Subsidiary exercises

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The subsidiary exercises, also called basic exercises, essential exercices, the six qualities or the six virtues, serve to strengthen the life of the soul and are an essential precondition and constant accompanying exercise for anyone who aspires to the path of initiation. Practised consistently, they lead up to imaginative cognition and on to inspiration and intuition. These subsidiary exercises, which are by no means incidental but essential to any contemporary training of the mind, must always accompany the main meditative exercises. By practising these six qualities, the heart chakra is regularly trained, becomes active and begins to rotate in a clockwise direction, thus creating the basis for conscious, intuitive heart thinking that dives deeply into beings.

Practical implementation

Each of the six subsidiary exercises should be practised for about a month, continuing to cultivate the previous exercises alongside in the following months. It is good to do the exercises as far as possible at the same time of the day, but better not pedantically according to the outer time, but according to the inner sense of time. Ideally, at the right time, the inner need to do the exercise arises of its own accord. Since the exercises systematically build on each other, the given order must always be followed. Once you have finished the six exercises, a new cycle of exercises can begin.

„These exercises do not need to be done for a month at a time. A time had to be given in the first place. The most important thing is to do the exercises in this order. If you do the second exercise before the first, you won't benefit at all. Because it is precisely the sequence that matters. Some people even think that they have to start with the sixth exercise, with harmonisation. But does anything harmonise if there is nothing? If you don't want to do the exercises in the right order, they are of no use at all. Just as when one has to take six steps over a footbridge and wants to take the sixth step first, so nonsensical is it to want to begin with the sixth exercise.“ (Lit.:GA 266a, p. 234)

„The six steps of the subsidiary exercises are to be done in the given order, for only in this way is occult power developed. When one has finished the six months, one begins again from the beginning. (As an example, it is said that we walk over a bridge, six steps long, to reach a destination. We can't do the sixth step first, but we have to do the six steps one after the other. The sixth step harmonises the five preceding steps; if we wanted to take it first, we would have to say: Does something harmonise where there is nothing?) All abstract thinking has no value at all for occult development; thinking in pictures is the only thing that has value there.

The six stages of these subsidiary exercises are as follows:

The first stage is thought-control,
the second stage: initiative of action,
the third stage: overcoming pleasure and suffering,
the fourth stage is called positivity,
the fifth stage is impartiality,
the sixth stage: harmony of the five stages.“ (Lit.:GA 266a, p. 238)

It is important not to get discouraged. Once the initial enthusiasm has faded, it usually becomes increasingly difficult to do the exercises consistently and regularly. You often miss the right time, find the exercises increasingly boring, etc. This is quite normal and overcoming this resistance is important. This is quite normal and overcoming these resistances is an essential part of the exercises. One should not flagellate oneself for failures, but simply continue as best one can. However, one should always keep in mind that one has decided to do the exercises with full freedom of will - and that one refutes oneself, so to speak, if one does not try to overcome the growing resistances. This is where you learn the most - and you find yourself more and more consciously. That can become a powerful experience of core of your spiritual individuality, your I. That's why it's not so good if the exercises run routinely as if by themselves, without the I consciously being there with its full willpower.

The six qualities

The subsidiary exercises were given by Rudolf Steiner in different variations. At the core it is always about the development of the following six qualities:

Thought control. This consists in not letting all sorts of things wander through the soul, at least for a short time during the day, but in allowing calm to enter into the course of one's thoughts. One thinks of a certain concept, places this concept at the centre of one's thought life and then logically arranges all thoughts in such a way that they lean against this concept. And even if this happens for only a minute, it is already of great importance for the rhythm of the physical and etheric body.

Initiative of action, that is to say, one must force oneself to perform actions, even if insignificant, but springing from one's own initiative, to perform self-imposed duties. Most of the causes of action lie in family relationships, in upbringing, in one's profession and so on. Just think how little actually arises from one's own initiative! So now one must spend a short time in making actions arise from one's own initiative. These need not be important things at all; quite insignificant actions serve the same purpose.

Serenity. The third thing is called serenity. Here one learns to regulate the state of swinging back and forth between "rejoicing in heaven" and "saddened to death". Those who do not want to do this, because they believe that they would lose their originality of action or their artistic feeling, cannot undergo occult development. Serenity means being master in the highest pleasure and in the deepest pain. Yes, one only becomes really receptive to the joys and sufferings of the world when one no longer loses oneself in pain and pleasure, when one is no longer egoistically absorbed in them. The greatest artists have achieved the most through this serenity, because it has opened their souls to subtle and inner important things.

Impartiality (positivity). The fourth is what can be called impartiality. This is the quality that sees the good in all things. It goes for the positive in things everywhere. As an example, we can best cite a Persian legend that attaches itself to the Christ Jesus: The Christ Jesus once saw a dying dog lying by the road. Jesus stopped and looked at the animal, but the bystanders turned away in disgust at such a sight. Then the Christ Jesus said: Oh, what beautiful teeth the animal has! - He did not see the bad, the ugly, but found something beautiful even in this dark carcass, the white teeth. When we are in this mood, we look for the positive qualities, the good, in all things, and we can find it everywhere. This has a very powerful effect on the physical and etheric body.

Faith (open-mindedness). The next is faith. Faith in the occult sense expresses something different from what is understood by it in ordinary language. When one is in occult evolution, one should never let one's past determine one's future. In occult development one must, under certain circumstances, disregard all that one has hitherto experienced, in order to be able to face each new experience with new faith. The occultist must do this consciously. For example, if someone comes and says: The tower of the church is leaning, it has tilted 45 degrees - everyone would say: That cannot be. - But the occultist must leave a loophole open. Yes, he must go so far as to be able to believe every successful thing he encounters in the world, or else he will be obstructing the way to new experiences. One must make oneself free for new experiences; thereby the physical and the etheric body are put into a mood which can be compared with the voluptuous mood of an animal creature which wants to hatch another.

Inner balance. And then the next quality is inner balance. It is gradually formed by the five other qualities all by itself[1]. Man must be attentive to these six qualities. He must take his life in his hands and progress slowly in the sense of the saying: "Constant dripping wears away the stone.“ (Lit.:GA 95, p. 117ff)

The following gives an overview of Rudolf Steiner's most important presentations of the subsidiary exercises:

Knowledge of the Higher Worlds And Its Attainment

In «Knowledge of the Higher Worlds And Its Attainment», the six qualities are explained in a different order and with different names or weightings of content: thought control, control of actions, education for perseverance, forbearance (tolerance), impartiality (faith), and balance of life:

„The first thing that the secret disciple observes in this regard is the regulation of his course of thought (called thought control). Just as the sixteen-petalled lotus flower comes into development through true, meaningful thoughts, so the twelve-petalled one comes into development through inner control of the course of thought. Misleading thoughts, which are not joined together in a meaningful, logical way, but purely by chance, spoil the form of this lotus flower. The more one thought follows from another, the more all illogical things are avoided, the more this sense organ receives the form that corresponds to it. If the secret disciple hears illogical thoughts, he immediately lets the right ones run through his mind. He should not uncharitably withdraw from a perhaps illogical environment in order to further his development. Nor should he feel the urge within himself to correct immediately everything illogical in his surroundings. Rather, he will quietly bring the thoughts that rush upon him from outside into a logical, meaningful direction. And he will endeavour to keep to this direction everywhere in his own thoughts. -

A second is to bring such consistency into his actions (control of actions). All inconstancy, disharmony in action, is the undoing of the lotus flower in question. When the secret disciple has done something, he arranges his subsequent actions so that they follow logically from the first. He who acts today in a different sense from yesterday will never develop the sense characterised. -

The third is the education of perseverance. The secret pupil does not allow himself to be diverted from a goal he has set himself by this or that influence, as long as he can regard this goal as a correct one. Obstacles are for him an invitation to overcome them, but not reasons for dissuasion. -

The fourth is forbearance (tolerance) towards people, other beings and also facts. The secret disciple suppresses all superfluous criticism of the imperfect, the evil and the bad, and rather seeks to understand everything that approaches him. As the sun does not withdraw its light from the bad and evil, so he does not withdraw his understanding sympathy. If the secret disciple encounters any adversity, he does not indulge in derogatory judgements, but accepts what is necessary and seeks, as far as his strength allows, to turn the matter to good account. He does not only look at other opinions from his own point of view, but tries to put himself in the other person's position. -

The fifth is impartiality towards the phenomena of life. In this respect, one also speaks of "faith" or "trust". The secret disciple approaches every person, every being, with this trust. And he fills himself with such trust in his actions. He never says to himself when he is told something: I don't believe that because it contradicts my previous opinion. On the contrary, he is ready at any moment to test his opinion and view against a new one and to correct it. He always remains receptive to everything that approaches him. And he trusts in the effectiveness of what he undertakes. He banishes timidity and doubtfulness from his nature. If he has an intention, he also has faith in the power of this intention. A hundred failures cannot take away this faith. This is the "faith that can move mountains". -

The sixth is the acquisition of a certain equilibrium in life. The secret disciple strives to maintain his even mood, whether he is suffering or happy. He gets out of the habit of vacillating between "exulting in heaven and being saddened to death". He is just as prepared for misfortune and danger as he is for happiness and promotion. Readers of spiritual-scientific writings will find what has been described listed as the so-called "six qualities" which must be developed in one who aspires to initiation. Here their connection with the spiritual sense, which is called the twelve-leaved lotus flower, should be explained.“ (Lit.:GA 10, p. 127ff)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
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.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - 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.



  1. According to (Lit.:GA 13, p. 251) not by itself. See Inner Balance