Friday, March 10, 2017
The Origin of Suffering
Supersensible Knowledge. Lecture 3.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, November 8, 1906
The next three lectures of this winter's cycle will have more of an inner connection than the others, that is: Today's upon the origin of suffering, the next upon the origin of evil, and the following: Illness and Death. Yet each of these three lectures will be complete and comprehensible in itself.
When man looks at the life around him, when he examines himself and tries to investigate the meaning and significance of life, he finds before life's door a remarkable figure — in part a warning figure, in part a completely enigmatic one: Suffering.
Suffering, so closely bound up with what we shall consider in the next lectures on evil, illness and death, seems to man sometimes to grip so deeply into life as to be connected with its very greatest problems. Hence the problem of suffering has occupied the human race since earliest times, and whenever there is an endeavor to estimate the value of life and to find its meaning, people have above all tried to recognize the role played by suffering and pain.
In the midst of a happy life suffering appears as a destroyer of peace, as a damper-down of the pleasure and hope of life. Those who see the value of life in pleasure and happiness are those who feel the most this peace-destroyer, suffering. How else would it be explicable that in a people so full of joy and happiness of life as the Greeks, such a dark spot in the starry heavens of the beauty of Greece could arise as the saying of the wise Silenus? Silenus in the train of Dionysos asks: What is the best for man? The best for man is not to be born, and if he is once born, then the second best is to die soon after birth. Perhaps you know that Friedrich Nietzsche in seeking to grasp the birth of tragedy out of the spirit of ancient Greece linked on to this saying in order to show how, on the basis of Greek wisdom and art, suffering and man's sadness over suffering and all connected with it play a role full of significance.
But now we find another, hardly much later, saying from ancient Greece. It is a short phrase which shows how a glimmering arises that the pain and sorrow of the world do not play merely an unhappy role. It is the expression which we find in one of the earliest Greek tragedians, Aeschylos, that out of suffering grows knowledge. Here are two things brought together, one of which no doubt a great part of mankind would like to blot out, whereas it looks on the other, knowledge, as one of the highest possessions of life.
People at all times have believed that they must recognise that life and suffering are deeply entwined — at least the life of modern man and of the higher creatures on our globe. Thus at the beginning of the Biblical story of Creation the knowledge of good and evil and suffering are intimately bound up with one another. Yet we also see on the other hand, in the midst of the Old Testament conception how, out of a dark view of sorrow, a bright light-filled one dawns.
When we look around us in the Old Testament and study the Creation story in regard to this question it is clear that suffering and sin were brought together, that suffering was looked on as the consequence of sin. In the modern mode of thinking, where the materialistic concept of the world penetrates everywhere, it is no longer easy to grasp how the cause of suffering can be sought for in sin. But through spiritual research and the power to look back into earlier ages, it will be found to be not so meaningless to believe in such a connection. The next lecture will show us that it is possible to see a connection between evil and suffering.
But for ancient Jewry it was impossible to explain the cause of suffering. We see in the centre of this view that brings suffering and sin into connection the remarkable figure of Job. It is a figure which shows us, or is meant to show us, how suffering and unspeakable pain can be connected with a completely guiltless life, how there can be unearned pain and suffering. We see dawning in the consciousness of this unique tragic personality, Job, yet another connection of pain and suffering, a connection with the ennobling of man. Suffering appears to us then as a testing, as the root of a climbing upwards, of a higher development. Suffering in the sense of this Job-tragedy need in no way have its origin in evil, it can itself be first cause, so that what proceeds from it represents a more perfect phase of human life. All of that lies somewhat remote from our modern thinking, and the generality of our modern educated public can find but little connection with it. You need only think back in your life, however, and you will see how perfection and suffering very often appeared together and how mankind has always been aware of this connection. Such a consciousness will form a bridge to what we are to consider today in the light of spiritual investigation, namely, the connection between suffering and spirituality.
Remember how in some tragedy the tragic hero has stood before your eyes. The poet leads the hero again and again through suffering and conflicts full of suffering until he comes to the point where pain reaches its climax and finds relief in the end of the physical body. Then there lives in the soul of the spectator not alone sympathy with the tragic hero and sadness that such sufferings are possible, but it appears that from the sight of suffering man was exalted and built up, that he has seen the suffering submerged in death and that out of death has come the assurance that victory exists over pain. Yes, even over death.
Through nothing in art can this highest victory of man, this victory of his highest forces and impulses, victory of the noblest impulses of his nature be brought so sublimely before the eyes as by a tragedy. When the experience of pain and suffering has preceded the consciousness of this victory, and, from the deeds that can again and again take place before the eyes of the spectator in the theatre, we look up to what is still felt by a great part of modern humanity as the highest fact of all historical evolution; when we look up to the Event which divides our chronology into two parts — to the Redemption through Christ Jesus — then it can strike us that one of the greatest upliftings, one of the greatest upbuildings and hopes of victory which has ever taken root in the heart of man has sprung from the world historic sight of suffering. The greatly significant feelings, cutting deep into the human heart, of the Christian world-conception, these feelings which for so many are the hope and strength of life, give the assurance that there is an eternity, a victory over death. All these supporting and uplifting feelings spring from the sight of a universal suffering, a suffering that befalls innocence, a suffering occasioned through no personal sin.
So we see here too that a highest element in the consciousness of humanity is linked to suffering. And when we see how these things, small and great, ever again rise to the surface, how they actually form the elemental part of the whole of human nature and consciousness, then it must indeed seem to us as if in some way suffering is connected with the highest in man.
This was only meant to point to a basic impulse of the human soul which continually asserts itself and which stands as a great consolation for the fact that there is suffering. If we now enter more intimately into human life we shall find phenomena which show us the significance of suffering. We shall have to point here symptomatically to a phenomenon which perhaps seems hardly connected; but, if we nevertheless examine human nature more closely, we shall see that this phenomenon too points to the significance of certain aspects of suffering.
Think once more of a work of art, a tragedy. It can only arise if the poet's soul opens wide, goes out of itself and learns to feel another's pain, to lay the burden of a stranger's suffering upon his own soul. And now compare this feeling not perhaps just with a comedy — for then we should get no good comparison — but with something which in a certain way also belongs to art, with the mood which gives rise to caricature. This mood, perhaps with ridicule and derision, draws in caricature what goes on in the soul of the other and appears in external action.
Let us try to put before us two men of whom the one conceives an event or a human being tragically, while the other grasps it as caricature. It is not a mere comparison, not a mere picture when we say that the soul of the tragic poet and artist appears as if it went out of itself and became wider and wider. What, however, is revealed to the soul through this expansion? The understanding of the other person. One understands the life of another through nothing so much as by taking upon one's own soul the burden of his pain. But what must one do if one wants to caricature? One must not go into what the other feels, one must set oneself above it, drive it away, and this driving from oneself is the basis of the caricature. No-one will deny that just as through tragic compassion the other personality becomes deeply comprehensible, what appears in the caricature is what lives in the personality of the caricaturist. We learn to know the superiority, the wit, the power of observation, the phantasy of the one caricaturing rather than the one caricatured.
If we have shown in some way that suffering is nevertheless connected with something deep in human nature then we may hope that through a grasp of the actual nature of man the origin of pain and suffering can also become clear to us.
The spiritual science which we represent here takes its starting point from the fact that all existence has its origin in the Spirit. A more materialistic view sees Spirit only as a crowning of perceptible creation, above all as a fruit of physical nature from which it proceeds.
In the last two lectures (11 and 25th October 1906) it was shown how in the light of spiritual research we have to picture the whole man — the physical or bodily, the man of soul and the spiritual man. What we can see with our eyes, perceive externally through the senses, what materialism considers the sole being of nature, is to spiritual research nothing but the first member of the human being — the physical body. We know that in respect of its substances and laws this is common to man with all the rest of the lifeless world. But we know too that this physical body is called to life through what we call the etheric or life-body. We know this because for spiritual research the life-body is not a speculation but a reality which can be seen when the higher senses slumbering in man have become open. We look upon the second part of the human being, the etheric body, as something which man has in common with the rest of the plant world. We regard the astral body as the third member of man's being; it is the bearer of sympathy and antipathy, of desire and passion which man has in common with the animal. And then we see that man's self-consciousness, the possibility of saying “I” to oneself, is the crown of human nature, which man has in common with no other being. We see that the “I” arises as the blossoming of the three bodies, physical, etheric and astral. So we see a connection of these four bodies to which spiritual research has always pointed. The Pythagorean “quadrature” is nothing else than the four-foldness, physical body, etheric body, astral body and I or ego. Those who have occupied themselves more deeply with spiritual science know that the I works out from itself what we call Spirit-Self or Manas, Life-Spirit or Budhi, and the actual Spirit-Man or Atma.
That is once more put before you so that we may orientate ourselves in the right way. Man therefore appears to the spiritual investigator as a four-membered being. Now comes the point where genuine spiritual research, which sees behind the beings with the eyes of the spirit and penetrates to the deeper laws of existence, differs profoundly from a purely external way of observing. It is true that as man stands before us we say too that chemical and physical laws must be the foundation of the body, of life, the foundation of sensation, consciousness, self-consciousness. But when we penetrate existence with spiritual science we see that things are just the reverse. Consciousness, which arises out of the physical body, which in the sense of phenomenon appears to be the last, is to us the original creative element. At the base of all things we perceive the conscious Spirit and therefore the spiritual researcher sees how senseless is the question: Where does the Spirit come from? — That can never be the question. It is only possible to ask: Where does matter come from? For spiritual research matter has sprung from Spirit, is nothing but densified Spirit.
As a comparison, picture a vessel with water in it. Think of one part of the water being cooled down until it turns to ice. Now what is the ice? It is water, water in another form, in a solid condition. This is the way that spiritual research looks at matter. As water is related to ice so is Spirit to matter. As ice is no more than a result of water, so is matter nothing else than a result of Spirit, and as ice can become water again, so can Spirit originate again out of matter, can proceed from matter, or, reversed, matter can again dissolve into Spirit.
Thus we see Spirit in an eternal circulation. We see the Spirit which flows through the whole universe, we see material beings arise out of it, densifying, and we see again on the other hand beings which cause the solid to evaporate again. In all that surrounds us today as matter is something into which Spirit has flowed and become rigid. In every material being we see rigidified Spirit. As we need only bring the necessary heat to the ice to turn it into water again, so we need only bring the necessary Spirit to the beings around us to renew the Spirit in them. We speak of a rebirth of the Spirit which has flowed into matter and is hardened there. Thus does the astral body — the bearer of likes and dislikes, of desires and passions — appear to us not as something which could originate from physical existence, but as the same element as lives in us as conscious Spirit, as what appears to us as the element flowing through the whole world and being dissolved again out of matter, through a process of human life. What appears as last is at the same time the first. It has produced the physical body and likewise the etheric body, and when both have reached a certain degree of development appears to be born out of them anew.
This is how spiritual research looks at things. Now these three members — we only use words for clarifying — appear to us under three distinct names. We perceive matter in a certain form, appearing to us in the outer world in a certain way. We speak of the Form, of the shape of matter and of the Life which appears in the Form and lastly of Consciousness which appears within the Life. So we speak as of three stages: physical body, etheric body, astral body, and also of three stages: Form, Life, Consciousness. Only from Consciousness does Self-consciousness arise. We shall not occupy ourselves with that today but only in our next lecture.
People at all times and particularly in our own day have pondered much over the actual meaning of life and its origin. Modern natural science has been able to give few clues to the meaning and nature of life. One thing, however, the more recent natural science has accepted for some time, something which has been expounded again and again as a fact by spiritual science also. This is namely: Life within the physical world is fundamentally distinguished as to substance from the so-called lifeless only through the manifoldness and complexity of its formation. Life can be present only where a much more complicated structure is found than exists in the realm of the lifeless. You know, perhaps, that the basic substance of life is a kind of albuminous substance for which the expression “living albumen” would not be out of place. This living albumen differs essentially from dead lifeless albumen through one characteristic. Living albumen disintegrates directly it is forsaken by life. Dead albumen, that for instance of a dead hen's-egg, cannot be kept for any length of time in the same condition. It is the essential character of living substance that the moment when life has left it, it can no longer hold its parts together. Although we cannot go further into the nature of life today, yet one phenomenon can point to something that is deeply connected with life and characterises it. And what is this characteristic? It is just this peculiarity of living substance that it disintegrates when life has gone out of it. Think of a substance denuded of life — it decays, it has the peculiarity of dispersing. What then does life do? It sets itself again and again against disintegration; thus life preserves. That is the youth-giving element of life: it ever resists what would take place in its substance. Life in substance means: resistance to decay. Compare with life the external process of death and it will be clear that life does not show what characterises the process of death — the disintegration in itself. Far more does it ever and again rescue substance from decay, sets itself against decay. Thus, inasmuch as life ever renews the substance which is falling to pieces in itself, it is the foundation of physical existence and of consciousness.
This has not merely been a verbal explanation; it would have been one if what it signifies were not continuously carried on. You need, however, only observe a living substance and you will find that it continually takes up matter from outside, incorporates it into itself, inasmuch as portions of itself become destroyed: a process through which life perpetually works against destruction. We have, in fact, to do with a reality.
To throw off old material and form new again — that is life. But life is not yet sensation, not yet consciousness. It is a childish kind of imagination that makes many scientists have such a false idea of sensation. To the plants to which we must ascribe life, they also attribute sensation. If one says that because many plants close their leaves and flowers on an external stimulation, as if they felt it, then one could also say that blue litmus paper, which goes red through outer stimulus, has sensation. We could also ascribe sensation to chemical substances because they react to certain influences. But that is not enough. To have sensation the stimulus must be reflected inwardly. Only then can we speak of the first element of consciousness, of sensation and feeling. And what is this first element of consciousness? When in further investigation of the world we raise ourselves to the next higher stage and try to comprehend the nature of consciousness, we shall not do so immediately, but shall nevertheless feel it dawn a little into the soul, just as we could explain a little the nature of life.
Consciousness can arise only where there is life, can spring only from life. If life arises out of apparently lifeless matter, since the combination of the material is so complicated that it cannot preserve itself and must be seized upon by life in order to prevent continual decay, then consciousness appears to us within life as something higher. Whenever life is continually destroyed as life, where a being stands close to the threshold between life and death, where life threatens all the time to vanish again from the living substance, then consciousness arises. And as in the first place substance would have disintegrated if life did not permeate it, so now life seems to us to be dissipated if a new principle, consciousness, is not added to it. We can grasp consciousness only by saying: Just as life is there in order to renew certain processes, for lack of which matter would decay, so is consciousness there to renew again and again the life that would otherwise die.
Not every life can always renew itself inwardly in this way. It must have reached a higher stage, if it is to renew itself from itself. Only a life that is so strong in itself that it perpetually bears death within can awaken to consciousness. Or does no life exist which in every moment has death in itself? You need only look at the life of man and remember what was said in the last lecture: “Blood is a very special fluid”. Human life renews itself continually out of the blood, and a clever German psychologist has said that man has a double (Doppelgänger) from whom he continually draws strength. But the blood, has another power as well: it continually creates death. When the blood has deposited the life-awakening substances on the bodily organs, then it carries the life-destroying forces up again to the heart and lungs. What flows back into the lungs is poisonous to life and makes life continually perish.
When a being works against disintegration and decay then it is a living being. If it is able to let death arise within it and to transform this death continually into life, then consciousness arises. Consciousness is the strongest of all forces that we encounter. Consciousness, or conscious spirit, is that force which out of death, which must be created in the midst of life, eternally makes life arise again. Life is a process which is concerned with an outer world and an inner world. Consciousness, however, is a process which has to do only with an inner world. A substance which can die externally cannot become conscious. A substance can only become conscious that creates death in its own centre and overcomes it. Thus death — as a gifted German theosophist has said — is not only the root of life but also the root of consciousness.
When we have grasped this connection then we need only look at the phenomena with open eyes and pain will appear comprehensible. All that gives rise to consciousness is originally pain. When life manifests externally, when life, air, warmth, cold encounter a living being then these outer elements work upon it. But as long as they only work upon it, as long as they are taken up by the living being, as they are taken up by the plant as bearer of internal life-processes, so long does no consciousness arise. Consciousness first arises when these outer elements come into opposition with the inner life and a destruction takes place. Consciousness must result from destruction of life. Without partial death a ray of light is not able to penetrate a living being, the process can never be stimulated in the living being from with consciousness arises. But when light penetrates into the surface of life, produces a partial destruction, breaks down the inner substances and forces, then that mysterious process arises which takes place everywhere in the external world in a quite definite way. Picture to yourselves that the intelligent forces of the world had ascended up to a height where outer light and outer air were foreign to them. They remained in harmony with them only for a time, then they came to completion and an opposition arose. If you could follow this process with the eye of the spirit, then you could see how when a ray of light penetrates a simple being, the skin becomes somewhat transformed and a tiny eye appears. What is it therefore that first glimmers there in the substance? In what does this fine destruction (for it is destruction) manifest? In pain, which is nothing else than an expression for the destruction. Whenever life comes up against external nature destruction takes place, and when it becomes greater even produces death. Out of pain consciousness is born. The very process which has created your eye would have been a destructive process if it had gained the upper hand over the nature that had developed up to the human being. But it has seized upon only a small part with which out of the destruction and partial death it could create that mirroring of the external world which we call consciousness. Consciousness within matter is thus born out of suffering, out of pain.
When we realise this connection of suffering and pain with the conscious spirit that surrounds us, we shall well understand the words of a Christian initiate who knew such things fundamentally and intuitively, and saw pain at the basis of all conscious life. They are the words: In all Nature sighs every creature in pain, full of earnest expectation to attain the state of the child of God. — You find that in the eighth chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans as a wonderful expression of this foundation of consciousness in pain. Thus one can also understand how thoughtful men have ascribed to pain such an all-important role. I should like to quote just one example. A great German philosopher says that when one looks at all Nature around one, then pain and suffering seem to be expressed everywhere on her countenance. Yes, when one observes the higher animals they show to those who look more deeply an expression full of suffering. And who would not admit that many an animal physiognomy looks like the manifestation of a deeply hidden pain?
If we look at the matter as we have just described it then we see the origin of consciousness out of pain, so that a being who builds consciousness out of destruction causes a higher element to arise from the decay of life, creates itself continuously out of death. If the living could not suffer, never could consciousness arise. If there were no death in the world never in the visible world could Spirit exist. That is the strength of the Spirit — that it remoulds destruction into something still higher than life, and so in the midst of life forms a higher state, consciousness. Ever further and further we see the various experiences of pain develop to the organs of consciousness. One sees it in the animals which for an external defence have only a reflex consciousness, just as man shuts the eye as protection against a danger to it. When the reflex movement is no longer enough to protect the inner life, when the stimulus becomes too strong, then the inner force of resistance rises up and gives birth to the senses, sensation, eye and ear. You know perhaps from many a disagreeable experience, or perhaps even instinctively, that this is so. You know indeed out of a higher state of your consciousness that what has been said is a truth. An example will make it still clearer. When do you feel certain interior organs of your organism? You go through life and do not feel your stomach or liver or lungs. You feel none of your organs as long as they are sound. You feel them only when they give you pain, and you really know that you have this or that organ only when it hurts you, when you feel that something is out of order there and that a destruction-process is beginning.
If we take this example and explanation then we see that conscious life is continually born from pain. If pain arises in life it gives birth to sensation and consciousness. This giving birth, this bringing forth of a higher element, is reflected again in consciousness as pleasure, and there would never be a pleasure unless there had been a previous pain. In the life below which just raises itself from physical material, there is as yet no pleasure. But when pain has produced consciousness and works further creatively as consciousness, then this creating is on a higher level and is expressed in the feeling of pleasure. Creation is based on desire and pleasure. Pleasure can only appear where inner or outer creation is possible. In some way creation lies at the base of every happiness, as every unhappiness is based on the necessity of creation.
Take something that expresses suffering on a lower level, the feeling of hunger, for instance, which can destroy life. You meet this with nourishment, and the food taken in becomes enjoyment because it is the means of enhancing, producing life. So you see that higher creation, pleasure, arises on the basis of pain. Thus before the pleasure there is suffering. The philosophy of Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann can therefore say with justification that suffering is a common feeling of life. However, they do not go back far enough, to the origin of suffering, do not come to the point where suffering is to evolve to something higher. The origin of suffering is found where consciousness arises out of life, where spirit is born out of life.
And therefore we can also understand what dawns in man's soul of the connection of suffering and pain with knowledge and consciousness, and we could still show how a nobler, more perfect state is born out of pain.
Those who have heard my lectures fairly often will remember the allusion to the existence of a sort of initiation, whereby a higher consciousness enters and man raises himself from a mere sense-perception to the observation of a spiritual world. It was said that forces and faculties slumber in the human soul which can be drawn out of it, just as the power of sight can be produced through operation in someone born blind, so that a new man arises to whom the whole world seems transformed to a higher stage. As in the case of one born blind, so do things appear in a new light to the spiritually born. Yet this can come about only if the process which has just been described is recapitulated on a higher level, when what is united in the average man becomes separate and a kind of destruction-process enters the lower human nature. Then the higher consciousness, the beholding of the spiritual world, can enter.
There are three forces in human nature: thinking, feeling and willing. These three depend on the physical organisation of man. Certain acts of will appear after certain thought and feeling processes have taken place. The human organism must function in the right way if these three forces are to harmonise. If certain transmissions are interrupted, certain parts diseased, then no proper harmony exists between thinking, feeling and willing. If the organs of will are crippled a man is unable to transform his thoughts into will-impulses. He is weak as a man of action; he can doubtless think, but cannot resolve to put thoughts into reality. Another case is when a person is not in a position to let his feelings be guided rightly through thoughts, to bring his feelings into harmony with the thoughts behind them. Insanity is fundamentally nothing else than this.
A harmony between thinking, feeling and willing is to be found in the normally-constituted man of today as against a sufferer. This is right for certain stages of evolution, but it must be noted that this harmony exists in present-day man unconsciously. If he is to be initiated, however, if he is to see into the higher . worlds, then these three members, thinking, feeling, willing, must be separated from one another. The organs of will and feeling must suffer a division, and therefore the physical organism of an initiate is different from that of a non-initiate. Anatomy could not prove that, but the contact between thinking, feeling and willing is interrupted. The initiate would be able to see someone suffering deeply without being stirred by any feeling, he could remain quite calm and merely look on. Why is that so? In an initiate nothing must be inter-linked unconsciously; he is a compassionate man out of freedom and not because something external compels him to be. That is the difference between an initiate and a non-initiate. Such a higher consciousness creates, as it were, a higher substance and the human being falls apart into a feeling-man, a will-man and a thought-man. Ruling over these three there appears for the first time the higher, new-born man, and from the level of a higher consciousness the three are brought into accord. Here again must death, destruction, also intervene. Should this destruction arise without at the same time a new consciousness springing up, then insanity would appear. Insanity would therefore be nothing else than the condition in which the human entity was shattered without the creation of the higher, conscious authority.
So here too there is a double element: a kind of destroying process of the lower by the side of a creating process of the higher. As poison is created in the blood in the veins, and as in the normal man consciousness is created between the red and the blue blood, so in the initiated man the higher consciousness is created inwardly in the co-operation of life and death. And the state of bliss arises from a higher pleasure, creation, that proceeds from death.
This is what man instinctively feels when he senses the mysterious connection between pain and suffering and the highest that man can attain. Hence the tragic poet, as his hero succumbs to suffering, lets this suffering give rise to the feeling of the victory of life, the consciousness of the victory of the eternal over the temporal. And so in the destruction of the earthly nature of Christ Jesus in pain and suffering, in anguish and misery, Christianity rightly sees the victory of eternal life over the temporal and transitory. So too our life becomes richer, more full of content, when we let it extend over what lies outside our own self, when we can enter into the life that is not our own.
Just as we create a higher consciousness out of the pain stimulated through an external ray of light and overcome by us as living being, so a creation in compassion is born when we transform the sufferings of others in our own greater consciousness-world. And so finally out of suffering arises love. For what else is love than spreading one's consciousness over other beings? When we deprive ourselves, give away, make ourselves poorer to the extent that we give to the other being, when we are able, just as the skin receives the ray of light and is able out of the pain to form a higher being, an eye; when we are able through the expansion of our life over other lives to absorb a higher life, then love, compassion with all creatures, is born in us out of that which we have given away to the other.
This also underlies the expression of the Greek poet: Out of life grew learning; out of learning, knowledge. Here again, as already mentioned in the previous lecture, a knowledge based on the most recent research of natural science touches the results of old spiritual investigation. The older spiritual research has always said that the highest knowledge can proceed solely from suffering. When we have a sick limb and it has given us pain, then we know this limb best of all. In the same way we know best of all what we have deposited in our own soul. Knowledge flows from our suffering as its fruit.
The same too underlies the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus which was soon followed, as Christianity teaches, by the outpouring into the world of the Holy Spirit. We now understand the coming forth of the Holy Spirit from the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus as a process indicated in the parable of the grain of corn. The new fruit must arise from destruction, and so too the Holy Spirit, which poured itself out over the Apostles at the Feast of Pentecost, is born from the destruction, the pain endured on the Cross. That is clearly expressed in St. John's Gospel (7.39) where it is said that the Spirit was not yet there, for the Christ was not yet glorified. One who reads this Gospel more deeply will see for himself that significant things emerge from it.
One can hear many people say that they would have not missed pain, for it had brought them knowledge. Everyone who has died could teach you that what I have now said is true. Would people fight against the destruction going on in them up to actual death if pain had not stood continually beside them like a guardian of life? Pain makes us aware that we have to take precautions against the destruction of life. Out of pain we create new life. In the notes of a modern natural scientist on the expression of the thinker, we read that on the countenance of the thinker something lies like a repressed pain.
When there is the enhancement which flows from knowledge attained through pain, when it is therefore true that from suffering we learn, then it is not without justification — as we shall see in the next lecture — that the Biblical story of Creation brings the knowledge of good and evil into connection with pain and suffering. And so it has always been rightly emphasised by one who looks deeper how the origin of purification, the lifting up of human nature, lies in pain. When the spiritual-scientific world-conception with its great law of destiny, karma, points from a man's present suffering to what he did wrongly in earlier lives, then we understand such a connection only out of man's deeper nature. What we brought about in the external world in an earlier life is transformed from base forces into lofty ones. Sin is like a poison which becomes remedy when it is changed into substance of life. And so sin can contribute to the strengthening and raising of man; in the story of Job pain and suffering are shown to us as an enhancement of knowledge and of the Spirit.
This is meant to be only a sketch which is to point to the connection between earthly existence and pain and suffering. It is to show how we can realise the meaning of suffering and pain when we see how they harden, crystallize in physical things and organisms up to man, and how through a dissolution of what has hardened, the Spirit can be born in us again, when we see that the origin of suffering and pain is in the Spirit. The Spirit gives us beauty, strength, wisdom, the transformed picture of the original abode of pain. A brilliant man, Fabre d'Olivet, made a right comparison when he wished to show how the highest, noblest, purest in human nature arises out of pain. He said that the arising of wisdom and beauty out of suffering is comparable to a process in nature, to the birth of the valuable and beautiful pearl. For the pearl is born from the sickness of the oyster, from the destruction inside the pearl-oyster. As the beauty of the pearl is born out of disease and suffering, so are knowledge, noble human nature and purified human feeling born out of suffering and pain.
So we may well say with the old Greek poet, Aeschylos: Out of suffering arises learning; out of learning, knowledge. And just as in respect of much else, we may say of pain that we have grasped it I only when we know it not only in itself but in what proceeds from it. As so many other things, pain too is known only by its fruits.