In every man there are latent faculties by means of which he can acquire for himself knowledge of the higher worlds. The mystic, theosophist, or gnostic speaks of a soul-world and a spirit-world, which are, for him, just as real as the world which we see with our physical eyes, or touch with our physical hands. At every moment his listener may say to himself: What he speaks about I too can learn, when I have developed within myself certain powers which today lie slumbering within me. There remains only the question as to how one has to commence in order to develop within oneself such faculties. For this only those can give advice who have already developed such powers within themselves. As: long as the human race has existed, there have always been schools in which those who possessed these higher faculties gave instruction to those who were in search of them. Such are called the occult schools, and the instruction which is imparted therein is called esoteric science, or occult teaching. Such a designation naturally awakens misunderstanding. He who hears it may be very easily misled into the belief that those who work in these, schools desire to represent a special, privileged class, which arbitrarily withholds its knowledge from its fellow-creatures. Indeed, he may even think that perhaps there is nothing really important behind such knowledge. For he is tempted to think that, if it were a true knowledge, there would then be no need to make a secret about it: one might then communicate it publicly and open up its advantages to all men.
Those who have been initiated into the nature of the occult knowledge are not in the least surprised that the uninitiated should so think. Only he who has to a certain degree experienced this initiation into the higher secrets of being can understand the secret of that initiation. But it may be asked: How, then, shall the uninitiated, considering the circumstances, develop any interest at all in this so-called occult knowledge? How and why ought they to search for something of whose nature they can form no idea? But such a question is based upon an entirely erroneous conception of the real nature of occult knowledge. There is, in truth, no difference between occult knowledge and all the rest of man's knowledge and capacity. This occult knowledge is no more of a secret for the average man than writing is a secret to him who has never learned to read. And just as everyone who chooses the correct method may learn to write, so too can everyone who searches after the right way become a disciple, and even a teacher. In only one respect are the conditions here different from those that apply to external thought activities. The possibility of acquiring the art of writing may be withheld from someone through poverty, or through the state of civilisation into which he has been born; but for the attainment of knowledge in the higher worlds there is no obstacle for him who sincerely reaches for it.
Many believe that one has to find, here or there, the Masters of the higher knowledge, in order to receive enlightenment from them. In the first place, he who strives earnestly after the higher knowledge need not be afraid of any difficulty or obstacle in his search for an Initiate who shall be able to lead him into the profounder secrets of the world. Everyone, on the contrary, may be certain that an Initiate will find him out, under any circumstances, if there is in him an earnest and worthy endeavour to attain this knowledge. For it is a strict law amongst all Initiates to withhold from no man the knowledge that is due to him. But there is an equally strict law which insists that no one shall receive any occult knowledge until he is worthy. And the more strictly he observes these two laws, the more perfect is an Initiate. The order which embraces all Initiates is surrounded, as it were, by a wall, and the two laws here mentioned form two strong principles by which the constituents of this wall are held together. You may live in close friendship with an Initiate, yet this wall will separate him from you just as long as you have not become an Initiate yourself. You may enjoy in the fullest sense the heart, the love of an Initiate, yet he will only impart to you his secret when you yourself are ready for it. You may flatter him; you may torture him; nothing will induce him to divulge to you anything which he knows ought not to be disclosed, inasmuch as you, at the present stage of your evolution, do not understand how rightly to receive the secret into your soul.
The ways which prepare a man for the reception of a secret are clearly prescribed. They are indicated by the unfading, everlasting letters within the temples where the Initiates guard the hi4her secrets. In ancient times, anterior to “history,” these temples were outwardly visible; today, because our lives have become so unspiritual, they are mostly quite invisible to external sight. Yet they are present everywhere, and all who seek may find them.
Only within his soul may a man discover the means which will open for him the lips of the Initiate. To a certain high degree he must develop within himself special faculties, and then the greatest treasures of the Spirit become his own.
He must begin with a certain fundamental attitude of the soul: the student of Occultism calls it the Path of Devotion, of Veneration. Only he who maintains this attitude can, in Occultism, become a disciple. And he who has experience in these things is able to perceive even in the child the signs of approaching discipleship. There are children who look up with religious awe to those they venerate. For such people they have a respect which forbids them to admit even in the innermost sanctuary of the heart any thought of criticism or opposition. Such children grow up into young men and maidens who feel happy when they are able to look up to anything venerable. From the ranks of such children are recruited many disciples.
Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated man, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed the handle, in order to enter the room which for you is a holy place? Then there has been manifested in you an emotion which may be the germ of your future discipleship. It is a blessing for every developing person to have such emotions upon which to build. Only it must not be thought that such qualities are the germ of submissiveness and slavery. Experience teaches us that those can best hold their heads erect who have learnt to venerate where veneration is due. And veneration is always in its place when it rises from the depths of the heart.
If we do not develop within ourselves this deeply-rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find enough strength to evolve to something higher. The Initiate has only acquired the power of lifting his intellect to the heights of knowledge by guiding his heart into the depths of veneration and devotion. The heights of the Spirit can only be reached by passing through the portals of humility. You can only acquire right knowledge when you have learnt to esteem it. Man has certainly the right to gaze upon the Reality, but he must first acquire this right. There are laws in the spiritual life, as in the physical life. Rub a glass rod with an appropriate material and it will become electric, that is to say, it will receive the power of attracting small bodies. This exemplifies natural law. And if one has learnt even a little of physics, one knows this. Similarly, if one is acquainted with the first principles of Occultism, one knows that every feeling of true devotion which opens out in the soul, develops a power which may, sooner or later, lead to the Path of Knowledge.
He who possesses within himself this feeling of devotion, or who is fortunate enough to receive it from his education, brings a great deal along with him, when, later in life, he seeks an entrance to the higher knowledge. But he who brings no such preparation will find himself confronted with difficulties even upon the first step of the Path of Knowledge, unless he undertakes, by rigorous self-education, to create the devotional mood within himself. In our time it is especially important that full attention be given to this point. Our civilisation tends much more towards criticism, the giving of judgments, and so forth, than toward devotion, and a selfless veneration. Our children already criticise far more than they worship. But every judgment, every carping criticism, frustrates the powers of the soul for the attainment of the higher knowledge, in the same measure that all heartfelt devotion develops them. In this we do not wish to say anything against our civilisation. It is in no way a question of passing a criticism upon it. It is just to this critical faculty, this self-conscious human judgment, this “prove all things and hold fast the good,” that we owe the greatness of our civilisation. We could never have attained to the science, the commerce, the industry, the law of our time, had we not exercised our critical faculty everywhere, had we not everywhere applied the standard of our judgment. But what we have thereby gained in external culture we have had to pay for with a corresponding loss of the higher knowledge, of the spiritual life.
Now the one thing that everyone must clearly understand is that for him who is right in the centre of the objective civilisation of our time, it is very difficult to advance to the knowledge of the higher worlds. He can only do so if he works energetically within himself. At a time when the conditions of outward life were simpler, spiritual exaltation was easier of attainment. That which ought to be venerated, that which ought to be kept holy, stood out in better relief from the ordinary things of the world. In a period of criticism these ideals are lowered; other emotions take the place of veneration, respect, prayer, and wonder. Our own age continually pushes these emotions further and further back, so that in the daily life of the people they play but a very small part. He who seeks for, higher knowledge must create it within himself; he must himself instil it into his soul. It cannot be done by study: it can only be done through life. He who wishes to become a disciple must therefore assiduously cultivate the devotional mood. Everywhere in his environment he must look for that which demands of him admiration and homage. Whenever his duties or circumstances permit, he should try to renounce entirely all criticism or judgment. If I meet a man and blame him for his weakness, I rob myself of power to win the higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I then gather such power. The disciple must continually try to follow out this advice. Experienced occultists are aware how much they owe to the continual searching for the good in all things, and the withholding of all carping criticism. This must not remain only as an external rule of life; rather must it take possession of the innermost part of our souls. We have it in our power to perfect ourselves, and by and by to transform ourselves completely. But this transformation must take place in the innermost self, in the mental life. It is not enough that I show respect only in my outward bearing toward a person; I must have this respect in my thought. The disciple must begin by drawing this devotion into his thought-life, He must altogether banish from his consciousness all thoughts of disrespect, of criticism, and he must endeavour straightway to cultivate thoughts of devotion.
Every moment in which we set ourselves to banish from our consciousness whatever remains in it of disparaging, suspicious judgment of our fellow-men, every such moment brings us nearer to the knowledge of higher things. And we rise rapidly when, in such moments, we fill our consciousness only with thoughts that evoke in us admiration, respect, and veneration for men and things. He who has experience in these matters will know that in every such moment powers are awakened in man which otherwise remain dormant. In this way the spiritual eyes of a man are opened. He begins to see things around him which hitherto he was unable to see. He begins to understand that hitherto he had only seen a part of the world around him. The man with whom he comes in contact now shows him quite a different aspect from what he showed before. Of course, he will not yet, through this rule of life alone, be able to see what has elsewhere been described as the human aura, because, for that, a still higher training is necessary. But he can rise to this higher training if he has previously gone through a thorough training in devotion. [In the last chapter of the book entitled Theosophie (Berlin, C. A. Schwetschke und Sohn), Dr. Rudolf Steiner fully describes this “Path of Knowledge;” here it is only intended to give some practical details.]
Noiseless and unnoticed by the outer world is the treading of the “Path of Discipleship.” It is not necessary that anyone should notice a change in the disciple. He does his duties as hitherto; he attends to his business as before. The transformation goes on only in the inner part of the soul, hidden from outward sight. At first the entire soul-life of a man is flooded by this fundamental mood of devotion for everything which is truly venerable. His entire soul-life finds in this fundamental mood its pivot. Just as the sun, through its rays, will vivify everything living, so in the life of the disciple this reverence vivifies all the perceptions of the soul.
At first it is not easy for people to believe that feelings like reverence, respect, and so forth, have anything to do with their perceptions. This comes from the fact that one is inclined to think of perception as a faculty quite by itself, one that stands in no relation to what otherwise happens in the soul. In so thinking, we do not remember that it is the soul which perceives. And feelings are for the soul what food is for the body. If we give the body stones in place of bread its activity will cease. It is the same with the soul. Veneration, homage, devotion, are as nutriment which makes it healthy and strong, and especially strong for the activity of perception. Disrespect, antipathy, and under-estimation, bring about the starvation and withering of this activity. For the occultist this fact is visible in the aura. A soul which harbours the feelings of devotion and reverence, brings about a change in its aura. Certain yellowish-red or brown-red tints will vanish, and tints of bluish-red will replace them. And then the organ of perception opens. It receives information of facts in its neighbourhood of which hitherto it had no knowledge. Reverence awakens a sympathetic power in the soul, and through this we attract similar qualities in the beings which surround us, which would otherwise remain hidden. More effective still is that power which can be obtained by devotion when another feeling is added. One learns to give oneself up less and less to the impressions of the outer world, and to develop in its place a vivid inward life. He who darts from one impression of the outer world to another, constantly seeks dissipations, cannot find the way to Occultism. The disciple must not blunt himself to the outer world; but rich inner life will point out the direction in which he ought to lend himself to its impressions. When passing through a beautiful mountain district, the man with depth of soul and richness of emotion has different experiences from the man with few emotions. Only what we experience within ourselves opens up the beauties of the outer world. One man sails across the ocean, and only a few inward experiences pass through his soul: but another will then hear the eternal language of the World-Spirit, and for him are unveiled the mysteries of creation.
One must have learnt to control one's own feelings and ideas if one wishes to develop any intimate relationship with the outer world. Every phenomenon in that outer World is full of divine splendour, but one must have felt the Divine within oneself before one can hope to discover it without. The disciple is told to set apart certain moments of his daily life during which to withdraw into himself, quietly and alone. But at such time he ought not to occupy himself with his own personal affairs, for this would bring about the contrary of that which he is aiming at. During these moments he ought rather to listen in complete silence to the echoes of what he has experienced, of what the outward world has told him. Then, in these periods of quiet, every flower, every animal, every action will unveil to him secrets undreamed of, and thus he will prepare himself to receive new impressions of the external world, as if he viewed it with different eyes. For he who merely desires to enjoy impression after impression, only stultifies the perceptive faculty, while he who lets the enjoyment afterwards reveal something to him, thus enlarges and educates it. But he must be careful not merely to let the enjoyment reverberate, as it were; but, renouncing any further enjoyment, rather to work upon his pleasurable experiences with an inward activity. The danger at this point is very great. Instead of working within one self, it is easy to fall into the opposite habit of afterwards trying to completely exhaust the enjoyment. Let us not undervalue the unforeseen sources of error which here confront the disciple. He must of necessity pass through a host of temptations, each of which tends only to harden his Ego and to imprison it within itself. He ought to open it wide for the whole world. It is necessary that he should seek enjoyment, for in this way only can the outward world get at him; and if he blunts himself to enjoyment he becomes as a plant which cannot any longer draw nourishment from its environment. Yet, if he stops at the enjoyment, he is then shut up within himself, and will only be something to himself and nothing to the world. However much he may live within himself, however intensely he may cultivate his Ego, the world will exclude him. He is dead to the world. But the disciple considers enjoyment only as a means of ennobling himself for the world. Pleasure is to him as a scout who informs him concerning the world, and after having been taught by pleasure he passes on to work. He does not learn in order that he may accumulate learning as his own treasure, but in order that he may put his learning at the service of the world.
In all forms of Occultism there is a fundamental principle which cannot be transgressed, if any goal at all is to be reached. Every occult teacher must impress it upon his pupils, and it runs as follows: Every branch of knowledge which you seek only to enrich your own learning, only to accumulate treasure for yourself, leads you away from the Path: but all knowledge which you seek for working in the service of humanity and for the uplifting of the world, brings you a step forward. This law must be rigidly observed; nor is one a genuine disciple until he has adopted it as the guide for his whole life. In many occult schools this truth is expressed in the following short sentences. Every idea which does not become an ideal for you, slays a power in your soul: every idea which becomes an ideal creates within you living powers.