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How to Know Higher Worlds by Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner has written many books and most of them can be downloaded for free. This website focuses on highlighting the multi-faceted genius of Rudolf Steiner and you can find the most comprehensive index to his work in English or German through this link. On this particular site you can also find many titles by Rudolf Steiner and you can sort the listing by popularity, original publication year, title, average ratings and number of pages.

I picked “How to Know Higher Worlds” for this site for several reasons. It is (so far) my favorite book by Rudolf Steiner and it easier to read than some of his other works. In addition I agree with the statement in the preface of the third addition that “the more open-mindedly we compare spiritual science with the positive accomplishments of science, the more we recognize the complete agreement between the two to be.” I also find the foreword as well as the afterword by Arthur Zajonc excellent. You can find the book for free on the web.

In the foreword Arthur Zajonic states that “we live and act within a world whose deeper aspects are hidden from our physical senses” and points out that we “possess other faculties which, when cultivated, can lift the veil that separates us from spiritual knowledge.” The book charts a meditative path that leads both to inner peace and to enhanced powers of soul, and finally to the lifting of that veil. It offers an introduction to the inner life and to an inner discipline that can heal and transform us profoundly.

The teaching of humility and compassion frames the whole book. We learn that every sound spiritual practice begins with moral and that esoteric schooling never has as its goal the accumulation of spiritual treasures for personal gain; on the contrary the goal has to be placed at the service of others if we want to achieve anything. We find out that we will not find the inner strength to evolve to a higher level until we accept that there is something higher than ourselves. In addition we can never forget that higher knowledge has to do with revering truth and insight. A soul that learns feelings of devotion and reverence changes its aura.

Once the context of self-less love is established, meditative practice can unfold within it. We learn that one’s inner life no longer swings from one extreme to another when we meditate and we can begin to sense the dawning of a “higher self.”

The reader can find many exercises to prepare the soul for challenges that are different from those that arise during the course of our sense life. Perhaps the most important are those aimed at developing the six soul qualities essential for a healthy and balanced life within the super-sensible: 1) clarity of thought, 2) mastery of the will, 3) equanimity of feeling, 4) positivity, 5) openness, and 6) the establishment of harmony among these five.

As we faithfully execute exercises described in the book, soul capacities are cultivated which lead to the first experiences of a super-sensible kind. What is the character of these initial experiences? Although the path for every individual is unique, certain characterizations can be helpful, especially as false expectations often allow the real promptings of the spirit to pass by unnoticed.

Here is the book in more detail:

  • Self-contemplation: Create moments of inner peace for yourself, and in these moments learn to distinguish the essential from the non-essential. The practice has to be sincere, rigorous and simple. Focus on things during that contemplation which are different from the objects of our daily life. Such moments will give us the full strength to complete our daily tasks. We have to tear ourselves really completely from daily life during those moments. We should allow ourselves to have joys, sorrows, worries, experiences and actions to pass before our soul and look at them from a higher point of view, as if they belonged to another person, view ourselves as strangers, with an inner tranquility of a judge. Eventually we include things that have happened in the past. This way the Higher Self reveals itself. This way our whole life may become more peaceful and we might act with more self-confidence and start to be able to guide ourselves (examples: anger, patience).
  • Life speaks in the world of thought: This Higher Self then becomes the inner ruler directing our life outside. If other people can make me angry I haven’t found my inner ruler yet. Outer things have to reach me how I have chosen. Eventually our view is directed to those that are higher than ourselves. Removed from our daily round we become deaf to its noise. Dialogue with the spiritual world will fill our soul. This quiet contemplation is very important and we must develop a living feeling for this silent thinking activity and we will love to hear what streams to us from the spirit. Then we will start to work with these thoughts like objects! And we will understand that what is revealed to us is more real than what is around us. We experience that life speaks in this world of thought and that hidden beings speak to us! That way the outer world is suffused with an inner light.
  • Gnosis or Spiritual Science Meditation (Contemplative Reflection): Our thoughts should be clear, sharp and precise. We should fill ourselves with high thoughts. We should read writings that came from meditative revelations. Then we start to form new ideas about reality. Trivial experiences are woven with great cosmic beings. Meditation produces that way strength for life, not indifference. Meditation is the way to knowing the essential and indestructible center of our being. This way we can learn to know about past lives.
  • Three Stages:
    1. Preparation to develop spiritual senses:

Direct the soul’s attention towards certain processes in the world around us (growth, fading, buds, withering away etc.). If we see a blossoming, we need to focus on it alone and listen what is has to tell us. We must look at things actively and precisely; afterwards watch the feelings and the thoughts associated with it in inner equilibrium. Eventually this might lead to new thoughts and feelings. And then do it also with something withering. That way we discover the different thoughts and feelings with each one. They might be compared with sunrise and rise of the moon. That way the astral plane begins to dawn. It conjures different lines/spiritual forms before our souls. That way we might learn to see things that have no physical existence.  That leads to “orientation” –  understanding that feelings and thoughts are actual and furthermore how these can have an effect. Therefore, we should not daydream or muse. This approach will lead to important feelings that will help us to orient ourselves in the spiritual world.  We also must direct our attention to sounds distinguishing between the sound of animate and inanimate objects, distinguishing between pleasant ones (bells) and bad ones (screams of animals).  Sounds communicate something that’s outside of our soul which we must immerse into. But we must disregard what the sound is for us and focus on what is happening from whom the sound comes. That way we learn a new language from the soul and begin to hear with our souls. We also have to learn how to listen when people speak. On the path to higher knowledge listening skills are extremely important and we have to quiet our inner life when we do it and stay silent, even if we disagree. We have to silence any judgement.  We need to exclude our personality and opinions. That way we learn to unite with the being of the other person and enter into it. This way sound becomes the medium through which we hear and perceive soul and spirit. That way one also learns to hear sounds from the spiritual world.

We also need to absorb the teachings of esoteric researchers.

  1. Illumination to kindle the spiritual light:

During this process we also develop to awaken certain feelings and thoughts. We begin by examining different physical objects in a certain way. We could compare a stone with an animal and watch the feelings that come into our soul from them and they will be different from the stone and the animal. That’s how organs of clairvoyance are formed. We should do the same thing with plants and will observe that the feelings from plant are in the middle between stone and mineral in intensity and nature. The organs built up that way are spiritual eyes. The gradually let us see souls and spiritual colors. The range of colors in the spiritual world is much greater than in the physical world. After illumination the soul unites with the spiritual world under all circumstances and so it leads to initiation.  But we should not forget our daily responsibilities over these exercises.

We need patience, courage and self-confidence on our path for Higher Knowledge. We should not give up if we don’t see success right away.  Sometimes we are further than we think. If we have the feeling that we are on the right path, it should be cultivated and nurtured because it can become a reliable guide. The esoteric student must become conscious of soul and spirit as the ordinary person of his body. You must give your feelings and thoughts the right direction.

We place before us a small seed from a plant. We must think intensely. First we must establish what we see with our eyes by describing the seed in detail. Then we ponder what will happen if we plant the seed and visualize it and realize that nothing would happen with an artificial seed. Within the seed is the force of the whole plant. The real seed contains something invisible that’s not in the copy. The invisible will become visible. And whatever we think we must feel! Eventually we will discover a new force within us which creates a new perception. The plant is herewith revealed to us in a spiritual manner. We must remain clear-headed and make sure we have not lost our balance and that we still remain the same in our daily relationships. Steady inner calm and a clear mind must be preserved.

Further we can place in front of us the mature plant and meditate on it decaying but it has produced seeds that will produce something we don’t see yet. So there is something in the plant we can’t see. Again this will grow a new perception.

Then we might be able to see the spirit everywhere.

When we have discovered spiritual perceptions in ourselves through these exercises we can go and contemplate on other human beings. But we have to work on the integrity of our moral character as well. We can’t use the knowledge gained for our self-interest or evil ends. Adhere to the occult rule: “For every single step that you seek in knowledge of hidden truth, you must take three steps in perfecting your character toward the good.” When we that do we can practice following: Focus your attention to a person who had a strong desire for something and dedicate ourselves to observing this memory. What feelings does that mental image awaken in our soul? Let those feelings rise up. After many attempts we might be able to have the same feelings as the corresponding soul. This feeling produces a force in the soul. This force then becomes the spiritual perception of the other person’s soul state (astral embodiment). And: “Know to be silent about your spiritual perceptions.” Give yourself fully to the perception but don’t ponder too much. Always remember that thoughts are realities and value the other person! We must be filled with profound awe for every other person.

Candidates for initiation have to bring two additional characteristics: Courage and fearlessness. We need to find situations to cultivate this. Think: “All fear is useless. I must not let it take hold of me.  I must think of only what has to be done.” We need good nerves and strength. Our individual, like the world, contains destructive and constructive forces. As initiates our own souls will be revealed to us. Students must not lose strength in face of such self-knowledge. We must learn not to be discouraged by failure. We also need to learn the true name of things.

  1. nitiation initiating the relationship with higher spiritual beings:

Initiation is the highest kind of training.  We have to be mature enough for the training. Candidates have to pass through trials.

  • Fire trial – things burning away and learning to read occult sign writing: The first trial is to achieve a truer level of perception of the physical properties of inanimate objects, plants, animals and human beings. How do they reveal themselves to our spiritual ears and eyes? Many have already learned to bear disappointment and suffering with calm, magnanimously and without losing strength. The object of the fire trial is to gain more self-confidence, greater courage and quite a different kind of magnanimity and endurance. During that phase initiates are still able to return back to normal life. If we decide to continue, a particular kind of writing, customarily used in occult writing, is revealed to us. The writings actually reveal the actual secret teaching. This occult script is inscribed forever in the spiritual world. A soul force develops to help us decipher events. Through the signs of the occult writing we learn the language of things. For the first time we experience complete certainty in the observation of the Higher World. Through this language we learn of certain duties we have not known before. Some people have gifts bestowed upon them and act unconsciously as helpers of the world.
  • Water Trial – acting in higher realms without the support of outer circumstances – losing ground like when we swim in deep water: “All prejudices must fall from you.” In the second trial we have to show that we can act according to these standards. We must act based on perceptions we made based on our orientation and illumination. If we can recognize our duty and are able to execute it correctly we pass our trial. We can see that from the changes in colors, sounds and figures that our spiritual ears and eyes can perceive because we are told ahead of time what these figures are supposed to look like. We have to act according to our spiritual perceptions and our readings of spiritual scripture. It will provide us with the opportunity of self-control, to take care of duties even though inclinations go into another direction. We have to understand that our wishes do not take change the realities of the world. We have to have complete power over ourselves.We also need sound judgement. We need to distinguish true reality from illusion. We can’t be attached to our own opinion. We are about to lose all doubts concerning the Higher World. The worst enemies are dreaming, fantasizing and superstition.
  • Air trial – the third trial is without a tangible distinct goal. But we have to develop absolute presence of mind and rely on ourselves. Everything is up to us. Nothing can give us the strength but us. Here we have to act promptly and decisively. We must discover the “Higher Self”. We need to listen to the spirit. We can’t lose ourselves. We learn to act decisively and without hesitation.Temple of Higher Cognition (Wisdom). Here we have to swear an oath never to betray the secret teachings. We learn how to apply the secret teachings, how to place them at the service of humanity. We don’t need to conceal them but to present them tactfully and in the right way. We need to discover ourselves what needs to be done in each situation. That’s when we receive symbolically the “potion of oblivion”.  We are initiated into the secret of action uninterrupted by the lower memory. We have to judge every experience by its own merits. But the memory of the old can be useful. The second is the “potion of memory”. This enables one to keep higher mysteries always in mind.

Practical Considerations:

We are creating order with this training to gradually see and breathe with the soul and to hear and speak with the spirit.

In this chapter Rudolf Steiner looks at some practical approaches of esoteric development. We need to train our capacity to be patient. Impatience is extremely paralyzing for the higher faculties latent in us. We need to realize that we can’t achieve insights overnight. But we should be content with even the smallest achievement and be calm and detached. We can’t fight impatience the usual way, we have to surrender to a thought repeatedly: “I must do everything I can for the education of my soul and spirit, but I will wait calmly until the higher powers feel me worth of illumination.” That way our gaze becomes calm and our movement steady and our decisions become definite. We don’t get bothered by people who insult us. Growth does not happen through great outer events but through steady inner growing. Longings and cravings must be silenced. And we can’t never wish it for our own ends.

That requires that we need to be honest with ourselves in the depth of our soul. We really must look at our weaknesses and mistakes honestly. We must let curiosity vanish from us and stop asking questions. We should ask questions only to help us perfect our being. We should not aspire to something until we know what is right in the given domain. We must learn to learn without ulterior motive.

Anger hides a lot from us because it builds a wall. Once we don’t feel anger the inner eye in the soul can open. We also must overcome fear, superstition, prejudice, vanity, curiosity, the urge to gossip. We need to learn the differences between race, gender etc. but always without prejudice. We should speak after we have refined and purified our thought. We must learn to listen even if the other person has prejudices. We have to be careful when to voice our opinion.

Abide in calm single-mindedness and solitude.

“One day when I am ready for it I will receive what I am to receive.”

If possible we should do the training in nature.

Requirements for Esoteric Training

The spiritual path is not an easy one and requires work. Esoteric has to do with the development of our inner life.

The requirements are:

  1. To improve physical, mental and spiritual health. Pleasure should only be a means to health and life. Clear calm thinking and reliable sensations are essential. We should avoid exaggeration and one-sidedness in our judgements and feelings.
  2. We feel ourselves as part of the whole of life. E.g. if a teacher has issues with a student he should first check if he is the problem. We should even look at criminals differently. Social or political demands are fruitless. Political activists ask things of others but not of themselves.
  3. To understand that thoughts and feelings are as important as actions.
  4. We must acquire the conviction that our true nature does not lie without but within.
  5. Steadfastness on following through on a resolution. In the higher world love is the only motivation for action. To be esoteric students, we must be prepared for this life of sacrifice and service.
  6. To develop a feeling of gratitude for all we receive.
  7. Always to understand life as these conditions demand. Everything in our inner life must develop through something in the outer world. There must be an outward expression. To believe in and love humanity is the basis for all striving for the truth. To combat wickedness is to create good. Love for the work not the results move us forward.
  8. Esoteric training depends on learning. Remember to listen to others!

Some Effects of Initiation

Authentic spiritual training forbids any groping in the dark. Those who do practices will experience changes in their so-called “soul-organism”. A spiritual seer can see the chakras. In more developed souls the colors of the chakras are vibrant and the chakras in motion. The seer can get quite a bit of information. Specific soul activities are connected with the development of these sense organs.

To develop the throat chakra, we proceed as follows: We direct our attention to 8 soul processes we usually don’t pay attention to.

  • The first soul process concerns the way in which we acquire ideas or mental images. We need to pay attention to our ideas or mental representations and begin to see a specific idea in the outer world. Each one must become meaningful to us. We must eliminate false ideas from the soul.
  • The second soul process is how we make decisions – after well-reasoned deliberation.
  • The third soul process concerns speech – every word should have substance and meaning.
  • The fourth soul process concerns the ordering of our outer actions. Our affairs should fit other and events around us. We should not disturb others. Our activities should integrate harmoniously into our surrounding.
  • The fifth one has to do with the organization of our life as a whole. We need to live in harmony with nature and spirit.
  • The sixth soul process has to do with human striving or effort. We need to know our abilities and act in accordance to our self-knowledge. We should always try to perfect the performance of our duties.
  • The seventh soul process involves the effort to learn as much as possible from life. We can also learn from watching others.
  • In the eight soul process as esoteric students we should periodically turn and look inward, take counsel with ourselves, shape and test our principles, mentally reviewing what we know, pondering about the meaning of life, weighing our obligations. Don’t think or say something untrue, because it destroys a bud in the throat chakra.

On the esoteric path, we must be aware that what matters is not “good intention”, but what we actually do. When living in this way has become second nature to us, then the first signs of seeing or clairvoyance will appear. We shouldn’t talk about our practices or experiences too much.

We can develop the twelve-petal heart chakra similarly.

We have to realize that the perceptions provided by the various spiritual or soul senses differ in character. The throat chakra perceives as a form both another soul’s way of thinking and the laws according to which a natural phenomenon unfold (a vengeful thought looks like an arrow, a nice one maybe like a flower). The heart chakra perceives warmth and coldness of soul.

In esoteric schooling sense organs are developed together. Everything growing and maturing radiates soul warmth, everything undergoing death has soul coldness.

This is how the twelve-petal heart-chakra is formed:

  • Practice of the control of our thoughts: We pay attention to directing the sequence of our thoughts. The thoughts have to follow logically. Give thoughts a meaningful and logical direction.
  • Practice of the control of action: Act logically and based on principles.
  • Cultivate perseverance
  • Develop forbearance (or tolerance) toward other people, beings and events. We must suppress all unnecessary criticism of imperfection and evil but seek to understand. We have to try and put ourselves into other people’s shoes.
  • We must develop openness and impartiality toward all the phenomena of life. We must learn to approach every being with trust. We must be willing to revise our opinion if necessary. We have to have faith in our goal.
  • We must achieve a certain balance/serenity in life. We should strive for inner harmony. We should be as prepared to deal with misfortune as with joy.

In the end these are the six attributes a person seeking initiation has to develop. We also have to be very patient.

The development of the ten-petal solar plexus chakra requires cultivating soul care of a particularly subtle and delicate kind. We have to control and master the sense impressions themselves. We have to become conscious of the reasons we start to remember things, see the unconscious relationships. This lotus flower allows us to perceive deeply hidden soul qualities. We should only focus on those things we want to focus on. We can practice by focusing on only one thought. Or if we feel antipathy to something we combat that feeling.

For all of this we need strict self-discipline and practice meditation.

The development of the six-petal 2nd chakra is even more difficult. We have to become conscious of our Self in such a way that, within this consciousness, body, soul, and spirit are in perfect harmony. We need to purify ourselves so that we don’t do anything that does not serve our soul and spirit. Our passion should follow the right course on their own. But we can’t deny anything if we are not ready for it. We have to have patience and renounce and that might be a much greater accomplishment.

The development of the six-petal lotus flower brings us into relation with beings of the higher worlds, but only with those whose existence is also revealed in the soul world.

We also have to develop the higher organs. The development of the “soul body” enables us to perceive supersensible phenomena. We must be able to hear what is called the “inner world.” For that we also have to develop the ether body, the subtle body that is seen by clairvoyants as a kind of double of the physical body, an intermediate stage between the physical body and the soul body.

To study the ether body, we have to “remove” from sight the physical and soul body as clairvoyants. The tiny currents of the human ether body are in constant movement and without esoteric training these currents and movements are completely independent of our will and consciousness.

The goal of our development is now to form a kind of central point (organ) near the physical heart from which currents and movements spread in manifold spiritual colors and shapes.

Students should set aside time for these practices so they can become filled with them. But we must always keep our feet firmly on the ground.

This way we will enter the world of spirits and will be able to better understand the words from great teachers.

Spiritual Science speaks of four faculties that have to be developed before going on to higher knowledge.

  1. To distinguish between truth and appearance in our thinking
  2. To value truth and reality in relation to appearances
  3. To develop the six qualities:
    1. Control of thought
    2. Control of actions
    3. Perseverance
    4. Tolerance
    5. Faith
    6. Equanimity
  4. To develop the love for inner freedom

But mere intellectual understanding of these faculties is quite useless. They have to be integrated into the soul and good habits have to be established. Even the smallest acts and the least chores have a significance and we need to be conscious of it.

To attain higher knowledge, we must become free of looking at things in a personal and limited way. In order to serve humanity, we have to perfect ourselves.

At one point the sixteen-petal lotus (throat chakra) enables us to see spiritually the beings and forms of the higher world. That’s when we can see how our thoughts and feelings could influence those forms. Passions are directed at the outside world but in the mirror image it appears like an assault on the person harboring the passion.

To proceed further we have to see our own soul spiritually. And we need to really understand that the path to higher worlds has to lead through careful self-knowledge.

The two-petal flower (6th chakra) in the eye region helps us to get a connection between the higher I and higher spiritual beings.

Students of the inner path receive insight into the higher self and into the doctrine of incarnation of this higher self into a lower self. Religious ceremonies give us outwardly visible images of spiritual processes.

An indication that we have reached the stage of development is our dream life.  Instead of containing only echoes of our daily life the images start arise from a world unknown to us before. At the beginning, they still express themselves symbolically. They begin to mix with images and events from another world. We need to understand that in addition to our ordinary, conscious life, we also lead a second other unconscious life in the dream world. But only the development of the chakras, the lotus flowers, makes it possible to inscribe manifestation that don’t belong to the physical world.

We need to become conscious of what we perceive in the dream world and carry this into our waking life.  And we must grow into our higher self and consider it a real being and understand that the body is only an instrument for our higher self. We need to be careful not to become fanatics though. Those who have developed spiritual organs of perception can see and perceive things that others can’t.

Human life unfolds in three alternating states – wakeful state, dream state, dreamless sleep. In occult science, the dream state has significance; we open the sense organs of the soul. What happens in dream sleep is a kind of seeing. In deep sleep impressions are received by the ears. And deep sleep experiences might become clear and vivid to us. Eventually we can transform previously unconscious states of sleep into full consciousness and it’s a new revelation to us. At that point consciousness is unbroken.

In spiritual development, we must accept what we are given and never force anything.

The soul lives and acts uninterruptedly in the higher worlds and draws inspiration from there. This higher life remains unconscious in most human beings.  As esoteric students, we outgrow the need to be led and need to lead ourselves. But we do become liable to errors. That’s connected with dangers which we can avoid by following necessary precautions.  And we have to remember that forces hostile to life exist.

Our task is the transformation of the earth.

The dangers are:

  1. Willful violence
  2. Sentimental luxuriating in feeling
  3. Cold, loveless striving for wisdom

 As we develop the threads connecting the three basic powers – thinking, willing, feeling – are disconnected and function separately and are not functioning on inherent law but by the individual’s awakened higher consciousness. That way we can confront events dispassionately. We can attain complete mastery over thinking, feeling, and willing. At the same time, we have full responsibility for them. But this separation can lead us to deviate from the path. One reason is that the three powers might not be developed equally which is not as important when they act together and are regulated by the higher laws of cosmos. This way a will may run rampant; feelings could fall into raptures of religious self-gratification, thinking could lead to coldness and avoiding contact with ordinary things.

We should make sure that our daily life is not overly exhausting and seek out situations for which our strength is adequate. We should avoid anything that should bring this kind of disharmony into our life. We need to ensure complete self-mastery.

There are two” guardians of the threshold”, the lesser and the greater. The first one we meet, when the connections between willing, feeling and thinking begin to loosen in the etheric and astral body.  The second one we meet when this happens on the level of the physical body, especially the brain.

Then dying becomes a conscious experience and is experienced differently than before – like taking off a garment.

We are also part of a family and nation and when we encounter the guardian of the threshold we also understand that work we have to do for our group souls.

We will have the task from then on to illuminate the darkness in front of ourselves. After crossing this threshold our being begins to become transparent to us. We will understand invisible causes.

After that we are met by the greater guardian of the threshold. At this point the organs of feeling, thinking and willing have become instruments under the control of the soul.