At the present stage of evolution there are three possible conditions of soul in which man ordinarily lives his life between birth and death: waking, sleeping and, between the two, dreaming. The last-mentioned will be briefly dealt with in a later part of this book; for the moment we shall consider life simply as it alternates between its two main conditions waking and sleeping. Before he can know for himself in higher worlds, man has to add to these two a third condition of soul.
During waking life he is given up to the impressions of the senses, and to the thoughts and pictures that these evoke in him. During sleep the senses cease to make any impression, and the soul loses consciousness. The whole of the day's experience sinks down into the sea of unconsciousness. Let us now consider how it would be if man were able to become conscious during sleep, notwithstanding that all impressions of the senses were completely obliterated, as they are in deep sleep. Now would any memory remain to him of what had happened while he was awake. Would he find himself in an empty nothingness? Would he now be unable to have any experience at all? An answer to this question is only possible if a condition resembling the description can actually be brought about in man, where his senses remain completely inactive and he has no memory of their activity in his waking hours, and is yet not asleep but awake to another world, a world of reality, even while in relation to the external world around him he is just as he is in sleep.
As a matter of fact, such a state of consciousness can be induced in man if he is prepared to evoke within him the kind of inner experience that spiritual science enables him to develop. And all that is here related about the worlds that lie beyond the world of the senses has been investigated in such a condition of consciousness. In the preceding chapters some information has been given concerning these higher worlds. The present chapter will tell in so far as lies within the scope of this book of the means whereby man may achieve the state of consciousness required for such research.
It is in this one aspect alone that the higher state of consciousness resembles sleep: the sense receive no impressions from without, and the thoughts too which have been evoked by sense-impressions are obliterated. Whereas however in sleep man if bereft of the power to have conscious experience, in this new state of consciousness he retains the power. A capacity for conscious experience is aroused in him, which in ordinary life requires to be stimulated by sense-impressions. The awakening of the soul to this higher state of consciousness may be termed Initiation.
The path that leads to Initiation takes man out of ordinary day-time consciousness and brings him into a new activity of soul whereas he makes use of spiritual organs of perception. These organs are present in man all the time, in a germinal condition; they require only to be developed.
Now it can happen that at some particular time in his life, without making any special preparation for it, a person discovers that higher organs of this nature have been developing within him. This will mean that a kind of involuntary self-awakening has taken place. He will find that he has through this become a completely changed man. His whole inner experience is no vastly enriched. And he will be fully persuaded that no knowledge of the physical world could ever afford him such bliss, such serene satisfaction, such inner warmth, as can the knowledge that opens up before him now that he has a faculty of cognition that is independent of physical impressions. Strength and confidence will stream into his will from a spiritual world.
Such instances of self-initiation do occur. They should however not lead one to imagine that the right thing to do is simply to wait for it and make no effort towards obtaining Initiation by means of a properly ordered training. We have no need to speak here any further of self-initiation, since it can come about without the person's following any rules or precepts. What we are concerned with is how the organs of perception that are latent in man's soul may be developed by spiritual training. If people do not feel any particular urge to take steps for their own inner development, it is easy for them to think that since the life of man goes forward under the guidance of spiritual Powers, he ought not to interfere in their leadership but should wait quietly for the moment when these Powers shall deem it right to open to him another world. They will feel that any desire to intermeddle in this way with the wisdom of spiritual guidance is quite unjustified, and bespeaks a kind of presumption. One who takes this view will only be persuaded to modify it when a certain line of thought begins to make a strong impression on him namely when he is ready to say: The wise guidance of spiritual Powers has given me certain faculties. It has not bestowed these faculties on me for me to leave them unemployed, but rather that I may put them to use. The wisdom of the guidance is to be seen in the fact that seeds have been planted in me of a higher state of consciousness; and I fail to understand the guidance aright if I do not regard it as a duty to set before me the high ideal: that whatever can become manifest to man through the development of his spiritual powers shall become so manifest. When such a thought has taken strong enough hold, then the mistrust that was felt of any training for the attainment of a higher state of consciousness shall disappear.
Misgiving can however arise on another account. The development of inner faculties of the soul, someone might feel, implies an intrusion into man's most hidden holy of holies. It involves a change in his whole nature and character, and the method by which the change is to be wrought can obviously not be thought out by the person concerned. Only one who knows the path from actual experience can tell him how he is to reach a higher world; and in applying to such a person for help, he is permitting that person to exercise an influence over the innermost holy of holies of his soul. Nor will this scruple be met if the means whereby the higher state of consciousness is to be attained are set forth in a book. For it makes little difference whether one receives instruction by word of mouth or whether someone who has knowledge of these means has written them in a book and one reads them there. There are moreover among those who possess the requisite knowledge some who think it inadmissible ever to entrust the knowledge to a book. These persons will generally also regard with disapproval all communications to others of truths concerning the spiritual world. To hold such a view in the present epoch of mankind's evolution must, however, be described as out of date. Only up to appoint, it is true, can the means to be employed for higher development be communicated. But if the pupil will apply himself diligently to what is given, he will be able to reach a stage in development whence he can find the way for himself. From all that he has gone through so far, he will obtain a right idea of his further path and indeed he can do so in no other way.
On all these various grounds misgivings may arise in relation to the path of spiritual knowledge. They disappear, however, when one begins to grasp the true nature of the path of development which is set forth in the school of spiritual training appropriate to our age. Of this path we will now proceed to tell, hinting only briefly, as occasion arises, at other methods.
The training in question provides one who has the will to seek higher development with instructions that he can follow and so bring about the necessary changes in his soul. Anything like an unwarranted intrusion into the individuality of the pupil could only come into question if the teacher were himself to effect the change by methods of which the pupil was quite unconscious. But a training for spiritual development that is rightly adapted for our times will never employ such methods, turning the pupil into a blind instrument for his own development. It offers him instructions, and the pupil carries them out. As and when there is occasion to do so, it explains to him why this or that instruction is given. The acceptance of the instructions, and their observance, have no need to rest on blind faith. Blind faith should indeed be altogether excluded. If we have studied the nature of the human soul, in so far as it shows itself to ordinary self-observation unassisted by spiritual training, then on learning of the measures recommended we can ask ourselves: What effect will these have on the life of the soul? Before any training is begun, this question, if approached with a healthy and unbiased mind, can receive adequate answer. For it is perfectly possible, before setting out to follow the recommendations, to form a clear and true conception of how they work. Naturally, we cannot have actual experience of their working until we have embarked on the training. But here too we shall find we can accompany the experience all the time with understanding, provided only we are free from preconceived ideas and bring healthy good sense to bear on each step we take. And a genuine spiritual science will in these days recommend for development only such means as will stand that test. Whoever is prepared to enter upon such a training and will not allow himself to be led away by any mistaken prepossession into an attitude of mere blind credulity, will soon find that all misgivings disappear. Objections he may hear others raise against a systematic training for the attainment of a higher state of consciousness will not disturb him in the least.
Even for those who are endowed with the inner ripeness of soul which can lead them sooner or later to a self-awakening of the organs of spiritual perception even for such, training is not superfluous; on the contrary, they have particular need for it. For there are few instances where such a person does not have to go down many a dubious by-path before he arrives at self-initiation. The training will spare him this. It will lead him straight forward on the right path. Where self-initiation occurs, it is due to the fact that the soul reached the necessary maturity in former lives. It may easily happen that the person has a dim feeling of his own ripeness, and this makes him disinclined to submit to training. The feeling may give rise to a kind of unconscious pride which hinders him from putting his trust even in a properly ordered school for spiritual training. Or it may be that the more advanced stage of soul may remain hidden in him until a certain age of life and only then begin to manifest. A training could in such an instance be the very means of bringing the ripeness to manifestation, and were the person to debar himself altogether from such training, it might well be that at the time when it should manifest, the faculty he possesses would still remain hidden and emerge again only in one of his later incarnations.
In this matter of spiritual training, it is important not to let certain fairly obvious misunderstandings gain ground. People may, for instance, have the idea that the training is going to make a great difference to a person's whole conduct and behavior. But there is no question of giving the pupil general precepts on how to lead his life; he will be told of things he can do, inwardly in his soul, which, if he carries them out, will give him the possibility of beholding the supersensible. As for his other activities in life activities that have nothing to do with observation of the supersensible these are not directly influenced at all by what he undertakes in the course of training. What happens is simply that the pupil acquires, in addition to them, the gift of supersensible perception. This new activity is as different from the ordinary avocations of life as waking is from sleeping. The one cannot be allowed to disturb the other in the very least. Should anyone be inclined, for instance, to intersperse the ordinary course of his life with impressions that reached him from the supersensible, he would be like a sick person whose sleep was continually being interrupted by unwholesome periods of wakefulness. The trained observer will have it in his own control to evoke at will the state of consciousness wherein he can behold supersensible reality. Indirectly, the training is of course not unrelated to the general conduct and habit of life, inasmuch as anyone lacking in ethical stability and good feeling will either be unable to see into the supersensible, or if he can, it will do him harm. Very much therefore of the instruction that is given to lead the pupil to vision of the supersensible, contributes at the same time to the ennobling of his daily life. And besides this, through being able to see into the supersensible world, the pupil learns to recognize higher moral impulses that hold good also for the physical world. For there are ethical laws that can only be learned in higher worlds.
Another misunderstanding is possible. It might be imagined that some activity of the soul, intended to lead to supersensible cognition, were in some way connected with changes in the physical organism. As a matter of fact, such activities have nothing whatever to do with anything in man that belongs to the province of physiology, or to other aspects of natural science. They are processes purely of soul and spirit, as far removed from the physical as are ordinary healthy thinking and perceiving. The way in which they take place in the soul is no different from the way in which we think our thoughts or come to our decisions. As much or as little as healthy thinking has to do with the body, just so much and so little have the activities of a genuine training for supersensible knowledge. Any kind of training that affects man in a different way is no true spiritual training, but a caricature of it.
It may be assumed that the training now to be described fulfills the conditions we have seen to be necessary. It is only because supersensible knowledge is something that engages all man's faculties of soul that it might seem to demand overwhelming changes in him. Yet in reality it simply amounts to this: instructions are given which, if followed, will enable the pupil to have moments in his life when he can behold the supersensible.