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The Way of Initiation

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The Way of Initiation

THE WAY OF INITIATION

I

THE SUPERPHYSICAL WORLD AND ITS GNOSIS*

*Translated from Lucifer-Gnosis (May to Dec. 1904), a theosophical magazine, published by M. Altmann, Leipzig, and edited by Dr. Rudolf Steiner (17 Motzstrasse, Berlin, W.). This translation appeared first in the Theosophist (October 1907–June 1908), a magazine of Brotherhood, of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science, and of Occultism. Edited by Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras.

It is natural that most people, who hear of transcendental truths in our time, should at once put the question: “How may we attain to such knowledge for ourselves?” Indeed, it is often remarked as a characteristic of people today, that they will accept nothing on faith, on mere “authority,” but wish rather to rely entirely upon their own judgment. And therefore it is that when mystics and theosophists profess to know something of the superphysical nature of man, and of the destiny of the human soul and spirit before birth and after death, they are at once confronted with this fundamental demand of our day. Such dogmas, they seem to say, have only an importance for anyone when you have shown him the way by which he may convince himself of their truth.

This demand is quite justified; and never could any true mystic or theosophist fail to recognise it. But it is equally certain that with many who make it, there exists a feeling of scepticism or antagonism toward the assertions of the mystic. This feeling becomes especially marled when the mystic sets out by intimating how the truths which he has described may be attained. For then people often say to him: “What is true may be demonstrated; therefore, prove to us what you assert.” Furthermore, they imply that the truth must be something clear and simple, something which a. “modest” intellect may comprehend; surely, they seem to say, it cannot be the possession: of a chosen few, to whoa it is given by a “special revelation!” And in this way the messenger of transcendental truths is frequently confronted with people who reject him, because — unlike the scientist, for example — he can produce no proofs for his assertions, of such a nature as they can themselves understand. Again, there are some who more cautiously reject these matters, but who nevertheless, refuse any close connection with them because, they think, they do not seem reasonable. Thereupon they soothe themselves, though not entirely, by saying that we cannot know anything of what lies beyond birth or death, of what we cannot perceive with our senses.

These are but a few of the conceptions and criticisms with which today the messenger of a spiritual philosophy has to deal. But they are similar to all those that compose the key-note of our time. And he who puts himself at the service of a spiritual movement must recognise this key-note quite clearly.

For his own part, the mystic is aware that his knowledge rests upon superphysical facts; just as facts, for example, form the foundation of the experiences and observations described by a traveller in Africa. To the mystic applies what Annie Besant has said in her manual, “Death — and After?”

“A seasoned African explorer would care but little for the criticisms passed on his report by persons who had never been thither; he might tell what he saw, describe the animals whose habits he had studied, sketched the country he had traversed, sum up its products and its characteristics. If he was contradicted, laughed at, set right, by untravelled critics, he would be neither ruffled nor distressed, but would merely leave them alone. Ignorance cannot convince knowledge by repeated asseveration of its nescience. The opinion of a hundred persons on a subject of which they are wholly ignorant is of no more weight than the opinion of one such person. Evidence is strengthened by many consenting witnesses, testifying each to his knowledge of a fact, but nothing multiplied a thousand times remains nothing.”

Here is expressed the mystic's view of himself. He hears the objections which are raised on every side, yet he knows that he has no need to dispute them. He realises that his certain knowledge is being criticised by those who have not experienced or felt as he himself has done. He is in the position of a mathematician who has discovered a truth which loses no value though a thousand voices are raised in opposition.

Here at once will arise the objection of the sceptic: “Mathematical truths may be proved to anyone,” he will say, “and though perhaps you have really found something, I shall only accept it when I have learnt of its truth by my, own observation.” Then he considers himself to be in the right, because, as he thinks, it is clear that anyone who acquires the necessary knowledge can prove a mathematical truth, while the experiences professed by the mystic depend upon the special faculties of a few elect people, whom he is expected to believe blindly.

But for him who rightly considers this objection, any justification for the doubt immediately vanishes. For every true mystic will here speak just like the very sceptics themselves. He will always emphasise the truth that the way to the Higher Knowledge is open for anyone who has acquired for himself the faculties by which he may win entrance. The mystic asserts nothing which his opponents would not also be compelled to assert, if they did but fully understand what they are saying. They, however, in making an assertion, at once formulate a claim which constitutes a direct contradiction of their own assertion.

Sceptics are not content to test the assertions of the mystic only when they have acquired the necessary faculties, but rather judge him according to their present faculties, and not with those which he is bound to demand. He says to them; “I do not claim to be ‘chosen’ in the sense that you mean. I have merely worked within myself, in order to acquire these powers through which it is possible to speak of glimpses into superphysical regions. But these faculties are dormant within everyone, only they must be developed.” But his opponents then answer: “You must prove your truths to us as we are now.” They will not meet his demand that they should develop, first, the dormant powers within them, but rather, without being willing to do so, insist that he shall give there proofs. Nor do they see that this is exactly as if a peasant at his plough should demand of the mathematician the proof of a complicated problem without first undergoing the trouble of learning mathematics.

All this appears to be so simple that one almost hesitates to speak of it. And yet it indicates a delusion under which millions of people at the present time are living. If one explains it to them they always agree with it in theory, since it is quite as obvious as that two and two make four. Yet in practice they continually contradict it. One can very soon convince oneself of that. Tue mistake has become second nature with many; they practise it without any longer realising that they do so, without desiring to be convinced of it, just as they offend against everything which they would at all times allow to pass for a principle of the simplest nature, could they only consider it quietly. It matters not whether the mystic of today moves in a circle of thinking artisans, or in a more educated circle, for wherever he goes he meets with the same prejudice, the same self-contradiction. One finds it in popular lectures, in all the newspapers and magazines, and even in more learned works or treatises.

And here we must recognise quite clearly that we are dealing with a sign of the time which we cannot simply consider as mere incompetence, nor expose as criticism, correct perhaps, but nevertheless not just. We must understand that this symptom, this prejudice against the higher truths, lies deep in the very being of our age. We must understand clearly that the great successes, the immense advance, which distinguish it, necessarily tend toward this mistake. The nineteenth century especially had in this respect a dark side to its wonderful excellences. Its greatness rests upon its discoveries in the external world, and its conquest of natural forces for technical and industrial purposes. These successes could only have been attained by the observation of the senses, and afterwards by the employment of the mind noon what the senses had thus perceived. The civilisation of the present day is the result of the training of our senses, and of that part of our mind which is occupied with the world of sense. Almost every step we take in the street today shows us how much we owe to this kind of training. And it is under the influence of these blessings of civilisation that the habits of thought prevalent among our fellowmen of today have been developed. They continue to abide by the senses and the mind, because it is by means of these that they have grown great. People were taught to train themselves to admit nothing as true except those things that were presented to them by the senses or the mind. And nothing is more apt to claim for itself the only valid testimony, the only absolute authority, than the mind or the senses. If a man has acquired by means of them a certain degree of culture, he thenceforth accustoms himself to submit everything to their consideration, everything to their criticism. And again in another sphere, in the domain of Social Life, we find a similar trait. The man of the nineteenth century insisted, in the fullest sense of the word, upon the absolute freedom of personality, and repudiated any authority in the Social Commonwealth. He endeavoured to construct the community in such a way that the full independence, the self-chosen vocation of each individual, should, without interference, be assured. In this way it became habitual for him to consider everything from the standpoint of the average individual. The higher powers which lie dormant in the soul may be developed by one person in this direction, by another in that. One will make more progress, another less. When they develop such powers, or when they attach any value to them, men begin to differentiate themselves. One must also, if one admits their existence, allow to the man who has progressed further, more right to speak on a subject, or to act in a certain way, than to another who is less advanced. But with regard to the senses and the mind, one may employ an average standard. All have there the same rights, the same liberty.

It is also noticeable that the present formation of the Social Commonwealth has helped to bring about a revolt against the higher powers of man. According to the mystic, civilisation during the nineteenth century has altogether moved along physical lines; and people have accustomed themselves to move on the physical plane alone, and to feel at home there. The higher powers are only developed on planes other than the physical, and the knowledge which these faculties bring has, therefore, become alien to man. It is only necessary to attend mass-meetings, if one wishes to be convinced of the fact that the speakers there are totally unable to think any thoughts but those which refer to the physical plane, the world of sense. This can also be seen among the leading journalists of our papers and magazines; and, indeed, on all sides one can observe the haughtiest and most complete denial of everything that cannot be seen with the eyes, or felt with the hands, or comprehended by the average mind. Once more let it be said that we do not condemn this attitude. It denotes a necessary stage in the development of humanity. Without the pride and prejudices of mind and sense, we should never have achieved our great conquests over material life, nor have been able to impart to the personality a certain measure of elasticity: neither could we hope that many ideals, which must be founded on man's desire for freedom and the assertion of personality, might yet be realised.

But this dark side of a purely materialistic civilisation has deeply affected the whole being of the modern man. For proof it is not necessary to refer to the obvious facts already named; it would be easy to demonstrate by certain examples which are lightly underrated, especially today, how deeply rooted in the mind of the modern man is this adhesion to the testimony of the senses, or the average intelligence. And it is just these things that indicate the need for the renewal of spiritual life.

The strong response evoked by Professor Friedrich Delitzsch's Babel and Bible Theory fully justifies a reference to its author's method of thinking, as a sign of the time. Professor Delitzsch has demonstrated the relationship of certain traditions in the Old Testament to the Babylonian accounts of the Creation, and this fact, coming from such a source and in such a form, has been realised by many who would otherwise have ignored such questions. It has led many to reconsider the so-called idea of Revelation. They ask themselves: How is it possible to accept the idea that the contents of the Old Testament were revealed by God, when we find very similar conceptions among decidedly heathen nations? This problem cannot here be further discussed. Delitzsch found many opponents who feared lest, through iris exposition, the very foundations of Religion had been shaken. He has defended himself in a pamphlet, Babel and Bible, a Retrospect and a Forecast. Here we shall only refer to a single sentence in the pamphlet. It is an important sentence, because it reveals the view of an eminent man of science regarding the position of man with respect to transcendental truths. And today innumerable other people think and feel just like Delitzsch. The sentence affords an excellent opportunity for us to find out what is the innermost conviction of our contemporaries, expressed here quite freely and therefore in its truest form.

Delitzsch turns to those who reproach him with a somewhat liberal use of the term “Revelation,” who would fain regard it as “a kind of old priestly wisdom” which “has nothing at all to do with the layman.” In opposition to this he says:

“For my part, I am of opinion that while our children or ourselves are instructed in school or at church as regards Revelation, not only are we within our right, but it is our duty, to think independently concerning these deep questions, possessing also, as they do, an eminently practical side, were it only that we might avoid giving our children ‘evasive’ answers. For this very reason it will be gratifying to many searchers after Truth when the dogma of a special ‘choosing’ of Israel shall have been brought forward into the light of a wider historical outlook, though the union of Babylonian, Assyrian, and Old Testament research. ... (A few pages earlier we are shown the direction of such thoughts.) For the rest, it would seem to me that the only logical thing is for Church and School to be satisfied as regards the whole past history of the world and of humanity, with the belief in One Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, and that these tales of the Old Testament should be classified by themselves under some such title as ‘Old Hebraic Myths.’”

(It may be taken as a matter of course, we suppose, that no one will see in the following remarks an attack on the investigator Delitzsch.) What, then, is here said in naive simplicity? Nothing less than that the mind which is engaged upon physical investigation may assert the right of judging: experiences of superphysical nature. There is no thought that this mind, without further preparing itself, may perhaps be unfit to reflect upon the teachings of these “Revelations.” When one wishes to understand what appears as a “Revelation,” one cannot do so unless one brings to bear upon it those forces out of which the “Revelation” itself has come.

He who develops within himself the mystical power of perception soon observes that in certain stories of the Old Testament which were called by Delitzsch “Old Hebraic Myths,” there are revealed to him truths of a higher nature than those which may be comprehended by the intellect, which is only concerned with the things of sense. His own mystical experiences will lead him to see that these “Myths” have proceeded out of a mystical perception of transcendental truths. And then, in one moment, his whole point of view is changed.

As little as one can demonstrate the fallacy of a mathematical problem by discovering who solved it first, or even that several people have solved it — which would certainly be a valuable historical discovery — just so little can one impugn the truth of a biblical narrative by the discovery of a similar story elsewhere. Instead of demanding that everyone should insist upon his right, or even his duty, to think independently on the so-called “Revelations,” we ought rather to consider that only he has a. right to decide anything about the matter who has developed in himself those latent powers which make it possible for him to relive what was once realised by those very mystics who proclaimed the “super-sensuous revelations.”

Here we have an excellent example of how the average intellect, qualified for the highest triumphs in practical sense-knowledge, sets itself up, in naive pride, as a judge in domains, the existence of which it does not even care to learn. For purely historical investigation is also carried on by nothing but the experience of the senses.

In just the same way has the investigation of the New Testament led us into a blind alley. At all costs the method of the “Newer Historical Investigation” had to be directed upon the Gospels. These documents have been compared with each other, and brought into relation with all sorts of things, in order that we might find out what really happened in Palestine from the year 1 to the year 33; how the “historical personality” of whom they tell really lived, and what He can really have said.

Now a man of the seventeenth century, Angelus Silesius, has already expressed the whole of the critical attitude toward this kind of investigation:

“Though Christ were yearly born in Bethlehem, and never Had birth in you yourself, teen were you lost for ever; And if within yourself it is not reared again, The Cross at Golgotha can save you not from pain.”

Nor are these the words of one who doubted, but of a Christian, strong in his belief. And his equally fervent predecessor, Meister Eckhart, said in the thirteenth century:

“There are some who desire to see God with their eyes, as they look at a cow; and just as they love a cow, so they desire to love God. ... Simple-minded people imagine that God may be seen as if He stood there and they stood here. But this is not so: in that perception, God and I are one,”

These words must emphatically not be directed against investigation of “historical truth.” Yet no one can rightly understand the historic truth of such documents as the Gospels, unless he has first experienced within himself the mystical meaning which they contain. All such comparisons and analyses are quite worthless, for no one can discover who was “born in Bethlehem” but he who has mystically experienced the Christ within himself; neither can anyone in whom it has not already been erected, decide how it is that “the Cross at Golgotha” can deliver us from pain. Purely historical investigation “can discover no more concerning the mystic reality than the dismembering anatomist, perhaps, can discover the secret of a great poetical genius.” (See my book, Das Christentum als mystische Tatsache, Berlin, C. A. Schwetschke and Sohn, 1902, or its French translation, mentioned on page 1.)

He who can see clearly in these matters is aware how deeply rooted, at the present time, is the “pride” of the intellect, which only concerns itself with the facts of sense. It says: “I do not wish to develop faculties in order that I may reach the higher truths; I wish to form my decisions concerning them with the powers that I now possess.”

In a well-meant pamphlet, which is written, however, entirely in that spirit of the age which we have already indicated (What do we know about Jesus? by A. Kalthoff, Berlin, 1904), we read as follows:

“Christ, who symbolises the life of the Community, may be discerned within himself by the man of today: out of his own soul the man of today can create Christ just as well as the author of a gospel created him; as a man he may put himself in the same position as the gospel-writers, because he can reinstate himself into the same soul-processes, can himself speak or write Gospel.”

These words may be true, but they may also be entirely erroneous. They are true when understood in the sense of Angelus Silesius, or of Meister Eckhart, when they are referred to the development of powers dormant in every human soul, which, from some such idea, endeavours to experience within itself the Christ of the Gospels. They are altogether wrong, if a more or less shallow ideal of the Christ is thus created out of the spirit of an age that acknowledges the truth of no perceptions but those of the senses.

The life of the Spirit can only be understood when we do not wish to criticise it with the lower mind, but rather to develop ourselves for it internally. No one can hope to learn anything of the highest truths accessible to man, if he demands that they shall be lowered to the “average understanding.” To this it might be objected: Why, then, do you, mystics and theosophists, proclaim these truths to people who, as you declare, cannot as yet understand them? Why should there be a Theosophical Movement which proclaims certain teachings, when the powers which bring men to the perception of them ought first to be developed?

It is the task of this book to solve this apparent contradiction. It will show that the spiritual currents of our day speak from a different basis, in a different manner, from the science which relies entirely on the lower intellect. Yet, in spite of this, the spiritual currents are not less scientific than the science which is based upon physical facts alone. Rather do they extend the field of scientific investigation into the superphysical. We must close this chapter with one more question, which will perhaps be asked: How can one attain to superphysical truths, and, towards this attainment, of what help are spiritual movements?




Last Modified: 16-Aug-2019
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