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An Outline of Occult Science

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

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

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An Outline of Occult Science



(Part 6)

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Man is able to attain knowledge by means of inspiration and intuition only through soul-spirit exercises. They resemble those that have been described as meditation for the attainment of imagination. While, however, those exercises that lead to imagination are linked to the impressions of the sensory-physical world, this link must disappear more and more in the exercises for inspiration. In order to make clear to himself what has to happen there, let a person consider again the symbol of the rose cross. If he ponders upon this symbol he has an image before him, the parts of which have been taken from the impressions of the sense world: the black color of the cross, the roses, and so forth. The combining of these parts into a rose cross has not been taken from the physical sense world. If now the student of the spirit attempts to let the black cross and also the red roses as pictures of sense realities disappear entirely from his consciousness and only to retain in his soul the spiritual activity that has combined these parts, then he has a means for meditation that leads him by degrees to inspiration. One may place the following question before one's soul. What have I done inwardly in order to combine cross and rose into a symbol? What I have done — my own soul process — I wish to hold fast to; I let the picture itself, however, disappear from my consciousness. Then I wish to feel within me all that my soul has done in order to bring the image into existence, but I do not wish to hold the image itself; I wish to live quite inwardly within my own activity, which has created the image. Thus, I do not intend to meditate on an image, but to dwell in my own image-creating soul activity. Such meditation must be carried out in regard to many symbols. This then leads to cognition through inspiration. Another example would be the following. One meditates on the thought of a growing and decaying plant. One allows to arise in the soul the image of a slowly growing plant as it shoots up out of the seed, as it unfolds leaf on leaf, until it develops flower and fruit. Then again, one meditates on how it begins to fade until its complete dissolution. One acquires gradually by meditating on such an image a feeling of growth and decay for which the plant remains a mere symbol. From this feeling, if this exercise is continued with perseverance, there may arise the imagination of the transformation that underlies physical growth and decay. If one wishes, however, to attain the corresponding state of inspiration, one has to carry out the exercise differently. The student must recall his own soul activity that has gained the visualization of growth and decay from the image of the plant. He must now let the plant disappear completely from consciousness and only meditate upon what he has himself done inwardly. Only through such exercises is it possible to ascend to inspiration. In the beginning it will not be entirely easy for the student of the spirit to comprehend completely how he should go about such an exercise. The reason for this is that the human being who is accustomed to have his inner life determined by outer impressions immediately finds himself uncertain and wavering when he has to unfold a soul-life that has discarded all connection with outer impressions. In a still higher degree than in the acquiring of imagination the student must be clear, in regard to these exercises that lead to inspiration, that he ought only to carry them out when he accompanies them with all those precautionary measures that can lead to safeguarding and strengthening of his power of discrimination, his life of feeling, and his character. If he takes these precautions, then he will have a twofold result. In the first place, he will not, through these exercises, lose the equilibrium of his personality during supersensible perception; secondly, he will at the same time gain the faculty of being able actually to carry out what is required in these exercises. He will maintain in regard to them that they are difficult only so long as he has not yet acquired a quite definite soul condition, quite definite feelings and sensations. He will soon gain understanding and also ability for the exercises, if in patience and perseverance he fosters in his soul such inner faculties as favor the unfolding of supersensible knowledge. If he grows accustomed to withdrawing into himself frequently in such a way that he is less concerned with brooding on himself than with quietly arranging and working over his life-experiences, he will gain much. He will see that his thoughts and feelings are enriched if he brings one life-experience into relationship with another. He will become aware to what a high degree he experiences something new not only by having new impressions and new experiences, but also by permitting the old to work in him. If he sets to work in such a way that he lets his experiences, indeed, even his acquired opinions, play back and forth as though he were not at all involved in them with his sympathies and antipathies, with his personal interests and feelings, he will prepare an especially good soil for the forces of supersensible cognition. He will develop, in truth, what may be called a rich inner life. The question of chief importance here, however, is equanimity and equilibrium of the soul qualities. Man is only too easily inclined, if he surrenders himself to a certain soul activity, to fall into one-sidedness. For example, if he becomes aware of the advantage of inner meditation and of dwelling in his own thought world, he may develop such an inclination toward it that he begins to shut himself off from the impressions of the outer world. This, however, leads to the withering and devastation of the inner life. Those go the farthest who preserve, alongside the ability to withdraw inwardly, an open receptivity to all impressions of the outer world. One need not think here merely of the so-called important impressions of life, but every man in every situation — even in the poorest surroundings — may have sufficient experiences if he only keeps his mind sufficiently receptive. One need not seek the experiences; they are present everywhere. — Of special importance also is the way experiences are transformed in the human soul. For example, somebody may discover that a person revered by him or others has this or that quality that may be viewed as a fault of character. Such an experience may cause the human being to meditate in a twofold manner. He may simply say to himself, “Now, that I have recognized this fault, I can no longer revere this person in the same way as formerly.” Or he may pose the following question to himself, “How does it happen that this revered person is afflicted with this fault? Should I not consider that this fault is not merely a fault, but something due to the circumstances of this person's life, perhaps even to his great capacities?” A human being posing this question to himself will perhaps arrive at the result that his reverence is not in the least to be decreased by the discovery of such a fault. He will have learned something every time he goes through such an experience; he will have added something to his understanding of life. It would, however, certainly be disastrous to the human being were he to let himself be misled by the merit of such a view of life to excuse everything he possibly can in people and things for whom he has a preference, or even to form the habit of disregarding all faults because it brings him advantage for his inner development. This will not be the case if he has the subjective impulse not merely to censure faults but to understand them; it will occur when this attitude is demanded by the case in question, regardless of the gain or loss to him who judges. It is entirely correct that one cannot learn through condemning faults, but only through understanding them. If, however, because of understanding, one should entirely exclude disapproval, one would not get very far either. Here also it is not a question of one-sidedness in either direction, but of equanimity and equilibrium of the soul powers. — It is especially so with a soul quality that is of great significance for the development of the human being; this is what is called the feeling of reverence or devotion. Those who have developed this feeling in themselves or possess it from the outset through a fortunate gift of nature have an excellent basis for the forces of supersensible knowledge. The person who in childhood or youth has been able to look up with self-surrendering admiration to personalities as though to high ideals, possesses something at the foundation of his soul in which supersensible cognition thrives especially well. And whoever with mature judgment in later life looks upon the starry heavens and feels with wonder in complete surrender the revelation of exalted powers makes himself thus mature for knowledge of supersensible worlds. Something similar is the case with those who are able to admire the forces ruling in human life, and it is not of little importance if we, even as mature human beings, can have reverence to the highest degree for other men whose worth we divine or believe we know. Only where such reverence is present can the view into the higher world open up. The person who is unable to revere will in no way advance very far in his knowledge. Whoever does not wish to acknowledge anything in the world will find that the essential nature of things is closed to him. — The person, however, who permits himself to be misled, through an unrestrained feeling of reverence and surrender, to deaden in himself a healthy consciousness of self and self-confidence sins against the law of equanimity and equilibrium. The student will continually work on himself in order to make himself more and more mature; he is then justified in having confidence in his own personality and in having faith that its powers will continually increase. If he achieves correct feelings in this direction he may say to himself, “In me there lie hidden forces and I can draw them forth from my inner being. Therefore, when I see something that I must revere because it stands above me, I need not only revere it, but I may hope to develop myself to such a degree that I become similar to what I revere.”

The greater the capacity of a human being to direct his attention to certain processes of life with which his personal judgment is not, at the outset, familiar, the greater the possibility for him to lay the foundation for a development into the spiritual worlds. An example may make this clear. A man is in a certain situation in life where he may perform a certain deed or leave it undone. His judgment suggests to him: Do this! But there may be a certain inexplicable something in his feelings that holds him back from the deed. Now it may be that he does not pay any attention to this inexplicable something that seeks to restrain him, but simply performs the deed, according to his capacity to judge. Or he may surrender to the urge of this inexplicable something and leave the deed undone. If he then follows up the matter further it may become evident that evil would have been the result had he followed his judgment, but that by non-performance of the deed, a blessing has ensued. Such an experience may lead man's thoughts into a quite definite direction. He may say to himself, “Something lives in me that is a better guide than my present capacity of judgment. I must hold my mind open to this ,something in me that cannot at all be reached by the present degree of my capacity of judgment.” The soul is benefited to the highest degree when it directs its attention toward such occurrences in life. It then becomes aware, as though in a state of healthy premonition, that something exists in man that transcends his present ability to judge. Through such attention the human being directs his efforts toward an extension of soul-life, but here also it is possible that one-sidedness may result that is dangerous. Whoever were to form the habit of disregarding his judgment because his “premonitions” impel him to this or that, would become the plaything of all sorts of uncertain impulses, and from such a habit it is not a great distance to complete lack of judgment and superstition. — Any sort of superstition is fatal to the student of the spiritual. He acquires the possibility of penetrating in a true way into the regions of spiritual life only by guarding himself carefully against superstition, fantastic ideas, and day-dreaming. No one can enter the spirit world in the right way who is happy in experiencing something that “cannot be grasped by the human mind.” A preference for the “inexplicable” certainly makes no one a student of the spirit. He must completely abandon the notion that “a mystic is someone who presumes wherever it suits him something inexplicable and unfathomable in the world.” The student shows the proper feeling by acknowledging this existence of hidden forces and beings everywhere, but also by assuming that the uninvestigated may be investigated if the necessary powers are present.

There is a certain attitude of soul that is important for the student of the spirit at every stage of his development. This consists in not directing his desire for knowledge in a one-sided way by asking, “How may this or that question be answered?” but by asking, “How do I develop this or that ability in myself?” If then by inner patient work in himself this or that faculty is developed, the answer to certain questions is received. Students of the spirit will always foster this attitude of soul. Through this they are led to work on themselves, to make themselves more and more mature, and to renounce the desire to force answers to certain questions. They will wait until such answers come to them. — If, however, they become one-sided here also, they will not advance properly. The student may also have the feeling at a certain point of his development that he, with the degree of his ability, can himself answer the most sublime questions. Here also equanimity and equilibrium play an important role in the attitude of soul.

Many more soul faculties could be described, the fostering and development of which are beneficial when the student strives by means of exercises to attain inspiration. In all of them, we should have to emphasize that equanimity and equilibrium are the soul faculties upon which everything depends. They prepare the understanding and the ability to carry out the exercises outlined for the purpose of acquiring inspiration.

The exercises for the attainment of intuition demand that the student cause not only the images, to which he has surrendered himself in acquiring imagination, to disappear from his consciousness, but also the life within his own soul activity into which he has immersed himself for the acquirement of inspiration. He should then literally retain nothing in his soul of previously known outer or inner experiences. Were there to be, however, nothing left in his consciousness after this discarding of outer and inner experiences, that is to say, were his consciousness then entirely to disappear and he to sink down into unconsciousness, this would then make it clear to him that he had not yet made himself mature enough to undertake exercises for intuition; he would then have to continue the exercises for imagination and inspiration. A time will surely come when the consciousness is not empty after the soul has discarded all inner and outer experiences, but when, after this discarding, something remains in consciousness as an effect, to which we then may surrender in meditation just as we had previously surrendered to what owes its existence to outer or inner impressions. This something is of a quite special character. It is, in contrast to all preceding experiences, something entirely new. When one experiences it one knows, “This I have not known before. It is a perception just as the real tone, heard by the ear, is a perception, but this something can only enter my consciousness through intuition, just as the tone can only enter my consciousness through the ear.” Through intuition man's impressions are stripped of the last trace of the sensory-physical; the spiritual world now begins to open itself to cognition in a form that no longer has anything in common with the qualities of the physical world of the senses.

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