of intermingling, as it were, with the being from which the sound proceeds. A person sensitive to music will find it easier to cultivate his inner life in this way, than one who is unmusical; but no one should suppose that a mere sense for music can take the place of this inner activity. The student must learn to feel in this way in the face of the whole of nature. By doing so, a new faculty is implanted in this world of thought and feeling. Through her resounding tones, the whole of nature begins to whisper her secrets to the student. What was hitherto merely incomprehensible noise to his soul, will become by this means a coherent language of nature. And whereas hitherto, he only heard sound, from the so-called inanimate objects, he now is aware of a new language of the soul. Should he advance further in this inner culture, he will soon learn that he can hear what hitherto he did not even surmise. He begins to hear with the soul.
To this, one thing more must be added before the highest point in this region can be attained. Of very great importance for the development of the student is the way in which he listens to others when they speak. He must accustom himself to do this in such a way that, while listening, his inner self is absolutely silent. If someone expresses an opinion, and another listens, assent or dissent will, generally speaking, stir in the inner self of the listener. Many people, in such cases, feel themselves impelled to an expression of their assent, or, more especially, of their dissent. In the student, all such assent or dissent must be silenced. It is not imperative that he should suddenly alter his way of living, by trying to attain at all times, this complete inner silence. He will have to begin by doing so in special cases, deliberately selected by himself. Then quite slowly and by degrees, this new way of listening will creep into his habits, as of itself. In spiritual investigation this is systematically practised. The student feels it his duty to listen, by way of practice, at certain times, to the most contradictory views, and, at the same time, entirely to bring to silence all assent, and, more especially, all adverse criticism. The point is, that in so doing, not only all purely intellectual judgment be silenced, but also all feelings of displeasure, denial or even especially, of their dissent. dissent must be silenced. assent. The student must at all times be particularly watchful lest such feelings, even when not on the surface, should still lurk in the innermost recess of the soul. He must listen, for example, to the statements of people who are, in some respects, far beneath him, and yet while doing so, suppress every feeling of greater knowledge or superiority. It is useful for everyone to listen in this way to children, for even the wisest can learn incalculably much from children. The student can thus train himself to listen to the words of others quite selflessly, completely shutting out his own person, and his opinions and way of feeling. When he practises listening without criticism, even when a completely contradictory opinion is advanced, when the most ‘hopeless mistake’ is committed before him, then he learns, little by little, to blend himself with the being of another and become identified with it. Then he hears through the words, into the soul of the other. Through continued exercise of this kind, sound becomes the right medium for the perception of soul and spirit. Of course it implies the very strictest self-discipline, but the latter leads to a high goal. When these exercises are practised in connection with the others already given, dealing with the sounds of nature, the soul develops a new sense of hearing. It is now able to perceive manifestations from the spiritual world, which do not find their expression in sounds apprehensible by the physical ear. The perception of the ‘inner word’ awakens. Gradually truths reveal themselves to the student, from the spiritual world. He hears speech uttered to him in a spiritual way. Only to those who, by selfless listening, train themselves to be really recipient from within, in stillness, unmoved by personal opinion or feeling, only to such can the higher beings speak, of whom Spiritual Science tells. As long as one hurls any personal opinion or feeling against the speaker to whom one must listen, the beings of the spiritual world remain silent.
All higher truths are attained through such ‘inwardly instilled speech’, and what we hear from the lips of a true spiritual teacher, has been experienced by him in this manner. But this does not mean that it is unimportant for us to acquaint ourselves with the writings of Spiritual Science, before we can ourselves hear such ‘inwardly instilled speech’. On the contrary, the reading of such writings and the listening to the teachings of Spiritual Science, are themselves means of attaining personal knowledge. Every sentence of Spiritual Science we hear is of a nature to direct the mind to the point which must be attained before the soul can experience real progress. To the practice of all that has here been indicated, must be added the ardent study of what the spiritual investigators impart to the world. In all esoteric training, such study belongs to the probationary period, and all other methods will prove ineffective, if due receptivity for the teachings of the spiritual investigators be lacking. For inasmuch as these instructions are culled from the living ‘inner word’ from the living ‘inwardly instilled speech’, they are themselves gifted with spiritual life. They are not mere words; they are living powers. And while you follow the words of one who knows, while you read a book that springs from real 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 your ears.