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The Stages of Higher Knowledge

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.



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The Stages of Higher Knowledge

INSPIRATION

FROM THE DESCRIPTION of Imagination it has become evident how through it the occult student leaves the ground of outer sense experiences. In a much higher degree is this the case with Inspiration. Here representation (image forming) is based much less upon what can be designated an outer stimulus. Man must find strength within himself to make it possible for him to form representations concerning things. He must be inwardly active on a much higher level than in the case of outer cognition. There he simply gives himself over to outer impressions, and these cause the images. This kind of surrender ceases when we come to Inspiration. No eye any longer supplies colours, no ear supplies sounds, and so forth. The whole content of representations must largely be shaped by one's own activity, consequently by purely spirit-soul processes, and the manifestation of the higher world must be impressed upon what man has created by his inner activity. A peculiar contradiction seems to appear in such a description of the world of higher cognition. The individual to a certain extent should be the creator of his own representations yet of course these representations must not be allowed to be his own creation. The processes of the higher world must be expressed through them just as the processes of the lower world are expressed through the perceptions of the eyes, ears, and so forth. But a contradiction is inevitable in the description of this mode of cognition, for this is exactly what the occult student must make his own on the path of Inspiration; he must attain by his inner activity a result that in ordinary life is outwardly compelled. — Why in ordinary life do the images representing the outer world not take their course arbitrarily? Because man has to make his inner imagery conform to the outer objects. All arbitrariness of the “ego” falls away because the objects say: We are that, or that. The objects themselves tell how they shall be thought of; the “ego” has nothing to decide about it. Whoever will not adjust himself to the objects has erroneous thoughts, and he would soon become aware of how little success he would have with them in the world. This necessary attitude of human beings to the things of the outer world can be designated in cognition by the term “selfless.” Man must attain a “selfless” attitude toward things, and the outer world is his instructor in this selflessness. It removes from him all illusions, all fantastic notions, all illogical judgments, all non-objectivity, simply by putting the correct image before his senses.

If the human being wants to prepare himself for Inspiration, he must so develop his inner nature that this selflessness is his very own, even when nothing outside compels it. He must learn to create inwardly, but in such a way that his “ego” does not in the least way play an arbitrary role in this creative activity. The difficulties to be considered in achieving such selflessness become the more apparent the more consideration is given to what soul powers are especially needed for Inspiration. — The three fundamental powers of soul life are differentiated: Representation (thinking), feeling, and willing. In everyday sensory cognition, representations are stimulated into existence by outer objects, and through these externally stimulated representations the directions taken by feeling and willing are determined. For instance, the human being sees an object; it gives him pleasure, and in consequence he desires the things concerned. Pleasure is rooted in feeling, and through feeling the will is aroused, just as feeling has itself received its stamp from thinking. But the ultimate foundation of thinking, feeling and willing is the external object. — Another instance would be this. A man witnesses an event. It frightens him. He runs away from the scene of the event. Here, too, the outer occurrences are the initial cause; they are perceived through the senses, become representations, the feeling of fear springs up; and the will — expressing itself in running away — is the result. In Inspiration any outer object of this kind falls away. The senses do not come into play for a perception. Therefore they cannot give rise to representations. From this side no influence is exerted upon feeling and willing. Yet it is precisely from these two, as out of a mother substance, that in Inspiration representations inwardly arise and grow. If the mother substance is healthy, true representations will arise; if unhealthy, errors and illusions.

As certainly as inspirations that originate in healthy feeling and willing can be revelations from a higher world, so certainly do errors, delusions and fantastic notions concerning a higher world spring from confused feeling and willing.

Occult training therefore undertakes to indicate how the human being may make his feelings and his will impulses productive in a healthy way for Inspiration. As in all matters of occult training, the need here is for an intimate regulating and forming of soul life. First of all certain feelings must be developed which are known only to a slight degree in ordinary life. Some of these feelings will be hinted at here. Among the most important is a heightened sensitiveness to “truth” and “falsehood,” to “right” and “wrong.” Certainly the ordinary human being has similar feelings, but they must be developed by the occult student in a much higher measure. Suppose someone has made a logical error. Another sees this mistake and corrects it. Let it be clear how great is the role of judgment and intellect in such a correction, and how slight the feeling of pleasure in the right and displeasure in the wrong. Surely this is not to claim that the pleasure and corresponding displeasure are non-existent. But the degree to which they are present in ordinary life must be illimitably raised in occult training. Most systematically must the occult student turn his attention to his soul life, and he must bring it about that logical error is a source of pain to him, no less excruciating than physical pain, and conversely, that the “right” gives him real joy and delight. Thus, where another only stirs his intellect, his power of judgment, into motion, the occult student must learn to live through the whole gamut of emotions, from grief to enthusiasm, from afflictive tension to transports of delight in the possession of truth. In fact, he must learn to feel something like hatred against what the “normal” man experiences only in a cold and sober way as “incorrect”; he must enkindle in himself a love of truth that bears a personal character; as personal, as warm, as the lover feels for the beloved. — Certainly much is spoken in our “cultured” circles about the “love of truth” yet what is meant by this is not at all to be compared with what the occult student must go through in quiet, inner soul work toward this end. As a test, he must patiently, over and over again, place before himself this or that “true” thing, this or that “false” one, and devote himself to it, not merely to train his power of judgment for sober discrimination between “true” and “false,” but he must gain an entirely personal relation to it all. — It is absolutely correct that at the beginning of such training the human being can fall into what may be called “oversensitiveness.” An incorrect judgment that he hears in his environment, an inconsistency, and so forth, can cause him almost unbearable pain. — Care must therefore be taken in this respect during training. Otherwise great dangers might indeed result for the student's equilibrium of soul. If care is taken that the character remains steadfast, storms may occur in the soul life and the human being still retain the power to conduct himself toward the outer world with harmonious countenance and bearing. A mistake is made in every case in which the occult student is brought into opposition to the outer world so that he finds it unbearable or wishes to flee from it entirely. The higher world of feeling must not be cultivated at the expense of well-balanced activity and work in the outer world; therefore a strengthening of the power to withstand outer impressions must appear in corresponding measure to the inner lifting of the feeling life. Practical occult training, therefore, directs the human being never to undertake the above-mentioned exercises for developing the feeling world without at the same time developing himself toward an appreciation of the tolerance that life demands from men. He must be able to feel the keenest pain if a person utters an erroneous opinion, and yet at the same time be perfectly tolerant towards this person because the thought in his mind is equally clear that this person is bound to judge in this way, and his opinion must be reckoned with as a fact. — It is, of course, correct that the inner being of the occult scientist will be ever more and more transformed into a twofold life. Ever richer processes come about in his soul in his pilgrimage through life, and a second world becomes continually more independent of what the outer world offers. It is just this twofold existence that will bear fruit in the genuine practice of life. What results from it is quick-witted judgment and unerring certainty of decision. While anyone who stands remote from such schooling must go through long trains of thought, driven hither and thither between resolution and perplexity, the occult scientist will swiftly survey life situations and discern hidden relations concealed from the ordinary view. He then often needs much patience to synchronise with the slow rate at which another person is able to grasp something that for him comes swift as an arrow.

Thus far we have spoken only of the qualities that must be developed in the feeling life so that Inspiration may occur in the correct way. The next question is: How do the feelings become fruitful so that they are accurately represented for the world of Inspiration? If one wishes to understand what occult science has to offer in answer to this question, acquaintance is necessary with the fact that man's soul life has always a certain treasure of feeling over and above those stimulated by sense perceptions. The human being feels, as it were, far more than things compel him to feel, only in ordinary life this excess is employed in a direction that through occult training must be transformed into another. Take, for instance, a feeling of anxiety or fear. It can be crystal clear that often fear or anxiety is greater than it would be if it were in true proportion to the corresponding outer event. Imagine that the occult student is working energetically on himself with the aim to feel in no instance more fear and anxiety than is justified by the corresponding external events. Now a given amount of fear or anxiety always entails an expenditure of soul force. This soul force is actually lost as a result when fear or anxiety is produced. The student really conserves this soul force when he denies himself fear or anxiety — or other such feelings — and it remains at his disposal for some other purpose. If he repeats such processes often, he will build up an inner treasure of these continually husbanded soul forces, and the occult student will soon find that out of such economies of feeling will arise the germs of those inner images that will bring to expression the revelations of a higher life. Such things cannot be “proved” in the ordinary sense; the occult student can only be advised to do this or that, and if he does so to watch for the indubitable results.

A careless examination of what has been described might easily make it appear as a contradiction to demand from the one side an enrichment of the feeling world, with feelings of pleasure or pain to be kindled by what otherwise arouses only intellectual judgment, and from the other side to talk in almost the same breath of economy of feeling. This contradiction quickly disappears if it is borne in mind that the economies are to be effected in those feelings aroused by the outer senses. Just what is conserved there appears conversely as an enrichment of spiritual experience, and it is wholly correct that the feelings conserved in this way in the world of sense perception not only become free in the other sphere, but prove creative in that sphere. — They shape the matrix substance for those representations wherein the spiritual world reveals itself.

But it would not accomplish much to remain at a standstill with only such economies as those indicated above. For greater results, still more is necessary. A far greater treasure still of power to create feeling must be supplied to the soul than is possible in this way alone. For instance, as a test, one must expose oneself to certain outer impressions, and then wholly deny oneself the feelings that “normally” arise as a result. One must, for instance, face an occurrence that “normally” excites the soul, and absolutely and totally forbid oneself the excitation. This can be accomplished either by actually confronting such an experience, or by conjuring it up imaginatively. The imaginative method is even better for a really fruitful occult training. As the student is initiated into Imagination, either before his preparation for Inspiration or simultaneously with it, he should actually be in a position to place an occurrence imaginatively before the soul with the same force as if it were in fact taking place. — If, therefore, in the course of long inner work the student ever again and again subjects himself to things and events, yet denies himself the corresponding “normal” feelings, a fertile ground for Inspiration will be created in his soul. — Just incidentally it might be noted here that he who is describing such training for Inspiration can fully appreciate possible objections against such a description from the standpoint of present-day culture. Not only can objections be made, but people may smile haughtily and say, “Inspiration cannot be pedantically taught; it is a natural gift of genius.” Yes, from the standpoint of modern culture, it may certainly seem almost comical to speak of a process that this culture will not admit to be explainable, but this culture is itself not conscious of how little it is able to think through its own thought processes to the end. Whoever would expect a disciple of this culture to believe that some more highly developed animal had not slowly evolved, but had appeared “suddenly,” would soon hear that a person cultured in the modern sense would not believe in such a “miracle.” Such a belief would be “superstition.” Now in the sphere of soul life, one with such modern education is himself but the victim of crass superstition simply in the style of his own opinions. By the same token, he will not recognise that a more fully developed soul must also have evolved, that it could not have sprung into existence suddenly as a gift of nature. Of course, externally, many a genius appears to have been born suddenly “out of nothing” in some mysterious way; but it appears so only for materialistic superstition; the spiritual scientist knows that the assessment of genius with respect to the life of a man born to this condition as if out of nothing is simply the result of his preparation for Inspiration during an earlier life on earth. — In the theoretical sphere, materialistic superstition is bad, but it is still worse in the practical sphere such as is concerned here. As it assumes that genius in the whole of the future must “fall from heaven,” it does not trouble itself about this “occult nonsense” or “fantastic mysticism” that speaks of preparation for Inspiration. In this way the superstition of the materialists retards the true progress of mankind. It does not see to it that the latent faculties are developed in man.

In reality, precisely those who call themselves progressives and free-thinkers are often the enemies of true progress. But this, as noted, is but a casual remark, necessary because of the relationship of occult science to present-day culture.

Now the soul powers that are stored up in the student's inner being by self-denial of “normal” feelings, as indicated above, are riches that would undoubtedly be transformed into Inspirations even if nothing else came to their aid, and the occult student would experience how true thought images arise in his soul, representing experiences in higher worlds. Progress would begin with the simplest experiences of supersensible events, and slowly more complicated and higher ones appear, if the student continued to live inwardly according to the suggested directions. — But in reality such occult training today would be entirely impractical, and nowhere is it carried out where work is undertaken earnestly. For, if the student wished to develop “out of himself” everything that Inspiration can give, he could undoubtedly “spin out” of himself all that has been said here, for example, about the nature of man, human life after death, the evolution of humanity and of the planets, and so forth. But such a student would need an immeasurably long time to do it. It would be, for example, as if a man would spin the whole of geometry out of himself, without regard for what had already been achieved in this realm before him. Certainly, in theory, it is fully possible. To carry it out in practice would be folly. Also, this is not the procedure in occult science, but through a teacher things are handed down that have been acquired for humanity by inspired predecessors. This tradition must for the present provide the basis for individual Inspiration. What is being offered today in literature and lectures out of the realm of occult science can absolutely provide such a basis for Inspiration. There are, for example, the teachings about the various component parts of man (physical body, ether body, astral body, and so forth), the knowledge concerning life after death pending a new incarnation, and everything that has been printed under the title, Cosmic Memory. In other words, it must be held fast at all points that Inspiration is needed for discovering and personally experiencing the higher truths, but not for understanding them. What is communicated in Cosmic Memory cannot at first be discovered without Inspiration. But once communicated, then it can be understood through wholly ordinary logical judgment. No one should assert that things are stated there that cannot be logically grasped without Inspiration. They are found inconceivable, not because of lack of Inspiration, but because they are not given sufficient reflective consideration. — If such communicated truths are received, they awaken Inspiration in the soul through their own strength. If sharing in such Inspiration is desired, however, the effort must be made not to receive this knowledge in a prosaic and matter-of-fact way, but to open oneself to be moved by the upswing of ideas into all possible feeling experiences. Why should this not be possible? Can feeling remain dull when overpowering cosmic occurrences pass before the spirit's gaze — how the Earth has developed out of Moon, Sun, and Saturn, or when the infinite depths of human nature are penetrated by a knowledge of man's ether and astral bodies, and so forth? One might almost say, “How regrettable,” for a person who can contemplate unmoved such edifices of thought. For if he did not regard them prosaically, but lived through all the tensions and relaxations of feeling that they make possible, all climaxes and crises, all progress and retrogression, all catastrophes and dispersions, then indeed would the mother substance be prepared in him for Inspiration itself. Certainly the necessary feeling life in the face of such communications from a higher world can be really unfolded only by exercises like those indicated above. Whoever turns all his feeling forces toward the outer world of sense perception will see narrations from a higher world as “arid concepts,” as “gray theory.” He will never be able to grasp why another finds the communications of occult science heartwarming, while his own heart remains cold to them. He will even say, “But this is only for the intellect; this is intellectual. I would like something for my whole well-being.” But he does not tell himself that it is his own fault if his heart remains cold.

Many still undervalue the power of what lies already hidden in just these communications from a higher world, and in this connection they overvalue all kinds of other exercises and procedures. “What good is it to me,” they say, “to learn from others what the higher worlds look like? I want to see them for myself.” Such persons mostly lack the patience to concentrate over and over again upon such narrations from higher worlds. If they would do so, they would see what kindling force these “mere stories” have, and how one's own Inspiration is stimulated by hearing an account of the Inspirations of others. — Certainly other exercises must supplement mere “learning” if the student wishes to make rapid progress in the experience of the higher worlds, but no one should under-estimate the great significance precisely of “learning.” In any case no hope can be given that he will make rapid conquests in the higher worlds through any exercises whatever, unless he has at the same time set out to ponder incessantly upon the communications, purely narrative, that have been given from a competent quarter about the events and beings of the higher worlds. — Now that such communications are actually being presented in literature and in lectures, and so forth, and the first indications are also being given for the exercises leading to knowledge of higher worlds (as, for example, such indications as are presented in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment), it has now become possible to learn something of what formerly was communicated only in strictly guarded occult schools. As has been frequently mentioned, it is owing to the special conditions of our time that these things are and must be published. But also, on the other hand, it must be ever again emphasised that while it has thus been made easier to acquire occult knowledge, sure guidance through an experienced occult teacher is not yet to be completely dispensed with.

Cognition through Inspiration leads men to the experience of processes in the invisible worlds, as, for instance, the evolution of man and that of the earth and its planetary embodiments. But when in these higher worlds not only processes, but being come under consideration, then must Intuition enter in as a mode of cognition. What occurs through such being is discerned through Imagination in pictures; laws and relationships, through Inspiration; if one would come face to face with the beings themselves, Intuition is needed. — How Inspiration becomes articulate in the world of Imaginations, how it permeates the latter as a “spiritual music” and so becomes the means of expression for the beings who are to be known through Intuition, will be explained later. Then also Intuition itself will be dealt with. Here it will merely be pointed out that what is designated as “Intuition” in occult science has nothing to do with the application of the word “intuition” in current popular usage. By this application is meant a more or less uncertain notion in contrast to clear cognition, logically arrived at through intellect or reason. In occult science, Intuition is nothing vague and uncertain, but a lofty mode of cognition, full of the most luminous clarity and the most indubitable certainty.




Last Modified: 17-Oct-2020
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