Rudolf Steiner Archive

Calendar of the Soul

Northern Hemisphere
Week 26

O Nature, your maternal life
I bear within the essence of my will.
And my will's fiery energy
Shall steel my spirit striving,
That sense of self springs forth from it
To hold me in myself.

Southern Hemisphere
Week 52

When from the depths of soul
The spirit turns to the life of worlds
And beauty wells from wide expanses,
Then out of heaven's distances
Streams life-strength into human bodies,
Uniting by its mighty energy
The spirit's being with our human life.

—Translation by Ruth and Hans Pusch

See GA 40 for full calendar and German text.

The Way of Initiation
GA 10

VIII. The Conditions of Discipleship

The conditions of entrance into an occult school are not, of a nature to be formulated by anyone in an arbitrary way. They are the natural outcome of occult knowledge. Just as a man will never become a painter if he does not choose to handle a paint brush, so can no one receive occult training if he is unwilling to fulfil the claims which are put forward by the occult teacher. In fact, the teacher can give nothing except advice, and it is as such that everything he states ought to be considered. He has already trodden the probationary path which leads to the knowledge of higher worlds. From experience he knows what is necessary, and it all depends on the free will of each particular person whether he chooses to follow the same path or not. If anyone, without intending to satisfy the conditions, should demand occult training from a teacher, such a demand would be as much as to say: “Teach me to paint, but do not ask me to handle a brush.” The occult teacher never goes a step further, unless it be in accord with the free will of the recipient. But it must be emphasised that a general desire for higher knowledge is not sufficient, and many will probably have such a desire. With him who has merely this vague desire, and is not prepared to accept the special conditions of the occult teacher, the latter, for the present, can do nothing. This ought to be kept in mind by those who complain that occult teachers do not “meet them half way.” He who cannot, or will not, fulfil the severe conditions necessary, must for the present abandon occult training. It is true that the conditions are, indeed, severe, and yet they are not hard, since their fulfilment not only ought to be, but must be, an altogether voluntary deed.

To him who does not remember this it is easy for the claims of the occult teacher to seem a coercion of the soul or the conscience; for the training here mentioned is founded on a development of the inner life, and it is the work of the teacher to give advice concerning it. And yet if something be demanded as the result of a free choice, it cannot be considered as a fetter. If anyone says to the teacher: “Give me your secrets, but leave me my customary sensations, feelings, and thoughts,” he is then making an impossible demand. Such a one desires no more than to satisfy his curiosity, his thirst for knowledge, and by one who takes an attitude like this, occult knowledge can never be obtained.

Let us now consider in their right order the conditions of discipleship. It should be emphasised that the complete fulfilment of any one of these conditions is by no means demanded, but only the effort after such fulfilment. No one can altogether fulfil these conditions, but the path which leads to their fulfilment may be entered by everyone. It is the will that matters, the attitude taken when entering the path.

  1. The first condition is the directing of the attention to the advancement of bodily and spiritual health. Of course, discipleship does not in the first place depend on the health of a man, but everyone can endeavour to improve in this respect, and only from a healthy man may proceed a healthy perception. No occult teacher would refuse a man who is not healthy, but it is demanded that the pupil should have the desire for a healthy life. In this respect he must attain the greatest possible independence. The good counsels of others, which, though generally unsought, are received by everybody, are as a rule superfluous. Each must endeavour to take care of himself. From the physical aspect it will be more a matter of warding off harmful influences than of anything else. For in carrying out one's duty one has often to do things which are disadvantageous to health. One must learn how, at the right moment, to place duty higher than the care of health; but with a little good-will, what is there that cannot be omitted? Duty must in many cases be accounted higher than health, often, indeed, than life itself, but the disciple must never put pleasure hither than these. Pleasure for him can only be a means to health and life, and in respect of this it is absolutely necessary that we should be quite honest and truthful with ourselves. It is of no avail to lead an ascetic life so long as it is born of motives like those that give rise to other enjoyments. There are some people who find satisfaction in asceticism as others in wine-bibbing, but they must not imagine that asceticism of this kind will assist them to attain the higher knowledge. Many ascribe to their unfavourable circumstances everything which apparently prevents them from making progress in this direction. They say that with their conditions of life they cannot develop themselves. For other reasons it may be desirable for many to change their conditions of life, but no one need do so for the purpose of occult training. For this it is only necessary that one should do for one's health so much as one finds possible in the position one holds. Every kind of work may serve the whole of humanity, and it is a surer sign of greatness in the human soul to perceive clearly how necessary for the whole is a petty — perhaps even an unlovely — employment than to think: “This work is not good enough for me: I am destined for something else.” It is especially important for the disciple to strive after complete spiritual health. In any case, an unhealthy emotional or thought-life leads one away from the path to higher knowledge. The foundations here consist of clear, calm thinking, reliable conceptions, and stable feelings. Nothing should be more alien to the disciple than an inclination toward a whimsical, excitable life, toward nervousness, intoxication, and fanaticism. He should acquire a healthy outlook on all the circumstances of life; he should go through life steadily and should let things act on him and speak to him in all tranquillity. Wherever it is possible he should endeavour to do justice to life. Everything in his tastes and criticisms which is one-sided or extravagant ought to be avoided. If this be not so, the disciple will strand himself in a world of his own imagination, instead of touching the higher worlds, and in place of truth his own favourite opinions will assert themselves. It is better for the disciple to be “matter-of-fact” than overwrought and fanciful.

  2. The second condition is that one should feel oneself as a link in the general life. Much is included in the fulfilment of this condition, but each can only fulfil it after his own manner. If I am a school teacher and my pupil does not answer what is desired of him, I must first direct my feeling not against the pupil but against myself. I ought to feel myself so much at one with my pupil that I ask myself: “May not that in the pupil which does not satisfy my demand be perhaps my own fault?” Instead of directing my feelings against him, I shall rather cogitate on the way in which I ought myself to behave, so that the pupil may in the future be better able to satisfy my demands. From such a manner of thinking there will come gradually a change over the whole mental attitude. This holds good for the smallest as well as for the greatest. From this point of view I look on a criminal; for instance, altogether differently from the way I should have looked upon him of old. I suspend my judgment and think to myself: “I am only a man as he is. Perhaps the education which, owing to favourable circumstances, has been mine, and nothing else, has saved me from a similar fate.” I may even come to the conclusion that if the teachers who took pains with me had done the same for him, this brother of mine would have been quite different. I shall reflect on the fact that something which has been withheld from him has been given to me, and that I may, perhaps, owe my goodness to the fact that he has been thus deprived of it. And then will it no longer be difficult to grasp the conception that I am only a link in the whole of humanity, and that consequently I, too, in part, bear the responsibility for everything that happens. By this it is not implied that such a thought should be translated immediately into external action. It should be quietly cultivated in the soul. It will then express itself gradually in the outward behaviour of a person, and in such matters each can begin only by reforming himself. It were futile, from such a standpoint, to make general claims on all humanity. It is easy to form an idea of what men ought to be, but the disciple works, not on the surface, but in the depths. And, therefore, it would be wrong if one should endeavour to bring these demands of the occult teacher into relation with any external or political claims. As a rule, political agitators know well what can be demanded of other people, but they say little of demands on themselves.

  3. Now with this, the third condition for occult training is intimately connected. The student must be able to realise the idea that his thoughts and feelings are as important for the world as his deeds. It must be recognised that it is as pernicious to hate a fellow-being as to strike him. One can then discern also that by perfecting oneself one accomplishes something not only for oneself but for the whole world. The world profits by one's pure thoughts and feelings as much as by one's good behaviour, and as, long as one cannot believe in this world-wide importance of one's inner Self, one is not fit for discipleship. Only when one works at one's inner Self as if it were at least as important as all external things, only then is one permeated with a true conception of the soul's importance. One must admit that one's feelings produce an effect as much as the action of one's hand.

  4. In so saying we have already mentioned the fourth condition: the idea that the real being of man does not lie in the exterior but in the interior. He who regards himself as merely a product of the outer world, a result of the physical world, cannot succeed in this occult training. But he who is able to realise this conception is then also able to distinguish between inner duty and external success. He learns to recognise that the one cannot at once be measured by the other. The student must learn for himself the right mean between what is demanded by his external conditions and what he recognises to be the right conduct for himself. He ought not to force upon his environment anything for which it can have no appreciation, but at the same time he must be altogether free from the desire to do merely what can be appreciated by those around him. In his own sincere and wisdom-seeking soul, and only there, must he look for the recognition of his truths. But from his environment he must learn as much as he possibly can, so that he may discern what those around him need, and what is of use to them. In this way he will develop within himself what is known in occultism as the “spiritual balance.” On one of the scales there lies a heart open for the needs of the outward world, and on the other lies an inner fortitude and an unfaltering endurance.

  5. And here, again, we have hinted at the fifth condition: firmness in the carrying out of any resolution when once it has been made. Nothing should induce the disciple to deviate from any such resolution when once it has been made, save only the perception that he has made a mistake. Every resolution is a force, and even if such force does not produce immediate effect on the point at which it was directed, nevertheless it works in its own way. Success is only of great importance when an action arises from desire, but all actions which are rooted in desire are worthless in relation to the higher worlds. There the love expended on an action is alone of importance. In this love, all that impels the student to perform an action ought to be implanted. Thus he will never grow weary of again and again carrying out in action some resolution, even though he has repeatedly failed. And in this way he arrives at the condition in which he does not first wait for the external effect of his actions, but is contented with the doing of them. He will learn to sacrifice for the world his actions, nay, more, his whole being, without caring at all how it may receive his sacrifice. He who wishes to become a disciple must declare himself ready for a sacrifice, an offering, such as this.

  6. A sixth condition is the development of a sense of gratitude with regard to everything which relates to Man. One must realise that one's existence is, as it were, a gift from the entire universe. Only consider all that is needed in order that each of us may receive and maintain his existence! Consider what we owe to Nature and to other men! Those who desire an occult training must be inclined toward thoughts like these, for he who cannot enter into such thoughts will be incapable of developing within himself that all-inclusive love which it is necessary to possess before one can attain to higher knowledge. That which we do not love cannot manifest itself to us. And every manifestation must fill us with gratitude, as we ourselves are the richer for it.

  7. All the conditions here set forth must be united in a seventh: to regard life continually in the manner demanded by these conditions. The student thus makes it possible to give to his life the stamp of uniformity. All his many modes of expression will, in this way, be brought into harmony, and cease to contradict each other. And thus he will prepare himself for the peace which he must attain during the preliminary steps of his training.

If a person intends, earnestly and sincerely, to fulfil the conditions mentioned above, he may then address himself to a teacher of Occultism. The latter will then be found ready to give the first words of counsel. Any external formality will only consist of giving to these conditions a complete expression, but such formalities can only be imparted to each individual candidate, and are not without their own value, since everything interior must manifest itself in an exterior way. Even as a picture cannot be said to be here when it exists only in the brain of the painter, so, too, there cannot be an occult training without an external expression.

External forms are regarded as worthless only by those who do not know that the internal must find expression in the external. It is true that it is the spirit and not the form that really matters; but just as the form is void without the spirit, so would the spirit remain inactive so long as it should not create a form.

The stipulated conditions are so designed that they may render the disciple strong enough to fulfil the further demands which the teacher must make. If he be faulty in the fulfilment of these conditions, then before each new demand he will stand hesitating. Without this fulfilment he will be lacking in that faith in man which it is necessary for him to possess; for on faith in man and a genuine love for man, all striving after truth must be founded. And the love of man must be slowly widened out into a love for all living creatures, nay, indeed, for all existence. He who fails to fulfil the conditions here given will not possess a perfect love for all up-building, for all creation, nor a tendency to abstain from all destruction and annihilation as such. The disciple must so train himself that, not in deeds only, but also in words, thoughts, and feelings, he will never destroy anything for the sake of destruction. He must find his pleasure in the growing and creating aspect of things, and is only justified in assisting the destruction of anything when by destroying he is able to promote a new life. Let it not be thought that in so saying it is implied that the disciple may suffer the triumph of evil, but rather that he must endeavour to find even in the bad those aspects through which he may change it into good. He will see more and more clearly that the best way to combat imperfection and evil is the creation of the perfect and the good. The student knows that nothing can come from nothing, but also that the imperfect may be changed into the perfect. He who develops in himself the tendency to create, will soon find the capacity for facing the evil.

He who enters an occult school must be quite sure that his intention is to construct by means of it, and not to destroy. The student ought, therefore, to bring with him the will for sincere and devoted work and not the desire to criticise and destroy. He ought to be capable of devotion, for one should be anxious to learn what one does not yet know; he should look reverently on that which discloses itself. Work and devotion, these are the fundamental attributes which must be claimed from the disciple. Some have to learn that they do not make real progress in the school, even if in their own opinion they are unceasingly active; they have not grasped in the right manner the meaning of work and meditation. The work which is done for the sake of success will be the least successful, and that kind of learning which is undertaken without meditation will advance the student least. Only the love of work itself, and not of its fruit, only this brings any advance. If he who is learning seeks for wholesome thoughts and sound judgment, he need not spoil his devotion with doubts and suspicions.

The fact that one does not oppose some communication which has been made, but gives to it due attention and even sympathy, does not imply a lack of independent judgment. Those who have arrived at a somewhat advanced stage of knowledge are aware that they owe everything to a quiet attention and assimilation, and not to a stubborn personal judgment. One should always remember that one does not need to learn what one is already able to understand. Therefore, if one only desires to judge, one cannot learn any more. What is of importance in an occult school, however, is study: one ought to desire, with heart and soul, to be a student: if one cannot understand something it is far better not to judge, lest one wrongly condemn; far better to wait until later for a true understanding. The higher one climbs on the ladder of knowledge, the more does one require this faculty of calm and devotional listening. All perception of truths, all life and activity in the world of spirit, become in these higher regions delicate and subtle in comparison with the activities of the ordinary mind, and of life in the physical world. The more the sphere of a man's activity widens out before him, the more transcendent is the nature of the task to be accomplished by him. It is for this reason that although there is in reality only one possible opinion regarding the higher truths, men come to see them from such different points of view. It is possible to arrive at this one true standpoint if, through work and devotion, one has so risen that one can really behold the truth. Only he who, without sufficient preparation, judges in accordance with preconceived ideas and habitual ways of thought, can arrive at any opinion which differs from the true one. Just as there is only one correct opinion concerning a mathematical problem, so also with regard to things of the higher worlds; but before one can arrive at this opinion one must first prepare oneself. If this were only sufficiently considered, the conditions laid down by the occult teacher would be surprising to no one. Truth and the higher life do, indeed, abide in every human soul, and it is true that everyone can and must find them for himself; but they lie deeply hidden, and may only be brought up from their deep shafts after the clearance of certain obstacles. Only he who has had experience in occult science can advise how this may be done. It is advice of this kind that is given by the occult teacher. He does not urge a truth on anyone; he proclaims no dogma, but points out a way. It is true that everyone could find this way alone, but only, perhaps, after many incarnations. By this occult training the way is shortened. A person, by means of it, more quickly reaches a point from which he becomes able to co-operate in those worlds wherein the salvation and evolution of man are assisted by spiritual work. Thus we have outlined, as much as may at present be communicated concerning the attainment of knowledge relating to the higher worlds.

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