Rudolf Steiner, Helsinki, April 12, 1912:
Whoever speaks of occultism today should realize that much of what they have to say will be taken, not simply as a compilation of doubtful hypotheses, but even as dreams and fantasies. Regarding any disagreement aroused by what I will say tonight among hearers who are involved with contemporary culture or science, let me assure them that I, for one, fully understand their objections. First, then, let me indicate what I really mean by occultism, which is the subject of today's lecture, and by the methods of investigation leading to the results of occultism, which may be summed up by the word initiation.
Simply put, initiation is the sum total of what we must accomplish in order to arrive at the results of occultism. When I speak of occultism, I do not mean all those things which are now designated under this name and are spread about here and there. I mean the precise results of a kind of spiritual science subjected to scientific thinking and to the logical requirements of the present. By occultism I mean everything that under this name, and from the standpoint of science as mentioned above, seeks to take its place in modern life through the study of things inaccessible to ordinary science and ordinary knowledge. What is often published these days as occultism is more than calculated to arouse the opposition of many of our contemporaries, who say: What is this occultism, coming forward with insights concerning super-sensible life and super-sensible facts! What is it compared with the results achieved by modern science, based upon such strict and conscientious research!
The insights which are thus advanced, those which I am talking about, are primarily those which lead us beyond sense-perception and beyond the things which can be recognized by ordinary understanding, which is connected, as it were, with the instrument of the brain. These insights lead us beyond things which can be experienced between birth and death into regions we enter when we pass through the portal of death. The results obtained through spiritual science, or let us say, through this form of occultism, speak of the development of the true spiritual core of the human being, and they show us that when one passes through the portal of death, one's soul-spiritual core passes over into a super-sensible, spiritual world. From the life led between birth and death in a physical body, one takes along certain forces and, by entering into relation with other purely super-sensible forces and powers during an intermediate period between death and a new birth, one's soul-spiritual being can connect itself with the forces given by physical heredity, with what comes from father and mother and from the ancestors in general — in short, with what unites itself with these purely physical substances and forces — so that the whole human being comes into existence.
This will show you that the results of such a spiritual form of research must speak of the development of a person's soul-spiritual core, a course of development that goes through repeated earthly lives. Consequently it speaks of reincarnation, of repeated lives on earth. It also explains that the inner capacities that we unfold within our soul during one life, and even the blows of destiny which we experience, are in a certain way the results of what we have prepared for ourselves during an earlier life on earth. It explains moreover that everything we experience during this earthly life, all the capacities we acquire, pass through the portal of death-we elaborate them in a super-sensible, purely spiritual world, and when these qualities have been elaborated to a sufficient degree in the spiritual world, we once more enter a new life on earth, as already described.
This perception in itself may strike some people as a rather daring assertion. To it must be added the things that explain, upon the basis of spiritual science, the super-sensible part of human nature which belongs with the physical being. These things will explain that, in addition to the physical body that we perceive through our external senses, there is also a part of the human being which is the bearer of a super-sensible essence. This part can be perceived with the aid of spiritual-scientific means, so that it can be recognized as a human being's soul-spiritual core, passing through repeated lives on earth and experiencing the destinies mentioned above.
The publications of this spiritual science even draw attention to earlier conditions of human life in remote epochs of earthly existence. From a spiritual-scientific standpoint, these publications also speak of cosmic conditions during a time when the earth did not as yet exist in its present planetary form, that is, they point to conditions which existed before human life on earth began. They look at the evolution of cosmic life itself, the transformation of our Earth and of other heavenly bodies. If we work with the methods of this spiritual science we must admit on the one hand, that if anything at all can be known concerning such things, these perceptions affect human life most deeply, because they are connected with our innermost nature and being. On the other hand we must point out that, particularly from the standpoint of so-called modern natural science, we encounter justified skepticism about the possibility of gaining any knowledge in these spheres.
The next question which may be raised in the face of the results of such investigation is the one which will form the subject of this evening's lecture. It is none other than the more than justified question: How do those who advance such statements arrive at their results? How do they set about coming to such conclusions? Needless to say, despite the conscientiousness and sureness of ordinary scientific method (and nobody admires these more sincerely than a serious spiritual scientific investigator), it does not allow us to penetrate into super-sensible spheres. But having raised this question, another immediately arises within the human soul, prompted by an indisputable fact: Since there is undoubtedly a deep longing to know such things in every human heart, how does it come about that precisely the most conscientious method of research seems to separate human beings from the world in which they long to look?
If we face this question without prejudice, it soon becomes obvious that the human being is only able to understand certain kinds of facts, when facing them in a particular way. In reality, I can only understand things of which I know the origin and course of development. I can only understand those things in creation in which I can, in a certain way, participate actively through my cognitive capacity. I can only grasp those things at the creation of which I can, in some way, be present. But if I turn my gaze upon the things that surround me in nature, upon the essence of all the kingdoms of nature, I must say to myself: Their form of existence, the way in which they appear finished to me, allows me to see them clearly through my senses and I can know them because I investigate their laws and combine them with my intellect — but when I wish to understand how they have arisen, I cannot penetrate them and my power of observation fails.
The beings and facts of the kingdoms of Nature confront humans as finished acts of creation and at first it appears that we cannot get a hold of things at the moment they are created. But if human beings look into their inner self and survey all that lives in their soul in the form of thoughts, representations, feelings, and impulses of the will, they face a more or less rich inner world, a world whose reality they experience far more vividly than the reality of external objects and the reality of that part of the self which belongs to the external world. Who can deny that the reality of our pains and sufferings, of our impulses and passions, of our thoughts and ideals-in short, of all that surges up and down within our soul from the moment of waking up to the moment of falling asleep, is greater than the reality of the physical and physiological processes within our organism? But even if we do our utmost to gain insight into our soul life-and we find that it is kindled by the external world, that this or that experience affects us, and fills us with joy or sorrow-even if we do our utmost to look into our soul life, we cannot even there take part in, nor penetrate into, the actual genesis of any inner soul process, we cannot be witness to the creative process within us. But bearing in mind that we can only grasp something by participating in its creative process, we can understand what we lose through the two modes of observation explained above.
It is enough to survey what is produced by our fantasy, what we create by means of something lying, so to speak, within our own power, what we form in accordance with our thoughts and ideals; it is enough to remember all that is now accessible to the human being — on the one hand, the sense of satisfaction that arises through an understanding of creative processes, an understanding gained through technical knowledge and by the way in which we combine thoughts dealing with the forces of nature and, on the other hand, the deep dissatisfaction which makes us feel as if we were standing before a gate through which we cannot pass, whenever we survey things around us and within us and realize that we know nothing whatever of their origin and of their living process. But might it not be possible, after all, to find some access enabling us to participate in these creative processes, to penetrate into what we feel to be life's creative processes, in which we ourselves are placed?
There is one sphere where we can know in a direct way that we participate — in a certain manner in a creative process, but at the same time we know that in ordinary consciousness, observation and cognition do not allow us to look into the process of creation!
What is meant here can be seen every day, if only we reflect a little over the strange phenomena which appear in the alternating states of sleeping and waking. For those who wish to penetrate more deeply into the essence of life, these phenomena are of the profoundest significance. They evoke what we may call a mystery of life. Though it may not strike our ordinary consciousness that something so infinitely significant is contained in these alternating conditions of sleeping and waking, this is only due to the fact that every habitual thing in life has lost the power of making a strong impression upon us. Just because we are accustomed to these alternating states of sleeping and waking within twenty-four hours, we no longer feel the deep significance, the greatness and power suggested by this everyday phenomenon.
If we wish to characterize the difference between sleeping and waking, it will at first seem trivial and obvious; for everyone knows that sleep occurs in such a way that all the emotions filling our soul from the moment of waking up to the moment of falling asleep, the feelings, sensations, impulses, passions, thoughts and ideals, disappear. This whole day world becomes submerged in darkness, in the night of unconsciousness. But everyone is also convinced that even sleep, during the transitory stage between falling asleep and waking up, the activities within our being continue; something occurs, but it is inaccessible to human consciousness.
What can be said, then, concerning the alternating conditions of sleeping and waking is undoubtedly and obviously true; but if we reflect on it, we realize that the reason why a barrier is put up before our knowledge does not lie so far away. If we observe this alternation of waking and sleeping, we must say that our whole daytime conscious life, our whole waking life, must be a kind of destructive process, dissolving deeper processes within our organism. I cannot speak in detail of the physical, chemical and physiological processes of fatigue, for this would lead us too far, and this is not the essential point just now, but what is evident to all is that fatigue is something like a wear and tear, almost a destructive process of deeper forces that are active in our organism. This shows us that, in reality, the peculiarity of our waking daytime life is that it does not participate in our constructive processes, in the creation of our own being, but that it shows symptoms of fatigue, and that, after all, it constantly consumes us, dissolves us. The waking life of day is in fact a process of dissolution and of destruction, and any unprejudiced observer will note that sleep is the very opposite: it is a creative process which restores, reorders and creates anew that which the waking process destroys and decays.
Yet it is only natural that we cannot know anything concerning this creative process within us that takes place during sleep. It concerns us directly, yet we cannot know anything about it, because immediately before this creative process arises, we lose our consciousness, so that we cannot penetrate knowingly into spheres within our being where creative processes take place. But this leads to the immediate conclusion that if only we were able to maintain our consciousness beyond the point where torpor sets in, we could take hold of the creative phenomena in nature and in the universe. When creative forces begin to work in human beings, their consciousness becomes dazed: they fall asleep, become unconscious and this shows us that human nature, as presently constituted, is such that when we wish to penetrate into a creative activity-moreover one that takes place within ourselves-our consciousness vanishes, so that we cannot witness the creative process. The activities within the human organism which are of a creative kind constitute a part of our being into which we cannot penetrate because the activities dull our consciousness and remain a strange world. There is no other path leading to a knowledge of things lying behind the sensory world than that of transcending our ordinary consciousness and penetrating into a creative process which takes place within us, or into some other similar process.
Where do we find something that can teach us how to transcend our ordinary consciousness and to penetrate into something which is estranged from us, without getting dazed, without falling into a kind of sleep? In the large field accessible to our ordinary consciousness there are two things which evidently lead us out of our ordinary consciousness without dazing us or putting us to sleep, as is the case every evening, when we go to bed. These two things in our ordinary consciousness that may serve as a kind of pattern for the way in which our consciousness can transcend its ordinary limits and penetrate into an unknown sphere, these two things must be sought in the moral field. Two moral experiences, permeating the whole life of the human being, supply a prototypical idea for the way in which we can go out of ourselves, without losing our consciousness.
These two things are first compassion, and second, conscience. If we study the way in which compassion and conscience are related to consciousness, we obtain, to begin with, an idea of how consciousness may go beyond its own limits. When I develop compassion, love or sympathy for another human soul, I experience within myself, according to my capacity, not that which touches me — for that would not be an experience of compassion and of love — but the joys, sorrows, pains and pleasures of the other soul. When I am full of compassion, I can lose myself in the soul of another person, and I actually live (as any unprejudiced observation will show) outside my ordinary consciousness, within the other soul.
Here I am confronted by a deep mystery of life. It is all the deeper because, if our feelings are of a moral nature, our consciousness does not vanish and we are not dazed when passing over into the consciousness of another soul. Indeed, how far I am able to maintain my own consciousness to a full extent, when experiencing the sorrows and joys of another soul, and not my own, is a standard of measure for my morality. It is even a moral defect for my consciousness to be dazed by the joys and sorrows of another soul; for then we have a situation similar to that of facing one's own creative activity taking place during sleep. Consciousness falls asleep, as it were, in the face of another person's sorrows and joys.
The second experience which pertains to the moral sphere and leads us out of our ordinary consciousness, is conscience. If we observe conscience in an unprejudiced way, we can say the following: In life we may love or hate, do or leave certain things undone, under the influence of our instincts and passions, or of sympathy and antipathy, or perhaps we may follow the dictates of education or of social relations — these appear to us from outside. But there is something which never speaks to us from outside, and this we call conscience.
Conscience comes to us from a world — we can feel and experience this — that speaks to us inwardly and can be heard by us inwardly. Conscience influences our ordinary perceptible world, for everything which we can perceive is open to correction when the super-sensible demands of conscience impel us to action. Conscience bears witness to the fact that, in the moral sphere, our soul can be told something which transcends our consciousness. And, again, we find that it is a moral defect if our soul falls into a kind of sleep when conscience begins to speak and does not listen to its voice but only listens to what speaks from the physical environment through sympathy or antipathy, so that these promptings govern the soul's impulses to action. If we can thus transcend our ordinary consciousness without feeling dazed, conscience is a phenomenon that speaks to the human soul in such a way that it need not take its impulses from any influence coming from the external world.
In regard to beings outside our own self, in regard to experiences transcending our knowledge and our consciousness, we have in the moral sphere the possibility to penetrate into them through compassion and love. Through conscience we listen, as it were, to truths which do not come from the world of the senses.
If it is possible in this way to penetrate into beings outside our own and to take into our souls truths of the kind uttered by conscience, then there is a prospect of penetrating into a world which is not the one given to us during our waking consciousness from the moment of waking up to the moment of falling asleep. It is possible, and this prospect opens out to us through methods we call the methods of initiation. In regard to thinking, feeling, and willing, these methods of initiation consist in other forms of soul-activity than those to which we are accustomed in our ordinary life for the acquisition of an external knowledge concerning the world.
Why do we acquire concepts and ideas in ordinary life? No one will deny that the reason modern people form concepts and ideas is to gain through these thoughts, and even through their feelings and sensations, certain knowledge concerning what surrounds them in the external world. Today, we designate as truth those concepts and ideas that coincide with something outside, with some phenomenon of the external world, so that these thoughts are, as it were, a reflected image of the external world. For everything that is connected with external life, with the external culture, this form of soul-activity is undoubtedly the right one. But if we wish to penetrate into super-sensible spheres of existence, this soul-activity must undergo a complete transformation. In other words (let me use the taboo word!), if we wish to penetrate into occult mysteries, entirely different soul-forces must be used. Our concepts, ideas, thought-pictures, indeed even our feelings and will-impulses, must become quite different from what they mean to us in the external world.
We should not begin by asking: What do these soul-activities mean in regard to this or that in the external world and what is their true value? We should simply take this content of our soul-life as a pedagogical means of self-training. We should let our thoughts and ideas, and even our feelings and sensations work in our soul in such a way as to shut it out from everything coming to us from the external world, even from the life experiences and memories we have collected. By a strong effort of the will, we should eliminate all impressions coming to us from the physical world, all intellectual thought patterns, and even all anxieties, worries and joys —indeed, anything which may have accumulated in our memory. We should empty our soul, so that the same condition sets in which ordinarily arises through fatigue when we fall asleep in the evening. Doing so, however, we should reach something entirely opposite to sleep, namely we should be able to maintain our full consciousness and direct it towards fruitful thoughts, particularly towards symbolic thoughts, as rich in meaning as possible. (The essential point is not to ask what value such thoughts have for the attainment of truth, but to bear in mind their pedagogical value, when the soul's forces are directed towards a thought image, or an impulse which is set in the center of soul-life through a strong effort of the will.)
This soul activity, purified of everything else, is turned towards this self-chosen picture and concentrates upon it more and more until the whole life of the soul, which remains awake through a strong concentration of the will, is centered upon this self-chosen content. We then start noticing that something begins to radiate within our soul life and these rays do not stream from the content we have chosen, but from the strong concentration of soul forces we have applied to it. We are now able to experience something which we generally do not experience, and we obtain the immediate feeling, the immediate experience: “Now I am experiencing something which is just as real, important and essential for life as the things which I see with my eyes and hear with my ears; it is just as real, yet I could never have experienced it!” In short, only now do we begin to know what super-sensible experience really is; only now do we realize that we live within a soul-spiritual core; only now do we begin to understand that it is possible to live within an inner soul being which is quite independent of the bodily being. And this transforms our whole consciousness.
I must point out expressly that the process leading to this inner activity greatly resembles, while also being the very opposite, the trivial process which takes place when our attention is directed towards a shining object, producing a kind of hypnosis. This soul condition, which differs from the normal one, arises through the sharp concentration upon an object, so that other soul activities are kept in the background. The concentration upon an inner, freely chosen content has a certain resemblance with this soul activity, for it is also a kind of concentration; yet it is at the same time the very opposite; for the concentration upon a shining object blots out consciousness, it puts us into a quasi-hypnotic state, whereas when an inner content, and it is strictly an inner thought-content, is placed at the center of our soul life by a strong effort of our will, our consciousness remains intact.
Spiritual science has a technical name for this method of training the soul: meditation. This is true meditation. And I wish to emphasize that this kind of meditation is in practice far more difficult than one would think, after hearing it described in such a simple way. It does not suffice to try it a few times. Over and over again we should endeavour to practice such concentration, such meditation, by forming thought-images and pictures, ideas taken from the moral and intellectual sphere — and particularly symbolic representations. This should be done with perseverance, until the decisive moment arises. This simply consists in the inner conviction: “I have within my being a soul-spiritual core, and this lives in a super-sensible reality, but in its super-sensible reality it cannot be perceived through the ordinary sense-organs, nor grasped through the intellect, bound up with the brain.”
From what I have described above, you will be able to deduce one thing — we always remain within our own being. We turn away from the external world by concentrating upon our inner self. The first thing we thus experience is, and only can be, an inner experience, an experience of our inner being, and this leads us practically to a definite point. One who concentrates in this way, or meditates, soon perceives — really does perceive — that his or her field of vision is filled with realities; we may call them, if you like, visions. They appear in the form of pictures, which cannot be compared to anything else, though there may be some external resemblance with what we see in the physical world. Particularly in regard to the way in which they arise and in regard to the effect which they produce, however, these pictures constitute an altogether new experience, and are in no way put together from earlier experiences. This completely new element must be designated as vision, for there is no other apt word to describe it in our ordinary speech. One might say that this new experience exactly resembles the pictures of a dream; yet compared with ordinary dreams, these visions have a far stronger intensity, and possess, so to speak, an obtrusive, almost importunate reality.
At this point, those who practice the methods giving insight into the super-sensible world encounter an obstacle, which might be seen as a danger. They incur the danger of taking this visionary world from the outset as something real, as facing them in the same way as the ordinary physical world outside, so that when they perceive this visionary world, they say, “This world is real,” in the same way as they would in connection with the sensory world. This danger becomes all the more threatening if all the precautions connected with an occult training, such as the one described above, are not observed. These preventive measures are dealt with in detail in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and a person who follows them never for a moment loses the feeling that the world of visions is the self, and that we ourselves produce this world.
It is of the utmost importance that we should never allow our consciousness to be dulled to the extent of having the impression that an external world lies before us in this visionary world. It exactly resembles a world lying outside our own being: it stretches out before us in the manner of a spatial world; it reveals processes governed by time, just like the processes of the external physical world; it calls up altogether the delusion that we are facing a reality, like a dream enhanced to the utmost degree of lifelines. People who neglect such precautions and who do not recognize that they themselves have created this visionary world naturally fall prey to dreams and empty fancies. A truly clairvoyant person — allow me to use this word — differs in this point from the fantastic and visionary dreamer who takes such visions for objective realities. Those who have advanced to real clairvoyance are aware at every moment, know and must know, through an intensive self-training, that although they see before them an extensive spatial world, this is merely a world of their own creation. Such things exercise a very suggestive influence, but never for a moment should we lose the consciousness of the fact that they are nothing but our own creation. This consciousness in turn should become the object of meditation and concentration. We should make an effort of the will to concentrate again and again, intensively and for a long time, upon the fact that this new world we have, as it were, conquered is our own work, our own product. And then something strange arises within our consciousness — (this can, of course, only be described as a practical experience). We recognize that in performing this activity we have done quite consciously something which we also do in a normal state of consciousness.
I have already told you that in our normal state of consciousness we really produce a destructive process within us. Ordinarily we do not know this, or at least, we do not pay any attention to it. When we conjure up before us such a visionary world, while maintaining our full consciousness, and at the same time concentrate upon the thought characterized above, we also become fully aware of the fact that the “imaginative knowledge” (this is the technical expression used for it) thus reached also produces a destructive process. We observe that we always come to the point where the imaginative world begins to consume us, and if we were to relinquish the full consciousness that can be maintained only through a strong effort of will, if we were not to realize fully that in this visionary world we encounter everywhere our own being, our nervous system would suffer and would become ill. We should never come to the point of overstepping the limit where the real destructive processes would begin. Through the fact that we do not allow things to come as far as the destructive process, but keep it at bay through the intense consciousness that we ourselves are the creators of this imaginative world, through this fact we are able to participate in a creative process. For when we fulfill within ourselves certain creative activities which cannot be perceived through our normal consciousness, we really enter a creative world, and we learn to follow consciously a process resembling that which takes place during sleep. This shows us that in this way we can witness a creative process, understand a process of growth and development within ourselves.
This is, however, connected with something else, though I can only give a brief description of these stages of initiation. Little by little, the whole process forces us to renounce something the ordinary clairvoyant does not like to renounce. The ordinary clairvoyant is so glad to live in this world of visions, he or she takes such indulgent pleasure in these experiences of a higher world, and they are so suggestive that he or she easily takes them for reality. This can lead to a nervous breakdown. But if through, the above effort of will we remain fully conscious that “all this is produced by our own self,” if our consciousness never falls asleep, something arises that is a source of regret to many — namely, the power lying at the foundation of that effort of our will falls destructively upon this whole imaginative world, disposes of it and many things which the ordinary clairvoyant holds very precious are thus blotted out. In other words, the following happens. Although in imaginative consciousness we have an element really setting forth the forces constituting a creative process (for we do not let it go beyond the limit where the destructive process would set in) — and we really transcend our ordinary consciousness, as we normally do when we feel compassion or love — the decision, or the effort of will by which we bring destruction (but also structure and order) into our visionary world leads to the development of an activity that does not exist anywhere in the external physical world, and that very soon reveals itself as the creative activity within our own being, lying beyond the reach of our ordinary consciousness. It is the activity which may be seen in our soul-spiritual being when it works upon our organism by drawing regenerating forces out of its spiritual environment; it is the soul-spiritual core which lives in the spiritual cosmos.
In the next stage, which is technically designated as inspiration, we learn to recognize the soul-spiritual core of our being, and how it lives within the creative forces of the cosmos. Whereas imagination, the first stage of initiation, only led us into our inner being by conjuring up a merely visionary world, the process of inspiration leads us to a higher stage. A flash of light breaks in upon our whole visionary world, something that really seems to come out of the spiritual cosmos, as does conscience, and we observe that it speaks to us in the same way in which conscience speaks to us in our ordinary consciousness. Conscience may be compared to the way in which inspiration speaks to the imaginative consciousness; but then imagination passes over to the stage of inspiration, and we enter a real, super-sensible world.
Through our own development, we have now reached the point where we can glance behind the veil of physical phenomena, so that now we are able to understand the wonderful mystery of human development and also of human death. When we see a human being entering life through birth, when we perceive how the child's undeveloped physiognomy gradually acquires characteristic traits, and its helpless movements gradually acquire strength and sureness, when we observe the development of what lives in the child's soul, we can no longer say: Everything that comes out of the child's soul, that forms its body and its physiognomy, and even the delicate convolutions of the brain immediately after birth, is the result of heredity! No, we are now able to look back upon the child's soul-spiritual core that comes from an entirely different world, and we can see this soul-spiritual part of the child's being unites itself with what comes from father and mother. Now we no longer speak merely of hereditary forces, but of forces from the spiritual world that unite themselves with what is transmitted by father and mother and by ancestors in general. We obtain a real conception of something which was formerly a mere belief, namely, that the human soul-spiritual being comes from the spiritual world and forms the physical-bodily part.
We can then proceed still further. When we study life through the knowledge given by initiation, we see that the human being's soul-spiritual core directs the experiences of life more and more towards its inner center, abstracting them from the external world. We understand and we can see how the soul-spiritual part gradually retreats from the external world. We can see the face getting old and wrinkled, and we obtain the immediate impression: Whereas our physical body begins to fade, after we have reached the climax of life, and even our brain decays, so that the soul can no longer express its own content, and even the soul itself seems to decay, we see on the other hand that the part that can no longer express itself outwardly gradually withdraws to the person's inner being, and concentrates its forces, so that everything which we have experienced, suffered and achieved is gathered within the soul, and is at its strongest, its most powerful, when the body releases our soul-spiritual part. If we follow this process, we find that this strongest force within us becomes united with forces of the super-sensible world, forming the prototype of a new incarnation, of a new body for a new life on earth.
If we compare what stands at the beginning of life — the gradual plastic development of the body — if we compare it with what stands at the end of life — the inner concentration of life's experiences within the soul, the emancipation of the soul's forces from the body and the crossing of the threshold of death — if we observe these two things supersensibly, we find that it is like the beginning and the end, say, of a plant's development, where the final process already contains the seed, the beginning of the new plant. But though we see beginning and end thus linked up, super-sensible knowledge gained through initiation shows us that what the soul has experienced during life is interwoven with the soul-spiritual core and that when the human being returns, after an intermediate period between death and a new birth, a new body is built. But this soul-spiritual core of the being now forms a new body and a new earthly existence in such a way as to produce the effect of causes that had arisen during a preceding life.
The methods gained through initiation, whose prototypes were compassion and conscience, i.e., experiences of our ordinary consciousness, thus give us an immediate knowledge of processes of the super-sensible world connected with the human being. Initiation therefore becomes the path leading us up into the super-sensible worlds.
If you delve deeper into what I have described to you just now, in outline form, and if you study it in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, you will find, however, that this kind of initiation has its own characteristics. For its whole development and the way in which it sets forth the events, it follows the requirements of modern human education — the modern requirements of logic, sound common sense and science. Consequently these processes of initiation can be recognized more and more as the description of a path along which every human being may attain knowledge of the super-sensible world. In entirely free processes, produced only by the awakening of the soul and the inner forces of the soul, the human being can ascend into the super-sensible world and penetrate into processes which reveal the path taken by the soul-spiritual being. Such ideas do not only belong to a world that does not concern us but belong to a world out of which we constantly draw strength and confidence for our ordinary life. The fact that initiation reckons with modern logic and modern scientific requirements is of course a new achievement, one might say, of the process of initiation. People will gradually come to the point of acquiring knowledge in this manner, by following the example of scientific thought, and this will contain truths that penetrate and satisfy religious feeling through knowledge. But this constitutes a revolutionary change, and this change will consist in the process of initiation penetrating visibly and in an evident manner into the civilization of the present and of the future. It is a turning point in the development of humanity which may be designated in regard to super-sensible things as the change from faith to knowledge.
But faith (and it will be easier to understand this turning point if we bear this in mind), in the form in which it has arisen and in the light of initiation, is not something that has been thought out intellectually, nor is it a newer form of illumination based upon something unreal; for every kind of faith leads back to results originally gained by initiated persons, to results of initiation. But there is a certain difference between what will more and more become human initiation generally and initiation of past times.
In past times it was a strict rule — and this is still the case today for many initiations which still exist in the world — it was a strict rule that anyone who went in search of the path leading to initiation had to have a kind of guide, who was called in certain circles the spiritual guide, the guru. What is the task of a guru? We have seen that in the course of development described above, we encounter certain dangers, dangers against which we must be warned. In the initiations of the past, which have been handed down traditionally, the guru's chief task was to warn against dangers. A guru may do this even today, if he or she is simply a person whom we consider as a kind of teacher as in ordinary science — a person whom we can trust. But it can easily happen that the new guru wants to be what the old guru had to be, even though the guru today cannot be allowed to have that relationship with the pupil, and this will be increasingly the case the more initiation adapts itself to the progressive course of human development. Initiation really began everywhere in the manner described above. Rules were given, and each person had a personal guide and was told: Now you must concentrate upon this thing, and now upon that; now you must do this exercise, and now that. Under strict guidance, a condition was produced in which the world of imagination appeared. The modern person on the other hand — for that is the very nature of the modern human being — must pass over from imagination to inspiration through a strong effort of his or her own will, where in olden times this task was taken over by the guru who led the pupil from the stage of imagination to that of inspiration by means of certain influences to which the pupil was more easily amenable after having been led up to this stage of initiation. What I have described to you, as something lying concealed in every human being, became an impulse which the guru transmitted to the pupil. This brought the pupil's imaginative, visionary life into order. But, in the process, the guru would gain complete control over the pupil who would become, as it were, an instrument in the teacher's hands. Therefore in all initiations of the past, and they are really the source of every religious faith, there was therefore a strict requirement that the guru, the initiator, should be above the possibility of exercising an immoral or unjust influence over the pupil. In his or her whole inner attitude the guru had to be above every kind of deceit, and success depended upon the guru's having attained to this stage of development. The guru had to use influence only to the extent of transmitting to the pupil the truth-images of the higher world that he or she had gained, thus rendering the pupil's path more easy.
I think that if you wish to understand in an unprejudiced way the development of human consciousness, you will not need to accumulate many proofs showing that in regard to super-sensible knowledge as in other things humanity has become more and more independent of personal influences. This is simply a fact of the progress of the human evolution. The gurus who collect their pupils around them, as the founders of religions and sects were wont to do, will gradually disappear from the process of human development, and they will be replaced by men and women of trust, persons in whom the seeker for initiation can have trust and confidence — the same confidence which one has for other teachers. But such a teacher must, so to speak, be one of our own choosing and not a guru assigned to us. We no longer can overcome the perils which beset humanity by founding sects after the manner of ancient adepts. Indeed, in regard to super-sensible development, it is good for people not to be too easily inclined to believe but, on the contrary, be hard to convince. It is good if they ask themselves, not only once or twice, but many times, in whom they put their trust, and it is good if they are very skeptical and full of distrust, when any prophet, founder of a sect, or adept, is forced upon them as a great teacher. In the field of which I am speaking, it will always constitute a danger for spiritual streams seeking to bring occultism into the world to base themselves chiefly upon great teachers whose authority is enforced from outside, instead of being founded upon the natural confidence, the inner trust, that rises up in the pupils when they meet the teacher. In a certain connection, we have seen a classic example of this, and it is necessary to mention it. During the last decades, a personality has arisen who revealed to humankind great and significant truths, truths that are not yet recognized by ordinary science but are intrinsic truths, penetrating deeply into super-sensible mysteries. Things of this kind are contained in the books of H. P. Blavatsky, who has attained fame in certain circles. Even to those familiar with such things, her books contain truths of extraordinary significance, which, more than anything else, can lead us into the secrets of life. Unfortunately, this occult movement was connected with something which did it great harm. I do not mean to say that in itself it was an error, nevertheless it caused great harm that H. P. Blavatsky referred to her teachers, who were unknown to the world, to her gurus. Those who understand H. P. Blavatsky's capacities know that these capacities would never have enabled her to reach such truths independently. With her own capacities, she could never have reached them. These truths need no recommendation insofar as they are true, for they can be tested, so that it did not harm H. P. Blavatsky if she felt obliged to refer to traditions and exercises derived from gurus — she could never have attained them on her own. But it harmed the movement she called into life that such things were accepted upon the foundation of external authority, and not upon the inner truth of occultism. No matter how much good will might be involved, the fact is that the time is over — the necessities of the times show us, no matter whether this is justified or unjustified — that the possibility of taking in things simply upon the authority of gurus is past, more than past! These things must now be recognized through sound common sense. Truths which can be gained along the paths described, for instance, in my Theosophy, are therefore the result of the kind of spiritual investigation of which I have spoken today, but at the same time, these results can be tested and compared with the facts of life itself, and need not be accepted upon any authority.
Initiation can only be recognized and justified today if we take into consideration that it must adapt itself to the modern process of culture — and that it must follow paths and use means which are accessible to every human being.
Of course, for some time yet people having this or that degree of culture, or standing upon this or that stage of scientific training, may need the advice of an occult teacher, so that initiation becomes easier for them through the experience of one who has attained it and who has already taken in the inspirations from a higher world; for only such a teacher can give the right advice in detail. But the relation between pupil and teacher can only be of the kind that otherwise exists in the cultural world between one who wishes to learn something and one who can teach it. Any mysteriousness connected with adept teaching, any form of facing people with the demand — believe in this or that new prophet or founder of religion — all this will be rejected by the modern spirit of civilization, by the modern scientific spirit, and the very fact that it contradicts the modern spirit is a recommendation against it. No matter what people say in regard to teachers who may appear, the only thing which will in future give individuals the right to be teachers will be others' confidence in their achievements, in the way in which they appear and in their whole personality. It must be this confidence that leads a pupil to the teacher from whom advice is asked.
If this is not observed in the occult sphere, where initiation is sought, a danger will arise that is always connected with the delicate and intricate nature of such things: the danger that in this field charlatans will be found beside to conscientious initiates who conscientiously pursue their research into the super-sensible worlds and transmit the results thus obtained. Charlatanry easily intrudes itself, and may be found side by side with the conscientious results of occultism or initiation imparted in the spirit of truth. Credulity and sensational curiosity in regard to communications coming from the super-sensible world or initiation are just as great today as doubt, for there are just as many people ready to accept things upon this or that authority as there are people who reject everything gained even by the strictest methods of super-sensible research. For this reason, a path of investigation, such as the one of initiation described today, must now be shown in addition to the propagation of occult facts. This path of initiation is one that can be followed by every human being; the results obtained along it are accessible to sound common sense as well as any other scientific result; indeed, in the case of scientific truths, one is not always in the position to test them personally, as in the case of clinical facts or other results gained in laboratories. We know that anyone may investigate them if he or she understands the required method; yet it is not possible to test everything, so that we simply accept certain facts that convince us, those our sound common sense recognizes as true.
The same thing can be said of the results of initiation. Not every person will always be in the position to test them, but those who investigate will communicate their results to the world in an ever growing measure, and sound common sense will accept them, in the same way in which it accepts the results of other scientific investigations. There is, of course, a difference, namely that the results of initiation contain truths which every human being needs, in order to gain strength and sureness in the sorrows and joys of life, strength and sureness in work and in one's sphere of activity; so that humans may take hold of the central point of their being that leads them unswervingly along the path of their ideals. The results of spiritual investigation can also give us strength when life becomes crushing, and comfort is needed in sickness and in death, by looking up to the facts of the spiritual super-sensible world to which we belong, and from which we gain the true forces which keep us upright. Then into the human soul will penetrate those results of initiation and occultism that may be recapitulated in words expressing what has already been said concerning initiation: