THE MODERN PATH OF INITIATION
There is a fundamental desire within every human being to know more about himself and more about the world in which he lives, an urge that has led to enormous scientific discoveries and technological achievements. On countless subjects information and explanations are readily available, yet such information relates for the most part to physical aspects, and explanations are given from the one-sided standpoint of natural science.
Man has, however, a twofold nature. He is a being with a physical existence and physical needs but he also has a spiritual counterpart, which needs proper food and healthy exercise just as the body does. To those who feel this, scientific explanations are not satisfying. They yield no answers to the fundamental longings of the soul. Natural science does not answer questions as to the being and destiny of mankind. It may provide answers to questions on life and death at its own level but these are far from complete.
Furthermore, many people today suffer from a feeling of frustration. This is not surprising considering the problems of modern existence where life is dominated by a succession of outer events. So much is served in the way of news, comment, explanations and viewpoints that there is little inclination to question the truth or the reality of what is presented. The modern world of sensation and sense-impressions, of entertainment and distraction, robs a person of himself. Soul and spirit are supplied with a constant stream of sedatives and increasingly man's inner nature is stifled.
Yet it must also be said that the world at large is a reflection of man and the remedy or antidote to the pressures of society rests with the individual. If he has sufficient desire and makes sufficient effort he will find time to search for the answers his soul needs and also time to cultivate his inner life, with the possible result of an improvement in social conditions.
The person who looks beyond the immediate horizon may feel that the physical world with which he is familiar is only the one half of reality and that there are other worlds. He realizes that the world of matter is the apparent world but within it are spiritual forces. He may feel, too, that there are untapped resources in his own being. What he needs is a 'spiritual' science, a science that concerns itself with the spiritual background to material things.
There is no doubt that in our present era many people are seeking for something of this sort. Perhaps even the desire to achieve sporting records or to probe space is an unconscious urge towards experience of the spirit. The human mind is eternally reaching out into the unknown and the idea that there are boundaries to knowledge is erroneous. The capacity to acquire knowledge lies in increasing the capacity of understanding. If spiritual perception is not attained, it is because the soul capacities have not yet been sufficiently developed.
A knowledge of spiritual science is not the only need of modern man. Also necessary is the knowledge of how to awaken and to use his inner powers. In actual fact these are two sides of the same coin. Through reflection, contemplation, meditation, man becomes aware of his own being and in so doing he creates the possibility of obtaining for himself a direct knowledge of spiritual worlds.
If, as we understand from Rudolf Steiner's cosmogony, the human being is a divine creation and has accompanied world creation in its various stages, then he has partaken of the gifts of higher beings through the whole process. The whole wisdom of the divine world is incorporated within him. Christ expressed it simply as 'The Kingdom of God is within you.' Not only is the human being related to the rest of the world but God-like qualities are within him. All potentialities for acquiring wisdom are contained in the human soul but at present they slumber and have to be awakened.
In times past, belief in the spiritual, the divine, God — call it what you will — was sufficient. But the mind of man has changed in the course of history and now belief, in itself, is no longer satisfactory. Knowledge is required. Knowledge may be attained through others, but for those who seek spiritual knowledge and are prepared to tread the path of inner development direct experience is also possible.
The one who is able to enter fully into the spiritual world is known as an initiate. If we look for a moment at past civilizations we find that initiates were the leaders of humanity. In those times initiation was bestowed on the selected few by the teacher, guru or priest, and the aspirant submitted to his will. For instance, the Egyptians used the so-called 'temple-sleep' process. The initiate-to-be was instructed and influenced by priests who put him into a trance whereby he became aware of the spiritual world. The Pharaohs were initiated in this way. But besides rulers there have been persons at all periods of history who have possessed advanced faculties and who have instructed others. Methods have changed with changing human nature. Nowadays there is no need to seek out a 'master' for oral instruction. There is no need to live in isolation; one builds a little world for oneself within the self. A personal contact may be helpful but a contact through the written word is also personal.
Our present epoch dates back to the fifteenth century when man began to think in terms of number, weight and measure and when he began to be more conscious of himself as an individual. With the development of individuality, with ego-consciousness, it is no longer appropriate to follow the old ways. Everyone who will must go forward on his or her own initiative. Naturally he or she will seek guidance but the guidance given, in whatever form, will not be coercive.
The study of spiritual science is something readily available to anyone who can read. Those who feel the need to make personal investigation have to develop special organs of perception.
There is nothing very strange about this. Any normal person is capable of using his senses and his mind in order to learn. Anyone who wishes to extend his knowledge, or to apply such knowledge when gained, will find innumerable courses of study open to him. If he aspires to a profession, that of doctor for instance, he will follow a course of study, and learn to observe and make deductions. Through his study and his work he will develop new faculties and a heightened awareness in his particular sphere, so that in seeing a patient he will immediately see more than an untrained person and make his diagnosis accordingly. We might say that he has acquired new 'senses' and 'higher' knowledge. With his greater insight he will be able to prescribe the appropriate remedy, to manipulate, to perform an operation or to do whatever is necessary.
Similarly, those wishing to know the cause of things — the spiritual reality behind the physical phenomena — can also follow a course of study, develop new faculties and bring their knowledge to practical use. In this case, however, it is not a matter of enhancing the already existing organs of perception but of developing new, soul-spiritual ones.
Rudolf Steiner points the way. Only one such as he, who had full experience of such matters, can give real instruction but a little introduction is sometimes useful.
Reference to chapter 1 may make the process a little clearer. There the fourfold being of man is described, namely, physical body, etheric (life force), astral (soul forces), ego (individuality). The physical body contains our physical organs including the organs of sense-perception. They are relatively passive. The new soul-spiritual organs have to be activated. Their base is in the astral body and they must, therefore, be developed by cultivation of the soul forces, i.e. thinking, feeling and willing.
No mysterious practices are necessary. A normal sense of judgement should be retained, the usual everyday tasks performed. What is required is essentially a matter of developing an increased awareness. There are individuals who quite naturally have a greater perception and sensitivity than others. For instance, a sensitive person will be very conscious of a certain 'atmosphere' associated with a particular place. It is sensitivity of this sort which must be nurtured.
Another way of looking at it would be to make a comparison with an athlete who will build up his muscles and stamina by continual physical exercises. One who would penetrate to the spirit must also build up his forces and powers of endurance but in this case they are qualities of soul. One attribute, however, is of particular importance. The knowledgeable or capable person in the physical world can be dishonest, immoral or a rogue, but for one who aspires to true spiritual insight moral development is indispensable. In present circumstances this must be self-directed.
It follows that, whatever success may or may not be achieved in opening the spiritual eyes, the whole character of the genuine seeker will improve.
It must not be thought that the path to higher knowledge is easy. If, in due course, the spiritual eyes are opened, this is not the end of the achievement but the beginning. The fact that we have physical eyes gives us the ability to read but we cannot read unless we have learnt the alphabet and we cannot make sense of words and sentences until we have the faculty of understanding them. The most profound works of science or philosophy cannot be read unless we have first gone through the process of learning the alphabet, of realizing that a group of letters makes a word, that this word represents something and that some meaning is contained in a group of words put together. We must be able to read with understanding. A similar process is necessary in matters spiritual. The ability to perceive takes place in stages. The spiritual world can be no more understood immediately than a book on higher mathematics. By dint of sufficient effort the spiritual eyes may be opened but this is only the first step.
It must be explained that what is here advocated has nothing to do with so-called 'spiritualism' or mediumistic practices. The desire for spiritual experience can lead a person into all manner of doubtful ways. What is suggested here is a path which is suitable for modern man and one which demands full consciousness. Natural science demands clear thinking and exactitude of concept. It imposes discipline and order in study and the same applies to spiritual science. The earnest student has no use for hallucinatory drugs or other means whereby he is made aware of the contents of his subconscious mind. The path described here is one to be taken in full consciousness and by one's own decision. It is an individual matter whether to follow it at all.
The indications given are general in character but it is obvious that different people have different faculties and different capacities. Some will find the suggestions and approach easier than others, yet what is indicated is universally applicable and out of the plenitude of indications each person must seek his own way. It is a path of self-development.
In his books and printed lectures Rudolf Steiner gives an abundance of information and guide-lines and these must be studied. It is important to remember the difficulties he mentions about trying to translate spiritual experience into earthly language, which is really not adequate to the task but has to be used nevertheless. Hence an imaginative faculty is required from the reader. In the literature recommended, the exercises, the results and effects that may be expected, the stages of development, and the dangers and pitfalls are described in full. Furthermore, a description is given of how and where the spiritual organs of perception develop and the changes which take place in the soul life. Before carrying out an exercise the student should inform himself as fully as possible about its likely effect. It is necessary to study such matters in order to get as complete a picture as possible. It must also be emphasized that studying the literature is in itself not sufficient. Understanding intellectually is not the same as experiencing and although study is essential the practice of exercises must complement this.
One important point to be grasped when reading Rudolf Steiner's books is that they are written in such a way as to activate the reader's mind, to provide a training through the very style of their content. For instance, the fundamental work that deals with our present subject is Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. How is it achieved?
An outline of the contents is as follows.
First of all attention is drawn to the fact that faculties are present in the human being that can be awakened to perceive the spiritual world. The necessary basic attitudes for making progress are described and also the human qualities that must be developed. These include moral development and responsibility.
Preparatory exercises are given for the cultivation and control of thinking, feeling and willing. The different stages of initiation are briefly mentioned together with the trials connected therewith.
Certain conditions are described which must be fulfilled by the would-be initiate. It is emphasized that life must be lived at a higher level.
Exercises and meditations are given, together with explanations, to develop the higher organs of perception.
The changes that take place in the soul life as a result of such training and the first meetings with spiritual beings are described.
At the first reading of this book the student may feel somewhat confused as it is difficult to find a direct thread and there appears to be a certain amount of repetition. It must be understood that this work is not a logical systematized presentation of the path to higher knowledge; what it contains are descriptions of facts and phenomena in addition to exercises. It provides in itself a path of attainment. The circumlocutions and the repetitions are an essential constituent of the training.
Another small pointer may be helpful. When reference is made to stages of development and exercises are given relative to these, one has to understand that there is a certain overlapping. If an exercise is given for a particular stage, it does not necessarily mean that it is exclusive to that stage or that the student must have reached this point before doing the exercise. A beginner may find a later exercise more useful and an advanced student may find it necessary to revert to more simple exercises.
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds was published in 1904 and Steiner refers to it as a beginning. He subsequently added a great deal more to the theme in further publications, lectures and personal advice. Chapters on the same subject, under different titles, appear in the books Theosophy and Occult Science — An Outline. See also the lecture course printed in book form At the Gates of Spiritual Science, and the useful lecture in the booklet Practical Training in Thought.
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds was revised by the author for the last time in 1918 when he added an appendix. There he writes as follows:
Let the reader take this book as a conversation between the author and himself. The statement that the student needs personal instruction should be understood in the sense that this book itself is personal instruction. In earlier times there were reasons for reserving such personal instruction for oral teaching; today we have reached a stage in the evolution of humanity in which spiritual scientific knowledge must become far more widely disseminated than formerly. It must be placed within the reach of every individual, to a quite different extent from what was the case in older times. So the book replaces the former oral instruction. It is only to a limited extent correct that further personal instruction is necessary, beyond that contained in this book. No doubt, someone may need assistance, and it may be of importance for him or her; but it would be false to believe that there were any cardinal points not mentioned in this book. They can be found by those who read correctly, and, above all, completely.
Those students who find their needs met by Knowledge of the Higher Worlds will, no doubt, feel satisfied and will persevere in its study as indicated. Others may feel a little perplexed if they take into consideration what is stated in other books and lecture cycles. For this reason the present author seeks to offer some elementary guidance. He lays no claim to original inspiration. The indications are based on the above-mentioned books.
There are certain fundamental requirements that are essential to anyone who aspires to attain spiritual perception. Perhaps some of them are in-born but even so there is always room for improvement.
The aspirant to higher knowledge must possess all the virtues or acquire them, or at least seek to acquire them. In the course of time they must become part of his nature.
The way a person thinks, feels or wills is, of course, very much bound up with his character. A person given to day-dreaming, fantasies and superstitions will have to try to master the habit. Any negative characteristic must be transformed. It must be admitted that modern life is not conducive to spiritual or moral development. It is all too easy to swim with the tide and to be unduly influenced by those around us. Courage and independent decisions and intensive study of spiritual science are called for.
The greatest work of spiritual science is the Bible and in St Matthew's Gospel is to be found a most excellent guide to moral behaviour. It is the Sermon on the Mount. What is there demanded of man is purification of the soul, love, devotion to truth, positive thinking, patience, humility, perseverance, equanimity, veneration, courage, open-mindedness, self-discipline and the ability to withdraw from the world to pray. We are told, 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God' — in the modern idiom, the spiritual world.
Life itself brings the opportunity of practising many of these virtues. There are many occasions when we give way to anger or impatience at some petty incident. We judge, criticise, take offence, disparage. We allow ourselves to become unduly influenced by circumstances.
Not many of us go through life unscathed. Unhappy events can bring us to the point when the mind seems to take on a life of its own and its endless churning prevents sleep. Looked at from the point of view of acquiring merit, this is an opportunity to practise will-power, self-discipline and a host of other things. Instead of yielding to the pressure we can try to gain mastery by concentrating our thoughts on something definite. For instance, we can formulate a series of pictures in the mind connected with a walk we have had, or a journey we have made, or a task we have fulfilled, holding fast to the sequence. Another possibility is to recall a conversation, a story or the theme of a play. If one has the requisite knowledge, one could picture the majestic dome containing the stars and planets and think of the realms of the Hierarchies into whose care we entrust ourselves. It is not easy to concentrate in this way and irrelevances of all sorts will enter the mind, but the effort at control and the continuity demanded are likely to be more beneficial than allowing chaos to rule.
In the same line of thought a period of illness can be turned to good effect if we use the opportunity to look back, and perhaps forward, over the course of our life. We might ponder on the significance of meeting certain people, on opportunities taken or missed, on our own future.
But we do not necessarily have to wait for the promptings of fate. On our own initiative we can go out towards people or the world, keeping an open mind. There are many occasions in life when help and sympathy can be extended to others without their asking for it. Endless objects in the world can call forth feelings of veneration and wonder if they are noticed. Disagreeable things and events offer the opportunity of discovering something positive. Infinite opportunities present themselves to observe and learn.
There are, however, more specific ways of furthering our development if we have the desire. In the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, in the section entitled 'Inner Tranquillity', Rudolf Steiner advises us to set aside a few minutes every day to contemplate our own motives and actions. We might recall some event of particular significance and try to understand it in the context of the whole course of our life and our relationship with the world. We might consider some misfortune that has befallen us in the past but now we try to look at it as though it had happened to a stranger. We also observe what our own feelings were.
Contemplation in this sense means activity, not indulging in dreamy fantasies. We review the happenings without emotional participation.
An exercise Rudolf Steiner recommends repeatedly is that of 'retrospection'. It calls for great inner strength and concentration. While it is good to review events in any case, in this exercise the day's happenings are reviewed in the mind in reverse order, i.e. from the time of going to bed through the day to the time of getting up. In the course of time single events might be reviewed in reverse order, i.e. imagine oneself at the top of the stairs and coming down backwards exactly as one had climbed them.
You are now reading from Chapter 7 of Roy Wilkinson's book on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. To read this chapter from the beginning click here
Control of the Forces of Thinking, Feeling and Willing
To general moral development must be added other requirements. These are the conscious awakening of the inner activities of thinking, feeling and willing. Thinking is a starting point but all three soul powers must be strengthened. The student has to develop his own powers and he can start by observing his own thinking, and learning to think honestly and independently.
Rudolf Steiner speaks of six 'qualities' that must be especially developed. Perhaps it would be more correct to say five, of which the sixth is a harmonious combination of the others. These are:
- The ability to control thought processes.
- The ability to control will impulses.
- Calmness in the face of joy or sorrow.
- Positiveness in judgement of the world.
- Objectivity and open-mindedness towards life.
- Inner balance.
Let us take a closer look at these requirements.
1 The ability to control thought processes
The first step is to learn to build up a logical train of thought around some simple object. Anyone who has tried this will know that as soon as he tries to concentrate on a particular object, all sorts of stupid and irrelevant ideas shoot into the mind. To concentrate properly it is necessary to learn something about the chosen object beforehand. For instance, if thoughts are to be directed to this piece of paper, then it is essential to know the source of the material, how it is transformed, stored, distributed, etc., so that a train of thoughts can be formed in logical sequence. To gain the requisite knowledge is something separate from the exercise.
By such exercises the logical activity of the mind is furthered. They should be practised a few minutes daily. The same object or theme can be used for several days or a new one taken each day. Every exercise should be undertaken in full waking consciousness with real direction and control. Indulging in vague reveries leads nowhere.
2 The ability to control will impulses
The will is obviously also engaged in what has already been suggested. Will is required to concentrate but the will can be strengthened by apparently very simple exercises.
In normal life what a person does is often dictated by apparently external events or causes. To cultivate the will the student is enjoined to do something on his own initiative for which there is no outside cause. For instance, he can perform some small act regularly and daily at a certain time. He might observe the weather or take a short walk, look at the growth of a certain tree. Retiring from normal occupation for a few minutes in order to practise inner quiet is also a will exercise. The point is to be persistent in telling oneself what to do and anyone who has tried such exercises as the above will also know how easy it is to be distracted.
Acquiring knowledge, insight and learning also stimulates the will forces of course.
3 Calmness in the face of joy and sorrow
In this sphere the soul must develop composure and equanimity. It is not a matter of becoming indifferent but of ruling the emotions, of not giving way to anger, fear, pain. In normal life, feeling and emotion are spontaneous. Now they should be looked at objectively. The opportunity for practice comes in everyday life.
4 Positiveness in judgement of the world
Thought and feeling are further schooled by the practice of positive judgement. This means that our awareness of what is bad or ugly should not prevent us from seeing what is good and beautiful.
5 Objectivity and open-mindedness towards life
In the book At the Gates of Spiritual Science this fifth requirement is listed as Faith. One might also call it Receptivity. It means the ability to meet every new experience with an unprejudiced mind.
6 Inner balance
The five qualities mentioned above must be balanced. The inner nature of man must be brought into harmony.
We are assured by Rudolf Steiner that practice in acquiring such qualities will bring the soul into the right condition, just as physical exercises tone up the body. Now the sensitivity of the soul can be enhanced by further exercises.
Wonder at the majesty of nature and reverence for it have almost been banished from our modern world and the soul is much the poorer for it. Science gives objective explanations. On occasion feelings may be stimulated by witnessing some event such as a magnificent sunrise, seeing a beautiful landscape or listening to a great piece of music but, for the most part, these feelings are not within the regular pattern of life, which is much more concerned with trivialities.
Furthermore, the person of the present world is bombarded with sense-impressions and is given little time for reflection. As long as this continues he is enslaved. He only achieves a certain amount of freedom when he creates opportunities for inner activity, opportunities for an act of meditation. As a result of meditating, he can become increasingly conscious both of the content of nature and of his own powers.
One aspect of meditation is that the soul, withdrawing itself from the impressions created by the outer physical world, concentrates on something of universal significance. This does not mean, however, that thinking beautiful thoughts is sufficient, desirable as that may be. Neither is meditation a matter of intellectual reflection or a wallowing in sensation. It requires concentration and conscious effort to form mental pictures and to allow inner mood and feeling to arise out of the content of the chosen subject.
Whoever seeks to meditate in this sense must do it in full consciousness. He must know on what he is to meditate, that is to say, just as in the concentration exercise on a physical object, he must prepare the material beforehand. No extraneous impressions must be allowed to enter the mind.
The meditator must also be able to deal with the subject he chooses. He might think 'God is love', but what can he do with such a thought? For the beginner it is too abstract. It would be better to choose some clearly defined material from the realm of spiritual science, of which there is an abundance.
A meditation may not succeed immediately. As in the concentration and contemplation exercises, all sorts of other irrelevant thoughts will obtrude themselves, but this very fact shows what has to be accomplished. If one cannot stay within the chosen picture, then it is perhaps necessary to revert to practising concentration exercises for a while.
With regard to subject matter for meditation, the field is endless. Individual tastes and requirements vary but a few general indications might be acceptable.
A preliminary exercise might be to form a mental picture of a beautiful landscape but then dismiss the picture and retain the feeling.
Thoughts and feelings can be linked to sayings or verses. For those taking the first hesitant steps, something fairly simple might be appropriate. There is a morning verse used in the upper classes of the Rudolf Steiner schools which may well form the basis for meditation for adults, lifting the soul to an appreciation of earthly, cosmic, divine and human relationships, and not overlooking the feelings that may be aroused.
I look into the world
Wherein there shines the Sun,
Wherein there gleam the stars,
Wherein there lie the stones;
Where, living, grow the plants,
Where, feeling, live the beasts
And wherein man, ensouled,
Dwelling to spirit gives.
I look into the soul
That lives within myself.
God's spirit lives and weaves
In light of Sun without,
In depths of soul within.
Spirit of God, to thee I pray
That strength and blessing
For learning and for working
May live and grow within me.
Rudolf Steiner was often approached by individuals for personal guidance and then gave indications to suit their special requirements. What was given in such conditions has therefore a special quality but that is not to say that it cannot be used by others. With regard to a meditation before sleeping, there is a verse 'The Holiness of Sleep' in the book Verses and Meditations, to which the reader is referred.
On waking one returns to the world of matter and the humdrum tasks of daily life, refreshed in body and in mind and, it is hoped, with a feeling of thankfulness and anticipation. But on returning to the physical world the thought might also be appropriate that even this world is a manifestation of the divine. With the realization that out of God all things are born, we can perhaps face the world in a good frame of mind. In any case, some reflection on these matters means that we carry a little of the glory of God into our daily life. It is a better preparation for the day than only a hurried breakfast, a glance at the news and a rush to work.
An equivalent verse for the morning is the one beginning 'The light of the Sun', which was given in a different context but is also included in the above-mentioned book.
Verses and Meditations also contains much material for use on special occasions such as the seasons and for the dead.
(A special word must be said about these verses. They are so designed that a certain effect is produced from the formation of the sounds, from the rhythm and the structure. The originals are in German and naturally to preserve these qualities as well as the meaning and reproduce them in another language is extremely difficult.)
Not so many years ago it used to be the practice to say prayers regularly, particularly in the morning and evening as well as on Sunday. Undoubtedly some prayers are still offered on occasion in a spirit of genuine devotion but all too often it is a perfunctory performance and a matter of tradition. For instance, by law all schools in England should open with an act of worship, an ordinance which is very strangely interpreted. Nevertheless, one might ask on what such a tradition is founded. Actually, saying prayers is a recognition of the existence of a spiritual world and a reminder that physical and spiritual belong together.
If one accepts the existence of a spiritual world then morning and evening prayers are very natural. In the course of every 24 hours the human being makes two great transitions. He goes to sleep and he wakes up. To put it another way, the individuality alternates between living in a spiritual world and living in the physical. At night the soul-spiritual being of man leaves the body, taking thoughts and the result of his daily deeds into a world of higher beings who judge and help transform his earthly experiences. He leaves behind the vagaries of this world to be both educated and cherished by the beings in the next, but this is not their only function. They also care for this body which is left, so to speak, unattended. A certain child's prayer is very apt in this respect.
When at night I go to sleep,
Six bright Angels watch do keep.
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding,
And two to whom 'tis given
To guide my steps to Heaven.
Since these moments of sleeping and waking are so fundamental to our earthly existence, it would seem to be of some importance to give a little meditative thought to what is involved, even to express gratitude, to the unseen powers-that-be.
On sleeping one enters the great cosmic world, and some anticipatory thoughts might be appropriate such as the journey through the planetary spheres, the work of the Hierarchies, the meeting with the Guardian Angel.
Another custom, which has largely died out, is that of saying grace at meals. Again, these are significant moments in the relationship of the spiritual with the physical. Food is produced not only by earthly forces but by the whole cosmos. Its consumption nourishes the body which provides a physical basis for the human spirit. It is good to remind oneself of these matters. An appropriate verse is that by Angelus Silesius:
Bread alone does not nourish us.
What feeds us in the bread
Is God's eternal light,
His life and spirit too.
Rudolf Steiner has also written a suitable verse which includes a symbolic reference to man.
The plant-seeds are quickened in the night of the Earth,
The green herbs are sprouting through the might of the Air,
And all fruits are ripened by the power of the Sun.
So quickens the soul in the shrine of the Heart,
So blossoms Spirit-power in the light of the World,
So ripens Man's strength in the glory of God.
The above are but a few suggestions and the serious student will find ample material. By continual study of spiritual science he or she will find single themes, and even single sentences, on which to meditate. The New Testament is full of events and sayings that provide suitable subjects if one understands them, e.g. Corinthians 1: 13, on love (charity), or the opening verses of St John's Gospel.
The Lord's Prayer is, of course, archetypal — 'After this manner, therefore, pray ye.' Wordsworth has a theme, 'Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting' (Ode on Intimations of Immortality). Those with the necessary insight might derive benefit from the contemplation of a work of art such as Raphael's Sistine Madonna.
The Calendar of the Soul contains verses by Rudolf Steiner relating human to cosmic experience and offers something to think about for each week of the year.
You are now reading from Chapter 7 of Roy Wilkinson's book on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. To read this chapter from the beginning click here
Opening the Gates
Having followed the suggestions already given, it is to be hoped that some development will have taken place in that a more integrated human being will have resulted, one with a greater sense of responsibility, morally and socially, and one who has become more conversant with matters of the spirit. We might say a more 'whole' person, since whole means both healthy and holy. The mind, through training and busying itself with spiritual ideas, will have become more attuned to the spiritual world and the way will have been prepared for the creation of new organs of perception. To develop these — the eyes and ears of the spirit — meditative activity in a somewhat different form from that already described is necessary.
For an exact description, the reader must refer to the relevant chapters in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Here only an indication is given so that he may appreciate what is involved.
1 The student is recommended to fix his attention intensely and consciously on a growing, sprouting plant, and, on another occasion, on one which is fading and decaying. He must concentrate on feelings and thoughts that arise from contemplation of the thing itself and all else must be excluded. The feeling that arises must be allowed to reverberate quietly within. With the continued repetition of the exercise such feel-ings, accompanied by thoughts, will become increasingly vivid and from these the organs of spiritual perception will develop.
2 The world of sound offers further scope for exercises. The student learns to differentiate between mechanical sounds and those that arise from the living world. In the case of the latter, he learns further to differentiate between sounds that are expressions of joy and those that express pain.
3 Attention should be paid to the way in which people speak and the student should learn to listen without inner participation, even to the most outrageous statements. He should begin to discern what lives in the soul of the other person.
4 Another exercise is to observe and consider contrasting objects from the different kingdoms of nature — a crystal, for instance, compared with an animal. Again, observation must be intense, attentive and concentrated on the objects concerned. The following line of thought should be followed and be accompanied by vivid feelings; all other thoughts and feelings should be excluded.
'The stone has a form; the animal also has a form. The stone remains in one place. The animal moves from place to place. Instincts and desires cause the animal to move. Instincts are served by its form. Organs and limbs are fashioned in accordance with these instincts. The form of the crystal is fashioned in accordance with desireless forces.'
Rudolf Steiner explains that two different feelings in the soul will arise from the contemplation of the crystal and of the animal, feelings (and thoughts connected therewith) through which organs of higher perception are formed.
5 The student contemplates the seed of a plant actually in front of him. He describes it to himself, its shape, colour and all other qualities. He dwells on the following thought: 'If this seed is put into the earth, a composite plant will grow from it.' He pictures this plant to himself and then he continues: 'What I thus picture in my imagination, the forces of earth and light will later conjure forth from the seed. If I had an artificially made object in front of me, which quite deceptively imitated the seed, no forces could produce a plant from it.' When this thought has become an inward experience, the student will be able to formulate the following idea with the right feeling. He says to himself: 'In the seed rests secretly, as the potential of the whole plant, that which later will grow from it. No such force is present in the artificial imitation. But to me both appear alike. The real seed therefore contains something invisible which is not in the imitation.'
Thought and feeling should be directed to this invisible something and he continues to think: 'This invisible something will transmute itself into a visible plant. If I could not think, then that could not already proclaim itself to me which will only be visible later.'
Excluding all others, these thoughts must be felt with intensity and eventually an inner force will make itself felt and create new powers of perception.
6 Similarly a whole plant can be contemplated with the thought concentrated on the fact that the plant will die but a seed will be formed.
7 An extension to No. 6 is to think about the plant in its cosmic setting.
At this point the reader may well ask how to organize his meditative life. It must be emphasized that whatever arrangements may be made these do not include 'withdrawing' from the world or neglecting the usual everyday tasks and duties. Taking these things into consideration the student has to set up his or her own programme. Suggestions can be given but it must be borne in mind that so far we have dealt with only very preliminary aspects and whatever may be adopted for the present may have to be modified in the light of further knowledge and experience.
Obviously the student has to extend his knowledge of spiritual science as far as possible. If he or she relies for the most part on the literature, this can be read and studied at any convenient time although a rhythm is preferable. The emphasis must be on study, i.e. digestion of the contents. There is little point in glib reading. From time to time students may be able to attend lectures on anthroposophical themes or conferences. They may derive benefit by joining or even inaugurating a study group.
Reading and rereading about moral requirements will ensure that they are constantly in students' thoughts and it is to be hoped that they will serve as guide-lines for action. But the student could also take a particular precept and use it as an exercise for the whole day or week. For instance, he or she might decide: 'Today (or this week) I will practise patience. Whatever happens I will preserve my equanimity and not get annoyed.' The following day (or week) another motif is chosen.
The six 'qualities' and exercises for developing them are mentioned repeatedly in Rudolf Steiner's books. He calls them 'universal exercises, which everyone looking for spiritual development must undertake'. We could therefore look upon them as a sine qua non. How the study of them is organized is a matter of personal choice. The student might like to take one on Monday, another on Tuesday, and so on. Alternatively he could take the same one for a week or longer, then another. He might then like to choose one of the contemplative exercises or one of the meditations and deal with it likewise.
For the contemplative and meditative exercises it is obvious that a few minutes must be set aside, possibly two or three times a day, and a place chosen where one can be quiet and undisturbed. No particular posture is required. The body should be in a comfortable position so that one is not aware of it.
Finally, Rudolf Steiner's comments have to be remembered that to open the gates of the spiritual world the exercises may have to be done over and over again for weeks, for months, for years and that it is a matter of perseverance and doing whatever is decided upon with 'uncompromising sincerity'.