Monday, April 3, 2017
The nature of soul and of spirit; The difference between ancient yoga and modern spirituality
The Spiritual Ground of Education. Lecture 2 of 9.
Rudolf Steiner, Oxford, England, August 17, 1922:
First let me express my deepest thanks for the words from Mr. H. A. L. Fisher which have just been read out. They give me great encouragement in the task of the next few days. I have been informed that there was something difficult to understand in what I spoke about yesterday. In particular that difficulties had arisen from my use of the words “Spiritual” and “spiritual cognition.” This occasions me to depart somewhat today from the subject I had set myself and to discuss the use of the words “spirit” (Geist) and “spiritual life” (spirituelles Leben). This will lead us somewhat away from the subject of teaching and education. But from what I hear I gather we shall understand each other better during the next few days if I give these explanations of spirit, soul, and body today. During the next few days I shall find an opportunity of saying what I intended saying today.
Now, such an exposition as that to be given today makes it necessary to speak in a more theoretical way, to speak in ideas and concepts. I beg you to acquiesce in this for today; in the following days things will be better again and I shall not cruelly torment you with ideas and concepts but shall hope to please you with concrete facts.
The word ‘Geist’ (Spirit) and also the word ‘Spirituell’ (Spiritual) as used from the point of view and world outlook from which I now speak, is generally not understood profoundly enough. When the word ‘Geist’ (spirit) is used, people take it to mean something like ‘intellectual’ or to mean much the same as the English word ‘mind.’ But what I mean here by ‘spiritual’ and by ‘spirit’ (Geist) is something quite different. It must definitely not be confused with all these things designated as ‘spirit’ and ‘spiritual’ in mystical, fanatical, or superstitious sects and movements: on the other hand it is quite distinct from what is meant by intellect or mind.
If we can obtain an immediate concrete knowledge, a true insight, into what is working in a small child up to the time of changing its teeth — a working not directly perceptible, but observable in expressions of the child's nature which may appear to us even primitive — that, then is “Spirit” (Geist), and that then is “Soul.”
Nowhere in our observation of man and of nature are we confronted by spirit and soul so immediately as when we contemplate the manifestations of life in a tiny child. Here, as I said yesterday, in the moulding of the brain, in the shaping of the whole organism, spiritual forces are at work, soul essences are at work. What we see are manifestations of life in the child; we perceive these with our senses. But what works through from behind the veil of sense perceptible things is spirit, is soul; — so to be apprehended as nowhere else in life — unless we have accomplished an inner soul development.
Thus we must say: to immediate ordinary perception, spirit is quite unknown. At most, soul can manifest in ordinary percepts. But we must feel and sense it through the percept.
If I may use an image to indicate what is meant — not to explain it — I would say: When we speak, our speech comes from words, sounds made up of consonants and vowels. Observe the great difference between consonants and vowels in speech. Consonants round off a sound, give it angularity, make it into a breath sound or a wave sound [Usually called labials and dentals. But see Dr. Steiner's classification of vowels and consonants in his Dramatic and Eurhythmy courses.] according as we form the sound with one organ or another — with lips or teeth. Vowels arise in quite another way. Vowels arise while guiding the breath stream through the vocal organs in a particular manner. We do not give contour, we build the substance of the sound by means of vowels. The vowels, as it were, provide the substance, the stuff. The consonants mould and sculpture the substance provided by the vowels.
And now — using the terms spirit and soul in the sense we are giving them here — we can say: In the consonants of speech there is spirit, in the vowels there is soul.
When a child first begins to say A (AH) it is filled with a kind of wonder, a marvelling — a soul content. This content of soul is immediately present to us. It streams out in the A. When a child expresses the sound E (EH) it has a kind of slight antipathy in its soul. It withdraws, starts back from the thing affecting it. E (EH) expresses something antipathetic in the soul. Wonder: A. Antipathy: E. The vowels show soul content.
When I form a consonant of any kind I give contour, I surround and shape the vowel substance. When a child says Ma Ma — A twice over — the gesture shows the child's need to reach out to its mother for help [The gesture of M is meant. See Eurythmy.]. A by itself would be what the child feels and experiences about its mother. M is that which it would like the mother to do. So that Ma-Ma contains the whole relationship to the mother both according to spirit and soul. Thus we hear language spoken, we hear its sense content, but we do not attend to the way spirit and soul lie hidden in language. True, we are still occasionally aware of it in speech, but we fail to notice it in the whole human being. We see the outer form of a man. Within are soul and spirit as they are within speech. But this we no longer heed.
There was a time, however, in ages past when men did heed it and they said, not ‘In the beginning was the Spirit’ — that would have been too abstract — but ‘In the beginning was the word,’ for men still felt livingly how spirit was carried on the waves of speech. It is this spirit and what is characteristic of it that we designate here when we use the word ‘spiritual’ — a thing not revealed in intellect, nor yet in what we call mind. Mind and spirit are distinct from one another. They differ as much as my personality differs from the reflection I see in the looking-glass. When I stand there and hold a mirror and look at myself in it: my reflection is in the mirror. This reflection makes the same movements as I do, it looks like me, but it is not me; it differs from me in that it is an image, whereas I am a reality. ‘Spirit’ holds sway in hidden depths. Intellect only has the image of spirit. Mind is the reflected image of the spirit. Mind can show what spirit does, Mind can make the motions of spirit. But mind is passive. If someone gives me a blow, mind can reflect it. Mind cannot itself give the blow. Spirit is activity. Spirit is always doing. Spirit is creative. Spirit is the essence of productivity, productivity itself. Mind, Intellect, is copy, reflection, passivity itself: — that thing within us which enables us, when we are older, to understand the world. If intellect, if mind, were active we should not be able to understand the world. Mind has to be passive so that the world may be understood through it. If it were active it would continually alter and impinge upon the world. Mind is the passive image of the spirit.
Thus: Just as we look away from the reflection to the man himself when we seek reality, so when we seek the reality of spirit and soul we must endeavour to pass from the unproductive passive to the productive active.
This, men have endeavoured to do throughout all ages of human development. And today I wish to speak to you of one way of this seeking, so that we may agree upon the meaning of spirit and soul when I speak to you here. Commonly as adult human beings we only perceive spirit in its reflection as Intellect, Mind, or Reason. We only apprehend the soul in its manifestations, or expressions. We are nearer to the soul than to the spirit but we do not perceive the full inner activity even of the soul. We perceive revelations of the soul; we perceive spirit in its reflection only. A reflection retains nothing of the reality. — But we do perceive revelations of the soul. What we know as feeling, our sympathies and antipathies, our experience of desire and passion — these belong to the soul. But we do not perceive what the soul is within us.
What is soul within us? Now I can perhaps indicate what soul is in us if I distinguish between what we actually experience and what happens within us in order that we may experience. When we walk over soft ground we tread on it, our footprints remain in it. Now suppose someone finds our footprints; will he say: “Beneath the earth, below there, are certain forces which have shaped the earth so that it shows these concave forms”? No one would say such a thing. Any person would say: Someone has walked here.
Materialism says: I find imprints in the brain, the brain has impressions. — The earth too has impressions when I have gone over it! — But now Materialism says: There are forces in the brain, and these make the imprints. This is false. The soul makes the imprints, just as it is I who make them on the ground; and only because the imprints are there can I perceive the soul. I perceive a sensation in the soul. To begin with the soul is hidden. It has made the imprints in my body. If I make a very hard dent it hurts me, it is painful. I do not immediately see what I have done — (I can do it behind my back). But even if I do not see what I do, I experience the pain. In the same way the soul scores an impression upon my body, itself hidden. I perceive the effect in passions, in sympathy, etc. I perceive the effect of what the soul does in the manifestation. Thus: Of the spirit we have an image; of the soul an expression.
We are closer to the soul. But let us keep in mind that spirit or soul must be sought in profounder depths than mind or intellect or reason.
This may perhaps contribute to an understanding of spirit and soul.
To make the concept of spirit and soul yet clearer let me now turn to a historical aspect. And let me not here be misunderstood today, as has too often happened. I do this expressly for the sake of elucidation — not with any intention at all of maintaining that in order to reach spirit and soul we must proceed today in the manner used of old. But the present-day method of attaining to spirit and soul will be easier to understand when we turn to history.
In order to attain to the spirit in the twentieth century it is quite impossible to do the same as was done hundreds or thousands of years ago in ancient India. Neither can we do as was done before the event of the Mystery of Golgotha. We live within the development of Christianity. But we shall be helped in our understanding of spirit and soul if we look back to this older way and see, for example, how the way to soul and spirit of the spiritual man differs completely from the way of the merely intellectual man.
What do we do when today, in conformity with the general consciousness of our age, we want to get clear about ourselves? We reflect; we use our intellect. And what do we do when we want to get clear about nature? We experiment and bring our intellect to bear upon the experiments. Intellectual activity on all hands. In ancient times men sought to reach spirit and soul in quite a different manner. To take two examples from among many that I might cite: they sought to reach the spirit and soul, for instance, in very ancient times in the East by means of the so-called Yoga method, Now, the mention of Yoga produces a feeling of slight horror in many people today, for only the later Yoga methods are known to history, methods based on human egoism and which seek power in the external world. The older Yoga methods (which can only be discovered today through spiritual science — not through external science) were ways which men took toward the spirit. They rested on the fact that men instinctively said to themselves: we cannot attain to the spirit by mere reflection, by mere thinking. We must do something which reveals action, activity, in ourselves far more than mere reaction does. Thinking goes on in us even when we stand aside from the world merely as onlookers: we do not then bring about any perceptible change in ourselves.
The Yogi was seeking out a far more real happening or process in himself when he wanted to learn about the spirit. Suppose we ask ourselves what takes place, according to our present-day physiological knowledge, when we use our intellect? Well, something happens in our nervous system, in our brain, and in those parts in the rest of our organism which are connected with the brain through the nervous system. But what takes place in the nerves could never come about if an activity far more perceptible were not intermingled with the processes of our brain. Unceasingly from our birth till our death we breathe in, retain our breath, breathe out. When we breathe in, the breath passes over our whole organism. The thrust of the breath is through the spinal cord into the brain. We do not only breathe with our lungs, we breathe with our brain. But this means that our brain is in constant motion. The breath — inbreathing, breath-holding, and out-breathing — surges and lives within our brain. This goes on continuously — unconscious of it though we are today. The Yogi used to say: Something is taking place in man of which I must be conscious. Thus he did not breathe unconsciously in the usual way, he breathed abnormally: he breathed in differently, held his breath differently, breathed out differently. In this manner he became conscious of the breath-process. And what takes place unconsciously for us, took place for him in full consciousness, for he conceived and experienced it. Thus he came to experience how in the brain, breath unites with the material process which underlies thinking, which underlies intellectual activity. He searched into this union between thinking and breathing and finally experienced how thought, which is for us an abstract thing, pervades the whole body on the tide of the breath. Thus thought was not only in the brain, not only in the lungs, not only in the heart, thought was in the very fingertips. From real experience of the breath pulsing through him he learned how Spirit creates in man through the medium of the breath: “And God breathed the living breath into Man and he became a Soul.” Not only did He breathe the breath “in the Beginning” but continuously He breathes where breathing takes place. And it is in the breath process, not in thinking, not in the intellectual process, that we become soul. We feel our own being when we feel our thought pulsing throughout the body on the tide of breathing. You see, spirit was here no longer shut off, separated, as an intellectual and abstract thing; hence it could be sensed and felt throughout the whole body. And manhood could be felt as a creation of the Gods. You see, they had active Spirit.
In intellectuality we have passive, not active spirit. Nowadays, since we are differently organized, we cannot copy this Yoga process, nor would it be right for us to do so. For what was the Yogi's aim? He aimed at feeling how the thought process was bound up with the breath process, and in the breath process, which was his mode of cognition, he experienced his humanity. He united thought more intimately with man's whole nature than we do today. But our human progress rests on the fact that we have freed thought itself far more, have made it far more intellectual than it was when Yoga nourished. Never could the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Faraday, Darwin, etc., have been made with a system of thought such as that produced by the ancient Indians when they were Yogis. These achievements have required a thinking reduced to the state of reflection, of image, of intellectuality. And our whole civilization is based on the fact that we are no longer the same as those who developed the Yoga philosophy. People generally misunderstand this when I describe these things. They believe I wish to lead men back again to the Yoga philosophy. Not at all. On the contrary I wish to treat matters as they have to be treated in the age of Copernicus, Galileo, Faraday. We must realize that it is through intellectuality that our western civilization has achieved its greatness. But also we must feel differently from the way the Ancient Indians felt; and feel differently too from the way those who now practice Yoga, feel. Today we must proceed in a way quite different from that of Ancient Indian times, a more spiritual way. And because it must be a more spiritual way, and because people do not much like spirit nowadays, it follows that people do not like the new methods. It is easy, at least it seems easy, to perform Yoga-breathing today in order to find entry into the world of spirit. But this is not the means whereby men of today should come into spiritual realms. No, modern man must first have had to experience at some time the world of appearance (the unreality) which can be perceived by sheer intellectualism, the image nature of things. Man must for once go through all the suffering which goes with saying: “As long as I am merely engaged in intellectual activity, or in observations of that kind, I dwell in emptiness, in mere images. I am remote from reality.”
What I am saying here seems a small thing; but it is great in terms of inner experience. When one comes to experience that all thinking which is intellectual is unreal, is a mere image, then in one's own soul one experiences what in the body would be faintness: one experiences a fainting of the soul where reality is concerned. Actually, knowledge does not start by man's saying to himself: I can think, and can therefore reflect upon all things. Rather, knowledge proceeds from a man's saying to himself: Even if I think about all things with the image thinking that I possess, I shall be nothing but a weak, impotent being. The Yogi looked to find his manhood in the breath: we modern men have to lose our manhood, we have become weak and faint in contact with this intellectual image thought. And now we must be able to say to ourselves: We must not now go inwards, as was done in Yoga, into the breathing process. We must now go outwards, must look upon every flower, look upon every animal, look upon every man, and live in the outward environment.
In my book “Wie erlangt man Erkenntnis der hoheren Welten” which has been translated into English here under the title “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds,” I have described how one does this. How one looks upon the plant not merely externally, but how one participates in all its processes, so that one's thinking is taken right out of its image character and participates in the life of the external world. Or one sinks into the plant until one feels how gravity goes down through the root into the earth, how the formative forces unfold above. One participates in the blooming, the fruiting of the plant; one dives right into the external world. And then, O then — one is taken up by the external world. One awakens as from a swoon. But now one no longer receives abstract thoughts, now one receives “Imaginations.” One gets pictures. And a materialistic view would not recognize these pictures as knowledge. Knowledge, it is said, proceeds in abstract, logical concepts. Yes, but how if the world is not to be comprehended in the abstract concepts of logic? How if the world be a work of art; then we must apprehend it artistically, not logically. Then logic would be a means of discipline only. We should not understand anything about the world by logic. Thus we must enter into the objects themselves. Where Yoga went inwards we must go outwards, and endeavour in this manner to unite ourselves with all things. And thus actually we shall attain the same thing, only in a more psychic, a more spiritual way. By permeating with reality the endings of mere intellect, our concepts, our ideas, we can feel anew how spirit works in us creatively.
And from this we must come to feel that reality which is working in a child. It is not what we have called “mind” in us that is at work. That in a little child would not be a creative thing. That would only lead us astray. But it is what we come to know in the creative way just described which is at work in a child: it is this which forms the second teeth after the manner of the first, and reaches conclusion in the seventh year.
Now you may perhaps say: Yes, but a teacher cannot immediately become a seer, a clairvoyant. He cannot train himself in these methods! How shall we manage schooling and education if we are confronted at the outset with this complicated way of reaching spirit?
But one is not called upon to do this. A few people in the world can develop this higher knowledge. The rest only need sound judgment and sound observation. What the few discover these others will recognize by means of their sound judgment and sound observation. Just as not every person can observe the transits of Venus — they are visible far too rarely; astronomers can observe them on the rare occasions when they are visible. — But would it on this account be absurd to speak of the transits of Venus, just because they had not been observed by everybody? What was observed, and how it was observed, can be comprehended. It is the same thing with the spiritual world. It is only part of present-day egoism to want to do everything oneself.
But there is another way of making spiritual things fruitful, of making use of them. Once more, I will illustrate this by an example: Suppose I am teaching a child of nine or ten years old. I want to tell the child about immortality, the immortality of the human soul. If I go into philosophic dissertations, however charming, the child at his age will make nothing of it. He will be quite untouched by my expositions. But if now I say to him: Dear child, see how the butterfly comes out of the chrysalis — there you have an image that you can apply to man. Look at the human body, it is like a butterfly's cocoon. And just as the butterfly flies out of the chrysalis, so after death does the soul fly out of the body. Only, the butterfly is visible, the soul is invisible.