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The East in the Light of the West

The East in the Light of the West: Introduction

On-line since: 30th March, 2005

Introduction

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HOUGHTFUL statesmen and observers of world-politics know full well that the greatest and most real problems of the present, and of the immediate future, concern the relationship of the East and West. They are problems of life and death, in the material as well as in the spiritual sense.

Our Western scientific civilisation, with its commerce and industrialism, must expand. Its inner impulse is to expand over the earth; moreover, it has apparently the outward power so to do. But the East is not meeting this expansion passively. On the contrary, there is every sign that the East is awakening to take a very active part in determining the forms and conditions under which this expansion shall take place. Here arises a question fraught with the gravest possibilities for good or evil. Will the Western and Eastern civilisations, deeply different as they are, blend and harmonise? Will a fuller humanity arise and develop in this process? Or will they clash in spiritual conflict, and at last in external warfare?

A spiritual humanity movement in our time — and such is the movement which has arisen out of Anthroposophy — must meet this question in full consciousness. For it is, ultimately, a spiritual question. It can never be answered in the sense of progress, unless and until something of a spiritual knowledge of humanity filters down into our public life. ‘The public affairs of today,’ says Rudolf Steiner, writing on the eve of the Conference at Washington, ‘comprising as they do the life of the whole world, ought not to be conducted without the infusion of spiritual impulses.’ [See Dr. Steiner's articles in the Goetheanum weekly, and translation of an article published in The Threefold Commonwealth journal, Vol. II, No. I. This article also appeared in The New Age.]

We, in the West, are carrying our industrial civilisation farther and farther, more and more intensely, to the East. We are accustoming the Eastern peoples to deal with us in the forms in which we are familiar both as regards political and economic intercourse. These outward forms of our civilisation, from railways and banks to Parliaments and Conferences, the Eastern peoples may or may not be ready to accept. Whether they harmonise with us in inner impulse, or whether the very contact with these external Western features rouses in them a deep and fiery resistance, is a very different question. Here, again, it is well for us to hear the warning and the hopeful summons conveyed in the words of Rudolf Steiner. To quote again from the above-mentioned article: — ‘Asia possesses the heritage of an ancient spiritual life, which for her is above all else. This spiritual life will burst into mighty flame if, from the West, conditions are created such as cannot satisfy it ...

The Asiatic peoples will meet the West with understanding if the West can offer them thoughts of an universal humanity thoughts that indicate what Man is in the whole universal order and how a social life may be achieved in conformity with what Man is. When the peoples in the East hear that the West has fresh knowledge on those very, subjects of which their ancient traditions tell, and for the renewal of which they themselves are darkly striving, then will the way be open for mutual understanding and co-operation. If, however, we persist in regarding the infusion of such knowledge into pubic activity as a fantastic dream of the unpractical, then in the end the East will wage war upon the West, however much they may converse about the beauties of disarmament.

The West wishes for peace and quiet to achieve her economic ends and these the East will never understand unless the West has something Spiritual to impart.

In the West there is the potentiality of a living, spiritual development. From the treasures she has collected by her natural-scientific and technical mode of thought, the West has power to draw forth a spiritual conception of the world, though what she has drawn forth in the past has led her only to a mechanistic and materialistic conception.

‘On the redemption of spiritual values in the West it will depend, whether mankind will overcome the chaos of today or wander in it helplessly.’

These are inspiring words; we feel that they give expression to world impulses, world dangers, and world destinies. They are an adequate indication of the task that an anthroposophical movement must set out to perform, or, at any rate, to place before the men and women of today. It is the potentiality of a living, spiritual development, the treasure that lies hidden beneath the cold exterior of Western scientific intellectuality — it is this that Anthroposophy seeks to reveal: it is this to which it would awaken the consciousness and conscience of the world. As a result of the methods of development that have so often been described in these pages, Anthroposophy arrives at a transformation of Western science into a ‘higher science’: one that is not merely ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ (able to grasp the dead and inorganic world of our immediate environment), but cosmic and all-human. Thoughts of a universal humanity, thoughts indicating what Man is in the whole universal order — these are the fruits of Anthroposophy. And it is from such thoughts alone that an all-human society — a thing absolutely that necessary in our age for the survival of civilised mankind — can receive life and form and impulse.

Our age has a fundamental striving towards internationalism. Internationalism, as men like Wells have pointed out, is, if nothing else, a necessity imposed on us by our economic development; though, indeed, our need and striving for it are far more deeply rooted. But the international ideal has so far only been expressed in abstract forms. Wilsonian idealism and Marxian idealism alike are born of an intellectual and abstract consciousness. The good intention is there, but the means for its fulfillment are lacking.

For the forces that make for harmony between men and nations live deeper than the intellectual mind. They are far more deeply situated in the souls of men. I may be intellectually convinced that ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ is the most excellent of moral precepts; I may have the sincerest ethical intention to live according to it; and yet, if I do not understand my neighbour, I may find myself unable to suffer him, or to restrain my aggravation with him. Once, however, I understand him — not an abstract, but a concrete and individual understanding — I have planted in my soul a force that is deep enough to dispel aggravation, and make for harmony and love.

An individual and concrete understanding of the nations is what we need an understanding that is intimate and sympathetic, like the understanding of an individual man. Nothing short of a spiritual science can provide us with such an understanding. For a nation is not manifested as a physical entity; it lives in what is spiritual. We may know it to be real by its effects, but we can never grasp it, define it, and see it, in the physical. The artist alone, short of the spiritual scientist, will come near to understanding it, for he is gifted to perceive, in the physiognomy of things, the signature of the spiritual being that lies beneath them. Hence, even in our time, the works of great artists — Dostoievsky, for instance — are the most valued means we have of fostering a true and real internationalism. But the artist's instinct and expression are not enough for us; we need a definite knowledge and enlightenment — one that contains the artistic, perceptive, imaginative quality, it is true, but a conscious knowledge, firmer than instinct, more universal than isolated genius.

Mention has often been made in these pages of the threefold constitution of the human being. It has been indicated how the human, physical organism shows this threefold nature in the system of nerves and senses, the rhythmic system, and the assimilative system. These three systems, with their characteristic processes, are the physical counterparts of the three main activities or functions of the soul: thinking (conception, ideation, including sense perception), feeling, and willing respectively. Anthroposophical science shows how the different human races and peoples are by no means identical with respect to their development of the three systems in the human organism. Without going into the more intimate differentiations, which exist, three main types may be distinguished. These are first, the Eastern, or Oriental; secondly, the Middle European and thirdly, the Western, or Occidental (West European and American).

The Eastern peoples, especially those of Southern Asia, live essentially in connection with the inner forces of the earth. The forces which seethe and surge beneath the surface of the earth, and in the roots and fruits of plants and trees; the thriving, living forces of the earth: these have, as it were, their continuation in the assimilative, digestive system of the human being, and are connected with the surging and flowing of the human will. The Oriental is especially related to the assimilative system. He lives naturally and instinctively in the will process, that is related to the surging inner forces of the earth. His peculiar spirituality is like an expression of the earth itself. And when he forms a conscious ideal of higher striving and development, it is in connection with the next ‘higher’ system of the human being: the rhythmic Organisation. For man, when he seeks a conscious ideal of development, reaches out to what lies just beyond his natural instinctive gifts. The Eastern man, who lives naturally in the assimilatory-digestive system, seeks an ideal in the development of the rhythmic life. The paths of Yoga, all the characteristically Eastern paths of higher training, seek a spiritual development through the rhythmic man, through the special regulation of the breath, the circulation of the blood.

Now, if we consider the Mid-European, we find that he lives instinctively and naturally in that very element which the Oriental seeks to cultivate when forming a conscious ideal of higher development. The Mid-European is essentially the rhythmic man; his natural element is a certain inner harmony and rhythmic wholeness. The ancient Grecian civilisation essentially belongs to the Mid-European element in this respect. The balance and control, the aesthetic harmony of the spiritual and material that is evident in Grecian art (by contrast with the more uncontrolled imaginativeness of Oriental art), already indicates this great Mid-European impulse. In Goethe, the representative man of Middle Europe, we find it developed to the highest degree This natural development of the rhythmic, or middle, man tends to make the Mid-European (like the great German idealists of a hundred years ago, and unlike the external Germany of recent times), if he remains true to himself, the mouthpiece of a certain all-humanity; just as the Eastern man, in his great spiritual productions, is the mouthpiece of the Earth. The tendency to understand and to express man as man, this is characteristic and natural for the Mid-European element. The Mid-European has a feeling for the human relationship of ‘I’ and ‘You,’ the rhythmic interplay between men.

As the Eastern man, who lives naturally in the life of the assimilatory system, idealises the rhythmic element in his conscious striving for higher development, so does the Mid-European strive upwards, from the rhythmic organisation which he has by nature, to the conscious development of the life of thought connected with the Head system, the system of nerves and senses. The Mid-European idealises the life of thought. Dialectic, logic, scientific education, the development of pure thought and philosophy — through these, the Mid-European seeks consciously for a higher spiritual development. He works from the rhythmic system, in which he lives, into the life of thought: like the Eastern man, who works from the assimilatory system in which he lives into the rhythmic life. And as the Eastern man, as a result of his spiritual striving, comes to express the Earth forces with which his connection is so intimate, so as to be, as it were, the Earth's interpreter to humanity, in like manner the Mid-European, as a result of his development, comes to be the interpreter to mankind of Man as such.

The Western man, the man of Western Europe and America, has by nature what the Mid European seeks consciously. He lives in the system of nerves and senses: in the thought process, in intellectuality. He is essentially the Head-man. He tends instinctively into the region of abstraction. Thus it is that Rabindranath Tagore, speaking as a thoughtful Eastern observer, though not with any antipathy, compares him to a ‘spiritual giraffe.’

For the Western man, when he seeks a conscious ideal, the danger lies near at hand to leave the human sphere altogether, to lose himself in abstractions. There is in effect only one possibility for the fruitful development of our Western humanity; it is, to find the connection with the spiritual cosmos. What lives in man's thought life is cosmic in its origin. Starting from the thought-life, the nerves and senses organisation in which he naturally lives, the Western man must find a conscious relation to the spiritual universe. The Western man can be, as it were, the interpreter of the Universe, as the Mid-European is the interpreter of Man and the Easterner of the Earth.

We should find all this confirmed if we compared, for example — not pedantically, but with a certain artistic perception — the quality and colouring of Western and Mid-European science. What lives in the great scientists of Western Europe is a certain cosmic feeling; their whole manner of expression shows that the revelation of cosmic facts is to them a cherished element. With the great Mid-European scientists, on the other hand, though they be dealing with, or even discovering, facts of the same cosmic order, we feel that they live more in the formalistic element of thought; it is this that they chiefly feel and value,

The Natural Science of our times, however, has no means to penetrate and interpret the cosmos save by a few mathematical formulae and mechanistic abstractions. Hence the Western man finds himself starved by the materialistic and intellectualistic age. The result is that he is driven to seek refuge in experiments, speculations, and extremes of every kind. He tends to become sectarian, and to devote himself to ‘crank pursuits’; he seeks through a materialistic ‘spiritualism’ the spiritual life that he needs, but has not the means to reach. It is only the Spiritual Science cultivated by Anthroposophy that reveals and provides what he requires. Hence the immense significance of this Spiritual Science for Western peoples.

On the other hand, the Western man, living instinctively and naturally in the thought process with its cosmic origin, turns and finds an outlet in economic and industrial life. And with his economic greatness he expands his sphere of influence over the whole earth. By virtue of the cosmic quality, which is his, he becomes the ‘man of the world’ par excellence. He comes in touch with all the different peoples, and inspires a certain respect and confidence wherever he goes. From his contact with the Eastern peoples, there is kindled in him a great longing for what he lacks — the ever-present sense of the spiritual and the divine in things. He brings back Oriental cults and teachings, and begins to idealise various kinds of Eastern mysticism, by very reaction from his own matter-of-factness and intellectuality.

It is here that the necessary union of all three sections of mankind must set in, essentially a spiritual union, not founded, like racial kinship, on ties of blood, but founded on a common spiritual understanding. The individual man — be he a member of East, Middle, or West — who has, through Spiritual Science, begun to learn and to understand the nations, has an impulse of love and harmony implanted in him — an impulse far more powerful, more lasting, and effective than was ever possible by the mere recognition of an abstract ideal of internationalism. A nation to him is no longer a mere name or collective term, associated, perhaps, with strong sympathies or antipathies. It means a reality, which he knows, and of whose being he is convinced.

He stands in awe — as, learning Spiritual Science, one cannot but stand in awe — before the wisdom that is poured out into the World, manifesting as it manifests in the diversity of plants in outer Nature — in the diversity of human races and peoples of the earth, with their gifts and possibilities and missions. He has the foundation of knowledge for intelligent co-operation with other nations. From the thankfulness and reverence inspired by the contemplation of this wisdom, the seed of spiritual Love is born in his feeling. This is the ‘Holy Spirit of Truth,’ the real liberator of man.




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