Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Know yourself: experiencing the ego
In the last lecture we tried to present a retrospect not only of the content of our studies during the past year, but also of the true meaning — the inner spirit of these studies. In doing so we showed that the spirit which fills our souls when considering the Christ-problem from all possible sides must permeate our whole movement, all our spiritual efforts. We realize that we have been able to grasp one subject from so many different aspects because, in striving after knowledge, we have ever cultivated true modesty with regard to this knowledge. We should like for a moment to speak somewhat more exactly about humility in respect of knowledge.
I have often said that we can only arrive at a true conception of any object when this is viewed from different aspects, that only when these different views are placed side by side is a true picture of the object obtained. Even in ordinary observation we must go all a round an object in order to form a comprehensive conception of it. If anyone said that it was possible to grasp an object at a single glance, from one point of view in the spiritual world, he would be much mistaken. Many human errors spring from failing to recognize this. In the accounts given by us of the Event of Palestine great care has been taken that thoroughness in this respect should not be relaxed. We have four accounts of this event: the accounts of the four Evangelists. Those who do not know that in spiritual life an object, being, or event, must be observed from different sides (for people approach such things without much thought) see nothing more in this fact than the possibility of apparent contradictions between the Evangelists. We have repeatedly pointed out that the accounts of the four Evangelists have to be regarded as giving four different aspects of the one mighty Event of Christ, and that they must he compared one with another as we compare four pictures of the same object taken from different sides. If we proceed carefully in this way as we have already tried to do in respect of the Gospels of Matthew, of John, and Luke, and as we hope later to do in respect of the Gospel of Mark, it is seen that the four accounts of the event of Palestine agree in the most perfect way. Thus, in the very fact that there are four Gospels, a great lesson is given showing the necessity of a many-sided view if the truth is to be reached.
I have often spoken of the possibility of there being different opinions held by different individuals concerning truth. You will recall how at our general meeting last year I supplemented what is generally called “Theosophy” by another view which I described as the “Anthroposophical view,” and explained how this was related to Theosophy. I showed that there is an ordinary science built on facts and the intelligent comprehension of facts as revealed to the senses; this when it deals with mankind is called “Anthropology.” It contains everything that can be discovered and investigated by means of the senses. It therefore studies the human organisms as revealed by the instruments and methods of natural science. It studies, for instance, the relics of an earlier humanity, the utensils and instruments of civilizations that have remained hidden within the Earth, and seeks from these to form some idea of how the human race has developed. It studies further those stages of development found in savage or uncivilized peoples, and from the conclusions arrived at traces the stages civilized peoples have passed through in former ages. In this way Anthropology forms its conceptions of what man has experienced up to the present stage of development. Much more could be said regarding the nature of Anthropology. I have compared it with a man who learns of a country by walking about on the level, observing the features of the land, its towns, forests, fields, etc., and describing these as seen from this standpoint.
Now, mankind can be observed from a different standpoint: theosophical. All Theosophy begins by defining man, by speaking of his being or nature. If you study my “Outline of Occult Science” you will see that everything is summed up and reaches its climax in the description of the being of man himself. If Anthropology can be compared with a man who gathers facts and tries to understand them by walking about on the level, Theosophy can be compared with the observer who climbs a mountain in order to observe the surrounding country from its summit. Much that is spread out on the plain will then fade and only certain features remain. So it is with spiritual observation, with Theosophy. The point of view it takes regarding spiritual matters is a higher one. It follows that many things seen from this standpoint, and many of the ordinary human activities met with in daily life, fade away, just as villages and towns vanish when seen from a mountaintop.
What I have just said may perhaps not seem very obvious to a beginner in Theosophy. For what such a beginner first learns concerning the nature of man, concerning the different principles of his being — physical body, etheric body, astral body, etc., — he tries to understand and form a conception of, but at first he is far from the greater difficulties which face him when he advances further in the acquisition of theosophical truths. The further one advances the more one realizes how infinitely difficult it is to find a connection between what has been gained above, on the spiritual mountaintop of Theosophy, and what emerges in daily life as characteristic human feelings, ideas, etc.
We might ask: Why do theosophical truths seem obvious and right to many in spite of their not being able to prove what is told them from the spiritual mountaintops, or by what they have themselves seen? This is because the human soul is really designed for truth, not for untruth; it is so organized that it feels it natural when anything true is said. There is a feeling for truth in man; and he should realize the infinite value of this feeling. This is especially the case in our day, for the very reason that the spiritual heights from which the necessary truth can alone be seen are so infinitely high. If people had first to climb these heights they would have to travel a long way in spiritual experience, and those unable to do so would know nothing of the value of these truths for human life. But every soul, once these truths are imparted, can realize them and make them its own.
What is the position of a soul that receives these truths compared with one able to discover them for itself? This can he shown by a quite trivial example, but however trivial it means more than at first appears. Everyone can pull on a boot, but not everyone can make a boot; for this a bootmaker is necessary. What a man receives through the boot does not depend on whether he can himself make it or not, but on whether he makes use of it in the right way. This can be compared exactly with the spiritual truths given to us by spiritual science. We are summoned to make use of them, even though we are not able to discover them for ourselves. And when through our own natural sense of truth we accept and make use of them, they serve us for the directing of our whole lives; through them we know that we are not confined to life between birth and death, that we bear within us a spiritual man, that we pass through repeated earthly lives, and so on. We can make use of these truths. They serve us. Just as a boot protects us from cold, so these truths shield us from spiritual cold, from spiritual poverty. For it is a fact that we are chilled and impoverished spiritually when we only think and feel those things that have reference to the external world of the senses. We must allow that the truths presented to us by those who can bring them down from a higher standpoint can be of service to all, though there may perhaps be only a few who can travel the spiritual path described in recent lectures.
Now, every glance into the ordinary world around us — and which when it deals with man is also the concern of Anthropology — shows us how this world is itself the revealer of a world lying behind it, a world that can be seen from the spiritually higher standpoint of Theosophy. Thus even the world of the senses can reveal another world to us when we pass on to its interpretation, when we not only receive the facts it presents to us with our understanding, but begin to interpret these facts. If we cannot see as far over the fields of the sense world as Theosophy can, yet we can stand on the mountainside where the various objects are not absolutely indistinct and some prospect is possible. This standpoint in respect to spiritual things we have called Anthroposophy, and in doing so have shown that there are three ways of considering man — the anthropological, the anthroposophical, and the theosophical.
We hope this year, in connection with the General Assembly, to give lectures on “Psychosophy”: these are important in other ways from those given on “Anthroposophy.” I will then show how the human soul can interpret things for itself from its own impressions and experiences, and can participate in spiritual life in a similar way as in Anthroposophy. And in a future course of lectures on “Pnematosophy” I will bring these lectures to a conclusion so that those dealing with Anthroposophy and with Psychosophy will flow again into Theosophy. All this is for the purpose of evoking in you a sense of the manifold nature of truth. The experiences of one who seeks earnestly for truth is this: The further he goes the humbler he becomes, and also the more cautious in translating the truths gained at a higher level into words suited to ordinary life. Although, as was stated in the last lecture, these truths are really only valuable when so translated, it must be realized that the task of recalling and translating what has been seen is one of the most difficult in the work of spiritual science. To make what is seen on spiritual heights so clear to the understanding that sound logic and a healthy sense of truth can accept and understand them presents the very greatest difficulties.
I must lay stress again and again on the fact that in the activities of our group we are especially concerned with the creation of this feeling for, and understanding of, truth. We do not concern ourselves only with the comprehension of what is communicated to us from the spiritual world; it is far more important that we should experience it sympathetically through feeling, and by this means acquire those qualities that should be possessed by all who strive earnestly in the theosophical sense.
Looking at the world that surrounds us we acknowledge that on every side it presents to us the external expressions of an inner spiritual world. For us today this is a worn-out saying. Just as the human countenance expresses what is passing in a man's soul, so the changing face of the external world can be likened to the play of expressions on the countenance of a living, spiritual world behind the sense world; and we first understand physical events aright when we see in them the expressions of a spiritual world. If a man has not yet been able to reach those heights whence spiritual vision is possible by following his own path of knowledge, he has at least the physical world before him, and can ask himself: Is not confirmation given me through the evidences of my own senses of what is imparted to me as the result of spiritual vision?
This search for evidence is always possible, but it must be carried out not lightheartedly but with precision. If you have followed different lectures given by me on spiritual science and have read my “Outline of Occult Science” you will realize that at one period of the Earth's development the Earth was united with the Sun, that these formed one globe; the Earth only separated from the Sun later. If you remember all you have heard or read you must allow that the animal and plant forms found on the Earth today are the further development of those that existed at the time when the Earth and Sun were one. But just as the animal forms of today are suited to the present conditions of the Earth, so the animal forms of that far-off time must have been suited to the planetary body which was then both Sun and Earth. It follows from this that the animal forms that have remained over from these times have not only remained over, but are the continuation of creatures that existed formerly. There are, for example, animals that still have no eyes, for eyes only have meaning when there is light, such light as streams to Earth from the Sun when it is outside. Thus among the various creatures of the animal kingdom we find those that have formed eyes after the Sun separated from the Earth, and also those that are relics of the time when the Earth was still united with the Sun — that is, animals without eyes. Such animals would naturally belong to the lowest types, and so they do. We find it stated in popular books that the possession of eyes began at a certain stage of development. This bears out what spiritual science tells us.
We are able in this way to picture the world around us, in which we ourselves are placed, as the facial expression of the living, weaving life of the spirit. If we merely considered the physical world, without it revealing to us how it points to a spiritual world, we would never feel the urge, the longing, to develop toward that world. Someday a longing for what is spiritual will be aroused in us by the surrounding world itself, someday the spirit must stream down from the spiritual realms as though a door or window that has opened into our everyday world. When will this take place? When does spiritual illumination stream directly into us? It takes place — and you have heard this in many lectures from me and others — when we are in the position to experience our ego.
The moment we experience our ego, we experience something which is directly related to the spiritual world. But what we experience is at the same time infinitely feeble; it is but a single point amid all the phenomena of nature, the single point which we express by the little word “I.” This word certainly describes something that was originally spiritual, but a spirituality that has dwindled to a single point. All the same what does this shrunken spiritual spark teach us? We cannot learn more of the spiritual world through the experience of our own ego than this ego-point contains, unless we progress to interpretation. But this point possesses what is still more important, namely, through it we are told how we are to know, when we seek to know the spiritual world.
What is the difference between the experiences of the ego and all other experiences? The difference is that we are ourselves within the ego-experiences. All other experiences approach us from outside; we are not ourselves within them. Someone might say here: “But my thoughts, my will and desires, my preceptions, do these not live within me?” A man can convince himself, through very slight awareness of self, how little he is able to accomplish in respect of dwelling within his will. We imagine that the will can be recognized as that which urges us, as if we were not ourselves within it, but as if in our actions we were compelled by someone or something. This is the case also as regards our perceptions, and as regards the greater part of what people think in daily life. We are not really within these. How little we are within our thoughts in ordinary life is seen when we carefully investigate how much ordinary thought is dependent on education, and on what we have acquired at one time or another, and on surrounding conditions. This is why the ordinary content of human thinking, feeling, and will varies so much in different nations and at different epochs. One thing only is the same. One thing exists everywhere among men, and must be the same in every nation in all parts of the Earth and in every human association: this is the experiencing of the single point, the ego.
We may now ask: What does the experiencing of the ego-point mean? This is not such a simple matter as you might suppose. One might easily think, for example, that one experiences the ego itself. But this is not the case at all. Man does not really experience his ego. What then does he experience? He really experiences a concept of the ego, a percept of it. If the experiencing of the ego was clearly understood by us, it would present something that reached to infinity, that spread out on all sides. If the ego were unable to confront itself, to see itself as an image is seen in a mirror — though this image is only experienced for a moment — man could not experience his own ego, he could form no conception of it. This is man's first experience of the ego. It has to suffice him, for it is precisely this conception that differs from all other conceptions. It differs from them in this, that other conceptions resemble their original, they cannot differ from their original; but when the ego forms a conception of itself it is concerned with itself alone, and the conception is but what remains behind of the ego-experience. It is like a checking or blocking of it, as if we would check it in order to turn it back on itself, and in this checking the ego is confronted by the reflected image of itself which resembles the original. This is what occurs at the experiencing of the ego.
We can therefore say: We recognize the ego in the conception of it [Ich-vorstellung]. But this ego conception differs considerably from all other conceptions, from all other experiences. It differs from them profoundly. For all other conceptions and all other experiences, we require something of the nature of an organ. This is clearly seen in respect of sense-perception. In order to have the conception "color" we require eyes and so on; it is clear to anyone that in the ordinary perception of the senses an organ is necessary. You might think that no organ was required to perceive what is intimate to your own inner being, but even in this you can convince yourselves by simple means that organs are necessary. This is dealt with more particularly in my book “Anthroposophy”; here opportunity is given to approach by theosophical methods what there is stated in a manner more suited to the generality. Let us suppose the following: at some period of your lives you grasp a thought or idea. You understand the idea that comes to you. By what means do you understand it? Only through other ideas that you have previously accepted. You realize this because you observe that one man comprehends a new idea that comes to him in one way, another in another way. This is because one man has within him a greater, another a smaller, sum of ideas which he has assimilated. The material of old ideas is within us and confronts the new as the eye confronts the light. Out of our own old ideas a kind of “idea-organ” is constructed, and what we have not constructed of this in our present incarnation must be sought in some former one. There it was built up, and we are able to confront the new ideas that come to us with an “organ of ideas.” We require an organ for all the experiences that come to us from the outer world, especially if these are of a spiritual nature. We never stand spiritually naked, as it were, before what comes to us from the outer world; but are ever dependent on what we have become. Only in a single case do we confront the outer world directly, namely, when we attain ego perception [Ich-wahrnehmung]. The ego is present even when we sleep, but perception of it must always be aroused anew, it must be roused anew each morning when we wake. Even supposing we journeyed in the night to Mars, where our surroundings would be quite different from what they are on Earth, yet ego-perception would remain the same! This latter under all conditions take place in the same way because no external organ is required for it — not even an “organ of ideas.” What confronts us here is a direct conception [Vorstellung] of the ego; a conception or perception [Wahrnehmung] certainly, but in its true form. Everything else comes before as a picture seen in a mirror, and is restricted by the form of the mirror. Ego-perceptions come before us absolutely in their true form.
Put in another way one might say: When realizing things with the ego, we are ourselves within them; they cannot possibly be outside of us. We now ask ourselves: How do individual ego-conceptions or ego-perceptions differ from all other perceptions by the ego? They are distinguished by the direct impression they make on the ego; no other perceptions make this direct impression. But we receive pictures of all that surrounds us; and these in a certain sense can be compared with ego-perceptions. Everything is changed by the ego into an inner experience. The outer world must become our conception if it is to have any meaning or value for us. We form true pictures of the surrounding world, which then continue to live in the ego no matter through which of the sense-organs they have come to us. We smell a substance when we pass it by, and though we do not come in direct contact with it we bear an image of it within us. In the same way we bear within us the image of colors we have seen, and retain pictures of them. The ego preserves such experiences. But if we wish to describe the characteristic feature of these images we must say — it is that they come to us from outside. All the pictures we have been able to unite with our ego, so long as we are in the world of the senses, are the relics of impressions we have received by means of the senses.
One thing the sense-world cannot give us: ego-perception! This arises in us spontaneously. Thus in ego-perception we have a picture that rises of itself, however closely it may be confined to one point.
Think now of other pictures being added to these, pictures that do not arise through stimulation of the senses, but that arise freely in the ego (as ego-conceptions do), and are therefore formed in the same manner as the ego-conception. These arise in what we call the “astral world.” There are picture-concepts which arise in the ego without our having received any impression from the outer world.
How do these inner experiences differ from those other pictures we received from the sense-world? We receive pictures of the sense-world by having come in contact with that world; these then become inner impressions, but impressions which have been stimulated from outside.
What are those experiences of the ego which are not directly stimulated by the outer world? We have these in our feelings, our wishes, impulses, instincts, and the like. These are not stimulated by the outer world. Even if we do not stand within our feelings, wishes, and impulses etc., by means of the senses as already described, yet we must allow an element does enter into our inner feelings, impulses, and desires. In what way do these differ from the sense-pictures we bear within us as a result of what our senses have perceived? You can feel this difference. Pictures received through the senses quietly rest within us, and we try to retain faithful reproductions of them once we have realized our connection with the outer world. But our impulses, desires, and instincts are active in us, they represent a force. Though the outer world has no part in the rise of astral pictures, yet the fact of their appearing denotes a certain force. For what is not set going [getrieben] is not there, it cannot arise.
In sense-pictures the “initial force” is the impression received from the outer world. In astral-pictures this force is what lies at the root of desires, impulses, feelings, etc. Only, in life as it is to-day, man is shielded from developing a force in his feelings and desires sufficiently strong to evoke pictures — pictures that would be experienced in the same way as those of the “I” itself.
The most marked feature of the human soul today is this powerlessness of its instincts and desires to attain to forming pictures of what the ego places before it. When the ego is confronted with the strong forces of the outer world, it is moved to form pictures. When it lives within itself, it has, in the normal man, but one opportunity of perceiving an emerging picture: that is when this picture is the picture of the “I” itself.
Instincts and desires do not work with sufficient strength to form pictures similar to this single ego-experience. If they did they would have to acquire a quality which every external sense-perception has. This quality is of great moment. All sense-perceptions do not grant us the pleasure of doing as we wish. If, for instance, someone lives in a room where there is an unpleasant smell, he cannot dispel it through his impulses and desires. He cannot change the color of a flower from yellow to red, because he prefers red, merely through his wish to do so. It is characteristic of the sense-world that it remains entirely independent of us. Our wishes and impulses affect it in no way. They are directed altogether to our personal life. What then must happen to them in order that they may be so greatly enhanced that we can experience through them a world of pictures [Bilddasein]? They must become like the external world, which in its construction and in the pictures it calls forth in us does not follow our wishes, but constrains us to form pictures of the sense-world in accordance with the world around us. If the pictures a man receives of the astral world are to shape themselves aright, he must become as detached from himself, from his own personal sympathies and antipathies, as he is from the presentations of the outer world which come to him through his senses. What he wishes or does not wish must not carry weight with him in any way.
I mentioned in the last lectures that this demand can be formulated as follows: “One must not be egoistic.” This endeavor should not be undertaken lightly, for it is by no means easy to be unegoistic.
There is another fact I would like you to notice: the great difference between the interest we feel in what comes to us from outside compared with what meets us from within. The interest a man takes in his inner life is infinitely greater than in anything the outer world brings him. We certainly know that for many people the outer world when it has been changed into pictures does occasionally have an effect on our subjective feelings; we know people frequently “reckon something to be the blue of heaven,” that they are even not lying but believe what they say. Sympathy and antipathy always enter into such things; people deceive themselves as to what actually comes from outside, allowing it to be changed later into pictures. But these are exceptional cases; for little progress would be made if men allowed themselves to be deceived in daily life. Something in that case would be out of harmony with external life. This would not help them: truth has to be acknowledged as regards the external world; reality is the corrective. It is the same with ordinary sense impressions; external reality is here a good regulator. But when we begin to have inner experiences, reality is apt to fail us. It is not then so easy to permit outer reality to make the necessary corrections, and we permit ourselves to he ruled by sympathy and antipathy.
The thing of greatest importance when we begin to approach the spiritual world is that we learn to regard ourselves absolutely with the same indifference with which we regard the outer world.
These truths were formulated in a very strict way in the ancient Pythagorean schools, as were also the truths regarding a most important part of man's knowledge, that concerning immortality. How few there are today who take any interest in the question of immortality! The ordinary things of life are what men long for in the life beyond birth and death. But this is a personal interest, a personal longing. The breaking of a tumbler is a matter of small interest to you, but if you had a personal interest in the continued existence of the tumbler, even though broken, the same interest as you have in the immortality of the human soul, you may be sure most people would believe also in the immortality of the tumbler.
Therefore in the schools of Pythagoras, teaching concerning immortality was formulated as follows:
“Only that man is ripe for understanding the truth concerning immortality who could also endure it if the opposite were true; if he could bear that the question regarding immortality was answered with a ‘no.’ If a man is himself to bring down [selber ausmachen will] anything from the spiritual world regarding immortality," so said the Pythagoreans, "he must not long for immortality; for while there is longing, what he says regarding it is not objective. Opinions regarding the life beyond birth and death, if they are to have any value, can only come from those who could lie down peacefully in the grave even if there was no immortality.” This was taught in the olden times in the Pythagorean schools when the teacher wished to make his pupils realize how difficult it was to be sufficiently ripe to accept any truth. To be ripe enough to receive a truth and to state it from oneself requires a very special preparation, and must consist in the person being entirely without interest in the said truth. Now, it might well be said regarding immortality: “It is quite impossible that there should be many people who are not interested in this; there cannot be many such.” People not interested in immortality are those who are told of it and of the eternal nature of human existence, and in spite of this remain uninterested. To accept and make use of the statement concerning reincarnation and human immortality so as to have something for life can be done by anyone who also accepts the truth without any self-conviction. The fact that one is not sufficiently ripe to accept a truth is no reason for rejecting it. On the contrary, it is being ripe for what life requires of us, when we accept a truth and devote our life to its service. What is the necessary counterpart to the acceptance of truths? One may accept truths calmly even when one is not ripe. But the necessary counter-part to the acceptance of them is — that in the same measure as we long for truth that we may have peace, contentment, and security in life, in the same measure we make ourselves ripe for these truths, such truths as can only be perfected in the spiritual world. An important precept for spiritual life can be drawn from this: that we should accept everything, making what use we can of it in life, but should be as distrustful as possible regarding our presentments of truths, more especially of our own astral experience. This establishes the fact that we must specially guard against those astral experiences that come when we reach the point where we are bound to feel interest, namely, when our own life is under consideration.
Let us suppose that someone through his astral experiences has become ripe enough to carry out something he is destined to do next day, to experience next day. It is a personal experience. He guards himself from investigating the record of his personal life; for here he is bound to be interested. People might for instance ask lightly: “Why does the clairvoyant not investigate the precise moment of his own death?” He does not do so because this can never be without interest to him, and he must hold himself aloof from anything connected with his own personality. Only what is in no way connected with his own person may be investigated in the spiritual world. Nothing whatever of objective value is transmitted where the investigator is personally interested. He must be willing to confine himself to what is of objective value only, he must never speak of anything that concerns himself in his investigation, or in the impressions he receives from the higher world. When matters arise that concern himself he must be very certain that these are not introduced through his own interest in them. It is exceedingly difficult to investigate anything where the investigator's own interests are concerned.
Thus at the beginning of all endeavors to enter the spiritual world the following rule must be laid to heart: Nothing that affects oneself must be sought for or considered valuable. The personality must be absolutely excluded. I may add that the “exclusion of everything personal” is exceedingly difficult, for frequently one thinks one has done so, yet is mistaken! For this reason most of the astral pictures seen by one or another are nothing more than a kind of reflection of their own wishes and desires. So long as we are strong enough in our spiritual self to say“You must distrust your own spiritual experiences,” these do little harm. But the moment the strength to do so fails and a man declares his experiences to be of value to his life, he begins to be unbalanced. It is just as though a person wishing to enter a room finds no door and runs his head against the wall. So the investigator must keep ever before him the maxim: Be very careful to test your own spiritual experiences. This carefulness consists in setting no more value on such experiences than on any piece of imparted knowledge or enlightenment. We must not apply such knowledge to our own personal life, but merely allow it to enlighten us. It is well if we feel in regard to such experiences: “You are only being given enlightenment!” For in that case we are in a position as soon as some contradictory idea enters, to correct it.
What I have said today is but a part of the many things we shall be considering during the coming winter, and can serve as an introduction to lectures on the life of the human soul, entitled "Psychosophy," which are to follow at a later date.