Anyone attempting an exposition of the results of spiritual science as recorded in this book must, above all, take into account the fact that at present these results are universally looked upon as something quite impossible. For things are said in the following exposition that the supposedly exact thinking of our age affirms to be “probably entirely indeterminable by human intelligence.” He who knows and appreciates the reasons why so many earnest persons are lead to maintain this impossibility will wish to make ever new attempts to show the misconceptions upon which is based the belief that entrance into supersensible worlds is denied to human knowledge.
For two things offer themselves for consideration. First, any human soul, by reflecting deeply, will in the long run be unable to disregard the fact that its most important questions concerning the meaning and significance of life must remain unanswered if there be no access to supersensible worlds. We may theoretically deceive ourselves about this fact, but the depths of the soul-life will not tolerate this self-delusion. — If we do not wish to listen to these depths of the soul, we shall naturally reject any statement about supersensible worlds. Yet there are human beings — really not few in number — who find it impossible to remain deaf to the demands coming from these soul depths. Such people must always knock at the door that conceals, according to the opinion of others, the “inconceivable.”
Second, the statements resulting from “exact thinking” are not at all to be underrated. He who occupies himself with them will certainly appreciate their seriousness where they are to be taken seriously. The writer of this book would not like to be looked upon as one who lightheartedly passes over the tremendous thought activity that has been employed in determining the limits of the human intellect. This thought activity cannot be disposed of by a few phrases about “academic wisdom” and the like. In many cases its source rests in true striving for knowledge and in genuine acumen. — Indeed, even more may be admitted: reasons have been brought forward to show that the knowledge considered scientific today cannot penetrate into the spirit world, and these reasons are in a certain sense irrefutable.
Since this is admitted without hesitation by the writer of this book himself, it may appear to many quite strange that he, nevertheless, undertakes to make statements about supersensible worlds. It appears, indeed, to be almost impossible that someone in a certain sense admits the reasons for the inapprehensibility of the supersensible worlds and yet at the same time continues to speak about them.
It is possible, nevertheless, to have this attitude, and it is possible, at the same time, to understand that it will appear contradictory. For not everyone concerns himself with the experiences one has if one approaches the supersensible realm with the human intellect. There it becomes evident that the proofs of this intellect may well be irrefutable, and that, in spite of their irrefutability, they need not be decisive for reality. Instead of all theoretical arguments, the attempt shall be made here to bring about an understanding by means of a comparison. The fact that comparisons themselves are not proof is readily conceded; yet this does not prevent their making comprehensible what is to be expressed.
Human cognition, as it acts in everyday life and in ordinary science, is really so constituted that it cannot penetrate into supersensible worlds. This can be irrefutably proved, but this proof can have no more value for a certain kind of soul-life than the proof that is undertaken to show that the natural human eye with its power of perception cannot penetrate into the smallest cells of a living body, or into the constitution of distant celestial bodies. Just as the declaration is true and demonstrable that the ordinary power of sight does not penetrate as far as the cells, so also is the other statement correct and provable that ordinary cognition is unable to penetrate into supersensible worlds. Yet the proof that the ordinary power of sight must stop short of the cells does not decide anything against research into the cells. Why should the proof that the ordinary power of cognition must halt before supersensible worlds decide anything against the possibility of research into these worlds?
We can appreciate the feeling aroused in many a person by this comparison. We are even able to sympathize with those who doubt whether somebody who confronts the thought activity mentioned with such a comparison has even the slightest idea of the seriousness of this activity. Nevertheless, the author of this book is not only imbued with this seriousness, but he is of the opinion that this thought activity is to be counted among the noblest achievements of mankind. To prove that the human power of sight cannot penetrate to the cell structure without the aid of instruments would be, to be sure, an unnecessary undertaking; to become conscious, through exact thinking, of the nature of this thinking is a necessary spiritual activity. It is only too understandable that those who give themselves up to such thought activity do not notice that reality can refute them. The present preface of this book cannot be the place to go into the various “refutations” of the first editions on the part of persons who lack all understanding of what this book strives for, or who direct their false attacks at the person of the author. It must, however, be strongly emphasized that only those can suspect in this book any underrating of serious scientific thought activity who wish to close their eyes to the real character of the expositions.
The human power of cognition can be strengthened and enhanced, just as the faculty of eyesight can be strengthened. The means, however, for strengthening cognition are of an entirely spiritual nature; they are purely inner soul functions. They consist in what is described in this book as meditation and concentration (contemplation). Ordinary soul-life is bound to the instruments of the body, the strengthened soul-life frees itself from them. To certain modern schools of thought such a declaration must appear quite senseless and based only upon self-delusion. From their point of view, it will be found easy to prove that “all soul-life” is bound up with the nervous system. A person holding the point of view out of which this book is written will completely understand such proofs. He understands the people who say that only the superficial can maintain that there may be some sort of soul-life independent of the body, and who are entirely convinced that for such soul experiences a connection with the life of the nerves exists that “spiritual scientific amateurishness” fails to perceive.
Here certain entirely comprehensible habits of thought confront what is described in this book so sharply that they preclude at present any prospect of coming to an understanding. We are here at a point where the wish must make itself felt that in the present age it should no longer be in keeping with spiritual life to decry a direction of research as fantastic and visionary because it diverges abruptly from our own. — On the other hand, however, we have the fact that there are a number of human beings who have an understanding for the supersensible mode of research presented in this book. They are individuals who realize that the meaning of life does not reveal itself in general terms about soul, self, and so forth, but only through the real entering upon the results of supersensible research. It is not from lack of modesty, but with joyful satisfaction that the author of this book feels deeply the necessity of this fourth edition after a relatively brief time since the last edition appeared.
The author does not accentuate this from lack of modesty, because he feels only too clearly how little even the new edition corresponds to what it really ought to be as an “outline of a supersensible world conception.” In preparing this new edition, the whole subject matter has been re-studied and re-worked with considerable amplification at important points. Clarification was also striven for. Nevertheless, in numerous places the author became conscious of how inadequate the means of presentation available to him prove to be in comparison with what supersensible research shows. Hence, scarcely more than a way could be indicated for acquiring the concepts that in this book are given for the Saturn, Sun, and Moon evolutions. An important point of view, also in this domain, has been briefly treated anew in this edition. But the experiences in regard to such things diverge so greatly from all the experiences in the domain of the senses that the exposition must of necessity struggle continually for expressions that appear sufficiently adequate for the purpose. Anyone who is willing to go into the exposition attempted here will perhaps notice that much that is impossible to say in dry words is striven for by the manner of the description. This manner is, for example, one thing for the Saturn evolution, but quite another for the Sun evolution, and so forth.
The second part of this book, which deals with knowledge of the higher worlds, was greatly supplemented and amplified by its author. He endeavored to present clearly the character of the inner soul processes through which knowledge frees itself from its limits present in the sense world and fits itself for experiencing the supersensible world. The author attempted to show that this experiencing of the supersensible, although acquired entirely through inner ways and means, does not have a merely subjective significance for the individual who acquires it. The presentation was to show that, within the soul, its singularity and personal peculiarity are stripped off and an experience is reached which is similar in every human being who effects his development in the right manner out of his subjective experiences. Only when the knowledge of supersensible worlds is conceived of as possessing this character is it possible to distinguish it from all experiences of mere subjective mysticism and the like. Of such mysticism it may well be said that it is, more or less, a subjective concern of the mystic. The spiritual scientific training of the soul that is meant here, however, strives for objective experiences, the truth of which is indeed recognized entirely inwardly, the universal validity of which, however, is discernible for that reason. — Here again is a point where it is quite difficult to come to an understanding with many a thought habit of our age.
In conclusion, the author of this book should like to observe that also the well-intended reader should accept these expositions as they offer themselves by virtue of their own content. Today numerous attempts have been made to give to this or that spiritual movement this or that ancient historical name. To many, only then does it appear of value. The question, however, may be asked: What have the expositions of this book to gain by designating them “Rosicrucian” or the like? The important point is that here, with the means that are possible and adequate for the soul in this present period of evolution, an insight is attempted into supersensible worlds, and that from this point of view the riddles of human destiny and of human existence beyond the limits of birth and death are observed. It is not the question of a striving bearing this or that ancient name, but of a striving for truth.
On the other hand, opponents have also employed terms for the world conception presented in this book. Apart from the fact that the terms used in order to deal the author the heaviest possible blow and to discredit him are absurd and objectively false, such terms characterize themselves in their unworthiness by the fact that they attempt to discredit a completely independent striving for truth by failing to judge it on its own merits, and by endeavoring to impose their dependence upon ideas derived from this or that trend of thought as judgment upon others. Although these words are necessary in the face of many attacks against the author, nevertheless, he is loath here to go further into this matter.