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The Spiritual Development of Man
GA 84

III. Man's Faculty of Cognition in the Etheric World

22 April 1923, Dornach

In the last few days I have been speaking of man's place in the Universe. On the one side we envisaged man's organisation as composed of physical body, etheric body or body of formative forces, astral body and the true ‘I’ which passes from earthly life to earthly life. At the same time I also tried to show how these members of the human being are each connected in a different way with the Universe. It can be said that the physical body is connected with all that is the physical, earthly world of the senses; man's physical body is part of that world. But when we think of the etheric body or the body of formative forces, we must understand that this belongs to quite a different kind of world, to that world which is itself etheric and of which I told you that man should experience it as coming to him from the far spaces of the cosmos. If, then, we imagine the forces of the earth spreading out in all directions and man living within these forces, which are those of the physical world, we must conceive the etheric world as coming in on all sides from the direction of the outer global shell of the universe to meet the outstreaming physical forces, and thus reaching man. It is obvious, therefore, that man's etheric body is subject to entirely different laws from those governing the physical body.—And again, when contemplating man's astral body, we perceive it to be connected with worlds that are not to be found at all in that cosmos which is contained in the Physical and the etheric, and in which we find that with our astral body we belong to the world we enter between death and a new birth.

And finally with the ‘I’ itself we belong to a world that flows as from a quickening fount through worlds which, as for instance our own world, are threefold in character. The three members of our world are the physical, the etheric, the astral. The world of the ‘I’ passes through this world and through other similarly threefold worlds. It is therefore a far more embracing world, one that we must regard as eternal as compared with the temporal.

But we must also have regard to the fact that, whenever we employ those human faculties of perception and understanding which inform us about the etheric body or the body of formative forces, the astral body and the ‘I,’ we do in fact enter into entirely different worlds. We have to change over to the sphere of active, living thinking in order to experience our etheric body. What we then have to bear in mind is that in that world everything is different from what we experience while bound to the physical world of the senses. In the first place the things and happenings we know from the aspect of the physical world appear in quite a different light in these higher worlds. As it is, the things and events encountered in the physical world are after all only final manifestations. They have their source in the higher worlds; so that we then see more into the primary origins of our surroundings in the physical world. But apart from that, when in the physical world we have, to begin with, the world well known to ordinary consciousness, where man is surrounded by the three kingdoms of nature besides his own. But when we rise to those powers of cognition—in my books I have used the expression ‘Imaginative Cognition’—which enable us to experience our own etheric body or the body of formative forces, we enter the etheric world. And we have sufficiently developed and strengthened our faculties when we have kindled the inner light and can experience ourselves, as it were, in the Second Man, in the body of formative forces; we then enter the world which, at any rate to begin with, reveals itself to us in images: the world of the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai.

Having broken through, as it were, into the cosmic spheres where the etheric body, the body of formative forces, becomes perceptible to us, we recognise on entering this world of flowing images that these reveal manifestations of the Beings of the third Hierarchy, the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai. There we are among Beings who are not with us in the physical world of the senses. The presence of these Beings reveals itself to us through the medium of qualities similar in kind to those we perceive also through our senses in the physical world.

But here, in the world of the senses, we see for instance the colours spread over the surface of things or in purely physical configurations such as the rainbow. Sounds are experienced as connected with specific objects in the physical world. In the same way, warmth and cold are felt as emanating from certain objects in the physical world of the senses. But when we regard the world in which the third Hierarchy is revealed to us, we do not have colours adhering to things, sounds reverberating from objects, and so on, but colours, sounds, warmth and cold flowing and vibrating—one can hardly say through space—but flowing and vibrating in time. Colour is not spread over the surface of things but it fluctuates and moves in waves. And by applying the faculties which enabled us to enter these worlds, we know that, just as in the physical world colour-effect suggests a material foundation, so in yonder world the floating cloud of colour, a flowing organism of colour, is the manifestation of the working and weaving of the spirit-and-soul forces of the third Hierarchy. So that the moment we behold the life-tableau of which I have spoken, which gives a clear and spontaneous picture of the whole of our life since birth, there also appears within this stream of our own life's events something of which one can. say: within the de-materialised world of flowing colours and sounds lives the third Hierarchy.

The Connection of the various Members of Man's
Being with the corresponding Worlds of the Universe

When our faculties of cognition are strong enough to rise to the level where we can observe our own astral body, that is to say, that part of us which existed before we descended into earthly life, and which we shall again carry with us when we have passed through the gate of death, then we know: this is a wider world, a world we do not find in the cosmic ether but beyond the gates of birth and death. Here we enter the wider astral world.

Things do not tally exactly with descriptions given in my book, “Theosophy,” where they are presented from a different point of view. But just as we meet the third Hierarchy when we have attained experience of our body of formative forces, so we encounter the second Hierarchy, the Exusiai, Kyriotetes and Dynamis, in the world which reveals to us our own astral body. And this second Hierarchy does not become perceptible to us in flowing colours and sounds, but it manifests itself to us by heralding and proclaiming the import of revelations of the Logos resounding and weaving through the Universe. The second Hierarchy speaks to us.

If, after having attained the necessary powers of cognition, one wants to give some Indication of how one is related to these worlds, using words which naturally no longer have meaning that is applicable in the sense-world, and yet are to some extent expressive in regard to the higher worlds, one must say: For the etheric world the inner living thinking becomes a kind of organ of touch. With living thinking we touch this world of flowing colours and so on. We must not imagine that we see the red as the eye sees the red of the senses, spread out on the surface of things; instead we sense, we ‘touch’ red and yellow and so forth; we touch the sounds, so that we can say: in the etheric world, living thinking is the element of touch in relation to what lives in the world of the third Hierarchy.

On entering that world to which in a sense our astral body belongs, we cannot speak of experiencing this astral world merely through the element of touch, but we must say: we apprehend this world as the revelation of the Beings of the second Hierarchy. Each separate manifestation presents itself to us as a member, a part of the World-Logos. Out of the deep silence resounds the voice of the Spiritual Beings. Thus, after touch: speech, communication.

And when, in the way I have indicated, sustained effort rewards us with the experience of the ‘I’ which goes from earthly life to earthly life and, between them, passes through the other lives between each death and a new birth, then we enter the spirit-world proper, the higher spirit-world. What happens in this world to begin with, is that we enter into a special relationship to our true ‘I.’ The ‘I’ we experience inwardly here in this life on earth between birth and death is, as we know, bound to the physical corporeality. We are aware of it as long as we experience ourselves in the physical body and, in a way, we are forced to practise selflessness when we rise into the etheric world and the astral world. There we have at most something like a recollection of this earthly ‘I.’

But now we find the true ‘I’ as it passes from earthly life to earthly life. Our first impression is that of an entirely different being. We say to ourselves: Here I live through this earthly existence between birth and death. Looking back I see that strip of etheric world which takes me back as far as my birth on earth. Then my vision opens into world-wide realms existing only in time, where to speak of space would be quite misleading; but in a wide perspective the world appears to me in all its fullness, as it lives and weaves between death and a new birth. Looking through and beyond the ether, the world of the third Hierarchy, and through the astral, where I was between death and a new birth as in a super-sensible world whose life is revelation of the Logos manifesting as the Cosmic Word—as my vision penetrates all this, I finally behold a being at first far remote, a being representing the essence of my previous life on earth. First, then, I see myself here in this earthly life with my present ghost-like ‘I,’ and then, looking far back through all that has just been described, I see what constitutes the essence of my previous life on earth. But at the same time I perceive how the content of the latter, as the gradually evolving ‘I,’ has been passing through the worlds I have been observing in retrospective perspective as far as my present life on earth. To begin with I do, in fact, perceive my true ‘I’ as some strange, remote being. And in this being, strange as it appears to me at first, I recognise myself.

Every word in this passage should be taken with absolute seriousness because every single word is of significance. This whole experience must culminate in the realisation that the true ‘I’ first taken to be some strange being, is indeed one's own self; that there appeared what seemed to be some other being which lived in the far distant past, but that it is, in fact, you yourself.

And then one discovers how this self has flowed from the previous existence on earth into the present earthly life, but that now, in this life, it is covered up, as it were, and could emerge only if all that befalls between going to sleep and waking were to stand revealed before the soul. It is there that all that which on its way through the astral and etheric world has reached us from our previous life on earth, continues to live and weave.

It is, you see, a world of earthly contradictions mingled with chords of heavenly harmonies in this inner process of the striving soul: earthly contradictions inasmuch as by means which are designed to meet the needs of ordinary daily life on earth, one cannot really reach one's own true ‘I.’ As it is, only the first rudiments of love live in our earthly ‘I.’ And even so, a glow is shed over life on earth through the power of love which radiates into this earthly life. But this love must grow stronger. It must gain sufficient strength to enable man to behold the etheric world and the astral world through the power of love and thus to overcome what lives in him as his lower self, as egoism—the opposite of love—to gain mastery over that which, as the antithesis of love, enables him to experience himself in earthly life as an independent ‘I.’ Love must grow so strong that one learns to ignore this earthly ‘I,’ to forget it, to disregard it. Love is the identification of one's own self with the other being. This impulse must be so strong that one ceases to heed one's own ‘I’ as it lives in the earthly body. Here then arises the contradiction, that it is precisely through selflessness, through the highest capacity for love, that one advances towards one's own true ‘I’ beckoning as it radiates through the cycles of time.

One has to lose one's earthly ‘I’ to behold one's true ‘I.’ And he who fails to accomplish this act of surrender has simply no means of finding the true ‘I.’ One could say that the true ‘I’ does not want to be sought whenever revelation of its presence is desired. If sought for, it hides. For only in love will it be found, and love is a surrender of self to the other being. For that reason the true Self must be found as if it were another being.

At the moment of coming face to face with one's true ‘I,’ one also becomes aware of what lives in a wider world, in the spiritual world itself. One meets the beings of the first Hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones.

And just as there one finds again one's ‘I’—of which one has really only a reflection in earthly life—so now one finds the entire world of earthly environment in its true spiritual form. Hence one must also lose this earthly world to find the world of its primal origins, together with the true ‘I.’

So that we can say: What reveals itself in the spiritual world is something remembered, is touch, speech, memory; but remembrance of something which formerly one had known only in reflections, in images.

Thus, by experiencing one's human self, and with the realisation of one's own humanity, one enters into the life of the Universe in its totality. And to give a clear picture of the various members of man's being, the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body and the ‘I,’ each must also be shown in its relationship to the corresponding worlds of the Universe.

What I have now described must be well understood and taken in its full meaning before any approach to the problem of the four parts of man's nature can disclose their true significance. Here is a case in point which shows very clearly that man must not only turn his thoughts in other directions, but think in a different way if he is to rise to a true understanding of the spiritual world. He must bring to life what are really only dead images in purely physical sense-perception: his attitude of mind must change.

And here one can indeed come across some extraordinary products of modern spiritual life, which show the difficulties that have to be overcome if Anthroposophy is to enter into the souls of men.

Anthroposophy as Academic Philosophy
(“Chair-Philosophy”) Sees It

When the book “Occult Science:” had been published, a well-known modern philosopher took it upon himself to analyse it. He first read the chapter about the four members of man's constitution—physical body, etheric body, astral body, ‘I’—and so on. Now this book has also been read by many quite simple people but people possessed of healthy common sense. For them it had point and meaning because with healthy common-sense one can always follow a subject, just as one can understand a picture without being a painter. But to one who in these days is a much quoted philosopher, such understanding presents considerably more difficulties than It does to a naive, simple human being. As this renowned philosopher reads: physical body, etheric body, astral body, ‘I,’ he is puzzled and wonders what he can make of it all. What does it all mean? Physical body, yes, of course. Etheric body?—well, perhaps it exists. What is dense matter in the physical body may here be of finer substance, but it is still matter. He argues, therefore, that to distinguish between physical and etheric body is to draw an arbitrary dividing line between the two.—Astral body?—We know something about a soul, says this philosopher, but—astral body? In the soul we have our thinking, feeling and willing. These are functions of the physical body. If one understands the physical body one has also grasped the meaning of thinking, feeling and willing. And the ‘I’—that is only the synthesis of all this. Such was his way of arguing.

And now please observe how the renowned philosopher's critical thought was formulated.—Having taken account of what he could find in the “Occult Science:” much as one might look at a chair, he said to himself: a chair can also be divided into its parts—legs, seat, back, first, second and third part—and there is no reason why man could not be divided in the same way as a chair. Finally he grants that this will serve well enough as a classification of man's constitution, but there is really nothing remarkably new in it, as in his view the principle underlying the division of man's constitution into its four members applies equally to the chair.

When we turn to physical chemistry the matter already becomes less difficult. There one could not talk so glibly about simple division. The chemist divides water into hydrogen and oxygen, H2O; the natural scientist will not simply divide water in an abstract sense into two parts, hydrogen and oxygen.

He cannot leave it at that because he knows that hydrogen will not only combine with oxygen, as in water, but that it also combines, for instance in hydrochloric acid, with chloride. It follows that hydrogen contained in water is not only to be found there as part of water but is capable, when not forming part of water, of entering into quite different combinations. And likewise oxygen, when not forming part of water, can enter into other combinations and unite with quite different substances, as for instance, calcium, in lime. Hydrogen plus chloride can become hydrochloric acid, oxygen plus calcium becomes lime. Here one could not say: all you have to do is to divide water into its parts in the abstract, like a chair.

Man has to be considered on a still higher level. Here we have not merely a division into physical body, etheric body, astral body and ‘I,’ but man's physical body must be conceived as belonging to the earth. When a human being passes through the gate of death and leaves his physical corpse behind, the physical body turns to earth, but the etheric body rises up into the ether. The astral body leaves both and enters those worlds which are the domain of the second Hierarchy. And the I belongs to a different world again, the domain of the first Hierarchy. These four members do not merely represent a division for classification, they belong to quite different spheres of the Universe. At the same time the distinction illustrates the nature of man's being. We have here, on a much higher level, something for which one has to search already when progressing from the comparison of the chair with that of the water.

Naturally the level of mentality in our modern civilisation again presents a considerable obstacle, for the much-cited philosopher could have learned already from chemistry that it is not enough to go on talking only about abstract divisions, that one can apply them to a chair but not to water. However, in the case of this so-called philosopher, the philosophy unfortunately did not get past the chair to the water. It did not rise from the observation of life's trivialities to natural science. On the other hand, natural science does not concern itself with philosophy, so that the chemist of to-day does not think about such things at all.

It shows that in a philosophy which, from this point of view, might be called a ‘chair-doctrine,’ thinking in terms of natural science has as yet no part. Again, in chemistry, in natural science, philosophy plays no pert. Therefore it is precisely in the world of the scientist that those conditions are wanting, which can pave the way to an understanding of the deeper, inner truths of the Universe in their relation to man.

The man who undertook this critical study did in fact submit his article to me first, in manuscript. But what could I do with it? One cannot enter into a discussion with a man whose mind lacks the very first pre-requisites. I did nothing about it, but later found the article printed with all the mistakes and all the nonsense contained in such ‘chair-philosophy.’ Such are the trials of fate which Anthroposophy has to suffer on the way. One must be clear about such situations as they so often arise between Anthroposophy and its critics. It is precisely in that quarter that for the time being there is not the slightest possibility of an understanding.

And this philosopher, much quoted among philosophers, even makes certain concessions in line with ideas which are more or less popular currency in modern civilisation. For instance, he admits that there once existed a continent between Europe and America called ‘Atlantis,’ inhabited by the ancient Atlanteans, a prehistoric humanity. Then he asks the hypothetical question—I am not quoting verbatim—how is it possible that today, when we have a proper physiology and a proper psychology, anyone could conceive the idea of dividing man's being in such a way! Of course in Anthroposophy one does not do it in the way it can be done with a chair, but he thinks so. This philosopher—in his own way he is perfectly conscientious—was honestly puzzled how anyone could make such a division, or could hold such a primitive conception as compared with the knowledge a modern philosopher can command.

Well, as regards fundamental truths the modern philosopher is not in a particularly favourable position, but he thinks he is. Two days ago I explained to those who attended the Teachers' Course what modern so-called ‘psycho-analysis’ really is.

I should like to repeat that the peculiar thing about psycho-analysis is that it arises on the one side from dilettante physiology, in which the soul-forces do not reach the sphere of the spirit but remain bound to the body, while on the other hand it is based on dilettante psychology. The two do not meet. As a result, grotesque connections are being formulated when dilettantism endeavours to establish links between research work in psychology and research work in physiology. And the dilettantism is of immense proportions, and equally great in both cases. The psychiatrists' own psychological dilettantism equals in magnitude that of physical dilettantism, but when both are the same in volume and operate jointly, they multiply each other. That, according to simple arithmetic, makes the square of dilettantism. So that, seen in the true light, psycho-analysis is the square of dilettantism, because it is the product of the multiplication of dilettantism by dilettantism.

Now the problem for our much quoted philosopher amounted to this: he could not understand how anyone could conceive such a primitive idea as to divide man's being into four members as one divides a chair into three. So he advances the hypothesis that I must be a re-incarnated Atlantean. Really quite ingenious from the chair-philosophy point of view!

The Overcoming of Materialism by Knowledge attained
through living Thinking

One can be a materialist if lack of inner strength makes it impossible for the soul-forces to seek an opening for finding the way which leads into the world of soul-and-spirit, to the archetypal origins. Nothing can be gained by trying to prove anything on crude evidence, because materialism can certainly be proved as long as the evidence of proof is taken from the physical world. That is the crucial point. To find the way from the physical, into the spiritual, inner activity is needed, not abstract reasoning. The way to true Anthroposophy is found through that inner activity in man which stimulates the search for true knowledge. And all skirmishing in attempts to prove anything is useless, because you cannot argue with a man whose proofs are based entirely on the physical world of the senses. To disprove to such a man what to him is indisputable remains an impossibility as long as he lacks that primal strength of the inner life which alone could start him on the way to finding the spiritual world.

This must be understood. One must realise that it is given to man to rise of his own free will from the physical to the spirituals that this rising into the spiritual world is not an act of sense-bound reasoning, but an act of inner, conscious human experience. It is only when one really has this vital inner experience that one becomes capable of appreciating Anthroposophy in the right perspective, as seen against the merits of merely physical methods of cognition.

Our time is sorely in need of this.—A philosophy whose analytic powers of reasoning are only applicable to such things as chairs, can hardly be expected to have a ready understanding for what are real human values. It is, however, quite competent when dealing with chair-values. But what humanity needs today is what leads man to man, to the real man, not merely to his outward appearance. In its outer aspect the appearance reflects all that is inherent in the archetype of the spiritual entity, but it does not reveal that to inner experience. For in the experience of self, man must first find and recognise himself as a being of soul-and-spirit. Thus in the last resort the way to all knowledge is bound up with knowing oneself as an image of the true Self of man.

If with the growing strength of love that level of knowledge is attained by which one recognises as one's own self what at first seems to be a strange being, and again, if one rises to the height where the earthly world is found again in the archetypal world, then one is no longer engaged in a process of gaining abstract knowledge, but in a process of living cognition.

And it is in this living process of attaining knowledge that the world reveals itself to man through his own being, and that his own being reveals itself in his experience of the outer world. Thus man becomes a being who finds himself again in the entire Universe, for knowing himself he learns to know the world and, knowing the world, he learns to know himself. In this inter-relationship between world and man there reveals itself what unites man with the Divine-Spiritual, that which makes his being aglow with the religious mood of all real higher knowledge. And finally, when earnest cognition blends with religious experience, then knowledge radiates religious emotion, and the transparency of knowledge is lifted to that sphere where faith becomes knowledge through its own inner power of cognition. The world is found in man and man in the world on the path of knowledge through the world.

(In the etheric world: through living thinking: touch.
In the astral world: through the deep silence of the soul: speech.
In the spiritual world: through re-cognition: memory.)

Thus world and man become united in an all-embracing, cosmic, spiritual-divine being, in which man finds himself and the world and so for the first time rises to his true human dignity which can then also enter his religious and moral ethos and make him fully Man.