Thursday, December 29, 2016
Entering spiritual worlds: the first steps of initiation
Initiation, Eternity, and the Passing Moment. Lecture 4 of 7.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 28, 1912:
In order to fulfill the aims of this short course we shall need the ideas gained in our last lecture along with others if we are to characterize what was alluded to in the lecture of the day before yesterday.
In literature you will find everywhere where mention is made of initiation that the riddle of death, so closely concerning all mankind, is, in some way or another, touched upon. In anything of the nature of records you will find allusions to how at a certain stage the initiate has to experience, in a somewhat different form, how the passing is made through the gate of death. To the occultist these records are actually founded on truth. The experiences that have to be passed through during the ascent into spiritual worlds are akin to the experiences man must undergo in the natural crossing from life in the physical body to the entirely different sheath found between death and a new birth. If we would come to the essence of this matter in the right way, we must first ask what man knows about himself in ordinary life. Such an abstract question may not be of much interest, but for an understanding of what takes place in initiates, it is necessary to focus one's attention on the question “What does the soul consider itself to be?”
During sleep the soul does not know what it is because sleep runs its course either in a state of unconsciousness, or dreams play into it, which to be rightly understood must be interpreted by the occultist. So in considering the questions “What is man? What is his soul in ordinary sense existence?” we have to do only with waking life. Now we know that in the first place there are the gateways we call our sense organs, through which the world of light and color, sound and smell, the world of heat and cold, and so forth, stream into our souls. In the life of the senses what we call “our world” is really only a gathering up of all that streams in through these sensory gateways. Then we have the instruments of our understanding, our feeling, and willing, with which to work on what meets us in the outer world. Within our soul cravings and desires arise, strivings, states of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, joy, disillusion, and so on. Were we to envisage the whole compass of what man recognizes as himself, it is all this. If we want to know what the “inner world” is in ordinary life, we can in reality put forward nothing more than the whole of what has just been described. Moreover, man can also look at himself from outside. He can observe his own body. Through countless facts that need not here be dealt with in detail, he becomes aware that he must regard his body as the instrument for his waking life between birth and death. We have already touched upon the longings that play into this life. Among them is a longing to know what man really is within the limits of birth and death, the longing to issue forth from what may be called the darkness of life. But man has no direct experience in his ordinary life of the senses of how to do this. His experiences are such that the ebb and flow of impulses, cravings, sense impressions, ideas, intellectual connections, and so forth completely fill his waking life. We can now link this to what was occupying us at the end of our last lecture.
Attention was then drawn to the way in which man, on reaching the boundary between sense existence and spirit existence, has to alter his conceptions, how he must leave behind all his thoughts about the ugly and beautiful, true and false, good and bad, as these concepts take on quite another significance and a different kind of value within the spiritual worlds. From this we can get some idea of how we must change ourselves if we would enter these worlds. Now, having considered what man knows of himself in waking life between birth and death, we can ask in relation to what was said in our last lecture, how much of all this that he knows can he take with him across the boundary where the Guardian of the Threshold stands? How much of all that he lives through and experiences in sense existence, in his impulses, desires, and passions, in his feelings, ideas, and the concepts of his understanding and his judgements, can he take with him across the boundary where stands the Guardian of the Threshold? It is in the first stages of initiation that man discovers that, of all that constitutes man, nothing at all can be carried over! It is neither exaggeration nor paradox but the literal truth to say that, of all that can be mentioned as belonging to man's sensory existence, he can carry over nothing at all into the spiritual world; everything must be left behind at the boundary where stands the Guardian of the Threshold.
Let us be clear on one point, however. Of all that man knows as himself in sensory existence, one thing of the greatest importance clings; that is, what actually has to do with the stages of initiation. It clings in man's love of and delight in it all, to which it is quite inappropriate to apply the usual rather unsympathetic concept of egoism. We cannot meet the case simply by saying that a man must lay aside his egoism in order to pass over selflessly into the region of the spiritual world. That is easy to say. This egoism, in the finer and more hidden parts of its nature, is intimately connected with what we may not only egoistically hold to be of value in life, but must hold to be of value because through it we are men in the world in which we have to maintain ourselves. We are men through our ability to hold together what we experience, to reflect upon it in a certain way, and to live it through. All this makes us the men we are. Whatever we can do worthily in the ordinary life of the senses, we carry through because we foster this faculty of holding together what we experience in our personality, in our individuality. If we did not value our experience, we should become idle, dull, and achieve nothing for the ordinary world. It would therefore be superficial to say that egoism should always be looked upon as harmful, because in its finer composition it represents the force that drives man on in the world in which he has incarnated. Nevertheless, all this must be laid aside; it must remain behind and be discarded for the simple reason that it is not suited to the world we have to enter. As our physical body is hardly adapted for a bath in molten iron at 900 degrees centigrade, what we call “our self,” with all that we love in ordinary life, is ill-adapted for the spiritual world. It must be left behind; if it were not, we should experience something resembling the effect a bath of molten iron would have on a physical body. We should not be able to stand it but would be completely destroyed!
A thought may now occur to you that is quite natural but nevertheless has to be grasped and felt in all its depth. This thought is: “If I am now to lay aside all that I am, all that I can talk of in the life of my senses, what at long last actually remains of me? Is there anything left of myself to enter the spiritual world if I have to cast myself aside?” It is a fact that man can take nothing with him into the supersensible worlds of all that he recognizes as himself; all that he can take is something of which in the ordinary world he knows nothing, something that is in him without his knowledge, that is lying in the depths of his soul as the hidden elements of his being. These must be so strong that out of them he can take into spiritual worlds all of which he will be in need when he has to lay aside what he knows. Thoroughly to grasp this thought, or rather this feeling, you must connect what has just been said with the customary thoughts about death. In ordinary sensory life it is only natural for a man to love what he recognizes as himself. Because he knows nothing further of himself over and above his longing for immortality, he has a longing to keep hold of what he has loved in sense existence. His dread of the spiritual world can be so great that it becomes the acme of fear because of the thought “You are going where all is unsubstantial and unknown; you do not even know whether you can preserve yourself there because all that you know must be lost to you!”
Now, it is part of initiation that the elements of being that lie in the hidden depths of the soul should be drawn up while still in sensory life and brought to consciousness. This is partly achieved by the means described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, by raising into consciousness, from the depths of the soul, experiences that come forth like a condensed and strengthened soul life. This condensed and strengthened life of soul, of which we otherwise know nothing, can pass over into the spiritual world. We thereby prepare ourselves by meditation and concentration, by what is called in The Guardian of the Threshold the “attitude of soul that is strengthened by thought,” so that we are able to take something with us into the spiritual world, and to be something there.
But what happens then to all we have laid aside? Now this is something extraordinarily important. To begin with, if we would put it pictorially, it may really be said that what one talks about in sensory life, all that we know, is laid aside and left with the Guardian of the Threshold at the boundary, just as if it were the soul's clothing that was cast off before the crossing into the spiritual world. Pictorially speaking, that is quite correct. Initiation, however, necessitates that not only should this happen, but something else as well. One's self and all that one has must, indeed, be laid aside, yet something of it must be carried on. Were it not so we should lose all connection with the one and only being of which we were previously conscious. So, after all, something must be carried over! We should leave everything behind and yet take something of it with us. Here we have a contradiction, but really it is not difficult to explain.
You will easily understand what it is to the soul to go through this process if I compare it with a phenomenon of ordinary life. In life we have a similar process, a process to be compared with this, although the latter is far more intense and far more powerfully felt. It is the process of remembering some experience we have had in life. What you experienced yesterday is left behind, but you take it with you in your memory. The important thing is to have sufficiently prepared ourselves, by previous meditation, concentration, and so on, so that on crossing the threshold into the spiritual world we have the power to hold fast in supersensible memory what we have left behind. If we are not prepared in the proper way we shall not have the power of recollection. We are then a mere nothing for our own consciousness; we know nothing of ourselves. On entering spiritual worlds the point is to remember through supersensible memory what one has left behind. These memories are all that can be taken with one. That they are so taken ensures the so-called continuity, the preservation, of the self. Even in ordinary life we can be bereft of the continuity of consciousness, and with it lose all our real self. This happens when things that should be remembered — many things indeed in our life — have to be effaced from consciousness and forgotten through ill health. Much in ordinary life depends on the continuity of memory. All that is made possible by the first steps of initiation hangs on the memory in supersensible life, on preserving the memory of ordinary life. Such a memory is indeed possible, and it is brought about through initiation. All this can be linked to the riddle of death.
When a man passes through death, he has not the identical forces he acquired by initiation because, when he lays aside the body, he acquires certain forces through the help of beings of the supersensible world. He gains the power to preserve in memory what in laying aside the body he has forgotten. Here you have the real answer to the question “What remains of the experiences of my soul when I have passed through the gate of death? How does my soul live on?” That is a question of the greatest importance, and through the experience of the initiates you have the answer: “The soul lives on because in its hidden depths there are forces able to hold fast in memory what has been experienced.” To be immortal means having the power to preserve in memory the renounced past existence. That is the real definition of human immortality. Through initiation we have proof, experienced proof, that forces live in man that can remind him, after he has laid aside his physical body, of all that he has experienced in sensory life, and of anything at all that has happened. In this way the human self is preserved into the future; thus man experiences his former existence as memories in his future life. We should feel the whole power of the thought that is called forth by initiation that could be expressed in the words “The human being is of such a nature that he bears his own being through future ages by the force of supersensible memory.” If you feel this thought pouring with feeling into the void of the universe, picturing the soul as it carries its own being through eternity, then you have a far better definition of what is called a monad than can be given through any philosophical concepts. Then you will feel what a monad is, that is, a self-enclosed being, a being carrying itself. It is only through the experiences of initiation that one can arrive at such conceptions.
That is only one side of what I have been describing to you. We must consider its first steps more precisely if we want to approach with feeling what can give us ideas about initiation. Let us assume that a man has, through an attitude of soul strengthened by thought and meditation, come to the point of being able to perceive in his etheric body. This perception is experienced in the body that, in its several parts, is more closely bound up with the brain, and less closely, for example, with the hands. The feeling oneself into the etheric body is experienced in the sensation “You are being spread out. You are becoming wider, fleeing out into the boundless spaces of the universe.” Such is the subjective feeling. This is not, however, that one rushes headlong into the unreal and the vague; everything there is concrete life. One lives oneself into the purely concrete, and in this widening out one comes at the same time to definite experiences. Except in special circumstances, hardly anyone accomplishing the first steps of initiation will be spared the experience of a particular impression or feeling of dread and anxiety, an experience of being in the vast universe with no firm ground beneath one's feet, an oppression of the soul. This is the kind of inner experience one lives through.
But there is something of still greater importance. In ordinary life we think, we have an idea, one thought suggests another, and we connect the one thought with the other, combining these perhaps with feelings, wishes, willing, and so forth. In a sound life of the soul, one will always find it possible to say “I think this, I feel that.” Were we unable to speak thus, it would mean a break, a disturbance, in sound soul life. We widen out, we expand, when growing into the etheric body, but at the same time our thoughts also expand. When thinking, we lose the sensation of being within ourselves, and we get the feeling that we are growing into the etheric world that is permeated with thoughts that think themselves. That arises as an actual experience. It is as if we ourselves were blotted out and our thoughts were thinking themselves, as if the feelings we ourselves have, or that things have, felt themselves, as if we could not do our willing for ourselves but that all this was awakened and willed in us. The feeling one has is one of being given up to the objective world. But, as a rule, another feeling is added. This is another of the experiences during the first steps of initiation. We have the feeling that, as we expand and widen out, and our thoughts think themselves, feelings feel themselves, in the same measure our consciousness becomes weaker and weaker, more and more toned down, and our capacity for knowing is deadened.
Now, for the soul to go through such experiences, one must allow something quite definite to enter it. It is necessary for these things to be grasped by the soul as accurately as possible. For this reason I have collected a few things — if not the same, of a similar nature and tending in the same direction — in the book A Road to Self Knowledge. If you take it in connection with these lectures you may gain a good deal. A quite definite state of soul, produced by oneself, must come about similar to what I described yesterday. One must practice self-observation and try to bring home to oneself, without either mercy or consideration, the really grievous faults one knows oneself to possess, so that there comes before the soul a feeling, into which one must live deeply, of how little one corresponds to the great ideal of humanity. With real force of thought and meditation, one's moral weakness, all one's weaknesses, must be called up before the soul. So doing, one will become stronger. What has already begun to be deadened, what has been described as a kind of fading out of the soul, brightens up again. It once more begins to be visible.
At this point something can be experienced that finds easy expression in words, but is oppressive and even disturbing during the first stages of initiation. These words all apply to the life of soul and not to life in the body. For anyone who has been led aright into spiritual worlds will already have received intimation that there is no question of external bodily danger. Such a man, if he faithfully observes the good advice offered him, can remain externally the same man in life, in spite of the ebb and flow within him of every sort of pain, torment, and disillusion, among which may also be premonitions of bliss. Such things must be gone into because in them lie the seeds of a higher vision, of a higher insight. In this way one gradually comes to recognize that by learning to observe, to perceive, and to experience independently of the physical body — in other words, learning to live in the etheric body — one grows into the etheric world in the way described. But in so doing one learns the reason why this etheric world fades into a kind of unconsciousness. In simple words we might say “It does not like me; it does not think me suited for it.” This deadening, this vanishing away, is merely the expression for “They will not let me in!” But in dwelling on one's faults one grows stronger, and what had begun to disappear lights up again. This produces, however, the significant feeling that a supersensible world of an etheric nature is around one, but that it may only be entered to a certain degree. It will only allow one to enter to the degree that one makes oneself increasingly strong, morally and intellectually. Otherwise, no. And it shows you this by fading away before you.
That is what is such a strain — so oppressive and sometimes even grotesque and distorted — this battling for the spiritual world and the consciousness of how unworthy one is for entrance there. By continuing to work hard at our self-contemplation and the strengthening of our attitude of soul through thinking, by meditation, concentration, and permeating oneself with moral impulses, one can enter ever more and more into the etheric world. This is, after all, only the first stage of initiation. If we would review the next stage, we must call attention to a most remarkable phenomenon that really has no parallel in ordinary sensory existence.
The body that man lives in when once he can perceive the etheric world is his etheric body. But this he already possessed before. The difference between his etheric body before and after supersensible observation is only that through initiation the etheric body is as it were awakened. While before it was as though asleep, afterward it is awakened. That is really the most apt expression one can use. But one thing will be noticed: that, when by means of any particular measure that has taken effect in the life of the soul the faculty has been acquired of seeing some fact or being of the etheric world — well, you then see just this being. Assume that you are so far prepared that you see this one being, or perhaps also a second being. Then, if you maintain the same power, you will probably see the two beings — or one of them — again and again. This is not difficult. But you will not easily see anything more. If you let the matter rest for a while and then come back to it, you will still only see the same. In short, the etheric world is not like the physical world. Once the eyes are prepared for the physical world, they see all that it is possible to see; if the ears are prepared, they hear everything equally well. It is not so, however, in the etheric world. There you must keep preparing anew, from one kind of being to another kind of being and, bit by bit, the parts of the etheric body. There you must look for the whole world again, and you must awaken your etheric body for every single human being over and over again. You set up a connection, a relation, with what you have once seen, for which you have once awakened your etheric body, and must always go on awakening new relations. The etheric body alone cannot do this. It cannot control itself and can only keep on returning to the same being, or it can wait until it is prepared for seeing other beings.
A man who has taken the first steps toward initiation and has reached the point of seeing some being or process cannot at once find his bearings in the spiritual world; he cannot freely compare one being with another, because he has no free access to the beings. If you are to find your bearings, if you are not merely to look at things but are to say with decision “This is a being" or "That is a process,” then you must be able to compare whichever it is with other beings and processes of the supersensible world. You must be able to make your way from one to the other; you must be able to find your bearings. This orientation has to be learned, and we learn it through regular meditation and by permeating ourselves with moral impulses. Then we feel growing within us forces the activity of which we experience as something strange. If we would describe this, we must return to what was said before. The etheric body, though present in ordinary life, is asleep, and for supersensible perception must be awakened. But the forces with which to awaken it must be there in the soul. What is done here is experienced in a special way. I can only make this clear by means of a comparison.
Imagine that you go to sleep and that you know “My body is lying in bed; I cannot move it but I know it is there. I am going into the spiritual world, but I shall come back soon to wake this body up again.” This can happen consciously, but in the case of a man in ordinary life it happens unconsciously. He really goes through what I have just been describing. In his physical condition he is both a waking and a sleeping being and it is he himself who wakes his physical body, although he is not conscious that this is so. But a man who has taken the first steps toward initiation becomes conscious of this, and thereafter actually knows: “There is my etheric body.” His attitude toward it is such that he feels: “That is the more narrowly confined part that corresponds to the brain; this is the more mobile part corresponding to the hands; this, the completely mobile part corresponding to the feet.” This, however, may sound strange. We know all this but the knowledge sleeps in us.
By further development, by preparing our inner life of soul in the necessary way and reaching up to the spiritual world, we are continually awakened. First we awaken this bit, then that. Now we set this movement going, then another. In short, it is a conscious awakening of the etheric body, so that we may speak of the sleeping state as being the ordinary state of the etheric body, and of a waking state into which it is brought by initiation. That is the difference between sleeping and waking in the physical body and in the etheric body. In the physical body sleeping and waking are alternating conditions, they occur in turn; while in the etheric body there is no such alternation; in it sleeping and waking are simultaneous. Thus, a man on the way to initiation may, by his first efforts, reach the point of awakening many of the etheric parts of his head, while all that corresponds to his hands and feet is still deep asleep. Whereas the physical body is asleep at one time, awake at another, in the etheric body some parts are awake and others asleep at the same time. Progress consists in making the sleeping parts more and more into waking ones, and that is what we actually are doing.
If man were not a spiritual being, all that I have here put forward as a comparison could not take place; then, as he lay in bed, he could not observe the awakening of his physical body. But what belongs to the soul is something that is independent of what is awakened. What awakens it bit by bit is not the etheric body, it is something else. If we grasp the concept “There is something in my soul that holds active sway over my etheric body, and bit by bit awakens it,” we then have a concrete and correct idea of the so-called astral body. To live in the astral body, to experience oneself in the astral body, means in the first place that one feels oneself to be a kind of inner forceful being, gradually able bit by bit to awaken conscious life in the sleeping etheric body. So there is a condition that may be described as one in which we experience ourselves outside the physical body, not only in the etheric body but also in the astral body.
In order to be clear about this step in initiation, it is necessary to acquire the power of differentiating between the various merely inward experiences in coming down into the etheric body. I have described what is experienced on entering the etheric body, how you expand, flow out. That is the concrete feeling. But the chief feeling generally experienced is that you are also pressing further and further out of your physical body and pouring yourself out into the wide spaces of the universe — the living oneself into the astral body, the conscious living into what is bit by bit awakening the etheric body. This is all linked up, too, with a springing out of oneself to seize something outside; this is not a mere expansion of something already there. One realizes when in the etheric body that the physical body still belongs to it. But when one makes one's way into the astral body, one realizes: “It is as if I had first lived in myself, and had then come out of myself to penetrate into something else; now my physical body, and perhaps my etheric body, too, is something outside me. I am now in something where I was not wont to be; my physical body has now become objective and no longer subjective. I am looking at it from outside.”
This springing beyond oneself, this looking at and understanding oneself, is the crossing over to life in the astral body. When this is attained, when this leap over has been made and you know this is now you and that you are looking at yourself, just as you used to look at a plant or a stone, you will then have the feeling that, indeed, no one will fail to have in the first stages of initiation: “Now you are in the supersensible world, and you are spreading yourself out, away into infinity.” One cannot use the expression "on all sides," because the supersensible world has many more sides and quite different dimensions from those of the ordinary world. But you are alone there. You are with your life in the astral body and everywhere around is the universe, an infinite expansion, not any being anywhere but yourself alone! You are overcome by a feeling of what may be called loneliness of soul raised to its supreme degree.
It is a matter of enduring such feelings and of being able to go through them, because it is by surmounting them that the forces arise that lead one on; they become the forces of the seer. What I have tried to put in a few lines in the drama The Guardian of the Threshold becomes intensely real. I refer to the scene in which Maria leads Johannes into the infinite tracts of the fields of ice where the human soul is alone — in absolute loneliness. In this loneliness one has to wait — patiently wait. Much depends on whether one is able to wait, whether one has acquired sufficient moral force to wait. Then comes something of which it may be said: “Yes, you are absolutely alone in infinity, but in you there arises something like pure memories, that yet are no memories.” I say, “Like memories that are no memories” because all our memories in ordinary life are such that we can recall anything with which we once came into contact, anything we once experienced. But imagine that you stand there with all that is innermost in your soul, while images keep rising up within you that need to be related to something. But you have never previously experienced them! You know that these images are related to beings, but you have never met these beings. This surging up within you of an unknown world, which you realize you bear within you as pure image — this is the next experience on the path of initiation.
After that comes a strange experience in which it is possible to get into relation with all the images that arise: that you can love and hate them, that you can feel reverence in face of one, pride in face of another. Not only a number of inner images are awakened, but also something like a surging hither and thither of supersensible feelings and sensations. You are utterly alone with yourself, alone with your own inner world rising up within you. At first you are aware of nothing except an indefinite gloom, but your connection with everything is complete.
Let us take a characteristic example. Something that rises there as a picture calls forth your love. This is a severe temptation; a terrible temptation now arises because you love something in yourself. You are exposed to the temptation of loving the thing because it is yours, and you must now put forth all your strength not to love this being just because it is yours, but, in spite of the fact that it is yours, to love it for some quality it possesses. It becomes your task to make selfless what is in yourself. That is a hard task, a task with which nothing can be compared that has to do with the soul in the ordinary physical world. In the ordinary sensory existence it is quite impossible for a man to love what is within him absolutely selflessly. But that is what he must do on rising to this world. By irradiating the being with the force of love, it radiates force itself, and this makes you feel that “it is trying to get out of me.”
You also notice that the more love you yourself can apply, the more strength it has to break through something that is like a veil, and to make its way out into the universe. If you hate it, it also gains force, but then it strains you apart, presses against you and makes its way through, as though heart or lungs would force themselves through the skin of your body. This runs through everything with which you bring yourself into relation through love and hate. The difference between the two experiences is that what you love selflessly goes away, but you feel that you, too, go with it, that it takes you away, and that you, too, take the same path. What you hate, or anything toward which you show pride, tears through the veil and disappears, leaving you alone, and you remain in your loneliness. At a certain stage this difference is strongly marked. You are either taken away or left behind. If you are taken, you are able to reach the being whose image you have experienced. You learn to know it.
By this surging up within you of the images of unknown beings with whom you are nevertheless in relation, you come out of yourself and meet all these beings whom you learn to know in a second spiritual world. You live yourself into a world generally called the devachanic world, the true spiritual world, not the astral world. It is nonsense to say that through his astral body, which I have described as the awakener of the etheric body, man enters the astral world. Rather does he rise into the true spiritual world, into what is called the spiritland in my book Theosophy. There he meets pure spiritual beings.
Now, to know more of these beings in their different orders, and how they become what is described as the world of the higher hierarchies, whom we have learned to know as rising from the angels to the seraphim, of all this we shall hear more in the next lecture.