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Cosmology, Religion and Philosophy
GA 25

II. Exercises of Thought, Feeling and Volition

Philosophy did not arise in the same way in which it is continued in modern times. In these days it is a connection of ideas which are not experienced in one's inner being, in the soul, in such a manner that a man, conscious of self, feels himself in these ideas as in a reality. Therefore we seek after all possible theoretical means to prove that the philosophic content does refer to a reality. But this way leads only to different philosophic systems, and of these one can say they are right to a certain extent; for mostly the grounds on which they are refuted are of as much value as those on which it is sought to prove them.

Now with Anthroposophy it is a question not of attaining the reality of the philosophic content by theoretic thought, but by the cultivation of a method which on the one hand is similar to that by which in ancient times Philosophy was won, and on the other, is as consciously exact as the mathematical and natural scientific method of more recent times.

The ancient method was semi-conscious. Compared with the condition of full consciousness of the modern scientific thinker it had something almost dreamy. It existed not in such dreams as concealed indirectly by their very nature their real content, but in waking dreams, which pointed to reality precisely by means of this content. Nor had such a soul-content the abstract character of the modern presentation, but rather that of picture-making.

Such a soul-content must be regained, but in full consciousness, according to the modern stage of human evolution; exactly in the same sense of consciousness as we find in scientific thought. Anthroposophical research seeks to attain this in a first stage of supersensible knowledge in the condition of ‘imaginative consciousness’. It is reached through a process of meditation in the soul. This leads the entire force of the soul-life to presentations which are easily visualized and held fast in a state of rest. By this means we finally realize, if such a process is constantly repeated over a sufficient period of time, how the soul in its experience becomes free from the body. We see clearly that the thought of ordinary consciousness is a reflection of a spiritual activity which remains unconscious as such, after having become so by the incorporation of the human physical organism in its course.

All ordinary thinking is dependent on the supersensible spiritual activity which is reproduced in the physical organism. But at the same time we are conscious only of what the physical organism allows us to be conscious of. The spiritual activity can be separated from the physical organism by meditation, and the soul then experiences the supersensible in a super-sensible way; no longer the physical but the etheric organism is the background of the soul's experience. We have a presentation before our soul's consciousness with the character of a picture. We have before us in this kind of presentation pictures of the powers which, coming from the supersensible are the basis of the organism as its powers of growth, and also as the very powers which function in the regulation of the processes of nourishment. We gain in these pictures a real vision of the life-forces. This is the stage of ‘imaginative cognition’. This is life in the etheric human organism, and with our own etheric organism we live in the etheric Cosmos. There is between the etheric organism and the etheric Cosmos no such sharp distinction relating to subjective and objective as there is in physical thought about the things of the world.

This ‘imaginative knowledge’ is the means whereby we can recall the very substantial reality of ancient Philosophy, but we can also conceive a new Philosophy, and a real conception of Philosophy can only come into being by means of this imaginative knowledge. And when this Philosophy is once there it can be grasped and understood by the ordinary consciousness; for it speaks out of ‘imaginative’ experience in a form which springs from spiritual (etheric) reality, and whose reality-content can, through the ordinary consciousness, be recalled in experience.

A higher activity of knowledge which is forthcoming when meditation is extended, is required for Cosmology. Not only is intensive quietness cultivated on a soul-content or subject matter but also a fully conscious stationary condition of the quiet, content-less soul. This is after the meditative soul-content or subject matter has been banished from the consciousness. The stage ‘is reached where the spiritual content of the Cosmos flows into the empty soul—the stage of ‘inspired cognition’. We have in part of us a spiritual Cosmos, just as we have a physical Cosmos before the senses. We succeed in seeing, in the powers of the spiritual Cosmos, what takes place spiritually between man and the Cosmos in the process of breathing. In this and the other rhythmic processes of man we find the physical reproduction of what exists in the spiritual sphere in human astral organization. We attain to the vision of how this astral organism has its place in the spiritual Cosmos outside the life on earth, and how it takes on the cloak of the physical organism through embryonic life and birth, to lay it down again in death. By means of this knowledge we can distinguish between heredity, which is an earthly phenomenon, and that which man brings with him from the spiritual world.

In this way, through ‘inspired knowledge’, we attain to a Cosmology which can embrace man in respect of his psychic and spiritual existence. Inspired knowledge is cultivated in the astral organism because we experience an existence outside our bodies in the Cosmos of the Spirit. But the same thing happens in the etheric organism; and we can translate this knowledge into human speech in the images which present themselves in this sphere, and we can harmonize it with the content of Philosophy. So we get a Cosmic Philosophy.

For Religious Cognition a third thing is necessary. We must dive down into those existences which reveal themselves in picture form as the content of ‘inspired knowledge’; and this is attained when we add ‘Soul-exercises of the Will’ to the kind of meditation which we have till now been describing. For instance, we attempt to present to ourselves events which in the physical world have a definite course, but in reverse order, from the end to the beginning. Doing this we separate the soul-life, through a process of will which is not used in ordinary consciousness from the cosmic externals, and let the soul sink into those Beings which manifest themselves by inspiration. We attain true intuition, a union with beings of a spiritual world. These experiences of intuition are reflected in etheric and also in physical man, and produce in this reflection the subject matter of religious consciousness.

Through this ‘intuitive cognition’ we gain a vision of the true nature of the Ego, which in reality is sunk into the spiritual world. The Ego which we know in ordinary consciousness is only a quite faint reflection of its true proportions. Intuition provides the possibility of feeling the connection of this faint reflection with the divine primal universe, to which in its true shape it belongs. Moreover, we are enabled to see how spiritual man,, the true Ego, has his place in the spiritual world, when he is sunk in sleep. In this condition the physical and etheric organisms require the rhythmic processes for their own regeneration. In a waking condition the Ego lives in this rhythm and in the metabolic processes that are a part of it; in the condition of sleep, the rhythm and the metabolic processes of man have a life of their own as physical and etheric organisms; and the astral organisms and the Ego then take their place in the spirit world. The translation of man into this world by inspired and intuitive knowledge is conscious; he lives in a spiritual Cosmos, just as by his senses he lives in a physical Cosmos. He can speak of the content of the religious consciousness from knowledge, and he can do this because what he experiences in the spiritual sphere is reflected in the physical and etheric man. Moreover, the reflected pictures can be expressed in speech, and in this form have a meaning which throws religious light on the human disposition of ordinary consciousness.

Thus we reach the heart of Philosophy by imaginative cognition, of Cosmology by inspiration, and of the religious life through intuition. Besides that already described, the following soul-exercise helps towards attaining intuition. One tries so to grasp the life, which otherwise unconsciously unfolds itself from one human age to another, that one consciously contracts habits which one did not have before, or consciously changes such as one had. The greater the effort that such a change necessitates, the better it is for gaining intuitive knowledge; for these changes bring about a loosening of the will-power from the physical and etheric organism. We bind the will to the astral organism and to the true form of the Ego and consciously immerse both of them into the spirit world.

What we may call ‘abstract thought’ has been perfected only in the modern spiritual development of mankind. In earlier periods of evolution this kind of thought was unknown to man, though it is necessary to the development of human spiritual activity, because it frees the power of thought from the picture-form. We achieve the possibility of thinking through the physical organism, though such thinking is not rooted in a real world; only in an apparent world where the processes of Nature can be copied without man himself contributing anything to these pictures. We attain a copy of Nature, which, qua copy, can be genuine, because the life in the thought-copy is not in itself reality, but only apparent reality. But the moral impulses can also be taken up into this pseudo-thought, so that they exercise no compulsion on man. The moral impulses are themselves real because they come from the spirit world; the manner in which man experiences them in his apparent world enables him to adapt himself in accordance with them, or not. They themselves exercise no compulsion on him either through his body or his soul.

So man strides on; thought which was in ancient times completely bound to the unconsciously imagined, inspired and intuitive knowledge, thought in which the subject matter was laid as open as Imagination and Inspiration and Intuition themselves, becomes abstract thought conducted through the physical organism. In this thought, which has a pseudo-life, because it is spirit substance translated into the physical world, man has the possibility of developing an objective nature-knowledge and his own moral freedom.

More details on this subject you will find in my Philosophy of Spirit Activity, my Knowledge of Higher Worlds and how to attain it, Theosophy, Occult Science, etc. What is necessary in order to return to a Philosophy, a Cosmology and a Religion that embrace all man, is to enter upon the province of an exact clairvoyance in Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition; and this consciously—that is in contradistinction to the old dreamlike clairvoyance. Man attains to his full consciousness in the province of a life of abstract presentations. It remains to him, in the further advance of humanity, to bring this full consciousness of the spiritual world to bear on his daily life.