Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 2, 1920:
What I have been saying about the boundaries of man's knowledge of Nature should have given some indication at least of the difference between the cognition of higher worlds, as we call it in Spiritual Science, and the cognition of which we speak in our ordinary, everyday consciousness or in ordinary science. In everyday life and in ordinary science we let our powers of cognition remain at a standstill with whatever we have acquired through the ordinary education that has brought us to a certain stage in life, and with whatever this education has enabled us to make out of inherited qualities and out of qualities possessed by mankind in general. What is called in anthroposophical Spiritual Science the knowledge of higher worlds depends upon a man himself deliberately undertaking further training and development; upon the realisation that as life continues on its course a higher form of consciousness can be attained through self-education, just as a child can advance to the stage of ordinary consciousness. And it is to this higher consciousness that there are first revealed the things we otherwise look for in vain at the two boundaries of the knowledge of Nature, at the boundary of matter and at the boundary of ordinary consciousness.
Some understanding of the ancient path of development leading into the higher worlds can be acquired by considering the following. At certain ages of life we develop the spirit-and-soul within us to a state of greater freedom, greater independence. During the first years of infancy it works as an organising force in the body, until with the change of teeth it is liberated, becomes free in a certain sense. We then live freely with our ego in the element of spirit-and-soul, which is now at our disposal, whereas previously it was occupied with harmonising and regulating the body inwardly. But as we grow on into life there arise those factors which in the sphere of ordinary consciousness do not, to begin with, permit the liberated spirit-and-soul to develop to the point of penetrating into the spiritual world. As men in our life between birth and death we must take the path which places us into the outer world as beings qualified and fit for life in that world. We must acquire the faculties which enable us to establish our bearings in the physical world, and also those which can make each of us a useful member in the life of social community with other men.
We see from something else as well that even in the later period of antiquity men of the East were predisposed by nature to live in the word itself, not to penetrate through the word to what lies behind it. An illustration of this is afforded by the sayings of the Buddha, with their many repetitions. I have known people in the West who treasured those editions of the Buddha's sayings in which the repetitions had been eliminated and the words of a sentence left to occur only once. Such people believed that through this condensed version they would get at the essentials of what the Buddha really meant. This shows that Western civilisation has gradually lost all understanding of the nature of Eastern man. If we simply take the literal meaning of the Buddha's discourses, the meaning which we, as men of the West, chiefly value, we are not assimilating the essence of these teachings; that is possible only when we are carried along with the repetitions, when we live in the flow of the words, when we experience that strengthening of soul-force induced by the repetitions. [From the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, revised edition, 1958, p. 158: “The many repetitions in the sayings of the Buddha are not comprehensible to people of our present evolutionary stage. For the esoteric student, however, they become a force on which he gladly lets his inner senses rest, for they correspond with certain rhythmic movements in the etheric body. Devotional surrender to them with perfect inner peace creates an inner harmony with these movements, and because the latter are an image of certain cosmic rhythms which also at certain points repeat themselves and revert to former modes, the individual listening to the wisdom of the Buddha unites his life with that of the cosmic mysteries.”] Unless we acquire a faculty for experiencing something from the constant repetitions and the rhythmical recurrence of certain passages, we do not get to the heart of what Buddhism really signifies.