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The Way of Initiation

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

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The Way of Initiation



At the very beginning of course the student is directed to the Path of Reverence, and the development of the inner life. But the occult teaching also gives practical instructions by the observance of which he may learn to tread that Path and develop that inner life. These practical directions have no arbitrary basis. They rest on ancient experience and ancient wisdom, and wheresoever the ways to higher knowledge are marked out, they remain of the same nature. All genuine teachers of Occultism are in agreement as to the essential character of these rules, although they do not always express them in the same words. This difference, which is of a minor character and is more apparent than real, is due to circumstances which need not be touched on here.

No teacher wishes by means of such rules to establish an ascendancy over other persons. He would not tamper with individual independence. Indeed, no one respects and cherishes human individuality more than the teachers of Occultism. It was said (in the first part of this book) that the order which embraces all Initiates was surrounded by a wall, and that two laws formed the principles by which it was upheld. Whenever the Initiate leaves this enclosure and steps forth into the world, he must submit to a third inviolable law. It is this: Keep watch over each of your actions and each of your words, in order that you may not hinder the free-will of any human being. Those who recognise that genuine occult teachers are thoroughly permeated with this principle will understand that they need sacrifice none of their independence by the practical directions which they are advised to follow.

One of the first of these rules may be thus expressed in our language: “Provide for yourself moments of inward calm, and in these moments learn to distinguish between the real and the unreal.” I say advisedly “expressed in our language,” because originally all rules and teachings of occult science were expressed in a symbolical sign-language. Those who desire to master its whole scope and meaning must first obtain permission to learn this symbolical language, and before this permission can be obtained, it is necessary to have taken the first steps in occult knowledge. This may be achieved by the careful observance of such rules as are here given. The Path stands open to all who earnestly will to enter it.

Simple, in truth, is the rule concerning moments of inner calm, and easy it is to follow; but it only leads to the goal when the pursuit is as earnest and strict as the way is simple. I will, therefore, state without further preamble the method in which this rule should be observed.

The student must mark off a small part of his daily life in which to occupy himself with something quite different from the avocations of his ordinary life, and the way in which he occupies himself at such a time must also differ from the way in which he performs the rest of his duties. But this does not mean that what he does in the time thus set apart has no connection with his daily work. On the contrary, the man who seeks such moments in the right way will soon find that it is just this which gives him the full power to do his daily task. Nor must it be supposed that the observance of this rule really deprives anyone of time needed for the performance of his duties. If any person really has no more time at his disposal, five minutes a day will suffice. The real point is the manner in which these five minutes are spent.

At these periods a man should raise himself completely above his work-a-day life. His thoughts and feelings must take on a different colouring. His joys and sorrows, his cares, experiences, and actions, must pass in review before his soul. And he must cultivate a frame of mind which enables him to regard all his other experiences from a higher point of view. We need only bear in rind how different is the point of view from which in ordinary life we regard the experiences and actions of another, and that from which we judge our own. This is inevitable, for we are interwoven with our own actions and experiences, while we only contemplate those of another. Our aim in these moments of retirement must be to contemplate and judge our own experiences and actions as though it were not ourselves but some other person to whom they applied. Suppose, for example, that a certain misfortune has befallen someone. What a different attitude that person takes towards it as compared with an identical misfortune that has befallen his neighbour! No one can blame this attitude as unjustifiable; it is a part of human nature. And just as it is in exceptional circumstances, so it is also in the daily affairs of life. The student must endeavour to attain the power of regarding himself at certain tines as he would regard a stranger. He must contemplate himself with the inward calm of the critic. When this is attained, our own experiences present themselves in a new light. As long as we are interwoven with them and are, as it were, inside them, we are as closely connected with the unreal as with the real. When we attain to a calm survey, the real is separated from the unreal. Sorrow and joy, every thought, every resolve, appear changed when we contemplate ourselves in this way. It is as though we had spent the whole day in a place where we saw the smallest objects at the same range of vision as the largest ones, and in the evening climbed a neighbouring hill and surveyed the whole scene at once. Then the parts of the place take on proportions different from those they bore when seen from within. The value of such calm inward contemplation depends less on the actual thing we contemplate than on the power which such inward calm develops in us.

For in every human being there is, besides what we call the work-a-day man, a higher being. This higher being remains concealed until it is awakened. And each of us can only awaken it for himself. But as long as this higher being is not awakened, the higher faculties which lie dormant in every man and lead to supersensual knowledge, must remain hidden. This power which leads to inward calm is a magic force that sets free certain higher faculties. Until a seeker feels this magic force within him, he must continue to follow strictly and earnestly the rule here given. To every man who thus perseveres, the day will come when a spiritual light is revealed to him, and a whole new world, whose existence was hitherto unsuspected, is discerned by an eye within him.

Because he begins to follow this rule, there is no need for any outward change in the life of the student. He performs his duties as before, and at first he endures the same sorrows and experiences the same joys as of old. In no way does it estrange him from life, rather is he enabled to devote himself to it the more completely, because in the moments set apart he has a Higher Life of his own. Gradually this Higher Life will make its influence felt on the ordinary life. The calm of the moments set apart will influence the ordinary existence as well. The whole man will grow calmer, will attain serenity in all his actions, and will cease to be perturbed by all manner of incidents. Gradually will a student who thus advances guide himself more and more, and be less directed by circumstances and external influences. Such a man will soon discover how great a source of strength lies for him in these periods of contemplation. He will cease to be worried by things that formerly worried him; and countless matters that used to inspire him with fear will cease to alarm him. He acquires a new outlook on life. Formerly he may have taken up this or that task with a sense of timidity. He would say: “I lack the power to do this as well as I could wish.” Now he no longer admits such a thought but, instead of it, one quite different. He now says to himself: “I will summon up all my strength so as to do my work as well as I possibly can.” And he suppresses the thought which encourages timidity; for he knows that this very timidity might spoil his undertaking, and that at any rate it can contribute nothing to the improvement of his labour. And thus one thought after another, each fraught with advantage to his whole life, begins to penetrate the student's outlook. They take the place of those that had a hampering and weakening effect. He begins to steer his own ship with a firm, secure course among the waves of life, which formerly tossed it helplessly to and fro.

And this calm and serenity react, on the whole being. They assist the growth of the inner man, and of those inner faculties which lead to the higher knowledge. For it is by his progress in this direction that the student gradually attains to a state in which he himself determines the manner in which the impressions of the external world shall affect him, Thus, he may hear a word, spoken with the object of wounding or vexing him. Before he began his occult studies it would indeed have wounded or vexed him. But now that he treads the Path of Discipleship, he is able to take from it the sting which gives it the power to hurt, before ever it enters his consciousness. Take another example: we naturally grow impatient when we are kept waiting, but the student is so permeated in his moments of calm with the realisation of the uselessness of impatience, that this feeling is present with him on every such occasion. The impatience which would naturally overcome him vanishes, and an interval which would otherwise have been wasted in the expression of impatience, may be utilised by making some, profitable observation during the period of waiting.

Now we must realise the significance of these facts. We must remember that the “Higher Being” in a man is in constant development, and only the state of calm and serenity here described renders an orderly development possible. The waves of outward life press in upon the inner man from all sides, if, instead of controlling this outward life, he is controlled by it. Such a man is like a plant which tries to expand in a cleft in the rock, and is stunted in its growth until new space is given it. No outward forces can supply space for the inner man; it can only be supplied by the inner calm which he may give to his soul. Outward circumstances can only alter the course of his outward life; they can never awaken the spiritual, inner man. The student must himself give birth to the new and higher man within him.

The higher man becomes the “inner Ruler,” who directs the circumstances of the outer man with sure guidance. As long as the latter has the upper hand, this inner man is enslaved, and therefore cannot develop his powers. If another than myself has the power to make me angry, I am not master of myself, or, to put it better, I have not yet found “the Ruler within me.” I must develop the power within of letting the impressions of the outer world approach me only in the way in which I myself choose; then only do I really become an occult student. And only by earnestly striving after this power can a student reach the goal. It is not of so much importance to achieve a great deal in a given time, as to be earnest in the search. Many have striven for years without noticing any marked advance; but many of those who did not despair, and struggled on undaunted, have sometimes quite suddenly achieved the “inner victory.”

In many situations it requires a good deal of effort to achieve these moments of inward calm. But the greater the effort needed, the more important is the achievement. In esoteric studies, everything depends on the energy, inward truthfulness, and uncompromising sincerity with which we contemplate ourselves and our actions from the standpoint of complete strangers.

But only one side of the student's inner activity is characterised by this birth of his own higher being. Something else is needed in addition. Even if a man regards himself as a stranger, it is only himself that he contemplates; he looks at those experiences and actions with which he is connected through his particular mode of life, and it is necessary for him to rise above this, and attain to a purely human point of view, no longer connected with his own individual circumstances. He must pass on to the contemplation of those things which concern him as a human being, even though he himself dwell in a different condition and different circumstances. In this way something is brought to birth within him which rises beyond the personal point of view. Thus his gaze is directed to higher worlds than those he knows in every-day life. And then he begins to feel and realise that he belongs to these higher worlds about which his senses and his daily occupations can tell him nothing. In this way he shifts the central point of his being to the inner part of his nature. He listens to the voices within him which speak to him in his moments of calm; and inwardly he cultivates an intercourse with the spiritual world. He is removed from the every-day world, and no longer hears its voices. All around him there is silence. He puts away from him all his external surroundings, and everything which even reminds him of such external impressions. His entire soul is filled with calm inward contemplation and converse with the purely spiritual world. This calm contemplation must become a necessity to the student. He is plunged completely in a world of thoughts. He must develop an earnest desire for such calm thinking. He must learn to love the in-pouring of the spirit. He will soon cease to regard this thought-world as more unreal than the everyday things which surround him. He begins to deal with his thoughts as with things existing in space. He discovers that this thought-world is an expression of life. He realises that thoughts are not mere phantoms, but that through them beings speak to him who were hidden before. He begins to hear voices speak to him through the silence. Formerly his ear was the only organ of hearing; now he can listen with his soul. An inner language and an inner voice are revealed to him. It is a moment of the supremest ecstasy to the student when this experience first comes to him. An inner light floods the whole external world for him, and he is “born anew.” Through his being passes a current from a divine world, bringing with it divine bliss.

This thought-life of the soul, which is gradually widened into a life of spiritual being, is designated by the Gnosis and by Theosophy as meditation (contemplative thought). This meditation is the means by which super-sensual knowledge is attained. But during such moments the student must not be content to give himself up to the luxury of sensation. He must not permit undefined feelings to take possession of his soul. That would only hinder him from attaining true spiritual knowledge. His thoughts must be clearly and sharply defined, and he will be helped in this by not allowing himself to be carried away blindly by the thoughts that spring up within him. Rather must he permeate his mind with the lofty thoughts which originated with advanced students to whom inspiration has already come. Let him first of all study those writings which themselves originated in such moments of meditation. The student will find such in the mystical, gnostic, and theosophical literature of our time, and will there gain the material for his meditation. Wise men have themselves inscribed in these books the thoughts of divine science, or have proclaimed them to the world through their agents.

Such meditation produces a complete transformation in the student. He begins to form entirely new conceptions of Reality. All things acquire fresh values in his eyes. And it cannot be declared too often that this transformation does not estrange him from actuality, or remove him from his daily round of duties. For then he knows that his labour and his suffering are given and endured for the sake of a great spiritual cosmic whole. Thus, instead of weariness, his meditation gives him strength to live.

With firm step the student passes through life. No matter what it may bring him, he goes forward erect. In the past he knew not why he worked and suffered, but now he knows. It is obvious that such meditation is more likely to lead to the goal, if conducted under the direction of experienced persons, who know actually how everything may best be done. We should, therefore, seek the advice and direction of such experienced guides (Gurus they are called in certain schools of thought). What would else be mere uncertain groping is transformed by such direction into work that is sure of its goal. Those who apply to the teachers possessed of such knowledge and experience will never apply in vain. Only they must be quite clear that it is the advice of a friend they desire, not the domination of a would-be ruler. Those who really know are always the most modest of men, and nothing is further from their nature than what is called the passion for power.

Those who, by means of meditation, rise to that which unites man with spirit, are bringing to life within them the eternal element which is limited by neither birth nor death.. Only those who have had no experience of it themselves can doubt the existence of this eternal element. Thus meditation becomes the way by which man also attains to the recognition and contemplation of his eternal, indestructible, essential being. And only through meditation can one attain to such a view of life. Gnosis and Theosophy tell of the eternal nature of this essential being, and of its reincarnation. The question is often asked: “Why does a man know nothing of those experiences which lie beyond the borders of birth and death?” Not thus should we ask, but rather: “How may we attain to such knowledge?” The entrance to the Path is opened by right meditation.. This alone can revive the memory of events that lie beyond the borders of birth and death. Everyone can attain to this knowledge; in each of us is the faculty of recognising and contemplating for ourselves the truths of Mysticism, Theosophy, and Gnosis; but the right means must be chosen. Only a being with ears and eyes can perceive tones and colours, nor can the eye perceive, if the light by which things are visible be wanting. Occult science gives the means of developing the spiritual ears and eyes, and kindling the spiritual light. There are, according to esoteric teachers, three steps by which the goal may be attained: 1, Probation. This develops the spiritual senses. 2. Enlightenment. This kindles the spiritual light. 3. Initiation. This establishes intercourse with the higher spiritual beings.

The following teachings proceed from a secret tradition, but precise information concerning its nature and its name cannot be given at present. They refer to the three steps which, in the school of this tradition, lead to a certain degree of initiation. But here we shall find only so much of this tradition as may be openly declared. These teachings are extracted from a much deeper and more secret doctrine. In the occult schools themselves a definite course of instruction is followed, and in addition to this there are certain practices which enable the souls of men to attain a conscious intercourse with the spiritual world. These practices bear about the same relation to what will be imparted in the following pages, as the teaching which is given in a well-disciplined school bears to the instruction that may be received occasionally during a walk. And yet the ardent and persevering pursuit of what is here hinted at will lead to the way by which one obtains access to a genuine occult school. But, of course, an impatient perusal, devoid of sincerity and perseverance, can lead to nothing at all. He who believes himself to be ready for more must apply to an occult teacher. The study of these things can only be successful if the student will observe what has already been written in previous chapters.

The stages which the above-mentioned tradition specifies are the following three:

  1. Probation,

  2. Enlightenment,

  1. Initiation.

It is not altogether necessary that these three stages should be so taken that one must have quite completed the first before beginning the second, nor, this in its turn before beginning the third. With respect to certain things one can partake of Enlightenment, and even of Initiation, while as regards others one is still in the probationary stage. Yet it will-be necessary to spend a certain time in this stage of Probation before any Enlightenment at all can begin, and at least in some respects one must have been enlightened before it is even possible to enter upon the stage of Initiation. But in giving an account of them it is necessary, for the sake of clearness, that the three stages follow one another.

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