The Gospel of John
XI. Christian Initiation
30 May 1908, Hamburg
If in this whole lecture course we are to concentrate our efforts on gaining a deeper understanding of the words “Father and Mother of Jesus,” and consequently of the essence of Christianity in general according to the Gospel of St. John, we must first acquire the material for an understanding of the concept, Mother and Father, in its spiritual sense, as it is intended in this Gospel and at the same time in its actual meaning. For it is not a question of an allegorical or a symbolic explanation.
We must first understand what it means to unite oneself with the higher spiritual worlds, to prepare oneself to receive the higher worlds. We must at the same time consider the nature of initiation, especially in regard to the Gospel of St. John. Let us ask: What is an initiate?
In all ages of the post-Atlantean human evolution, an initiate has been a person who could lift himself above the outer physical sense-world and have his own personal experiences in the spiritual worlds, a person who could experience the spiritual worlds just as the ordinary human being experiences the physical sense-world through the outer senses, eyes, ears, etc. Such an initiate becomes then a witness of those worlds and their truths. That is one aspect. But there is also something else very essential which every initiate acquires as a very special characteristic during his initiation, that is, he lifts himself above the feelings and sensations which are not only justified but also very necessary within the physical world, but which cannot, however, exist in the same way in the spiritual world.
Do not misunderstand what is said here and imagine that anyone who is able, as an initiate, to experience the spiritual world as well as the physical world must give up all other human feelings and sensations which are of value here in the physical world and exchange them for those of the higher worlds. This is not so. He does not exchange one for the other, but he acquires one in addition to the other. If, on the one hand, he has to spiritualize his feelings, he must, on the other, strengthen much more those feelings which are of use for working in the physical world. In this way we must interpret those words used in connection with an initiate, namely, that he must, in a certain sense, become a homeless person. It is not meant that in any sense he must become estranged from his home and his family as long as he lives in the physical world, but these words have at least this much significance, that by acquiring the corresponding feelings in the spiritual world, the feelings for the physical world will experience a finer, more beautiful development. What does it mean to be homeless? It means that one without this designation cannot, in the true sense of the word, attain initiation. To be a homeless man, means that he must develop no special sympathies in the spiritual world similar to those he possesses here in the physical world for special regions or relationships. The individual human being in the physical world belongs to some particular folk or to some particular family, to this or that community of the state. That is all quite proper. He does not need to lose this; he needs it here. If, however, he wished to employ these feelings in the spiritual world, he would bring a very bad dowry to that world. There, it is not a question of developing sympathy for anything, but of allowing everything to work upon him objectively, according to its inherent worth. It could also be said, were this generally understood, that an initiate must be, in the fullest sense of the word, an objective human being.
It is just through its evolution upon the earth that humanity has emerged out of a former homeless state connected with the ancient dreamy, clairvoyant consciousness. We have seen how mankind has descended out of the spiritual spheres into the physical world. In the primal spiritual spheres, patriotism and such things did not exist. When humanity descended from the spiritual spheres, one part peopled the earth in one region and another part in another region, and thus the individual groups of human beings of different regions became stereotype copies of those regions. Do not imagine that the negro became black solely from inner reasons; he became black also through adapting himself to the region of the earth in which he lived. And so it was also with the white people. Just as the great differences of colour and race came into existence because human beings have acquired something through their connection with their environment, so is it also true in respect of the smaller differences in folk individuality. But this has again to do with the specialization of love upon the earth. Because men became dissimilar, love was at first established in small communities. Only gradually will humanity be able to evolve out of the small communities into a large community of love which will develop concretely through the very implanting of the Spirit-Self. The initiate had to anticipate whither human evolution is tending in order to overcome and bridge over all barriers and bring about great peace, great harmony and brotherhood. In his homelessness, he must always, at the very beginning, receive the same rudiments of great brotherly love. This was symbolically expressed in ancient times in the descriptions of the wanderings experienced by the initiate, such as those, for example, of Pythagoras. Why was this described? In order that the initiate might become objective toward every thing in the feelings he had developed within the heart of the community. It is the task of Christianity to bring to the whole of humanity the Impulse of this Brotherhood which the initiate always possessed as an individual impulse.
Let us hold clearly in mind that most profound idea of Christianity, that the Christ is the Spirit of the earth and that the earth is His body or vesture. And let us take it literally, for we have said that we must weigh in the balance each separate word of such a document as the Gospel of St. John. What do we learn with respect to the “vesture of the earth” when we make a survey of evolution? We learn, first of all, the fact that the vesture of the earth — that is, the solid parts of it — was divided. One person took possession of this part, another of that part. This part belonged to one person, that part to another. Possession, i.e. the extension of the personality through the acquisition of property, is in a certain sense that into which the garment worn by the Christ, the Spirit of the earth, has, in the course of time, been divided. One thing alone could not be divided, but belonged to all; this was the airy envelope surrounding the earth. And from this airy covering, the breath of life was breathed into the human being, as we are shown in the myths of Paradise. Here we have the first rudiments of the ego in the physical body. The air cannot be divided. Let us try to find out whether the one who described Christianity most profoundly in the Gospel of St. John has anywhere indicated this:
And they parted His garments; but His coat they did not divide.
Here you have the words which give you an explanation of how the earth as a whole, together with its airy envelope, is the body or garment, and the coat of the Christ. The garments of the Christ were divided into continents and regions; but not the coat. The air has not been divided; it remains a common possession of all. It is the external, material symbol for the love which is hovering about the earthly globe, which will later be realized.
And in many other connections, Christianity must bring mankind to an acceptance of some of the ancient principles of initiation. If we wish to understand this, we must now characterize initiation. It will suffice, if we consider especially the three main types of initiation; the ancient Yoga, the really specific Christian initiation, and that initiation which is entirely appropriate for men of the present day, the Christian-Rosicrucian initiation. We intend now to describe what course initiation, in general, takes in all three of these forms; what it is and what it represents.
How does a human being become capable of perception in spiritual worlds? First, let me ask, how have you become capable of observing in the physical world? The physical body has sense-organs that make this possible. If you trace human evolution very far back, you will find that in primeval times, the human creature did not yet possess eyes for seeing and ears for hearing in the physical world, but that, as Goethe says, all organs were still undifferentiated. As proof of this, just recall how certain lower animals today still have these undifferentiated organs. Certain lower animals have points through which they can distinguish only light and darkness, and out of these undifferentiated organs, eyes and ears have been moulded and formed. They have been worked into the plastic substance of the physical body. Because your eye has been moulded, there exists for you a world of colour, and because your ear has been sculptured, a world of tone is audible to you. No one has the right to say that a world does not really exist; he may only say, “I do not perceive it.” For to see the world in the true sense of the word, means that I have the organs with which to perceive it. One may say: “I know only this or that world,” but one may not say: “I do not admit of the existence of a world that someone else perceives.” A person who speaks in this manner demands that others too should perceive only just what he himself perceives, but nothing else; he claims authoritatively that only what he perceives is true. When at present someone appears and says: That is all Anthroposophical imagining, what Anthroposophists declare exists, does not exist,” he only proves that he and those like him do not perceive these worlds. We take the positive standpoint. Whoever grants only the existence of what he himself perceives, demands not only that we acknowledge what he knows, but he wishes to make an authoritative decision about something of which he knows nothing. There is no greater intolerance than that shown by official science toward Spiritual Science, and it will become even worse than it has ever been before! It appears in the most varied forms. People are not at all conscious of saying something which they should not allow themselves to say. In many gatherings of very good Christians, one can hear it said: "Anthroposophists talk of some kind of an esoteric Christian teaching, but Christianity needs no esoteric teaching; for only that can be true which a simple, unpretentious mind can perceive and understand," which means, of course, only what the speaker can perceive and understand. He therefore requires that no one should perceive and understand anything different from what he himself perceives and understands. The infallibility of the Pope is quite properly not acknowledged in such Christian assemblies, but the infallibility of the individual is claimed today in the widest circles even by the Christians. Anthroposophy is attacked as a result of this papal standpoint in consequence of which each individual sets himself up as a kind of little pope.
If we consider that the physical sense-world exists for us because the individual organs have been carved into the physical body, it will no longer seem extraordinary when it is said that perception in a higher world rests upon the fact that higher organs have been formed in the higher members of the human organism, in the ether and astral bodies. The physical body is, in this way, already provided with its sense-organs, but the ether and astral bodies are not yet so provided; these have still to be carved into them. When this has been done, there exists what is called perception in the higher worlds.
We shall now speak of the way in which these organs are built into the ether and astral bodies. We have said that in anyone who aspires to initiation and has attained it, higher organs have been developed. How is this accomplished? It is a matter of understanding the human astral body in the state in which it exists in its purity. During the day this astral body is immersed in the physical body. There the forces of the physical body act upon it; it is not then free. It carries out the demands of the physical body; hence it is impossible to begin the development of these higher organs during the day. It can be begun when the astral body is out of the physical body, in sleep; only then can the astral body be moulded. The human astral body can only have its higher sense organs developed when they are carved into it during sleep, while outside the physical body. But we cannot manipulate a sleeping human being; that would not be possible for the modern man, if he wishes to perceive what is happening to him in sleep. If you have him in an unconscious condition, then he cannot observe this. Here there seems to be a contradiction, for the astral body is not conscious of its connection with the physical body during sleep. But indirectly it is possible that during the day the physical body is acted upon and the impressions which it then receives remain within the astral body when this is withdrawn at night. Just as the impressions which the astral body receives from the surrounding physical world have been impressed upon it, so in like manner we must do something quite specific with the physical body, in order that this something be imprinted upon the astral body and then be formed in it in the proper manner. This happens when the human being ceases to live in his customary way during the day, allowing random impressions to enter his consciousness, and takes his inner life in hand by means of a methodical schooling in the manner described. This is called Meditation, Concentration or Contemplation. These are exercises which are as strictly prescribed in the schools for the purpose, as microscopy is prescribed in the laboratories. If a person carries out these exercises, they act so intensely upon him that the astral body is plastically re-shaped when it withdraws during sleep. Just as this sponge adapts itself to the form of my hand as long as I hold it there, but forms itself again according to the forces inherent in it as soon as I release it, so in like manner is it with the astral body; when in sleep it withdraws from the corporality, it follows the astral forces invested in it. Thus it is during the day that we must undertake those spiritual activities by means of which the astral body, during the night, is plastically formed so that organs of higher perception are developed in it.
Meditation can be regulated in a threefold manner. 1. There can be more consideration given to the thought-matter, to the so-called elements of Wisdom, the pure element of thought. This is the Yoga training which deals especially with the element of thought, Contemplation. 2. One can work more upon the feeling through its special cultivation. This is the specifically Christian course. 3. Again one can work through a combination of feeling and will. This is the Christian-Rosicrucian method. To consider the Yoga practice would carry us too far, and it would also have no relationship to the Gospel of St. John. We shall consider the specifically Christian initiation and explain its basis. You must think of this form of initiation as one which a person belonging to the present social order could hardly undergo. It demands a temporary isolation. The Rosicrucian method, however, is the method by which we can work ourselves into the higher worlds without interfering with our duties. What, however, is applicable in principle, we can also fully explain by means of Christian initiation.
This method of initiation has to do exclusively with the feelings, and I shall now have to enumerate seven experiences of the feeling-life; seven stages of feeling, through the experiencing of which the astral body is actually so affected that it develops its organs during the night. Let us describe how the Christian neophyte must live in order that he may pass through these stages. The first stage is what is called “Washing the Feet.” Here the teacher says to the pupil: “Observe the plants. They have their roots in the ground; the mineral earth is a lower being than the plant. If the plant were able to contemplate its own nature, it would have to say to the earth; it is true I am a higher being, but if thou wert not there, I could not exist; for from thee, O earth, I draw most of my sustenance. If the plant were able to translate this into feeling, it would then bow itself down to the stone and say: — I bow myself before thee, O stone, thou humbler being, for I am indebted to thee for my very existence! Then if we ascend to the animal, it would have to behave in a similar manner toward the plant and say: Indeed it is true, I am higher than the plant, but to the lower kingdoms I owe my existence! If in this manner we mount higher and reach the human being, then each individual who stands somewhat higher in the social scale must incline himself to the lower and say: To those on the lower social level I owe my existence! This continues on up to Christ-Jesus. The Twelve who are about Him are at a level lower than Christ-Jesus; but as the plant develops out of the stone, so does the Christ grow out of the Twelve. He bows down to the Twelve and says: I owe you My existence.”
When the teacher had explained this to the pupil, he then said to him: "For weeks must thou surrender thyself to this cosmic feeling of how the superior should incline to the inferior and when thou hast thoroughly developed this feeling within thee, then wilt thou experience an inner and an outer symptom!" These are not the essential things, they only indicate that the pupil has practiced sufficiently. When the physical body was sufficiently influenced by the soul, this was indicated to him by an external symptom in which he feels as though water were lapping over his feet. That is a very real feeling! And he has another very real feeling in which the “Washing of the Feet” appears to him as in a mighty vision in the astral, the inclining of the Higher Self to the lower. Thus the occult student experiences in the astral world what is found depicted in the Gospel of St. John as an historical fact.
At the second stage, the pupil is told: "Thou must develop within thyself yet another feeling. Thou must picture how it would be were all the suffering and sorrow possible in the world to come upon thee; thou must feel how it would be wert thou exposed to the piling up of all possible hindrances, and thou must enter into the feeling that thou must stand erect even though all the adversity of the world were to bear down upon thee!" Then when the pupil has practised this exercise for a sufficient length of time, there are again two symptoms; in the first he has the feeling of being beaten from all sides, and in the second he has an astral vision of the “Scourging.” I am relating what hundreds of people have experienced whereby they have acquired the ability to mount into the higher worlds.
In the third exercise, the pupil had to imagine that the holiest thing that he possesses, which he defends with his whole ego-being, is subjected to jeers and gibes. He must say to himself: — “Come what may, I must hold myself erect and defend what is holy to me.” When he had accustomed himself to this, he felt something like pricking upon his head, and he experienced the “Crown of Thorns” as an astral vision. Again it must be said that the important thing is not the symptoms; they appear as a result of the exercises. Care was also taken that there was no question of suggestion and auto-suggestion.
In the fourth exercise, the pupil's body must become as foreign to his feelings as any external object — a stick of wood for example — and he must not say “I” to his body. This experience must become so much a part of his feelings that he says: “I carry my body about with me as I do my coat.” He connects his ego no longer with his body. Then something occurs which is called the Stigmata. What in many cases might be a condition of sickness is in this case a result of Meditation, because all sickness must be eliminated. On the feet and hands and on the right side of the breast appear the so-called Stigmata; and as an inner symptom, he beholds the “Crucifixion” in an astral vision.
The fifth, sixth and seventh grades of feeling, we can only briefly describe. The fifth grade consists of what is called “The Mystical Death.” Through feelings which the pupil is permitted to experience at this stage, he feels as though, in an instant, a black curtain were drawn before the whole physical, visible world and as though everything had disappeared. This moment is important because of something else that must be experienced, if one wishes to push on into Christian initiation, in the true sense of the word. The pupil then feels that he can plunge into the primal causes of evil, pain, affliction and sorrow. And he can suffer all the evil that exists in the depths of the human soul, when he descends into Hell. That is the “Descent into Hell.” When this has been experienced, it is as though the black curtain had been rent asunder and he looks into the spiritual world.
The sixth step is what is called the “Interment and Resurrection.” This is the stage at which the pupil feels himself one with the entire earth-body. He feels as though he were laid within and belonged to the whole earth planet. His life has been extended into a planetary existence.
The seventh experience cannot be described in words; only one could describe it who is able to think without the physical brain instrument — and for that there is no language, because our language has only designations for the physical plane. Therefore, only a reference can be made to this stage. It surpasses anything that the human being can possibly conceive. This is called the “Ascension” or the complete absorption into the spiritual world.
This completes the gamut of feelings into which the pupil, during waking day-consciousness, must place himself with complete inner equanimity. When the pupil has surrendered himself to these experiences, they act so strongly upon the astral body that, in the night, inner sense-organs are developed, are plastically formed. These seven steps of feeling are not practiced in the Rosicrucian initiation, but the result is the same as that of which we have just spoken.
Thus you see that the important thing in initiation is to influence the astral body in such a way by the indirect means of the day-experiences, that it may, when it is wholly free during the night, take on a new plastic form. When the human being in this manner, as an astral being, has given himself a plastic form, the astral body has become actually a new member of the human organism. He is then wholly permeated by Manas or Spirit-Self.
When the astral body is thus divided, that part which has in this way been plastically formed is brought over into the ether body. And just as you press the seal upon the sealing-wax, and the name on the seal appears not only on the seal, but on the wax as well, so too must the astral body dip down into the ether body and impress upon it whatever it may now possess. The inner process, the working over of the astral body, is the same in all methods of initiation. Only in the method of transmission into the ether body do the individual methods differ. We shall speak tomorrow of these differences and show how the three methods of initiation, which have proved to be the most profound evolutionary impulses in the course of the post-Atlantean age, differ from each other and what significance initiation, in general, has for human evolution. Then these parts of the Gospel of St. John upon which we have not yet been able to touch will also become clear.