Notes on the study process

From Anthroposophy

This page collects quotes for the student of spiritual science about the particular characteristics of the process, which is a life-long soul process and not a process of intellectual study as we usually think about with the word 'study'.

The different sections lay out the importance of

  • approaching any topic from various perspectives
  • integrating these as a soul process of contemplation in order to build imaginations
  • working any apparent contradictions that arise from this
  • and living with questions that will always follow as part of this process too
  • which requires a certain attitude and approach to activate the whole soul
  • the importance of wonder or awe
  • the fire in the soul

For now this just provides some initial quotes, more will be added, also the categorization may not be ideal.

An open mind


Saint Paul says that many a thing that is foolishness before man is wisdom before God. So much of what science today sees only as foolishness could be 'wisdom before God'.

and also about 'reading in the physical world' where things may not be what they seem or what you think they are

So you see, much, very much is contained in the occult study of the world. The most important is not that we know: This or that book exists and contains this and that concerning the higher worlds. That is not the most important.

What the books contain must, naturally, be assimilated because that is the only way of finding what is right and true.

But the necessary thing is a certain ‘temper’ of the soul, whereby a man relates himself in a new way to the world, whereby he learns to have a different view of the things of the world. The important thing is that by this reading we prepare for the inner mobility and movement of the life of thought, for the weaving of thought, for the experience of thought-in-itself; that we also prepare to see the physical world in a different way. For even in their outer form things are not as they seem.


Thus, we gradually learn to read in the physical world.

The multi-facetted approach


So I give you an apparently personal view in the first talks, because I deliberately say nothing that I could not prove. On the other side, I have also convinced myself that that which I have to say that way absolutely corresponds with those who have represented the theosophical world view at all times and in particular with those who represent it today. They are like people who stand on different points and look at a city. If they draw a picture of the city, these pictures are somewhat different from each other, according to the perspective of the point of view in question. Also the world views are different which are described according to the own observations of the theosophical researchers, of course. But it is basically always the same. The world view, which I give, corresponds to the world views, which other theosophical researcher give. It absolutely corresponds and differs only in the perspective of the point of view.


Such apparent contradictions arise from the fact that even to spiritual vision a matter can be seen from very varied aspects.

One can walk round a tree, for instance, and make a picture of it from many sides. Each picture is true and there may be a hundred of them. This is naturally only a comparison, but in a certain respect it is perfectly right for the ages of earthly evolution to be considered too from many different aspects.

Today we will consider the evolution of our Earth in connection with the evolution of mankind from a different point of view, and will pay special attention to the human being himself. We will describe the processes which are presented in what we call the Akashic Record when we look back in spiritual vision to the past.


It is really essential that men of the present day should, in their whole attitude of mind, emerge from this frightful dogmatism that permeates modern science, and that matters should be [taken] seriously.

I will give you a good example. At Zurich and Basle I endeavored to explain what nonsense it is to consider a sequence of historical events in such a way that one event must necessarily arise from another. This is the same as if I said: Here is a light that illumines first an object a, then an object b, then an object c. I do not notice the light itself, but merely the fact that first a, then b, then c in turn becomes illumined. I should be mistaken if, on seeing a and then b illumined, I were to say that b is lighted from a, and when I see that c is illumined, I were then to say: c is lighted from b. This would be quite incorrect, for the illumination of b and c have nothing to do with a; they all receive light from a common source. I gave this example in my lectures in order to explain historical events.

Now suppose that somebody found this idea quite a nice one. This is possible, is it not, that an idea which has sprung up on anthroposophical soil should be found quite good? Indeed, here and there even our opponents have taken such ideas to use for themselves. Many indeed have become opponents because such things had to be censured. Thus it is quite possible that an analogy brought forward from an anthroposophical quarter should not be absolutely foolish. Suppose some person took it and used it in a connection differing from that in which I had used it. Suppose that he used it dogmatically, not symptomatically as I did. Suppose that he used it from quite a different attitude of mind, and that I heard a lecture in which he said: “The sequence of cause and effect is quite wrongly explained by saying that effect b is the result of cause a, effect c of cause b, for this would be the same as saying: ‘When three objects, a, b, and c, are illumined, then b is illumined by a, c by b’.”

Suppose I am listening to all this, and that the explanation is not given in the same connection in which I spoke at Basle and Zurich, then I should perhaps object to the lecturer's conclusions, arising from his connection. I should perhaps say: “Supposing that a, b and c are luminescent substances — there are such substances; when exposed to light they become luminous and can give light even when the source of light is removed — suppose that a, being luminescent, actually illumines b, and that b, being luminescent, illumines c, then b would in truth be lighted by a, and c by b. In this way the whole analogy can become very brittle, when it is used by someone who, in the course of his lecture, has not explained that concepts for the realities in the spiritual life are like photographs, which differ when taken from different points of view. If this is not said at the outset, if the lecturer does not lead up to ideas that conform to reality, so that these ideas are always ideas from a certain point of view, then what has been said quite rightly from a certain perspective may become nonsense when used in an absolute sense.


The difference lies in this: Does the speaker start from reality or ideas?

If from the latter, he will always be one-sided.

If he takes as his starting point reality — since he can only bring forward ideas and nothing else, and every idea is one-sided — he may and must produce one-sided ideas, for that is quite obvious. You will now understand that a complete, a fundamental alteration of the soul-life is essential. For this reason it is easy for people to criticize many ideas of which I am the author. I do not know if anyone has hit upon this particular criticism. I have myself already made all the criticisms that are necessary.

Men must now realize in what way the idea is related to the reality. Only then shall we be able to penetrate into reality. Otherwise we shall always quarrel about ideas. Today the whole world is fighting about ideas in the social sphere, even when this fight has been transformed into external deeds. The fight about ideas changes very frequently into external deeds. These things lead into the intimacies of the spiritual life. Those who would understand existence must reflect on such things.


What, then, was man like — man, the product of the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions — when he arrived on Earth?   We have already dealt with this question from very many aspects. Today we will look at it from yet another side. We cannot come to know occult facts by pinning ourselves down to a few abstract concepts; we have to approach the truth by throwing light on the facts from all sides. The paths of higher truth are complex, and only he can walk them who is willing patiently to trace their labyrinth.


.. there is reality only in what lies before one as an integrated whole .. … If you will try to get to the inner core of these things — and it must be by inward contemplation, not by means of the kind of intelligence employed in natural science — you will gradually find your way ..

1908-08-08-GA105 is about the process of investigation and the limits of asking ‘why’

These questions go to the very root of the matter. Anthroposophists do not enquire like many who imagine they are enquiring philosophically. For there are people who ask: Whence comes this or that? and when answered they ask further and further without end. This is only done as long as the inquirer has not risen to a spiritual observation of the world. Reasonably, one must come at last to a point where the significance of questions ceases. One might ask: Whence come these furrows on the road? The answer is: A cart passed this way. Then comes the further question: Whence came the cart? And one might answer: A man on certain business was using it. They then ask: What kind of business? At length the questions would come to an end; you would have been led so far that you would have arrived in quite different realms. If the subject of the interrogation is concerned with an idea, one only arrives if one remains in abstractions, at endless questions. But in concrete observations one arrives at last at Spiritual Beings, and one then inquires no longer: Why are they doing this? But one asks: What are they doing? It is necessary that one should educate oneself to see the limitations of questions.


I have often emphasized that as a rule in occultism one always goes wrong and can make terrible mistakes unless one describes out of the occult facts and does not trust oneself to mere intellect or any purely logical conclusions.


“The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life”

Here you will see how profound, how literally true the religious records are.

Today many are distressed when one says that the religious records are literally true. Many quote a saying which is true; it is quoted, however, by lazy people, not as a true statement but from indolence. It is the saying: “The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.”

Note: this is a quote from the Bible from Corinthians 3:6), but we also find in John 6:63

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life.

lecture continuation:

From this they deduce the right to take no notice at all of what stands in the records, to have no longer the will to recognize what is actually there, for it is the “dead letter” they say. And so they like to let their spirit shine and concoct all sorts of fantasies. These persons may indeed be very clever in their explanations, but that is not the point; the point is that we ought really to see in the records what is contained un them.

The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life”

has the same significance in mystical language as the saying of Goethe,

“He who has not this, this dying and becoming, is but a sad guest upon the dark earth.”

This saying does not mean: “If you wish to lead some one to a higher knowledge you must slay him,” but it means that just through the culture of the physical world man must uplift himself to spirituality.

So also the letter is the body of the spirit, and we must first have and understand it, then we may say that we can find the spirit in it. The letter, the understood letter, must then die so that the spirit may be resurrected from it.

This saying is not an injunction to fancy anything you please about what is contained in the religious records. When we recognize the true significance of this rainbow as we have represented it, something like deep respect for the religious records invades our soul, and we get an idea of how, through the deepening of the understanding by the teachings of Anthroposophy, man first attains to true and real feelings and advances to a true understanding of the religious records by an act of will.


Now I have shown you how the more subconscious state of the sleep-walker, the Jacob Boehme type of vision, and the Swedenborg type, are related to what can be striven for consciously as Intuition, Imagination, Inspiration. These have had to be put in a different order to-day because I have been giving a cosmic picture. If this is done in accordance not with names but with the things in themselves, then, if descriptions are given from different points of view, the sequence has to be changed, just as things may often appear in a different order when the perspective is changed. For instance, say I am between two men, with one behind me and the other in front. If I move ahead of the one in front, then I can face them both. So, too, in cosmic space things change in accordance with our point of view. That is why in my lecture-cycles you find things appearing in a different order according to the various standpoints from which they have to be described. When this is not fully appreciated and anyone persists in an abstract approach, he will say: This does not tally. But the only people who can afford to satisfy the pure intellectualist in this matter are those whose descriptions derive from mere assumptions. Anyone who is describing realities must allow them to appear contradictory, as from different points of view they often can.

All forces of the soul must be activated

On Active soul participation: a separate page with examples is dedicated to yokes about movie versions of Outline of Esoteric Science, or Spinoza's Ethica, and the popularity for passive spoon feeding .. about a century ago that was!


All the forces of the soul must be activated if the essence of Anthroposophy is to be grasped. Subjects must be studied from constantly new sides.


What is the best result that can be achieved by spiritual deepening? One could imagine someone among you going out after the lecture and saying at the door, “I have forgotten every single word of it!” That would, of course, be an extreme case, but it would really not be the greatest calamity. For I could imagine that such a person does nevertheless take with him a feeling resulting from what he has heard here, even though he may have forgotten everything! It is this feeling in the soul that is important. When we are listening to the words we must surrender ourselves wholly in order that our souls shall be filled with the great impulse. When the spirit-knowledge we acquire contributes to the betterment of our souls, then we really have achieved something. Above all, when spiritual science helps us to understand our fellow men a little better, it has fulfilled its function, for spiritual science is life, immediate life. It is not refuted or confirmed by disputation or logic. It is put to the test and its value determined by life itself, and it will establish itself because it is able to find human beings into whose souls it is allowed to enter.


Getting the feeling and spirit rather than the words themselves

These are significant facts of evolution. They are voiced not on account of their content — and in this case, too, not so much on this account — but on account of the spirit they carry, so that there may arise in souls feelings that ought to be the outcome of such words. If the feelings remain with those who have absorbed such truths, even if the actual words are forgotten, not so much is lost, after all.

Let us take the more radical case. Suppose that there were someone among us who would forget everything that had just been said, but would only retain the feeling that can flow from such words. Such a person would, nevertheless, in an anthroposophical sense, receive enough of what is meant by them.

After all, we have to make use of words, and words sometimes appear theoretical.

We must learn to look through the words to the essence and receive this into the soul.


Feeling without knowing I do not actually know, but I feel that it expresses a mystery.’ It is this that inspires our souls and makes our hearts glow when we look at certain forms. We cannot always be conscious of what lies behind them, but our astral body, our subconscious being, contains the mysteries of the cosmos and senses them in the depths just as it contains the secrets of mathematics, as I told you in the previous lecture. When a man says, ‘I feel beauty here, but I cannot explain to myself what it really is,’ something is taking place in his astral body. This he may express by saying that he senses the existence of deep and mysterious secrets of the cosmos which do not take the form of ideas and thoughts but are expressed in a feeling, ‘Ah, how beautiful this form is.’ The reason why he feels this as warmth pouring through his heart and soul is that if he were as conscious in his astral body as he is in his ego he would have a deep knowledge of the cosmos.

On integration


This is the quote that inspired a.o. Maximilian Rebholz (systematic anthroposophy), Ernst Hagemann, Oskar Kuerten, and many others - they mentioned this quote explicitly and took up the challenge to contribute to it. This wiki site is to be seen in the same spirit of contribution.

Even when a person did not yet reach this stage (of clairvoyance), one can still help oneself upto a certain degree, slowly coming closer slowly step by step, to develop the capacity to feel innerly, what one is confronted with externally.

When one takes together everything that has been lectured about in spiritual science, then you can compose for yourself the scheme (diagram) that was presented here today.

You just have to go through the trouble, not just to read and read, the one thing after one another, but to actively try and connect the things that have the subject of the lectures.

One can develop this scheme from all the lecture cycle materials that are available. And it is extremely useful, because when one works through all the materials offered in the lectures in this way, one moves on, from a purely external intake, to an inner reworking of the contents. And this inner work has a high value for one’s true development.

Today I gave an example, of how one can develop such a scheme from the lecture cycles.

Now I hope, that many amongst you will develop and construct such schemes on and on.

Then the endless speculation about the contents of the lecture cycles will diminish, which is very good; and besides people will go through inner development through such amalgamations. Some people will really move on and develop themselves through such fruitful amalgamations. One cannot just make a few such amalgamations from the cycles though.

From all that is available now as lecture materials, one can – if one really gets to it seriously – not make hundreds, but many, many thousands, and maybe even more, such amalgamations or compositions. So you see, there is enough to do, when one uses in such obviously fruitful approach all that has been given in the lectures.


Naturally, I can only describe individual details regarding the manifestations of Ahriman and Lucifer. But you should try to collect all the individual characteristics I have described into comprehensive pictures of them both.


By bringing together all the references found here and there in anthroposophical literature, we shall be able, first of all, to comprehend once more the sun's connection with the ego.


I have spoken of the life between death and a new birth on many occasions and from many different points of view, for only so is it possible to develop an adequate idea of it. Today I propose to speak from still another point of view. By bringing together what is given at different times, you will be able gradually to build up a complete picture.


The experiences of man in the super-sensible world can be described in many ways. Yesterday I described them to you in another way; now I have been describing them to you in connection with the world of stars and with what takes place on Earth in the consecutive epochs of civilisation. All these descriptions must gradually be built up together into one whole. It would be a mistake to say: Yes, but how is it that on one occasion you describe man's life between death and rebirth in one way and on another occasion in quite a different way? If a man goes to a city once or twice or three times, he will certainly describe things differently, as his knowledge of the city grows. The details of all his descriptions have then to be put together. In the same way must the descriptions of man's experiences in the super-sensible world be brought together, be considered and pondered in all their connections. Thus alone can we gain an impression of what the super-sensible world really is and what man experiences there. This was the point I wanted to reach in the present lecture. In the lecture this evening I will speak of further experiences undergone by the human being in his existence between death and a new birth


You will therefore only be able to form a complete idea of the very intimate processes which here take place, if you compare what was said in the last lecture with much that was said in my course of lectures given at Düsseldorf on the Hierarchies, in which a comprehensive idea was given of the heavenly part of the activity of the three hierarchies. These things are by no means so simple, and, to make the mission of the earth comprehensible, it is necessary to select the point of view in such a way that we may see the reflections of the Spirits of these hierarchies in what we call the elements of earth-existence.

Apparent contradictions


Many statements that are apparently contradictory prove to contain the deepest truth.


We then become increasingly clear about them, but must not let ourselves be misled by what appear here and there to be contradictions. Such apparent contradictions arise from the fact that even to spiritual vision a matter can be seen from very varied aspects. One can walk round a tree, for instance, and make a picture of it from many sides. Each picture is true and there may be a hundred of them. This is naturally only a comparison, but in a certain respect it is perfectly right for the ages of earthly evolution to be considered too from many different aspects.


An apparent contradiction, but one of the many contradictions which are to be found in every occult work and exposition. You may be sure of one thing; that an exposition which runs so smoothly that the ordinary human intellect can find no contradiction is certainly not based on an occult foundation. Nothing un world-evolution is so shallow and trivial as that which the human intellect, the ordinary intelligence perceives as free from contradiction. One must penetrate more deeply into the substrata of human contemplation and then the contradictions will disappear. One who observes how a plant grows from root to fruit, how the green leaf changes into the petals, these into the stamens, etc., may say, “Here we have contradictory forms, the flower-leaf contradicts the stem-leaf.” But one who looks more deeply will see the unity, the deeper unity in the contradiction. So it is with what the intellect can see in the world. It is precisely in the deepest wisdom that it sees contradictions.

1908-10-29-GA107 – illuminating it from different sides, illuminating diverse aspects

First it was shown, for instance, that there exist four group souls of which only the names are at first given. Then some or other aspect is chosen, and the matter is illuminated from outside. And so we approach continually from another side. We go around what is first presented, and illuminate it from the most diverse aspects.

Whoever grasps this will never be able to say that theosophical matters contradict each other. This is also the case, even in the greatest things we consider. The differences come from the various standpoints from which one observes the matter.

Let us take with us from this gathering what one might call inner tolerance.

1909-04-17-GA110 is a strong summary (followed by an illustration)

Much that has been mentioned in these lectures has been also demonstrated from different standpoints, in lectures held in Stuttgart, and in Leipzig; and if you take those lectures and compare them superficially with each other, you may indeed find some contradiction between this or that expression. This happens only because it is my task to speak in these lectures not of speculative theories, but about the facts of clairvoyant consciousness, and because facts appear in a different way when they are considered from one side or from another. To use a comparison — a tree you are painting from one side will appear different when you paint it from the other side, yet it will still be the same tree. It is the same with descriptions of spiritual facts, when the light is turned on them from different sides. Certainly, if one starts with one or two ideas only, and builds a whole system upon them, it is easy to form an abstract system; but we are working from below upwards, and the unity of the whole will first be revealed in the crown. With each statement you must reflect in what sense, and in what direction it has been made.

1911-03-23 – vast area, so as a process .. initially pieces puzzle with contradictions

Such an objection a man may make if he has not yet penetrated very deeply into the real nature of spiritual-scientific knowledge. Though readily understood, this is one of those objections that disappear of themselves when one has time and patience to go more deeply into these matters. You will generally find the following to be true: When anyone approaches what is given out through spiritual science with a certain sort of knowledge gathered from all that belongs to present-day science, contradiction after contradiction may result till finally one can get no further.

And, if a man is quick to form opinions, he will certainly not be able to reach any other conclusion than that spiritual science is a sort of madness which does not harmonise in the slightest degree with the results obtained by external science.

If, however, a man follows these things with patience, he will see that there is no contradiction, not even of the most minute kind, between what comes forth from spiritual science and what may be presented by external science. The difficulty before us is this, that the field of anthroposophical or spiritual science as a whole is so extensive that it is never possible to present more than a part of it.

When people approach such parts they may feel discrepancies such as that which we have described; yet it would be impossible to begin in any other way than this with the much needed bringing of the anthroposophical world-conception into the culture and knowledge of our day.


These things are absolutely in accord, and if certain things appear to contradict what was represented earlier, we must always understand that these contradictions will solve themselves if everything is taken into consideration and studied.


Such things as I am about to discuss can apparently be refuted easily by so-called external experience, but the Spiritual Scientist must become accustomed to the fact that these refutations are only apparent, and that what is actually derived from the observations of inward processes is true. If the outer facts seem contradictory, we must search and see in how far they are illusion.


As truth's true servant

Unperturbed by worldly contradiction

1916-03-20-GA174a – apparent contradictions come with different standpoints

We always contemplate things from different standpoints, so that we always obtain other connections with the surrounding kingdoms, and those who cannot read (an encompassing view of things is needed in order to be able to read) may discover many contradictions in our descriptions, but this is only due to the fact that they ignore the standpoints from which these things are viewed.


I cannot put a mechanical, lifeless process in place of something living. But picture the Philosophy of Freedom as something alive — which indeed it is — and then imagine it growing. From it, then develops what only a person who tries to cull or pick out something from concepts will not figure out. All objections concerning contradictions are based on just this, namely, that people cannot understand the nature of living thinking as opposed to the dead thinking that dominates the whole world and all of civilization today. In the world of living things, everything develops from within,


I described this state of sleep from a certain aspect last time I was here.

I now want to add something about the processes mentioned then. I know that such things are easily misunderstood. Over and over again one hears that people are saying: “Last time he described man's experience between going to sleep and waking, and now he is telling us something different about it.”

My dear friends, if I tell you what an official experiences in his office, it does not contradict what later I tell you about him in the bosom of his family. The two things go together. So you must be clear that when I tell you of experiences between going to sleep and waking this is not the whole story, just as an official can still have a family life outside his office.

1923-04-06-GA224 – consider the whole > the pieces

Everything, you see, fits into a whole.

It is essential to realise that the further we progress in Anthroposophy, the more completely do we find the details uniting and forming one whole.

Contradictions may well be found in what is said concerning one particular domain or another; this is inevitable, because before arriving at any real insight in one domain we need, in reality, to study this domain in connection with the whole. Otherwise our conclusions are like that of a man who makes statements about a planet and is unable to understand the causes of its specific movements. In such a case it is of course necessary to reckon with the whole planetary system. Thus, if we wish really to know something about the world and about life, we must try to fathom all the connections, all the details of actual realities, both in the physical world and in the worlds of soul and spirit.

1914 Arenson

Certainly these communications are often of such a nature that they may perhaps appear at first sight to be without visible connection with one another; sometimes they even offer direct contradictions — open contradictions. But we have often had occasion to learn that the apparently missing links are in reality there, and that all contradictions blend together to a higher harmony. We have found that our work must consist in the tracing of these links and in the solving of these contradictions by our own efforts. In pursuance of this plan of study we had the following remarkable experience. When we had succeeded in duly collecting and arranging the material supplied to us, these connecting links started up before us as if of themselves, and the contradictions were solved without effort. Hand in hand with this experience went a new conviction, namely, that the manner in which these communications are made to us is in itself a powerful educative factor, and that by following up the traces of these connections ourselves and by solving for ourselves the contradictions, we transform the announcements of the occultist into knowledge of our own. Without such knowledge, acquired by individual work, all the wisdom proclaimed to us would be of little value; we should remain theorists without the power to exercise a health-giving influence on our lives. With that self-won knowledge we fit ourselves to undertake the mission allotted to us in universal evolution, for the fulfilment of which we are being prepared and educated by the occultist.


Thus, behind all that the Evangelists tell us, we have a single act — the Deed of Christ; but each tells of it from the point of view which he took up from the beginning. The reason is that each of the Evangelists was absorbed in what his clairvoyant vision revealed to him and which he was fitted to receive; the rest passed him by. We now realize that this all-comprehensive event, which is described to us from four sides, is not full of contradictions. Once we are able to gather these different points of view into one we learn to understand it just because it is so described. It then also seems quite natural that the confession of Peter, with which we dealt in the last lecture, is only found in the Gospel of Matthew, and not in the others.

No it is not simple

1907-12-04-GA098 extract

From all this we can see that patience is necessary for the penetration into Spiritual Science. The world is constructed in a complicated way, and the highest truths are not the simplest.

It is an utterly senseless way of speaking to declare that the highest things can be grasped with the simplest concepts. This is due only to laziness.

It is admitted of course, that it is not possible to understand a clock at once, but 'the world', people believe, 'can be understood without any further trouble'. If we wish to grasp the Divine, infinite patience is needed for the Divine contains everything. In order to understand the world, people wish to apply the simplest concepts, but this is simply laziness ... no matter how reverently the soul may say it.

The Divine element is profound, and an eternity is needed in order to grasp it. Man dares, indeed, the spark of the Godhead within him, but the nature and Being of this Godhead can be understood only by collecting a knowledge of the facts of the world.

The great patience and renunciation which knowledge entails, is what we must learn first of all. We ourselves must gradually mature in order to form judgments. The world is infinite at every point. And we must be modest enough to say that everything is, in a certain sense, only a half-truth.

We must transform everything into moral impulses, even the classification of man's being into ten or twelve members. Spiritual Science gives us pictures which we should unite with our feelings. For, Spiritual Science is only of value when we draw from it not merely knowledge, but are filled with the noblest feelings for the profundity of the world around us. All the greater then, will be the longing for the Divine. The very fact that the Divine appears to man so far removed, in distinct height, should incite him so much the more to become strong, in order that he may again find his way thither


The first words of the Gospel of St. John are incisive, although, perhaps, very difficult to understand, as many may say.

But should the most profound mysteries of the world be expressed in trivial language?

Is it not a strange point of view, a real insult to what is Holy when one says, for example, that in order to understand a watch one must penetrate deeply into the nature of the thing with the understanding, but for a comprehension of the Divine in the world, the simple, plain, naive human intelligence should suffice?

It is a very bad thing for present humanity that it has reached the point of saying, when reference is made to the profoundness of religious documents: 0! why all these complicated explanations? It should all be plain and simple. However, only those who have the good intention and good will to plunge down into the great cosmic facts can penetrate into the deep meaning of such words as those at the very beginning of the most profound of the gospels, this Gospel of St. John, words that are in fact a paraphrase of Spiritual Science.


Such words can easily be taken as a license for folly. But whoever refuses wisdom just because, in his opinion, the most sublime mysteries should be expressed in the simplest form possible, does so, although often quite unconsciously, merely from an inclination toward psychic ease.

When it is said, “God giveth not the spirit by measure” (metre), it only means that the “measure” or metre does not help towards the spirit. But where the spirit really exists, there also is “measure.”

Not everyone who has “measure” has the “spirit;” but one who has the “spirit” will come most certainly to “measure” or metre.

Naturally, certain things cannot be reversed. It is not an evidence of possessing the “spirit” if one has no “measure;” nor is the possession of “measure” a proof of the “spirit.” Science is certainly no sign of wisdom, nor is a lack of science a proof of it.


The truths of religious documents come from the depths of wisdom. Many people will say, however: `You give us something complicated; we want the gospel to be simple and naive. Great truths should not be complicated.' In a way they are right, but not only simple but also wisdom-filled thinking must be able to find the most sublime truths. The point of view from which we consider these things cannot be high enough. In future we must let go more and more of the desire for ease and enter into the most profound insights with great seriousness.

Simple intellectual logic cannot be used to discover spiritual realities


But let us begin with an admonition, a warning against a mechanical approach to the repetitions. When in the realm of spiritual science we speak of such repetitions, saying that the first cultural epoch repeats itself in the seventh, the third in the fifth, etc., it is easy to let a certain gift for combinations get the upper hand, so that we try to apply such schemes or diagrams in other contexts also. It is easy to believe that we can do this, and many books on theosophy actually contain a good deal of rubbish of this sort.

Hence there must be a strong warning that such combinations are not controlling, but only perception, spiritual vision, without which we go astray. Such combinations must be warned against.

What we can read in the spiritual world may be understood, but not discovered, through logic. It can be discovered only through experience.

Living with questions

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (1903)

I beg you, have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

In 1909-03-11-GA057 Goethe's state of soul is described and the quote below captures the essence of this point:

When we consider Goethe's soul with its deep and honest striving for knowledge, we begin to doubt whether it is possible to have clear ideas or to speculate much about it. We can only try to place the fact before our souls so that any feeling for such things may be satisfied. But anyone understanding life and the way in which it develops through age, knows that in spite of such battles, Goethe was a man in whose soul a germ had been laid which would ripen and bear fruit very much later, in years to come. We see too how the germs which developed later so wonderfully in Faust were really there, and much can be gained from the study of this life by those who have a distinct leaning to spiritual science. Today unfortunately such striving is very superficial. We see many people taking it up in a hurry, but they drop it again after having acquired a few ideas. The riddles that exist are only known to one who can look back to a time twenty or thirty years previously when a fluid was poured into his soul and then stored over by the events of the following years and by many experiences, so that only thirty years later he is able to give an approximate answer respecting what was poured in his soul so long before. ..


It is particularly interesting to observe how a chela relates to these masters in the world of devachan. I have already described how thoughts in devachan behave, how they stream forth to fulfil their destiny.

That is not the case (or not in the same way) with thoughts that a chela sends upward in devotion to the masters or mahatmas, in order to inquire about information concerning the deepest truths. The thought that the chela sends up to the spiritual leaders follows a very special path, different from that of ordinary thoughts. It is as if the thought did not stream fully up to the goal of its intent.

This thought, this call for knowledge concerning higher worlds, at first streams into the region that I have called the akasha region.

Then the thought turns and returns to the student, but not the same way it ascended, but rather enriched and glowing with what comes forth from the master.

This is how it is to be understood when it is always stressed that the master is the higher self of the human being. In a certain way our own thoughts speak to us when we enter into con­versation with these more highly evolved human spirits.

Nothing foreign to us should be transferred into us; the masters do not want to make us into slaves in spirit. For this reason, the masters do not I send us their thoughts but our own, so that we recognize that it is the substance that we ourselves have let stream forth.

These are individual processes, which those experience who are in a position as incarnated beings between birth and death to move about within devachan. It is those whose sense for devachan has already been opened here in a bodily nature, those who can lift their spirit out of the shell of their bodily nature.

1904-12-15-GA053 (SWCC)

Equanimity must be preserved, patience must be practiced .. nervousness and haste will not permit the soul's development.

Furthermore, it is necessary that man rid himself of something that is difficult to cast aside in our civilization, namely, the urge to learn “what is new.” This has tremendous influence on the soul-organ.

If one cannot get hold of a newspaper fast enough and tell the news to somebody else, if a person also cannot keep what he has seen and heard to himself and cannot suppress the desire to pass it on, his soul will never achieve any degree of development. It is also necessary that one acquire a certain definite manner of judging one's fellowmen. It is difficult to attain an uncritical attitude, but understanding must take the place of criticism. It suppresses the advancement of the soul if you confront your fellowman immediately with your own opinion. We must hear the other out first, and this listening is an extraordinarily effective means for the development of the soul eyes. Anybody who reaches a higher level in this direction owes it to having learned to abstain from criticizing and judging everybody and everything. How can we look understandingly into somebody's being? We should not condemn but understand the criminal's personality, understand the criminal and the saint equally well. Empathy for each and everyone is required and this is what is meant with higher, occult “listening.”

Thus, if a person brings himself with strict self-control to the point of not evaluating his fellowman, or the rest of the world for that matter, according to his personal judgment, opinion and prejudice and instead lets both work on him in silence, he has the chance to gain esoteric (spiritiual) powers. Every moment during which a person becomes determined to refrain from thinking an evil thought about his fellowman is a moment gained.

A wise man can learn from a child. A simple-minded person can consider a wise man's utterances in like manner as a child's babblings, convinced that he is superior to a child and unaware of the practicality of wisdom. Only when he has learned to listen to the stammering of a babe as if it were a revelation, has he created within him power that wells forth from his soul.

Finally, one cannot expect the soul eyes to open immediately. A person who combats rage, anger, curiosity and other negative qualities, is first of all removing hindrances that walled up his soul. Ever and again must this effort be repeated. A clairvoyant person can evaluate to what extent the delicate soul organs are emerging. When human utterances have lost their edge and have become kind and filled with understanding for fellowmen, the spiritual organ located in the vicinity of the larynx is awakened. It takes long practice, however, before a person becomes aware of this himself. It took millions of years for the physical eye to develop in man, from tiny pin-points to early beginnings of a lens to the complicated structure of the eye. The soul eye does not take as long. It requires several months in one, longer in another person. One must have patience. The moment when these delicate soul structures first begin to perceive comes to everybody sooner or later. That is, if a person continues the exercises and particularly if he develops certain virtues, which sometimes the hardships of life itself can develop.

There are three virtues in particular that must be developed that nearly turn man into a clairvoyant. Only they must he practiced with the necessary intensity and emphasis. They are: Self-confidence paired with humility, self-control paired with gentleness, and presence of mind coupled with perseverance. There are the great levers of spiritual development.. The three first-mentioned virtues, however, will lead to dreadful vices if they are not each coupled with the three other virtues, humility, gentleness and perseverance.

Schema FMC00.125 illustrates 'living with questions', and tells about how in ancient times asked questions to the cosmos and waited in receptive devotion for answers (1922-06-25-GA213)


And Goethe on this topic wrote (see GA001B, reference here taken from footnote on lecture 1 of GA200 in EN version 1988):

I do not rest until I find a significant point from which a great deal can be deduced or, rather, which of its own will bring forth a great deal and present this to me, and which I then, with attention and receptivity, work on further faithfully and carefully. If, in my experience, I find some phenomenom which I cannot deduce, I simply let it lie as a problem, and I have found, in my long life, this way of doing to be very beneficial. For when I was not able for a long time to unravel the origin or connection of some phenomenon but had to put it to one side, I found that, years later, it all suddenly became clear in the most beautiful way.



one must have such humility, such modesty, that

-         one will not desire to understand it

-         until one has called forth in one's self the possibility of understanding it.

It is precisely in our age that such humility is hardly to be found.

The importance of wonder of 'awe'

1912-01-01-GA134 (SWCC)

I have drawn your attention to a perception that Man can acquire when he educates his faculty for knowledge in the way we described; when his soul, in its efforts after knowledge, enters into the moods we characterised as wonder, reverence, wisdom-filled harmony with the events of the world, and lastly, devotion and surrender to the whole world process. If the soul enters these moods or conditions, Man's faculty of knowledge can gradually rise to a perception of two converse processes that are everywhere around him. Man learns to distinguish in his environment between what is becoming and what is dying away. He says to himself at every turn: Here I have to do with a process of becoming, something that will reach perfection only in the future, and here again, on the other hand, I encounter a gradual dying away, a gradual disappearing. We perceive the things of the world as existing in a region where everything is either coming into being or passing away

1912-02-03-GA143 has as title 'Conscience and Wonder as Indications of Spiritual Vision in the Past and in the Future' (SWCC)

There are two experiences in human life, occurring in ordinary normal consciousness, which simply remain inexplicable if we do not acknowledge the existence of a spiritual world. .. [editor The first is wonder:] .. If someone is confronted by a fact which he cannot explain with the concepts which he has hitherto acquired, he is thrown into a state of wonder.

.. In ancient Greece the saying arose that all philosophy springs from amazement, from wonder. The experience which lies concealed in this sentence - and it is the experience of the ancient Greeks which is meant - cannot be traced in the most ancient times of Greek development. It is to be found in the history of philosophy only from a certain point of time onward. ..

.. we are amazed at what does not fit into our life as we have known it hitherto; but if we have only this amazement, the amazement of ordinary life, there is nothing particular in it other than astonishment at the unusual. He who is astonished at the sight of an automobile or a train is not accustomed to see such things, and his astonishment is nothing more than the astonishment at the uncustomary. Far more worthy of wonder, however, than astonishment at motor-cars and railways, at all that is unusual, is the fact that man can also begin to wonder at the usual. Consider for instance how the sun rises every morning. Those who are accustomed to this in their ordinary consciousness are not amazed at it. But when amazement begins to arise over everyday things which we are quite used to see, philosophy and knowledge result. Those who are richest in knowledge are men who can feel wonder over things which the ordinary human being simply accepts, for only then do we become true seekers after knowledge; and it is out of this realisation that the ancient Greeks originated the saying — All philosophy springs from wonder.

Thus in amazement we find an expression of what we have seen at an earlier time, while conscience is the expression of a future perception of the spiritual world. ... To be able to approach everything with wonder is a reminiscence of our perception before birth.

1909-12-22-GA166 (SWCC)

You may remember what I said of the mission of Devotion, of the importance of looking up in feeling to some being or some phenomenon which we do not yet understand, but which we revere for the very reason that we have not yet grown up to the level of being able to understand it.  …

In later life a man will have good reason to be grateful for that feeling of reverent devotion; we owe much gratitude to anyone who aroused a feeling of reverence in us in our early life. That feeling is of great and special value in any life. I have known men who exclaim, when such a feeling of reverent devotion to the Spiritual and Divine is alluded to: ‘I am an Atheist! I cannot revere anything spiritual!’ — We can reply: ‘Look at the starry heavens! Could you create those? Look at that wisdom-filled structure and reflect: there it is surely possible to have a feeling of real, true reverence.’ There are many things in the world which our understanding has not yet grown up to, but to which we can look up in reverence. Especially is this the case in youth, when there is so much we can look up to and venerate, without being able to understand it.

.. A feeling of devotion in early youth is transformed into a very special quality in the second half of life. .. Reverence in the early part of their life is transformed in later years into a force which works invisibly, pouring forth blessing and help.

1924-04-27-GA236 (SWCC)

.. it is incumbent upon us to develop a sense for what in ordinary circumstances is beyond our grasp and the understanding of which requires insight into the deeper relationships of existence. A man who finds everything comprehensible may see no need to know anything of more deeply lying causes. But to find everything in the world comprehensible is a sign of illusion and merely indicates superficiality.

.. the vast majority of things in the world are incomprehensible to the ordinary consciousness. To be able to stand in wonder before so much that is incomprehensible in everyday life — that is really the beginning of a true striving for knowledge.

A call that has often gone out is that anthroposophists shall have enthusiasm in their seeking, enthusiasm for what is implicit in Anthroposophy. And this enthusiasm must take its start from a realisation of the wonders confronting us in everyday life. Only then shall we be led to reach out to the causes, to the deeper forces underlying existence around us.

This attitude of wonder towards the surrounding world can spring both from contemplation of history and from observation of what is immediately present. How often our attention is arrested by events in history which seem to indicate that human life here and there has lost all rhyme and reason. And human life does indeed lose meaning if we focus our attention upon a single event in history and omit to ask: How do certain types of character emerge from this event? What form will they take in a later incarnation? ... If such questions remain unasked, certain events in history seem to be entirely meaningless, irrelevant, pointless. They lose meaning if they cannot become impulses of soul in a subsequent life on earth, find their balance and then work on into the future.

Further reading

1915-12-16-GA065 quotes Fichte on about the 'fire in the soul'

“It matters nothing that what I have to say to men should be repeated by this person or that, but rather the essential is that I succeed in kindling a flame in men's souls, a flame which shall induce every one to think for himself. Let no one repeat my words after me, but let each one be stimulated by me to deliver his own message.”

Fichte's aim was to produce, not pupils, but original thinkers.

1908-06-29-GA104 includes a few sentences on how pupils had to contemplate and live with questions, engaging the soul, before any hidden meaning in symbols was revealed

Although today you may have to make efforts to understand this passage, you must not forget that it is necessary to make efforts to understand the deepest mysteries. And John, the writes of Revelation has veiled these deepest mysteries of cosmic evolution. He has veiled then because it is good for man that the most important mysteries should be expressed in symbols. For apart from all the rest, through the powers exercised to decipher the signs is gained much of that which at the same time lifts us up to the good powers themselves. Let us not be cast down because we have to wind our way through a scheme of numbers. If you had had to grasp what was given secretly in the ancient schools in such numbers, before anything else was given, you would have had to go through very much more. There the pupils were obliged in be silent for a long time and quietly listen when nothing but numbers, 777, 666, etc., were explained again and again, at first in their formal meaning. And only when they had grasped this meaning were they allowed to know its actual significance.

1918-08-17-GA183 is about the three evils of contemporary culture: narrow-mindedness, philistinism and ineptitude. And also: what matters is not the intellectual content of ideas, but the way they live in human beings

Note: in the Temple Legend the three opponents of the I are doubt, superstition and self-illusion. See Schema FMC00.330 on Streams of Abel and Cain.

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Paul Eugen Schiller: 'Der anthroposophische Schulungsweg. Ein Überblick' (1979)