Even though Wilson did not provide a detailed explication of Steiner’s practical methodology of accessing the spiritual world, he does provide a ringing endorsement of Steiner’s contribution to Western thinking. First, it is Steiner’s view that the “I” of human beings is what distinguishes them from lower animals. Wilson states,
We might compare a dog or a cat to a group of travelling musicians who wander through the streets playing more or less in unison; but man is an orchestra with a conductor. The travelling players make a perfectly good job of ‘Home, sweet home,’ but only the orchestra can do justice to Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
The problem, according to Steiner, is that man continues to behave as if he were a group of travelling musicians; he never attempts anything more ambitious than ‘Home, sweet home.’ Why? Because the conductor is sitting among the orchestra smoking a cigarette, unaware that he is the conductor. It is only in certain moments of excitement or crisis that he remembers who he is, and seizes the baton. Then the orchestra responds by playing magnificently. If he made them practise every day, the results would clearly be superb.1
And thus we come to Steiner’s primary gift to Western philosophy: human beings must make it a habit of remembering daily that we have the potential within us to become powerful manifestations of the divine on earth. If we do this through regular meditation on the basic truths of human existence through reading, music, art, and all the liberal arts, we “will find ourselves standing on the threshold of a new spiritual world, and developing powers that we never even suspected we possessed.”2 It is just like any other form of exercise one would perform to strengthen and enliven the body, except this is an exercise of the inner being.
Regular meditation involves using the powers of the imagination. This may not be the method of meditation we so often hear about, that of the Eastern form. Practice using the imagination is typically the Western form. In Christian theology, it is called kataphatic practice, as opposed to apophatic practice. These correspond to the Scholastic distinction between the via positiva and via negativa. Steiner’s form of meditation using imagination is squarely within the Western esoteric tradition, that of kataphatic meditation.
Wilson claims that Steiner’s “great compromise was to join the Theosophical Society,”3 but one should not hold it against him because he did so to facilitate bringing his message to a much wider audience than he would have otherwise.
Wilson claims that Steiner’s first and last books, Goethe’s Theory of Knowledge and his Autobiography, “make it immediately clear that this man was far too serious a thinker to be dismissed. . .” 4 because of some of things he wrote that seemed outlandish and unbelievable. Most gifted thinkers make statements sometimes that are outlandish. With Steiner,
. . . it hardly matters that there is a great deal that we may find unacceptable, or even repellent. What is so absorbing is to be in contact with a mind that was capable of this astonishing range of inner experience. 5
If we can find something in Steiner’s teachings that will help us escape the nihilistic grip of materialism and scientism, we will be forever grateful to him.
Wilson, Colin. Rudolf Steiner: The Man and his Vision. Aeon: London, 2005.
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