Man in the Light of Occutism, Theosophy, and Philosophy. Lecture 4 of 10
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania [Oslo], Norway, June 6, 1912:
This consciousness is an element in our life which we have to examine with particular care and accuracy when we are considering occultism. For it is true to say that this consciousness, which we may call an ego-consciousness, is for the occultist that element in his life which he is in the greatest danger of losing when he passes over into the supersensible worlds. A man who wants to penetrate into supersensible worlds has to exercise extreme caution on this account, since the loss of this ego-consciousness, the cessation and suppression of it, is as dangerous as it is necessary! Here, you see, we have come again to a contradiction, but I have already told you how inevitable contradictions are in this realm.
If you will reflect a little upon the ego-consciousness, you will see that it is really the ground of your existence in yourself; through the fact that you have an ego-consciousness, you are in your soul self-contained. When you are not using your senses, then, except when you are asleep, you must always be as it were together with yourself in your consciousness. The consciousness only sinks down into darkness when you fall asleep.
From this it will be evident that man must necessarily think of the Divine Ground of the Worlds as outside the Earth consciousness within which he himself stands. Consequently man cannot by means of his own consciousness have any knowledge whatsoever of the Ground of the Worlds, This has naturally always meant that since with ordinary Earth consciousness man is unable to approach by his own efforts the things that belong to the Foundation of the Worlds, these things have had to come to him by means of what is called “revelation.” Revelations, and particularly the revelations of religion, have always been given to man, for the simple reason that he cannot find them within his own consciousness, in so far as it is the Earth consciousness. If he wants to establish a relationship with the Ground of the Worlds, if he wants to inform himself about the nature and being of the original Ground and Foundation of existence, he must receive a revelation. And revelation has come, as we know, again and again, throughout the evolution of mankind. When we look back into ancient pre-Christian times, we find many great religious teachers — such, for example, as were called in the language of Buddha, Bodhisattvas; other peoples knew them by other names. These great teachers came among men and communicated to them what men were unable to discover by means of their Earth consciousness.
This was the origin of the religions of olden times. All the communications and revelations that men received in pre-Christian times from great teachers of mankind go back ultimately to such founders of religion — initiates who had themselves experienced in super-physical conditions what they communicated to mankind. And in consequence the relationship of a religious man to his God is always of such a kind that he conceives of his God as a being outside his world, a being who is beyond and of whom he can by special means receive a revelation.
Unless man lifts himself up to initiation, he must necessarily maintain this attitude. He must feel himself to be standing here on Earth, surveying with his consciousness the things of Earth, and receiving from the founders of religion knowledge of the things that are outside the world of the senses and outside the world of the understanding, in a word, outside the world of human consciousness. This is how it has been with all religions, and in a certain respect we may say it is so still. We know, for example, that Buddhism is to be traced back to the great founder, Buddha. And whenever the foundation of Buddhism is spoken of, it is always expressly stated that the Buddha attained to initiation and higher vision while under the Bodhi tree, which is only a particular way of expressing the fact that in the twenty-ninth year of his life he became able to look into the spiritual world and to reveal what he saw and learned.
What exactly is revealed is not for us of very great importance. It varied in accordance with man's need and capacity to receive. Take, for example, ancient Greece. In so far as ancient Greece received its religious ideas through the teaching of Pythagoras, we find again here the consciousness that Pythagoras has undergone an initiation and has consequently been able to bring down from spiritual worlds and incorporate into human consciousness what he saw to be right and necessary for the men who were on Earth at that time.
Such then is the relation of the religious man to the spiritual world; nor can we imagine it otherwise. Man and the divine world stand over against one another. Whether in that world man beholds a plurality of beings or a unity, whether polytheism or monotheism is taught, need not concern us here. The important point is that man finds himself standing over against the divine world, which must be revealed to him.
This is also the reason why theology has made such a point of not allowing place in religious ideas for knowledge man acquires by himself. Such knowledge could only have been attained by undergoing inner development and rising into the spiritual worlds. It would thus imply a penetration into regions which theology — not religion as such, but theology — is most anxious to exclude from having any influence upon the religious conceptions of mankind. Hence the care that is taken in theology to warn man of two wrong paths that are to be avoided. One is the path that leads to theosophy, where man seeks to develop himself upward to his God, when he should only stand over against his God as a man, and the other, so say the theologians, is the path of mysticism — although theologians themselves not infrequently make little detours into the regions both of theosophy and of mysticism. But religious people, people who are purely and simply religious, are to be distinguished not only from theosophists but also from mystics; for the mystic too is quite different from the religious man. The religious man is essentially one who stands here on the Earth and establishes a relationship with a God who is outside his consciousness.
Now there are, as you know, other things in the soul of man besides what we have already touched on today. There is in the soul of man the life of thought, that makes use of the instrument of the brain. Inasmuch as man has his ordinary consciousness, he has of course also his brain and his world of thought. Consciousness cannot be there without them. Playing into what we may call human consciousness, we have the thoughts, the experiences man has when he makes use of the instrument of the brain. Religions have consequently always contained thoughts that employ the instrument of the brain, since one who is a revealer, a founder of a religion, can clothe the divine revelations in forms men will understand by making use of the instrument of the brain.
Religion can however also be clothed in ideas which make use rather of the instrument of the heart. Any particular religion, therefore, may speak either more to the brain or more to the heart of man. If we make comparison between the various religions of the world, we find that some speak more to the understanding, to those experiences of man which are connected with the brain, while others speak rather to the ideas and feelings of the heart, appeal to the life of inner perception and feeling. This difference can readily be observed in the several religions. All religions have, however, this characteristic in common, that man maintains intact his ego-consciousness, he remains conscious as man. Here on Earth works the ego-consciousness, and upon it from without works what belongs to the nature of the divine supersensible world.
All this is changed when a man becomes a mystic. For when a man becomes a mystic, then everything connected with ordinary Earth consciousness is thrown to the winds. What is so carefully guarded in religion, so long as it remains religion pure and simple — namely, that a man stands on his own feet and confronts the divine world in full consciousness — breaks down in mysticism. Mystics, pre-Christian as well as Christian, have always done their best to break down the human consciousness. Their concern has ever been to take the upward path into the supersensible worlds, that is to say, to come right out of ordinary human Earth consciousness, to transcend it. That is the characteristic of mysticism. It sets out to overcome ordinary consciousness and live its way into a state where self-forgetfulness supervenes. And then, if the mystic can come so far, self-forgetfulness passes on to self-annihilation, self-extinction. Essentially mystical states, raptures, ecstasies have all of them this end in view, to do away with the limitations of Earth consciousness, to grow out beyond them into a higher consciousness.
It is difficult to form a conception of the nature of mysticism because it shows itself in so many different forms. It will be good if at this point we consider some individual examples.
We will imagine that a mystic, in accordance with what I have just explained to you, feels called upon to suppress his ordinary ego-consciousness, to break it down and get beyond it. He will still have left of course the other experiences of the soul, the experiences man has by the use of the brain and the heart. The mystic tries to extinguish his consciousness, but he does not necessarily at the same time extinguish as well the experiences of brain and heart. The way opens here, as you see, for many different shades of mysticism. Let us consider what varieties are possible.
A mystic can have experiences of brain and of heart while consciousness is extinguished. Then we can say of him that he goes out of himself in ecstasy, but that we recognize from the thoughts and feelings he still has that he has not obliterated what is thought and felt by the use of brain and heart. To discover mystics who can truthfully be reckoned in this category we have to go rather far back in history. We may find them among those who, after the founding of Christianity, endeavored to rise to the divine Self with the help of the philosophy of Plato — Neo-Platonists, that is, such as Iamblichus and Plotinus. In this class too belongs Scotus Erigena, and if one does not hold too strictly to the definition but admits a mystic in whom the brain experiences outweigh the experiences of the heart, then we may include also Master Eckhart. These will then form class A: mystics who still admit experiences of brain and heart.
A second kind of mystic is one who shuts out not his consciousness alone, but in addition his brain experiences, retaining only the ideas and conceptions that are acquired by use of the instrument of the heart. We generally find that mystics of this order have no love for anything that is thought out. They want to exclude thought altogether as well as consciousness. What the heart can achieve — that is all they will allow themselves to use for their development. Such mystics, although their endeavor is to overcome human consciousness, to go out beyond it in ecstasy, retain nevertheless a connection with their fellows through the fact that they base their relationship with the surrounding world on the experiences of the heart.
Picture to yourselves a mystic of this type — an ecstatic whose desire and aim is to come out of himself, who loves to be in a state where he is entirely free from himself. Such a mystic will at once reject anything you set out to communicate to him which requires him to use his brain. He will have nothing to do with it. Whether what you have to say concerns the higher worlds or the world of external nature, it makes no difference; he will in either case reply that there is no need to know all that.
A mystic who is in this way connected with his surroundings through the heart alone is able to be of good service to mankind. But since of all the experiences of the human soul he lets speak only the experiences of the heart, he will not find easily accessible the complicated ideas that are acquired on the path of occultism; to receive these one does need to do at any rate a little thinking!
It was a mystic of this kind who, when asked whether he would not like to have a Book of Psalms — for he never read the Holy Scriptures — made answer: “If a man once uses a Book of Psalms, he will very soon want a bigger book, and there is no telling what more he will want when he begins to desire after knowledge in the form of thoughts.” The same mystic had no wish to have thoughts even about Nature. He used to say: “Man can know nothing he does not know already.” With this gesture he put all knowledge from him. Here then was a mystic with experiences of the heart alone, belonging to our second category—class B.
Now in the case of such a mystic you will find there is a kind of economy of his soul forces. In so far as he makes no use of his understanding and his power of thought, to that extent his soul forces are, as it were, husbanded. Consciousness also he puts out of use. All this has an interesting result. For when he is in his ecstatic states, with human Earth consciousness shut off, then because he still perceives around him whatever he can see with his eyes and hear with his ears and so on, and yet does not want to comprehend his surroundings, not thinking there is any necessity so to do, such a mystic will have great forces to spare which enable him to feel in the surrounding Nature all the more.
“O Most High, Almighty, Good Lord God, to Thee belong praise, glory, honor, and all blessing. Praised be my Lord God! and with all His creatures, and especially our brother the Sun, who brings us the day and who brings us the light: fair is he, and he shines with a very great splendor. O Lord, he signifies to us Thee! Praised be my Lord for our sister the Moon, and for the Stars, the which He has set clear and lovely in the heaven. Praised be my Lord for our brother the wind, and for air and clouds, calms and all weather, by which Thou upholdest life and all creatures. Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable to us, and humble and precious and clean. Praised be my Lord for our brother fire, through whom Thou givest us light in the darkness; and he is bright and pleasant and very mighty and strong. Praised be my Lord for our mother the Earth, the which doth sustain us and keep us, and bringeth forth divers fruits and flowers of many colors, and grass.”
We have here, as you see, a complete exodus of the soul from self-consciousness, a kind of intoxication of the heart. All is feeling. The poem is saturated with something that the eye cannot perceive (for the writer is a mystic) but the soul can feel. Observe, however, it is what the soul feels when it does not yet go so far as to enter into the experience of the Divine in Nature. When this also becomes a part of the experience of the soul, then there can arise that feeling for Nature which is so beautifully expressed by Goethe in his Faust:
“Spirit sublime, thou gav'st me, gav'st me all For which I prayed. Not unto me in vain Hast thou thy countenance revealed in fire. Thou gav'st me Nature as a kingdom grand, With power to feel and to enjoy it. Thou Not only cold, amazed acquaintance yield'st, But grantest, that in her profoundest breast I gaze, as in the bosom of a friend. The ranks of living creatures thou dost lead Before me, teaching me to know my brothers In air and water and the silent wood.”
Here we have an echo of the same feeling, and its mystery has been solved. When we look at the figure of Faust, we can see how this experience becomes a part of his soul life.
To return to the hymn quoted above. It is the hymn of a mystic in whom this one aspect of human experience overshadows all others. He stands in such intimate relation to Nature that the Sun is his brother and the Moon his sister; the water too, he calls sister, the fire, brother, and the Earth herself his mother. This is how he feels the spiritual in Nature. You have here a mystic who comes right out beyond ordinary human consciousness, but at the same time retains all those experiences of the soul which are acquired through the instrumentality of the heart. He is a mystic whom you all know well — Francis of Assisi.
In Saint Francis of Assisi we have a striking example of a mystic of whom we can actually assert that for this one incarnation he rejected all theology and all knowledge whatsoever, even of supersensible things. On the other hand we find that on this very account he was able to live in extraordinary intimacy with the spirit of Nature. This was indeed an outstanding feature of his life.
In Saint Francis we have no mere vague pantheism of the spirit — which has always a trace of affectation about it. He does not just sing rapturously of a universal Spirit in Nature; he sings of definite positive feelings that fill his soul when he encounters the beings of Nature — filial, sisterly, brotherly feelings.
We must now pass on to a third class of mystics, class C. These are mystics who set out to experience ecstasy — that is to say, the loss or the darkening of self-consciousness — and under certain conditions to shut out also the experiences of the soul which make use of the heart, while on the other hand retaining thoughts, or experiences, of the brain. Such men are often not described in ordinary language as mystics at all, since it is generally expected of a mystic that his experiences shall be permeated with feeling. And it is easy to see why. Think of a man who has driven out of his soul-experiences all his personal self-consciousness. This will mean that there is absent in him the very thing that most people find interesting in their fellowmen — namely, personality. People are interested in each other on account of their personality. Now, experiences of the heart have still so much of the personal about them — for example, in Saint Francis of Assisi — they exercise still such a compelling influence upon what is human in us, that we are kept awake in our consciousness and we go with such a person with interest — though not, it is true, so readily with our will. And that is also quite right for ordinary life, especially in the present day; we cannot all be like Saint Francis of Assisi! The universality of the heart, when it manifests as it did in Saint Francis, has a powerful influence upon people, even when the essentially personal element is dulled and darkened. This suppression and extinction of consciousness leads on the one hand, in a mystic like Saint Francis, as you know, to a kind of radicalism in life, and on the other hand it restrains people from imitating him even when their interest is aroused. For as a general rule people are not at all anxious to come out of their consciousness, they are afraid they will lose the ground from under their feet.
But now consider how it might be with a mystic who shuts out all personal consciousness and in addition all experiences of the heart. Such a mystic would give to men nothing but pure thoughts — thoughts and ideas that make use of the brain alone. No one will easily be able to carry on his life in such a condition. A man may be a Saint Francis as much as he likes, for the experiences of the heart can be helpful to mankind in general. But a mystic who suppresses not only his personal ego-consciousness but also his heart experiences and lives in thoughts alone — thoughts that are bound to the brain — will find it necessary to limit his devotion to this path to particular solemn moments of his life. For life always calls one back, again and again, to the personal element on Earth, and anyone who lived in thoughts alone and used only his brain would not be able to perform any ordinary Earth activity. He can, therefore, only occupy himself in this way for quite short periods; no one can ever use the brain exclusively for more than moments at a time. And as for his fellowmen, and his relation to them, they will simply not concern themselves with him, but will all run away from him! For what interests people most of all is personal experiences; and these he suppresses. And the heart experiences, which work so powerfully upon people, these too he renounces. The consequence is, people will steer clear of him altogether, they will not have the least desire to approach him.
This is the very thing of which so many people complain in Hegel; there is nothing to recall the experiences of the heart, everything is put forward solely and entirely in thought pictures. Most people feel they are left desolate and chill, when they find what they themselves love with their heart crystallized out in cold thought. And the consciousness of self, wherein personality is rooted and whereby man stands fast in Earth life — Hegel has it only as a thought. Of course he devotes consideration to the ego, because it is for him the thought of a particularly important experience. This he does. But it remains no more than a thought picture; for him, human personality is not fired with that living and direct quality which springs from self-consciousness.
We have still one more possible kind of mystic. It would be a mystic who shuts out all three—Earth-consciousness, heart experiences, brain experiences. We would then have, as class D, mystics who obliterate all Earth experiences of the soul. You can well imagine such a thing is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish. For an occultist, it is quite a matter of course; we shall go into that more deeply in the coming lectures. An occultist rises to states where he silences all that is connected with the brain as well as with the heart, in so far as these are composed of Earth forces and in so far as they make use of consciousness. A practical occultist who ascends into higher worlds will regard this step as obvious. But at this point the occultist begins to live and experience in the supersensible world, and during the time that he is shut off from everything in connection with the world that surrounds man on Earth he has around him the higher world. He steps out of one thing into another. A mystic on the other hand who shuts out all these three experiences that make use of the instruments of Earth would enter into nothing that can fill his consciousness. He does not, of course, step into nothingness, for outside our consciousness is, as we know, the divine spiritual supersensible world. But he does not enter this world as the occultist does to whom is then revealed the unspoken word and the supersensible light; no, he suppresses his consciousness, he suppresses all the powers that are in him, and only feels at last, after suppressing all these human experiences, a sense of being united with something, of being within something.
There begins for him an experience that has the impression, after the extinction of consciousness and all Earth experiences, of a marriage with something that is felt and perceived in a kind of intoxication. The mystic unites himself with it in rapture and ecstasy, but he cannot make any communication about it, because it is not experienced in any definite way, he has no concrete impressions of which he can tell.
We shall see, when we go on to speak further of occultism, into what desperate situation a man would come who eradicated all three kinds of experience — experiences of heart and brain and consciousness. He would become a mystic who underwent the so-called mystical union, but was, in the ecstasy, just like a man asleep, united with the Divine in sleep and knowing nothing of it, not even having a feeling that he has been united with the Divine. If the mystic is to retain any degree of living feeling for his union with the Divine he must at any rate wipe out these several personal experiences in succession.
Now, we have an example of such a mystic, a person who actually trod this path and in her writings even went so far as to recommend it to others. First, she strove with all her powers to overcome personal self-consciousness, to suppress it and extinguish it altogether. There were then left still active within her the powers of the heart and of the intellect. The next step was the conquest of the power of the understanding. Last of all, she overcame the powers of the heart. The fact that the powers of the heart remained with her longest accounts for the extraordinary force and intensity with which she experienced the entry into the world that lies beyond consciousness. The three things were overcome in this order; first the consciousness, then the brain experiences, and last of all the experiences of the heart.
It is characteristic that the one who accomplished this feat with remarkable order and regularity was a woman. As you know, these things must be looked at quite objectively; and when speaking with theosophists I need have no fear of being misunderstood when I say that this path comes easier to a woman. For, as we shall come to understand also from other connections, it is a peculiarity of woman's nature that it is less difficult for her to conquer herself, that is to say, to conquer all her soul experiences. The woman whose experience of mysticism followed the path we have described — extinguishing and eliminating one after the other the experiences connected with brain and with heart, and then experiencing a union with the Divine Spirit which was like a marriage, like an embrace — was Saint Teresa.
If you will study the life of Saint Teresa in the light of our considerations today, you will be prepared to admit that it can only be in very exceptional cases that a mystic comes through on this path. It will much more usually happen that the several soul experiences are not overcome in such utter purity and power as was the case with Saint Theresa, but are only partially conquered, so that some portion of them remains.
This gives us, in fact, three more kinds of mystics. We have those who mean to overcome all soul experiences, but in whom the experiences bound to the brain remain unextinguished. Such mystics are as a rule persons who may be described as wise and practical in the best sense of the word, who know their way about in life, because they make good use of their brain, and who, having to a large extent suppressed the personal element, are in their impersonal character sympathetically received by their fellowmen.
Then there are mystics who also try to overcome all their soul experiences, but have only partial success with those of the heart. Mark well the difference between a mystic of this kind and a mystic like Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis of Assisi made no attempt to overcome the experiences of the heart; on the contrary he retained them in full, and the consequence was, he retained them in perfect health. That is what is so grand and majestic about Francis of Assisi; he enlarged his heart to cover his whole soul. I am not speaking of mystics of this kind, who do not endeavor to overcome the experiences of the heart. I am speaking of mystics who make great endeavors, who wrestle with all their might in this direction, but do not succeed.
In the case of these mystics we do not find that same wonderful kind of marriage with the supersensible and spiritual which we meet with in Saint Teresa. When a mystic has striven to get free of all that is personal and human and earthly and has nevertheless still retained in conspicuous measure the experiences connected with the heart, then something very much of the nature of human limitations interferes in his striving. And it can actually come about that this marriage, this embrace of the Divine and spiritual, becomes very like the feelings and instincts of human love in ordinary life.
We find mystics — such, for example, as Saint Hildegard — who have good and beautiful impulses but who have also a considerable measure of ordinary earthly instinct and desire, and this taints their mystical feelings and perceptions. They come to an experience that is very like an erotic experience, they come into a kind of mystic eroticism, as you will find if you study the history of the mystics. The outpourings of their heart speak of the “Bride of their soul,” or of their passionate love for the “Bridegroom Jesus,” and so on.
We are the more ready to bear with mystics of this kind if they have preserved quite a good bit of ordinary human consciousness, and are able as it were to stand aside in their human personality and look on at their own mystical experience. For, as they do this and see that they have not really won the victory but have still something very human left in them, a trace of humor and irony will often enter their consciousness. This gives a personal touch to the whole thing, and we do not dislike them so much; we even begin to feel a sympathetic interest in their unattained conquest of the experiences of the heart. Otherwise it repels one; the whole thing savors of pretence and hypocrisy. For the mystic sets out to compensate for the failure to overcome what lives in ordinary human impulses and instincts in a roundabout way, by asceticism.
If, however, this trait of humor and irony is present, if the person in question has moments when he uses his ordinary human consciousness, turns around on himself and tells himself the truth from the ordinary human standpoint, interspersing in this way his mystical moments with moments when he tells himself the hard plain truth, then we can feel a certain sympathy with him — as we do, for example, when we study such a mystic as Mechthild of Magdeburg.
As you see, there are all manner of shades of mysticism! And even now, we have not so much as touched upon the ancient Greek mysticism, which you will find described in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact. We shall have to speak of that later. One thing you will have been able to learn from the kinds of mysticism we have studied today: namely, that the endeavor of all mystics is to make their way out beyond ordinary personal ego-consciousness, to eliminate this consciousness, but that in reality, if man is not then to lose the ground from under his feet, another consciousness must emerge. It is of the nature of mysticism to come to the boundary of the spiritual, to experience the Divine and Spiritual like a kind of marriage, but not to enter into the world of the Divine and Spiritual. The mystic divests himself of the consciousness that requires an external object. His endeavor is to rid himself entirely of this consciousness. What the mystic wants is to go out beyond himself. If however a man wants then to experience consciously the unspoken word and the unmanifest light he must obviously experience them in a new and different consciousness. In other words, if the mystic wants to become an occultist, he must not merely undertake the negative striving, but must center his attention also on the development of a new and higher consciousness, namely, the consciousness without an object of knowledge. We will speak further tomorrow about this higher consciousness into which the occultist has to enter.