At this point it is well to remember that man has a certain kind of sensory organization within him. I have already described the three inner senses through which he becomes aware of his inner being, just as he perceives what goes on around him. We have a sense of balance, which tells us of the space we occupy as human beings and within whose limits our wills can function. We have a sense of movement, which tells us, even in the dark, that we are moving. This knowledge comes from within and is not derived from contact with outside objects that we may touch in passing. We have a “sense of life,” through which we are aware of our general state of health, or, one might say, of our constantly changing inward condition.
Having thus prepared the ground, it is interesting to study what it is that Western mysticism so often has to offer. Most certainly, I am very far from decrying the elements of poetry, beauty, and imaginative expression in many mystical writings. Most certainly I admire what, for instance, St. Theresa, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and others have to tell us, and indeed Meister Eckhardt and Johannes Tauler; but all this reveals itself also to the true spiritual scientist. It is what arises if one follows an inward path without penetrating through the domain of smell, taste, and touch. Read what has been written by individuals who have described with particular clarity what they have experienced in this way. They speak of an inner sense of taste, experienced in connection with the soul-spiritual element in man's inner being. They refer also to smell and touch in a special way. Anybody, for instance, who reads Mechthild of Magdeburg or St. Theresa rightly will see that they follow this inward path, but never penetrate right through smell, taste, and touch. They use beautiful poetic imagery for their descriptions, but they are speaking only of how one can smell, taste, and touch oneself inwardly.
What have we accomplished now? I can answer this question by approaching it from the other side. First of all I must draw attention to the steps taken by the Oriental seer, who wishes to advance further after being trained in the mantras and experiencing the living word and language. He now learns to experience not only the rhythms of language but also, and in a sense consciously, the process of breathing. He has, as it were, to undergo an artificial kind of breathing by varying it in all kinds of ways. For him this is one step up; but this is not something to be taken over in its entirety by the West.
All this should perhaps be contrasted with the kind of blind alley reached by Western spiritual development. Let me explain what I mean. In 1841 Michelet, the Berlin philosopher, published Hegel's posthumous works of natural philosophy. Hegel had worked at the end of the eighteenth century, together with Schelling, at laying the foundations of a system of natural philosophy. Schelling, with the enthusiasm of youth, had built his natural philosophy in a remarkable way on what he called intellectual contemplation. But he reached a point where he could make no further progress. His immersion in mysticism produced splendid results in his work Bruno, or concerning the Divine and Natural Principle in Things, and that fine piece of writing, Human Freedom, or the Origin of Evil. But for all this he could make no progress and began to hold back from expressing himself at all. He kept promising to follow things up with a philosophy that would reveal the true nature of those hidden forces at which his earlier natural philosophy had only hinted.
FYI: A different translation of this lecture: