by Rudolf Steiner
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
Dornach, February 29, 1924
Let us begin, my dear friends, with the words the Guardian speaks - words we already know - when pointing in the direction of the spiritual world, which characterize what the human being can feel on the threshold of the spiritual world as he strides past the Guardian.
It's about the path one should follow in thought, the path which one will actually take when seeking access to the spiritual world. And we should not say that when someone experiences in thought - if he honestly and earnestly lives in his thoughts - what the person in process of initiation realizes in reality by entering the spiritual world, that the former does not actually participate in what is revealed to the human soul when entering the spiritual world, because it is only a reflected ideation.
One should not say: Let's leave gaining entrance into the spiritual world to those who are striving to be initiates and stand with their souls in the spiritual world as people stand in physical existence with their senses. Rather should one say: When even in thought one approaches the description of the path that leads to the spiritual world, and provided the thinking is not superficial, he will experience and feel fully what it means to leave the world of the senses behind, a world only the intellect can grasp, and enter the spiritual world.
That is what I will speak to you about today, my dear friends, and not merely for those who already seek the transformation which will lead them into the spiritual world, but also for those who, at first, only experience the transformation in their thoughts. And that includes all of you, else you wouldn't be sitting here.
Therefore the following must be said: When man makes his observations in the world of senses - life consists of such observations - when man uses the things that he encounters in the sense world to unfold his will, when he proceeds from observation to action, and when he lets the combination of such observations and actions have an effect on his feelings, he stands to a certain extent on firm ground, for this process has been implanted in him as a physical being on earth between birth and death. Wherever he doesn't have this firm ground, he looks for it. When he is expected to believe something, he looks everywhere for the facts behind it. He asks: What experience proves this or that? He doesn't like to accept something in ordinary life which is not proven by this or that outward experience. He stands on firm ground because he says to himself: What is true is what is seen, what is real is what is held in the hand. The world, the world order itself, provides a certain security in human life. And because of this security, man differentiates - insofar as it is necessary for ordinary life between birth and death - he differentiates between truth and illusion, truth and semblance, truth and dream. When verification cannot be found, he calls it semblance. And only by differentiating between true and false, reality and semblance, is life secure.
Just imagine, my dear friends, that you were to go through life between birth and death in a way that you could never really know whether something that confronts you is truth or illusion. You could not determine whether a person who stands before you and speaks to you is a real person or the semblance of one. You could not differentiate between something happening to you being real or merely a dream. Just imagine what insecurity, what terrible insecurity that would cause in your life.
But exactly as you would feel if life were to withdraw the possibility of knowing whether you were dreaming or confronting reality, is also the way the adept feels standing at the threshold of the spiritual world. That is the very first important experience he has when he realizes that on the other side of the threshold is the spiritual world.
As we have already seen, only darkness streams at first from this spiritual world. Yet although here or there brilliant flashes of light emanate from the darkness - in which the Guardian of the Threshold's words are heard, as we learned last time - with all the knowledge of the senses and reason you may have gleaned in the physical world, you would never be able to know whether a real spiritual being, a real spiritual fact stands before you or a shape in a dream.
That is the first experience of the spiritual world, that semblance and reality are mixed up and to differentiate between semblance and reality is problematic at first. That is something which should be borne in mind especially by those who have experienced impressions from the spiritual world not through normal spiritual training, but due to elementary forces, which can be the result of any number of things, such as shattering events, illness and the like. He shouldn't deceive himself by saying: well, now you have the spiritual world, because it could well be that whatever it is that seems to suddenly shine from out of the spiritual world is merely an illusion. Therefore the first thing one must learn in order to enter the spiritual world is the ability to distinguish between truth and error, between reality and illusion - independent of what is experienced in the physical world. One must acquire completely new capacities for distinguishing between reality and illusion.
In our times, when people no longer pay much attention to how the spiritual world illuminates life, in which they only pay attention to what is palpable, to what can only be seen by physical eyes; in our times, when people are completely attuned to the overt security which life between birth an death provides; in these times it is especially difficult to acquire this capacity to distinguish between truth and error, reality and semblance in respect to the spiritual world. It is in this area where the most earnestness is required.
And where does this come from? You see, when you confront the outer world as a physical person, you think about this outer world. And at the same time you have impressions from the physical world, which in a certain sense slip under your thoughts, supporting them. You don't have to do very much in order to live in reality. Reality accepts you as a physical reality.
It is quite different in the spiritual world. You must first grow into the spiritual world. For the spiritual world you must acquire the correct feeling of your own true reality. Then you will gradually be able to differentiate between truth and error, between reality and semblance of reality.
When you sit down on a chair - at the moment you don't fall on the floor, but are able to sit safely on the chair, you know that in the physical world the chair is a real chair and not merely an imagined chair. The chair itself provides proof of its reality.
That is not the case in the spiritual world. For why is it so in the physical world? Because in the physical world your thinking, your feeling, your willing are held together by the physical body. You are a threefold human being: a thinking, feeling and a willing human being. But they are all unified within each other by the physical body.
At the moment when the human being enters the spiritual world, he immediately becomes a triple being. His thinking goes its own way, his feeling goes its own way, his willing goes its own way. So you can think in the spiritual world, have thoughts which have nothing to do with your willing; but these thoughts are illusions. You can have feelings which have nothing to do with your willing; but these feelings contribute to your undoing, not to your advancement.
That is the essential thing, that when a person approaches the threshold of the spiritual world it seems to him that his thinking flies out into distant space and that his feeling goes beyond his memory.
Consider for a moment what I just said. You see, memory is really something which comes very close to the threshold of the spiritual world. Let's say you experienced something ten years ago. It returns in memory. The experience is there again. You are justifiably satisfied, as far as the physical world is concerned, if you have a vivid memory of it. For someone who has entered the spiritual world, however, it is as though he pushes through the memory, as though he goes farther than the memory reaches. In any case he goes farther back than his memory of physical earthly life can reach. He goes back beyond birth.
And when one enters the spiritual world, he immediately senses that his feeling does not stay with him. Thinking at least goes out into the presently existing universe. It disperses, as it were, in cosmic space. Feeling goes out of the universe and if one wants to follow feeling one must ask: Where are you now? When you have become 50 years old, then you have gone back in time farther than 50 years; you have gone back 70 years, 100 years, 150 years. Feeling leads you completely out of the time in which you have lived since childhood.
And willing, if you take it seriously, leads you ever farther back in time, back to your previous earth lives. That is something which happens immediately, dear friends, when you really come to the threshold of the spiritual world. The physical body ceases holding you together. One no longer feels within the confines of the skin; one feels split into parts.
You feel as though your thoughts, which were previously confined by feelings, are streaming out into cosmic space and becoming cosmic thoughts. Your feelings seem to go back in time in the spiritual world between your last death and your present earth life. And with your volition you feel yourself in your previous earth life.
It is just this splitting of the human being - I described it in my book How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds- which causes difficulties upon entering the spiritual world, because your thoughts expand. They had previously been held together and now stream out into cosmos space. At the same time they become almost imperceptible. So one must achieve the ability to perceive the thoughts which have thus expanded.
Feeling is no longer permeated by thoughts, for the thoughts have gone, so to speak. So your feeling can only turn prayerfully, with reverence and devotion, to the beings with whom you pass your life between death and a new birth on earth. This is possible if one has cultivated such reverence for the spiritual world in life.
But the moment one's volition, which wants to proceed to previous earth-lives, takes over, the person meets a great difficulty in that he feels an enormous attraction for the contents of his lower nature. And here works most strongly what I previously said about the difficulty in being able to to differentiate between semblance and reality. For the person acquires a strong preference for semblance. I'll describe it as follows.
When a person begins to meditate, when he or she is really dedicated to the meditation, he would like to continue in tranquility. He does not want it to deprive him of life's comforts. Well, this desire not to be deprived of life's comforts is a strong producer of illusions and semblances. Because when you dedicate yourself completely to meditation, necessarily from the depths of your soul the question arises about your capacity for evil. One cannot do otherwise than to feel through meditation, through that penetration into the depths, everything you are capable of perpetrating. But the urge to deny this is so strong that one submits to the illusion that one is essentially a very good person.
The real experience of meditation does not indicate such a result. It shows how one can be full of all kinds of vanity and overestimation of one's self and underestimation of others. Also, one judges people not only because they have something important to say, but because one wishes to bask in the good opinion of others. But that is the least of things. He who really meditates honestly will see what drives live in his soul and what he is therefore capable of. Man's lower nature appears strongly before the soul's inner vision. And this honesty must exist in mediation. When it is there we can see what the will's disposition really is, which is reflected in the words we have already heard:
Because the human being tends to succumb to illusion, he suppresses the impression that necessarily arises in meditation, and he feels the urge to mock the spiritual world. Only by honestly facing these opposing forces can he stand in the spiritual world in the right way. Then the sight of the second beast appears on the threshold:
And then when we are helpless to follow the thoughts we had in our heads during earth life and are now cosmic thoughts, because of this inability to bestride our cosmic thoughts, that the third beast appears:
The less we succumb to illusions about this trinity, which reflects our own being, the more we find in us the true human who can receive the light from the spiritual world and who is in a position to really solve the riddle, insofar as it is possible on earth to do so, which is conceded to us with the words: “O man, know thyself!”. For through this self-knowledge streams forth the true knowledge of the world which can lead us in the right way through life. Therefore, this threefold splitting in which one's thinking goes its way, feeling goes its way and willing goes its way, which otherwise are united by exterior forces, may be expressed by the words the Guardian of the Threshold says to the adept. We heard them the last time:
These are the words spoken by the Guardian as a warning so that we know how we should not enter the spiritual world. Upon entering the spiritual world we must have become accustomed to a different way of judging, a different way of feeling and a different way of willing from what prevails in the physical world. And for that it is really necessary that we grasp this threefold element within us, that we firmly direct our gaze within in order to be alert to what our thinking really is, what our feeling really is, what our willing really is and what they must become for us to be able to step across the threshold into the spiritual world, if only in our thoughts. For the fact is that the gods place will-power before the bliss of knowledge and they require it.
Therefore, directly after the Guardian has spoken these discouraging, perhaps frightening words, he continues with the other words which tell us what we should do. At this point the first lessons of this class also become practical in that they instruct us what should enter into our thinking, feeling and willing forces in order to enter the spiritual world in the right way.
And the verse should also be threefold which should flow into us in a way that we can live with it. For in living with it we are setting out on the path to the spiritual world. In the same way that we eat and drink , that we see and hear, must something be evoked in us by what the Guardian of the Threshold, standing before the spiritual world, says with earnest visage.
Let us examine the verse. When the human being lives in the sense-world between birth and death, he feels to be within his physical body. He knows that his legs carry him through the world. He knows that blood circulation gives him life. He knows that his breathing awakens life. He commits himself to this breathing, blood circulation and the movement of the members that carry him through the world. In doing so, he is a physical being on the earth. Just as he commits himself to these things physically, he must also commit with his soul to the leading powers of the spiritual world if he wants to participate in it, knowledgeably enter into it.
Just as I must say that for physical health your blood must circulate in the correct way, your breathing must be in order, I must also advise the person who wishes to stand correctly in the spiritual world, that his soul must follow, be sustained and led by his own spiritual guides:
[The first verse, beginning with the last words, is written on the blackboard:]
Guiding beings of your spirit
But, my dear friends, you are committed to your blood by the force of nature, as you are to the movement of your limbs, also your breathing. But you cannot be committed in this way to your spirit's guiding beings in the spiritual world. Inner activity is required. You don't reach them as you achieve breathing by movement of the lungs; you reach them, however, by learning to revere them.
[Over “Guiding beings of your spirit” “revere” is written:]
Guiding beings of your spirit.
Revere with what is deepest in you, with your selfhood.
[“Selfhood” is written in front of “revere”.]
Guiding beings of your spirit.
Selfhood as such should revere
Guiding beings of your spirit.
[When spoken, the missing words are added, then written on the blackboard:]
selfhood as such should revere
Guiding beings of your spirit.
Thus, you have the manner in which you must stand within the spiritual world, given in the words spoken by the Guardian of the Threshold.
And how do you stand within? Not as though you were standing with your legs on solid ground; not through the warmth of your blood in physical life; not by drawing breath. You stand there by virtue of feeling yourself in the half-spiritual etheric essence flowing through you:
Etheric essence flows in you
The feeling is as though one were a small cloud around which a spiritual wind blows, that one is carried by this wind in which selfhood, one's own I, reveres the spiritual guides which approach with the wind from all sides. We are invited to submerge into it. But what is it initially? As long as we remain in our meditation in what I have just described, it is mere semblance. We must submerge in this semblance fully conscious that the wind and the reverence for the spiritual guides is only semblance.
[The fourth line from the bottom is written on the blackboard.]
Plunge beneath the semblances
Why should we do all this? Well, in earth-life initially we have only a vague sense of our I - “Selfhood” - we define it with the word “I”, but in reality it is an undefined, dim, hidden feeling.
[The fifth line from the bottom is written.]
Selfhood as such hides from you
We don't know much about it. And what we do know is not cosmic-being, it is cosmic-semblance.
[The sixth line from the bottom is written.]
Cosmic semblance confronts you
When we follow the Guardian of the Threshold's indications ...
[The seventh line from the bottom is written.]
See in yourself the weaving thoughts
it all becomes the weaving of our own thoughts.
Now we have the first mantric verse which can give us the strength in our thinking to accept the challenge with our selfhood which can initially be expressed in the words:
This is the invitation to us when observing our thoughts in retrospection. If you close yourself off from the outside world and observe how your thoughts fluctuate and then you follow the invitation in these seven lines, you have complied with the Guardian of the Threshold's first demand.
Just as through the first mantric verse we enter thinking, we enter the inner world of thinking through the second.
[The second verse is written on the blackboard.]
To hear within the flow of feeling
Put aside thinking and try to observe your own feelings. In thinking everything is semblance. But when we descend into feeling semblance and being blend, intermix.
That is immediately apparent.
when semblance and being within you blend
Only our I, selfhood, does not wish to enter real existence. It is used to outside semblance and appearance. It tends towards semblance, still retaining this from the world of the senses:
in what results from feeling. It is seemingly being, a mixture of semblance and being.
“So plunge into what's seemingly being”: when we will feel the mood which lies in these four lines, we will realize that it has become serious as we plunge into the semblance:
In you the cosmic-psychic forces
First of all, selfhood had to “revere” by sinking into thought; now selfhood should “consider”. The thoughts are to be brought down into feeling. We then encounter something which assures us of true being:
No longer “semblance”, but “living powers”. Whereas our self, our I tends towards semblance, the gods give us the rock of being in the depths of feeling.
In order to convert the verse into a mantram, it would be good to revisit such correspondences.
the beings who guide us through the ether; the living powers who guide us back to pre-earthly existence - where feeling goes.
If you wish to make it into a true mantram however, you must take something else into consideration. Read the first verse:
Clearly this is a trochaic rhythm, which I beg you to observe. If you stress this strongly and this weakly [the iambic rhythm symbols breve and macron Ì† - are placed above the beginning of each line and then spoken with the appropriate stress], it corresponds to the correct etheric movement in the soul where reverence for the higher beings requires such a tone. Thus you will be led into the spiritual world.
The way in which the soul feels these words, either trochaic or iambic - here [in the first verse] there is a distinctly trochaic beat, and here [in the second verse] a distinctly iambic beat - gives the soul the corresponding verve.
It is not a question of merely acquiring intellectual information, even when the soul is making its way to the spiritual world only in thought. Rather is it important that the soul enters with the right breathing and rhythm of cosmic being. If you use an iambic rhythm in striving to enter cosmic thought, you have misunderstood the Guardian of the Threshold. If you use a trochaic verse and not an iambic one for entrance into the world of cosmic feeling, again you have misunderstood the Guardian of the Threshold.
The third element we must plunge into is willing. And the Guardian of the Threshold also gives us a verse for this. Now that we have contemplated the first two, the last one will be easy to understand.
[The third verse is written on the blackboard.]
it surges up from the will to what gives the self substance, content ...
Feel again the escalation:
You will feel that all three are mantric verses if you pay attention to the trochaic element here [the first verse], the iambic here [the second verse]. Here however [the third verse] we have two stressed syllables.
[on the line beginnings on blackboard the spondaic symbols - - are placed and spoken with the corresponding emphasis:]
Here you have a spondee rhythm.
This is what must be observed. You must release yourself from the mere intellectual content and attend to the trochee, iambus and spondee rhythms. At the moment, we are able to move on from the intellectual meaning to commitment to the rhythm, from that moment it is possible to leave the physical world and really enter the spiritual one. For the spiritual, cannot be grasped only using the words whose meanings apply to the physical world; but only if we use the opportunity to carry the rhythms of these words out to the living cosmos.
Therefore, self-observation is exercised on the soul in a threefold sequence of thinking, feeling and willing. The soul will then express itself correctly if it experiences this as it does eating and drinking by the body, as it experiences blood circulation and breathing, if it experiences the rhythm in these words:
In words you have at first the blood; with the corresponding rhythms you have the circulating blood. Seek the sense of these rhythms, let them act in your soul and you will come near to the Guardian's first warning - which I told you at the beginning of these lessons, my dear friends:
And if we wish to find the light that emerges from the darkness, we will find it if we seek it by this threefold path, filling ourselves with this lifeblood for the soul that wishes to tread the path to true knowledge of the spirit and of God.
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