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Philosophy, Cosmology & Religion
GA 215

2. Soul Exercises in Thinking, Feeling and Willing

7 September 1922, Dornach

Philosophy did not arise in the way it is carried on at the present time. Now it is a sum, a group of connecting ideas whose inner, real content is not experienced by the philosophers; instead, they seek theoretical proof for it to show that it relates to reality. So the philosopher is not able to verify his ideas in reference to reality as directly as one always can in the case of any given fact in the real world. Of course, people can certainly harbor some illusions concerning a given fact, but they can easily come to mutual understanding about it when confronting it. In philosophy, the ideas, which despite one's belief to the contrary are actually taken only from tradition, can be related in various ways to reality because this reality is not experienced. In this way the various, diverging systems of philosophy arise. The validity of none of them can be absolutely established because, as reasons for the one or the other system are presented, one can always bring forward opposing reasons to refute them. Since it is only a matter of relative correctness, one can say then that the one who proves something and the one who refutes it are, in most cases, equally in the right. While at the present time a philosophy can be attained that differs from that of one or the other philosopher, it is impossible to arrive at anything that both could be felt directly as real and that also carries conviction because of the directness of observation.

Philosophy has originated out of a state of consciousness differing completely from that of abstract thinking in which it is now produced. Therefore, one must learn once again to live with one's soul in that state of consciousness. But since humanity has in the meantime progressed in its evolution, one cannot just resume the ancient consciousness that gave rise to philosophy. While something similar must be attained if one is to have a philosophy today, it is nevertheless something quite different. The old state of consciousness, which gave birth to philosophy and by means of which a philosopher experienced the activity of his own etheric organism, was partly unconscious.

Compared to modern consciousness in which we think scientifically, that consciousness was dream-like. What we must keep in mind as an ideal for a new philosophy is to be able to experience philosophy in the etheric body, but not in that dream-like way as was the case in olden times. But it must be realized that these dreams of ancient philosophers were not dreams in the same sense as dreams are today. Today's dreams are pictorial conceptions in which, however, the reality factor is nowhere assured by the content of the dream conceptions themselves. These conceptions may consist of all kinds of reminiscences of life; they may relate to processes of the physical organism. In the dream conception itself one never has a convincing indication of any reality. With the consciousness that cultivated philosophy in ancient times it was otherwise. Those conceptions were also pictorial, but they arose in such a way that the picture absolutely guaranteed the presence of a spiritual, an etheric reality, indicated by the picture itself. Today we cannot abandon ourselves to this dreamy, half-conscious soul state. Our scientific manner of forming concepts requires that we think in a fully conscious way, that in all respects we live in full consciousness in our soul life if we want to attain knowledge. Therefore, to achieve a new philosophy we must develop a way of thinking that takes its course in the etheric organism, but at the same time is as fully conscious as the scientific thinking we utilize in mathematics or natural science.

Such fully conscious, pictorial thinking that relates itself to an etheric reality is achieved today in anthroposophical research by means of an inner meditative exercising of the soul. These meditative exercises consist basically in the concentration by the soul on a conceptual content easily visualized at a glance. I shall have to describe details concerning this meditating in the following lectures. You will find it also in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, and in my An Outline of Occult Science. Here I shall only mention in principle that it consists in concentrating all the forces of the soul, disregarding everything that makes impressions from outside or from within, so that the soul's forces may rest undisturbed upon an easily surveyable concept. If, with the necessary energy and perseverance, you repeat for months or perhaps for years such a meditative exercise, you arrive one day at the point where you notice that in your soul-spiritual life you are becoming entirely independent of the physical organism so that you can actually come to the realization, “When I think in the physical organism I am making use of it as a tool. To be sure, thinking itself does not run its course in the physical organism, but, because of its finer organization, the latter gives a reflection of the thinking; thereby I become conscious of it. “

Without the physical organism the thinking of ordinary consciousness cannot be carried out; ordinary consciousness, therefore, is bound to the physical organism. Just as we realize clearly that all ordinary thinking takes place only with the help of the physical organism, we also see clearly that in meditation a pictorial thinking activity is brought into play; for by means of meditation, through these ever-recurring periods of the soul's resting on an easily visualized conceptual content, in this inner soul activity we are set free of the physical body. Now, a picture world is experienced that surrounds us, which, in regard to this pictorial quality, resembles the picture world of the ancient thinkers who acquired their philosophy from it. It is experienced, however, with the same clear presence of mind found in any clear concept produced by the observations and experiments of natural science.

In this picture world that he has before him, man now gains an overall view of those forces in his own being that have been active since birth as the forces of growth, and that were responsible for the increase in his bodily size. He also gains a view over the forces active in the metabolism, in nutrition, and in the processes of digestion. In other words, he gains in picture form a complete survey of the life forces that permeate him out of the spiritual etheric world, and build up in him a particular etheric organism, bringing about his form and his life. Again, there arises in man, but in full consciousness, what was present in the earliest philosophers in a dream-like condition, from whom later philosophers have simply taken, in a more abstract form, what is now commonly known as philosophy. In other words, he now rises to the level of supersensible knowledge, which may be designated as imaginative knowledge, the knowledge of imagination. In this imaginative knowledge he surveys the forces of his own growth and life.

But what one perceives here as the etheric or life organism is not as sharply separated from the outer world as, in sense observation, objective things are separated from what is subjective. In sense perception I know: the object is there, I am here. In etheric imaginative perception one's own etheric organism grows together, so to say, with the etheric cosmos. In like manner, one experiences oneself within one's own etheric organism and in the etheric cosmos. What is thus experienced through the confluence of his own etheric nature with the etheric weaving and pulsing in the cosmos, man is now able to bring into sharply outlined picture concepts, and then also to formulate and to express it in human language. In this way man can acquire a philosophy once again.

This philosophy, therefore, can be recovered through the fact that man works himself up to the development of imaginative thinking. But when the imaginative thinker—at the level of exact clairvoyance it may be called imagination—expresses his insights in speech and in thought forms, the matter is formulated in such a way that another person, who cannot perceive imaginatively on his own, can carry over into the full consciousness of ordinary thinking what the philosopher says, and, because it is different, it is also felt and experienced differently. But through the verbal communication and its comprehension, that reality is also experienced in ordinary consciousness. The imaginative thinker can imbue his words with this reality, for he acquires his conceptions out of the real etheric world.

Thus, a philosophy can again be achieved that has been won out of the etheric world, out of the human etheric organism and the etheric cosmos. It affects the listener in such a way that in taking it in with his ordinary, healthy understanding he feels: It has been brought out of the super-sensible—first of all from the etheric—reality. So, when imaginative thinking is attained, a true philosophy will be restored to the world whose authenticity is guaranteed.

For cosmology, the meditative life must be extended. This can take place, if—with the whole range of its forces—the soul accustom itself not only to dwell on a surveyable concept, or complex of concepts, and to dwell on it over and over again in order to enter into an increased intensive activity—which finally is torn loose from the physical organism and continues in the purely etheric—but the soul must also reach the point of being able to eliminate from its consciousness again those concepts on which it has been dwelling. In the same fully willed manner in which it concentrates totally on certain concepts, holding them in its consciousness, so the soul must be able to eliminate them again and to enter a condition of mere wakefulness and full consciousness, devoid of any soul content derived from the senses or from thinking. The soul must be awake but have within itself nothing of all the contents acquired through ordinary consciousness.

When, in full wakefulness, the soul brings about an empty state of consciousness after meditation and attains a certain invigoration with inner strength in maintaining this emptiness of soul while fully awake, then the moment finally comes when a soul-spiritual, cosmic content not previously known flows into this emptiness—a new spiritual world, a spiritual outer world. This, then, is the stage of inspiration, which follows the stage of supersensible perception through imagination.

If one has this capacity for receiving a soul-spiritual cosmic content into the emptied consciousness through inspiration, one is also able to take hold of what I called yesterday man's astral organism. It is that part of him that lived in a soul-spiritual world before it descended to earth and clothed itself in a physical and etheric body. Man becomes acquainted with his own soul-spiritual life before the embryonic life, before birth. He learns to know the astral organism that leaves physical man at death and lives on further in the soul-spiritual world. In inspired cognition he thus learns to know the astral organism that in ordinary consciousness lives itself out in thinking, feeling and willing.

But at the same time, he learns to know the spiritual cosmos. As man has the physical cosmos before him by means of his senses and his sense-bound thinking, he now confronts the spiritual cosmos; only, what within his physical and etheric organism is the work of this spiritual cosmos is much more real than the sense impressions received in ordinary consciousness. One can indeed say that what flows into man through inspiration, whereby he comes to a soul life independent of his body, can be compared with the breathing in of real oxygen. Among other things, through this inspired knowledge one gains a more exact insight into the nature of the human breathing process, and also into the process of blood circulation, which is rhythmically connected with the process of breathing. Through inspired knowledge, one gains an actual view of all the rhythmical processes in man. One attains a view of how the astral organism works in rhythmical man, and further, how this organism, ensheathed by the physical and etheric organisms, is connected with the breathing, with the whole rhythmic system, inserting itself directly in the rhythm of breathing and blood circulation.

Now we are also in a position to comprehend through cognition what is merely hereditary in the physical and etheric organisms and is therefore subject to the laws of heredity that are of the earth, and what man brings with him out of the supersensible, cosmic world, as soul and spirit being. This being enters the earthly world and only clothes itself in the physical and etheric organisms. One can then distinguish between man's inherited characteristics and what he brought with him out of a spiritual world into his physical existence.

In what we now perceive through our astral organism and its reflection in the rhythmic human processes, we have something that can now be integrated into the spiritual cosmos surrounding us, made accessible to us through inspiration. We attain a cosmology that can include man. One gains a cosmic picture of how man's astral organism, with the ego—of which I shall speak shortly—enters the physical organism on the waves of breathing and the other rhythmic processes. We see the cosmos in its fundamental, lawful order as it continues into man through his rhythmic processes. We arrive at a cosmology by which the astral organism is understood; likewise, the rhythmic processes in each individual person.

Thus, inspired knowledge becomes the source of a genuine, modern cosmology that is on a par with that ancient cosmology, which by man's dream-like forces of soul made him similarly a member of the whole cosmos, of a soul-spiritual, cosmic world. The knowledge gained in inspired perception, however, is gained in full consciousness, and can then be seen in its reflection in the etheric body. It is like this: The experiences of inspiration project themselves in pictures upon the etheric body. The insight thus gained in inspiration in the cosmos connects itself with the experiences of fantasy in the activity of the etheric body. What is inspired out of the cosmos is to a certain degree inwardly in motion and cannot at once be brought into sharp outlines. This only happens when it links itself with the experiences of fantasy in the ether body. Then, cosmology also can be brought into sharp outlines. Thereby arises a cosmic philosophy completely appropriate for modern man; a philosophical cosmology, which in this way is formed through a flowing together of inspired knowledge with the imaginations experienced pictorially in the ether body. It is such a cosmology that I have sought to give in my book, An Outline of Occult Science, translated into French as La Science de l'Occulte.

In order to establish the religious life on a basis of knowledge, further development of the meditative life, of soul exercises, is necessary. These exercises must now be extended to the human will. So far, we have chiefly described a form of soul exercises based on a special development of the life of thought. Now the soul's life, insofar as it is revealed in the will, has to be set free from the life of the spiritual researcher's physical and etheric organisms. That happens when the will is employed otherwise than in ordinary consciousness. I will illustrate this method by an example.

The events in the outer world are ordinarily observed as following one upon the other: the earlier one first, subsequently the later one—and thus we trace them also in our thinking. Now, however, we must try to place these events in reverse order, putting the last one first, then the immediately preceding one next, and so on back to the first event. In this way, through an exertion of the will in the soul, we accomplish something not achieved in ordinary consciousness. Normally, you follow the course of outer events with the will that lives in thinking. By means of this thinking in reverse order, thinking differently from the actual course of events in nature, you tear the will free from the physical and etheric organisms. The will that otherwise is merely a reflection of the astral organism is thereby bound to this astral organism. Since the latter is lifted out of the physical and etheric organisms through the other meditations, the will is carried along out of the physical organism into the spiritual world outside. In thus taking the will out of your own organism in the astral body, you also take with it, out of the physical and etheric bodies, what is the real spiritual man, the 'I.' Now, it is possible to live with the ego and the astral organism in the spiritual world together with the spiritual beings. As we live by ourselves in our own body in the physical world, we now learn—through such a training of the soul's life—to live together in the outer spiritual world with all the beings who first revealed themselves in imagination and inspiration. In this way we attain the ability to lead a life in the spiritual world independent of our own physical organism.

Such exercises can be strengthened still more, so that the will puts forth another kind of effort. The more exertion needed for this development of the will, the better it is for experiencing the spiritual world outside the physical and etheric organisms. Man can change his habits by making the deliberate, conscious resolve, “This or that habit you have had for many years; you will now change it into something else by an energetic use of your will so that in four, five or ten years it is so transformed that in regard to it you will appear like a different person.” They may, for example, be small, insignificant habits, of the kind that persist without being given much attention. If you work at them they are the most effective for the sort of supersensible knowledge I am now characterizing. For example, you have a certain form of handwriting. With all your energy, you apply yourself to changing it into a form different from what you are accustomed to and have developed since childhood.

When one devoted oneself for years to such will exercises, the soul finally becomes strong enough to live outside the physical and etheric organisms with the spiritual beings of the outer spiritual world, with human souls either before they are incarnated, or after they go through death and are living in the spiritual world before returning into physical existence and also with those spiritual beings who are only in the spiritual world and dwell there in such a way that, unlike human beings, they never have a physical and etheric body. In this way one arrives at living with one's soul and spirit in that world where the content of religious consciousness is experienced. In full consciousness one enters that world described by the ancient teachers of religion as the divine world; at that time this happened through a more dream-like familiarization with the divine, but now, it is through a fully conscious one, the same fully conscious state of mind as is only developed in mathematics or the exactness of modern natural science. In this way the third level of supersensible knowledge is cultivated, that of true intuition.

Through this true intuition by which we learn to live in the divine-spiritual world, we are able to bring back experiences from that world so as to form them into the content of religious consciousness. Once again, we learn to recognize a basic fact of human nature: how man, with his true 'I' and his astral organism, can live in a purely spiritual world. We now gain a view of man's condition in wakefulness and in sleep; we gain insight into how the ego and astral organism envelop themselves during the waking state in what I have described earlier as the processes of breathing and circulation, the rhythmic processes; but how, as the 'I' creates a reflection of itself in the physical organism, the metabolic processes that live in the circulation of the blood are included in this reflected nature. What man in his ordinary consciousness calls his 'I' is merely a weak reflection of his true 'I.' The true ego is rooted in the divine-spiritual world characterized above. In ordinary consciousness this ego is perceived through the permeation of the circulatory system by the metabolic processes. In these latter, pulsating in the circulation, one senses, feels, what in ordinary consciousness is perceived as the ego. But that is only a weak reflection of the true ego.

In the waking state the reflection of the ego lives in the metabolism that circulates through the rhythmic system of man. That is to say, the true ego exists, but ordinary consciousness only contains its reflection produced in metabolism. When, however, the human physical and etheric organisms use the processes of breathing and circulation, permeated by metabolism, when they use the forces of this rhythmical man themselves, as is the case in the state of sleep, then the true ego, with the astral body, lives in the outer spiritual world. Breathing and circulation, with the pulsating metabolism contained within, then care for the needs of the physical and etheric organisms on their own; the true ego and the astral organism carry on an existence aside from the physical and etheric bodies in the spiritual world. One beholds these alternating conditions by means of true intuition—how the physical and etheric organisms need the breathing and blood circulation, with the metabolism contained in them, to renew their forces. During this time the true ego and the astral organism stay for a while in the spiritual world, carrying on their own existence. When the forces of the physical and etheric bodies are regenerated through rhythmical man to the extent that further rhythmical regenerative processes are not needed, the astral body and ego return and permeate the metabolic process pulsating through the breathing and blood circulation, and man is then awake again.

Thus, one sees how the true ego and astral organisms pulsate in the metabolism. Thus, one learns to know that world designated by the old religions as the divine world in which the ego of man, the true ego, has its innate home. Since what one grasps in this way through intuition is once again reflected in the physical and etheric organisms as in a mirror, one can also express in words, in pictures, in concepts, what one experiences in the purely spiritual world, independent of all human corporeality. This can then be grasped in turn by man's healthy human reason. It can be felt and sensed, it can be experienced in the human heart, and then it forms the content of religious consciousness, which thereby is founded on knowledge.

It is not necessary for every person to find his way into the divine world through intuition. That must be done by one who becomes a researcher of the spirit. But when the spiritual researcher puts what he discovers in the spiritual world into words in the manner characterized above, it then takes on such forms that, through what comes to be revealed in this way, one experiences in the ordinary state of consciousness: “Here, words are spoken that do not relate to this world, but with the power of the reality inherent in them they fully come to life in the human soul.” It is through this power that what is drawn from the spiritual world by spiritual research through an intuitive experience of the divine-spiritual world has its religious influence upon our consciousness.

If men want to acquire once more through their own efforts a religious life based on knowledge, they must accept what the spiritual researcher is able to reveal as his own experiences in the divine-spiritual world gained through true intuition. The religion will return to what it once was. In its inception, every religion was a revelation from the divine-spiritual world: a revelation of those experiences that can be had with those divine beings that earlier reveal themselves to imaginative and inspired perception, but whom one meets on their own level only through intuition.

The kind of thinking that can live in abstractions, that is chiefly employed in scientific research and on which we base our observations and experimentations, has been attained only in the course of human evolution. It did not exist among those people from whom the early philosophers and teachers of religion came—those who founded the old philosophy, cosmology and religious life, of which much has been preserved by way of tradition. In those times, half-conscious dreamily imaginative, inspired and intuitive experiences prevailed. It is from these experiences that men of earlier ages drew their knowledge in every domain of life. Only since the rise of modern natural science do we have what we experience as abstract thinking. One should not believe that only scientists think in this way. Nowadays, it is absorbed through the ordinary schools and by the simplest person living in a rural area far from all urban culture.

No trace of the consciousness that is spread through the civilized world today by this abstract thinking existed in any part of humanity even in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D. Everywhere there lived what had been attained by means of the other three states of consciousness. But the fully conscious condition, which we must interpret as the true expression of mankind today, could be achieved only by the fact that abstract thinking, now the pride of scientific life, has integrated itself into the human experience. In other words, the form of thinking that utilizes man's physical organism and needs it in order to think as is the case today—such thinking did not exist in ancient times. Then, man thought only with the etheric and astral elements in his nature and with his ego organization. His thoughts were given him by the revelations of imagination, inspiration and intuition. This is still the case today with people who, through some circumstance that we will mention later, possess a kind of clairvoyance. That is not the modern, exact clairvoyance but something inherited from ancient conditions of dreamlike clairvoyance. Such persons are never able to control their soul experiences, but they can have them, as people in earlier times had them. It is often surprising what clear thoughts are given to such people in their dream-like visions; thoughts based on a far more brilliant logic than even a philosopher can produce. Those are just the thoughts revealed out of the spiritual world. In ancient epochs of human evolution, only such thoughts existed, that is, revealed thoughts.

Abstract thinking, the only kind known today, is obtained by using the physical body as a tool. It is experienced through the instrument of the physical body. This characterizes what modern humanity has achieved in rising to its full consciousness. In regard to the spiritual world, such thinking achieved through the physical body is actually a displaced thinking. For particularly through what I have just characterized, thinking shows that it belongs to the spiritual world. It is now displaced when man employs his physical organization in his thinking. Thereby, thinking lives in an element that is not its very own. But man, nevertheless achieves something in this thinking that he could never attain if thinking would merely result as a revelation out of imagination, inspiration and intuition. Because thinking is obtained through the physical organism it substantially contains nothing from the spiritual world. It is fundamentally an activity taking place solely in the physical body. In other words, this abstract thinking experiences nothing real; it is as if pressed out, filtered out of imagination. What is experienced is illusion. What we experience in abstract thinking is an illusory experience just because we become fully conscious in this thinking.

We can experience two facts in this thinking. First, the illusion in it, which does not itself pretend to express something, becomes a reflection of objective nature. Only thereby has man attained what he is so proud of today, an objective natural science. Outer occurrences in nature could not be objectively presented by a thinking filled with substance of its own. We cannot acknowledge such descriptions of natural processes as were given in olden times as objective natural science. Just because thinking has only a life of semblance, the outer world can reflect itself in this semblance. In a thinking that does not have a substance of its own, the substance of the outer occurrences of nature appears in picture form. So, humanity in its progress is indebted to objective natural science for the fact that it attained full consciousness in an illusory experience of thinking. The epoch in which abstract thinking arose also became the time when objective natural science was attained.

A second fact that man owes to this advance into abstract thinking is his experience of freedom. What man experiences as moral impulses through imagination, inspiration and intuition, even when he experiences it in a dream-like manner as in ancient times—when it was always experienced through dreams, instincts and emotions and thus became an impulse to action—this always puts a constraint on man. An instinct underlying an action in man's organism is something that drives him, forces him here and there. What is brought out of the real etheric world in imagination as moral impulses impels me; I cannot do otherwise than follow it. So it is also with what derives from inspiration and intuition.

Between birth and death man experiences the illusory life of abstract thinking, of pure thinking that is nothing but thinking, yet is carried out through the physical organism. If man now takes moral impulses into this thinking, they then live in the pure thinking that has only an illusory life and cannot force him to do anything, anymore than a mirrored image can compel one to some action. Something that thrusts at me in reality does coerce me. But something that has a mere semblance of life, as, for example, what we experience in pure thinking, cannot compel a person. I myself must decide whether or not I want to follow it. In this way, through the illusory experience of thinking, the possibility of human freedom is given at the same time. Even though a man's thinking is able to experience nothing but semblance, when moral impulses rooted in the spiritual world enter into it and form its content, then they become free impulses.

Man, therefore, owes two things to his advance to illusory experience in thinking: the era of objective natural science, and the attainment of real freedom. Just as I have described the ascent into supersensible worlds in the books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, in An Outline of Occult Science, and in Theosophy, likewise have I sought to present the basis for attaining the consciousness of freedom in the modern age in my Philosophy of Freedom. Thus, we can say that in the epoch in which man has achieved his full consciousness because thinking has streamed down into his physical organism and makes use of it, this thinking has rejected the old dream-like clairvoyance that was once the basis of an old philosophy, an old cosmology and an old religious life. Thereby man has gained the possibility of developing objective natural science in his physical organism between birth and death, and further, the possibility of developing freedom.

Today, however, man is at the point where, retaining his full consciousness, he must again travel the road into the supersensible world in fully conscious imagination, inspiration and intuition. He must do this in order to attain—in addition to what he can experience in objective natural science, and in freedom—a new philosophy, a new cosmology, and a new religious life built upon knowledge of the super-sensible world. These, as revelations from the supersensible world, satisfy modern man in the same way that he is satisfied when by means of his wideawake consciousness in the sense world he attains to an objective science, and to freedom.

Thus, we have now characterized freedom and objective natural science on the one side, and on the other modern spiritual science, and thereby shown how humanity must go forward from the present into the future, so that through attaining supersensible knowledge it can participate in the true human advancement demanded by the world order.