The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as a Path to Self-Knowledge
by Rita Stebbing
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The Knowledge of Freedom
Chapter I Conscious Human Action
Chapter II The Fundamental Urge for Knowledge
Chapter III Thinking in the Service of Comprehending the World
Chapter IV The World as Percept
Chapter V Attaining Knowledge of the World
Chapter VI The Human Individuality
Chapter VII Are There Limits to Knowledge?
The Reality of Freedom
Chapter VIII The Factors of Life
Chapter IX The Idea of Freedom
Chapter X Philosophy of Freedom and Monism
Chapter XI World Purpose and Life Purpose (Mankind's Destination)
Chapter XII Moral Imagination (Darwinism and Morality)
Chapter XIII The Value of Life (Pessimism and Optimism)
Chapter IX Individuality and Type
The Consequences of Monism
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as a Path to Self-Knowledge In a course of lectures titled Mystery Centers given at Dornach, Switzerland in 1923, Rudolf Steiner refers to his book, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, (The Philosophy of Freedom) as follows:
“In The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity thinking is so experienced, that within the experience of thinking we come to the realization: 'if man really experiences his thinking he is living in the cosmos, even if at first this experience is somewhat indefinite.' The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is built upon man's union with the process of the world. In this book you will find the sentence: 'In thinking, man takes hold of a corner of the world-process.' This, though simply expressed, is meant to imply that when a man really experiences thinking he feels himself no longer to be outside the divine essence but within it. When a man attains to the reality of thinking within himself he attains to the divine within himself.”
And in another course of lectures given about the same time under the title: How Does One Become Able to Perceive the Spiritual World?, Rudolf Steiner also refers to the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, saying:
“The time has come when man should think with his etheric body (The principle of life in man which builds up the physical body), but he wants to continue thinking with his physical brain, hence the necessity arose (1893) for The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity to be written. The importance of this book lies not so much in what it says, though of course that too I wanted to convey to the world, but what is of most importance is that here for the first time, a book appears that is based solely on pure independent thinking. No one can understand this book who is unable to think independently. The reader has to become accustomed, right from the beginning, page by page, to using his etheric body in order to be able to have such thoughts at all. This book is therefore to be regarded as a means of self-education.”
These words of Rudolf Steiner may explain on the one hand why this book tends to be neglected even by many who are keen students of his other works, and on the other hand why for those who do make the effort, not only is their comprehension of Rudolf Steiner's other writing enhanced, but life itself becomes different for them. It is impossible for a person making that effort, even to some degree, not to become changed, for he becomes aware of what is usually an unconscious activity: his own thinking.
This living independent thinking to which Rudolf Steiner refers is fundamental to the Science of the Spirit, or Anthroposophy, which explains that man has the possibility of developing higher stages of consciousness: imagination, inspiration, and intuition. The first higher stage, imagination, is as different from ordinary consciousness as is the latter from our consciousness in dreams. Inspiration and intuition are correspondingly higher.
The basis and starting point for these higher stages is the clear, exact thinking of normal consciousness, such as is essential for a study of natural science, only here thinking undergoes further training in a different direction.
One need only consider the enormous development of natural science since the fifteenth century, in order to recognize that for centuries man's thinking has been employed and developed in a very one-sided manner. Man's ability to investigate external nature and make use of what he discovers for his own purposes has reached frightening dimensions. Yet, great though these discoveries are, they all deal with what is dead or dying, not what is living and coming into existence. Ever more brilliant inventions are made, but the keen intellect capable of these great achievements cannot solve the continually growing problems of social affairs, for example. Rudolf Steiner shows that a thinking capable of creating new moral ideas, one that itself has power of life and growth, is needed for the solution of these urgent questions.
To give some indication of a living activity of thinking---an activity we may use in everyday life but of which we are normally unaware---one could take an example which any reader of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity can ascertain for himself: A sentence or paragraph may be taken from the book, one which as yet is not comprehensible, and can be lived with for a few days (it may be found that less time is needed, or sometimes perhaps longer). If he simply ponders it without unduly “tearing” at it, he will find that of itself the thought grows within him until it becomes translucent and understandable. With practice and a more sensitive awareness, he will also become conscious of this activity within himself. He will then know that Rudolf Steiner's statement that the book is written out of a thinking that is living, and independent of the brain, is a fact. He will experience how each thought in the book evolves out of the preceding thought and grows into the one that follows it. This thinking is something very different from our normal thinking that merely combines the facts and laws it discovers in external nature. Steiner shows that only such a living thinking is able to create new moral laws and man's higher nature as a moral being.
Before it is possible consciously to develop the slumbering forces inherent in thinking, it is necessary to know what thinking is. Steiner is the first philosopher who not only indicates a knowledge of thinking itself, but also describes how this knowledge is attained. Immanuel Kant, who more than any other philosopher attempted to show what thinking cannot achieve, succeeded in erecting artificial barriers before human thinking, barriers which until the appearance of Steiner's Truth and Knowledge and The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, have been universally accepted. Kant's is still the outlook on which natural science is based. The books just mentioned not only refute Kant's theory of knowledge; they open the portals to a new understanding of the process of cognition, and therefore to a new understanding of knowledge itself. Kant's barriers are transcended, and Steiner also shows that Darwin's theory of evolution, when considered in this light, does not contradict, but actually confirms that man has his origin in a spiritual world.
Because Steiner's works, more particularly his books, are written in the way indicated, they contain a living structure also to be found in true works of Art. One could , for example, compare The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity with Leonardo da Vinci's fresco of The Last Supper, where every detail is a living part of the whole, where a center---the figure of Christ---determines every single detail, the position and attitude of each disciple. Or again one could compare The philosophy of Spiritual Activity with a great work of architecture, a definite structure like a Greek temple, for example, a temple of Apollo.
In this sense The philosophy of Spiritual Activity may be regarded as a modern temple in which self-knowledge may be found. At the portal to the temple in ancient times the pupil met the challenge : “Man Know Thyself.” The reader meets the same challenge in the preface---the portal---to The Philosophy of spiritual Activity. The preface opens with two questions: Is it possible to attain a kind of insight into human nature that can support the rest of knowledge and: Is man's will free? It goes on to say that our attitude to the second question will depend upon the answer we give to the first. If we look more closely at these words we recognize the same call to self-knowledge as in the “Man, Know Thyself.” In The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity it is expected in a way more suitable to our age, so different from that of the Greek, when as yet man did not feel him self so completely estranged from the world. Just as the words, “Man, Know Thyself” indicate the solution to the world-riddle, so in the preface we find the answers indicated to the two questions, namely, that on the basis of a knowledge of man which is capable of being the foundation on which can be built all knowledge and all science, it will also be possible to recognize in what sense one can speak of human freedom.
Chapter I Conscious Human Action and Chapter II The Fundamental Urge for Knowledge
If we continue the comparison with the temple of Apollo we can say that the temple contained a forecourt into which the pupil for initiation was received before he was permitted to enter the temple itself. In this forecourt he had to leave all earthly possessions because if he took them with him into the temple, they would be a hindrance to his progress. In this sense the first two chapters represent a forecourt where the reader is required to recognize and leave behind the prejudices he may have acquired in life, which will bind him to true self-knowledge. In Chapter 1 he is introduced to the viewpoints of seven well-known philosopher who have influenced the development and trend of thought of our time.
It may happen that a reader, upon meeting these perhaps unfamiliar names, feels he should study the works of these philosophers before he is able to assess Rudolf Steiner's approach; or he may feel that since they all belong to the past their viewpoints can have little significance today.
However, both lines of thought really miss the point. If one looks at the sentences quoted from the various philosophers it can be recognized that what they express is highly relevant today and will remain so for a long time into the future. And when one thinks it necessary to study the works of each philosopher quoted in order to assess Rudolf Steiner's own viewpoint, one actually overlooks that what is quoted simply expresses the views most generally held. It is just that these views have been expressed by the seven philosophers in clear concepts. Further, a closer study of The philosophy of Spiritual Activity, more particularly of Chapter I and II, will soon convince the reader that Steiner does not arrive at what he presents as the philosophical basis for an understanding of the world, by a comparison of points of view, but by observation of man in his relation to the world, to the universe. The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity which Steiner himself called a “Monism of Thought” is the result of this observation.
The reader may come to recognize the seven views presented in chapter I as seven temptations to one-sidedness in thinking which have to be recognized. Here we touch on something which perhaps is easily overlooked. It is sometimes said: Had Steiner dealt only with the positive aspect, with his own viewpoint, then The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity would have been easier to grasp. However, in saying this one really forgets an essential aspect of human nature, namely that for the recognition of truth it is necessary to recognize also what is not true.
It is because Rudolf Steiner does not simply present a new viewpoint, a new philosophy, but takes his start from the way an ordinary person sees the world and carefully sifts the true from the one-sided, that is possible for the reader to recognize in just what direction his own line of thought may fall short. In other words, the path through Chapters I and II is essentially already the beginning of self-knowledge.
Chapter III Thinking in the Service of Comprehending the World
If Chapters I and II are seen as the forecourt, then in chapter III it can be said that we enter the temple proper. This chapter deals exclusively with the nature of thinking as such. If anything dealt with later is found difficult, the reason is often that one has forgotten or overlooked some point or other in Chapter III . This Chapter is really the key to the book; one could also say it gives the key to the riddle of man.
When in ancient times the pupil entered the temple he would not immediately confront the holiest of holies, situated in the innermost part of the temple, but would first be required to pass many tests. Only if successful, would he be allowed eventually to cross the threshold to that innermost sanctuary, and thus find the answer to the riddle: “Man, Know Thyself.
In Chapter III the reader is led to recognize what thinking is. Not by means of theory, but simply and solely through observation of his own thinking. It would be true to say that Chapter III is one of Steiner's most essential gifts to modern man. In this activity of the observation of thinking, the reader is left completely free. Steiner merely points to the object to be observed: thinking. It is as if someone were showing us a well-known object, perhaps a red rose, and asked if we agreed that this object had this or that quality. We would be able to ascertain everything under discussion, for we would see the object for ourselves. This holds good to a much higher degree when the object we observe is thinking, for then we not only “see' the object, but we produce it as well. This is true of no other object on earth. Where thinking is concerned, all possibility of deception is excluded.
The unusual process of observing thinking leads to awareness of the infinite greatness of man's essential being. In other words, we do not yet actually enter the innermost sanctuary of the temple, but begin to recognize the direction in which to seek it and also what must be done to make it attainable.
The mood kindled in the reader through this new insight into thinking may be compared to that conveyed by the words that sounded to Moses from the burning bush: “Take off thy shoes, for the ground on which thou now treadest is holy.”
Chapter IV The World as Percept
Chapter III shows thinking in its own being and essence. Chapter IV shows the relationship of thinking to the objects one perceives. From the wealth of this chapter we might single out just one point, so misrepresented by Kant and others: that we derive our knowledge of objects not from that aspect of them which we receive through our senses, but from thinking . No matter how long or how intensely we observe an object, the object does not tell us what it is ; this our thinking does. Yet despite the fact that we ourselves produce it, thinking tells us nothing about ourselves, but solely about the object we observe. Recognition of this---which can easily be tested by self-observation---may increasingly act as wings to one's understanding of otherwise incomprehensible things in life, even perhaps to recognition of the truth of reincarnation---rather in the way Lessing did---as a fact recognizable to unprejudiced logical thinking, the denial of which would be a denial of logical thinking as well.
Chapters III, IV and V all deal essentially with the nature and character of thinking. To read them is to set out on an adventurous journey into the inner being of man. In the Preface Steiner stresses that to solve the riddle of man's relationship to the world “a region of the soul must be discovered where living answers to life's questions are to be found.” The search for this region begins in Chapter III where it is established that thinking is not a by-product of the human brain, but a spiritual entity which uses the brain as its tool; a spiritual process which man himself must produce before it can exist in the world of matter. In other words, thinking is not a physical but a spiritual activity of man.
Chapter V Attaining Knowledge of the World
Chapter IV shows how the world would appear to us if thinking did not bring law and order into the chaos of our perceptions. In Chapter V we see how thinking is related to its own product: concepts, ideas, and thoughts. The power of thinking to “see” ideas, Steiner calls intuition. “Intuition is for thinking what observation is for perceptions.” This power which he later also calls “spiritual love” may dive down into shallower or deeper strata of the phenomena. To begin with it may “see” only as much of the idea of a thing as is actually revealed by the physical aspect of that thing or---when stronger---it may penetrate the physical veil and “see” what creates the object, as did Goethe when he “saw” the archetypal plant, i.e. the idea which creates and exists in all plants. Goethe could then visualize not only existing plants but plants which do not yet exist, but could do so.
Such spiritual entities as the archetypal plant have an existence completely different from physical existence: there are many different plants but only one idea that creates them. There are many kinds of triangles but only one idea, “triangle.” The one idea may reveal itself in innumerable ways, yet it is always the same idea, somewhat like the beautiful princess on the fairy tale who may have a thousand dresses, each of which makes her appear different, yet she is always the same princess. Steiner expresses this in the following way: “If Plato thought a certain thought and I today think the same
thought, then Plato's head and my head are not two heads, but one.”
This line of thought culminates in Chapter V in the sentence: “Insofar as man feels and perceives, he is a being among other beings; insofar as he thinks, he is the All-One-Being that pervades everything.” In other words, insofar as man thinks (and not merely “has thoughts”; the difference is explained in Chapter III), man and God are one-- “When man attains to the reality of thinking within himself he attains to the divine within himself.” From this one may realize the necessity of exercises in concentration and meditation for self -development. Steiner has given many such exercises in his fundamental books.
Chapter VI The Human Individuality
Chapter VI deals with man as thinker, i.e. with that in man which does the thinking: his individuality. Here it is shown that man is only truly an individual when he neither lives in nor lives merely according to his personal feelings and inclinations, but holds the balance, so that; “A true individuality will be the one who rises up with his feelings the farthest into the region of the ideal."
Chapter VII Are There Limits to Knowledge?
Chapter VII closes the first half of the book. This half is called, Knowledge of Freedom. Chapter VII shows that when thinking is understood in the way Steiner presents it, one cannot speak of limits to knowledge , but only of limits to sense perceptions. Where sense-perception reaches a limit, thinking goes beyond that limit, for that is its nature. One could say that man's problem is not that there are limits which his thinking cannot go beyond, but rather his problem is how to grow strong enough to accompany thinking with his full ego-consciousness on its further journey. It must be acknowledged that here man, so to speak, confronts an abyss where danger lurks. Those who practice spiritualism and mediumship attempt to cross that abyss, leaving their ego-consciousness behind, with the result that they enter a world of illusions, for they are bereft of all powers of discrimination.
In the second part of the book Steiner shows that just as in the human embryo are contained rudiments of what later become the sense organ, so, inherent in man's spiritual nature are rudiments of spiritual organs, i.e. capabilities of man's thinking spirit. These Steiner calls: moral intuition, moral imagination, and moral technique, and their development eventually leads to the higher stages of consciousness referred to earlier. These spiritual organs nature leaves undeveloped, for their development is closely bound up with man's freedom. “Nature brings man to a certain stage of development, society takes him a step further, the final polish he can only give himself” ( Chapter IX). The wings man needs to cross the abyss, taking with him his most precious possession, his ego-consciousness, must grow out of his own moral forces.
Therefore, the first half of the book shows the way to freedom. Thinking is revealed to a spiritual reality in itself, a spiritual being who waits to manifest its true nature in a physical vessel in the realm of matter, that is, in man, for only man can think. In the second half of the book is shown how the inherent forces in thinking can be developed so that the latter can light up not only man's external world but his inner world as well, and can lead him to a self-knowledge that will make him free.
Chapter VIII The Factors of Life
The transition from Chapters I and II to Chapter III was compared earlier with the pupil's admittance in ancient times from the forecourt into the temple itself. For him this meant a first trial: treasured possessions had to be left behind---perhaps already a hard test for many. If, when he eventually reached the innermost sanctuary he was still in bondage to what had been left behind, his further progress would be hindered.
The tests which the modern aspirant to self-knowledge must undergo are different, but every bit as difficult; for the prejudices which we all accumulate through upbringing and education and through being born into this epoch are often like cherished possessions, difficult to discard. When the reader of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity reaches the end of the first part, that is, comes to the end of Chapter VII, in Chapter VIII he confronts another threshold, and if prejudices still cloud his judgment, much in the second part of the book will remain obscure. However, unlike the pupil in former epochs, he can retrace his steps. The book can become his daily companion. Inevitably this study leads to a deeper self-knowledge, which at times may be hard to bear, but sense and meaning become ever more apparent in the perhaps formerly-incomprehensible chaos of life. The reader cannot but come to feel in his heart a kind of echo of the words of a prayer by Thomas Aquinas: “Grant me penetration to understand.”
As in the case of all true works of art, it becomes apparent that there are many levels on which one may understand the book, and as time goes on one discovers ever wider and deeper aspects. The approach to the second half, The Reality of Freedom, will depend upon the extent to which the reader has made the first part, The Knowledge of Freedom, his own. Many things are only indicated and may pass by unnoticed unless every point is considered. A friend once wrote to Rudolf Steiner saying that each chapter in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity ought to be developed into a book. Steiner agreed that this might be done and added that the reason he did not do it was that at the time of writing he had not been concerned to teach, but simply to “describe the biography of a soul in its struggle toward freedom.”
Chapter IX The Idea of Freedom
In Chapter VIII the reader is made to pause, so to speak, and to look back over the content of the first part before he begins Chapter IX. Here we come to the heart of the book: “the innermost sanctuary of the temple.” The light that can illuminate it is essentially the content of Chapter III. In that Chapter the search began for “a region of the soul.” In Chapter IX that region is found.
As one reads this chapter one watches this region of the soul of man being born in the interaction between his spiritual nature and what rises up from his bodily nature. One could imagine not only a book , but a whole library developed from this chapter, dealing with Christology, Psychology, Medicine, Education, Prison-reform, and much else. A truly majestic picture of man arises before the reader,depicting not only what man is, but above all what he will become. Nowhere in this chapter is Christ mentioned, yet its content may kindle in the reader a completely new understanding of Christianity. For as he follows step by step the building up of man's inner nature, he becomes increasingly aware that while he begins to recognize how freedom is to be understood in relation to man, his understanding also deepens concerning his relation to the Being of Christ.
To attempt to give an account of the content of Chapter IX is rather like being confronted with a cave full of treasures---so much could be chosen, so little can be singled out.
The unusual activity of observing one's own thinking, of which a study of the first half of the book really consists, will have led the reader to recognize that that part of his being with which he thinks, that is, his true individuality or 'I', lives within thinking, and when thinking is observed, the 'I' observes from within its own activity.
In Chapter IX Steiner explains that the 'I' needs bodily nature to become conscious of itself as 'I'. The 'I' is not the body, but it uses the body as its tool; just as a person who walks over soft ground leaves his footprints in the soil, so thinking leaves his footprints in the bodily nature. This has led to the superficial conclusion that it is the physical brain that thinks, which would be the same as saying of the foot prints that forces from below the ground had created them.
The way man's higher being takes up its abode and uses the bodily nature for earthly tasks unfolds like a mighty drama before the reader. Seen like a battle between light and darkness, the verses at the beginning of St. John's Gospel come to mind: “And the light shone in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”
On the quality of the darkness will depend the quality of the colors that arise when light shines into darkness: Whether the colors will be dark and muddy, or pure and transparent. One could imagine the incarnating spirit of man asking: Of what quality is the 'house' into which I must go? Shall I have to live in it as in a prison, enslaved by passions and desires, chained down by prejudices and conventions, or shall I be free in it and live as master of the house, able to give expression through it to my own light-filled nature?
Steiner depicts man's path upward to freedom that is, to union with his higher self, as an ascent of a moral ladder of self-development. This ladder consists of three steps leading up to a fourth; or one could think of three steps leading up to the Holy of Holies in the temple. The lowest level is egoism
based on instincts---when a man lives purely to satisfy cravings arising from selfish desires; here the light of thinking shines but dimly. The second level is authority---based on feelings. It is so much easier to let some authority such as family, State or Church guide one's life, rather than think things out for oneself. The third level is moral insight based on practical experience---that is, on thinking conditioned by the external aspects of a situation when one always looks back on past experience, on what others did in a similar case, etc. This is indeed a higher level,one which most people will have reached ( though one usually will have to admit that very often one remains on either of the levels below). Yet just at this third level there is the greatest danger of becoming fixed, so to speak, judging everything on the basis of past experiences. This is rightly applicable only to something finished, not to man, an evolving being. Steiner shows that what pertains to man's individuality can be judged only on the highest level, the fourth step of the ladder. Here man experiences his higher self, which is to experience the sphere where freedom is possible; this in turn means to possess the ability to judge a situation from the level of conceptual intuition based on pure reason. This level Steiner calls ethical individualism.
One may recognize these levels (merely summarized above) as stages through which man evolves; historically in humanity as a whole, and also repeated in every growing child. In a certain sense one might say that every infant lives on the level of egoism (rightly so), demanding and expecting attention and help from his whole surroundings. His life is governed by bodily needs. The child's attitude becomes wrong only if carried over to later stages of his life. The older child rightly expects and needs authority from those who bring him up. His life is governed by the life of feelings awakening within him. The teenager will attempt to apply what he has learned, he will try to “put the world right,” that is, apply the thoughts he has taken over from his teachers. Only the grown-up person who has “come of age,” that is, whose 'I' has taken full possession of the “house,” can give himself the “final polish,” as Steiner expresses it. Then he can exert his power of independent thinking and form his own judgments. If he does this, past experiences, tradition and conventional viewpoints merely serve as a basis, but do not influence his judgment of what is unique in the situation he confronts. Only on this level of ethical individualism it is possible to judge an individuality.
In order to come nearer to an understanding of what is meant by ethical individualism we may consider for a moment what is meant by conceptual intuition. In Chapter V Steiner describes intuition as the power to “see” thinking and what is produced by thinking: concepts and ideas. When a person looks at a tree and later remembers the tree, this ability to “see” the concept (the representation of the tree) in his mind, is intuition. However, in this example it is not yet conceptual intuition, for what he “sees' refers to a physical object, that is, to something other than thinking. If he remembers a feeling, whether hate or love, or a will impulse, this again is not conceptual intuition; it is still based on something external to thinking. In other words, conceptual intuition is the ability to “see” the pure idea without any veils around it. Only a conceptual intuition could “see' thinking, or rather, when we come to conceptual intuition, “seeing” is to be “at one” with the thing which is seen. Only at this level is it possible to speak of freedom in the true sense.
Man experiences freedom when he is able to identify himself completely with the object or being which he confronts, setting aside all his own opinions, views and inclinations for the time being and seeing the world purely and solely through the eyes of the other. In other words, he becomes utterly
selfless--he manifests a selflessness achieved through a strong ego which has taken its own development in hand. It is a selflessness that enables man to find his true'”I” through the other being or object who becomes a gateway to “The All-One Being that pervades everything” (Chapter V).
That Steiner himself judged the viewpoints of others on this level may be seen in his book The Riddles of Philosophy, where the changes in man's consciousness are shown in the development of philosophic thought since its beginning in Ancient Greece. Steiner presents the views of innumerable
philosophers by identifying himself with each one, and looking at the world through their eyes. Thus he was able to make a true assessment of their contribution to man's spiritual development.
To the degree that a person has really reached the fourth level he will have undergone a complete transformation. An illustration of this in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity can be seen in the three levels on which feeling may be experienced: At the end of Chapter I Steiner refers to the difference between merely, instinctive love, i.e., sexual desire, and what he calls human love. He shows how the latter is called forth, not by physical perception but by thinking. i.e., we form thoughts about the spiritual qualities of the person or object, and these thoughts kindle our love. In other words, we are dealing with feelings which do not merely well up from the instinctive bodily life and therefore do not come before us as perceptions prior to the activity of thinking. Rather, they are born from thinking, without which they would not come to exist.
In the Addition to Chapter VIII Steiner speaks of a different love---the capacity of thinking to dive into the depths of the phenomena, and this power he calls spiritual love. Although the feelings of a person in whose heart love has awakened because he admires some spiritual qualities in the other, are on a much higher level than in he case of mere sexual attraction, his feelings may still be bound largely to his personality. They will depend on what he considers worthy of admiration. But when a man is able to assess the external object solely for its own sake, irrespective of whether it pleases or displeases him, when he understands it completely and can identify himself with it, then the love that now awakens in him is spiritual.
This love is no longer bound to his personality, any more than is the concept of the object in question. Both thinking and feeling, i.e., both his knowledge of and his feelings for the object, are concerned with the object, not with himself. One could also say that his feelings now partake of the spiritual nature of thinking. He lives not in his 'I' which is one with the “World-I.” He has crossed the “abyss” and has risen into the universal life of thinking.
In very ancient a times when man had but little feeling of selfhood, feeling himself merely as a member of his tribe, he did not say: “I think,” but: “the world thinks in me.” This had to change, for otherwise man would never have reached the possibility of freedom. His consciousness contracted until it became as narrow as his physical body which gave him his 'I'-consciousness, and to-day he says rightly: “I think.” as we have seen, his next step must be to be able to say: “When I truly think, then at the same time the world thinks in me.”
From the above line of thought it follows that deeds done on the fourth level will be free deeds, done under no compulsion---neither the external compulsion of authority, nor the internal compulsion of selfish desires. The external compulsions are overcome through knowledge. There is no need to compel a man to do what he himself recognizes as right. The inner compulsion is overcome through self-development, i.e., not by exterminating feelings and will impulses as attempted in misunderstood asceticism, but by transforming them.
When man's being is understood in terms of his present stage of evolution, one cannot ask whether he is free or not, for he is partly free and partly unfree. He is free insofar as he has freed himself from external and internal fetters; he is unfree insofar as he has not yet managed this.
In connection with the four levels of development described in Chapter IX, attention may be drawn to something else. Particularly in this book Steiner shows how utterly and completely man is thrown back upon himself; his vision of a spiritual world has largely ceased or has become decadent.. The idea of some Godhead guiding and leading mankind from a realm external to man is utterly rejected here. This has led superficial readers to miss the essential point, namely, that Steiner also clearly shows that the very Spiritual Powers that created the world live within what he describes as the being of thinking. And that within this being, man's thinking spirit lives. One may indeed feel cast down by the mighty picture of what man could be, (developed in Chapter IX) and, in face of human weaknesses in general and one's own in particular, feel that the way to freedom is too long and too difficult. But the more one studies and ponders this chapter in particular the more one is led to the realization that the power within thinking of which man partakes---the power which Steiner calls spiritual love---is in fact the power of Christ.
The description of the interaction between thinking and man's bodily nature in Chapter IX may be seen as an ordinary human individuality incarnating into his particular bodily vessel. It can also be seen as a picture of the greatest event in the history of mankind. Instead of an as yet undeveloped human 'I' one might picture the “I AM” of the world incarnating into the body of Jesus of Nazareth and during three years completely spiritualizing a human vessel, and through Death and Resurrection, bestowing the power to do so upon mankind, that is, on each individual human being incarnating after the Event of Golgotha. This thought may kindle the realization that meditation, which Steiner here calls “the unusual activity of observing one's own thinking,”can be carried out in the right way only if done in a mood of prayer. For to practice meditation is to enter the temple and approach the fountain of life. In the concluding part, Consequences Of Monism, Rudolf Steiner expresses this when he says: “A life within Reality, filled with the content of thought, is at the same time a life in God.”
Chapter X Philosophy of Freedom and Monism
If Chapter IX is compared with the innermost sanctuary of the temple---where to the pupil was revealed at last the secret of existence---then one could say that in the remaining chapters the reader---having now left the innermost sanctuary---looks back upon it, asking, “How does this knowledge apply to practical life?"
In each of the remaining five chapters certain aspects of life are considered which appear very different in the light that has been shed on the being of man. The usual viewpoint is often completely reversed.
In Chapter X we see that for an understanding of freedom it is essential to understand thinking. In Chapter III Steiner draws attention to the fact that knowledge of thinking is attained in the same way as knowledge of anything else: by observation and thinking. He shows that the moment a person attempts this he takes the first step on the pilgrimage in search of man. (See Man's Search for Man, by Joan de Ris Allen, St. George Books, 1960) He sets out on life's greatest adventure! This, to begin with , is to experience thinking as a reality which it is possible to observe and contemplate as objectively as one observes and contemplates other facts and objects. But when thinking is the object under consideration, all the doubts one may have concerning the validity of knowledge as such vanish, because here perception and knowledge do not come to us from two different sources. Here, seeing is knowing.
A tremendous mystery begins to be unveiled, once man sets foot upon this path. Thinking is seen, on the one hand, as the very Being of the Godhead of whose substance---when he actively thinks---man can and does partake. Nevertheless, what he thus partakes of, man himself creates in the moment of participation. ---It is not just handed to him in the way he finds the objects and events around him. This “divine substance” may indeed be misunderstood and used in a merely one-sided way, as happens when eternal nature is investigated without taking account of thinking.
In Chapter III we see that the moment when man “turns around” and begins to observe thinking, he begins to knock on the door of a different world. It is into this world that a study of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity leads the reader—step by step---without his losing firm footing in the ordinary world for a moment. The reader is not asked to accept this or that theory; he is simply asked to look at the great mystery within him---Thinking.
In Chapter X we see that it is just because man partakes of thinking in this extraordinary way that he has the possibility to develop himself into a being who is free. He can also fail to do so. For example, with extreme cleverness he may apply the mighty power of thinking to external phenomena, yet remain blind in regard to his own being (in regard to man). Or he may use thinking merely to gratify cravings in his bodily nature. In either case he does not discover his own self, for, his 'I' is to be found neither in external phenomena nor in his bodily nature, which is also a part of the external world. He gets entangled in what should be merely a tool for something higher. Steiner points out that a criminal deed is not and never can be a deed of man's individuality. In the light of the four levels of moral life described in Chapter IX one must say that his spirit or 'I' cannot shine in and take proper possession of the “house.” In other words, to be a criminal is an illness, an illness from which it can be said we all suffer to some degree. It is an illness which man will cure as he progresses in knowledge and in development of his life of feelings.
Chapter X goes on to show that freedom can be understood only through knowledge of man's union---in the core of his being---with the universal process, i.e. with what Steiner in Chapter V calls the “All-One Being.” ( See Steiner's lecture on the Lord's Prayer.) If the universe is seen as a mechanistic universe then the idea of freedom for man is excluded—he is but a creature of necessity. If the Godhead is pictured as some Absolute Being, external to man, sending His forces and intentions into the human being, freedom is again excluded. Then man is slave to the Godhead, and however good and perfect, he cannot be said to be free.
The very essence of freedom implies that it can neither be given nor taken away. Each individual must win it anew in each moment. In other words, freedom is not something one can possess, is a spiritual activity.
Chapter XI World and Life Purpose (Mankind's Destination)
Chapter XI shows that this relationship of man to the world's foundation throws a new light on what we understand by purpose. Purpose is seen as applicable only in the sphere of man. To set oneself a purpose it is necessary first to picture to one-self the future deed. Only man does this. The creatures belonging to the kingdoms below man cannot develop themselves consciously and purposefully. They cannot picture to themselves a future deed; they simply unfold according to inner laws. Steiner shows in Chapter IX that through thinking man makes his own laws by means of which he transforms himself. In regard to the world above man something which is higher than human purpose holds sway. In that realm thoughts are also deeds. For example, the archetypal plant as Goethe saw it (referred to above) cannot be said to create the plant world according to a set purpose. Rather, the archetypal plant exists as a spiritual reality and wherever the possibility arises it manifests outwardly, i.e., in plants. Similarly, man's nature and the world's final goal—viewed not from the human aspect, but from that of the spiritual world, must be seen to be in existence as, ideal, as a spiritual reality. This reality will become physical reality also, when man transforms it. For man it becomes purpose, but cannot be said to be purpose in that higher world. It is pointed out in Chapter XI that life-purposes which man does not set for himself are “illegitimate assumptions.” man does not enter upon life's voyage along a fixed route. Circumstances come to meet him, but what he makes of them is left entirely to him. How much of his higher self he makes his own and brings to expression in life is completely in his own hands. Thus he is the maker of his own destiny.
Chapter XII Moral Imagination (Darwinism and Morality)
In Chapter XII Steiner explains moral intuition, moral imagination and moral technique, the spiritual capacities already referred to. As already shown these develop only through man's initiative. In Chapter XII is shown also how men need one another along this path, though the way of each person is necessarily individual and unique, and therefore must to some extent be walked alone.
To transform an ideal into a deed, moral intuition alone does not suffice. Something more is needed, and this Steiner called moral imagination. This is the ability to form a concrete picture of how a moral intuition may be realized in actual life, that is, to picture the transition from idea to deed. Moral technique will also be necessary. This consists of technical knowledge of already existing circumstances and facts in order that the new can be skillfully incorporated into the old, without doing damage to what exists already.
In an actual situation these faculties are often not as yet to be found in one and the same person. One man may have moral intuitions regarding some future task in the world. Others may help him to form from this a concrete picture of how to transform this into reality; and still others will have the necessary technical skill to incorporate the new into the old.---It is interesting and extremely “awakening” to consider the above in order to find out in which of the three spheres one tends to be asleep the most. Apart from this it is surprising that in general it is very often the moral technique that is lacking. Often we can observe a tendency to sweep aside the old in order to replace it by something new without giving sufficient consideration to the fact that the old has its place and must be the foundation on which the new is built up.
The transformation of moral ideas into concrete deed takes the path from moral intuition via moral imagination into moral technique. This path is the exact reverse of the way things are often done. Because we fail to reach the level of ethical individualism, the tendency is to look at a situation which is
in need of improvement and attempt, through trial and error, to alter things.---This procedure is of course justified in the sphere of physical experiments, but Steiner shows that this is not the case in spiritual or moral life. For example, people concerned with education may feel that present-day methods of educating children do not give satisfactory results and they will perhaps endeavor to devise a different method and, if not successful, discard it and try something else. In other words, they form abstract ideas on education and try arbitrarily to make the child conform to them. How different, if instead a beginning were to be made with a knowledge of man: direct knowledge, not only of his bodily requirements but of the whole process of his incarnating spirit! Such knowledge would lead naturally to a knowledge of how to educate the child so that education would help him to unfold his individual human capacities to the highest degree. To establish such an education moral technique would also be required in order not to sweep away existing methods which were right for past generations, but to bring them into harmony with the new. It may be added that this is meant as an illustration only and not as a criticism of any particular method of education, though attention may be drawn to the fact the schools have been established all over the world, based upon the knowledge of man depicted in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.
In the latter part of Chapter XII Steiner shows that what in Chapter IX is called ethical individualism—man's expression of the content of his true 'I'---in no way contradicts what is called the theory of evolution, provided only that this evolution is not misinterpreted and made to terminate with the ape but is extended to man as a moral being. Then we view the process of evolution the other way round—not as man evolving from the ape, but the ape as a creature who at a certain point of evolution fell away from man. Man is seen as existing before all else, though not as a physical being composed of matter, but in the realm of soul and spirit. Part of this spiritual being who was to become man, entered physical existence too soon. (See also Poppelbaum: Man and Animal.) In this way the kingdoms below man arose. In a way, the lower kingdoms sacrificed their own development in order that man could rise to a higher stage. Man cast them out; had he retained them in his own being his development as a free individuality would not have been possible. A person may have something lion-like in his make up, but had he actually retained lion within him, he would never have been able to receive the thinking spirit into himself. Man thus owes a debt to the other kingdoms of nature which provided him with the ground upon which he can pursue his own development. The science of the spirit, Anthroposophy, reveals that man's future evolution consists in redeeming the kingdoms below him, not by entertaining sentimental feelings for example, about the animals, but through self-development which transforms the animal-like qualities within his own bodily nature. This is beautifully depicted in works of art, such as Albrecht Durer's “St. Jerome” where the saint is seen with the lion lying peacefully at his feet.
In his course of lectures on St. John's Gospel Steiner gives a beautiful description of how a being on a higher level always owes a debt to those that remain on a lower level. The plant, “could it be conscious, like man, would bow down to the mineral kingdom, to the soil out of which it has grown, and say: Thou stone art to-day a lower creation among the works of nature than I; but without thee, lower kingdom, I could not subsist! And likewise, if the animal were to approach the plant and feel that the plant is the support of its existence, it would reflect: As an animal I am a higher being than thou, O Plant; but without thee I could not exist! And the animal would bow down with humility and say: To thee, lowly plant, which art humbler than I, I owe my existence! And in the human kingdom too, it would be likewise. All who have climbed higher on the ladder of development should bow down in a spiritual sense to those below, saying: You belong to an inferior world; but as the plant must bend to the stone, and the animal to the plant, so must man, at a higher stage, add: To thee who art humbler than I, I owe my existence!” Steiner ends this description by depicting the scene of the Washing of the Feet, where Christ bows down to the Twelve, without whose recognition He would have come in vain.
Chapter XIII The Value of Life (Pessimism and Optimism)
In Chapter XIII, Optimism and Pessimism are reviewed. A balance sheet is devised in order to estimate whether life contains more sorrow than pleasure. One may ask why Steiner deals at such length with a calculation which he shows is abstract and is never made in actual life. In reality man does not make his life dependent on whether he suffers more than he enjoys, but on whether his desire for existing enjoyments is strong enough to overcome all obstacles which stand in their way.
Man's desires, though to begin with perhaps very much bound up with bodily cravings or selfish demands, are transformed as he progresses. The creative Spirit, which created the world, shines into him and lives in his thinking. This is depicted as the All-One Being that pervades everything, a drop
of which, so to speak, constitutes the human individuality, the 'I'. The very nature of the human I is to create man's higher being by transforming his lower nature. In connection with this Steiner speaks about the fallacy of misunderstood ascetism which seeks to exterminate all bodily desires: if this is done there is nothing to transform. Self-development should not prevent a person enjoying the gifts earth brings, but should raise him above being enslaved by them.
The reason for Steiner's dealing in this chapter in such detail with the calculation of surplus of pleasure or pain could be that it shows how an abstract calculation—based on a mistaken view of human nature and lack of insight into the true relationship between man and world—may lead a man
to suicide. Speaking generally, one would have to say that in view of the picture of man Steiner has developed in this book, suicide could never solve any problems. The suicide kills his body (the tool for his spirit) but he does not “kill” the trouble that led him to this act.
In view of the suffering endured by countless people, for example, in the course of the recent wars, and of the dangers threatening mankind on all sides today, it is obvious that here we are dealing with a major problem. Steiner does not speak for or against suicide, but simply shows that in the light of a true knowledge of man, which takes into account not only of his bodily nature but also of his true individuality, suicide is no solution. It can only worsen the situation, since the suicide deprives himself of the very means by which something could be done to alter things.
In dealing with actual life neither one-sided optimism nor one-sided pessimism is justified, but only a true valuation of all of life's aspects. It will be seen that this is closely bound up with a development of the life of feeling. In his book, Knowledge of Higher Worlds, Steiner speaks of how, when a person gains control of his inner life, he eventually becomes able to confront his feeling as something objective. Instead of being overwhelmed by sorrow or joy his life of feeling becomes a means of knowledge, his feelings become “like scouts that instruct him about the world,” for in his feelings the world speaks to man and tells him its secrets.
Chapter XIV Individuality and Type
In the final chapter of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, Steiner shows that though man incarnates into a particular family, nation and race, is brought up in a definite way and lives either as a man or woman, this does not contradict either the idea of freedom nor the uniqueness of his individuality. All these things, when rightly understood, are not hindrances and should not be made into hindrances in an artificial way. They may be seen rather as opportunities and challenges to the spirit of man.
Self-knowledge may lead a person to realize why he came to a particular family, nation and race. He may recognize that this provides him with just those circumstances he needs at a particular time for his further progress. When confronted with a difficult human relationship, such insight may lead him to recognize that the deeper reason for his difficulties lies within himself, that certain qualities in himself may be enhanced or perhaps changed through transforming them. Seen in this light, life becomes rather like a work of art which each person creates for himself. His material is the circumstances that come to meet him; what he makes of this material is his life's adventure!
In the Addition to Chapter VIII Steiner speaks of the power of spiritual love within thinking, of its warm, luminous reality which is able to penetrate into the depth of the phenomena. In the final chapter we see that this power is an “organ” for comprehending the individuality of another person; without it, only his external qualities can be explained. A thinking which may suffice to grasp the external phenomena is not necessarily sufficiently strong and alive to judge people or solve social problems. This is explained by the fact that the creatures belonging to the kingdoms of nature have come to a certain final stage of development. The plant or animal reveal externally their inner qualities, but man does not. In him the “outer” corresponds to the “inner” only to the extent that he himself has made it correspond.
We saw in Chapter IX that with his thinking each human being may reach upward into the “Being of Thinking, the All-One Being which one may come to recognize as depicting the Being of Christ Whose light, as the power of spiritual love, shines into each human being. Therefore, each human being has the possibility to develop the “higher man” within him by transforming his bodily-soul nature to become an ever more perfect vessel for His light. This picture of man may kindle in one an infinite reverence for each human being. Whoever the person may be, even a so-called mentally retarded man or a criminal,one may recognize that the bodily vessel is too imperfect a tool to allow his spirit to shine through and take possession of the “house.” Yet within the All-One Being his spirit may shine far brighter than one's own.
The Consequences Of Monism
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity has a concluding part, The Consequences Of Monism, which sums up its content. This part may become a kind of test. For example, if it is possible to say in regard to every point in it, “This I have tested for myself, I have recognized its truth through my own experience,” then it could be said also that the book has been understood---though doubtless one must add that this is only the beginning. This is where the thoughts and ideas begin to grow within the reader and lead to a deeper understanding of life.
The present writer is only too well aware that this article is but a brief sketch, and that many essentials have not been touched upon. The intention was merely to draw attention to a few aspects, more particularly to Steiner's indications in the passage quoted at the beginning of the article: that the real importance of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity lies more in the way it is written than in the actual content—important though the latter may be. The book becomes a training in thinking which leads the reader to a consciousness of thinking. The person standing in the midst of modern life is not accustomed to exercise thinking for its own sake, i.e., to observe its own nature. To follow this book is to do just that: to observe thinking. The examples given in the book which usually refer to ordinary everyday situations in life, call the reader's attention not to these events, but to his own thinking about them. He comes to the experience that thoughts whose content is worthy of reverence. They begin to “speak” within him and tell him what they are in their own reality.
In approaching The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity a scientific training is doubtless a valuable asset, particularly a training in mathematics, for the same exactness of thought necessary for natural science is a fundamental prerequisite when observing one's own thinking. Nevertheless, ordinary thinking, even when thus trained, is not strong enough to penetrate to the hidden qualities in man and in life. This kind of thinking is trained to follow only the external sequence of events rather than to exercise its own inherent powers.
Even when ordinary thinking goes beyond the external event---which of necessity it must, and even more so in the case of the creative scientist—it always has a foothold, a support in the form of the external event. To understand man's nature—which is to experience, not theoretically but concretely, that being in man who does the thinking—it is necessary to take leave of such support, for this part of man's being is not found in the external world, but only in th spiritual world to which man's 'I' is the gateway. Thus, to study The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is to set out on the search for man's true origin. Although many “dragons” have to be fought on the way, obstacles in the form of self-delusions, these are far outweighed by the liberation from doubt in the inherent wisdom, goodness and beauty of man's being. St. Paul's exclamation, “ Not I, but Christ in me,” ceases to be merely beautiful words. It becomes the answer to the challenge, “Man know Thyself.”
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as a Path to Self-Knowledge
In a course of lectures titled Mystery Centers given at Dornach, Switzerland in 1923, Rudolf Steiner refers to his book, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, (The Philosophy of Freedom) as follows: