Friday, October 26, 2012

Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition: A Quick Overview of the Three Stages of Higher Knowledge

Rudolf Steiner:

"There are three stages on the path leading beyond ordinary perception of the world. The first kind of knowledge accessible to man can be described by saying: he beholds the world through his senses and assimilates what he perceives by means of his intellect and the other faculties of his soul. Beyond this, there are three further stages of knowledge, of cognition: the first is the stage of Imagination, Imaginative cognition, the second is the stage of Inspiration, and the third is the stage of Intuition — but the term ‘Intuition’ must be understood in its true sense.
The faculty of Imaginative cognition is possessed by one before whose eye of spirit all that lies behind the world of the senses is unfolded in mighty, cosmic pictures — but these pictures do not in the least resemble anything we call by this name in everyday life. Apart from the difference that the pictures revealed by Imaginative cognition are independent of the laws of three-dimensional space, other characteristics make it impossible for them to be compared with anything in the world of the senses.
An idea of the world of Imagination may be gained in the following way. Suppose someone were able to extract from a plant in front of him everything perceptible to the sense of sight as ‘color’, so that this hovered freely in the air. If he were to do nothing more than draw out the color from the plant, a lifeless color-form would hover before him. But to the clairvoyant such a color-form is anything but a lifeless picture, for when he extracts the color from the objects, then, through the preparation he has undergone and the exercises he has practised, this color-picture begins to be animated by spirit just as in the physical world it was filled by the living substance of the plant. He then has before him not a lifeless color-form but freely moving colored light, glistening, sparkling, full of inner life; each color is the expression of the particular nature of a spiritual being imperceptible in the world of the physical senses. That is to say, the color in the physical plant becomes for the clairvoyant the expression of spiritual beings. Now imagine a world filled with such color-forms, reflected in manifold ways and in perpetual metamorphosis; your vision must not be confined to the colors, as it might be when confronting a painting of glimmering color-reflections, but you must imagine it all as the expression of beings of soul-and-spirit, so that you can say to yourselves: ‘When a green color-picture flashes up it expresses to me the fact that an intellectual being is behind it; or when a reddish colour-picture flashes up it is to me the expression of a being with a fiery, violent nature.’ Now imagine this whole sea of interweaving colors — I might equally well say a sea of interplaying sensations of tone, taste, or smell, for all these are the expressions of beings of soul-and-spirit behind them — and you have what is called the ‘Imaginative’ world, the world of Imagination. It is nothing to which the word ‘imagination’ (fancy) in its ordinary sense could be applied; it is a real world, requiring a mode of comprehension different from that derived from the senses.
Within this world of Imagination you encounter everything that is behind the sense-world and is imperceptible to the physical senses — for instance, the etheric and astral bodies. A man whose knowledge of the world is derived from this clairvoyant, Imaginative perception becomes acquainted with the outward aspect of higher beings, just as you become acquainted with the outward, physical aspect of a man in the physical world who, let us say, passes in front of you in the street. You know more about him when there is an opportunity of talking with him. His words then give you an impression differing from the one he makes upon you when you look at him in the street. In the case of many a man whom you pass by (to mention this one example only) you cannot observe whether his soul is moved by inner joy or grief, sorrow or delight. But you can discover this if you converse with him. In the one case his outward aspect is conveyed to you through everything you can perceive without his assistance; in the other case he expresses his very self to you. The same applies to the beings of the supersensible world. A clairvoyant who comes to recognize these beings through Imaginative cognition knows only their outward aspect. But he hears them give expression to their very selves when he rises from Imaginative knowledge to knowledge through Inspiration. He then has actual intercourse with these beings. They communicate to him from their inmost selves what and who they are. Inspiration is therefore a higher stage of knowledge than Imagination, and more is learnt about the beings of the world of soul-and-spirit at the stage of Inspiration than can be learnt through Imagination.
A still higher stage of knowledge is that of Intuition — but the word must be taken in its spiritual-scientific sense, not in that of day-to-day parlance, when anything that occurs to one, however hazy and nebulous, may be called ‘intuition’. In our sense, Intuition is a form of knowledge thanks to which we not only listen spiritually to what the beings communicate to us, but we become one with the very beings themselves. This is a very lofty stage of spiritual knowledge, for it requires, at the outset, that there shall be in the human being that quality of universal love which causes him to make no distinction between himself and the other beings in his spiritual environment, but to pour forth his very self into the environment; thus he no longer remains outside but lives within the beings with whom he has spiritual communion. Because this can take place only in a spiritual world, the expression ‘Intuition’, i.e. ‘to dwell in God’ is entirely appropriate. Thus there are three stages of knowledge of the supersensible worlds: Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition."

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