Thursday, August 6, 2015
Foundations of Anthroposophy. Lecture 2: Man's True Being; Microcosm and Macrocosm. Ex Deo Nascimur, Per Spiritum Sanctum Reviviscimus
Foundations of Anthroposophy. Lecture 2.
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, November 29, 1921:
Had I not spoken to you yesterday, I could not give you today's lecture in the form in which I intend to give it. This is not only because this lecture is to be a continuation of yesterday's lecture, but because the facts concerning man's true being which are accessible to anthroposophical research at first appear so paradoxical that it is necessary to know the sure foundation upon which such truths are based. I think that I explained to you sufficiently clearly that both in the direction of a critical attitude and in that of a conscientious form of investigation, Anthroposophy is well able to compete with everything which modern people are accustomed to consider as a scientific method and a scientific mentality.
The subject of today's lecture is man's true being, which, lying at the foundation of his external physical being, forms and guides it. Spiritual science above all can show that man's physical being belongs more than one generally thinks to the development of the world as such, and this connection with the whole evolution of the world will form the subject of my next lecture. Earnest-minded people, and also earnest scientists, have now a different view of man's true being than a few decades ago, at the height of materialism.
But the anthroposophical facts which will now be set forth will perhaps be rejected most strongly of all by those who seek to approach the element of soul and spirit in man by adhering, as it were, to the more materialistic aspect of science.
We can see that people now begin to take an interest in the causes which produce certain abnormal soul-conditions in man which subject him to hallucinations and delusions, to suggestion and auto-suggestion. People are now specially interested in these abnormal psychic phenomena, because they can be investigated in the same way in which physical experiments are carried on, without the unfolding of the soul's dormant forces, concerning which I spoke in my last lecture. People with an abnormal spiritual life are simply approached experimentally, and the phenomena are investigated in the same way in which one makes experiments in a laboratory.
Such people, and many who are not a prey of abnormal soul-conditions, frequently believe that unusual psychic conditions, visions, or hallucinations, constitute some means of penetrating more deeply into man's true being; they even think that in these abnormal conditions a kind of revelation from the real spiritual worlds can be received.
Now that man's true being can be investigated in the light of Anthroposophy, it is possible to throw light upon the real meaning of these abnormal psychic conditions. Yesterday's critical examination of certain facts may have convinced you from the very outset that anthroposophical spiritual research can confront even such abnormal phenomena with a strictly critical attitude.
Another kind of phenomenon confronts us when it is possible to perceive certain thoughts of certain people under conditions of time and of space which must undoubtedly be designated as abnormal. These cases are now being discussed quite seriously by modern scientists. Telepathy is a phenomenon of this kind. During certain psychic conditions, thoughts can be perceived through telepathy without the ordinary instrument of the senses; indeed these thoughts can even be perceived at a distance. One also speaks of telekinesis, or of certain forces proceeding from the human being which manifest themselves simply through influences at a distance, without the physical intermediary of the human being, so that it appears as if it were possible to unfold willpower and to transmit it into space without the medium of the body. In scientific circles experiments have already been made with the application of scientific methods, experiments falling under the category of teleplastic, in which phantoms and apparently physical forms appear in connection with a person, or in his close proximity. It is clearly evident that these forms consist of a fine substance, of an etheric substance, and that plastically they are permeated by something rooted as plastic force in human thinking, by something existing in human thought.
We therefore speak of telepathy, telekinesis, and teleplastic. When anthroposophical spiritual science confronts these phenomena, it must again raise the critical question: Do these phenomena proceed from that part of the human being which, as explained yesterday, abandons the physical and the etheric body of man at the moment of falling asleep, that sentient and volitional being which remains outside the body from the moment of falling asleep to the moment of waking up? Are the phenomena known as telepathy, telekinesis, and teleplastic an activity of man's eternal soul-spiritual essence, of that part which we learned to know as his feeling and volitional being, or are they perhaps simply an activity of that part which remains behind on the bed during sleep, consisting solely of the physical and of the etheric body, the body of formative forces?
If these phenomena are merely activities of the latter, they belong to that part which vanishes when we die, no matter how wonderful and extraordinary they may appear to us. For when we die, the part which remains behind on the bed during sleep, vanishes. What constitutes man's immortal, eternal being, that which abandons the physical and etheric body during sleep, as a rule also abandons the physical body when we are under some hypnotic influence, in the phenomena of telepathy, telekinesis, and teleplastic. We must therefore say: These so-called wonderful phenomena cannot point to anything connected with man's eternal being; no matter how abnormal they are, they are connected with that part of his being which separates from him when he dies and which connects itself with the element of the Earth. In that case they are only able to indicate a world which vanishes when the human being passes through the portal of death.
The spiritual science of Anthroposophy must therefore raise this critical objection in regard to certain phenomena which are widely recognized today, in the same way in which such objections had to be raised in regard to the phenomena described yesterday. It will be essential to know what Anthroposophy has to say concerning such phenomena, on the foundation of its investigations connected with man's true immortal essence.
Perhaps I may once more draw attention to the fact that through the exercises of meditation, through the exercises of thought and of the will mentioned yesterday and in other lectures which were given here, a condition can be created, particularly in regard to man's feeling and volitional part, which resembles the sleeping state, although it is radically different from sleep.
Yesterday I described to you how the sentient and volitional being in man, which is ordinarily unconscious and as it were lifeless, can be filled with inner life, with light and power, so that it is possible to create a condition in which man's feeling and volitional parts are outside the physical body as is the case during sleep, and in which these independent soul-spiritual parts can be used for anthroposophical research. In that case we no longer live in a dark world which renders us unconscious, but we are instead surrounded by a spiritual world, where the first object upon which we can look back is our physical body and our body of formative forces. This body of formative forces supplies to the inner soul-spiritual being, which has abandoned the physical and etheric body, a mirrored reflection of the world, in the form of thoughts which are now perceived as forces. Our thought-world, which was formerly connected with us, is now thrown back to us as mirrored reflections by the physical body which we left behind, so that we obtain an image of the world not because we obtain pictures of the external world through our sensory organs, for instance through the eye, which transmits us conscious experiences of the physical world, but because we now gain an image of the world's spiritual foundation through the fact that the human organism becomes as it were a sensory organ, which is now outside the human being, like any other object.
Through gradual progress in anthroposophical research, and by growing inwardly stronger and stronger, we can learn to know this being which is outside. I already explained to you that this condition in which an anthroposophical investigator lives differs from everything which people experience in a visionary form, through hallucinations or through other psychic conditions. A spiritual investigator is always able to maintain a controlled, sound state of consciousness while investigating the higher world. He is in a condition which can really be designated as swinging to and fro from the perception of the spiritual world to that of the physical world. In other words, he can alternately live outside his physical body and his sensory perceptions, as already described, and return to his full consciousness, to his ordinary capacity of thinking, feeling, and willing, so that he can judge his supersensible experiences with his everyday thinking, feeling, and willing, with his normal, cool-headed common sense, with the capacities with which he ordinarily judges life in general. The results of spiritual-scientific investigations can therefore be judged quite critically; a strictly critical attitude can be adopted toward the higher experiences which confront the soul of a spiritual-scientific investigator.
In abnormal soul-conditions we do not have this alternating from one state of consciousness to another. People who have visions or hallucinations cannot return at will, when they consider it best, to their ordinary, calm state of mind, through an effort of the will; that is to say, they cannot return at will into their physical body. They are led into such abnormal conditions by an involuntary subconscious element which produces hallucinations and visions, and the total absence of criticism in regard to their abnormal conditions is a fact which must be indicated over and over again, whenever the results of anthroposophical, spiritual-scientific research are brought into connection with things which have a visionary or hallucinatory character.
By swinging to and fro from a higher state of consciousness to the ordinary way of seeing things and to ordinary consciousness, we more and more attain the capacity to look back upon our physical and etheric bodies, which now exist objectively outside our soul-spiritual kernel; we look back upon the physical and etheric bodies with forces developed in the sentient and volitional part of our being. By ascending to the imaginative state of consciousness, we now really learn to know what we have before us as a picture of another world. The important point to be borne in mind is that through the imaginative and inspirational knowledge described in my last lectures, we really learn to form a judgment upon the physical body and the body of formative forces, which we now see from outside.
To use a comparison, it is as if we first had before us a picture and were to learn the corresponding reality which it represents by gaining a knowledge of the laws of perspective. But the reality which we gather from an ordinary picture is, after all, only an inner soul-experience, whereas the larger perspective in which we objectively look upon the physical body and the body of formative forces is a real experience of facts. For we learn to know that the physical body and the body of formative forces contain, in an image, what we ourselves were, before descending into the physical world through birth or conception.
In this perspective, something frees itself from what we thus see before us and leads us back into the spiritual world through which we passed before we united ourselves through birth or conception with the physical substance given to us by our parents and ancestors, and transmitted by the physical stream of heredity here on Earth. We can survey the soul-spiritual world which surrounds us before we came down into an earthly existence; it is the world which contains the forces that became united with our physical form, transmitted by our parents and forefathers.
We now learn to know ourselves in our pre-existence, in our pre-natal condition, and the characteristic fact which rises up before us is that in this picture representing man's pre-existent being we actually see the world reversed, in comparison with a physical perspective. In a physical perspective we see the nearest objects most clearly of all, and the further off they lie, the more they grow indistinct; this characterizes the perspective of the spatial world.
But matters appear reversed in the perspective which now rises up out of the human being that remained behind. The things most closely related with our physical life on Earth are those which are most familiar to our present experience; in reality we do not know our own inner being during our physical life on Earth. Our physical life on Earth is something which darkens our eternal being, our innermost kernel. But when we look into the pre-existent world, the things which we perceive spiritually first of all are not those which are most familiar to us in earthly life, not the closest, nearest things, but we first perceive the more distant things. If we have ascended through the three stages which can be developed through exercises as higher stages of knowledge, in accordance with descriptions contained in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, then Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition really enable us to obtain a complete soul-spiritual picture of the universe, leading us back to a past life on Earth.
Even as a physical perspective is limited in the distance, so the image which we obtain of a world in which we lived in a pre-existent condition is limited by a past earthly life which opens out to us through Intuition. The spiritual science of Anthroposophy does not speak of anything fantastic nor of some logical inference when it speaks of repeated lives on Earth, for this knowledge is gained through cognition, it is a fact which presents itself to the real spiritual vision. But this spiritual vision, this spiritual perception, must first be drawn out of the depths of the soul. We then obtain a positive knowledge of the fact that man's physical body and man's etheric body, or the body of formative forces, plastically contain those essential forces which lived in the human being during the time between death and a new birth.
This also explains that we have developed out of a spiritual world into the physical world. Within the physical body, which man carries not merely as a covering but as a kind of instrument, and within the etheric body, containing the living forces which lie at the foundation of the organs of metabolism and growth, within these bodies which appear objectively before us in spiritual vision, lives the soul's inner kernel, which is plastically moulded into them, the soul's essential being, as it has developed in a soul-spiritual world since the last death until the last birth. When we abandon the physical and etheric body with our sentient-volitional being, we learn to know what we thus leave behind us, as the last thing, as it were, to which we longingly turned on growing old, so to speak, in the spiritual world, the last thing to which we turned in our existence between death and a new birth: “dying” in the spiritual world. Even as we perceive that our physical body begins to fade at a certain age, on approaching death through old age, so we perceive that our soul-spiritual being begins to fade in the spiritual world in which we then live.
This fading away of our soul-spiritual being reveals itself in our longing for the physical world, for a corporeal physical incarnation. Consequently that part which lives in our physical and etheric body constitutes, as it were, the last phase of our existence above in the spiritual world. During our sleep, when we go out of our physical body as sentient-volitional beings, we leave behind our past.
What do we then take with us? If we realize the fact that we leave behind our past, we can also realize the fact that what is ordinarily an unconscious experience — from the moment of falling asleep to the moment of waking up — is that part of man's being which passes through the portal of death and re-enters a soul-spiritual world. That part of man's being which could not dive down into the physical and etheric body, which remained behind, as it were, that part goes out every night when we fall asleep, and it also passes again, as a being of feeling and will, through the portal of death. Thus eternity becomes guaranteed to man through this real perception.
And if we now look back to what is striven for without any understanding by a certain modern scientific direction which clings to external, superficial facts in order to investigate phenomena such as telepathy, teleplastic, and telekinesis, we see that these phenomena are really connected with man's past, with the part which perishes when he dies, with something which cannot constitute anything pertaining to the real supersensible world, but only to forces which are connected with the human being in the physical realm of the Earth.
If we vividly imagine that part of our pre-existent being which descends into a physical embodiment through conception and birth, we can understand that in its development it absorbs the forces and substances transmitted by the hereditary stream; it also takes in forces during the course of earthly existence which are absorbed through the process of nutrition and breathing and through everything which the human being receives from the external world. The human being only exists as a full reality in that being that descends into physical embodiment from a pre-existent, pre-natal life. Within the mother's body it already enters into and envelops itself with physical matter and later on draws in substance through breathing, nutrition, and so forth.
Only when the human being is awake, only during this normal condition of life, the part which man thus incorporates into himself enters into connection with his true being, with his sentient and volitional being, through the physical and etheric bodies. When the human being is awake, there exists a normal connection between his sentient-volitional being and his thinking capacity, which is bound up, as we already have seen, with the etheric body and with the physical body.
Let us now suppose that in a hypnotic condition man's sentient and volitional being is drawn out of the physical and the etheric body. The hypnotized man whom we then have before us consists merely of the body of formative forces and of the physical body, with all the physical substances and forces which he has absorbed from the external physical world. There are many reciprocal relationships between these substances and forces and the environing world, and all this enters the human being. When the sentient, volitional part of man is outside the physical and etheric body, it is possible to observe the influence of these physical substances. Through anthroposophical investigation we discover that this does not pertain to man's immortal essence, to man's inner kernel, but that it is something which pertains to the external world and which unites with his immortal part, something which became incorporated into it in the past.
The same thing can appear if the person succumbs to some kind of illness. In a normal condition, a diseased organ can be felt through pain, sickness, and so forth. This is the case when the volitional-sentient being is rightly connected with the physical and etheric body. But if the physical or even the etheric body is somehow deformed by illness, then through the disease of some organ, some inner member of the soul and spirit, the sentient-volitional being in man dives down more deeply into his animal-physical nature than is the case in a normal state of consciousness, when the memories are only thrown back like mirrored reflections. When the physical organs are sound, the human being dives down into his physical body only to a certain degree; but if the organs are diseased, if only one organ is diseased, the soul-spiritual being not only dives down as far as the point where pain arises in the normal course of an illness, but it dives down deeper still. The soul-spiritual being unites with the physical organism. Whereas in the ordinary course of life man's sentient-volitional being is normally connected only with the sensory and with the nervous system, it now becomes connected with the lower animalic organs and with the vegetative organs, so that the involuntary conditions of hallucination and of visionary experience arise. One sees that hallucinations and visionary experiences, as well as other similar conditions, are entirely united with man's physical and etheric bodies, and that therefore they can only be experiences which vanish when the human being dies and can throw no light whatever upon the supersensible world in which we live between death and a new birth. There is, however, one phenomenon attested by sound scientific research, namely that in a mediumistic condition it is possible to perceive thoughts of a certain importance, and sometimes one can be amazed at the very clever thoughts voiced by a medium in trance, i.e. by a person who is in a kind of hypnotic state, thoughts which would not be possible to him in a normal state of consciousness.
Does this fact contradict the explanations given above? It does not contradict them, because not only the physical body but also the etheric body can exercise an influence in space, without the medium of the physical body. Even quite normal people, particularly those who have a spark of genius in them, may produce thoughts and phantasies which are not limited to the body of formative forces, and because these transcend normal life and even the human being himself, they go out, as it were, into the universal cosmic ether, which we shall learn to know in our next lecture.
We can really say that the artistic thoughts which transcend normal life continue to swing in the universal cosmic ether, thoughts which appear — if I may use this expression — in superhuman artistic creations and experiences. These thoughts whirr about in the cosmic ether.
People who prepare themselves through exercises of the will and meditation described yesterday, know that man does not only produce things physically, by physical deeds. They know that thoughts which are not required for the maintenance of individual life (individual life requires thinking forces which change into forces of growth) are imparted to the universal cosmic ether. When the etheric body is in some pathological condition, when it is deformed or when it becomes mediumistic through trance, then the thoughts which whirr about in the cosmic ether, and which do not enter our normal consciousness, can penetrate into a person deprived of his soul-spiritual part and manifesting as a medium. And when, for instance, the thoughts of a dead person imparted to the universal ether manifest themselves through a medium, it is possible to believe that one is really perceiving the thoughts, the present thoughts, of the departed soul, whereas in reality one only perceives the echo of thoughts rayed out before death, when that person was still living on the Earth.
This is what should always be borne in mind, through a sound, critical, spiritual-scientific attitude. We should be aware whether we merely confront thought-echoes, or whether the development of supersensible forces really enables us to penetrate into the supersensible world to which we belong after death and before birth. Telepathy is merely an etheric transmission of thoughts with the exclusion of the senses. In telekinesis certain forces producing changes in the physical body, through nutrition or through other physical substances, are stimulated to action in space without a physical intermediary. The human being only consists of about 10 percent of solid substance; he is a liquid column in regard to the remaining 90 percent. But he also consists of finer materials, extending to the etheric. In a pathological condition, when an organ is diseased, so that the soul-spiritual part dives down too deeply into the animalic part, it is possible to impart thoughts with the aid of these finer substances, which are rayed out in a certain way. Teleplastic also arises in this way. In teleplastic the fine substantiality which is rayed out can be given form, and these forms moulded by thought may even be filled with light and radiance. Plastic forms arise, such as those described in the books of Schrenk-Notzing and of others. These works are always on a scientific level, and preclude any idea of swindle or fraud.
But in all these cases we simply have to do with activities proceeding from that part of man's being which perishes when he dies. They do not supply us with anything which can lead us into the real supersensible world.
We penetrate into the real supersensible world when we are able to observe things outside the body with the aid of our sentient-volitional being, through a systematic training and intensification of our normal soul-capacities and by maintaining our normal state of consciousness. In that case we can survey the past which appears in the physical and in the etheric body, the past which we rayed out from a spiritual world and which plastically moulded our physical and etheric substances.
And since we first perceive most clearly of all, so to speak, the things which lie further off, and only gradually the things in closer proximity, we are able to see as far as the point of our death in a preceding life. As described in my Theosophy, this perception of our pre-existent, pre-natal life enables us to give a description of man's experiences after death. We then describe things, as it were, from a reversed perspective. And thus all the descriptions which I have given you on man's conditions and experiences after death are based upon that spiritual perception which can be attained in the manner I described yesterday and again today.
One can say that it is impossible to gain any direct experience of the higher worlds unless we first acquire it through an earnest striving after knowledge. Through the strengthening of thought, as described yesterday, we must create the possibility of being outside the body in a fully conscious state and of looking back upon it. This can only be attained by intensifying our thinking power. But we must also learn to make distinctions. Everything which comes from a preceding life lies open to our perception, but everything which pertains to the future is only accessible to inner experience.
These inner experiences are meagre in comparison with the mighty supersensible tableau of pre-existent life which confronts us, for our prenatal existence can really form the content of a fully developed science. But anything which we can gather concerning the future will very much depend upon the inner strengthening of our sentient-volitional being, when it is outside the body. This sentient-volitional being can also be observed in its course of development during the physical life on Earth, as it gradually matures for a higher state of existence after death. Differences become evident if we first observe that part of man which ordinarily abandons him unconsciously during sleep, in a more youthful stage of life, and then observe it in a maturer stage. The sentient-volitional being which abandons the body of a younger person during sleep is more filled with a reflective, thoughtful element. We observe that it unconsciously reverberates the thoughts which the human being harbors. When a person grows older, he no longer carries out of his physical body so many thoughts when crossing the portal of sleep, but he takes out with his sentient-volitional being into the external world, forces of character, forces contained in his developed impulses of the will.
We can therefore say: During our earthly life we gradually change from a being in whom thoughts are the predominant element into a being who manifests in his soul-spiritual part more the echo of forces which constitute his character. Essentially speaking, we do not pass through the portal of sleep with our thoughts, for we leave them behind when we fall asleep and they shine forth through the physical body. We leave behind the thoughts which animated us during our earthly life from birth to death. We learn to look upon them as external thought-forces of the world; later on, after death, we learn to know them as an external world. We pass through the portal of sleep with these forces which have formed our character, which constitute our inner moral development. If we wish to interpret rightly every phase in the perspective which appears to us in the world of our pre-existent life, we must first gain this capacity through the development of our normal soul-forces.
In the previous lecture I already described to you that when a person intensifies his life of thought through meditation and concentration, so that he can live in thoughts in the same way in which he ordinarily lives in sensory impressions — in an inner life of thoughts as powerful, living, and intensive as the life of the soul when it surrenders to sensory impressions — then he attains to Imaginative knowledge. This inner thought-life intensified to the stage of Imaginative consciousness now enables him to confront not only the memory tableau of his past earthly life up to the present moment, but he surveys everything pertaining to his physical earthly organism, shaped and moulded by the body of formative forces. His first supersensible experience is to look back from the present moment upon his whole earthly life, as far as childhood, in the form of a mighty tableau.
I already mentioned in my last lectures that the tableau which can thus be experienced resembles in some points a fact which even serious scientists discuss today, for it is sufficiently attested that such a picture arises when a person is in mortal danger, with hardly any hope of escape. A drowning person, for instance, may experience in a great tableau that which constitutes the etheric time-body of formative forces; he looks upon this body.
Supersensible knowledge enables us to obtain this same survey, which constitutes the first experience after death through the right interpretation of the perspective described to you of our pre-existent, pre-natal life.
Then we recognize the fact that when the human being passes through the portal of death he perceives for a short time, lasting only a few days (approximately as long as a person is able, in accordance with his organization, to do without sleep for a few days) a kind of tableau, giving him a survey of his past earthly life in a kind of thought-web, but consisting of pictures. We obtain, for a short time, this survey of our earthly life when we pass through the portal of death. I might say, that we face our earthly life without the participation of our feelings and of our will, purely in a kind of passive survey; after death, we learn to know this first condition as I have described it.
We must first gain this experience through supersensible knowledge, through meditation and concentration, etc. But we require another kind of training if we wish to interpret rightly in this tableau the connection between our past earthly life and the life after death.
In our earthly life, and even in ordinary science, we generally surrender ourselves passively to the external world with our thoughts, feelings, and will-impulses. We keep pace with the external world. We experience the Yesterday, then in connection with it the Today, and, a little later, the Tomorrow. And the inner reflections of our thoughts, feelings, and will-impulses, developed within the soul, are connected with the external course of time, as a continued natural experience. This, as it were, gives our ordinary thinking and feeling a kind of support — but man's thinking cannot reach the required degree of intensification, enabling it to make supersensible investigations, if it passively submits to the external course of time. Other exercises are now needed; we must try — if I may use this expression — to think backwards. When the day is over, we should pass in review all that we have seen during the day — but we should not do this in the form of thoughts, nor critically, but in the form of pictures; we should, as it were, see everything once more, in the same way in which we see things through our phantasy, but from evening to morning in reversed sequence. We should acquire a certain practice in this thinking backwards in the form of pictures. It is relatively easy to think backwards larger portions of the day, but in order to have a reversed picture of the day's course, atomistically small portions must also be surveyed backwards, and this must be practised for a long time.
We can then advance to other exercises; for instance, we can seek help by trying to experience a drama backwards, from the Fifth Act back to the First, or try experiencing melodies inwardly, by hearing, as it were, soul-spiritually. We can thus attain the capacity of looking upon our life's memories (this is something different from the life-tableau described above) by conjuring them up before our soul backwards, in the form of imaginative pictures, so that our whole life stands before us, from the present moment back into the past. By making such exercises, we emancipate our thinking from the external course of time. The deeply rooted habit of following the course of time with our thinking and feeling must be overcome. By forcefully thinking backwards we are gradually enabled to make use of a far greater and stronger capacity of thinking than that employed for a merely passive thinking. Our thinking power can be essentially strengthened just by this way of thinking backwards.
And we then discover something which undoubtedly seems paradoxical to the normal consciousness and to the ordinary understanding. But in the same way in which one looks upon the physical world with conceptions flowing in the stream of time, so one gradually comes to look upon the spiritual world, when one's thinking has been emancipated from its connection with the external course of time.
This produces a further capacity which enables one to observe the new experiences and to interpret rightly, from the perspective already described, the things connected with the life-tableau which one sees for a few days after death.
After this life-tableau, we can see how man once more passes through his life, by living through it backwards in very real and vivid pictures. Man experiences, as it were, the soul-world before experiencing the spirit world. He lives backwards through life, from his death to his birth, but more quickly than during his earthly existence from birth to death. He lives through this life backwards.
The capacity to perceive this is acquired by the already mentioned exercises of thinking backwards. And now we gain a conception of how after death man experiences in this reversed course of soul-life everything that he experienced here on Earth in his physical body. But he now experiences all these things with his soul, and he can see everything that harmed his progress morally. By this very living backwards through time, he can now survey from a higher standpoint what he would like to change in life. For he can see how certain moral defects handicapped his development toward perfection. But since he now experiences all this in a living way, it does not remain in the realm of thought. In this reversed course of soul-life — I might say, in this soul-life which he develops backwards — thought does not remain abstract, for abstract thoughts were left behind with death; thought now develops as a thinking force. It becomes an impulse which leads the human being to make amends during his next earthly life, in some way to experience facts which are opposite to those which now come before his soul. In the soul there develops something which in the next life appears in the form of subconscious longings to approach this or that experience in life. In this living backwards through our past life, we develop the desire to experience in our next earthly life events or facts which counterbalance those which we have gone through in the past. And so this reversed course of development contains the seed of something which we unconsciously bring with us when we are born again, something which can be described somewhat in the following way.
This is generally not accessible to the ordinary consciousness; nevertheless it lives in man. But observe merely with your plain common sense something which supersensible research establishes as a fact — namely, how we approach some decisive fact in life.
Let us suppose that during one of our earthly lives we meet another human being in our 30th or 35th year (I will take a decisive event) and that she becomes our life-companion with whom we wish to share our further destiny in life, that we discover that our souls harmonize. An ordinary materialistic person will say that this was pure chance. Deeper minds — there are many, and they can be traced in history — have however reflected a little over this problem: If we now look back in life from this decisive event, if we survey what preceded it, what came before that, and still further back ... we find that the course of our life tending toward this event followed a definite plan. Sometimes we discover that an event which we thus experience in our life, a fact having such an incisive influence upon our life, appears like the organic conclusion of a well-defined plan.
If we have first constructed such a plan hypothetically and lead it back as far as our birth, and if we then survey it with the aid of cognitive forces developed through meditation, retrospective thinking, will-exercises, we must really say to ourselves: This hypothetical plan which you constructed may sometimes appear like a mere phantasy, but it is not always so. Precisely for decisive facts in life, it often reveals itself as of greatest importance that the human being carries within him from his birth a subconscious longing, and that guided by this longing, which he perhaps interprets quite differently in the various epochs of his life, he makes the first step, the second step, and all the steps which finally lead him to the event which he formed as a seed during his retrospective experience after death and which carries him through his new earthly life as an undefined longing. We thus shape our destiny ourselves in an unconscious way. This enables us to recognize what we encounter during our earthly existence, this destiny —or karma, as it was designated in the ancient, instinctive, clairvoyant wisdom of the Orient. This destiny, on which our happiness and unhappiness, our joy and pain in life depends, we can learn to recognize by looking upon the sequence of our earthly lives.
A man will naturally very soon be inclined to say: How do matters then stand in regard to freedom? — For if man is guided by destiny, how do matters stand in regard to human freedom? — Indeed, a solution of the question of destiny can only be gained by striving earnestly with the problem of freedom. At this point allow me to insert something personal, for it undoubtedly has an objective significance. In the early nineties of the past century I wrote my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. The task of this book was to establish the experience, the fact, of freedom. From man's own inner experiences I sought to characterize the consciousness of freedom as an absolute certainty. And the subsequent explanations which I have tried to give as a partial solution of the problem of destiny, such as the sketch which I gave you now, I consider to be in entire harmony with the descriptions of human freedom. Those who study my book Philosophy of Spiritual Activity will find, however, that I was obliged to renounce speaking of freedom of the human will at first, and to speak instead of a freedom experienced in thought, in pure thinking emancipated from the senses. In thoughts which consciously arise in the human soul as an ethical, moral ideal, in thoughts which have the strength to influence the human will and to lead it to action, in such thoughts there is freedom. We can speak of human freedom when we speak of human actions shaped by man's own free thinking, when he reaches the point, through a moral self-training, of not allowing his actions to be influenced by instincts, passions, emotions, or by his temperament, but only by the devoted love for an action. In this devoted love for an action something can develop which proceeds from the ideal strength of pure ethical thinking. This is a really free action.
Spiritual science now enables us to discover that during sleep thinking as such, the thinking which lies at the foundation of free ethical actions, remains behind in the mirroring physical body. It is thus something that man experiences between birth and death. Even if human life were not of immense value also from other aspects, the inclusion of the impulse of freedom in our experiences between birth and death renders our life on Earth valuable in itself. In our physical existence on Earth we attain freedom by developing thought as such, when thought loses the plastic force which it still has within the etheric body and is developed as pure thinking in the consciousness which we have in ordinary life.
In the early nineties of the past century I was therefore obliged to set forth a very daring thought in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. I had to speak of moral impulses in the form of ethical ideas and had to explain that these do not come to us from Nature, but through intuition. At that time I spoke of “moral phantasy.” Why? — In my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity I explained that these ethical motives stream into man from the spiritual world, but at first in the form of pictures. He receives them from the spiritual world as intuition.
But we thus come, as it were, to the other pole of what we experience here in the physical world. Everywhere in the realm of Nature we discover necessity, if we look out into it with our sound common sense and with a scientific mentality. If we look into the world of moral impulses, then we discover freedom, but to begin with, freedom in the form of mere thought, of pure thinking, in the intuition that lives in the thinking activity. At first we do not know how these moral forces enter the will, for we perceive ethical intuitions unconsciously. So we have on the one hand Nature, to which we belong through our actions, and on the other hand our ethical experience. Through natural science alone, we should lose the possibility to ascribe reality and world-creative forces to these ethical intuitions. We experience Nature, as it were, in its whole dense grossness, in its necessity. And then we experience freedom, but we experience it in the finely woven impulses of thinking which reach the imaginative stage, and since these do not form part of Nature and can be experienced in free activity, we know that they come from the spiritual world, as I have indicated in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.
But something must now be inserted between these intuitions which are entirely of a picture-nature and unreal and which only acquire reality through ethical life — between these intuitions and the objective cognition of Nature and its laws. It is Imagination and Inspiration, which arise in the way I have described, that now insert themselves. In that case intuition too undergoes a change. The impulse which first appeared only in pure thinking becomes as it were condensed into a spiritual reality.
In this newly acquired Intuition, gained through Imagination and Inspiration, we do not learn to know our present ego, but the ego that passes through repeated lives on Earth and that carries our destiny through these repeated earthly lives. In passing through these repeated earthly lives, which moulded our destiny, we are not free. Yet we can always insert free actions into this web of destiny during our different lives on Earth. Just because the imaginative intuition enables us to experience ethical impulses (not as realities, but as something which we can freely accept), we can weave freedom into the web of destiny during a definite earthly life. The fact that destiny bears us from one earthly life into another does not render us less free than the fact that a steamer can carry us from Europe to America. Our future is determined by the decision to travel arrived at in Europe; yet within certain limits we are always free, and we can move about freely while we are in America. This is how destiny is borne from one earthly life into another. But to the world of facts which we thus experience during our repeated lives on Earth, we can insert what wells up out of freedom during a definite life.
And so we see that those who struggle with the problem of freedom and see the solution in the contemplation of ethical ideas which can at first only be grasped through moral phantasy, but which penetrate from the spiritual world into the physical world of man — we see that those who in this way acquire an understanding for the problem of freedom, have prepared themselves thereby for the comprehension of destiny, which enters human life almost like a necessity.
If we attain this intuition and understand the interweaving of destiny and freedom and thus intensify still further the forces acquired through meditation, concentration, retrospective thought, etc., we are able to contemplate — that is, to interpret further — the facts which appear to us in the spiritual perspective.
What now is attached to this retrospective experience is a life which takes its course in a purely spiritual sphere in which we now live toward a subsequent life on Earth. In this spiritual sphere our experience is just the reverse of our experience during our earthly life. Here on Earth our inner experiences can, to begin with, only be perceived inwardly, as pictures. We do not experience our inner being with our ordinary consciousness, for our waking consciousness makes us experience the external world. We look out, as it were, from our own center into the environing spatial world, into the spatial sphere, the external world. We are within ourselves, and the external world is outside.
During our existence between death and a new birth this conception is just reversed: We are now centered in a world which constituted our external world here on Earth, and the external world on Earth now becomes a kind of inner world.
The inner world of human nature, which was not accessible to us during our earthly life, can now be experienced as an external world. And during our life between death and a new birth, our inner being becomes the world! And the world becomes our ego.
And inasmuch as we experience something which is now higher than the world which surrounds us here on Earth (for man is the crown of creation; he bears within himself a sphere which is higher than the surrounding world), we have within us a more valuable world during our existence between death and a new birth. The world which we thus experience as our own environment, but which is actually the mysterious world of man's inner being, is experienced creatively. In the spiritual world we experience these forces creatively, in common with higher spiritual beings that surround our soul-spiritual being in the same way in which the kingdoms of Nature — the plants, the animals, and the minerals — surround our physical being on Earth.
In communion with these spiritual beings we experience the forces out of which we gradually mould not only our destiny, the seed of our destiny, but also our prototype in the soul-spiritual world. This is the real prototype, that soul-spiritual being which after a certain time is filled with the longing to incorporate again, to send down the prototype into a physical body, the prototype which it first shaped in living thoughts in the spiritual world. And since it must become united with a physical body, since it can only reach perfection in a physical body, this soul-spiritual being is filled with the impulse and longing to reincarnate here on Earth. Out of the spirit comes that being from an existence lying before birth, or before conception, and unites with the physical body.
A true conception of the way in which man develops here on Earth as a physical being (more exact details will be given the day after tomorrow) can only be gained if we can grasp the fact that what develops in the mother's body is only something which receives from a higher world the real being of man.
Natural science has a certain ambition and dream, consisting in the hope to discover one day the complicated chemical structure of cells, indeed of the most perfect cells: the reproductive cells, the germ cells of the human embryo. The spiritual science of Anthroposophy approaches this same problem, but with quite different means and from entirely different points of view. And Anthroposophy is able, in a certain way, to point out the direction in which to seek that which develops in the mother's body as germinative cell of the human embryo. Here we do not come across complicated chemical combinations, but in reality with a chaotic state of matter. We do not have before us a highly complicated chemical combination or some molecular structure, but a chaotic condition, a chaotic vortex of the ordered structure which exists in a crystal and in a chemical molecule. In the germinative cell, matter is not developed to a further organization, but it is pushed down into chaos, and from the corresponding substance, from the substance which becomes chaotic, then develops something which can now receive what comes down to it from above: the supersensible man coming from the spiritual worlds.
The development of physical man will only be grasped if physical research is brought to the point of being able to see how the physical human germ, by leading matter back to chaos, becomes capable of receiving the soul-spiritual germ which comes down from pre-existence. Only in this way is it possible to understand how the soul-spiritual part descending from the soul-spiritual world becomes united through conception and up to birth with what has de-materialized itself in the germ, in the early embryonic stage. All who carefully study the form and development of the embryo can find, even in its physical development, the confirmation of today's description, whereas this embryonic development will always remain a riddle to those who cannot consider it in this way.
To be sure, if we really wish to know man's true being we must receive from supersensible research what also belongs to man. On earlier occasions I have, for instance, pointed out that in the science dealing with the lower kingdoms, people would everywhere consider foolish some things which are looked upon as wisdom in the investigation of the human being.
I already gave you the example of a magnet-needle, with one of its ends pointing North and the other one South. Now it would certainly not enter anyone's mind to say that the forces which it manifests are only contained in the magnet needle, in the space occupied by that needle. One looks upon the Earth itself as a great magnet which exercises its influence upon the magnet-needle and which determines its direction. The magnet-needle is included in the structure of the whole Earth organism.
In this case one transcends the single thing in order to recognize the great comprehensive whole and its interrelation with the single object. Yet in the case of man, one seeks to recognize everything pertaining to man by studying the development of the germ cell through the microscope and by contemplating only what is enclosed within the human skin! Just as little as the forces of the magnet can be explained through the magnet, just as little is it possible to know what develops in the human being if one does not bring him in relation with the whole world — not only with the spatial world, but also with the world of time; it is not possible to understand the human being unless one goes back to his pre-existent, pre-natal being, revealing itself, as described, to supersensible vision. We learn to know this pre-existent being when man lays aside his physical body here on Earth, when we see his etheric body dissolving in the cosmic ether — we see this pre-existent being passing once more through the portal of death in order to begin a new cycle leading to a further adjustment of life's facts and to a higher perfection.
This is how man stands within the evolution of the world, if we look upon his essence as such. What we now receive, inasmuch as we bear our soul-spiritual being down to Earth, pertains to the evolution of the world and must be included in the cosmic development, as we shall see in the next lecture. The human being will only be understood if what has been explained today is at the same time inserted into the cosmic being and becoming — that is, into the whole cosmic development. For man can only recognize the world by recognizing himself. And what constitutes the universe is reflected in earthly life, and the human being lives through it after death and before birth. From this sphere he takes the forces which he himself incorporates with his physical body at birth or conception. The universe and man belong together not only outwardly but also inwardly. Man bears the world within himself; the world as a totality forms man's being. The question which we have raised is therefore partially answered today; it will be fully answered, to the extent allowed today by science, in my next lecture.
In conclusion let me say a few more words. I want it to be really understood that the facts explained by the spiritual-scientific investigator are based upon the development of forces which ordinarily remain unconscious to the soul, but that from the anthroposophical standpoint, the spiritual-scientific investigator proceeds in such a way that he clothes the facts obtained through supersensible vision in the thoughts which are ordinarily used in science. Everywhere he takes his thoughts with him. For his research-work must always be accompanied by that pendulum swinging from the supersensible to the physical world. He must always stand as his own critic by the side of his higher being endowed with supersensible vision. Consequently even those who have not made such exercises can really examine and test with their own thinking all the facts brought forward by the spiritual investigator; they can test them with their own thinking, if only they follow in an unprejudiced way their own sound common sense. It is really not true that only a spiritual investigator could test the facts brought forward by spiritual research. In the present time we have grown too accustomed to the manner of thinking connected with external matter, with the external sequence of natural facts, and we find that a spiritual investigator cannot supply proofs valid for this way of thinking. But those who penetrate into all the circumstances understand the connection existing between the ordinary sound common sense and the methodically developed understanding of science, of external science. And those who think critically, and with sufficient lack of prejudice test all the facts advanced by the spiritual investigator, will be able to do this, even though they themselves are not endowed with supersensible vision. The spiritual investigator brings forward everything in such a way that it can be tested. Those who say that a spiritual investigator merely relates what he sees through his own supersensible vision without supplying any proofs, resembles a person who is accustomed to think that everything which he finds on Earth stands upon a firm ground, and when someone explains to him a solar system immediately asks: What then does that rest upon?
Perhaps he does not perceive that it rests upon itself, that it is freely borne by its own forces. A person who asks for proofs resembles one who asks: On what foundation does a solar system stand then? He resembles such a person if he asks for ordinary proofs, and means such proofs as can only be asked for the external sensory world, where it is possible to discover, without any proof, the things which the senses perceive, the existence of which can be proved through the senses.
But human thinking does not only exist for this purpose; human thinking can also rise to things which are demonstrable not only through sound common sense upon the foundation of sensory experience, but to things which are carried by their own inner forces, like a spiritual planetary system. Try to examine in this way, by applying it to anthroposophical spiritual investigation, the results obtained by such a self-supporting, self-demonstrating thinking; you will then find that the facts advanced by a spiritual investigator are inwardly just as surely founded — even without the so-called external supports — as a planetary system supports itself freely in cosmic space, and that a supporting foundation is only needed by what is terrestrial and heavy. This however must be remembered: that thinking must also become really free, it must become something which can carry itself inwardly, if sound human intelligence is to find a proof for the facts which spiritual research advances in connection with the being of man and the evolution of the world. That from this standpoint it is possible to prove everything, I shall hope to develop in my next lecture on the nature of world evolution, following the explanations now given on the nature of man.