Thursday, January 19, 2017
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, March 4, 1913:
At the time when materialism — mainly theoretical materialism — was in its prime, in the middle and still to some extent during the last decades of the nineteenth century, when the writings of Buchner and Vogt (‘bulky Vogt’ as he used to be called) had made a deep impression upon people who considered themselves enlightened, one could often hear a way of speaking that is occasionally also heard today, because stragglers from that epoch of theoretical materialism are still to be found in certain circles. When people do not flatly deny the possibility of a life after death, or even here and there admit it, they are wont to say: Well, there may be a life after death but why should we trouble about it during life on Earth? When death has taken place we shall discover whether there is indeed a future life, and meanwhile if here on Earth we concern ourselves only with the affairs of earthly existence and take no account of what is alleged to come afterwards, we cannot miss anything of importance. For if the life after death has anything to offer we shall then discover what it is!
As I said, this way of speaking could be heard time and time again and this is still the case in wide circles today; in the way the subject is expressed it may often, in a certain respect, almost seem acceptable. And yet it is utterly at variance with what is disclosed to spiritual investigation when the facts connected with the life between death and rebirth are considered in their spiritual aspect. When a man has passed through the gate of death he comes into contact with many and infinitely varied forces and beings. He does not only find himself living amid a multitude of super-sensible facts but he comes into contact with definite forces and Beings — namely, the Beings of the several higher Hierarchies. Let us ask ourselves what this contact signifies for one who is passing through the period of existence between death and the new birth.
We know that when an individual has spent this period of life in the super-sensible world and passes into physical existence again through birth, he becomes in a certain way the moulder of his own bodily constitution, indeed of his whole destiny in the life on Earth. Within certain limits the human being builds and fashions his body, even the very convolutions of his brain, by means of the forces brought with him from the spiritual worlds when he enters again into physical existence through birth. Our whole earthly existence depends upon our physical body possessing organs which enable us to come in touch with the outer physical world, to act and moreover to think in that world.
If, here in the physical world, we do not possess the appropriately formed brain which, on passing through birth we formed for ourselves out of the forces of the super-sensible world, we remain unable to cope with life in this physical world. In the real sense we are fitted for life in the physical world only when we bring with us from the spiritual world forces by means of which we have been able to build a body able to cope with this world and all its demands. The super-sensible forces which man needs in order to fashion his body and also his destiny are received by him from the Beings of the higher Hierarchies with whom he has made contact between death and the new birth. What we need for the shaping of our life must be acquired during the time that has preceded our birth since the last death. Between death and the next birth we must approach, stage by stage, the Beings who can endow us with the forces we need for our physical existence.
In the life between death and rebirth we can pass before the Beings of the higher Hierarchies in two ways. We may recognise them, understand their nature and essential characteristics, be able to receive what they can give us and what we shall need in the following life. We must be able to understand or at least to perceive what is being offered us and what we shall subsequently need. But we might also pass before these Beings in such a way that, figuratively speaking, their hands are offering gifts which we do not receive because it is dark in the higher world in which we then live. Thus we may pass through that world with understanding, with awareness of what these Beings are offering us, or we may pass through it without understanding, unaware of what they wish to bestow. Now the way in which we pass through this spiritual world, which of the two ways we necessarily choose in our life between death and the new birth, is predetermined by the after-effects of the previous life and of earlier lives on Earth. A person whose attitude in his last life on Earth was unresponsive and antagonistic to all thoughts and ideas that may enlighten him about the super-sensible world — such a person passes through the life between death and rebirth as if through a world of darkness. For the light, the spiritual light we need in order to realise how these different Beings approach us and what gifts we may receive from them for our next life on Earth — the light of understanding for what is here coming to pass cannot be acquired in the super-sensible world itself; it must be acquired here, during physical incarnation on Earth. If, at death, we bear with us into the spiritual life no relevant ideas and concepts, we shall pass unknowingly through our super-sensible existence until the next birth, receiving none of the forces needed for the next life. From this we realise how impossible it is to say that we can wait until death itself occurs because we shall then discover what the facts are — whether indeed we shall encounter any reality at all after death. Our relationship to that reality depends upon whether in earthly life we have been receptive or antagonistic in our souls to concepts or ideas of the super-sensible world that have been accessible to us and will be the light through which we must ourselves illumine the path between death and rebirth.
Something further can be gathered from what has been said. The belief that we have, so to say, only to die in order to receive everything that the super-sensible world can give us, even if we have made no preparation for it — this belief is utterly false. Every world has its own special mission. And what a man can acquire during an incarnation on Earth he can acquire in no single one of the other worlds. Between death and the new birth he is able, in all circumstances, to enter into communion with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies. But in order to receive their gifts, to avoid having to grope in darkness through life there or in fearful loneliness, in order to establish contact with those Beings and receive their forces, the ideas and concepts which are the light enabling the higher Hierarchies to be visible to the soul must be acquired in earthly life. And so an individual who in earthly life during the present cycle of time has rejected all spiritual ideas, passes through the life between death and rebirth in fearful loneliness, groping in darkness. In the next incarnation he will fail to bring with him the forces wherewith to build his body efficiently and mould his organs; he can fashion them in an imperfect form only and consequently he will be an inadequate human being in his next life.
We realise from this how Karma works over from one life to the next. In one life a man deliberately scorns to develop in his soul any relationship with the spiritual worlds; in the next life he has no forces wherewith to create even the organs enabling him to think, feel or will the truths of spiritual life. He remains dull and indifferent to spiritual things and spiritual life passes him by as though in dream — as is so frequently the case today. On the Earth such an individual can take no interest in spiritual worlds; and his soul, after passing through the gate of death, is an easy prey for the Luciferic powers. Lucifer makes straight for such souls. Here we have the strange situation that in the next life in the spiritual world, the life that follows the dull, unreceptive one, the deeds and the Beings of the higher Hierarchies are indeed illumined for such an individual but in this case not as a result of what he acquired in earthly life but by the light which Lucifer sends into his soul. It is Lucifer who illumines the higher worlds for him when he passes into the life between death and rebirth. Now, he can, it is true, perceive the higher Hierarchies, recognise when they are offering their gifts to him. But the fact that Lucifer has tainted the light means that all the gifts have a particular colouring and character. The forces of the higher Hierarchies are then not exactly as the human being could otherwise have received them. Their nature then is such that when the human being passes into his next life on Earth he can certainly form and mould his body, but he moulds it then in such a way that although he becomes an individual who is, admittedly, able to cope with the outer world and its demands, in a certain respect he is inwardly inadequate, because his soul is tinged with Lucifer's gifts or at least by gifts that have a Luciferic trend.
When we come across individuals who have worked on their bodies in such a way that they are able to make effective use of their intellect and acquire certain skills which will help them to raise their status in the world, although to their own advantage only, snatching at what is in their own interest, dryly calculating what is beneficial to themselves without any consideration for others — and there are many such people nowadays — in these cases the seer will very often find that their previous history was what has been described. Before they began to display their dry, intellectual, sharp-witted character in life, they had been led through their existence between death and rebirth by Luciferic beings who were able to approach them because in the preceding incarnation they had lived an apathetic, dreamy existence. But these traits themselves had been acquired because such individuals had passed through an earlier existence between death and rebirth groping in darkness. The Spirits of the higher Hierarchies would have bestowed upon them the forces needed for fashioning a new life, but they were unable to receive these forces; and that in turn was because they had deliberately refused to concern themselves with ideas and concepts relating to a spiritual world. That is the karmic connection. Such examples do certainly occur; they appear before the eyes of spirit only too frequently when with the help of powers of spiritual investigation and knowing the conditions of human life, we penetrate into higher worlds.
It is therefore wrong to say that here on Earth we need concern ourselves only with what is around us in earthly existence because what comes later will be revealed in all good time. But the form in which it will be revealed depends entirely upon how we have prepared ourselves for it here.
Another possibility may occur. I am saying these things in order that by understanding the life between death and rebirth, life between birth and death may become more and more intelligible.
When we study life on Earth with discernment, we see many human beings — and in our time they are very numerous — who can, as it were, only ‘half think’, whose logic invariably breaks down when faced with reality. Here is an example: A certain free-thinking cleric, an honourable man in all his endeavours, wrote in the first Freethinkers' Calendar as follows: Children ought not to be taught any ideas about religion for that would be against nature. If children are allowed to grow up without having any ideas about religion pumped into them, we find that they do not of themselves arrive at ideas of God, immortality, and so forth. The inference to be drawn from this is that such ideas are unnatural to the human being and should not be drummed into him; he should work only with what can be drawn from his own soul. As in many other cases, there are thousands and thousands of people nowadays to whom an utterance such as this seems very clever, very subtle. But if only genuine logic were applied the following would be obvious: If we were to take a human being before he has learnt to speak, put him on a lonely island and take care that he can hear no single word of speech, he would never learn to speak. And so anyone who argues against children being taught any ideas about religion would logically have to say that human beings should not have to learn to speak, for speech does not come of itself. So our free-thinking cleric cannot propagate his ideas by means of his logic, for both he and his logic come to a halt when confronted by the facts. His logic can be applied to a small area only, and he does not notice that his idea, assuming one can get hold of it, cancels itself out.
Anyone who is alert to his surroundings will find that this inadequate, pseudo-thinking is very widespread. If with the help of super-sensible research we trace the path of such an individual backwards and come to the regions through which his soul passed between the last death and the last birth, when this illogical mentality was caused, the seer often finds that this type of human being, in his last life between death and rebirth, passed through the spiritual world in such a way that he encountered the spiritual Beings and forces while under the guidance of Ahriman; and that although those Beings would have bestowed upon him what he needed in life, they could not make it possible for him to develop the capacity for sound thinking. Ahriman was his leader and it was Ahriman who contrived that the gifts of the Beings of the higher Hierarchies could only be received by him in a form that would finally result in his thinking coming to a halt when confronting actual facts, and in his inability to make his thinking exhaustive and valid. A large proportion of those human beings — and their number is legion — who are incapable of genuine thinking today owe this to the fact that in their last life between death and rebirth they were obliged to submit to Ahriman's guidance; they had somehow prepared themselves for this in their last earthly life — that is to say, in the incarnation preceding the present one.
And what was the course of that preceding life as viewed by a seer? It is found that these were morose, hypochondriacal individuals, who shied away from facts and people in the world and always found it difficult to establish any relation with their environment. Very often they were intolerable hypochondriacs in their previous life; on medical examination they would have been found to be suffering from the type of illness occurring very frequently in hypochondriacs. And if we were to go still further back, to the life between death and rebirth that preceded the hypochondriacal incarnation, we should find that during that period such human beings were obliged again to forego the right guidance and could not become truly aware of what the gifts of the higher Hierarchies would have been. And how had they prepared themselves for this fate in the life preceding the last two incarnations? We should find that they had developed what it is certainly true to call a religious, pious attitude of soul but an attitude based on sheer egoism. They were people with a pious, even mystical nature emanating from egoism. After all, mysticism very often has its origin in egoism. An individual of this type might say: I seek within myself in order that there I may recognise God. But what he is seeking there is only his own self made into God! In the case of many pious souls it becomes evident that they are pious only in order that after death one or another of their spiritual inclinations may bear fruit. All that they have acquired is an egotistic attitude of soul.
When in the course of spiritual research we trace the sequence of three such earthly lives, we find that in the first, the basic attitude of the soul was that of egotistic mysticism, egotistic religiosity. And when today we observe human beings with this attitude to life, we shall be able, by means of spiritual investigation to trace them back to times when souls without number developed a religious frame of mind out of sheer egoism. They then passed through an existence between death and rebirth without being able to receive from the spiritual Beings the gifts which would have enabled them to shape their next life rightly. In that life they became morose and hypochondriacal, finding everything distasteful. This life again prepared them for the ensuing one when, having passed through the gate of death, Ahriman and his hosts became their leaders and the forces with which they were imbued manifested in the following earthly life as defective logic, as an obtuse, undiscerning kind of thinking.
Here, then, we have another example of three successive incarnations. And we realise again and again what nonsense it is to believe that we can wait until death to establish connection with the super-sensible world. For how this connection is established after death depends upon the inner tendencies of soul acquired here on Earth towards the super-sensible world. Not only are the successive earthly lives connected as causes and effects, but the lives between death and the new birth are also connected in a certain way as causes and effects. This can be seen from the following.
When the seer directs his gaze into the super-sensible world where souls are sojourning after death, he will find among them those who during part of this life between death and rebirth are servants of those Powers whom we may call the Lords of all healthy, budding and burgeoning life on the Earth. (In the very lengthy period between death and rebirth, innumerable experiences are undergone and in accounts of the present kind, parts only can be described.) Among the dead we find souls who for a certain length of time in the super-sensible world co-operate in the wonderful task — for wonderful it is — of pouring, infusing into the physical world everything that can further the health of beings on the Earth, can help them to thrive and blossom. Just as in certain circumstances we can become servants of the evil spirits of illness and misfortune, so too we can become the servants of those spiritual beings who promote health and growth, who send down from the spiritual world into our physical world forces that help life to flourish. It is nothing but a materialistic superstition to believe that physical hygiene and external regulations are the sole means of promoting health. Everything that happens in physical life is directed by the beings and powers of higher worlds who are all the time pouring into the physical world forces which in a certain way work freely, upon human or other beings, either promoting or harming health and growth. Certain specific spiritual powers and beings are responsible for these processes in health and illness. In the life between death and rebirth man co-operates with these powers; and if we have prepared ourselves in the right way we can experience the bliss of co-operating in the task of sending the forces which promote health and growth, from the higher worlds into this physical world. And when the seer enquires into why such souls have deserved this destiny, he becomes aware that in physical life on Earth there are two ways in which human beings can execute and think about what they want to achieve.
Let us take a general look at life. We see numbers of human beings who carry out the work prescribed for them by their profession or office. Even if there is no radical case of any one of these people regarding their work as if they were animals being led to the slaughterhouse, it is at least true to say that they work because they are obliged to. Of course they would never neglect their duty — although of course anything may happen! In a certain sense it cannot be otherwise in the present phase of man's evolution; the only urge such people feel towards their work is that of duty. This does not by any means suggest that such work should be criticised root and branch. It should not be understood in this sense. Earth-evolution is such that this aspect of life will become more and more widespread; nor will things improve in the future. The tasks that men will have to carry out will become increasingly complicated in so far as they are connected with outer life and men will be condemned more and more to think and do only that to which duty drives them. Already there are hosts of human beings who do their work only because duty forces them to it, but on the other hand there will be people who look for a Society such as ours in which they can also achieve something, not simply from a sense of duty as in everyday life but for which they feel enthusiasm and devotion. Thus there are two aspects of a man's work: has it been thought out or done as an outer achievement merely from a sense of duty, or has it been done with enthusiasm and inner devotion, solely out of an inner urge of his own soul? This attitude — to think and act not merely out of a sense of duty, but out of love, inclination and devotion — this prepared the soul to become a server of the beneficent Powers of health and salutary forces sent down from the super-sensible world into our physical world, to become a servant of everything that brings health and to experience the bliss that can accompany these circumstances.
To know this is extremely important for the general well-being of man, for only by acquiring during life the forces that will enable him to co-operate with the Powers in question will he be able to work spiritually for an ever intensifying process of healing and betterment of conditions on the Earth.
We will now consider still another case, of one who makes efforts to adapt himself to his environment and its demands. This by no means applies to everybody. There are some people who take no trouble to adjust themselves to the world and are never at home with the conditions either of spiritual or outer physical life. For example, there are individuals who notice an announcement that here or there an anthroposophical lecture will be given; they go to the place but almost as soon as they get seated, they are already asleep! In such cases the soul cannot adapt itself to the environment is not attuned to it. I have known men who cannot even sew on a button to replace one that has been torn off; that again means that they cannot adapt themselves to physical conditions. Countless cases could be quoted of people who cannot or will not adapt themselves to life. These symptoms are very significant, as I have said. At the moment, however, we will think only of the effects upon the life between death and rebirth.
Everything becomes cause and everything produces effects. A man who makes efforts to adapt himself to his environment, someone, that is to say, who can actually sew on a button or can listen to something with which he is unfamiliar without immediately falling asleep, is preparing himself to become, after death, a helper of those Spirits who further the progress of humanity and send down to the Earth the spiritual forces which promote life as it advances from epoch to epoch. After death we can experience the bliss of looking down upon earthly life and co-operating with the forces that are perpetually being sent to the Earth to further its progress, but this is possible only if we endeavour to adapt ourselves to our environment and its conditions. To be rightly and thoroughly understood Karma must be studied in details, in details which reveal the manifold ways in which causes and effects are connected here in the physical world, in the spiritual world and in existence as a whole.
Here again light is thrown upon the fact that our life in the spiritual worlds depends upon the mode of our life in the physical body. Each world has its own specific mission; no two worlds have an identical mission. The characteristic phenomena and experiences in one world are not the same in another. And if, for example, a being is meant to assimilate certain things on Earth, it is on Earth that he must do so; if he misses this opportunity he cannot acquire them in some other world. This is particularly the case in a matter which we have already considered but of which it will be well to be thoroughly aware. The matter in question concerns the acceptance of certain concepts and ideas needed by man for his life as a whole. Let us take an example that is near at hand. Anthroposophy is a timely and active force in our epoch. People approach and accept Anthroposophy during their life on Earth in the way known to you, but again the belief might arise that it is not necessary to cultivate Anthroposophy on Earth, for one will be in a position after death to know how things are in the spiritual worlds; that moreover the higher Hierarchies will also be there and able to impart to the soul what is necessary.
Now it is a fact that having passed through the phase of development leading to the present cycle of evolution, the human being, with his whole soul, has been prepared to contact on Earth the kind of anthroposophical life that is possible only while he is incarnated in a physical body. Men are predestined for this and if they fail they will be unable to establish relationship with any of the spiritual Beings who might have been their teachers. One cannot simply die and then, after death, find a teacher who might take the place of what here, during physical life on Earth, can come to souls in the form of Anthroposophy. We need not, however, be dejected by the fact that many individuals reject Anthroposophy and it is therefore to be assumed that they will not be able to acquire it between death and the new birth. We need not despair about them for they will be born in a new earthly life and by that time there will be a strong enough stimulus towards Anthroposophy and enough Anthroposophy on the Earth for them to acquire it. In the present age despondency is still out of place, but that should not lead anyone to say: I can acquire Anthroposophy in my next life and so can do without it now. No, what has been neglected here cannot be retrieved later on.
When our German Theosophical Movement was still very young I was once giving a lecture about Nietzsche, during which I said certain things about the spiritual worlds. At that time it was customary to have discussions and on this occasion someone got up and said that such matters must always be put to the test of Kant's philosophy, from which it would be evident that we can have no knowledge of these things here on Earth and can begin to know them only after death. That, quite literally, was what the man said. As I have repeatedly emphasised, it is not the case that one has only to die in order to acquire certain knowledge. When we pass through the gate of death we do not experience anything for which we have not prepared ourselves. Life between death and rebirth is throughout a continuation of the life here, as the examples already given have shown. Therefore as individuals we can acquire from the Beings of the higher Hierarchies only that for which we have prepared ourselves on Earth — perhaps by having become anthroposophists. Our connection with the Earth and our passage through the life on Earth have a significance which nothing else can replace.
A certain form of mediation is, however, possible in this connection and I have already spoken of it. A person may die and during his lifetime have had no knowledge at all of Spiritual Science; but his brother or his wife or a close friend were anthroposophists. The man who has died may have refused to have anything to do with Anthroposophy during his life; perhaps he consistently abused it. Now he has passed through the gate of death and Anthroposophy can be conveyed to him in some way by other personalities on Earth. But there must be someone on Earth who passes on the knowledge to him out of love. Connection with the Earth must be maintained. This is the basis of what I have called ‘reading to the dead’. We can render them great benefit even if previously they would listen to nothing about the spiritual world. We can help them either by putting what we have to say into the form of thoughts, conveying knowledge in this way, or we may take an anthroposophical book, visualise the personality concerned, and read to him from it; then he will learn. We have had a number of striking and beautiful examples in our Movement of how it has been possible in this way to benefit the dead. Many of our friends read to those who have died. I recently had an experience that others too may have had. Someone asked me about a friend who had died very recently and it seemed that he was trying to make himself noticed by means of all kinds of signs, especially at night, creating disturbance in the room, rapping and so on. Such happenings are often indications that the dead person wants something; and in this case it was quite evident. In his lifetime the man had been very erudite but had always rejected any knowledge of the spiritual world that might come his way. It became obvious that he would greatly benefit if a particular Lecture Course containing the subject-matter for which he was craving, were read to him. In this way very effective help can be given beyond death for something left undone on Earth.
The fact that can convince us of the great and significant mission of Anthroposophy is that Anthroposophy can bridge the gulf between the living and the dead, that when human beings die they have not really gone away from us but we remain connected with them and can be active on their behalf. If it is asked whether one can always know whether the dead soul also hears us, it must be said that those who do what has been described with genuine devotion will eventually become aware from the way in which the thoughts which they are sending to the dead live in their own souls that the dead person is hovering around them. But this is an experience, a feeling, of which sensitive souls alone are capable. The most distressing aspect is when something that might be a great service of love is not heeded; in that case it has been done unnecessarily for the person concerned, but it may still have some effect in the general pattern of worlds. In any case one should not grieve excessively about such lack of success. After all, it happens even here that something is read to people who do not listen!
These things may well give a true conception of the seriousness and worth of Anthroposophy. But it must constantly be emphasised that the conditions of our life in the spiritual world after death will depend entirely upon the manner of our life here on Earth. Even our community with others in the spiritual world depends upon the nature of the relationship we sought to establish with them here. If there has been no relationship with a human being here on Earth it cannot be taken for granted that any connection can be established in the other world between death and rebirth. The possibility of being led to him in the spiritual world is as a rule dependent upon the contact established here on Earth — not necessarily in the last incarnation only but in earlier lives as well.
In short, both objective and personal relationships established here on Earth are the decisive factor for the life between death and the new birth. Exceptions do occur but must be recognised as such. What I said here at Christmastime (in Lecture Five) about the Buddha and his present mission on Mars is one such exception. There are numbers of human souls on the Earth who were able to contact the Buddha — even in his previous existence as Bodhisattva — as a result of inspirations received from the Mysteries. But because the Buddha was incarnated for the last time as the son of Suddodana, then worked in his etheric body as I have described [See Lectures Three, Five and Six of the course, The Gospel of St. Luke] and has now transferred his sphere of activity to Mars, at the present time the possibility exists that even if we never previously came in contact with the Buddha, we can establish a relationship with him in the life between death and rebirth; and we can then bring the results of that contact with us into the next incarnation on Earth. But that remains an exceptional case. The general rule is that after death we find those individuals with whom we had actual contacts here on Earth and continue these relationships in that other state of existence.
What has now been said is closely related to the information given during this Winter about the life between death and the new birth, and the aim has been to show that if Anthroposophy remains simply a matter of theory and external science, it is only half of what it ought to be; it fulfils its true function only when it streams through souls as a veritable elixir of life and enables these souls to experience in depth the feelings that arise in a human being when he acquires some knowledge of the higher worlds. Death then ceases to appear as a destroyer of human and personal relationships. The gulf between life here on Earth and the life after death is bridged and many activities carried out with this in mind will develop. The dead will send their influences into life, the living their influences into the realm of the dead.
My wish is that your souls will feel more deeply that life is enriched, becomes fuller and more spiritual when everything is influenced by Anthroposophy. Only those who feel this have the right attitude to Anthroposophy. What is of prime importance is not the knowledge that man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego, that he passes through many incarnations, that the Earth too has passed through the several incarnations of Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon, and so forth. The most important and essential need is to allow Anthroposophy to transform our lives in a way commensurate with the Earth's future. This feeling can never be experienced too deeply, nor can we bestir ourselves too often in this connection. The feelings we bear with us from these meetings and then move through life under the stimulus of the knowledge of the super-sensible worlds acquired here — these feelings are the really important element in anthroposophical life. Merely to have knowledge of Anthroposophy is not enough; knowledge and feeling must be combined. We must realise, however, how false it is to believe that without any understanding of the world we can do it justice. Leonardo da Vinci's saying is true: “Great love is the daughter of great understanding.” He who is not prepared to understand will not learn how to love.
It is in this sense that Anthroposophy should find entry into our souls, in order that from this influence which proceeds from our own being a stream of spirituality may find its way into Earth-evolution, creating harmony between spirit and matter. Life on the Earth will, it is true, continue to be materialistic — indeed outer life will become increasingly so — but as man moves over the Earth he will bear within his soul the realisation of his connection with the higher worlds. Outwardly, earthly life will become more and more materialistic — that is the Earth's karma — but in the same measure, if Earth-evolution is to reach its goal, souls must become inwardly more and more spiritual. My purpose today was to make a small contribution towards understanding this task.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
John Donne, Holy Sonnet #7
Rudolf Steiner, February 11, 1913:
When with the normal perception belonging to outer existence we study human life in its relation to life in the rest of the Universe, we are observing only the smallest part of world-existence that is connected with man himself. In other words, what a man can observe if he is not prepared to penetrate behind the mysteries of existence, can throw no real light upon his essential nature and being. For when we look around us with the ordinary organs of perception, with the organ of thinking, we have before us only that which does not in any way contain the deepest and most significant secrets of existence. This fact will strike us most strongly of all if we succeed in developing, even to a comparatively small extent, the capacity to view life and the world from the other side, namely, from the side of sleep. What can be seen during sleep is for the most part concealed from man's present faculty of perception. As soon as a person goes to sleep, from then until the moment of waking he really sees nothing at all. But if and when in the course of development the time comes when observation is also possible during sleep, most of what a man sees to begin with is connected with him as a human being but remains entirely hidden from ordinary observation. It is easy to understand why this is so, for the brain is an instrument of judgement, of thinking. Hence we must use or at least activate the brain when in everyday life we want to think or form judgements, but for that very reason we cannot see it. After all, the eye cannot see itself while it is actually observing something, and the same holds good of the whole organism. We bear it about with us but we cannot observe it in the real sense, we cannot penetrate it to any depth. We direct our gaze out into the world but in modern life we cannot direct this gaze into our own being.
Now the greatest mysteries of existence are not to be found in the outside world but within man himself. Let us recall what we know from Spiritual Science, namely that the three kingdoms of nature around us owe their existence to a certain retardation in evolution. Mineral kingdom, plant kingdom, animal kingdom are, fundamentally speaking, entities attributable to the fact that something remained backward in the evolutionary process. Normal progress in evolution has in point of fact been made only by beings who have reached the stage of human existence during the Earth period. When a man looks at the mineral, plant or animal kingdoms, he is really observing in the world that which amounts in his own existence to what he ‘remembers’, to the content of his memory of his actual experiences; he is in fact contemplating what has taken place in the past and still enjoys a certain existence. But he is not experiencing the living, invisible soul-life of the immediate present when he concerns himself only with his memory. The memory with all its mental pictures represents something that has been deposited in our living soul-existence, is fixed there. All this is, of course, to be taken metaphorically, but the memories embedded in the soul are not the direct, basic elements of its life. The same applies to the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms in outer nature. The thoughts conceived by divine-spiritual Beings in the past live on in these kingdoms and they continue into present existence, just as our memory-pictures continue into our present life of soul. Hence we have in the world around us, not the thoughts of the immediately present, living, divine-spiritual Beings but the memory-pictures, the preserved thoughts of the Gods.
As to the content of our memory, this may well be of interest because with our memory we grasp a tiny corner of world-creation, we grasp what has passed over from creation into existence. Our memory-pictures are the first, the lowest, the most fugitive stage of created existence. But when we waken spiritually during sleep we see something quite different. We see nothing of what is outside in space, nothing of the processes manifesting in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms or in the external aspects of the human kingdom. But then we know that the essential realities which we are there beholding are the creative, life-giving principles working on man himself. It is actually as if everything else were blotted out and as if the Earth, observed from the viewpoint of sleep, contained nothing except Man. What would never be seen by day, in the waking state, is revealed when contemplated from the viewpoint of sleep. And it is then, for the first time, that knowledge dawns in us of the thoughts which the divine-spiritual Beings kept in reserve in order to work at the creation of man, at a level above that of mineral, plant and animal existence.
Whereas through physical perception of the world we see everything except the real being of man, through the spiritual perception exercised from the viewpoint of sleep, we see nothing except man — as a creation, together with happenings in the human kingdom — that is to say, from the viewpoint of sleep we see everything that is hidden from the ordinary perception of waking life. This accounts for the element of strangeness that is present in our vision when we are contemplating the world from the viewpoint of sleep, in other words, when we become clairvoyant, having wakened spiritually during sleep.
Now the human body — and here I mean the physical and etheric bodies together — which lies in the bed during sleep, this human body itself has a singular appearance, a characteristic of which can be expressed in words somewhat as follows. Only in the very first years of a child's life does this human body as seen during sleep show a certain similarity with the weaving life and activity in the other kingdoms of nature. The body of a grown-up person, however, or of a child from a certain age onwards, when seen from the viewpoint of sleep, reveals a constant process of decay, of destruction. Every night during sleep the forces of destruction are ever and again subjugated by the forces of growth; what is destroyed by day is repaired during the night, but the forces of destruction are always in excess. And the consequence of this fact is that we die. The forces that are renewed during the night are never the equal of those that have been used up during the waking life of day, so that in the normal life of the human being a certain surplus of destructive forces is always present. This surplus accumulates and the natural death of old age ensues when the destructive forces eclipse the upbuilding forces.
Thus when we observe the human being from the viewpoint of sleep we are actually witnessing a process of destruction — but without sadness. For the feelings we might have in our waking life about this process of destruction are absent when we see it from the viewpoint of sleep, because then we know that it is the precondition of man's true spiritual development. No being who did not destroy his body in some measure would be capable of thinking or of developing an inner life of soul. No life of soul as experienced by man would be possible if the process of growth were not opposed by processes of destruction. We therefore regard these processes of destruction in the human organism as the precondition of man's life of soul and feel the whole development to be beneficial. Looked at from the other side of life, the fact that man's body can gradually be dissolved is felt to be a blessing. Not only do things look different when viewed from the other side of life but all our feelings and ideas are different; consciousness during sleep has always before it the spectacle of the body in decline — and rightly in decline.
Study of the life between death and rebirth, however, affords a different spectacle. A certain connection with the preceding life is experienced for a time after death. All of you are aware that this is the case during the period of Kamaloka; even after that period, however, the experience of connection with the previous life continues for a time. But then, at a certain point during the life between death and rebirth, a reversal of all ordinary vision and perception takes place, a reversal far more radical than takes place during sleep-consciousness. During existence on Earth we look out from our body into the world that is not our body; from the point of time to which I have just referred, between death and the new birth, we direct hardly a gaze to the universe around us but look with all the great intensity at what may now be called the human body; we discern all its secrets. Thus between death and rebirth there comes a moment when we begin to take special interest in the human body. It is extremely difficult to describe these conditions and it can really only be done with halting words. There comes a time between death and the new birth when we feel as if the whole universe were within us and outside us only the human body. We feel that the stars and other heavenly worlds are within our being, just as here on Earth we feel that the stomach, the liver, the spleen, are within us. Everything that here, in life on Earth, is outside us becomes in that other life an inner world, and just as here we look outwards to the stars, clouds and so forth, in that other life we gaze at the human body. At which human body?
To understand this we must be clear that the new human being who at his next birth is to enter into existence, has for a long time previously been preparing his essential characteristics. Preparation for a return to the Earth begins a long time before birth or conception. The conditions of central importance here are quite different from those accepted by modern statistical biology which assumes that when a human being comes into existence through birth he simply inherits certain traits from his father, mother, grandparents and the whole line of ancestors. Quite an otherwise attractive little book about Goethe has recently been published, in which his characteristic qualities are traced back to his ancestors. Outwardly speaking, that is absolutely correct in the sense I have often indicated, namely, that there is no contradiction between a scientific fact that is correctly presented and the facts brought forward by Spiritual Science. It is just as if someone were to say: Here is a man; how comes it that he is alive? It is because he has lungs inside him and there is air outside. Needless to say, that is quite correct. But someone else may turn up and say: This man is alive for an entirely different reason. A fortnight ago he fell into the water and I jumped in after him and pulled him out; but for that he would not be alive today! Both these assertions are correct. In the same way, natural science is quite correct when it says that a man bears within himself characteristics inherited from his ancestors; but it is equally correct to attribute them to his karma and other factors. In principle, therefore, Spiritual Science cannot be intolerant; it is external natural science alone that can be intolerant, for example, in rejecting Spiritual Science. Someone may insist that he has preserved the characteristics of his own ancestors. But there is also the fact that from a certain point of time between death and rebirth a human being himself begins to develop forces which work down upon his ancestors. Long before an individual enters into physical existence there is a mysterious connection between himself and the whole line of his ancestors. And the reason why specific characteristics appear in a line of ancestors is that perhaps only after hundreds of years a particular individual is to be born from that ancestral line. This human being who is to be born, perhaps centuries later, from a line of ancestors, regulates their characteristics from the spiritual world. Thus Goethe — to take this example once again — manifests the qualities of his ancestors because he worked continuously in the spiritual world with the aim of implanting into these ancestors qualities that were subsequently to be his. And what is true of Goethe is true of every human being.
From a specific point of time between death and rebirth, therefore, a human being is already concerned with the preparation of his later earthly existence. The physical body which a man has on Earth does not by any means derive in all details from the physical lives of his ancestors, nor indeed from processes that can operate on the Earth. The physical body we bear is in itself fourfold. It has evolved through the periods of Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth. Its very first foundation was laid during the Old Saturn period; during the Old Sun period the etheric body was woven into this foundation; during the Old Moon period the astral body was added and then, during the Earth period, the Ego, the ‘I’. As a result of these processes the physical body has undergone many changes. Thus we have within us the transformed Saturn foundation, the transformed Sun and Moon conditions. Our physical human body is the product of transformed physical conditions. The only part of all this that is visible is what has come from the Earth; everything else is invisible. Man's physical body is visible because he takes in the substances of the Earth, transforms them into his blood and permeates them with something that is invisible. In reality we see only the blood and what has been transformed by the blood, that is to say, a quarter of the physical human body; the other three-quarters are invisible. In the first place there is an invisible framework containing invisible currents — all this exists in the form of forces. Within these invisible currents there are also the influences exercised by one current upon another. All this is invisible. And now this threefold entity is filled out, permeated by the foodstuffs that have been transformed into blood. It is through this process that the physical body becomes visible. And it is only when we come to deal with the laws governing this visible structure that we are in the earthly realm itself. Everything else stems from cosmic, not from earthly conditions and has already been prepared when, at the time of conception, the first physical atom of the human being comes into existence. Thus what is later on to become the body of the human being has been prepared in past ages without any physical connection with the ultimate father and mother. It was then that the qualities transmitted by heredity were first worked into the process of development.
The human soul looks down upon what is thus being prepared from the above-mentioned point of time onwards between death and the new birth. It is the spiritual embryo, the spiritual seed of life. This is what constitutes the soul's outer world. Notice the difference between what is seen when we wake spiritually during sleep and have clairvoyant perception of the human body undergoing a process of continual destruction, and what is seen when our own inner organism is perceived as outer world. The outer world is then the inner man in process of coming into being. This means that we are then seeing the reverse of what is perceived clairvoyantly during sleep. During sleep we feel that our inner organs are part of the outer world, but otherwise what we see is a process of destruction. From the above-mentioned time onwards between death and rebirth our gaze is focused upon a human body in process of coming into being. Man is unable to preserve any remembrance of what he has seen between death and rebirth, but the spectacle of the building of the wonderful structure of the human body is veritably more splendid than anything to be seen when we gaze at the starry heavens or at the physical world with vision dependent in any respect upon the physical body. The mysteries of existence are truly great, even when contemplated from the standpoint of our physical senses only, but far greater still is the spectacle before us when, instead of external perception of our inner organs, we gaze at the human body that is in process of coming into being with all its mysteries. We then see how everything is directed to the purpose of enabling the human being to cope with existence when he enters the physical world through birth.
There is nothing that can truly be called bliss or blessedness except vision of the process of creation, of ‘becoming’. Perception of anything already in existence is trivial compared with vision of what is in process of coming into being; and what is meant by speaking of the states of bliss or blessedness which can be experienced by man between death and rebirth is that during this period he can behold what is in process of coming into being. Truths such as these, that have been revealed through the ages and grasped by minds adequately prepared, are indicated in words to be found in the ‘Prologue in Heaven’ in Goethe's Faust:
Das Werdende, das ewig wirkt und lebt,
Umfass' euch mit der Liebe holden Schranken,
Und was in schwankender Erscheinung schwebt,
Erfistiget mit dauernden Gedanken.
May that which works and lives, the ever-growing,
In bonds of love enfold you, mercy-fraught,
And Seeming's changeful forms, around you flowing,
Do ye arrest, in ever-during thought!
The difference between vision in the world between birth and death and the world between death and rebirth is that in the former we behold what is already in existence and in the latter what is coming into being.
The thought might occur: Is a man, then, concerned only with the vision of his own being? No, that is not the case. For at the stage of coming into being this body is actually part of the outer world; it is the manifested expression of divine mysteries. And it is then that we realise for the first time why the physical body — which after all is only maltreated between birth and death — may be seen as the temple of cosmic mysteries, for it contains more of the outer world than is seen when we are within it during earthly existence. At that stage between death and rebirth what is otherwise outer world is our inner world; what is otherwise called Universe is now that of which we can say ‘I’ — and what we then behold is outer world. We must not allow ourselves to be shocked by the fact that when we are looking at our body — or rather the body that will subsequently be ours — all other bodies which are coming into being must naturally also be there. This is of no significance because here it is simply a matter of number. In point of fact, differentiation between human bodies that can be of interest and importance to us has little significance until shortly before human beings enter into physical existence. For the greater part of the period between death and the new birth, when we are looking down upon the body that is coming into being, it is actually the case that the single bodies are differentiated only according to their number. If we want to study the essential properties of a grain of wheat, it will not make much difference whether we pick an car from a grain of wheat in a particular field or go fifty paces farther on and pick one there. As far as the essential properties are concerned, one grain is as good as another. Something similar applies when between death and rebirth we are gazing at our own body; the fact that it is our own has significance only for the future because later on we are to inhabit it on the Earth. At the moment it interests us only as the bearer of sublime cosmic mysteries and blessedness consists in the fact that it can be contemplated just like any other human body. Here we stand before the mystery of Number which will not be further considered now, but among many other relevant aspects there is this, namely, that Number — that is to say, multiple existence — cannot be regarded from the spiritual standpoint exactly as it is from the physical. What is seen in countless examples will again be seen as a unity.
Through the body we feel ourselves to be in the Universe and through what in physical life is called Universe we feel that we are living within our own Ego-hood. Such is the difference when the world is contemplated at one time from this world and at another from yonder.
For the seer, the most significant moment between death and the new birth is when the human being concerned ceases to concern himself only with his last life and begins to direct his attention to what is in process of coming into existence. The shattering impression received by the seer when, as he follows a soul between death and the new birth, this soul begins to be concerned with what is coming into being — this shattering impression is due to the fact that the soul itself at this moment experiences a severe shock. The only experience comparable with it is the coming of death in physical existence, when the human being passes over from life into being. In the other case — although it is impossible to describe it quite exactly — the transition is from something connected with a life that ended in death to experience of the process of ‘becoming’, of resurrection. The soul encounters that which bears a new life germinally within it. This is the moment of death in reverse. That is why it is so immensely significant.
In connection with these things we must turn our minds to the course of human evolution on the Earth. Let us look back to an age, for example the ancient Egypto-Chaldean epoch, when our souls, looking out through physical bodies, did not see the stars merely as material bodies in the heavens; spiritual Beings were connected with the stars — although this experience occurred only in certain intermediate states during the life between birth and death. The souls of men were deeply affected by this vista and in those times impressions from the spiritual world crowded in upon them. It was inevitable that in the course of evolution the possibility of beholding the spiritual should gradually cease and man's gaze be limited to the material world. This came about in the Graeco-Latin epoch, when men's gaze was diverted to an ever greater extent from the spiritual world and limited to the world of the senses. And now we ourselves are living in an era when it is becoming more and more impossible for the soul to see or detect spiritual reality in the life of the physical environment. The Earth is now dying, withering away, and man is deeply involved in this process. Thus whereas in the Egypto-Chaldean epoch men still beheld the spiritual around them, they now see only what is material and actually boast of having established a science which deals only with what is physical and material. This process will go to further and further lengths. A time will come when men will lose interest in the direct impressions of the world of the senses and will concentrate attention on what is sub-material, sub-sensory. Today, in fact, we can already detect the approach of the time when men will be interested only in what is sub-sensory, below the level of the sense-world. This often becomes very obvious, for example when modern physics no longer concerns itself with colours as such. In reality it takes no account of the actual quality of colour but concerns itself only with the vibrations and oscillations below colour. In many books today you can read the nonsensical statement that a yellow colour, for example, is merely a matter of oscillations, wave-lengths. Observation here is already diverted from the quality of the colour and directed to something that is not in the yellow colour at all but yet is considered to be the reality. You can find books on physics and even on physiology today in which it is emphasised that attention should no longer be fettered to the direct sense-impression but that everything resolves itself into vibrations and wave-lengths. This kind of observation will go to further and further extremes. No attention will be paid to material existence as such and account will be taken only of the working of forces. Historically, one example suffices in order to provide empirical evidence of this. If you refer to du Bois-Reymond's lecture ‘On the Boundaries of Knowledge’, given on 14th August, 1872, you will find a peculiar expression for something that Laplace already described, the expression ‘astronomical knowledge of a material system’ — that is to say when what lies behind a light- or colour-process is presented as something only brought about by mathematical-physical forces. A time will come when human souls — and some of those who are being educated in certain schools today will have the best possible foundations for this attitude in their next incarnation — will have lost real interest in the world of light and radiant colour and enquire only into the working of forces. People will no longer have any interest in violet or red but will be concerned only with wave-lengths.
This withering of man's inner spirituality is something that is approaching and Anthroposophy is there to counter it in every detail. It is not only our present form of education that helps to bring about this withering; the trend is there in every domain of life. It is in contrast to everyday life when with our Anthroposophy we want to give again to the souls of men something that fertilises them, that is not only a maya of the senses but springs forth as spirit. And this we can do when we impart to human souls knowledge that will enable them to live in the true world in their following incarnations. We have to speak of these things in a world which with its indifference to form and colour is in such contrast to what we ourselves desire; for it is particularly in regard to colours that the world of today is preparing souls to thwart what we want to achieve. We must work not only according to the concepts and ideas of everyday existence but with cosmological ideas. Hence it is not a mere liking on our part when we arrange surroundings such as those to be seen in this room [Dr. Steiner recommended that restful and refreshing colours should be displayed in lecture halls and rooms used for the presentation and study of Spiritual Science, also in rooms for the sick.] but it is connected with the very nature of Spiritual Science. Immediate response to what is presented to the senses must again be generated in the soul in order that active life in the spirit may begin. Now, in this incarnation, each one of us can assimilate Anthroposophy in the life of soul; and what is now assimilated is transformed into faculties for the new incarnation. Then, during his life between death and the next birth, the individual sends from his soul into his body that is coming into being influences which prepare his future bodily faculties to adopt a more spiritual view of the world. This is impossible for him without Anthroposophy. If he rejects Anthroposophy he prepares his body to see nothing but barren forces and to be blind to the revelations of the senses.
And now something shall be said that enables a seer to form a judgement of the mission of Anthroposophy.
When a seer today directs his gaze to the life between death and the new birth of souls who have already passed beyond the above-mentioned point of time and are contemplating the body that is coming into being for a further existence, he may realise that this body will afford the soul no possibility of Developing faculties for the comprehension of spiritual truths. For if such faculties are to be part of life in the physical body, they must have been implanted before birth. Hence in the immediate future more and more human beings will be devoid of the faculties needed for the acceptance of spiritual knowledge — a state of things that has existed for some time already. Before the seer there will be a vista of souls who in previous lives deprived themselves of the possibility of accepting any knowledge of a spiritual kind. In their life between death and rebirth such souls can indeed gaze at a process of development, but it is a development in which something is inevitably lacking — that is the tragic aspect. These vistas lead to a grasp of the mission of Anthroposophy. It is a shattering experience to see a soul whose gaze is directed towards its future incarnation, its future body, beholding a budding, burgeoning process and yet being obliged to realise: something will be lacking in that body but I cannot provide it because my previous incarnation is responsible. In a more trivial sense this experience may be compared with being obliged to work at something knowing from the outset that ultimately it is bound to be imperfect. Try to be vividly aware of the difference: either you can do the work perfectly and be happy in the prospect, or you are condemned from the outset to leave it imperfect.
This is the great question: are human souls in the spiritual world to be condemned in increasing numbers to look down upon bodies which must remain imperfect, or can this be avoided? If this fate is to be avoided, souls must accept during their life in physical bodies the proclamation and tidings of the spiritual worlds.
What those who make known these tidings regard as their task is verily not derived from earthly ideals but from the vista of the entire span of life, that is to say, when to life on Earth is added the period of existence between death and the new birth. Herein is revealed the possibility of a fruitful future for humanity, the possibility too of militating against the withering of the souls of men. The feeling can then be born in us that Spiritual Science must be there, must exist in the world. Spiritual Science is a sine qua nonfor the life of mankind in the future but not in the sense that is applicable to some other kind of knowledge. Spiritual Science imparts life, not concepts and ideas only. But the concepts of Spiritual Science, accepted in one incarnation, bring life, inner vitality, inner forcefulness. What Spiritual Science gives to man is an elixir of life, a vital force of life. Hence anyone who regards himself as belonging to a Movement for the promulgation of Spiritual Science should feel Spiritual Science to be a dire necessity in life, unlike anything that originates from other unions and societies. The realisation of being vitally involved in the necessities of existence is the right feeling to have in regard to Spiritual Science.
We have embarked upon these studies of the life between death and rebirth in order that by turning our minds to the other side of existence we may receive from there the impulse that can kindle in us enthusiasm for Spiritual Science.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
|Rudolf Steiner as the Mona Lisa|
from De Profundis by Oscar Wilde:
"Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realize what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that. It is the means by which one alters one's past.... Christ, had he been asked, would have said — I feel quite certain about it — that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept he really made his having wasted his substance with harlots, and then kept swine and hungered for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy incidents in his life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be worthwhile going to prison."
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, January 14, 1913:
During this winter we have prepared the ground in various ways in order to understand with greater exactitude than has hitherto been possible man's life between birth and death in the physical world on the one side and on the other between death and rebirth in the spiritual world. And there will be still more to say about this subject in the coming months.
Efforts will be needed to draw together a number of details that will contribute towards a thorough understanding of this subject and throw new light upon many topics we have already studied from a different point of view. Today, then, I will ask you to think, above all, of the course of man's physical life — about which something has also been said in my book The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy — and of how it progresses in cycles: one from birth until about the seventh year, or until the change of teeth; a second cycle from the change of teeth until puberty at about the fourteenth year; then a third cycle, and so on in periods of seven years. Even to ordinary observation it will be clear that this systematic arrangement into periods of seven years is well founded, but on the other hand it will also be evident that in the actual life of the human being other facts of incisive significance cut across these seven-year periods. We ourselves have repeatedly considered a crucial occurrence in a man's life which eludes this division into cyclic periods. It is the point of time back to which a man's memory extends in later life, the moment when he begins to feel and know himself as an ‘I’, when Ego-consciousness dawns in him. This experience does not by any means occur at exactly the same point of time, but in most cases it may be said that Ego-consciousness flashes up in the human being at some point between birth and the seventh year. And something similar can be said to hold good in the later period of a man's life. Although with less abruptness than the sudden flashing-up of Ego-consciousness, there are other occurrences which as it were invalidate the regular seven-year cycle. We shall, however, always discover that whatever comes in this way into the life of man and cuts across the cyclic periods, occurs much more irregularly than the experiences connected with the actual seven-year cycles. You will hardly find two human beings whose memories go back to exactly the same point of time, that is to say who experienced the flashing up of consciousness of ‘I’ at the same age. Nor does the change of teeth occur at precisely the same age in different individuals. But why this is so in the latter case, we shall still have to consider.
When we study the cyclic periods already referred to and mentioned in my little book, Education of the Child, we shall notice that they begin in connection with the most physical, the most external member of man's being and are then concerned with the other, more inward members of his constitution. From birth until the seventh year development is connected primarily with the physical body, then for seven years with the etheric body, then for seven years with the astral body, the sentient soul, and so on. The evolutionary factors pass over more and more decisively from the external to the inner nature of man. That is essentially characteristic of the seven-year periods.
What, then, is there to be said about occurrences which cut across these seven-year periods? The flashing-up of ‘I’-consciousness during the first cycle is an emphatically inner event. For the sake of clarity, here let us consider something that seems to be in contrast with this flashing-up of Ego-consciousness. If we observe human life with discernment we shall find that the cessation of growth may be compared with some happening which cuts across the seven-year cycles of evolution. We will therefore think about the cessation of growth which after all occurs comparatively late in life, and study its implications.
The first seven-year period ends with the change of teeth. The appearance of the second teeth is, as it were, the final act of what may be called the formative principle. The last contribution made by the forces that give the human being his form is when they drive out the second teeth. That is the culmination of the formative process, for the principle which builds up the human form is no longer in action. With the seventh year the formative principle ceases to be active. What comes about later on is only an expansion of what has already been established as form. After the seventh year there is no more remodelling of the brain. All that happens is growth of what is already established as basic form. Therefore we can say that the principle of form unfolds its activity specifically in the first seven years of the life of a human being. The principle of form stems from the Spirits of Form; thus these Spirits of Form are active in the human being during the first seven years of his life. It can therefore be said that when the human being enters into life through birth, his actual form is not complete. What happens is that the Spirits of Form continue their active intervention during the first seven years of life; the human being has then reached the point when his form merely needs to grow. The basis for the form has been established by the seventh year, and the second teeth are what the formative principle still produces out of the human being. The formative principle has now come to its conclusion. Were its activity to continue, the second teeth would inevitably make their appearance later than is now the case.
Here we may ask: When these Spirits of Form have worked on the human being until the seventh year of his life, does everything they do for him come to an end?
The answer is ‘No’, for the human being goes on growing and the basic principles of his form develop still further. If nothing else intervened, growth would be able to continue without interruption. If we think only of the principles of form that are active in the human being until the seventh year there is no more reason in the case of man than in that of other beings why these forms should not continue to grow if nothing were to intervene. But something does intervene. When the human being stops growing, certain principles of form still have an effect upon him. They have already been drawing near to him but now they unite in the fullest sense with his organism, lay hold of it, but in such a way that they now act as a hindrance, and further growth is prevented. The formative principles that are active until the seventh year of life allow the human being a certain elasticity. But at that point other formative principles approach him; their nature is such that they capture and confine what is elastic in the demarcated form, thus preventing any further growth. That is why growth stops at some point. When growth stops, this means that formative forces approaching from outside are at work. Whenever formative principles are active, whenever forms grow larger, provision must be made for the stoppage of growth by the appearance of counter-formative principles which oppose the first category as its polar antithesis. When man's form has developed until about the seventh year of life (indicated in the shaded portion of the diagram) this form can continue to grow.
The formative principles have been at work until the seventh year; these principles work from within. Then different formative principles work in opposition from outside, so that the human being can grow only to the limit indicated by the line b–b. It is really as if until the seventh year of his life the human being were given an elastic garment which he can constantly stretch and enlarge. But at a specific point of time he is given one that is not elastic; he is obliged to put it on, and thenceforth cannot grow beyond its limits.
We can therefore say that in the human being a confrontation takes place between two kinds of formative principles, one working from within and the other from without. The formative principles belonging to the first category come from the Spirits of Form, from those Spirits of Form who have passed through a perfectly normal process of evolution in the Cosmos. The formative principles working from without are not of the same kind. They come from Spirits of Form whose development has been retarded and who have acquired a Luciferic character. They are the factor which works in the purely spiritual domain, whereas the forces working in the material sphere have had a normal development; having evolved through the stages of Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon, they then pass to the Earth in the regular way and shape the human form from within. The ‘irregular’ Spirits of Form take what is presented to them and hold back its further development. Thus the process of growth in the human being is brought to a halt by these backward Spirits of Form. The Beings of the higher Hierarchies have the most varied tasks, among them the one that has been characterised today.
We have now been able to consider many different aspects of the work of the ‘regular’ Hierarchies and also of the work of the backward spiritual Beings belonging to the different Hierarchies. In the book Occult Science — an Outline [See pp. 180 onwards in the Rudolf Steiner Press 1963 edition.] you can read how the human being reached the stage where through the Spirits of Form he could be endowed with the germinal foundation for the ‘I’, the Ego. We know that man received the germ of his physical body from the Thrones, of his etheric body from the Spirits of Wisdom, of his astral body from the Spirits of Movement, and the germinal foundation for the ‘I’ from the Spirits of Form. Bearing this in mind we can say that man, in his outer stature, has been organised by the regular Spirits of Form into an Ego-bearing being and that this comes into manifestation in the first seven-year cycle of his life. But then the backward Spirits of Form who are the opponents of the regular Spirits of Form, put a stop to his growth. This is actually the antithesis of the first, most deeply inward experience in the human being, namely, the kindling of the consciousness of ‘I’ — the Ego. This happens in the early years of life, in the innermost realm of being. The outermost manifestation, the form, is checked at a later age, as a final act. Thus we perceive two evolutionary — but antithetical — processes in the human being. Of the one I have said that it comes from without and moves inward, taking hold of the sentient soul and so on, in the twenty-first year of life. Then there is another evolution proceeding from within outwards until the growth of the physical form is checked. The one evolution, the regular evolution, proceeds from the spiritual to the corporeal, from within outwards and is of interest especially for education. The other evolution — which is a much less regular and also more individual process — proceeds from without inwards and, when the human being has reached a certain age, it comes to expression in the completion of the outermost principle — the physical body.
It is very important that teachers should have knowledge of these two antithetical lines of evolution. Hence in the book The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy it was right to call attention to the first process of evolution which proceeds from within outwards, because it is only there that education is possible. On the other line of evolution — from without inwards — which is the line of individual development, it is impossible to make any actual impression. This is something of which account can be taken but which cannot be halted; neither can much be achieved in the way of education. And to be able to distinguish between where education is possible and where it is not, is of fundamental importance.
Just as the cessation of growth is caused by the backward Spirits of Form, the first actual manifestation of the ‘I’ in the human being during early childhood is the work of the backward Spirits of Will (Thrones). Between these two extremes there are other happenings which are to be attributed to backward Spirits of Wisdom and backward Spirits of Movement.
No adequate characterisation of man's life as a whole, including the existence between death and the new birth, is possible unless we take account of all the factors which have an effect upon him, and recognise that even in everyday life the influences of Luciferic beings take effect in many different ways. This influence is evident in other spheres as well. And as our endeavour in these lectures is to acquire a really fundamental understanding of man's life as a whole, we will not hesitate to think about matters which seem to be somewhat remote.
Attention shall first of all be drawn to a phenomenon from which it is evident that on the physical plane too, between birth and death, man's life has undergone essential changes in the course of evolution. If we realise this, it will, become evident that the life between death and rebirth has also changed. Those who think intellectually, but superficially, about life today may readily believe that, in essentials, things were always the same as they are at present. By no means was it so! And in certain cases we need go back only a few hundred years to find that conditions were very different. Thus at the present time there is something that has a very great influence upon man's life of soul between birth and death but that simply did not exist in its present form only a few centuries ago. It is what we today mean by the expression ‘public opinion’. Even as recently as the thirteenth century it would have been nonsense to speak of public opinion as we do today. A great deal is said nowadays against belief in authority, although in actual fact it exists in a much more oppressive form in our time than it did in these earlier, often despised centuries. In earlier centuries there were, of course, defects, but there was no blind belief in authority such as exists at present. This blindness of belief in authority is usually revealed by the fact that the authority in question cannot be specified. A person today will readily be floored when he is told that science has proved this or that. In earlier centuries, however, people attached more weight to authorities whom they encountered physically. Reference to an intangible ‘something’ is implied when it is said: ‘There is scientific proof of it.’ Such a saying urges belief in authority when confronted with something incomprehensible. Such belief did not exist in earlier centuries. People belonging to our civilisation usually concern themselves very little with matters about which the simplest, most, primitive human being in earlier centuries endeavoured to have some knowledge — matters relating, for example, to health and illness. Why, it is asked today, should anyone need to know about health and illness? The doctors know about these matters and the problems concerned can be left to them. This is also an example of what comes into the category of intangible but sovereign authority. But countless other influences make their way into life; from earliest youth the human being becomes dependent upon them and his trends of judgement and feeling force themselves into our life! These living currents swirling around among human beings are usually referred to as ‘public opinion’ — and prompted the saying from philosophers: ‘Public opinions are mostly private errors.’ To realise this, however, is not as important as it is to be aware that public opinions exert tremendous power upon the life of an individual. It would be a complete misconception of history to speak about the influence of public opinion upon the life of an individual living in the thirteenth century. In those days there were single personalities who admittedly exerted a great deal of authority either in affairs of Government or in practical life, and in these spheres it was obeyed. But at this time there was nothing resembling what impersonal public opinion has become today. Anyone who is unwilling to believe this on the basis of the occult facts should study the history of Florence during those centuries and in later times too — when the government of the city passed into the control of the Medici. The tremendous power of individual authorities will then be apparent, but there was no such thing as public opinion. It first arose in an epoch preceding our own by four or five centuries and one can speak of its actual beginning. Such things must be regarded as realities, for a world of swirling thoughts does indeed exist.
What is the origin of this public opinion which we often accept as something that cannot be verified? What is public opinion in reality? You may remember that I have spoken of certain spiritual Beings belonging to the Hierarchy immediately above man — Beings who participate in various ways in the guidance and leadership of humanity. In my little book The Spiritual Guidance of Man and Humanity, you will find a great deal on the subject of spiritual Beings belonging to the higher Hierarchies. Now we know that the mightiest incision in the evolution of humanity was made by the Mystery of Golgotha. In that event there came to pass something that was most wonderfully expressed in the esoteric teaching of St. Paul. Paul spoke in simple language but the actual way in which he spoke was rooted in profound esotericism. It was not possible for him always to give out openly what he, as an Initiate, knew; for in the first place he wanted to speak to a wider circle of people and, secondly, it was not possible in his day to give out everything he knew in the way of which he would have been capable. Nevertheless his very presentation was based upon profound esoteric knowledge. We find, for example, that there is a deeply significant truth in the distinction he makes between the ‘first Adam’ and the ‘higher Adam’ — the Christ. According to Paul, the various generations of human beings are to be traced back to Adam, that is to say, the bodies of men descend from Adam. Hence it can be said that the physical increase of humanity over the Earth during the different periods, leads back finally to the physical body of Adam — Adam and Eve, naturally. We can then ask: What lies at the basis of the physical evolution of mankind from Adam onwards? Naturally, the evolution of souls! The physical bodies which have descended from Adam are the habitations of living souls. These souls had descended from cosmic worlds and had brought with them to the Earth a certain spiritual heritage, a spiritual endowment. But in the course of time this spiritual endowment had undergone decline. Individuals who lived, say, six or seven thousand years before the founding of Christianity had within them much stronger, more extensive spiritual forces than those who lived a mere thousand years before the Mystery of Golgotha. The spiritual heritage which once came to the Earth with human beings had gradually withered away in the soul. Now the life between death and rebirth is of particular significance for this spiritual heritage. If we go back to the epoch long before the Mystery of Golgotha, we find that after death men had an active, inwardly illumined life of soul; but then this life of soul became dimmer and dimmer, darker and darker. An ever-fading life of soul came with human beings when they passed through death. This was particularly the case among the Greeks although they were the most advanced peoples then on the Earth, and their sages had every reason to say, in view of the stage reached in evolution: ‘Better it is to be a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of the Shades.’ We know that this saying was true when applied to the Greeks who lived a fully satisfying life on the physical plane; but as soon as they had passed through the gate of death their life became dim and shadowy.
In the fullest sense it is true that the spiritual life which men had brought with them to the Earth and which manifested after death as a somewhat dim clairvoyant consciousness, had become even dimmer. And especially in the fourth Atlantean epoch, the Graeco-Latin epoch, during which the Mystery of Golgotha took place, the spiritual life had reached the stage of its greatest darkness.
The all-important purpose of the Baptism by John the Baptist was that some of those who sought to be baptised should be made conscious of the conditions just described. The individuals baptised by John were completely submerged in the water. As a result, the etheric body of these individuals was liberated from them and for a short time, while under the water, they became clairvoyant. John was able to reveal to them that there had been such deterioration in the life of soul in the course of time that a human being now possessed very little of the spiritual treasure that he had once been able to take with him through the gate of death and that could give him clairvoyant consciousness. A man whom John baptised in this way became aware that a revitalisation of the life of soul was essential, that something new must radiate into human souls in order that after death there might be a life in the real sense. This new impulse streamed into the souls of men through the Mystery of Golgotha. You need only read my lecture-course entitled From Jesus to Christ and you will realise that a rich and abundant spiritual life streams from the Mystery of Golgotha into the souls of individuals who develop a relationship to that Mystery.
Hence Paul could say: just as the physical bodies of men descend from Adam, so will the content of their souls in greater and greater measure ‘descend’ from the Christ who is the second Adam, the spiritual Adam. It is a profound truth that Paul uttered here, clothed in his simple words. If the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place, men would have become progressively empty in soul and would either have developed a longing only to live outside the physical body or to live on Earth with no other wishes or desires than for a purely physical life, and so would have become more and more materialistic. Because all development is a slow and gradual process there are still some peoples on the Earth who have not yet wholly lost the original spiritual treasure, who still retain some measure of it in spite of having failed to establish any relationship to the Mystery of Golgotha. Individuals belonging to the most advanced peoples, however, can become conscious after death only to the extent to which they have learnt ‘to die in Christ’, as the second line of the Rosicrucian formula expresses it. And so in actual fact the Mystery of Golgotha has acted as illumination in men's souls.
With this clearly in mind we shall understand the gist of a question relating to man's evolution. It is the question: How came it that understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha enabled the content of man's soul to be carried into the sphere of his ‘I’, his Ego? How did this soul-content differ from what existed before the Mystery of Golgotha as an ancient heritage? The difference is that, before the Mystery of Golgotha, in respect of the content of their souls men were far less independent. They were under the direct guidance of the Beings we know as the Angeloi, Archangeloi and so on. Before the Mystery of Golgotha men were under the leadership of the Beings of the nearest higher Hierarchies to a far greater extent than was the case after that event. Indeed the progress of these Beings themselves — Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai — consists in the fact that they have learnt to lead human beings in a way that respects their independence. Men were intended to live on the Earth in a state of greater and greater independence. The leading spiritual Beings of the higher Hierarchies have recognised this and therein consists their progress.
But it is possible for these Spirits too to remain behind in their evolution. Not all the Spirits who participated in the leadership of humanity have acquired through the Mystery of Golgotha the power to guide and lead men while ensuring their freedom. Among these Beings of the higher Hierarchies there are some who remained backward and have become Luciferic spirits. What we call ‘public opinion’ is an example of the way in which some of them are active. Public opinion is not created by human beings alone but also by a certain category of Luciferic spirits of the lowest rank — retarded Angeloi and Archangeloi. These spirits are only beginning their Luciferic career and have not yet risen very high in the ranks of the Luciferic spirits, but they are definitely Luciferic in character. With the eye of seership one can perceive how certain spirits of the higher Hierarchies did not keep pace with evolution after the Mystery of Golgotha, how they adhere rigidly to the old kind of leadership and therefore cannot make any direct approach to men. Those who have kept pace with evolution can make regular and direct contact with men; the other spirits are incapable of this and they manifest their activity in the muddled, turbulent thinking that comes to expression as public opinion. The function of public opinion is intelligible only when it is realised that this is how it has made its way into human life.
Thus we have among us beings who abandon the regular course of evolution and become Luciferic in character. It is important that this should be known. The work of the Luciferic beings of whom we have already spoken and who now have great power, also began on a small scale. Indeed this is true in the case of the whole host of Luciferic beings. Admittedly, on the Old Moon there was no public opinion as we know it but something that can be compared with it — a kind of guidance of men. Some among this host of Luciferic spirits of whom we have spoken are powerful and important beings, for example backward Spirits of Form who surge in upon the human being with such violence that they stop his growth. The others are merely the recruits; nevertheless this is the beginning of the career of the Luciferic spirits, a career which later on will assume a quite different dimension because the spirits become more and more powerful. Public opinion, which under the guidance and direction of certain Luciferic spirits of the lowest order, influences human beings because they absorb it between birth and death, must necessarily have its counterweight during the life between death and rebirth. That is to say, because a human being in his life between birth and death has been caught up into the current of public opinion described, he must experience the counterweight in his life between death and rebirth. Otherwise the following would ensue.
The backward spirits who are responsible for the creation of public opinion have no significance or power whatever in man's life between death and rebirth. They have relinquished all possibility of working in that sphere because they are active here, on the physical plane, in a spiritual way — indeed in a way that is only possible in the form of public opinion. A man can take no iota of anything like public opinion with him into the spiritual world and whatever element of it he might want to accompany him into the life after death would be entirely out of place. It must be said, although it will seem strange to many people, that life in Kamaloka becomes very difficult for one who clings to public opinion or has been caught in the coils of his own judgement very early in life. This applies particularly to persons who believe that within the world of public opinion there can still be independent judgement — which is an utter impossibility. For such people Kamaloka is admittedly difficult. But when the period of Kamaloka is over, public opinion has no weight or significance whatever, and after death it is irrelevant whether people adhered to nuances of it, such as liberal or conservative, radical or reactionary. This has no significance whatever in the different groupings of human beings and moreover exists on Earth solely for the purpose of hindering men from making progress towards illumination of consciousness after death. The beings behind public opinion resolved to forgo the progress made possible by the Mystery of Golgotha. But the Mystery of Golgotha will become of greater and greater importance for the Earth's evolution. We must clearly understand that the future of the Earth's evolution cannot be assured simply by rectifying phenomena such as public opinion and the like which are inevitable in the course of evolution. Men can, however, become better in their own inner nature, therefore the process of evolution must take root more and more deeply in their inner life. In the future, men will be still more exposed to the pressure of public opinion, but inwardly they will have developed greater strength. This is possible only through Spiritual Science. But if man is gradually to become a match for those spirits who are now exerting their influence in public opinion as recruits of the Luciferic beings, this will be possible only if, between death and rebirth too, he undergoes something that strengthens him inwardly, strengthens the principle in him that is independent of life on Earth. Whereas through the influence of public opinion he becomes more and more dependent upon earthly life, in the life between death and rebirth he must receive into his very self something that in the next life on Earth will make him ever freer from the influence of public opinion.
Connected with this is the fact that at the time when public opinion began to assume importance, the Buddha-realm was established in the Mars sphere — as we heard in the lecture at Christmas. Consequently between death and rebirth man passes through this Buddha-realm on Mars. Christian Rosenkreutz had entrusted to Buddha a special mission in the Mars sphere. And what would be futile on Earth, namely the desire to flee from the conditions of terrestrial existence — this is an experience which man must undergo between death and rebirth during his passage through the Mars sphere. Among other things he strips off the incubus of public opinion which takes effect only on Earth. Many, even more overbearing influences will come in the future and it will be more than ever necessary to undergo the experience that is possible for man as a pupil of Buddha in the Mars sphere. Here on Earth, men can now be pupils of the Buddha in the orthodox sense only if they refuse to participate in the progress made by the most advanced people on Earth. But between death and rebirth Buddha unfolds what has developed from the teaching he gave on Earth, which was that man should free himself from the need for further incarnations. This has been developed into a doctrine that is inapplicable to the Earth, where life must progress from incarnation to incarnation. Thus the doctrine preached by Buddha on Earth contained the seed of what man must acquire in the disembodied state of existence. In this advanced form, Buddha's teaching is right for the period between death and rebirth. The Buddha himself appeared in the astral body of the Jesus-Child of St. Luke's Gospel [See the lecture-course, The Gospel of St. Luke given by Dr. Steiner in Basle, September 1909, particularly lectures four to nine.] and Christ Himself leads men between death and rebirth through the Mars sphere, enabling them there to receive the Buddha's advanced teaching. Thus in the Mars sphere men can be emancipated from the tendency to uniformity resulting from the effects of public opinion which are detrimental for their further progress on Earth. Whereas in earlier times Mars was said to be the planet of warlike traits, it is now the Buddha's task gradually to transform these warlike traits in such a way that they become the foundation of the sense for freedom and independence needed in the present age. Whereas nowadays men have the tendency to surrender their sense of freedom and succumb to the fetters of public opinion, on Mars between death and rebirth they will strive to throw off these fetters and not bring them again into the life on Earth when they return to new incarnations.
It seems to me that here we have something that characterises most wonderfully how wisdom holds sway in the world, how everything that progresses or remains backward is manipulated in such a way that the final outcome is harmony in the evolution of worlds. Man cannot achieve progress by keeping as it were to the middle line, although there are many who realise the uselessness of adopting a one-sided standpoint. Admittedly, we come across idealists, materialists and other ‘-ists’ who swear by their own standpoint, but truly great individuals such as Goethe do no such thing. They try to grasp material conditions by means of material thinking. When men of less eminence imagine that they have understood this, they say: truth lies in the middle, between two different standpoints. But that would be the same as if someone in practical life wanted to sit between two chairs! The truth cannot be found by a one-sided adoption of this or that standpoint but by applying the modes of knowledge appropriate either for materialism or idealism, The world does not progress by undeviating adherence to a middle course: a middle course is appropriate when the opposing sides are also present and are recognised as forces. If something has to be weighed, the two scalepans are needed as well as the beam. Thus there must be a counterbalance to public opinion; and this is provided by Buddha's teaching in the Mars sphere — which would not be necessary if public opinion had never existed. Life needs antithesis; life progresses in and through polarity. Somebody might think that as the North and South Poles are antitheses, it would be better if neither existed! They are not, of course, antithetic in the sense implied by a certain Professor of whom it was said that because he had written his books in such haste he could not think about their contents and stated that civilisation could develop only in the middle zone of the Earth because at the North Pole people would freeze through cold and at the South Pole melt through heat! In another connection, of course, North and South Poles are genuine opposites and are necessary because progress is not achieved by adopting a neutral course but by the maintenance and harmonising of opposites. Thus what develops on Earth had to undergo a process that lies below the level of progress. Public opinion is of less value than the judgements which an individual can reach on a path of progress. Public opinion is sub-human and it is this sub-human influence that is counteracted by the Buddha-stream through which man passes between death and rebirth. Both influences are necessary and it is extremely important to bear this in mind in connection with evolution.
It can therefore be said with truth: yes, there are indeed backward spirits, but everything that remains behind on the one side and on the other outstrips the evolutionary process, is manipulated by the wisdom of the Universe in such a way that harmony is the final result. The backward spirits are utilised to constitute the opposite pole to the spirits who have progressed to further stages.
If we look at life in this way it will be clear to us that in the future course of Earth evolution the human being will bring into life more and more qualities which will have greater weight and influence than the purely physical qualities. And it will be increasingly apparent that qualities other than the purely physical will have to be taken into account. Physical qualities will be evident, which — although they become manifest only gradually — can be traced back to infancy; but there will be other qualities to which this does not apply and which show themselves in a marked form only comparatively late in life. A characteristic feature of evolution in the future will be the existence of an increasing number of individuals about whom it will inevitably be asked: What can have happened to that individual at a certain age in his life? He has completely changed; it is as though he has become a different being! Qualities that were completely absent in earlier life, that appear only when a certain age has been reached, will reveal themselves. This will happen in the case of souls who are the most highly developed and in whom a certain break in their life becomes evident. For the fact that an individual was a pupil of Buddha in the life between death and rebirth reveals itself only at a certain age. This would apply to persons of whom it can be said: Up to a particular point in their lives their individual qualities were in evidence; but then entirely new trends appeared and they were able to understand matters altogether different from those for which they had previously shown understanding. These will be individuals who in the future will be the vehicles of true spiritual progress although they may simply be regarded as late developers, manifesting these qualities only late in life. In truth, however, the reason why these individuals display these qualities only in later life is that in previous incarnations on the Earth they had established the causes which enabled them to experience the spiritual life in the Mars sphere with particular intensity and so to acquire qualities which enabled them to bring a new impulse into the evolution of humanity. True spiritual culture will more and more be in the hands of individuals of this kind, who in their youth showed little aptitude for the spiritual standpoint they adopt in later life.
We now see that this is the reason why a certain fact has always been stressed in the Rosicrucian line of thought of which we ourselves have heard in the past, although it could not then be substantiated because our studies were not as advanced as they now are. Representatives of the Rosicrucian principle of Initiation in the West have always emphasised that it is impossible to discover in their childhood those who are to become leading figures, because these are individuals who give evidence of that fundamental change in later life of which I have spoken. When a seer speaks of Buddha today, he knows that Buddha has faithfully adhered to what his teaching promised; he has continued to work for that in human nature which has no direct urge for physical embodiment and therefore does not appear at the beginning of life in a physical body but only when the physical body has undergone a certain development, when a certain stage towards spirituality has been reached. Then, at a later stage of life the gift of the Buddha to man becomes an effective influence.
All this must be borne in mind if we are to understand the whole process of man's development. What it signifies for each individual in his life between birth and death — of this we shall hear later.