Saturday, November 4, 2017

Occultism: An Overview

Man in the Light of Occultism, Theosophy and Philosophy.
Lecture 2 of 10

Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, June 4, 1912:

My Dear Friends,

If now we would proceed to consider man from the three points of view — the occult, the theosophical, and the philosophical — it will be necessary to speak first of the occult point of view. And we shall do best if we start by giving a description of how in the history of the evolution of mankind one or another human being has succeeded in raising himself to occult vision of the world.

As we said in the introductory lecture, there have naturally never been more than a few who were found ripe to partake in all that went on in the Mysteries and places of occult teaching and education. It is therefore of the development of these few that we shall have to speak.

It will, however, also have been clear to you from many other lectures I have given that we stand now at a point in time when through the popularizing of theosophical knowledge more and more people will have to take part in occult life, instead of the very few who have done so in the past. So that what we have to consider today concerns everyone who takes an interest in theosophy and realizes that occult knowledge — the knowledge, that is, of the hidden aspects of existence — must no longer remain secret, but must spread farther and farther, in accordance with the demands of a continually developing humanity.

A man who set out to attain occult knowledge had in the first place to turn his gaze away from the external world and direct it upon the forces of his own soul. Since he had, however, at the same time to remain a man of action in the external world, his occult development was, so to say, his own affair, was a matter that concerned himself alone. In the world he continued to be a man among men, with all the duties that life had brought to him. This fact found striking expression in the very first step he had to take for the development of his soul forces. For the first thing the pupil had to do may be described in the following words: he had to reconcile himself to his karma in respect of all that concerned his will. Reconciliation with karma (or destiny) — that was the first thing demanded of a man who was undergoing occult development.

Please do not imagine that such a reconciliation with one's karma necessitates the forming of a comprehensive theory about karma; what is meant is much more a particular kind of culture and education of the life of feeling. Think how it is with a man who is beginning on a path of occult development. Before the moment of time when he makes this beginning, he has lived in the world as a man among men. He has acquired a certain standing in life; he has made himself master of certain thoughts which enable him to carry out satisfactorily the external actions that his calling demands. He has also come to recognize certain duties or obligations that custom and society have laid upon him. It can at the very outset be assumed that any man who has not responded to what the world demanded of him, any man, that is, who does not want loyally to fulfill his obligations to the world around him, would never have the urge to undergo occult development. In fact, as a general rule, those who could be called to occult development were men who showed great ability in the positions in which life had placed them and who were also desirous of being in every respect equal to the obligations laid upon them by custom and society. The capacities and faculties a man shows in his position in life, the round of duties also that he recognizes as incumbent upon him — these are the very things that constitute karma in the positive sense. Here a man's karma comes to expression. And the first demand made upon a man who was preparing to step outside the bounds of his position in life as such and enter upon an investigation of the spiritual world was that he should not in any way deviate from the karma of his life, but maintain it untouched. This meant that he made a promise, to himself and to those who were assisting him to penetrate into the occult world, not to make use in his outer standing in life of whatever should be acquired in the field of occult research. His will and action had to be so directed that others who were observing him would not be aware of any marked difference in the whole behavior of his life since he had begun to take steps on the path of occult research. The power given him in occult research must never be allowed to interfere in the external life of the physical plane. This is what is meant by “reconciliation with karma.” The pupil forgoes all advantages that might be gained by occult means for his position in life.

We shall find that a right and regular following of the path does, as a matter of fact, lead often to a certain improvement in the pupil's external standing in life. This, however, has nothing to do with the obligation that has to be deliberately undertaken by one who sets out on the occult path. “You shall not attempt to make any use of your occult development to acquire an advantage over those who stand with you in life, but you shall direct your life in accordance with the very same rules which you have followed hitherto.” Such was the injunction constantly laid upon those who underwent occult development. It was the first renunciation they were called upon to make: to forgo all application to an egoistic end of the means acquired in occult life. What has just been said is intended to be taken quite exactly and literally; please receive the words as they stand, neither more nor less. You will observe that they are concerned with what the pupil is in a position to do, or is under obligation to do, in the external world by reason of the karma that is laid upon him.

From the very outset the egoistic will of man is thus consciously and deliberately excluded from all occult striving. This factor alone brings about a change in the whole mood and character of the pupil. If you reflect for a moment, you will see that this must be so. Hitherto the round of duties that devolve on him in his external position in life have been the one and only world in which he lived and to which he devoted himself. Now he takes upon himself the obligation to continue to live in this world in accordance with the same rules as he has followed hitherto, and yet at the same time to have forces to spare for something else quite different. This means that a boundary is set up for him between two regions within both of which he is active. A world now opens before him to which he previously never gave a thought. That is a fact of extraordinary importance. For verily man begins a new chapter in his life, when fresh interests suddenly enter and assert themselves strongly and persistently.

This then was what happened at the very beginning of occult development; a man's whole feeling and interest were claimed for a new world, a world in which he had previously had neither part nor place. Strict watch had to be kept on the pupil, especially in the more ancient Mysteries and schools of occult development, lest he be brought into any disharmony with his circle of external interests. It was sternly required of him to fulfill his duty in the widest sense in respect of the demands made by his calling or by his connection with the State or other form of community. Those who made any show of not being willing to do this or of rebelling against the duties of external life were not admitted into places of occult instruction. I am here simply relating facts. Study the history of occult development and you will find that those who in outer life showed themselves rebellious in one direction or another against the whole ordering of life within which they lived were not members of any Mystery school or place of occult instruction.

The second thing required of the pupil was far more difficult of attainment. Consider the case of a man who has given himself and his teachers the promise of which we have spoken. He has had to declare: “I will not suffer to enter into my will, as it makes itself felt on the physical plane, anything that has come to me as a result of occult research.” He takes with him into the realm of occult research the entire forces of his soul, with the exception of the will. The will is held back in accordance with his promise; but every other faculty that he has at his disposal on the physical plane — judgment, fancy and imagination, memory, emotions, — all these forces and faculties of the soul with which he was previously active on the physical plane, can still be actively applied on that plane.

Take the intellect or understanding — that capacity of the soul which enables us to discriminate and to form judgments about the facts of life. We could not get on without it in ordinary life; we have to apply it at every turn. Now let us suppose we become a member of an occult society or school. We achieve certain results in occult research; we acquire, let us say, knowledge about what we do in our external standing in life. We are not allowed to apply this knowledge with our will. But to begin with, there is nothing to prevent us from calling in the help of all the higher means we have from occult research in order to make intelligent observation of the things and persons that we meet with on the physical plane. Thus, we may not allow the results of occult research to flow into our action or into the resolves of our will, but we may allow occult research to have its influence upon the way we form our thoughts and conclusions on the kingdoms of nature as well as on our fellowmen — in effect, upon the whole way in which we stand in the ordinary world with our intellect.

You will observe that a rigid self-discipline will here be necessary. What is easier for a man who meets other men and has to take active part in their lives than to apply what he knows? Suppose, for example, he is able by the help of his intellect to perceive that he has to do with a morally inferior person, nothing is easier than that he should act accordingly. It would be the natural and obvious thing to do.

The occultist, however, may not take this line. By means of what occult research gives him he can, it is true, give wings to his understanding and have clearer insight than he could before into the character of a fellowman, can recognize perhaps that he is a morally inferior person; he can also regulate accordingly what he does to this person, for he has accepted no obligation in regard to his fellowman but only in regard to his own standing in life. He is under no necessity to refrain from applying his will in respect of what he does for the other person. What he does, however, on his own behalf — for that he is under obligation to be reconciled with his karma and not to make use of the knowledge that accrues to him when he applies his intellect, reinforced with the means of occult research.

Let us suppose an actual case of a man who is at the stage of which we are speaking. Had he not become an occultist he would perhaps have met the other person and not recognized him to be morally inferior — with the result that he would have allowed himself to be taken in by him. Obviously such things can and do happen in the world, as you will all be ready to admit. One can be mistaken and take a man for better than he is, and then find oneself deceived.

The occultist has here an advantage. He is able to recognize the moral inferiority of the person in question. But he has for the time being — please note the words — he has for the time being put himself under obligation not to apply this occult knowledge with his will, that is to say, not to apply it to his own standing in life. He has to know that the other is a morally inferior man and at the same time to conduct himself exactly as before; he has to put up with all the ways of the other just as though he had never acquired occult knowledge about him.

Here you have a striking illustration of the rigid self-denial a beginner in occultism has to practice. He must draw a sharp line of distinction between what he can know without occult research and what comes to him through occult research and might give him an unfair advantage in life. He who is so fortunate — being blessed either with natural talents or with particularly favorable conditions of life — as to recognize, without being an occultist, the moral inferiority of the other person, is inclined to consider the occultist a fool, because he waives any advantage that might accrue to himself from the knowledge. And this frequently happens. Other people through some good fortune or other are able to perceive what the occultist also perceives, only does not act upon, being under obligation to refrain from doing so. You will constantly find this happen — as you will also find it happen that one or another who has made the promise fails to keep it. That is, however, his own affair! We may, if we will, consider the occultist a fool because he lets someone else get the advantage of him, but we must not let that lead us to conclude that he has no means for perceiving the character of men.

We have then this second stage: forgoing the use of the will for our own egoistic ends, we apply our understanding in the external physical world. The occult teachers of olden times allowed their pupils to remain rather long at this stage. For a considerable time the pupils had to go through the world learning to observe more deeply and with increasing penetration and insight not only their fellowmen but also the other kingdoms of nature, and yet all the time continuing to walk the path of ordinary life in exactly the same way as before. This meant they had to practice a very severe self-discipline, for they had to learn never to place into the service of egoism the advantages their mind and spirit afforded them. Nor was this all; the whole experience brought them a step further in another direction as well.

When, after the intellect has spoken, the will comes behind and adds the action which is the natural sequence of what the intellect has said, then this intellect does not evolve nearly so much as when it is used by itself, completely isolated from the sphere of the will. If a man excludes himself as a being of will and egoism from a realm into which he enters by applying his intellect and understanding to the whole surrounding world, then he becomes increasingly able to detect fine differences. His understanding grows subtle and delicate. His faculty of judgment and discrimination grows steadily stronger.

The pupil has now absolved the second stage of occult development, the stage we may call the “cultivation of the will-emancipated understanding,” and is ready to go on to the next.

Having for a long time applied his understanding with all keenness and insight, the pupil must then begin to renounce even the use of this understanding. This step is a very difficult one. The pupil has to understand and judge as he did before he became an occultist. In respect of the objects of the external physical plane he must use only the power of understanding and judgment which he had previously. All that he has acquired on the occult path in the way of deeper understanding and that has brought him untold good and has meant a definite advance for his spirit — all this he has now to shut out of his spiritual activity; he may only handle matters of quite ordinary knowledge. That which he has striven after so keenly and energetically for a long time, namely, the strengthening of his understanding, he must lay aside, he must absolutely root it out of his soul, in so far as conscious application of it is concerned, and say to himself: As I go about and fulfill my life on the physical plane, I must think and judge and discriminate as I did before my occult development, using only the degree of cleverness to which I had then attained. The pupil has, so to speak, to force himself to be again as stupid as he was before his understanding was sharpened.

What becomes of the understanding which he has now forgone? He must not now apply it. He has done so for a long time, but he may do so no more. What becomes in any case of the results of our power of judgment and understanding when we refrain from putting them to direct use? They pass over into memory. This is the next step. All the knowledge gained by the sharpening of the power of intellect has to become memory. The pupil must not advance any further in the cultivation of his intellect; he must also refrain from applying his strengthened intellect, must not desire to gain with his intellect any further knowledge about the connections of the world. That which he has already acquired by means of his strengthened understanding he must look for in his memory; ever and again it must rise up in memory. He shall endeavor to bring it about that the knowledge he has gained becomes like the thoughts he had, say, ten or twenty years ago — thoughts he no longer thinks, but only remembers.

In occult schools such as the school of Pythagoras in olden time, and in many a Mystery school of Asia Minor, the selection of pupils was very strict. Only those were considered ripe who could be trusted to keep the vow not to let flow into their egoistic will the results of the cultivation of the intellect. They were then educated for a very long time in the cultivation of the intellect. In all possible ways they were shown first how to distinguish things and then how to combine and connect them again, and they developed a keener sense of discrimination than it is possible to attain in ordinary life. The greatest importance was attached in rightly conducted schools of ancient and medieval times to this cultivation through long periods of time of the power of judgment.

Then the pupil has to make this further, second renunciation. He has to vow to himself and to his teacher that he will cease to judge any more the things he sees on the physical plane, cease to employ in regard to them the power of judgment he has acquired with his understanding. Nor may he indulge in a critical attitude to the teachings imparted to him. All he may do is to compare what he receives from his teacher with what he has himself previously acquired through his own power of judgment. He must not make any criticism, he must be no more than a listener who compares what he now hears with what he has himself acquired with his sharpened intellect. Such is the requirement of the next stage of occult development, which may be called the “elimination of the sharpened power of the intellect and the restriction of the inner soul life to memory.” Fancy and imagination were still allowed play; these might reproduce the remembered ideas and opinions in symbols and in imaginative pictures.

Memory and fantasy — these two powers of the soul came, as it were, into their own, and were able to manifest in their full effectiveness. For now they stood alone, forming as it were a pure distillate out of the rest of the soul life, instead of being perpetually influenced and counselled by the judgment of the intellect.

Therewith had the pupil taken a further step in occult development. The time he had to pass in this stage was generally spent in receiving communications, in the form of ideas, of the recognized truths of occultism in so far as these had already become a theosophy. The pupils stood there with such forces as they had already acquired by the exercise of their power of judgment, remembering what they had learned and at the same time opening themselves to the influence of what was imparted by their teachers.

It goes without saying that the length of time passed in this stage of development varied very much in the several Mystery schools, according as it was thought necessary for the general requirements of human evolution to impart more or less of occult secrets to those who were undergoing occult development in order to fit them to become leaders of mankind. For the most part, however, this stage of development took quite a considerable time.

The next task to which the occult pupil had to address himself was to summon up all his strength in an endeavor to extinguish and wipe out of consciousness even the memories and the symbolic paintings of the fancy, as well as also the ideas — be it noted! — he had acquired by his own efforts. This was in truth a task of quite peculiar difficulty, and it is, ordinarily speaking, impossible to conceive how a pupil could shoulder successfully such a task. You will be the better able to imagine that a pupil could master such a task — namely, to pour out complete forgetfulness over all that he had acquired by his own powers — when you take into consideration that such pupils had already learned to curb and restrain their wills, had already practiced the severe self-discipline we have described. For when, instead of allowing the will free play, they were obliged to keep it under strict restraint, they acquired thereby great reserve forces in the will. It was literally so. For a man grows stronger and stronger in his soul when he is in this way compelled to restrain his will outwardly and allow nothing whatever of the results of spiritual development to flow into it. It makes him so strong that he becomes at last able to take the great resolve to repress and obliterate from consciousness all that he has acquired in his occult training and has up to now been holding in remembrance. As one erases an idea that one cannot make use of in life, so has all this to be entirely erased. Such was the unconditional demand.

You are not to imagine that those who were occult pupils in this sense became blind followers of their teachers, receiving on authority all that was imparted to them. That was by no means the case. Easy believers in authority are generally also those who in a light kind of way apply at once their perfectly ordinary intelligence to pronounce judgment on what they hear. But those who have first sharpened their power of judgment and then, holding only in remembrance what they have acquired by it, have let occult instruction work upon them through the medium of memory and of fantasy, will most assuredly be no easy believers in authority; rather will they receive what occult instruction imparts in the same way as we receive what Nature tells us. Such will be the attitude of the occult pupil to the instruction that is now given to him, after he has passed through the previous stages.

The teachers themselves also took care that their words should work in the way that Nature works; there was accordingly no need to charge their pupils to have this or that opinion or thought. It was actually so that the pupils, after all they had undergone in the development of their powers of understanding and discrimination, met the words of their teachers as we meet, shall I say, a sunrise, or a wind-swept sea or some other natural phenomenon, which we observe with the desire to learn all we can about it — not approaching it critically, for then we would never grow really acquainted with it. Those know least of all the inner power and might of a phenomenon in Nature who approach it with sympathy or antipathy. In the very same way in which one observes Nature herself did the occult pupil now observe what was given to him in occult instruction.

When the pupils have continued in this experience for a while, allowing only memory and fantasy to be active within them, applying their understanding to their external calling in life and to that alone, a time comes when they have to enter on a period of inner quiet and rest. They must forget their own powers and destroy their own attainments. For they can only attain complete inner rest of soul when even the memories and imaginations that they have acquired during their occult training are blotted out of consciousness.

The soul had to be made empty; and then, when it was empty, when the egoistic will and the egoistic understanding, and also the egoistic memory and the egoistic fancy, were all driven out — then an absolutely new world opened before the soul. There had first to be this emptying in order that the new world might be able to find entrance into the soul.

You must familiarize yourselves with the fact that really and truly it was a new world that penetrated into the empty soul — an altogether new world! You will therefore not be surprised if this world has strange qualities and characteristics. For what do we mean by strange? We call a thing strange when we find it contradicts our previous experience. Look around you in the world today and observe how often when some statement is made, people reject it right away. What reason do they give? They say: “That statement is contradictory.” What they mean is that according to the power of judgment they have so far been able to attain, they find the statement to be in contradiction to everything else they know; they then jump to the conclusion that they have scored a point over the man who has put forward the statement, just because they can point to a contradiction in it.

It is a fact that when one begins to speak quite openly of things, it always has the result that people point to contradictions and declare that what has been said must necessarily be false, because it contains a contradiction. We need to recognize that on this path we shall indeed meet with contradictions, for we are approaching something that cannot possibly have any similarity with the world that has been ours hitherto; we shall have to reconcile ourselves to complete and utter contradictions when this new world approaches us, for it can only be described in ideas which must needs appear to us as contradictory. It is inevitable that this should be so; the new world would not be a new world if it were in complete harmony with the old and never contradicted it in any way!

It should therefore not surprise us that when we come to describe the world man enters when he attains the peace of soul which follows the stage of forgetfulness, the first characteristic can only be given in words that, from the point of view of the world to which we are accustomed, are directly contradictory.

There are three things man finds when he has come to the stage we have described — three things that can only be characterized by making use of expressions that are in themselves contradictory when regarded from the point of view of what man knows of the external world. These three things man learns to know when he really enters what we may call the supersensible world.

The first is the unmanifest light. Look around you in the world! Can you not see light everywhere? It is of the very nature of light to reveal itself and be manifest. And yet the first thing man learns to know in the supersensible world is the light that is unmanifest and unrevealed, the light that is dark and does not shine.

The second thing man learns to know in the supersensible world is the unspoken word. In the ordinary world a word that is unexpressed is not a word. We have therefore again a complete contradiction in terms when we say that the second thing man learns to know in the supersensible world is the unspoken word.

The third is the consciousness without any known object. Reflect how, when you develop a consciousness, when you know, you must have always an object of knowledge. But the consciousness we find as the third thing to be met with on entering the supersensible world is a consciousness without object.

These then are the three things the pupil encounters when, having undergone the preparation we have described, he enters right into the realm of occultism. These are the first three actual occult things he learns to know:
The unmanifest light
The unspoken word
Consciousness without knowledge of an object
It is a moment of the very greatest significance for the occult pupil when he can learn to unite a meaning with what appears to be in entire contradiction to all he has known hitherto. When he is able to unite something of his own inner experience with the three ideas of the “unmanifest light,” the “unspoken word,” and “consciousness without knowledge of an object,” then he has in that moment become an occultist; the pupil in occultism has really begun to tread the path of occult knowledge.