This book is about how to obtain super-sensible knowledge, or knowledge of “higher” worlds. It contains ten lectures on that theme given by Rudolf Steiner to different audiences in different places, but arranged here in a certain evolving depth of content.
In a time like the present, therefore, when so many people are looking for a spiritual understanding of life — and when many are being led astray by unscrupulous teachers — it is a matter of no little importance that such a book should appear now, a book that demands nothing of the reader but an independent, open-minded judgment of what it has to say.
As this book is likely to come to the attention of those who know little or nothing about Rudolf Steiner, and perhaps even less of super-sensible knowledge, it may be well to introduce it by saying something about both its author and his subject. This kind of prospective reader will then be better able to adapt himself to what it has to say, while those more familiar with Steiner can plunge straight into the book without spending any more time with this introduction.
Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher with a strong scientific background who attracted a great deal of attention in the first quarter of this century with his books and lectures on the nature of the super-sensible. He not only gave detailed descriptions of higher worlds and their beings that are inaccessible to ordinary sense-perception, but he explained how knowledge of these worlds could be acquired by anyone willing to follow a strict and guided development of the ordinary powers of cognition. Steiner based all that he said on the ability of the human mind to know. He would have nothing to do with any method that imposed strange, mystical practices on the aspirant for higher knowledge, or that demanded implicit obedience to the will of a teacher or guru. Everything he suggested can be explored only on the basis of the consciousness that modern man has acquired in the pursuit of knowledge of nature.
We are accustomed to calling this knowledge of nature “scientific,” and though this knowledge was to Steiner merely the outer aspect of a world of phenomena and beings active “behind the scenes,” as it were, he was so much in accord with the basic principles of scientific methodology that he called this higher knowledge spiritual science. The spiritual scientist directs thinking to what is given, as does the natural scientist, but does not confine himself only to that which is given to the senses. He applies thinking to thought itself as the primary manifestation of super-sensible reality.
The world that spiritual science explores, therefore, is the world of creative purposes and intentions in contrast to the world of sense-perceptible phenomena, or the “wrought work,” as Steiner called it on one occasion. Knowledge of these higher worlds is, therefore, “occult,” hidden from ordinary consciousness, and hence the term “occultism” used in the opening lines of this book to distinguish this knowledge from the comprehensive term “anthroposophy,” which Rudolf Steiner uses to describe his work as a whole.
Now occultism, referring as it does to something ordinarily inaccessible to us, has a strong fascination for some people. Others, of course, are just as strongly repelled by it. As it is the former who are likely to be attracted to this book (the others will hardly get beyond the title), we can proceed at once to offer certain cautionary remarks to the former, for just because of this strong fascination one might attempt to embark forthwith upon the discovery of this extraordinary knowledge without further reflection. It should be remembered, however, that Steiner had already written a book on this subject, Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, and the people who heard the lectures reproduced here would, for the most part, have been familiar with that book, and with anthroposophy in general.
To begin with, then, it needs to be said that as these higher worlds are indeed “hidden” from ordinary knowledge and consciousness, the reader would be well advised to get some information about them before embarking on a quest for higher knowledge. Rudolf Steiner's two books, Theosophy and Occult Science, an Outline, are excellent sources of such information.
There are several reasons for this suggestion. One is that Steiner himself held it as a sine qua non for the acquisition of higher knowledge that the aspirant should get some idea beforehand of these worlds from those able to speak of them from firsthand experience. This is not only important in light of much that is referred to in the book itself, but it is also a matter of common sense. Anyone contemplating traveling to a part of the world that he has never visited will invariably find out as much about it as he can beforehand from those who have already been there. He will then not only know what to expect, but he is likely to understand all the better what he sees when he gets there. This is even more relevant in the quest for knowledge of higher worlds, for one is seeking access to worlds that not only one has never seen, but that are utterly unlike anything one could see with physical eyes.
There is another and even more pressing reason. Such a study of the information about the higher worlds, already existing in what are called the “five basic books” of anthroposophy, is itself the first step to such knowledge. A reading of the first chapter of Occult Science, an Outline will do much to explain this. If the reader finds in such a preliminary study something to which he can with sound judgment say, Yes, he will be able to proceed on solid foundations with what this book has to offer. The reader will discover by such study the reality of something with which he has long been familiar as a figure of speech, but which he now recognizes as an inner faculty — his sense of truth. He will have learned something of the knowledge-potential of the inner nature of thought, and what can happen in thinking will take on a new depth of meaning for him. If he can combine this with a study of Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom, he will find his confidence in thinking enhanced, even in thinking about matters of which he has as yet no direct experience. This is important, because he will find as he reads this book that thinking itself is not only a super-sensible activity, but is the very vehicle by which he finds his way to experience of these worlds.
There is something else the reader will have to determine for himself before he takes up a quest such as this book describes — that is, whether he is both ready and able to embark upon it. While this might seem to call into question the statement already made that anyone can take this path, it does not really. The exercises outlined in this book are indeed such that anyone can practice them, but they are not easy. One must be aware of this. They are quite strict, and no one should embark on them without carefully weighing what that strictness involves.
We have already touched on the fact that the occult has a fascination for people. Many would like to have such knowledge, but it is of the utmost importance to understand why one wants to obtain this knowledge. The aspirant must be able to put that question to himself and to answer it with the utmost honesty and sincerity, for if anything of the nature of mere curiosity or personal advantage should lie at the root of that desire, harmless as that might be in itself, it will become an obstacle in the attainment of higher knowledge.
We touch here on the moral aspect of the acquisition of higher knowledge, a matter to which the reader will find Rudolf Steiner calls attention again and again throughout this book. It is not a matter, however, of Steiner laying down moral injunctions, but rather of the aspirant discovering the morality which is implicit in the attainment of knowledge. Here the strictest scientific integrity, demanding the exclusion of all personal gratification and desire, is essential. If the aspirant is not yet ready to accept that morality, then it would be better for him to continue studying the literature of spiritual science (which he should be doing in any case) until he is ready. Here self-knowledge precedes self-development, and if that knowledge is objective and thorough enough, it will be found to be essential to self-development. As Carl Unger, a pupil of Rudolf Steiner, once put it, “Every knowledge transforms the knower,” and the path to higher knowledge is primarily a transformation of the self.
A word or two on what was meant by being “able” to embark on this quest would not come amiss here, particularly regarding the “strictness” already mentioned.
Being “able” refers primarily to regularity in carrying out the exercises described by Steiner. Once having embarked on this path there should be no, but no, “letup.” Whether the reader has the ability to do that, especially if he is young, is something that needs careful reflection. “Able” here has nothing to do with superior intelligence; it is exclusively a matter of the will. This is why Steiner sets such a modest time limit on the duration of these exercises: a quarter of an hour, or even five minutes, is enough if used properly. But the exercises must be done every day. Regularity is everything; and if one considers all the eventualities that might upset that regularity, one might well reflect on whether one will be able to carry this through. There is nothing quite so discouraging as having to face having reneged on such work as this, even with the best reason in the world. It is like dropping from a great height a ball of string that one has just carefully wound, and having to face the prospect of winding it all up again.
The reader should also be aware of what will be happening to him if he decides to follow this path, and although Steiner makes this abundantly clear, it will not hurt to underline one thing. One is engaged in transforming the soul into an organ of perception, and one is doing this largely as the result of exercises based on thinking. We usually imagine perception and thinking to be two entirely different activities, but we cannot really keep them apart. One need only recall how, after a strenuous bout of thinking, when the concept for which we are searching at last appears, we invariably say, “Ah! Now I see!” to realize that perceiving (in this case, perceiving concepts) is closely interwoven with thinking. One does “see” the concept that has appeared in consciousness; and it is this seeing in thinking that the aspirant will be exercising in everything he does. “As color is to the eye,” says Steiner in Goethe the Scientist, “and sound to the ear, so are concepts and ideas to thinking: it [thinking] is an organ of perception.”
Finally, one must discover that the satisfaction in doing these exercises should be in the feeling they engender. There can be no setting a goal for oneself, such as, “I will do these exercises for a certain length of time, and then see what happens,” or of drawing an imaginary chart to plot one's progress, as business executives do to show whether their profits are going up or down. Paradoxical as it may seem, although one undertakes these exercises in order to achieve a certain result, that result should be the last thing with which one is concerned. For, again paradoxically, that result is not something one can acquire; it is something that is given when the higher powers deem that the time is ripe for enlightenment to be given. And that is something no man can foresee. It may take months, it may take years. The satisfaction, therefore, that one can legitimately hope to feel is only that which can be found in the work itself. It is “love for the action” that must be discovered. One must come to the point where one would rather omit anything else in the course of the day than miss the satisfaction which comes from this work. Then and then only will one become aware that something is beginning to happen in the soul, a genuine intercourse between oneself and higher worlds; and although one may still not be able to “see a thing,” that will not be important. One will know that such seeing will and must come, as come it only can, “in God's good time.”
There is just one more thing that should be said about this book and that should recommend it regardless of what the reader does about the book otherwise: that is, the way it reveals what I can only describe as the inner logic of knowledge. No one who reads this book with an open mind and the attention it deserves can lay it down without being convinced not only that such knowledge is possible, but that it is only really possible in the way the author describes. The reader may not want to advance to such knowledge himself — there may be reasons best known to him why he should not attempt it yet — but there can be no doubt that this knowledge is possible to anyone who has the determination to see it through. And to know just that from reading such a book is something unique. Furthermore, the material in this book is offered by a man who knows from personal experience what he is talking about, who “lays all his cards on the table” with regard to what is involved, and yet never once uses that authority to impose upon the freedom of the reader as to what he does about it.
There are two things with which our time has yet to come to grips: one is the extension of man's knowledge and human consciousness into regions of the mind hitherto declared forever inaccessible; and the other is the real nature of human freedom. In this book the author lays out a plan of approach for the one, and by the way he does so he acknowledges the indisputable existence of the other.