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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Stages of Higher Knowledge
GA 12

4. Inspiration and Intuition

Just as imagination may be called a spiritual seeing, so may Inspiration be called a spiritual hearing. Of course, it must be quite clear that by the expression “hearing” is meant a perception still further removed from sensory-hearing in the physical world than “sight” in the imaginative (astral) world is removed from seeing with the physical eyes. It can be said of the imaginative world's light and color phenomena that the radiant surfaces and colours of sensory-objects are as if lifted from these objects and released from them to float free in space. But this gives only an approximate idea, for “space” in the imaginative world is in no way like it is in the physical. Whoever fancies that he has before him imaginative color-pictures when he is seeing freely floating coloured particles in ordinary space dimension is in error.—But the forming of such color representations is, nevertheless, the way to the imaginative life. Whoever tries to put a flower before his mind's eye, and then separates off from his picture everything that does not represent color, so that an image of the coloured surface, separate from the flower, is suspended before his soul, can gradually through such exercises arrive at an Imagination. This picture itself is not yet such Imagination, but is more or less preliminary fantasy suggestion. Imagination, that is, the real astral experience first exists when not only the color is wholly lifted apart from the sense impression, but when also the three-dimensional space has fully lost itself. That this is the case can be confirmed only by a certain feeling. This feeling is described by saying that one no longer feels oneself “outside” but “inside” the color-picture and has the consciousness of partaking of its coming into being. If this feeling is not there, if one remains standing before the thing as before a sense-bound color-picture, then one has to do, not yet with real Imagination, but with something of the fanciful. It should not be said that such fantasy pictures are wholly worthless. They can actually be etheric reflections—like shadows—of real astral facts. As such they have their own value in occult-scientific training. They can form a bridge to true astral (imaginative) experiences.—A certain danger lurks in the observation only if the observer does not fully apply his sound human judgment at this frontier between the sensible and the supersensible. It is not to be expected that an unfailing test can be given whereby at this frontier he can differentiate illusion, hallucination, and the fantastic from reality. Such a general rule would surely be comfortable. But comfort is a word that the occult student should strike from his vocabulary.—It can only be said that he who would acquire clarity of discernment in this sphere must already be intent upon it in the ordinary life of the physical world. Whoever takes no care in ordinary life to think sharply and clearly will fall a victim to all possible illusions on his ascent into higher worlds. It has only to be considered how many snares of everyday life beset sound judgment. How often human beings do not see in an unconfused way what exists, but rather what they crave to see! In how many cases do men believe something, not because they have discerned it, but because it is acceptable to them to believe! Or what errors arise because one does not go to the bottom of a thing, but forms a hasty judgment! All these reasons for deception in ordinary life might be multiplied indefinitely. What tricks are played upon sound judgment by partisan feeling, passion, and so forth. If such errors of judgment in ordinary life are disturbing and often disastrous, they are the greatest conceivable danger to the wholesomeness of the supersensible experience. No general rule can be given to the student for his guidance in the higher worlds, beyond the advice to do everything possible for his healthy power of discernment and for his sound, independent judgment.

When the observer in the higher worlds once knows what Imagination really is, he soon acquires the conviction that the pictures of the astral world are not merely pictures, but manifestations of spiritual beings. He comes to know that these imaginative pictures have reference to spirit or soul being just as do sensory colours to sensory things or beings. In particular, he will, of course, have yet much to learn. He must learn to discriminate between color formations that are opaque and those that are quite transparent and in their inner nature clear and radiant. In fact, he will perceive formations that seem to be continually producing their color-light anew from within, and that therefore are not only fully illuminated and transparent, but are forever radiating light from within. He will link the opaque formations to lower beings, the clear, luminous ones to intermediate entities; the inwardly radiant ones will be for him manifestations of higher spiritual beings.

If we would arrive at the truth about the imaginative world, we must not form too narrow a concept of spiritual sight, for in that world there are not mere light and color perceptions, comparable to the sight experiences of the physical world, but also impressions of heat and cold, of taste and smell, and still other experiences of the imaginative “senses” for which the physical world offers no likeness. Impressions of heat and cold are, in the imaginative (astral) world, revelations of will and intention on the part of soul and spirit beings. Whether such a being aims at good or evil comes to light in a definite effect of heat or cold. Astral beings can also be “tasted” or “smelled.”—Only what constitutes in the actual sense the physical element of tone and sound is almost wholly lacking in the real imaginative world. In this connection absolute stillness prevails there. But instead, for the progressing spiritual observer, there is offered something quite different, comparable to tone and sound, to music and speech, in the sense world. This higher element steps in when every tone and sound from the outer physical world is wholly hushed; indeed, when even the faintest inner soul echo from this sphere of the outer world is silenced. Then there occurs for the observer what may be called an understanding of the significance of the imaginative experiences. If we were to compare what is now experienced with something in the physical world we could only come near to explaining the matter by referring to something that does not exist at all in that world. Let it be supposed possible to perceive the thoughts and feelings of a human being without hearing his words with the physical ear; such a perception might be comparable to a direct comprehension of the imaginative element referred to as “hearing” in the spiritual sense. What “speaks” are the color and light impressions. In lightings-up and dimmings-down, in the color metamorphosis of images are revealed harmonies and discords that unveil the feelings, representations, and thought life of soul and spirit beings. Just as tone becomes speech in physical man when thought is imprinted in it, so do harmonies and discords of the spirit world grow into manifestations that are definite thought entities. To this end, darkness must fall upon that world if thought is to be revealed in its immediacy. The experience here is: The bright color-tones—red, yellow, and orange—are seen to fade away, and it is perceived how the higher world darkens through green to blue and violet; at the same time a waxing of inner will energy is experienced. Full freedom with regard to space and time is experienced; there is a feeling of being in motion. Certain linear forms and shapes are experienced. These are not experienced as though seen to be drawn before one in any spatial expanse, but rather as though in continuous movement every single curve, every form, was followed by the ego. In fact, the ego is at once felt as the draughtsman and the drawing material. Every linear direction, every shift in position, is at one and the same time an experience of this ego. The ego stirred to motion is recognised to be bound up with the world's creative forces. The laws of the world are no longer something that the ego perceives outwardly, but a truly miraculous fabric that it is helping to weave.—Occult science designs all kinds of symbolic drawings and pictures. When these really correspond to fact and are not mere invented figures, they are based on the observer's experiences in higher worlds, which are to be viewed as described above.

So is the world of Inspiration placed within the Imaginative world. When the Imaginations begin to unveil their meanings in “silent speech” to the observer, the world of Inspiration arises within the Imaginative world.

Of that world that the spiritual observer penetrates in this way, the physical is a manifestation. Whatever of the physical world is accessible to the senses and the sense bound intellect is only the outer side. To cite a single example, the plant as observed with physical senses and physical intellect is not the whole plant being. Whoever knows only this physical plant resembles a being who might be able to perceive the finger nail of a man, but to whom the perception of man himself would be inaccessible. But the structure and being of the finger nail is understandable only when explained by the whole nature of man. Thus in truth the plant is comprehensible only when one knows what pertains to it as the whole human nature relates to the man's fingernail. But what is related to the plant cannot be found in the physical world. The plant is related to something fundamental that can only be unveiled by Imagination in the astral world, and, further, to something that will be revealed only through Inspiration in the spirit-world.—Thus the plant as a physical organism is the revelation of a being comprehensible by Imagination and Inspiration.

From the foregoing it is evident how for the observer of higher worlds there opens up a path that has its beginning in the physical world. Namely, he can start from the physical world and from its manifestations rise to the higher being sustaining them. If he starts from the animal kingdom, he can rise by this means into the imaginative world; if he takes his start from the plant world, spirit observation will lead him through Imagination to the world of Inspiration. If this path is taken, within the imaginative and inspiration worlds will soon be found beings and facts not at all revealed in the physical world. It must not, therefore, be believed that in this way acquaintance is made only with those beings of the higher worlds that have physical manifestations. Whoever has once entered the imaginative world comes to know a multitude of beings and occurrences of which the observer of what is merely physical has not the slightest inkling.

Now, to be sure, there is another way. It does not take its start from the physical world. It makes man directly clairvoyant in the higher regions of existence. For many persons this method might have more power of attraction than the one above indicated. But for our life-conditions only the ascent from the physical world should be chosen. It requires of the observer the self-renunciation that is necessary if he is first of all to examine the physical world around him and accumulate knowledge and, especially, experience. In any case, it is the method best suited to our present-day cultural conditions. The other way presupposes the prior acquisition of soul qualities extremely hard to attain under modern life-conditions. Even though such soul qualities have again and again been stressed with full sharpness and clarity in past writings, still most people have no idea at all, or at most, an inadequate one—of the degree to which these qualities (for example, selflessness and devoted love ) must be acquired for attainment of the higher worlds without starting from the firm ground of the physical. If anyone should be awakened in the higher worlds without having attained the requisite degree of the corresponding soul qualities, the result must be unspeakable misery. Now it must not be believed, however, that the soul qualities characterized above can be dispensed with by one making his start from the physical world and its experiences. To believe this would also be an error of serious consequences. But such a start allows for the gradual acquisition of these qualities in the measure, and above all in the form, possible in our present life conditions.

Another thing comes into consideration in this regard. If the start is made in the way indicated from the physical world, a living connection is retained with this physical world in spite of the ascent into higher worlds. A full understanding continues for all that happens in it, and the full energy to work in it. Indeed, this understanding and energy increase in a most helpful way just through the knowledge of the higher worlds. In every realm of life, even in what seems most prosaically practical, the knower of the higher worlds will work better and more usefully than the non-knower, provided he has preserved the living connection with the physical world.

But whoever is awakened in the higher spheres of existence without starting from the physical world is only too readily estranged from life; he becomes a hermit, confronting his contemporaries without understanding or sympathy. Indeed, it even happens that people of incomplete development in this respect—not, of course, those with perfect development—look down with a certain disdain upon the experiences of the physical world and feel themselves superior, and so forth. Instead of their sympathy toward the world being heightened, such people become hardened, self-seeking natures in the spiritual sense. The temptation to all this is truly not slight, and those striving for the ascent into the higher worlds may well pay attention to it.

From Inspiration the spiritual observer may rise to Intuition. In the manner of expression of occult science this word denotes in many respects the exact opposite of that for which it is often used in ordinary life. In the ordinary sense intuition is spoken of when one has in view a notion dimly felt to be true, which still lacks clear, conceptual definition. A preliminary step toward knowledge, rather than knowledge itself, is seen therein. An idea of this nature may—according to that definition—illuminate a great truth like a flash of lightning, but it can first have value as knowledge when founded on conceptual judgment. Sometimes also intuition designates something “felt” as truth, of which one is fully convinced, but which one will not weigh down with intellectual judgment. People who become acquainted with spiritual-scientific knowledge, often say: That was always clear to me “intuitively.” All this must be put entirely aside if the term Intuition is to be kept in view in its true significance meant here. In this application Intuition is not a mode of cognition which with regard to clarity lags behind intellectual knowledge, but one that far surpasses it.

In Inspiration the experiences of the higher worlds speak their meaning. The observer lives in the qualities and actions of the beings of these higher worlds. If, as described above, he follows with his ego a lineal direction or the shape of a figure, he knows that he is not within the being itself, but within its qualities and functions. Already in imaginative cognition he has, indeed, experienced the feeling of being not outside, but inside the color-images; but he knows no less clearly that these color-images are not in themselves independent beings, but the qualities of such beings. In Inspiration, he is conscious of his becoming one with the deeds of such beings, with the manifestations of their will; in Intuition, for the first time, he merges his own self into that of self-contained beings. This can happen in the right way only if the emergence takes place, not by the effacement, but by the complete maintenance of his own being. Any “losing of oneself” in another being is bad. Therefore only an ego fortified to a high degree within itself can without damage plunge into another being.—Something has been grasped intuitively only if the feeling has arisen with regard to it that in it there is expressing itself a being of the self-same nature and inner content as one's own ego. Whoever examines a stone with his outer senses and seeks to understand its peculiarities with his intellect and by the usual scientific resources comes to know only the outer aspect of the stone. As spiritual observer he proceeds to imaginative and inspired knowledge. By dwelling within Inspiration he can come to an additional feeling. This may be characterized in the following way by a comparison. Suppose one sees a man on the street. To begin with, he makes a fleeting impression upon the observer. Later one becomes better acquainted with him; then comes the moment when one becomes such a friend that soul opens itself to soul. The experience goes through when the veils of the soul fall thus away and one ego confronts the other, is comparable to that when, to the spiritual observer the stone appears solely as an outer manifestation, and he advances to something related to the stone as the fingernail to the human body, and which lives itself out as an ego like one's own ego.

That kind of knowledge that leads into the “innermost nature” of beings is first attained for man in Intuition. In the discussion of Inspiration, mention has been made of the transformation the spiritual observer's inner soul constitution must undergo if he wishes to arrive at this mode of cognition. In this connection it has been stated that, for instance, an incorrect conclusion must extend its effects not only to the intellect, but to the sensing nature, that it must cause grief, pain, and the observer must systematically cultivate such inner experience. Of course, as long as this pain springs from the sympathies and antipathies of the ego, and from partisan attitudes, the preparation for Inspiration cannot be considered adequate. Such involvement of the soul is far removed from the inner sympathy that the ego must feel for the pure truth—as truth—if it would arrive at the proclaimed goal. If cannot be too strongly emphasised that all forms of interest that prevail in ordinary life as pleasure and pain in relation to truth and error, must first be silenced, and then a totally different kind of interest, wholly without self-seeking, must enter in if anything is to be done for cognition through Inspiration. This one quality of the inner soul life is, however, but one means of preparation for Inspiration. There is an unlimited number of others that must be added to it, and the more the spiritual observer refines himself with regard to what has already served him for Inspiration, the better equipped he will be to approach Intuition.