Rudolf Steiner, June 21, 1907, from the notes of a member of the audience:
When, as we saw yesterday, man has reached the stage in the spiritual world in which he has, so to speak, transformed everything which he possessed in the form of capacities and talents acquired during his earthly life, then the time has come for him to prepare for a new incarnation. But we must realize that two things should be dealt with in that which comes towards us from the human being. One thing is that which reproduces itself in the course of physical heredity, and the other is that which the human being brings along into the world from his earlier lives on Earth.
Today we shall have to describe man's descent into the world, but you need not object to the word “descent”, for it is not a spatial descent, but a gradual process of development whereby man comes out of the world which is 'round about us and enters into the physical world.
Yesterday we saw that the spiritual world should not be sought in a “Beyond”, but that it is also 'round about us; modern man, however, is not able to perceive this spiritual world.
Out of this spiritual world develops that which we designate as a new embodiment. We saw that from his former life man retains an essence of his etheric and of his astral body, a survey of his experiences, and that he also took with him into the spiritual world that part of his astral body which he had been able to transmute, casting off the unrefined part.
It will be easier to form an idea of reincarnation if we bear in mind a few other things concerning the life after death. We saw that immediately after his physical death man lives for about three and a half days within his etheric body and that his past life rises up before him in these three and a half days like a kind of picture. The etheric body dissolves and then comes the Kamaloka time; this is the time of purification, in which the astrality still requiring purification is cleansed and purged.
But now I must mention another experience. When this memory picture arises immediately after death, man has a significant experience. He has the experience as if he suddenly grew in size, quickly breaking through his own surface and growing out into space. This feeling does not vanish until he is born again. Man feels that he is as large as the whole world to which he belongs, as large as the whole space of the universe. This will enable you to realize that man can look upon his body and experience it as something which does not belong to him, for he sees his passions as if they were outside his body. He has the strange feeling of being spread out over the whole universe.
Then comes something which is more difficult to understand. During the whole time of Kamaloka man feels as if he were really split up into space. You may understand this better if you bear in mind the following: During the time of Kamaloka, when man lives through his life backwards as far as his childhood, in the manner described, he passes through all his experiences as if they were reflected in a mirror. If he once slapped someone's face it is he who now feels the slap, for he feels that he is a part of the world once occupied by the other person. For example, if you died here in Kassel and the other person whom you slapped lives in Paris, then you feel as if one part of your being were in Paris. Thus you feel as if you were split up over the whole world; parts of you live, so to speak, wherever you have to look for something. But you should understand this in such a way that you cannot feel anything in the space between Kassel and Paris. If you thus bear in mind all the events of your life, you really feel split up into many many places during your passage through the period after death.
The following may serve you as a simile: A wasp consists of two parts, a front and a back part, with a very thin connection. Now imagine that the back part were completely severed, but that the wasp nevertheless drags it along with it. This is more or less the way in which you can picture to yourself what I have just described: You feel that you consist of single parts and that there is no connection between them. But when the human being enters Devachan, he once more feels as he did immediately after death, namely as if he filled up the whole space of the universe.
Now, when in Devachan man has transformed all his dispositions into talents and capacities, the ego once more feels attracted toward the physical Earth and endeavors to descend to the Earth in a physical incarnation. First of all the ego surrounds itself with an astral body. This process takes place through the fact that the ego attracts everything astral; the astral substance comes shooting toward it, as it were. It is just as if you were holding a magnet in front of iron filings; even as these filings are attracted in definite forms, so the ego attracts the astral substance. While passing through the soul and spirit realms the ego has gained impressions through its experiences, and all these form the fundamental forces which help to build up the new astral body. The new astral body thus takes along with it everything that the human being has experienced during his former life and in Kamaloka. All the impressions which he has had there have a definite influence upon the way in which the new astral body enters into him.
The human being has now acquired an astral body; but he must also have the other members. The astral body has only been formed through its own forces of attraction. Before conception, man is enfolded only by this astral body. The seer therefore continually sees these astral germs of human beings waiting to be born — that is to say, waiting to be conceived. He sees them flying about with a tremendous speed; bell-like shapes move about through space with enormous speed; distances play no part whatever; they move so rapidly that distances play no part at all.
Now comes the enfolding with an etheric body; but that is a process in which the human being does not become enfolded with his own forces alone. His own forces, which lie in him, can no longer care for the etheric body; for that purpose, man needs the help of certain spiritual beings who must cooperate in this.
You may have an idea of these beings if you bear in mind that you sometimes use words which you do not generally connect with any definite thought; for instance, the word Folk-spirit, Folk-soul. Today we have no definite idea in connection with this word, but only something quite abstract. But the clairvoyant seer connects with it something quite different. There really are beings of a higher nature, who exist even as we ourselves exist, but who never incarnate in the flesh, and these beings are the souls of tribes and races. We do not use a vague expression when speaking of the Folk-soul: The Folk-soul is a real being, except that it does not possess a physical body, for its lowest member is the etheric body. Then the Folk-soul has an astral body, the ego, Manas, Buddhi, Atman, and a still higher member which man does not attain and which Christian Esoterisism calls the Holy Spirit, and which Theosophy generally designates as the Logos.
The clairvoyant seer may therefore address the Folk-Soul even as he addresses other human beings. Today we have no real conception of such things and believe that this word designates characteristics of single nations. But this is not true — a reality is connected with it. The understanding for such things was necessarily lost through the materialistic conception, but it will be reached again. Today men are inclined to dissolve such things into empty concepts. This had to come. For this same reason a book had to be published in our modern epoch which constitutes, so to speak, the very opposite of a theosophical conception. This book had to appear and has been greatly admired. It is Fritz Mauthner's “Kritik der Sprache” (The Critique of Language). Mauthner is a thinker who dissolves everything which lies beyond sensory things. Only a radical thinker who had been abandoned by every good spirit could have the courage to write as Mauthner did, breaking with everything that is spiritual and real. In centuries to come, men will turn to this very book when they wish to know how people used to think at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Folk-Soul is a reality; it spreads out like a mass of fog, and in it are embedded all the etheric bodies of the individual human beings belonging to a definite nation, and its forces stream into the etheric bodies of individual men.
Now, there are spiritual beings having the rank of these Folk-souls, who cooperate in the building up of the etheric body of the new soul. These spiritual beings bring about the fact that the human being is led toward the nation which is most suited to him. The etheric body does not always fit quite perfectly; the disharmonies which you often encounter in life often depend upon the fact that man is unable to build up his etheric body through his own forces. A complete harmony will only be reached upon a much later stage of development of the Earth.
The enfolding with the etheric body takes place with great rapidity — a speed which you cannot conceive of if you compare it with physical conditions. Still higher spiritual beings then lead man toward the parents who are able to supply him with the substance which he needs for his physical body.
The modern materialist who sees that the son resembles his parents will not be able to believe that something else is also connected with the body inherited from the parents. Of course, as regards our body we resemble our ancestors, but this does not contradict the facts explained above.
Let us observe a definite case: the family of Bach. In the course of two hundred and fifty years, over 29 more or less significant musicians have come out of that family. Materialists will say: This clearly proves that there is such a thing as heredity! — In the same way the family Bernoulli produced eight mathematicians in a short time. How can we explain this? We can understand this best of all if we bear in mind hereditary conditions. As this is easier to grasp in the case of a musician, let us observe the family of Bach.
Let us suppose that a young Bach had lived in Rome during his former incarnation, that he had elaborated his dispositions and was ready to reincarnate. Supposing he had brought with him, as the result of his former incarnations, the greatest musical gifts; he could do nothing with these gifts if he were not able to find a well developed ear. Without such a well developed ear, he would be just as helpless as a great artist without an instrument. Necessarily such an individuality would have to incarnate in a body supplying a good organ for his dispositions. But the external form of the inner and outer organs is hereditary, and if this individuality wished to become a musician, a well developed ear would be essential! Where can he most easily acquire such an organ? In a family of musicians. So he is led toward a family where he can find the best organ for his further development and the unfolding of the talents reposing in him. At that time, the best which could be found in that direction were the parents of Johann Sebastian Bach.
And how do matters stand with the brothers Bernoulli? Mathematical thought does not depend upon the structure of the brain (for mathematical logic does not differ from any other), but the mathematical gift is based upon the specially exact development in the structure of the three semicircular canals. This is an organ not larger that a pea, embedded in the middle of the ear and consisting of three semicircular canals, exactly corresponding to the three-dimensional space. If one canal lies exactly horizontally, then the second one stretches from right to left, and the third one from the front to the back. They all face one another in an angle of 90 degrees. The essential thing is therefore this exact position: The more exact the right angle is, the better does the organ function. If the organ is in any way injured, giddiness arises; you can no longer orientate yourself in space. The mathematical talent, that is to say, the possibility of using it, is based upon a specially fine elaboration of these canals. And this organ is inherited in the same way as the musical ear.
The brain forms thoughts concerning space in exactly the same way in which it forms thoughts on philosophy. But the fact of having an understanding for the forms in space depends upon these three semicircular canals. Thus an individuality with highly developed mathematical gifts will incarnate in a family in which this organ has reached the most perfect development, and this was the case in the family Bernoulli.
A suitable instrument is also needed in order to be morally efficient. An individuality with a high morality therefore seeks parents who promise to supply the best instrument for this purpose. The proverb which is often used so superficially and trivially: “one cannot be too careful in the choice of one's parents”, is true in the deepest and most earnest sense, for a child chooses its own parents, so to speak.
Many people might object to this and ask: How can we explain mother-love, if that is so? For mother-love depends on the fact that the mother knows that the child is part of her own self. But viewed in the right light, mother-love does not suffer in any way — on the contrary, we learn to know it better.
Why is a child born to a certain mother? Because its spiritual qualities lead it to a mother who is spiritually related to it, and the child loves its mother even before it is conceived; mother-love is, as it were, the counter-part of this primary love and attraction. Consequently this insight even deepens the idea of mother-love.
Now, the occasion to incarnate is essentially dependent on the qualities of father and mother; and there, father and mother work differently. When a human being descends to a new birth, the ego, which possesses more volitional forces, feels more attracted by the father, and the astral forces more by the mother. The father has a greater influence upon the ego, the will and character, and the mother has more influence upon the astral body — that is to say, more in the direction of thought. Of course, it is best of all if both parents are suited to the individuality seeking to incarnate.
When man descends, those forces are also active which were impressed upon him when he ascended to the spiritual worlds. All this develops forces of attraction, and he is drawn into the sphere which was related to him from the very beginning. He is consequently led toward those human beings with whom he was already connected before.
Let me give you an example based on real fact. It once happened that a man was sentenced to death by a panel of four or five judges, and executed. The former life of these six men was investigated through spiritual science and it appeared that they had formerly all been together on Earth, but that the executed man had been their chieftain and that the others had been sentenced to death by him. The last execution was therefore a kind of atonement. This case in particular brings into clear evidence the law of karma.
Thus the various forces which a man attracted during his former life exercise a determining influence when he is born again, both in regard to the structure of his body and the place of birth, and in regard to his later destiny. Disharmonies appear in the physical body even more strongly than in the etheric body.
All these things show how man becomes enfolded by the three bodies when he is born again. And in every incarnation one ego works upon the astral body, the etheric body, and the physical body. Later on we shall see how man ascends to this high degree of perfection, for he transforms the astral body and the etheric body more and more. Out of the purified astral body develops Manas, out of the purified etheric body Buddhi, and out of the purified physical body Atman. We are therefore able to imagine the ever growing perfection of man from incarnation to incarnation.
This appears most beautifully in the Lord's Prayer. But we can only understand it in the right way if we grasp it in the truly Christian meaning, as it was grasped in the Occult School of St. Paul. In this School the Lord's Prayer was explained according to its true Christian meaning, and the pupils were told: Imagine the higher members of human nature, which develop through the fact that man more and more refines his three lower members. Early Christianity used to look upon these three higher members (Manas, Buddhi, Atman) as man's higher nature. By developing the three higher members more and more, man gradually approaches the Godhead. From this standpoint, the esoteric Christians of the past used to call the three highest members the Divine Nature, and they called the highest "Atman," i.e. the Father. This is the deepest divine essence in man: the Father in Heaven.
The Father is the essence toward which all men develop. He is the center of the world's creation. The creation, in the Christian meaning, can be best imagined if we bear in mind the sacrifice. Think of your mirrored image, and assume that you could be just as selfless as this mirrored image, to the point of being able to sacrifice your own life. This is how we must think of a selfless creative activity: We ourselves must become completely one with the created object.
Now imagine the Father as the center of a reflecting hollow sphere: The Father's image will in that case be reflected a thousandfold. The esoteric Christian of olden times said to himself: Look at the world: All the beings in it are, after all, the reflected images of God. And in their esoterisism they used to call this reflection of the Godhead's own image “the Kingdom”, that is to say: God, reflecting Himself everywhere.
“Continue now to develop your feelings” was the instruction given to the pupil of esoteric Christianity in olden times, “Continue to develop your feelings, and if you can perceive God in everything, if you have dissolved the Godhead in an infinite number of single objects, and if you wish to distinguish these objects you must give each a name. This name must be sanctified, it must be hallowed, for every single creature is a mirrored image of the Godhead.”
In the course of his development, aiming at the attainment of God, man enters into these three elements. But you must not think that man becomes God. Take a drop out of the ocean: In its essence it is akin to the ocean, but it is not the ocean. In the same way the drop of divine nature within us is akin to God, to be sure, but it is not “the Godhead.” By developing the three highest members more and more, man gradually becomes united with the Kingdom; for the spiritual world comes down to him.
Here you have the three first entreaties in the Lord's Prayer: in the first place, the appeal to the Father; in the second place, the entreaty that the Kingdom should come to us; in the third place, the Hallowing of the Name.
If we develop those three highest members within us, we shall always endeavor to avoid acting in a way which is not in harmony with the Spirit of the Father, from Whom we descend and to Whom we go in our development.
In contrast to the three higher members, esoteric Christianity then considers the four lower members of man, which must also become more and more perfect.
The physical body consists of the same substances which are also to be found outside in Nature, and these substances continually go in and out of our physical body. Indeed, if the physical body is to remain healthy, they must continually go in and out.
The etheric body has forces which are interrelated with the whole Folk-soul, even as the physical body's forces are interrelated with the whole of Nature. If the physical body is to remain sound, physical substances must go in and out of it day by day. If the etheric body is to remain sound, it must not develop upon an individual basis, but enter into harmony with the whole Folk-soul and with all the higher beings.
The word “trespasses” is connected with the word “debts.” Debts clearly show that you do not stand there isolated, but that you live within social connection with your fellow-men.
That which brings disorder into the astral body of man was considered in early Christian esotericism as something connected with man's inclinations, passions, impulses, and desires. Everything which can bring disorder into these is expressed by the word “temptation”. “Trespasses” are something which brings man into connection with the social community, whereas “temptation” is something into which every man may fall, insofar as he is an individual being.
If physical substances did not go in and out of our physical body, this body would come into disorder. Hence, we pray: Give us this day our daily bread.
If the etheric body did not enter into a harmonious relationship with the Folk-soul, that is to say, if it did not insert itself harmoniously into the whole social structure, this body too would come into disorder. Hence we pray: Forgive us our trespasses.
If man fell into the error of giving way to every temptation which approaches him, this would bring disorder into his astral body. Hence we pray: Lead us not into temptation.
The ego can commit errors which we designate as “evil”. Everything which transforms a normal, sound self-consciousness into evil, that is to say, into selfishness, belongs to these errors of the ego (which is our own self). To these errors belong all the aberrations of selfishness and egoism. Hence we pray: Deliver us from evil.
The physical body can thus develop soundly if we nourish it in the right way with daily bread.
The etheric body can develop soundly if we bring it into a right harmony with the social structure in which we live.
The astral body can develop soundly, that is to say, it can be purged and purified, if we overcome all temptations.
The ego can develop soundly if we endeavor to transform every form of egoism into altruism, every form of selfishness to selflessness. Thus we may see in the Lord's Prayer a prayer encompassing the whole development of man.
Someone might now object — and you will often come across this objection: The Lord' s Prayer is one that was given by Christ Jesus for every man. Of what use are explanations such as the above, since the majority of men know nothing about them?
The naive person need not know anything about them. Look at the rose. The greatest wisdom has built up the rose, and yet even the simplest man may rejoice in it! It is not necessary to know anything of the wisdom contained in the rose. It is the same with the Lord' s Prayer. A power goes out from it and influences the human soul, even if the soul in its simplicity does not know this. But the Lord's Prayer could never contain this force had it not been drawn out of the deepest wisdom. Every great prayer, such as this greatest of all prayers, has been drawn out of the deepest wisdom, and the power of such prayers is based upon this fact. If you think that this is simply a thought-out explanation, you will be wrong, for the being Who gave us the Lord's Prayer laid into it this deep power.
You may therefore see that only with the help of spiritual science can we understand that which we practice daily, the power of which has been experienced by mankind for nearly two thousand years.
Now we have reached a stage in the development of humanity where it is no longer possible to proceed without such a deepening of our understanding. Formerly, that is to say, up to now, humanity was able to feel the spiritual forces contained in this prayer without knowing its deeper meaning. But now humanity has progressed so far in its development that it must ask after this meaning, and an answer has to be given now.
The Christian religion will not lose any of its value thereby, but it will, on the contrary, manifest itself in its whole depth. Religious truths will be gained anew through the greatest wisdom. The esoteric explanation of the Lord's Prayer is an example of this. It shows us the path which man must tread through many incarnations. If he walks in the spirit of the four petitions referring to the four lower members, they will help him to fulfill the work leading to the development of his higher members, as expressed in the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer.