At the Gates of Spiritual Science
13. Oriental and Christian Training
3 September 1906, Stuttgart
Yesterday we concluded by outlining the three methods of occult development: the Eastern, the Christian and the Rosicrucian. Today we will begin by going more closely into the details which distinguish these three paths. But first I should say that no occult school sees in its teaching and requirements anything like a moral law valid for all mankind. The requirements apply only to those who deliberately choose to devote themselves to a particular occult training. You can, for instance, be a very good Christian and fulfil everything that the Christian religion prescribes for the laity without undergoing a Christian occult training. It goes without saying that you can be a good man and come to a form of the higher life without any occult training.
As I said earlier, the Eastern training calls for strict submission to the Guru. 42“The form of instruction in oriental schooling.” From the old Indian classic, The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali. I will describe briefly the kind of instruction that an Eastern teacher gives. You will realise that the actual instructions cannot be given publicly; I can indicate only the stages of the path. The instructions can be divided into eight parts:
1. Yama includes all the abstentions required of anyone who wishes to undergo Yoga training: Do not lie, do not kill, do not steal, do not lead a dissolute life, desire nothing.
The injunction, Do not kill, is very stringent and applies to all creatures. No living creature may be killed or even injured, and the more strictly this rule is observed, the further will the pupil progress. Whether this rule can be observed in our civilisation is another matter. Every killing, even of a flea, impedes occult development. Whether someone is obliged to do it — that again is a different question.
You will understand the command, Do not lie, if you recall what I said about the astral plane, where to lie is to kill and every lie is a murder. Lying therefore comes into the same category as killing.
The precept, Do not steal, also has to be applied most strictly. A European might claim that he does not steal. But the Eastern Yogi does not look at it so simply. In the regions where these exercises were first promulgated by the great teachers of humanity, conditions were much simpler: stealing was easy to define. But a Yoga teacher would not agree that Europeans do not steal. For example, if I unjustifiably appropriate another man's labour, or if I procure for myself a profit which may be legally permissible but which involves the exploitation of another person — all this the Yoga teacher would call stealing. With us, social relations have become so complex that many people violate this commandment without the slightest awareness of doing so. Suppose you have money and deposit it in a bank. You do nothing with it; you exploit no-one. But suppose now the banker starts speculating and exploits other people with your money. In the occult sense you will be responsible for it, and the events will burden your karma. You can see that this precept requires deep consideration if you are entering on a path of occult development.
With regard to the injunction, Do not lead a dissolute life, take a person with private means whose capital is invested without his knowledge in a distillery; he is just as culpable as the producer of strong drinks. The fact that he knew nothing about it makes no difference to his karma. There is only one way of keeping to the right path with these abstentions: strive to need nothing. Even if you have great possessions, in so far as you strive to have no needs, you will injure no-one.
The injunction, Desire nothing, is especially hard to carry out. It means that the pupil must strive to have no needs, no desire for anything in the world, and to do only what the outer world demands of him. He must even suppress any feeling of pleasure at doing good to someone; he must be moved to help not by any such feeling but simply by the sight of suffering. And if he has to spend money, he must not think of his own wishes or desires but must say to himself: “I need this to maintain my body or to meet the needs of my spirit, as everyone else does. I do not desire it, but am considering only how best to live my life in the world.”
In Yoga training this concept of Yama is, as I have said, taken most strictly; it could not be transplanted to Europe as it stands.
2. Niyama. This means the observance of religious customs. In India, where these rules are chiefly applied, a problem is solved which causes many difficulties in European civilisation. For us it is very easy to say that we have passed beyond dogmas; we hold to the inner truth only and have no use for outer forms. The further a European has got away from religious observances, the more exalted does he imagine himself to be. The Hindu takes the opposite view; he holds firmly to the rites of his religion, and no-one may touch them, but anyone is free to form his own opinion of them. There are sacred rites which have come down from very ancient times and signify something very profound. An uneducated man will have very elementary ideas about them; a more highly cultured man will have different and better ideas, but no-one will say that anyone else's ideas are wrong. The wise and the unlearned observe the same customs. There are no dogmas, only rites. Hence these deeply religious customs can be observed by all, and in them the wise and the simple are brought together. Thus the rites are socially unifying. No-one is restricted in his opinions by conforming to a strict ritual.
The Christian religion has followed the opposite principle. Not customs, but opinions, have been imposed on people, and the consequence is that formlessness has become the rule in our social life. So begins a complete disregard of all observances that could draw human beings together; every form that expresses symbolically a higher truth is gradually rejected. This is a great loss for human development, especially for development in the Eastern sense.
In Europe today there are plenty of people who think they have learnt to do without dogmas, yet it is precisely the freethinkers and the materialists who are the worst fanatics for dogmas. The dogma of materialism is much more oppressive than any other. The infallibility of the Pope is no longer valid for many people, but instead we have the infallibility of the professor. Even the most liberal-minded, whatever they may say to the contrary, are victims of the dogmas of materialism. Think of the dogmas which burden lawyers, doctors and so on. Every university professor teaches his own dogma. Or think how people suffer from the dogma of the infallibility of public opinion, of the newspapers! The Eastern teacher of Yoga does not demand that the ceremonies which unite the learned and unlearned together should be abandoned: these sacred ancient rites are symbols of the highest wisdom. No culture is possible without such formal observances; to believe otherwise is an illusion. Suppose for instance a colony is founded with no forms or accepted customs. Clearly a colony such as that, with no church, no religious services or observances, could exist quite well for a time, because its people would continue to live in accordance with the rules and conventions they had brought with them. But as soon as these were lost, the colony would collapse, for every culture must embody a certain pattern which will give expression to its inner character. Modern civilisation must recover the forms it has lost; it must learn again how to give external expression to its inner life. In the long run social life is conditioned by its pattern, its formal customs. The ancient sages knew this, and hence they held firmly to religious practices.
3. Asanam means the adoption of a certain bodily posture in meditation. This is much more important for the Oriental than for the European, because the European body is no longer so sensitive to the flow of certain subtle currents. The body of the Oriental is even nowadays more delicately organised; it responds readily to the currents which pass from East to West, from North to South, from the Heights to the Depths. Spiritual currents flow through the universe, and it is for this reason that churches are built with a particular orientation. It is for this reason also that the Yoga teacher makes his pupil adopt a special posture; the pupil has to keep his hands and feet in a particular position, so that the currents may flow through his body in the right direction. If the Hindu did not bring his body into this harmony, he would risk losing all the benefits of his meditation.
4. Pranayama is breathing, yoga-breathing. It is an essential and detailed part of Eastern Yoga training. Christian training pays almost no attention to it, but in Rosicrucian training it has regained some importance.
What does breathing signify in occult development? You can find the answer in the injunctions not to kill and not to injure any living creature. The occult teacher says: “By breathing you are slowly, continually, killing your surroundings.” What does this mean? We breathe the air in, use it to furnish our blood with oxygen and then breathe it out again. What does this involve? We inhale the air with its oxygen; we combine the oxygen with carbon and we exhale carbon dioxide, in which no man or animal can live. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which is a poison; and this means that with every breath we draw we are dealing death to other beings in our environment. Bit by bit we are killing our whole environment: we inhale the breath of life and exhale air which we can make no further use of. The occult teacher is concerned to alter this. If there were only men and animals in the world, all the oxygen would soon be used up and all living creatures would die. It is thanks to the plants that this does not happen, for in plants the breathing process is the reverse of ours. They assimilate carbon dioxide, separate the carbon from the oxygen, and use the carbon to build up their bodies. They liberate oxygen, and men and animals breathe it in again. So do the plants renew the life-giving air; otherwise all life would long ago have been destroyed. We owe our life to the plants, and in this way plants, animals and men are complementary.
But this process will change in the future, and since anyone who is undergoing occult training must begin to do what others will achieve at some time in the future, he must learn not to kill with his breath. That is Pranayama, the science of the breath. Our modern materialistic age places health under the sign of fresh air; but our modern way of achieving health through fresh air is one that terminates in death. A Yogi, on the other hand, will retire into a cave and as far as possible will breathe the air he has himself exhaled — unlike the European, who is always wanting to open windows. A Yogi has learnt the art of contaminating the air as little as possible because he has learnt how to use it up. How does he do it? The secret has always been known to the European occult schools, where it was called the finding of the Stone of the Wise, the Philosopher's Stone.
At the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century a good deal of information about occult development leaked out. The Stone of the Wise was often mentioned in published writings, but one can see that the author understood little of it, even though it all came from the right sources. In 1797 a local Thuringian newspaper printed an article about the Stone of the Wise which included, inter alia, the following: “The Stone of the Wise is something one has only to recognise, for every man has seen it. It is something which everyone holds in his hand for part of almost every day, but without knowing that it is the Philosopher's Stone.” This is an enigmatic way of indicating that the Philosopher's Stone can be found everywhere. Yet this strange expression is literally true.
This is how it comes about. The plant, as it builds up its body, takes in the carbon dioxide and retains the carbon for its body-building purposes. Men and animals eat the plants, take in the carbon, and give it up as carbon dioxide when they breathe out. So we have a carbon cycle. In the future there will be a great change. Man will learn to extend the range of his innate powers and will gradually come to do for himself what at present he leaves to the plant. Just as man passed through the plant and animal kingdoms in the course of his evolution, so will he in a certain sense retrace his steps. He will himself become plant; he will take up the plant-nature into himself and accomplish the whole plant-process within himself. He will retain the carbon dioxide and will consciously build up his body with it, as the plant now builds up its own body unconsciously. He will prepare the necessary oxygen in his own organs, unite it with carbon to form carbon dioxide, and then deposit the carbon again in himself. Thus he will be able to build up his bodily structure. Here is an idea which opens up a great perspective for the future; and when it comes about man will cease to be a killer with his breath.
Now we know that carbon and diamond are the same substance; diamond is more thoroughly crystallised and a more transparent form of carbon. Hence we need not think that in the future people will go about looking like negroes. Their bodies will consist of soft, transparent carbon. At that stage man will have found the Philosopher's Stone and he will transform his own body into it.
Anyone undergoing occult development has to anticipate this process as far as possible He must deprive his breath of the capacity to kill, and must organise his breathing so that the air he exhales is usable and can be breathed again. How is this to be accomplished? You have to bring rhythm into your breathing. The teacher gives the necessary instructions. Breathing in, holding your breath and breathing out again — this must be done rhythmically, if only for a short period. With every rhythmical exhalation the air is improved, slowly but surely. Here the old saying applies drops of water wear away the stone. The chemists cannot yet confirm this: their instruments are too coarse to detect the finer substances, but the occultist knows that breath imbued with rhythm is life-promoting and contains more than the normal amount of oxygen. The breath can be purified also, and at the same time, by meditation. This, too, contributes, if only by a very little, towards bringing the plant-nature back into man, so that he may become a being who does not kill.
5. Pratyahara, the curbing of sense-perception. Nowadays in ordinary life a person receives a continual stream of sense-impressions and allows them all to work on him. The occult teacher says to the pupil: “You must concentrate on a single sense-impression for a specified number of minutes and pass on to another only by your own free choice.”
6. Dharana, when the pupil has done that for a while he must learn to make himself deaf and blind to all sense-impressions; he must turn away from them and try to hold in his thought only the concepts they leave behind. If he thus lives in concepts only, and controls his thoughts and links one concept to another by his own free choice, he has reached the condition known as Dharana.
7. Dhyanam. There are concepts — often disregarded by Europeans — which do not derive from sense-impressions. We have to form them for ourselves — mathematical concepts, for example. No perfect triangle exists in the outer world; it can only be conceived in thought, and the same is true of a circle. Then there is a whole range of concepts which anyone undertaking occult training must study intensively. They are symbolic concepts which are connected with some objects — for example, the hexagram, or the pentagram, symbols which occultism can explain. The pupil must keep his mind sharply concentrated on such symbolic objects, not to be found in the outer world. It is the same with another kind of concept: for example, that of the species Lion, which can be laid hold of only in thought. On these, too, the pupil must focus his attention. Finally, there are moral ideas, such for example as the following, from Light on the Path: 43Light on the Path, written by Mabel Collins. “Before the eye can see, it must be incapable of tears.” This, too, cannot be experienced outwardly, but only inwardly. This meditation on concepts which have no sense-perceptible counterpart is called Dhyanam.
8. Finally, Samadhi, the most difficult of all. After concentrating for a very long time on an idea which has no sense-perceptible counterpart, you allow your mind to rest in it and your soul to be filled with it. Then you let the idea go, so that nothing is left in your consciousness. But you must not fall asleep, as would then normally happen; you must remain conscious. In that state the secrets of the higher worlds begin to reveal themselves. This state can be described as follows. You are thinking, for you are conscious, but you have no thoughts, and into this thinking without thoughts the spiritual powers are able to pour their content. But as long as you yourself fill your thinking, they cannot come in. The longer you can hold in your consciousness this activity of thinking without thoughts, the more will the super-sensible world reveal itself to you.
These are the eight realms with which a teacher of Eastern Yoga deals.
Now we will speak about the Christian way of occult training, as far as this is possible, and we shall see how it differs from the Eastern way. This Christian way can be followed with the advice of a teacher who knows what has to be done and can rectify mistakes at every step. But in Christian training the great Guru is Christ Jesus Himself. Hence it is essential to have a firm belief in the presence and the life on Earth of the Christ. Without this, a feeling of union with Him is impossible. Further, we must recognise that in the Gospel of St. John we have a document which originates with the great Guru Himself and can itself be a source of instruction. This Gospel is something we can experience in our own inner being and not something we merely believe. Whoever has absorbed it in the right way will no longer need to prove the reality of Christ Jesus, for he will have found Him.
In Christian training you must meditate on this Gospel, not simply read and re-read it. The Gospel begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God ...” The opening verses of this Gospel, rightly understood, are sentences for meditation and must be inwardly absorbed in the condition of Dhyanam, as described above. If in the morning, before other impressions have entered the soul, you live for five minutes solely in these sentences, with everything else excluded from your thoughts, and if you continue to do this over the years with absolute patience and perseverance, you will find that these words are not only something to be understood; you will realise that they have an occult power, and you will indeed experience through them a transformation of the soul. In a certain sense you become clairvoyant through these words, so that everything in St. John's Gospel can be seen with astral vision.
Then, under the direction of the teacher, and after meditating again on the five opening verses, the pupil allows the first chapter to pass through his mind for seven days. During the following week, after again meditating on the five opening verses, he goes on to the second chapter, and so in the same way up to the twelfth. He will soon learn how powerful an experience this is; how he is led into the events in Palestine when Christ Jesus lived there, as they are inscribed in the Akashic Record, and how he can actually experience it all. And then, when he reaches the thirteenth chapter, he has to experience the separate stages of Christian Initiation.
The first stage is the Washing of the Feet. We must understand the significance of this great scene. Christ Jesus bends down before those who are lower than himself. This humility towards those who are lower than we are, and at whose expense we have been able to rise, must be present everywhere in the world. If a plant were able to think, it would thank the minerals for giving it the ground on which it can lead a higher form of life, and the animal would have to bow down before the plant and say: “To thee I owe the possibility of my own existence.” In the same way man should recognise what he owes to all the rest of nature. So also, in our society, a man holding a higher position should bow before those who stand lower and say: “But for the diligence of those who labour on my behalf, I could not stand where I do.” And so on through all stages of human existence up to Christ Jesus Himself, who bows down in meekness before the Apostles and says: “You are my ground, and to you I fulfil the saying, ‘He who would be first must be last, and he who would be Lord must be the servant of all’.” The Washing of the Feet betokens this willingness to serve, this bowing down in perfect humility. This is a feeling that everyone committed to occult development must have.
If the pupil has permeated himself with this humility, he will have experienced the first stage of Christian Initiation. He will know by two signs, an outer and an inner, that he has gone thus far. The outer sign is that he feels as though his feet were being laved with water. The inner sign is an astral vision which will quite certainly come: he sees himself washing the feet of a number of persons. This picture rises up in his dreams as an astral vision, and every pupil has the same vision. When he has experienced it, he will have truly absorbed this whole chapter.
The second stage is that of the Scourging. When the pupil has reached this point, he must, while he reads of the Scourging and allows it to act upon him, develop another feeling. He must learn to stand firm under the heavy strokes of life, saying to himself: “I will stand up to whatever pains and sorrows come to me.” The outer sign of this is that the pupil feels a kind of prickling pain all over his body. The outer sign is that in a dream-vision he sees himself being scourged.
The third stage is that of the Crowning with Thorns, and for this he has to acquire yet another feeling: he learns to stand firm even when he is scorned and ridiculed because of all that he holds most sacred. The outer sign of this is that he experiences a severe headache; the inward symptom is that he has an astral vision of himself being crowned with thorns.
The fourth stage is that of the Crucifixion. A new and quite definite feeling must be developed. The pupil must cease to regard his body as the most important thing for him; his body must become as indifferent to him as a piece of wood. He then comes to look quite objectively on the body he carries with him through life; it has become for him the wood of the Cross. He need not despise it, any more than he does any other tool. The outer sign for having reached this stage is that during the pupil's meditation red marks (stigmata) appear at those places on his body which are called the sacred wounds. They do indeed appear on the hands and feet, and on the right side of the body at the level of the heart. The inward sign is that the pupil has a vision of himself hanging on the Cross.
The fifth stage is that of the Mystical Death. Now the pupil experiences the nothingness of earthly things, and indeed dies for a while to all earthly things.
Only the most scanty descriptions can be given of these later stages of Christian Initiation. The pupil experiences in an astral vision that darkness reigns everywhere and that the earthly world has fallen away. A black veil spreads over that which is to come, and while he is in this condition the pupil comes to know all that exists as evil and wickedness in the world. This is the Descent into Hell. Then he experiences the tearing away of the curtain and the world of Devachan appears before him. This is the rending of the veil of the Temple.
The sixth stage is that of the Burial. Just as at the fourth stage the pupil learnt to regard his own body objectively, so now he has to develop the feeling that everything else around him in the world is as much part of what truly belongs to him as his own body is. The body then extends far beyond its skin; the pupil is no longer a separate being; he is united with the whole planet. The Earth has become his body; he is buried in the Earth.
The seventh stage, that of the Resurrection, cannot be described in words. Hence occultism teaches that the seventh stage can be conceived only by a man whose soul has been entirely freed from the brain, and only to such a man could it be described. Hence we cannot do more than mention it here. The Christian teacher indicates the way to this experience.
When a man has lived through this seventh stage, Christianity has become an inner experience of the soul. He is now wholly united with Christ Jesus; Christ Jesus is in him.