The esoteric sense, is the equivalent of the physical senses, and is what we need to develop to be able to perceive in the Higher Words. Rudolf Steiner describes this kind of sense in the following manner;
Before man enters upon the path of higher knowledge, he knows only the first of four stages of cognition. This stage is the one he occupies in ordinary life in the world of senses where we use our five senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching to perceive the vibrations of our surroundings. We can add to this the brain as the sixth sense. Science merely elaborates this ordinary cognition more minutely and in a disciplined way, aided by instruments.
In occult Science this first stage of knowledge is called the material mode of cognition and is followed by three higher occult stages of cognition with still others beyond these. We thus have:
1. Material knowledge or the ordinary sense knowledge.
2. Imaginative knowledge.
3. Inspirational knowledge, which may also be called “of the nature of will”.
4. Intuitive knowledge.
We can take a look at each of these stages.
 The material knowledge. - In the ordinary sense knowledge, four elements are to be considered, that will lead us to the other three. They are:
1. The object, which makes an impression upon the senses when it is perceived.
2. The image, which the human being forms of this object in his head.
3. The concept, [idea, notion, thought, or idea} through which the human being arrives at a spiritual comprehension of an object or an event.
4. The ego, which forms for itself the image and concept based on the impression of the object. In it the union of images and concepts are produced
The ego, stores up the images in memory. Otherwise no continuing inner life would be possible. The images of things would remain only so long as the things themselves affected the soul. But the inner life depends upon the linking of one perception with another. The ego orients itself in the world today because in the presence of certain objects the images of similar objects of yesterday arise. This linking up of concepts is what occurs in forming judgments and in understanding the world.
Therefore in material cognition four elements have to be considered. [1, 2, 3+4 above]
 Imaginative knowledge. At the next higher knowledge, that of imaginative knowledge, the impression made upon the outer senses, the sensation or object, falls away and only the image, concept and ego remains. Ordinary knowledge in a healthy individual creates no image and no concept when an object does not confront the senses and the ego remains inactive. Whoever forms images of which the corresponding sensory objects do not actually exist lives in fantasy land. But the occult student acquires this faculty of forming images without the stimulus of external sensory objects by using his controlled imagination through his will in meditation. At this stage, images appear to the occult student that are vivid and true, but of soul-spirit origin. The imaginative man has a world of images that he has received from a higher source and which have nothing to do with the word of senses. The capacity to decide what is real and what is illusionary, or fantasy in these higher regions can come only from experience, and this experience must be made one’s own in a quiet, patient inner life. This imaginative created world is much more real than the world of senses.
 Inspirational knowledge. In the third stage of knowledge, that of inspirational knowledge, images no longer appear. Only concept and ego remains. The human being lives wholly in a purely spiritual world. Nothing in the sensory world can even suggest its wealth and abundance. What was sensation at the stage of cognition, imagination at the second, here becomes inspiration. Inspiration gives the impressions, and the ego forms the concepts [ideas]. The world begins to express its true nature to the soul and at this stage of knowledge one “hears spiritually the growing of the grass”. The inspired man is able to proclaim the inner nature of things; everything rises up before his soul, as though from the dead, in a new kind of way. He speaks a language that stems from another word, and that alone can make the everyday world comprehensible. This is the stage where the personality is under the influence of the soul and the student con be of service to the Hierarchy.
 Intuitive knowledge. At this stage , inspiration also ceases and only the ego remains. Here the occult student knows, and have the feeling that he no longer stands outside the things and occurrences that he recognises, but is himself within them. What now lives in the soul is in reality the object itself. Through intuition the soul has crept into all things. This perception of the ego is the prototype of all intuitive cognition and the stage where the ego comes under the influence of the monad.
Thus to enter into all things, one must first step outside oneself, and become “selfless” in order to become blended with the “self”, the “ego” of another being. This different stages of awareness are part of the processes of evolution, the unfoldment of the centres, and the process of initiation and meditation, concentration, purification and right living [the yoga sutras of Patanjali and the path of the Buddha], are the sure means by which to approach this different stages of cognition.
So, as you can see, this is not the unfoldment of the lower psychic powers but, when a man is firmly polarised upon the mental plane, when he has achieved some measure of contact with the soul, and when his entire orientation is towards the word of spiritual realities, and his life is one of discipline and service, then, at times, and when necessary, he can at will call into use these lower psychic powers in the service of the plan, and in order to do some special work upon the astral plane. This is a case where the greater consciousness [imaginative, inspirational and intuitive] includes normally the lesser consciousness [medium ship, clairvoyance or clairaudience].
Forget not, that the astral plane is that whereon man has to learn to distinguish truth from error, and the real from the unreal and thus where most of the work, in inner training, has to be done to develop the esoteric sense.
The disciple, occupied with hierarchical plans for the future, has a completely open mind as regards the growth of true psychic power or the esoteric sense. He deplores and represses all negative conditions and forms of thinking as he contacts them in his environment, but he encourages the growth of all forms of higher sensory perception which expand the human consciousness, and enrich its content.
The problem consist in ascertaining upon which step of the ladder and in which phase one finds oneself at any particular time, otherwise , they will misinterpret the call, and fail to recognise the source of the outgoing sound. [From some high and elevated source, from their own soul or from some teacher who is attempting to help them] It must ever be remembered that individual status is rigidly kept to oneself, and the point of evolution . . . will be demonstrated by a life of active, unselfish service, and by the manifestation of an illumined vision which is ahead of the racial idea. It is wise to gauge and approximate the evolutionary status, not upon claims made, but upon work accomplished and the love and wisdom shown.
Each expansion of consciousness, each step upon the ladder, but opens before the Initiate another sphere to be embraced, and another step ahead to be taken; each initiation achieved but reveals still higher ones to be mastered, and never comes the point where the aspirant [be he an average man, an initiate, a Master, a Chohan, or a Buddha] can remain in a condition static, and is incapable of future progress. Even the Logos Himself aspires, and even the One to Whom He aspires, reaches up to a Greater.
What happens in the system transpires likewise on cosmic levels, and what is mastered here, must be repeated on a vaster scale in the cosmos itself. In this thought lies inspiration and development, and not despair and weariness because, the reward that comes with each step forward, the delight that lies in increased comprehension, rewards the struggling aspirant in adequate fashion.
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