Saturday, January 15, 2011

Theosophy : An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos By Rudolf Steiner

There are strong marks of the German philosophical tradition in this text, which was originally published in 1910 and revised a number of times until its last version in 1922. Steiner's approach to what he calls "Theosophy" is less baroque than that of either Blavatsky or Besant, although his general conceptual structures have strong family resemblances to their work. His basic model of the human being is triadic with the physical body (emerging out of the ancient mineral domains) being the lowest, the soul body being the middle and mutually connecting dimension, and the spirit body being the eternal and post-personal dimension. He stresses a kind of epistemological or experiential model in which the whole triadic self moves through reincarnations to gain as much knowledge of the real non-subjective world as is possible. Throughout, the concern is with helping the physical self find its way past the delusions of incomplete sense experience into those forms of sense awareness that are open to the occult world. The soul is personal in nature and has the difficult task of bringing consciousness into the body while simultaneously allowing the spirit into both its own consciousness and into its vehicle the body. The soul gives human beings the possibility of finding the depth-sensations behind things (not in a supernatural realm but right here and now). This soul is the center of our experience of the "I" and moves with us after the death of the body. However, the soul is not ultimate and can be defined as the locus where the spiritual world manifests itself in individuals. When we develop the "spiritual eye" we are in a position to go beyond our subjective perceptual distortions and the maya producing desires that twist the real into unreal shapes. There is a strong sense of realism and of German-style vitalism in the book, as well as a theory of knowledge that is deeply Kantian, namely, that our finite categories shape just how we experience things in "this" world." Unlike Kant, however, we have access to things as they really are but only through a kind of seeing that must correspond to the nature of what is seen. Steiner laces the book with helpful, if rather stock, analogies that help the reader to envision the spiritual journey into the increasingly real and eternal laws of the world. This book is a little dense-pack at the beginning, especially where he deals with the causal relations among body, soul, and spirit, but overall it is more readable than much of the literature that usually comes out under the name "Theosophy." Steiner's writing has an almost earthy tone when compared to the air-like quality of, say, Blavatsky. One feels more grounded in, and appreciative of, the world of sensation and pain and pleasure. Above all, this book is deeply commited to the ideal of spiritual growth and is far less elitist than many tomes of its kind. Steiner clearly believed that most people could access the spiritual realm by acquiring the right kind of discipline in the task of thinking. This book is very well worth reading as an overview that also contains some very well argued positions, in particular, concerning the various dimensions of the archetypes.

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