Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Christian Mystery
GA 97

XVIII. The Three Ways of Initiation. (Address for the opening of the Paracelsus Branch)

19 September 1906, Basel

When one gives a lecture on a Christian theme at a public gathering, it is not possible to speak about the worldwide theosophical movement in the intimate way which is possible in the present case, in a smaller, closed group. The lecture will give an outline of the three ways of initiation.

Many of you will no doubt have been involved with theosophy in all kinds of different ways and also know different views presented within the world-wide theosophical movement. Reading, lectures, and your own reflections will have made some of you interested in finding out more about things that go beyond the sphere of the senses, things eternal, beyond time and mortality.

The science of the spirit has made it its special mission to give instruction on the deeper nature of man and his relationship to the world as a whole, also to try and discover what is the eternal, lasting principle in man, what are the causes of illness, of bad and evil things in the world and in individual human beings, what are the ultimate goals and purposes of the world and of man, and, finally, how the world has come into existence.

Today, however, our theme will mainly be the ways in which insight may be gained into those higher problems.

Human morality is the greatest goal man can set for himself. General brotherhood among people has been the ideal of all great, noble people through the ages. The theosophical association wants this, too. It definitely does not aim to create a sect based on Buddhist views, nor does it seek to abolish or replace Christianity. It also does not want to present anything unscientific. Apart from this it is also important to distinguish between the doctrine of theosophy, its view of the world, and its aims, which are to achieve the general brotherhood of man.

Both are important, the theory and the practice of theosophy. The teaching should serve to make us aware of the higher and highest principles. For we are doing some work on our souls when we follow such theoretical thinking. We prepare it, as it were, for the practice of human love and brotherhood. The theoretical aims are to reach a point where we understand the essential nature of human beings, so that we meet one another with real understanding, judging and treating one another accordingly. Different opinions, occupations, environments and so on drive people apart in life. Deeper insight and knowledge should be the means of creating peace and love among people in spite of many different opinions. That is the theosophical view of the world. It has originally come from individuals who have made efforts to deepen and develop their dormant inner faculties so that they might gain greater insight into the world than is possible by means of our ordinary senses or ordinary human understanding. Such people are called initiates. Different degrees of initiation are known. The great founders of religions were great initiates, among them Hermes, teacher of the priests in ancient Egypt, Zarathustra, Moses, Plato, Jesus Christ. All of them had more highly developed souls. They were able to see into the world of the spirit which is around us in a similar way to the physical world.

For as long as someone does not seek himself to take the path of initiation, there is only one way to look into those worlds of spirit, and that is by using the rational human mind. The world grows clear and lucid if penetrated by the rational mind.

The view of the world gained in the science of the spirit makes insight into the world clearer and deeper than other philosophies do. The rational mind is the judge, accepting or rejecting such teachings about humanity. Human beings have a real need for these, which is also why they are presented to them.

We will now take a closer look at how one may develop one's soul so that it will be able to perceive the sublime realm that lies beyond the senses. There is, of course, no compulsion or obligation about this. Not everyone needs to follow such a path. Those who are able will receive the necessary suggestions and be able to take the right steps in accord with them.

Methods of acquiring such higher faculties have existed at all times. But until a few decades ago they were only known to a few chosen occult teachers and occult pupils. Someone who is called may also find the right path of development for himself. All it needs is serious resolve and one's own free will.

This lecture shall therefore also have no bias towards propaganda nor seek to push people towards such a path. All that will be done is to show the ways that might be followed. Initiation is the goal of such a path of development, that is, gaining the faculties needed for insight into higher worlds.

Unfortunately it is still widely, and wrongly, believed that theosophy is something that comes from the East, really from India, and a kind of neo-Buddhism that is to be pushed on to us Westerners as a new religion. To say this is to do a great injustice to theosophy, for it has existed in Europe from the beginning, and had grown deep roots in many places, especially in recent centuries. It has to be admitted, however, that it was always met with greater understanding in the East. East and West also have quite different ways of initiation, which is in accord with the more deep down nature of individual nations. For us, the European way is of course more important, and it is more appropriate for us to follow this. All these ways lead to one and the same goal, however, for the truth is the same both here and there, today and yesterday and in all eternity.

To begin with, a brief description will be given of the three most important forms of initiation—first the Indian yoga initiation, secondly the Christian and gnostic way, which people would also do well to follow today, and thirdly the Rosicrucian way. This is the most suitable for people today who cannot find what they seek in mere faith and need to enter into the achievements of civilization and technology. Deep down this is also a Christian way, as is evident, apart from anything else, in the fact that someone who has developed by taking the Rosicrucian way learns to understand the wisdom taught in Christianity in the best and deepest way.

Firstly, the Eastern yoga way. The human soul is able to develop to the point where it becomes like an eye that has direct vision of the spirit, of the eternal which is beyond time. The way taken by people of the East for this development differs from the way of the European because their natural disposition and organization are different. A Hindu differs from a European not only in external appearance, for his brain and soul are also built differently. It is evident, therefore, that if they are truly to reach the goal, Hindus must take a different way from that of Europeans. It actually goes so far that a European may possibly ruin himself both morally and physically by taking the Eastern path of development. The isolation and withdrawal of the soul required for the yoga way is practically impossible in our European civilization. One would have to step completely aside from ordinary life here, and indeed from our whole civilization, devoting oneself entirely to one's personal inner development.

Someone who follows this route needs a spiritual guide or guru who pilots him safely through all the chaos. Without such a guru it is impossible to follow this way. It also needs a complete transformation of human nature, a transformation laid down for one by the guru. Such a guru altogether has unlimited power over his pupil. It then is no longer of no concern what the individual does in his life in other respects. It is no longer enough to be a decent, good person of the ordinary kind, simply the kind of person society tends to consider an example.

It has to be possible to keep soul and body quite distinct and separate, they must no longer interpenetrate the way they did before. Passions and animal instincts should no longer have a place in the human soul, for the soul is inhibited and prevented by them from penetrating the mists of the physical world and looking into the higher world of the spirit. However, when soul and body are cleanly separated, the latter may well bring its passions and drives into play at the same time as the soul is in that higher life. It is therefore possible for the soul to develop to a higher level and gain vision in the spirit, whilst the body falls subject to all kinds of bad qualities and perhaps becomes corrupted because its passions and drives are no longer guided towards better things by the soul's insight, which had been possible when soul and body were still interpenetrating. This shows the tremendous importance of proper guidance on this difficult path. One must in that case strictly obey the guru, even if it goes against the grain. The guru is permitted to involve himself in the pupil's most intimate affairs of the heart and give him rules on how to conduct his life. Certain relationships may be forbidden as being an impediment to the development that is in progress. Preconditions for this way of development are firstly the ability to prevent the lower drives to good effect, then regular practice of certain ways of doing things, firmly establishing particular qualities and developing additional faculties that still lie dormant or do not yet exist.

Such preparations for development are: firstly to get out of the habit of letting one's thoughts dart about. This would seem to be an easy condition, but it is in fact difficult. We are driven and put under pressure by external impressions. For at least five minutes a day the individual should have complete control of the way his thoughts run. One exercise one might try, for instance, is to concentrate the mind on a single idea. Nothing else should be linked with this idea, however many things want to come in of their own accord, only the thoughts I myself connect with it, freely deciding to do so. Such exercises should be done with a variety of objects. After some time, the individuaPs thinking will be controlled and this is outwardly apparent in a more precise choice of words, among other things.

Secondly, taking initiative in one's actions. Some people are quite incapable of this, for they may have been forced into an occupation from early on, and this occupies most of their active life. Most of the things we do are dictated from outside. Someone seeking to gain initiation should therefore be deeply concerned to do something regularly, always at the same time of the day, something they have decided on themselves, even if it is something quite insignificant.

Thirdly, the pupil should overcome mood swings, being on top of the world one minute and down in the dumps the next. It means we should not give ourselves without will to pleasure and pain but keep our inner equilibrium even in the bitterest pain and greatest pleasures. This certainly will not make us insensitive and lacking in response; quite the contrary, our inner responses become all the more subtle and intensive.

Fourthly, a Persian legend about Christ Jesus should live in the pupil's heart. It is this. One day Jesus walked in the countryside with his disciples. A half decomposed dog lay by the wayside, a horrible sight. The disciples turned away, feeling shocked. Christ Jesus looked at the cadaver with loving eyes, however, commenting: ‘Look what beautiful teeth this dead animal has!’ The quintessence of this is to find hidden beauty even in ugly things, and altogether always look for the positive aspect, for something to which one can say yes. The life of even the worst of evildoers has moments of light and we can meet these with understanding.

Fifthly, we must seek to gain complete freedom from prejudice, The past should never determine the way we judge the present. We should not reject something new just because we have not come across it before. New insights should be taken in an unbiased way if one wants to be an initiate.

Sixth, developing harmony of soul. This will really arise from all the other things, as if of its own accord.

These qualities are absolutely essential preconditions for anyone who is to be initiated the yoga way.

The actual yoga way involves a number of stages that must be kept clearly distinct.

Firstly the yoga pupil must not kill, lie, steal, live to excess or be covetous. The more one ceases to live at the cost of others, the closer does one come to what is meant by the requirement that one should not steal. For this is not, of course, the stealing that is a punishable crime, but more subtle forms of it. As to the other requirements, each individual will immediately know what they involve.

Secondly it is highly desirable to acknowledge certain symbolic acts for one's own. One must have a feeling for it and come to understand that a rite is really just giving symbolic expression to something much more profound.

Thirdly the assumption of specific body positions, for the position into which one brings the body for the exercises to gain higher wisdom is far from immaterial. As far as possible it should be placed in the direction in which the spiritual streams move in the world.

Fourthly, pranayama, the regulation of one's breathing, is of great importance. It has to do with the requirement not to kill, for man's breath is capable of killing many things in the world around him. Yoga breathing aims gradually to free the breath from its deadly effect on other life forms. Above all, yoga pupils should no longer release so much deadly carbon dioxide. This is possible, for we know that individuals who have been deeply initiated can spend decades in caves where the air is stale and this does not ruin them physically.

The fifth stage relates to suppressing the evolution of certain sensual ideals. We must no longer let every sensual idea influence us but need to take individual ones and concentrate all our attention on them. The rest of our thoughts should also be made to progress in a specific, regulated way.

The sixth stage is that as he progresses the pupil must concentrate on, say, an impression of light, or, put in a better way, to concentrate on the image such an impression has left in the soul. This is an even higher stage. Even more valuable is meditation based on an idea that is no longer part of the world we perceive through the senses. It is essential for the human being to give himself to the contemplation of such ideas if he is to progress.

The seventh stage is very hard. It consists in the individual banishing every idea of any kind from his conscious mind whilst remaining wholly awake. He then comes closer to the state of intuitive conception. Now at last the soil is prepared and the contents of a world that has been unknown to us so far can come to us.

A guru is absolutely essential during the whole of this preparation for the yoga way. It is solely and exclusively due to him that these inner developments take the right course and benefit the pupil.

This has, of course, been only a rough and ready outline of the yoga way. It is certainly not a set of instructions for following it. Let me repeat: the guidance given by the guru from time to time is absolutely essential, and it is given from person to person.

The second way is the Christian gnostic one. The main difference here, compared to the one that went before, is that it is not necessary for every individual pupil to have his own guru. This is no longer required because of the existence of a great, sublime individual, Christ Jesus, who is there to be the pupil's goal and to point the way. The way that has to be followed is given in detail in holy writ, in the Bible, above all in the gospel of John. Deep down this does indeed give direct instructions for training as a mystic.

Along this way, the guide is there more to advise than to be an authoritative guru in the usual sense. The guidance concerning initiation is of the highest authority, that of Jesus Christ. John's gospel gives such guidance. It is not a book for study but a book for life in the true sense of the word. The first few sentences of the gospel have special mystic powers and are tremendously important for setting out on this path of initiation. A pupil of the Christian mysteries needs to take a meditative approach to those few sentences, for instance letting them and nothing else live in his soul at a particular time every morning. After some time the profound meaning of these sentences will be clear to him intuitively, and it is only then that the moment has come when one can begin further study of John's gospel so that it will truly bear fruit.

In the course of one's study, the images of the gospel will gradually slip quietly into our dreams, so that we have real inner experience of the events described. This inner experience then continues through all further stages of development which I am not going to describe in detail here and now.

When the pupil has progressed to the washing of the feet, a symbolic act in which one humbly confesses one's dependence and the fact that one has grown and developed on the basis of something lower, at a lower level than our own, certain symptoms will show themselves also externally—a strange feeling of water running by one's feet. The inner symptom relating to this is an imaginative vision of the washing of the feet. In Christian mystic development, the washing of the feet marks the first stage.

The second station is the scourging, which is also something one enters into in one's feelings. It means that in spite of the great and frequent pair and troubles we have to bear in life we will always stand up straight and not grow faint-hearted. Again we have both an outer and an inner symptoms—a strange physical stabbing sensation and the mental image of our own scourging.

Stage three is the crown of thorns. This means that though it is painful to have our most sacred feelings and convictions derided and have scorn poured on them, we must not lose our inner firmness, our equilibrium. Symptoms are headaches, and vision of one's own person wearing the crown of thorns.

Fourthly bearing the cross (crucifixion). Here the pupil is to gain living experience that the body is really an indifferent object compared to the soul and its importance. When we are truly aware of this we'll also be able to use the body merely as an instrument for higher things, and weUl truly control it. Symptoms are the Christ's stigmata appearing as reddened areas on hands and feet. This blood trial only occurs for brief moments during the meditation, however. Inner vision of being crucified oneself.

Fifth, the mystic death. Here the pupil has a strange experience. It is as if the whole world around him is covered by a veil, and he senses the essence that lies behind the veil. When he feels himself thus to be in utter darkness, the veil will suddenly tear and he looks through it into a new, wondrous world. He now learns to judge the depths of the human soul by a completely different standard. This mystic death is like a descent into hell.

The pupil is now someone who has been awakened and can progress to the sixth stage, the entombment. Here he feels the whole outer environment to be his body. His individual nature expands, encompassing the whole world. The body feels itself to be one with the earth, and individual consciousness expands to become earth consciousness.

The seventh stage cannot be described to any degree, for it is beyond all powers of imagination based on the senses. Individuals who have finally come free of this world by unceasing practice may just be able to grasp it in their thoughts. This stage involves entering into perfect divinity and glory, and we do not have the words to describe it.

This Christian way is difficult, for it demands great inner humility and giving up of self. Anyone who has gone through it, however, will have achieved man's goal and dignity. True Christianity will have come to life in him in a very real way.

The third way is the Rosicrucian one. It is really just a modification of the other two. It developed in the 14th century, when the adepts were able to foresee that civilization would become very different in the centuries ahead.

This is the most suitable way for modern people. It is also the most appropriate for Europeans. This does not mean to say that one of the other ways will not also lead to the goal. But the Rosicrucian system is compatible with our whole civilization and culture. It has not so far been laid down in books or manuscripts, but has been passed from generation to generation by oral tradition. A more detailed description is given in Lucifer-Gnosis under the title ‘How to gain knowledge of the higher worlds’. 146Steiner R. Geisteswissenschaft und soziale Frage. Lucifer-Gnosis— Grundlegende AufsStze zur Anthroposophie und Berichte (GA 34) . Originally in Luzifer-Gnosis Nos. 13–28, Berlin, 1904–1905.

This is a very different view of the role of a guru. He is no longer absolute authority for the pupil but more a friend and adviser. The only authority lies in the individual's own free decision.

Evolution is in seven stages: 1) study, 2) imagination, 3) insight into occult scripture, 4) making life rhythmic, 5) looking for relationships between macrocosm and microcosm, 6) contemplation, 7) experiencing godliness.

Study is thus required as a first step, though this is not the scholarly type of study but working with thoughts relating to the world and to human life, the origin of the heavenly bodies, and so on, and other ways of training one's thinking. Thinking is able to give us new living experiences—I am referring to logical thinking with a definite goal. It provides secure guidance througJi all worlds, for thinking has to be equally consistent in all of them.

Secondly we have to gain the faculty of imagination. This is a matter of relating to the world around us not only in theory and in our thoughts but in moral terms. We must learn to discover the aspect of every thing that gives its moral background. To develop this kind of imagination we may, for instance, put the image of a plant clearly before our mind's eye. Or we may have a small seed grain before us and develop images of how it gradually sprouts, producing a stem and finally a complete plant with its fruit. After some practice one can really see how a plant emerges and grows from such a seed. This does, however, call for considerable occult powers. With lesser means it is possible to perceive the astral body of the plant as a small flame emerging from the seed.

Thirdly to learn occult script. This means to learn signs that have to do with the cosmic process.

Step 4 is to make life rhythmical. Our breathing needs to be regulated, changing the relative proportions of exhaled carbon dioxide and inhaled oxygen in a specific way. It is altogether most necessary to bring rhythm into life in our restless age. All processes follow one another in a great rhythm, and as far as possible this should also be made part of one's life. Thus we should arrange to have a meditation process at a given hour, or to review our past life at the same time every night. This releases great powers in the soul.

Step 5 is to look for correspondences between microcosm and macrocosm. Goethe put this most beautifully in the following verse:

Were not the eye like to the sun,
The sun it never could behold;
Were not in us the god's own power,
How could we take delight in things divine? 147Goethe, Zahme Xenien III.

Entering intensely into our organs teaches us about the parts of the macrocosm that relate to them. Thus study of the eye teaches us about light, exploration of the lung about the composition of the air, and so on. Using a similar way we should finally also gain self knowledge.

Entering into the small world within us we thus gradually also have the great world revealed to us. Such comparative studies will ultimately lead to the state of godliness, the result of all the work that has gone before and above all of the deep, calm contemplation that is the sixth stage.

With all this, the individual must be imbued with specific good qualities, these being self confidence, self control and being present in mind and spirit.

The pupil has to work unceasingly on this inner development. For although the divine principle is indeed latent in us, it does not reveal itself without work and the right kind of development. To follow this way one does not have to leave one's human and social environment to devote oneself to personal development in solitude. Nor does it ask that we despise matter, merely that we grow beyond it, overcoming it to reach something higher.

Our guiding principle should be that self knowledge is world knowledge.

The three ways I have described take the individual to being a pupil at a higher level. It is only from this that a true initiate can then give us the key to the secret of the world, so that we may gain insight into the deeper connections in the life of the world and in human life. That highest level then means one is able to receive intuitions from higher worlds. It is a state of lucidity in spirit and of divine light.