The spiritual disciple is a person who follows a consistent, regulated path of Initiation for the development of his spiritual members. He will, if necessary, work according to literary instructions or seek advice and help from a spiritual teacher who will point out to him suitable exercises for concentration and meditation and other rules helpful for the training of the spirit. Through such systematically performed exercises, the disciple consciously has a transforming effect on his bodily members.
In the Thesophical Society, the new spiritual disciples entering the Esoteric School were also called Shravaka (Sanskrit: श्रावक śrāvaka "listener, disciple"). This was originally the name given to the disciples of the Buddha who heard and spread his teaching. The more advanced disciples were also called chela (Sanskrit: चेल cela "servant, slave; disciple, disciple; dress, garment").
The Relationship Between Spiritual Disciple and Spiritual Teacher
In the present consciousness-soul age, the relationship between teacher and disciple must be an entirely free one, whether it be a personal teacher or a literary model.
„And what path does esoteric training show us, what means does it give us, so that we can come to a quicker realisation of the higher worlds than the everyday man? It gives us certain exercises, exercises of concentration and meditation, the practice of which can awaken inner soul forces in us which would otherwise remain dormant for a long time. I would like to emphasise here that the student should not set out on this path out of mere trust in his teacher or perhaps out of blind veneration for him, for that would be the completely wrong path. He should use his own intellect in everything he does, and he should not let others do his thinking for him, but he should examine everything himself, including his exercises and meditations. When he is absorbed in his meditations, he should not believe in a suggestive power of them, for that would be a quite wrong assumption. They cannot have a suggestive effect, because they are composed in such a way that everyone comes to the imagination through himself, to which the exercises only point.“ (Lit.:GA 266b, p. 273f)
About the relationship between teacher and disciple Rudolf Steiner says in the preface to the 5th edition of his fundamental writing "Knowledge of the higher worlds":
„One could, for instance, see something much more essential in the personal relationship to this or that teacher in the striving for spiritual training than should be seen. I hope that in this new edition I have succeeded in emphasising more clearly, through the way in which some details are presented, how, in the case of those who seek spiritual training in the sense of present spiritual conditions, it is much more a question of a completely direct relationship to the objective spiritual world than of a relationship to the personality of a teacher. In spiritual training, too, the teacher will more and more assume the position of a mere helper, which the teacher, according to the newer views, holds in some other branch of knowledge. I believe I have sufficiently pointed out that the teacher's authority and faith in him should play no other role in the training of the spirit than is the case in any other field of knowledge and life.“ (Lit.:GA 10, p. 11f)
The Effect of Spiritual Training on the Members of Man
The basic prerequisite for every discipleship is the purification of the astral body, through which the spirit self is gradually formed as its higher self. The golden rule of all spiritual training must always be observed:
„And this golden rule is: when you try to make one step forward in the knowledge of secret truths, make at the same time three forward in the perfection of your character for the good."“ (Lit.:GA 10, p. 65)
A disciple of the spirit who also transforms the etheric body is called a chela in the Eastern wisdom teachings; through this he is already working on his life spirit. If he passes through initiation, he becomes an initiate; if he also acquires certain clairvoyant abilities, he can become active as a spiritual researcher in the modern Rosicrucian sense. The highest stage of discipleship is reached by the adept who gradually transforms the physical body into the spirit man.
„The higher a man stands in moral and intellectual culture, the more the I has worked into the astral body. The seer can say: this is an evolved one, this is an undeveloped one.
What man himself has worked into the astral body is called manas; that is the fifth basic part. So as much as man has worked into himself, so much is manas in him; therefore a part of his astral body is always manas. But it is not directly given to man to exert an influence also on his etheric body. Just as one learns to come to a higher moral level, so one can also learn to work into his etheric body. He who learns this is a disciple, a chela. Through this, man becomes master of his etheric body, and as much as he has worked into it, so much of Budhi is present in him. This is the sixth basic part, the transformed etheric body. We can recognise such a chela by something. The ordinary man is not similar to his former embodiment, neither in form nor temperament; but the chela has the same habits, the same temperament as in the former embodiment. He remains similar. He has consciously worked into the body that bears procreation and growth.
The highest gift that man can attain on this earth is to work down into his physical body. This is the very hardest thing. To work on the physical body means to learn to control his breath, to work on his blood circulation, to follow the nervous work, also to regulate the thinking process. He who stands on this level is called an adept in theosophical language, and he has then trained in himself what is called the Atma.“ (Lit.:GA 95, p. 17f)
- Rudolf Steiner: The Way of Initiation, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2014, ISBN 978-1499288919, eBook: ASIN B071K57C8R
- Rudolf Steiner: Wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse der höheren Welten?, GA 10 (1993), ISBN 3-7274-0100-1 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Vor dem Tore der Theosophie, GA 95 (1990), ISBN 3-7274-0952-5 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Aus den Inhalten der esoterischen Stunden, Band II: 1910 – 1912, GA 266/2 (1996), ISBN 3-7274-2662-4 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.