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If the background and basis of our human existence is Divine Spiritual Reality, why does it seem to be so remote and even so dubious to us? Why have we so puzzling a relationship with it? Why are we overwhelmingly impressed in these days by the sense-perceptible aspect of things? Why is it that only by so many and such arduous efforts can we, in work upon this book, come to know that with our Thinking we stand in a Supersensible World? In the course of this study, such “why-questions” unavoidably arise. They can be answered only along evolutionary-ethical lines.
We crave most for knowledge, not about those aspects of man wherein he is related to the animals and plants and minerals, but about that aspect of him wherein he is exclusively himself. If it is of such knowledge we are in search, we shall find ourselves compelled to consider all sorts of facts that Darwin and Haeckel and their followers have ignored. Let us make a starting-point with a consideration of what is declared to us about our origins by the great cultural-spiritual myths of mankind.
Adam and Eve live in child-like innocence in the Garden of Eden; they are persuaded by the Serpent to eat of an Apple from the Forbidden Tree; they are in consequence expelled from Paradise ... Persephone dwells in Elysian Fields with Demeter; she plucks the Forbidden Flower; Hades snatches her down into the Lower World. These are the great foundation-myths of the Hebrews and the Greeks. Our own Teutonic myth speaks correspondingly of “The Twilight of the Gods.” To what facts in man's long adventure do these myths point? What is this mysterious “Fall?” this strange “Expulsion?”
Man was once aware of the Divine Spiritual Beings out of Whom he originated. He knew of Them in some such naive dreamlike way as a little child knows of its parents. He was possessed of a natural child-like clairvoyance. Adam and Eve were in their garden. Persephone sat at the feet of Demeter.
And now let the sceptical reader consider facts well known to him from his own studies. What is said to him of the last millennia before the Christ-Event by Ancient Greece and by the Old Testament?
We find Dreams accepted as valid and important truth. (The various veridical dreams in the Genesis story of Joseph; Socrates' confidence in the dream, of which he speaks to Crito, telling him he is not yet to die; Calpurnia's dream, which almost prevented Caesar from meeting his death).
We find Oracles accepted as centres of Divinely authoritative counsel. (I quote from Zimmern's “Greek Commonwealth:” — “Nothing in the story and no material circumstances in the environment of Delphi explain the rapid rise of the Oracle till it became for several generations the greatest spiritual force in the Greek world. And not only a spiritual force but ... a temporal power as well. It was Apofio to whom, as to a Pope, kings and people came for advice. Through Pindar and Sophocles, Aeschylus and Herodotus, Thucydides and Euripides, Plato and Aristotle. ... each let the leaven work in the way that best suited his own genius”).
We find Poets invoking the Muse, not as a pretty fiction, but in all seriousness. (Homer begins both the Iliad and the Odyssey with a solemn prayer to the Goddess of Poetry).
We find the belief that Law-Givers bring their legal codes as a dictate from God. (“And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the Mount; and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the Mount; and Moses went up.” There God gave him the Ten Commandments. Correspondingly, the Athenians held that the Laws of Solon were Divinely derived).
We find Prophets declaring the Will of God in a style nowadays inconceivable. (“Hear the Word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom! Give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah!” Isaiah and all the prophets of the Old Testament declare themselves in some such style to be the direct mouth-pieces of God).
If these facts are given their rightful chronological location, it will be seen that they point clearly enough to a phase of man's development when human beings in general were losing their primitive clairvoyance. During this period, however — under special psychical conditions; at such and such places; at certain times; through chosen people: — man was vouchsafed various kinds of spiritual direction ... In the Middle Ages man's ancient instinctive feeling for the Super-sensible dies finally away.
In Modern Times Adam and Eve have been completely expelled from their Garden; Persephone is completely lost to Demeter; the Gods have withdrawn into something darker even than twilight. We have no longer any experience of or much belief in Spiritual Reality. We are conscious of the physical world alone and we call our present-day knowledge (which is equivalent to his religion for modern man) indifferently “science” or “physical science.” We are able to be aware of the physical aspects of reality only.
What are we to make of these facts? If we say with the Darwinians that the Universe had no intention of making man, it is virtually impossible to account for them. But if (alternatively) the Universe is engaged in a great venture of man-making; if it really said to itself: — “Let us make man in our image!”; then these facts could not have been other than as they are given by the Myths and the Old Testament and Ancient Greek History, etc. … If a child is to learn to stand upon its own feet, it is necessary that at a certain stage in its development it shall be slowly emancipated from the guidance of its parents. It was unavoidable that Persephone should cease to be tied to her mother's apron-strings; that Adam and Eve should get knowledge of good and evil. The basic condition for the emergence of human selfhood was the withdrawal of the Cosmic-Parental control. ... Evolution is the effort of the Cosmos to bring into existence a creature capable of spiritual activity. As soon as we see this, we can read all the known facts aright.
Here, in order to gather things together, I will quote at some length a passage from Dr. Steiner's “Die Rätsel der Philosophie.”
[The “Riddles of Philosophy” is a history of philosophic thought — but a history of a very different kind from those that occupy places beside it upon the book-shelves. In the period from Ancient Greek Times to our own, man's inner being has undergone fundamental changes — his ego has been stage by stage emerging. Dr. Steiner indicates how in successive periods the views of those who wrestled with the problems of man's existence have been by these evolutionary changes sub-consciously motivated. The history of philosophy thus becomes in Dr. Steiner's hands no longer a mere catalogue of names and views; it achieves configuration from within; it becomes something organic, something alive. …
The “moral” of the work is stated in a wonderful concluding chapter which says much about “Anthroposophy” itself. It is there indicated that so long as we regard our present evolutionary condition as something fixed and final, we shall continue to find ourselves speaking merely as the mouth-pieces of physical science. Only if we realise that we are under a challenge to evolve higher faculties shall we become capable of further genuinely philosophic advance. … That this all-important book should become available in English translation is a matter of urgency.]
“If, however, we take an unprejudiced view of the matter, we shall see that the unreal character of the external sense-world is due to the fact that when man first comes into direct contact with things, he suppresses something that in truth belongs to them. If he develops a creative inner life, and allows the forces slumbering in the mind's depths to rise to the surface, he adds something to his sense-perceptions which in the act of knowing turns the half-reality into a full reality.
“It is the nature of the mind, when it first confronts objects, to eliminate something which really belongs to them. Hence they appear to perception not as they really are, but in the form which perception gives to them. This, however, is because the mind has removed something which belongs to their real being. And in so far as man does not remain at his first view of things, he adds something to them through knowledge — something that reveals their full reality for the first time. It is not that by knowing the mind adds any foreign element to things, but that prior to the stage of knowing it has deprived them of something that really belongs to them. It will be the task of philosophy to gain the insight that the world revealed to man before he brings thinking to bear on it, is “illusion,” whereas the path of knowledge leads to full reality.
“The knowledge that is the product of creative thought seems to be merely subjective because, before the stage of knowing, we are obliged to close our eyes to the real nature of things. We cannot see their real nature when we first confront them. Through knowledge we discover what was at first hidden from us. If we regard what we first perceive as reality, then the results of knowledge will appear as something added to reality. If we recognise that what we have only apparently produced ourselves is to be sought in the object, and that at first we merely avoided seeing it, then we shall find that knowing is a real process through which the soul unites itself increasingly with the world and extends its inwardly isolated experience to embrace world-experience.
"In a small work called ‘Truth and Science,’ which appeared in 1892, the present author made a tentative effort to give a philosophic basis to what has just been said. He spoke there of the views that philosophy must arrive at if it is to overcome the obstacles which have naturally resulted from its latest development. A philosophic point-of-view was suggested in the following words: ‘It is not the first form in which reality approaches the ego that is the true one, but the final form which the ego gives to it. That first form has no significance whatever for the objective world; its only value is to serve as a basis for the thinking process. So it is not the form of the world which theorising gives it, that is subjective; what is subjective is the form in which it is first presented to the ego.’
"The author enlarged on this point-of-view in his later work. ‘The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.’ There he was at pains to give it a philosophic basis, as follows: ‘It is not the fault of the objects, but of our mental organisation, that they at first appear to us without their corresponding concepts. We are so made that reality approaches us from two sides, that of perception and that of thinking. … It has nothing to do with the nature of things how I am organised to apprehend them. The cleavage between perceiving and thinking is present only at the moment when I, as observer, am face to face with the object. And later: The percept is that part of reality that is given ‘objectively’ from outside; the concept that part which is given ‘subjectively,’ through intuition from within. Our spiritual organisation separates reality into these two factors. The one factor appears to perception, the other to intuition. Only the union of the two, which consists of the percept fitted into its place in the universe, makes up reality in its fullness. If we consider the bare percept, we have no reality but only chaos. If we consider the bare laws that govern the percepts, we have nothing but abstract concepts. Reality is not to be found in the abstract concept, but in thoughtful observation which considers neither the concept nor the percept alone, but the union of the two.’
“If we come to adopt this point of view, we shall be able to think of mental life and of reality as united in the self-conscious ego. This is the view towards which philosophy has been tending since the Greek age; but it is in Goethe's outlook that the first clearly perceptible traces of it are to be found. A recognition arises that the self-conscious ego does not live in isolation, apart from the objective world, and that its sense of detachment is an illusion.
“This illusion can be overcome by seeing that at a certain stage of evolution man was obliged to give his ego a provisional form in order to eliminate from consciousness the forces that united him to the world. If he had remained conscious of those forces within him, he would never have arrived at a strong and independent self-consciousness; he would never have become a self-conscious ‘I.’ The development of man's self-consciousness depends on the soul being given the possibility of seeing the world without that part of reality which the self-conscious ego eliminates prior to the stage of knowledge. The world-forces belonging to this part of reality withdraw into obscurity in order to allow the self-conscious ego to light up strongly. The ego must therefore realise that it owes its knowledge of itself to an act which spreads a veil over its knowledge of the world, it follows that everything which helps the soul towards a strong and energetic experience of the ‘I’ renders invisible the deeper layers in which the ‘I’ is rooted.
“All knowledge which is acquired through the ordinary consciousness tends to strengthen a man's self-conscious ego. His perception of the outer world through the senses; his sense of being separate from this world, his view of the world as “illusion “ — an attitude characteristic of a certain stage of scientific inquiry — all these give him the feeling of self-consciousness. Were it not so, the self-conscious ego would never emerge. If, therefore, in the act of knowing one seeks merely to copy what is observed before knowing begins, one will never arrive at a genuine experience of reality; all one can have is a copy of a half-reality.
“If we admit the truth of this, we cannot look for an answer to the riddles of philosophy in the experiences of the soul on the level of ordinary consciousness.”
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.”
Wordsworth is speaking out of his own special sensitivity to the underlying facts of human existence. He says elsewhere in the poem that the child is an “eye among the blind;” that on it “rest the truths” that the grown-ups are “toiling all their lives to find.” He is declaring what, whether we observe it or not, takes place for every human being as he makes his entry into incarnation. ... What thus takes place for the individual recapitulates what has happened to the human race as a whole. Each of us in our evolutionary past — over a succession of earth-lives — has undergone the darkening of consciousness of which Wordsworth speaks; — an “Expulsion” from knowledge of the inside of things to a knowledge limited to the exterior of them; — a “Fall” from a childlike clairvoyance to the sense-perceptible cognition of which we make use to-day.
Why did this take place? Let me quote again the paragraph I have italicised in the passage cited above from Dr. Steiner's “Riddles of Philosophy:” —
[We must learn to see that] “at a certain stage of evolution man was obliged to give his ego a provisional form in order to eliminate from consciousness the forces that united him to the world. If he had remained conscious of those forces within him, he would never have arrived at a strong and independent self-consciousness; he would never have become a self-conscious ‘I.’ The development of man's self-consciousness depends on the soul being given the possibility of seeing the world without that part of reality which the self-conscious ego eliminates prior to the stage of knowledge. The world-forces belonging to this part of reality withdraw into obscurity in order to allow the self-conscious ego to light up strongly. The ego must therefore realise that it owes its knowledge of itself to an act which spreads a veil over its knowledge of the world. It follows that everything which helps the soul towards a strong and energetic experience of the ‘I’ renders invisible the deeper layers in which the ‘I’ is rooted.”
That we might have, every human being, a centre of our own; that we might be enabled to say “I” to ourselves; it was necessary for the Cosmos to free us from its direct control, to cease pouring its forces into us, to encourage us to think and will for ourselves. As a result, we stand to-day in a sense-perceptiblised consciousness, wherein we can — to begin with — cognise only the external aspects of reality. We tend to regard this “appearance for the senses” as an Ultimate and an Absolute. But as soon as we wake up to our evolutionary situation, we realise that we are at this cognitional stage, living in a fool's paradise. An irrepressible desire arises in us to make our way consciously out of it into that Larger World to which in our soul-depths we have never ceased to belong.
To help us to regain our cosmic status is what Rudolf Steiner's “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” is for.
|Last Modified: 01-Dec-2019||
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