THE FIVE BASIC BOOKS BY RUDOLF STEINER
THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM (also translated as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path – A Philosophy of Freedom)
This discusses two fundamental questions: is there a view of our essential nature as human beings which would explain everything we experience which is not self-supporting – everything which is open to doubt, uncertainty, disbelief? Secondly, can we claim freedom of will, or is it a mere illusion based on our inability to recognize the constraints of necessity?
This book is about thinking and our observation of it, and starts the reader off on a fascinating inward journey. Thinking has been used to unravel the deepest secrets of the physical world, but Steiner shows how it can lead to knowledge of the self, of humanity, and of what humanity is destined to become.
‘The most important aspect of this book is the fact that the knowledge one attains is not accepted simply because Steiner shows it to be logical, but because one’s own thinking confirms its truth, much as it confirms a mathematical truth as self-evident.’ (from the Translator’s Foreword by Rita Stebbing to the 1988 edition).
Rudolf Steiner postulates that by using normal, logical thinking one can arrive at a view of the human being which supports such knowledge, and that this view can justify the reality of free will.
Possibly the best book by Rudolf Steiner to begin on. It is his concept of man as a threefold being which comprises body, soul and spirit. This is his basic book on how we function in our thought, feeling and will, which he sees as faculties of the soul; how we aspire to spiritualise our threefold nature progressively through many incarnations, with the aim of furthering the evolution of humanity and the world in a healthy way.
Just as the body is derived from and belongs to the material world, so do the human soul and spirit belong to their own specific realms. These are the dimensions through which we travel in our life after death and in which we prepare our destiny in lives to come. Theosophy contains one of the most comprehensible and condensed of all Steiner’s accounts of these realms and of the experiences we undergo in passing through them.
‘To ground (these ideas) in one’s own experience…requires a heightened level of activity and concentration…. As a muscle grows only through demands made upon it, so do our inner faculties as well… Steiner’s intent is not to prove, it is to prepare and enable.’ (from the Introduction by Michael Holdrege to the 1994 edition).
The title Theosophy should not be read as referring to the movement founded by Helena Blavatsky in the 19th century. It is here used in its pure meaning of ‘wisdom concerning God or things divine’.
OCCULT SCIENCE (also translated as Outline of Esoteric Science)
Rudolf Steiner undertook to extend the realm of Science into everything which had hitherto been considered to be matters of faith, religion or superstition – including the inner, non-material being within each human individual, as well as spiritual beings not incarnated in human bodies. To most students of science, these are invisible, hence the title Occult Science. The word ‘occult’ originally just meant ‘hidden’. It has since gathered a pejorative connotation which is not intended here.
This book is a complete and orderly presentation of his undertaking. It is a clear, conceptual, thoroughly scientific account of what is normally deemed supernatural.
It describes researches which can be grasped by open-minded thought and a feeling for truth. It deals with some of the aspects covered in Theosophy, but at a deeper level. It then deals extensively with evolution. He reveals the invisible world behind the visible and explains how it is possible for people to gain knowledge of this world by developing certain abilities dormant within themselves. We suggest that this is a book which should only be read after one has become familiar with some of Rudolf Steiner’s concepts through reading Theosophy for example, and some of the earlier lecture cycles.
(Notes partly adapted from the Introduction by Clopper Almon to the 1997 edition)
KNOWLEDGE OF HIGHER WORLDS (also translated as How to Know Higher Worlds)
A workbook for those who wish to gain the knowledge referred to in Occult Science. In this book, Rudolf Steiner becomes the personal mentor of the student who reads it and tries to follow the path described. It shows how the study of Spiritual Science, as Steiner called his method of research, helps the reader to attain stability in his soul and in his life, as well as satisfying his desire for knowledge. It describes attitudes of mind and heart and also gives exercises which can strengthen the soul and spirit. It traces the stages of initiation, the conditions for esoteric training, the development of the chakras and the transformation of dream life.
CHRISTIANITY AS MYSTICAL FACT
This is an interpretation of the relevance of Christianity to modern life. It begins by tracing the connection between the Ancient Mysteries of the pre-Christian world and the incarnation of Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth and the Mystery of Golgotha.
Essentially an evolutionary approach to Christianity, the book shows how patterns of religion have adapted themselves through history to the changing needs of different cultures and different times. Christianity grew out of previously existing beliefs but developed them in a way that was linked to the emergence of the individual. Steiner claims uniqueness for Christianity as a cosmic concept, but also claims the unique contribution of all religions to the evolution of the human spirit.
Of primary importance is the understanding that Christianity is alive and working in individuals. It has made us what we are and can redeem and transform us if we consciously open ourselves to it. This is what is meant by ‘the Second Coming’, not the literal return of a Messiah in the flesh.
(Notes freely adapted from the Translator’s Preface by Andrew Welburn to the 2006 edition).