The Role of Veneration in Spirituality (Excerpt from Rudolf Steiner)
Over the last few decades, particularly with the rise of the new age movement, the role of veneration in spirituality has started to lose its significance as people started to intellectualize about what spirituality is and how to achieve its ultimate goal. People from these newer forms of spirituality would still feel the connection with something higher than themselves, but the teachings of such groups would position itself above the esoteric teachings, producing the overall approach that we have today, where people feel themselves already knowing everything there is to know, and that all that is necessary is to maintain a positive thinking and everything will turn out fine in the end. In all of this, the veneration of that which is higher has been put aside, or even ridiculed.
By “veneration” I am not referring to blindly following a dogmatic belief or to a routine-based worship. To venerate something is related to a feeling that anyone can feel, regardless of their interest in spirituality. Many people who have no interest in spirituality have experienced a deep feelings of veneration when they have been in a place in nature that impressed them a lot. Some of them would describe what they felt as feeling very small in the grandiosity of nature. Others would say how deeply they’ve been moved by this power and immensity that the nature is. And those more inclined towards spirituality would perhaps even see in this natural marvel a divine force in action, etc. In all of these cases, they would receive this impression as a sort of a revelation that would stay with them and as the result of it they might seek to experience this feeling more.
In his book The Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, a famous theosophist and the founder of anthroposophical science, Rudolf Steiner, has said the following about this topic:
“[…]He must begin with a certain fundamental attitude of soul. In spiritual science this fundamental attitude is called the path of veneration, of devotion to truth and knowledge. Without this attitude no one can become a student. The disposition shown in their childhood by subsequent students of higher knowledge is well known to the experienced in these matters. There are children who look up with religious awe to those whom they venerate. For such people they have a respect which forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbor any thought of criticism or opposition. Such children grow up into young men and women who feel happy when they are able to look up to anything that fills them with veneration. From the ranks of such children are recruited many students of higher knowledge.
“Have you ever paused outside the door of some venerated person, and have you, on this your first visit, felt a religious awe as you pressed on the handle to enter the room which for you is a holy place? If so, a feeling has been manifested within you which may be the germ of your future adherence to the path of knowledge. It is a blessing for every human being in process of development to have such feelings upon which to build. Only it must not be thought that this disposition leads to submissiveness and slavery. What was once a childlike veneration for persons becomes, later, a veneration for truth and knowledge. Experience teaches that they can best hold their heads erect who have learnt to venerate where veneration is due; and veneration is always fitting when it flows from the depths of the heart.
“If we do not develop within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve to something higher. The initiate has only acquired the strength to lift his head to the heights of knowledge by guiding his heart to the depths of veneration and devotion. The heights of the spirit can only be climbed by passing through the portals of humility. You can only acquire right knowledge when you have learnt to esteem it. Man has certainly the right to turn his eyes to the light, but he must first acquire this right. There are laws in the spiritual life, as in the physical life. Rub a glass rod with an appropriate material and it will become electric, that is, it will receive the power of attracting small bodies. This is in keeping with a law of nature. It is known to all who have learnt a little physics. Similarly, acquaintance with the first principles of spiritual science shows that every feeling of true devotion harbored in the soul develops a power which may, sooner or later, lead further on the path of knowledge.
“The student who is gifted with this feeling, or who is fortunate enough to have had it inculcated in a suitable education, brings a great deal along with him when, later in life, he seeks admittance to higher knowledge. Failing such preparation, he will encounter difficulties at the very first step, unless he undertakes, by rigorous self-education, to create within himself this inner life of devotion. In our time it is especially important that full attention be paid to this point. Our civilization tends more toward critical judgment and condemnation than toward devotion and selfless veneration. Our children already criticize far more than they worship. But every criticism, every adverse judgment passed, disperses the powers of the soul for the attainment of higher knowledge in the same measure that all veneration and reverence develops them. In this we do not wish to say anything against our civilization. There is no question here of leveling criticism against it. To this critical faculty, this self-conscious human judgment, this “test all things and hold fast what is best,” we owe the greatness of our civilization. Man could never have attained to the science, the industry, the commerce, the rights relationships of our time, had he not applied to all things the standard of his critical judgment. But what we have thereby gained in external culture we have had to pay for with a corresponding loss of higher knowledge of spiritual life. It must be emphasized that higher knowledge is not concerned with the veneration of persons but the veneration of truth and knowledge. ”
When talking about the qualities needed for achieving meditation and initiation on the esoteric path, Samael Aun Weor has said the following about veneration in his book The Igneous Rose:
“It is indispensable that our disciples cultivate the beautiful quality of veneration. We must profoundly venerate all sacred and divine things. We must profoundly venerate all the works of the Creator. We must profoundly venerate the venerable Masters of the Universal White Fraternity. Respect and veneration completely open the doors of the superior worlds for us.”
Veneration that arises as a pure emotion from the heart (when it is not distorted by one of the many I’s) is like a portal that connects us with the higher worlds, with beings of light, and with our own true source of light. Through it we see more clearly our position in this world, and what it is that we are aspiring to. A genuine feeling of veneration is a power that inspires and that can help us remember ourselves more while we do the inner work.