|"He must increase; I must decrease." — John 3: 30|
A lecture by Rudolf Steiner given in Berlin on December 23, 1904:
In a series of lectures I have been speaking about occult schools and their ramifications and I think it right today to bring this whole course of lectures to a close before we pass on to a different subject next time. A week from now I shall speak about the meaning of the days connected in the Church calendar with the Christmas Festival, the less important New Year's Festival, and the extremely important Feast of the Epiphany. The lecture today, therefore, will be more in the nature of a conclusion.
The question might be asked: What is the deeper significance of secret societies and of their aims in world evolution? To such a question my answer would be that they have a real connection with the way in which beings in the world evolve and make progress.
As you know, different kinds of exercises are necessary for self-development, and such exercises are actually available. You have heard of hatha yoga, raja yoga, and other exercises of different kinds, by means of which societies and brotherhoods connected with occult science have initiated their members. Somebody may say: All this, surely, could be attained without these secret societies. But I can tell you — and in the course of the lecture you will realize it — that the world cannot do without such societies. To put it bluntly, it is quite unjustifiable to speak in public in the style of the manifesto of the Freemasons which I read to you a fortnight ago. That is only one example. Men cannot reach what is usually known as immortality unless they are to some extent familiar with the occult sciences.
The fruits of occult science do, of course, find their way out into the world along many channels. A great deal of occult knowledge exists in the various religions, and all those who participate deeply and sincerely in the life of a religious community have some share in this knowledge and are preparing themselves for the attainment of immortality in the real sense. But to reach the knowledge of immortality in full consciousness, as a concretely real experience, to have the feeling that one belongs in very truth to the spiritual world — that is a very different matter. All of you have lived many times; but not all of you are conscious that you have lived through these many lives. This consciousness, however, will gradually arise, and without it man's life is lived out with incomplete consciousness. It has never been the aim of occult science to inculcate into men a dim feeling of survival but to impart a clear, fully conscious knowledge of onflowing life in the spiritual world.
There is a certain law which governs the progressive development of consciousness in all future stages of life. It is this: Nothing that a human being does not himself accomplish for the attainment of this consciousness contributes towards its development. There is a maxim — on the face of it rather perplexing — that whatever is achieved in the way of development of consciousness in the world does something to further the evolution of the consciousness of every single being, even if such a being has not actually worked at the development of his own consciousness.
And now try to think of an example of really objective human action. — An architect builds a house; he does not build this house for himself, but undertakes the task of building it for reasons which he believes to be entirely impersonal. You know well that the reasons are very seldom impersonal. There are many people who, to all appearances, are not working for themselves; and yet in reality are. A lawyer, for example, is to all intents and purposes working for his clients. Part of his work may well be selfless, but the real question is one of earning his living. Whatever men do in business merely for the sake of their own livelihood, to the extent that their business only serves that end, just so much is lost in the way of spiritual gain. On the other hand, everything that is performed without regard to self, that is connected with the interests of another, helps to intensify and to strengthen our consciousness in the future struggles for existence. — I hope that this is clear.
And now think of the Freemasons. When they were true to their original, fundamental principles, they gave this injunction to their members: The buildings you erect are to contribute nothing at all to your own means of subsistence. What has still survived of the good old Freemasonry takes the form nowadays of charitable institutions and foundations. And although the Lodges have lost their living roots in the ancient wisdom and the occult knowledge once in their possession, these charitable institutions are evidences of a humanitarianism which, while it is empty of real substance, still persists and is cultivated as tradition. Selfless activity is, in very truth, something that has belonged to Freemasonry. Freemasonry did indeed urge its members to work in the service of humanity, to work in the world objectively and selflessly.
We are living now in the epoch of evolution that may be called the mineral epoch; and our task is to permeate this mineral world through and through with the spirit within us. Think of what this means. — You are building a house. You fetch the stones from a quarry and hew them into the shapes required by the building, and so on. What are you inculcating into this raw material obtained from the mineral kingdom? You are inculcating human spirit into the raw material. If you construct a machine, you have laid the spirit that is part of you into that machine; the actual machine does, of course, perish and become dust; not a trace of it will survive. But what you have done, what you have achieved, passes into the very atoms and does not vanish without a trace. Every atom bears a trace of your spirit and will carry this trace with it. Whether an atom has at some time been in a machine, or has not been in a machine, is not a matter of indifference. The atom itself has undergone change as a result of having once been in a machine, and this change that you have wrought in the atom will never again be lost to it.
Moreover, through your having changed the atom, through the fact that you have united the spirit in you with the mineral world, a permanent stamp has been made upon the general consciousness of mankind; just so much consciousness goes with you into the other world.
Occult science well knows in what way the human being can perform selfless actions and how greatly his consciousness will be enhanced by them. Certain men, who have been deeply imbued with this knowledge, have been so selfless that they have taken steps to prevent even their names from going down to posterity! An example of this is the work entitled Theologica Deutsch. Nobody knows who wrote it. On the outside there are only the words: The man from Frankfurt. He, therefore, was one who took care that his very name should be unknown. He worked in such a way that he merely added something to the objective world without asking for honor or for the preservation of his name. And here let it be said that the Masters, as a rule, are not personages known in history; they sometimes are embodied in historical personalities — when it is necessary — but in a certain respect this is a sacrifice on their part. The level of their consciousness is incompatible with work for themselves, and preservation of a name does, after all, involve this. It is difficult thoroughly to understand this rule, but it will now be clear to you why the aim of the Freemasons is to work in the world in such a way that their deeds are hidden in social organizations or charitable institutions. For selfless deeds are the real foundations of immortality.
In the outer world we see the reflex of such deeds. They need not necessarily be of great account. If someone gives a coin to a poor man, this may be an unselfish deed; but only to the extent that it was absolutely selfless does it find its way to the sphere of immortality — and very few deeds are selfless to this degree. An act of charity may be extremely egoistical when, for instance, it gives rise to a comforting feeling. Charity very often springs from selfish motives. If a poor man living among us has no meat at Christmas and we feel bound to give him some in order that we may feel justified in eating our own Christmas dinner — that, after all, is egoism. In the Middle Ages it would have been impossible to say who had built many of the cathedrals or painted many of the pictures. It is only in our epoch of civilization that people have begun to attach such value to the human name; in earlier epochs, more spiritual than our own, the individual name was of less importance. Spirituality in those days was directed to reality; whereas our epoch adheres to the delusion of thinking that what is a mere concern of the moment should be preserved.
I have said this in order to indicate the principle by which these secret societies were guided. The members of such societies were at pains to efface themselves altogether as personalities, and to allow what they did to produce its own effects.
And this brings us to the heart of the matter. The fact that some particular thing is kept secret is of far less importance than that everyone should keep secret his own share in the work; thereby he secures for himself immortality. The rule is therefore clear and unambiguous: As much as you yourself lay into the world, that much consciousness the world will give back to you. The measure of what you yourself place into the world is the measure of the consciousness that the world will give back to you.
This is connected with great and mighty laws of world existence. Each one of you has a soul, each one of you has a spirit. This soul and this spirit are called upon to climb one day to the highest stages of perfection. But the soul and the spirit were already there before your physical body existed; they were present before your first physical incarnation. You existed in physical incarnation in the early Lemurian, Hyperborean, and Polarian epochs. Before then, however, you were only beings of soul. But as beings of soul you were part of the world soul; as beings of pure spirit you were part of the universal world spirit. The world spirit and the world soul spread out around you then as nature spreads out around you today. Just as the mineral world, the plant world, and the animal world are around you now, so were the worlds of soul and of spirit once around you.
And what was then outside you is now your soul; you have taken into yourselves, made inward, what to begin with was outside and around you. What is now your innermost being was once part of an external world. This has become your soul. The spirit, too, once spread out around you. And what is now around you will become your inner life. You will take into yourselves what is now the mineral kingdom and it will become part of your inner being; similarly the plant kingdom. What surrounds you in nature will become your inner being.
You will understand now how this is connected with the first example given. You build a church for others, not for yourself. You can in very truth take into yourselves a world of majesty, beauty, and splendor if you experience this world as such. To do something for the higher self does not partake of egoism because it is not done only for the self; the higher self will be united with all the others, so that what is done for the higher self is at the same time done for all. — This is the truth that was known to the Freemasons. When the Freemason was working with his fellow builders, he knew: In future times the mineral world will be spiritualized; to build means nothing else than to spiritualize the mineral world. He knew that the edifice would one day become the content of his soul.
God once gave us the nature that surrounds us in the kingdoms of the minerals, plants and animals. We take nature into ourselves. That nature exists is none of our doing; all we can do is to make nature part of our own being. But what we ourselves prepare and make ready in the world — that is what will constitute our future existence.
We actually see the mineral world, as such; what we do with the mineral world, that we shall ourselves become in future times. What we do with the plant world, with the animal world, and with men, that too, we shall surely become. If you found a charitable institution or have contributed something to its foundation, what you have contributed will become an integral part of you. If a man does nothing with what he can in this way draw into his soul from outside, then his soul remains empty. It must therefore be possible for mankind to spiritualize — as far as this can be achieved — the four kingdoms of nature, of which man is one. To bring spirit into the whole external world — that has been the task of the secret societies of every age.
It will not be difficult for you to understand the following — Think of a child who is learning to read and write. To begin with, all the accessories are around him; the teacher is there, the books are there, and so forth, but nothing is yet within the child. Work continues until what was once outside the child has been instilled into him and he is able to read. And so too is it with nature. In times to come we shall have within us what is now spread out around us. As souls we spring from the world soul, and when this world soul was around us we drew it into ourselves. So too the spirit; and so too it will be with nature. We take nature into ourselves from outside, and nature will be within us as a power. That is the great thought at the basis of these secret societies.
All progress is the result of involution and evolution. Involution is the intaking, evolution the yield, the outgiving. All states and conditions of world existence alternate between these two processes. When you see, hear, smell, or taste, you breathe nature into yourselves. The act of sight does not pass away without leaving a trace behind. The eye itself perishes, the object seen — that too perishes; but what you have experienced in the act of sight remains.
It will not be difficult for you to realize that in certain epochs it is necessary to make such things understood. We are going forward to an age when, as I indicated recently, men will understand what the atom is in reality. It will be realized — by the public mind too — that the atom is nothing but coagulated electricity. — Thought itself is composed of the same substance. Before the end of the fifth epoch of culture, science will have reached the stage where man will be able to penetrate into the atom itself. When the similarity of substance between thought and the atom is once comprehended, the way to get hold of the forces contained in the atom will soon be discovered and then nothing will be inaccessible to certain methods of working. — A man standing here, let us say, will be able by pressing a button concealed in his pocket to explode some object at a great distance — say in Hamburg! Just as by setting up a wave movement here and causing it to take a particular form at some other place, wireless telegraphy is possible; so what I have just indicated will be within man's power when the occult truth that thought and atom consist of the same substance is put into practical application.
It is impossible to conceive what might happen in such circumstances if mankind has not, by then, reached selflessness. The attainment of selflessness alone will enable humanity to be kept from the brink of destruction. The downfall of our present epoch will be caused by lack of morality. The Lemurian epoch was destroyed by fire, the Atlantean by water; our epoch and its civilization will be destroyed by the War of All against All, by evil. Human beings will destroy each other in mutual strife. And the terrible thing — more desperately tragic than other catastrophes — will be that the blame will lie with human beings themselves.
A tiny handful of men will make good and thus insure their survival in the sixth epoch of civilization. This tiny handful will have attained selflessness. The others will develop every imaginable skill and subtlety in the manipulation and use of the physical forces of nature, but without the essential degree of selflessness.
In the seventh epoch of civilization, this War of All against All will break out in the most terrible form. Great and mighty forces will be let loose by the discoveries, turning the whole Earth globe into a kind of live electric mass. In a way that cannot be discussed, the tiny handful will be protected and preserved.
And now you will be able to picture, more clearly than was possible when I spoke of the things before, why the “good and proper form,” as it has been called, must be sought, and in what sense Freemasonry was aware of its duty to build an edifice dedicated to selfless ends. It is easier to become one of the tiny handful of men who ensure for themselves a place in the life of the future by using the good old forms than by having to struggle out of chaos. People nowadays may be inclined to jeer at “empty forms,” as they say ... but those forms have nevertheless a deep meaning and purpose; they are in line with the structure of our period of evolution, and when all is said and done they are connected with necessary stages in the development of human nature and of the human soul.
Just think of it. We are living in the fifth period of the fifth great epoch; we have still to live through two more periods of this great epoch. Then will follow the seven periods of the sixth great epoch, and then the seven periods of the seventh great epoch. This makes sixteen stages of evolution in the future. Humanity has still to climb these sixteen stages. A man who can experience something of the conditions of existence there possible is to a certain degree initiated. There is a correspondence between the degrees of initiation and the secret of the epochs still to come. In the life of our planet there are seven great epochs, and each of these seven has seven sub-periods — forty-nine conditions, therefore, in all.
Thus there are definite stages for the investigation of the secrets of future phases of evolution. The high degrees of Freemasonry originally had no other aim or purpose than to be an expression, each one of them, of a future stage of the evolution of humanity. Thus we have in Freemasonry something that has been both good and beautiful. A man who attained one degree knew how he must work his way into the future; he could be a kind of pioneer. He knew too that one who reaches a higher degree can accomplish greater things. This arrangement according to degrees can well be made, for it corresponds with the facts.
If, therefore, it were possible to inculcate a new content together with a new knowledge into these forms, much good would accrue, for Freemasonry would then be imbued with real spirit once again. Content and form, however belong to the whole. The state of affairs today is that the degrees are there but nobody has worked through them in the real sense! In spite of this, however, they are not there without a purpose.
The fifth epoch of culture is a purely intellectual age, an age of egoism. The intellect is egoistical in the highest degree and it is the hallmark of our time. And so we must make our way upwards through intellect to spirituality before we can picture the spirituality that was once actively at work.
The essential secret, therefore, is this: The human being must know how to keep silence about the paths along which his “ I ” unfolds, and to regard his deeds, not his personal “ I, ” as the criterion. The real heart of the secret lies in his deeds and in the overcoming of the “ I ” through deed. The “ I ” must remain concealed within the deed! Elimination of the interests of the personal “ I ” from the onstreaming flow of human karma — this belongs to the First Degree. Whatever individual karma the “ I ” incurs in the process is thereby wiped out. Nation, race, sex, position, religion ... all these work upon human egoism. Only when man has overcome them will he be free of egoism.
The astral body of every nation, every race, every epoch, has a definite color ... You will always find a color which is fundamental in the astral body of a human being who is a member of one of these classifications. This specific color must be eliminated. Anthroposophical spiritual science works to level out the colors of the astral bodies of its adherents. They must be of like color — alike, that is to say, in respect of the basic color. This basic color gives rise to a certain substance called Kundalini, which holds together, within the human being, the forces which lead eventually to the spirit.
This leveling-out process will bring war and bloodshed in its train — war in the shape of economic strife among nations, pressure for expansion, suppression in every form, strife in the sphere of investment and profit, industrial undertakings, and so forth. And by adopting certain measures it will increasingly be possible to handle vast masses of people by sheer force; the individual will acquire greater and greater power over certain masses of the people. For the course of evolution is leading not towards greater democracy but towards oligarchy of the brutal kind, in that the power of the single individual will immeasurably increase. If morals are not ennobled, this will lead to brutality in every possible form. This state of things will come, just as the great water catastrophe came to the Atlanteans.