Theosophy, by Rudolf Steiner, , at sacred-texts.com
The following words of Goethe's describe, in a beautiful manner, the starting point of one of the ways by which the constitution of man can be known: "When a person first becomes aware of the objects surrounding him, he observes them in relation to himself, and rightly so, for his whole fate depends on whether they please or displease him, attract or repel, help or harm him. This quite natural way of looking at and judging things appears to be as easy as it is necessary. Nevertheless, a person is exposed through it to a thousand errors which often cause him shame and embitter his life. A far more difficult task do those undertake whose keen desire for knowledge urges them to strive to observe the objects of nature in themselves and in their relations to each other, for they soon miss the gauge which helped them when they, as persons,
regard the objects in reference to themselves personally. They lack the gauge of pleasure and displeasure, attraction and repulsion, usefulness and harmfulness; this gauge they have to renounce entirely. They should, as dispassionate and, so to speak, divine beings, seek and examine what is, and not what gratifies. Thus the true botanist should not be affected either by the beauty or by the usefulness of the plants. He has to study their structure and their relation to the rest of the vegetable kingdom; and just as they are one and all enticed forth and shone upon by the sun, so should he with an equable, quiet glance look at and survey them all and obtain the gauge for this knowledge, the data for his deductions, not out of himself, but from within the circle of things which he observes."
The thought thus expressed by Goethe directs attention to three kinds of things. First, the objects concerning which information continually flows to man through the doors of his senses, those that he touches, smells, tastes, hears, and sees. Second, the impressions which these make on him, and which record themselves as his pleasure and displeasure, his
desire or abhorrence, according as he finds one harmonious, another inharmonious, one useful, another harmful. Third, the knowledge and the experiences which he, as a so-to-speak "divine being," gains concerning the objectsthe secrets of their activities and their being which unveil themselves to him.
These three regions are distinctly separate in human life. And man thereby becomes aware that he is interwoven with the world in a threefold way. The first way is something that he finds present and accepts as a given fact. Through the second way he makes the world into his own affair, into something that has a significance for himself. The third way he regards as a goal toward which he has unceasingly to strive.
Why does the world appear to man in this threefold way? The simplest consideration will explain that. I cross a Meadow covered with flowers. The flowers make their colors known to me through my eyes. That is the fact which I accept as given. I rejoice in the splendor of the colors. Through this I turn the fact into an affair of my own. By means of my feelings I link the flowers with my own
existence. A year after I go again over the same meadow. Other flowers are there. New joy arises in me through them. My joy of the former year will appear as a memory. It is in me; the object which aroused it in me is gone. But the flowers which I. now see are of the same species as those I saw the year before; they have grown in accordance with the same laws as did the others. If I have enlightened myself regarding this species and these laws, I find them again in the flowers of this year as I recognized them in those of the former year. And I shall perhaps muse as follows: "The flowers of last year are gone; my joy in them remains only in my remembrance. It is bound up with my existence alone. That, however, which I recognized in the flowers of the former year and recognize again this year, will remain as long as such flowers grow. That is something that revealed itself to me, but which is not dependent on my existence in the same way as my joy is. My feelings of joy remain in me; the laws, the being of the flowers, remain outside of me in the world."
Man continually links himself in this threefold way with the things of the world. One
should not for the time being read anything into this fact, but merely take it as it presents itself. It makes it evident that man has three sides to his nature. This and nothing else will for the present be indicated here by the three words body, soul, and spirit. He who connects any preconceived meanings, or even hypotheses, with these three words will necessarily misunderstand the following explanations. By body is here meant that by which the things in the environment of a man reveal themselves to him, as in the example just cited, the flowers of the meadow. By the word soul is signified that by which he links the things to his own being, through which he experiences pleasure and displeasure, desire and aversion, joy and sorrow. By spirit is meant that which becomes manifest in him when, as Goethe expressed it, he looks at things as "a so-to-speak divine being." In this sense the human being consists of body, soul, and spirit.
Through his body man is able to place himself for the time being in connection with the things; through his soul he retains in himself the impressions which they make on him; through his spirit there reveals itself to him
what the things retain in themselves. Only when one observes man in these three aspects can one hope to gain light on his whole being. For these three aspects show him to be related in a threefold way to the rest of the world.
Through his body he is related to the objects which present themselves to his senses from without. The materials from the outer world compose this body of his; and the forces of the outer world work also in it. And just as he observes the things of the outer world with his senses, he can also observe his own bodily existence. But it is impossible to observe the soul existence in the same way. All occurrences connected with my body can be perceived with my bodily senses. My likes and dislikes, my joy and pain, neither I nor anyone else can perceive with bodily senses. The region of the soul is one which is inaccessible to bodily perception. The bodily existence of a man is manifest to all eyes; the soul existence he carries within himself as HIS world. Through the spirit, however, the outer world is revealed to him in a higher way. The mysteries of the outer world, indeed, unveil themselves in his inner being; but he steps in spirit out of himself
and lets the things speak about themselves, about that which has significance not for him but for them. Man looks up at the starry heavens; the delight his soul experiences belongs to him; the eternal laws of the stars which he comprehends in thought, in spirit, belong not to him but to the stars themselves.
Thus man is citizen of three worlds. Through his body he belongs to the world which he perceives through his body; through his soul he constructs for himself his own world; through his spirit a world reveals itself to him which is exalted above both the others.
It is evident that because of the essential differences of these three worlds, one can obtain a clear understanding of them and of man's share in them only by means of three different modes of observation.