Higher Knowledge and Learning

“Anyone having advanced some way in the attainment of higher knowledge knows that he owes everything to quiet attention and active reflection, and not to willful personal judgment. We should always bear in mind that we do not need to learn what we are already able to judge. Therefore if our sole intention is to judge, we can learn nothing more. Esoteric training, however, centers in learning; we must have absolutely the good will to be learners. If we cannot understand something, it is far better not to judge than to judge adversely. We can wait until later for a true understanding. The higher we climb the ladder of knowledge, the more do we require the faculty of listening with quiet devotion.” ~Rudolf Steiner

Attaining Higher Knowledge

I think almost everyone will agree that attaining higher knowledge, whether of a spiritual nature or just knowledge of the physical world, requires study of some sort. This can be reading book, listening to videos, taking classes, or becoming an apprentice to an expert in the field you want to study. But as Mr. Steiner rightfully points out, if you take in information for the sole purpose of judging it, than you cannot really learn from it and you are wasting your time.

Of course, you do have to judge things you are reading, hearing on the news, or being taught in a class in a sense, but not in the way that most people do it. What Steiner is talking about is those of us who have preconceived opinions about nearly everything. As a result, we will listen to someones whose opinion we agree with, we will buy his books, attend her seminars, watch her videos, and so on. But if the person is teaching something contrary to our own beliefs, we don’t want to hear it. We tune them out and judge them as fools or liars.

If you think about is, how can you learn anything if you only listen to those whose teachings you already know and agree with? Obviously, you can’t. The only way you can learn something new is to either listen to the arguments of someone you totally disagree with, or listen to someone speak on matters for which you have no preconceived beliefs to get in the way. This doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to the blabbering of a fool, but you can’t decide someone is a fool just because they don’t agree with you. You have to recognize that the speaker (or writer in the case of a book) is a recognized expert, and listen even when you disagree. Then later, you can analyze what was said objectively. That is how learning happens.

Spiritual Learning

In Spiritual studies, which Steiner prefers to call “Esoteric”, this is even more true. If you are dealing with a real spiritual teacher or spiritual school, you are going to be taught things that are likely to differ considerably from what you were taught in school, and probably even what you were taught in most conventional churches. If you are to learn anything and succeed in spiritual growth and a true spiritual awakening, you have to be completely open-minded and approach your studies with the idea of really learning something new, and not just looking for someone to back up your own beliefs.

When you attend lectures given by a spiritual teacher, you may have heard that you should not stare intently at the person, and that is true. You should, however, pay close attention to everything said and even to body language and gestures. Sometimes, it can seem that a spiritual teacher is saying something that is irrelevant but he may be using hand gestures and vocal inflections to send information directly to your soul and subconscious mind while you conscious mind is listening to the words.

So before you blame a teacher or a school, spiritual or otherwise, because you think you didn’t learn anything, ask yourself: “Did I really listen with an open mind?” If the honest answer is “No,” then the failure is not is the school or the teacher. Learning is a two-way street and the student must do her part as well as the teacher. Higher knowledge isn’t a gift, it’s something you have to work for.

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