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An Outline of Occult Science

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

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An Outline of Occult Science



(Part 1)

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BETWEEN birth and death man, at his present evolutionary stage, lives in ordinary life through three soul states: waking, sleeping, and the state between them, dreaming. Dreaming will be briefly considered later on in this book. Here let us first consider life in its two chief alternating states — waking and sleeping. Man acquires a knowledge of higher worlds if he develops a third soul state besides sleep and waking. During its waking state the soul surrenders itself to sense-impressions and thoughts that are aroused by these impressions. During sleep the sense-impressions cease, but the soul also loses its consciousness. The experiences of the day sink into the sea of unconsciousness. Let us now imagine that the soul might be able during sleep to become conscious despite the exclusion of all sense-impressions as is the case in deep sleep, and even though the memories of the day's experiences were lacking. Would the soul, in that case, find itself in a state of nothingness? Would it be unable to have any experiences? An answer to these questions is only possible if a similar state of consciousness can actually be induced, if the soul is able to experience something even though no sense-activities and no memory of them are present in it. The soul, in regard to the ordinary outer world, would then find itself in a state similar to sleep, and yet it would not be asleep, but, as in the waking state, it would confront a real world. Such a state of consciousness can be induced if the human being can bring about the soul experiences made possible by spiritual science; and everything that this science describes concerning the worlds that lie beyond the senses is the result of research in just such a state of consciousness. — In the preceding descriptions some information has been given about higher worlds. In this chapter — as far as it is possible in this book — we shall deal with the means through which the state of consciousness necessary for this method of research is developed.

This state of consciousness resembles sleep only in a certain respect, namely, through the fact that all outer sense-activities cease with its appearance; also all thoughts are stilled that have been aroused through these sense-activities. Whereas in sleep the soul has no power to experience anything consciously, it is to receive this power from the indicated state of consciousness. Through it a perceptive faculty is awakened in the soul that in ordinary life is only aroused by the activities of the senses. The soul's awakening to such a higher state of consciousness may be called initiation.

The means of initiation lead from the ordinary state of waking consciousness into a soul activity, through which spiritual organs of observation are employed. These organs are present in the soul in a germinal state; they must be developed. — It may happen that a human being at a certain moment in the course of his life, without special preparation, makes the discovery in his soul that such higher organs have developed in him. This has come about as a sort of involuntary self-awakening. Such a human being will find that through it his entire nature is transformed. A boundless enrichment of his soul experiences occurs. He will find that there is no knowledge of the sense world that gives him such bliss, such soul satisfaction, and such inner warmth as he now experiences through the revelation of knowledge inaccessible to the physical eye. Strength and certainty of life will pour into his will from a spiritual world. — There are such cases of self-initiation. They should, however, not tempt us to believe that this is the one and only way and that we should wait for such self-initiation, doing nothing to bring about initiation through proper training. Nothing need be said here about self-initiation, for it can appear without observing any kind of rules. How the human being may develop through training the organs of perception that lie embryonically in the soul will be described here. People who do not feel the least trace of an especial impulse to do something for the development of themselves may easily say, “Human life is directed by spiritual powers with whose guidance no one should attempt to interfere; we should wait patiently for the moment when such powers consider it proper to open another world to the soul.” It may indeed be felt by such human beings as a sort of insolence or as an unjustified desire to interfere with the wisdom of spiritual guidance. Individuals who think thus will only arrive at a different point of view when a certain thought makes a sufficiently strong impression upon them. When they say to themselves, “Wise spiritual guidance has given me certain faculties; it did not bestow them upon me to be left unused, but to be employed. The wisdom of this guidance consists in the fact that it has placed in me the germinal elements of a higher state of consciousness. I shall understand this guidance only when I feel it obligatory that everything be revealed to the human being that can be revealed through his spiritual powers.” If such a thought has made a sufficiently strong impression on the soul, the above doubts about training for a higher state of consciousness will disappear.

Other doubts, however, can still arise about such training. We may say, “The development of inner soul capacities penetrates into the most concealed holy of holies of the human being. It involves a certain transformation of his entire nature. The means for such a transformation cannot, by its very nature, be thought out by ourselves. For the way of reaching higher worlds can only be known to him who knows the way into these worlds through his own experience. If we turn to such a personality, we permit him to have an influence over the soul's most concealed holy of holies.” — Whoever thinks thus would not be especially reassured even though the means of bringing about a higher state of consciousness were presented to him in a book. For the point of the matter is not whether we receive this information verbally or whether someone having the knowledge of this means presents it in a book that we then read. There are persons, however, who possess the knowledge of the rules for the development of the spiritual organs of perception and who are of the opinion that these rules ought not to be entrusted to a book. Such people usually do not consider it permissible to publish certain truths relating to the spiritual world. This view, however — considering the present stage of human evolution — must, in a certain sense, be declared outmoded. It is correct, in regard to the publication of the rules in question, that we may do so only to a certain point. Yet the information given leads far enough for those who employ it for soul training to reach a point in the development of their knowledge from which they can then continue on the path. One can only visualize the further direction of this path correctly by what one has experienced previously on it. From all these facts, doubts may arise about the spiritual path of knowledge. These doubts disappear if one holds in mind the nature of the course of development that is indicated by the training appropriate to our age. We shall speak here about this path. Other methods of training will only be briefly touched upon.

The training to be described here places in the hands of the person who has the will for his higher development the means for undertaking the transformation of his soul. Any dangerous interference with the inner nature of the disciple would only occur were the teacher to undertake this transformation by means that elude the consciousness of the pupil. No proper instruction for spiritual development in our age employs such means. A proper instruction does not make the pupil a blind instrument. It gives him the rules of conduct, and he then carries them out. There is no need to withhold the reason why this or that rule of conduct is given. The acceptance of the rules and their employment by a person who seeks spiritual development need not be a matter of blind faith. Blind faith should be completely excluded from this domain. Whoever considers the nature of the human soul, as far as it is possible through ordinary self-examination without spiritual training, may ask himself after encountering the rules recommended for spiritual training, “How can these rules be effective in the life of the soul?” It is possible to answer this question satisfactorily prior to any training by the unprejudiced employment of common sense. We are able to understand correctly the way of working of these rules prior to their practice. But it can be experienced only during training. The experience, however, will always be accompanied by understanding if we accompany each step with sound judgment, and at the present time a true spiritual science will only indicate rules for training upon which sound judgment may be brought to bear. Anyone who is willing to surrender himself to such training only, and who does not permit himself to be driven to blind faith by prejudice of any kind, will find that all doubts disappear. Objections to a proper training for a higher state of consciousness will not disturb him.

Even for a person whose inner maturity can lead him sooner or later to self-awakening of the spiritual organs of perception such training is not superfluous, but on the contrary it is quite especially suited to him. For there are but few cases in which such a person, prior to self-initiation, is not compelled to pass through the most varied, crooked and useless byways. Training spares him these deviations. It leads straight forward. If self-initiation takes place for such a soul, it is caused by its having acquired the necessary maturity in the course of previous lives. It may easily happen, however, that just such a soul has a certain dim presentiment of its maturity and through this presentiment is inclined to reject the proper training. This presentiment may produce a certain pride that hinders faith in a true spiritual training. It is possible that a certain stage of soul development may remain concealed up to a certain age in human life and only then appear, but training may be just the right means of bringing forth this stage. If the individual pays no heed to such training, it may happen that his ability remains concealed during his present life and will only reappear in some subsequent life.

In regard to the training for supersensible knowledge described here, it is important to avoid certain obvious misunderstandings. One of these may arise through thinking that training would transform man into a different being in regard to his entire life-conduct. It cannot, however, be a question of giving man general instructions for his conduct of life, but of telling him about soul-exercises which, properly performed, will give him the possibility of observing the supersensible. These exercises have no direct influence upon the part of his life-functions that lies outside the observation of the supersensible. In addition to these life-functions the human being acquires the gift of supersensible observation. The function of this observation is as much separated from the ordinary functions of life as the state of waking is from that of sleeping. The one cannot disturb the other in the least. Whoever, for example, wishes to permeate the ordinary course of life with impressions of supersensible perception resembles an invalid whose sleep would be continually interrupted by injurious awakenings. It must be possible for the free will of the trained person to induce the state in which supersensible reality is observed. Training, to be sure, is indirectly connected with certain instructions concerning conduct in as far as, without an ethically determined conduct of life, an insight into the supersensible is impossible or injurious. Consequently, much of what leads to the perception of the supersensible is at the same time a means of ennobling the conduct of life. On the other hand, as a result of insight into the supersensible world, higher moral impulses are recognized that are also valid for the sensory-physical world. Certain moral necessities are only recognized from out this world. — A second misunderstanding would arise were it believed that any soul function leading to supersensible knowledge might produce changes in the physical organism. Such functions have nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the realm of physiology or other branches of natural science. They are pure soul-spirit processes, entirely devoid of anything physical, like sound thinking and perception. Nothing happens in the soul through such a function — considering its character — that is different from what takes place when it thinks or judges in a healthy fashion. Just as much or as little as sound thinking has to do with the body, so do the processes of true training for supersensible cognition have to do with the body. Anything that has a different relationship to man is not true spiritual training, but its distortion. What follows is to be taken in the sense of what has been said here. Only because supersensible knowledge is something that proceeds from the entire soul of man will it appear as if things were required for this training that would transform man into something else. In truth it is a question of instruction about functions enabling the soul to bring into its life moments in which the supersensible may be observed.

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