Monday, October 16, 2017
Our position in the cosmos
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, August 28, 1920:
I have often had to mention here that the science of initiation is required for the forces that are to bring about a reconstruction of declining civilization; that it is necessary to know what can be gained from beyond the threshold of the supersensible world. One can say that the spiritual evolution of humanity has proceeded from a knowledge and corresponding attitude, feeling, and will that were drawn from beyond this threshold. Everything that is discovered when we go back to mankind's primordial treasures of wisdom becomes intelligible when we can trace this original wisdom to the revelations derived from Mystery knowledge; when we can assume that, to begin with, sources of knowledge, of feeling, and of will were accessible to humanity in its Earth evolution that are not accessible by means of the purely human forces known to people today. As evolution progressed, human beings increasingly had to depend on what can be derived from the human being himself. This then is essentially the content of the forces that have been active during recent centuries in the development of civilization.
These forces that have emerged out of man himself up to now have produced a condition of civilization which, if left to its own devices, would inevitably lead to its own downfall. The majority of people today do not believe this as yet. They continue to talk and act automatically in the same old way, rejecting what is drawn from the same spiritual sources from which the ancient Mystery wisdom was drawn, but now in a new way, directly through the forces of man himself. We must go quite concretely into what can be disclosed to present-day humanity as a sort of basis for all that is needed in the immediate future in the way of natural science; a knowledge that comprises human ethics, moral philosophy, but also social will. We must therefore go into certain matters that have been discussed here in the past few weeks from any number of viewpoints; today, I shall refer to them again from yet a different point of view.
When we are awake we are, in the first place, surrounded by the outer sense world, by what produces the impressions made on our eyes, ears, organs of warmth, and on our senses as a whole. The external sense world is spread out around us, and the inner life of most people mainly consists of a further elaboration of the outer impressions. From the other side of the threshold this outer world presents an appearance that differs from the one it exhibits on this side. You know, of course, what humanity has come to in these last centuries by confining itself basically to viewing the world from this side of the threshold. To put it in a word, I would say that mankind has reached the point of looking at itself, so to speak. What man himself beholds we call the threefold man: the head man, the rhythmic man, and the limb and metabolic man. Here we shall indicate diagrammatically the tapestry that spreads round about us [see sketch], which in the main constitutes the content of the sensory world. From this side of the threshold people now speculate on what is behind this sense tapestry. They say that behind it molecules, atoms, and substances perform all sorts of dances. They give these dances any number of names, but they are convinced that when the human being looks out through his eyes, listens to the outside through his ears, in short, perceives outwardly through his senses, that some sort of material world lies behind it.
From the other side of the threshold no such world of substance is disclosed. If a person penetrates only a little way into the region beyond the threshold it is immediately obvious that a certain region of the spiritual world lies behind the tapestry of the senses; meaning, we are essentially dealing with a world of spirit which is located behind this sensory world.
When we take into consideration that the human being consists of the ego, the astral, etheric, and physical bodies, we have to say that when man is awake, meaning, when he is immersed in his organism with his ego and astral body, he has no share in the spirit region behind the tapestry of the senses. In sleep, on the other hand, having drawn his ego and astral body out of his physical organism, man dwells within this [upper] region of the spirit world with his ego and astral body. From the time he falls asleep until he awakens, man participates in the region lying, as it were, behind nature in a spirit-nature world. One could also say that it is the world to which man belongs for this period; a certain part of the spiritual realm is in fact allotted to him for this state of sleep.
Now, man also has insight into himself only to a certain degree. He can brood about himself to some extent and then, referring to his soul nature, he speaks of thoughts, feelings, and will impulses, but in most instances in a very vague manner. From this inner nature, which remains quite undefined to him, he draws the thoughts that represent memories, but he does not see behind his inner being. Thus we can say that just as a sort of barrier stands between ourselves and a certain region of the external world, so, too, a barrier can be drawn through which the gaze, turned inward, does not penetrate. If the human being would, however, penetrate into this region that lies in a sense on yonder side of the mirror which reflects his memories, he would not discover what many mystics, affected by illusions, believe. For they assume that all one has to do is brood over one's inner being and the loftiest spiritual insight can be attained. Instead, man discovers there the mysteries of his organization, the secrets of the wondrous structure expressed in the human organism. Were man really to penetrate the barrier, he would not behold the images of a Mechthild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart, or St. Teresa: he would perceive the human organization, something that would appear thoroughly prosaic to certain illusion-prone mystics, but does not seem prosaic to one who possesses the right feeling for the actual mystery of the universe. One is indeed justified in saying that far more wonderful than the images of St. Teresa, Mechthild of Magdeburg, or Johannes Tauler, far more remarkable than these reminiscences forged by the reflections that exist as memories, are those saturated with impulses of sensations radiating up from liver, stomach, spieen, and so on; far more wonderful than all that — yes, more remarkable, too, than what has been depicted in archetypal pictures of mankind's evolution through myths, legends, and such like — is what establishes itself in the prosaic organs of the human interior. Strange as this sounds, the truth must be grasped at this point. What establishes itself there is, first of all, actual earthly substance, the element, in fact, that constitutes earthly matter. We do not find earthly matter in the outer world; it is found within the human skin. Again, this whole inner structure of man's organs is none other than something that is being pressed in a sense out of another spirit region. It is a spirit region that in a manner of speaking sweats out of itself what is present as organs in the human organism. When man looks into his inner being upon penetrating the tapestry of memories customarily radiating toward him, this organic structure is first discovered, although mystically embellished on occasion. Just as he can penetrate from beyond the threshold through the tapestry of the outer senses, when he looks through this memory tapestry he beholds behind this organic structure the other region of the spirit to which he belongs from the time he falls asleep until he awakens. It is a spirit region that man pays no attention to, but it is the one that bestows on him the forces expressed in his limbs.
When we contemplate our senses we find that forces dwell in them that are mainly those lying behind the tapestry of the senses. Yet they penetrate us through the openings of our senses unbeknownst to us when we observe the world purely from this side of the threshold.
In our organs, too, forces are present that come from that spiritual region, and the forces we possess in our arms and legs are really those that come from that other region of the spirit. Thus the moment man is observed from the other side of the threshold he is perceived as the confluence of two spirit domains. What confronts us when we contemplate the human being here in the earthly world is basically only an apparent unity. In fact, man is not a unity at all. He is the confluence of the spiritually active forces from the two regions I have indicated to you. The forces that live in our eyes or in our ears, for example, are of quite another origin than those that develop when we put one foot before the other, or move our arms. One cannot harbor such a concept without realizing that man is embedded, as it were, in the whole cosmos, that owing to his senses he belongs to one particular spirit region of the cosmos, and through his limbs to another. Only what lives approximately in the middle — the rhythmic man, the system of the lungs and the heart and all that is connected with it — is actually of earthly origin; it is woven, as it were, out of a kind of world in the middle. Thus man himself is a threefold being. Without understanding this threefoldness we cannot comprehend man. I said that this is how the human being appears when we view him from beyond the threshold. We learn to see him as a member of the whole cosmos. One becomes aware through spiritual science how man lives in the whole cosmos and is fashioned out of it. One is then no longer ignorant of the truth that must be perceived, namely, that man's task is not merely comprised of what he accomplishes here on Earth; he has tasks to fulfill in the whole of cosmic evolution. He represents an essential factor to be reckoned with in the whole spiritual cosmic evolution.
Thus one can say that spiritual science opens our eyes to what man represents as a member of the cosmos. Compared to this, just picture how Liliputian the ideas appear that people today think up concerning the human being. Nowadays matters have reached the point where a person will only accept as knowledge something derived from this side of the threshold. He only looks at what is revealed to him between awakening and falling asleep, between birth and death. Moreover, he would like to construe all the tasks that the human being can accomplish here on Earth from the concepts and ideas derived from this Liliputian comprehension of man. We make no progress this way. We move closer and closer toward total decline precisely because our intellectuals will not venture to construe the tasks in this world by utilizing ideas other than those gained from waking life, from what lies between birth and death. What man accomplishes, however, is of an essentially much vaster scope. This can only be understood when the insights gained by ordinary observation of life are illumined and fructified with those that can be known by means of viewing the world from beyond the threshold. There can be absolutely no improvement in the development of civilization in the world if we do not accept what can be attained for human knowledge, feeling, and will from beyond the threshold.
One is moved to say that it is especially painful when one finds that programs concerning life are drawn up today out of all the truncated knowledge, curtailed on all sides, which has been amassed by humanity in the last three to four hundred years. One is really in a strange position in regard to these programs. Religious denominations exist today which, at least textually, trace their faith to earlier ages, to times when ancient Mystery knowledge was still alive. Their creed is no longer understood in these religious groups. It is only textual tradition; everything else has been squeezed out like a dry lemon. It is in fact no longer there, though in a certain sense one or the other person can penetrate to an understanding of it, particularly if he presses forward to what is usually prohibited by his church. Then a person can acquire a good deal from the traditional knowledge of the confessions. For instance if, independent of what is prescribed for him, a Catholic reflects upon the Trinity and the Incarnation, he can arrive at significant insights. Indeed it would be more sensible in many respects to reflect upon the Trinity or the Creed than to patronize all the movements that emerge today, and to forge a new creed and knowledge out of the modern truncated torso of learning. For what mankind has accumulated in recent centuries and utilizes today in order to launch into movements that introduce apparent improvements in the world is far short of what has remained from antiquity in tradition, even though it has been deformed by the confessions. It is lamentable to see how all sorts of scholastic or women's movements, fabricated out of the truncated knowledge of the last few centuries, believe that they can stir the world, whereas they only talk around the real questions.
It must be said that all this rests on a certain invincible pride of modern humanity, an arrogance that will learn absolutely nothing. If a person has grown up in a movement, in some party, he generally feels that this party has not yet reached just that particular insight which he, based on his viewpoint in life, has attained on his own, and so he sets about reforming it. It is the regrettable fact of the present day that so much immature nonsense appears as reformatory ideas. Truly fruitful things can only be accomplished if these movements that hope to shake the world will allow the influx of all that can be investigated beyond the threshold of the sense world. For, you see, there is a certain domain of the spirit out there beyond the tapestry of the sensory world. What purpose does it serve? Just think, this spirit region is the very world we are in when we are awake, albeit not consciously, but in reality we are in it with our whole organism; for, as we stand, as we walk, we are within this world, we just do not see it. We continually move through this world, we are in it; we accomplish our actions in it. And when men engage in politics in it, for example, in Bolshevism, then what Bolshevists do not perceive strikes back at mankind. The Bolshevists only wish to construct a world out of what they see, but they are not in the world that they see — they are in the world that lies beyond the tapestry of the sense world. When women's movements appear today and make all sorts of demands, they do this based on what they see, but they make these demands for the world that they do not perceive. It therefore always backfires out of the world we are in, which in reality is there, but is not present in the demands that are raised, because people stand firm against receiving anything from the spiritual world.
This world we live in, this region, naturally has its significance in the great universe. To what purpose then is it there? You see, the world we live in between death and a new birth is a different world from the one existing here behind the sense tapestry. The world we enter between death and a new birth is another domain of the spiritual world. It is mainly the spiritual region where those beings dwell whom we refer to when speaking of the hierarchies of the Angeloi, Archangeloi, and so on. Yet this world of the nine hierarchies can only subsist when, through the physical human being — and it can only happen through him — it enters into a certain mutual intercourse with the world that I have described here as the spirit region beyond the domain of the senses.
When you live in a house and wish to have contact with the outer world without actually stepping outside, you must look out of the window. When the gods of the nine hierarchies wish to communicate with this world, they must do so through man. They cannot do it directly, they must do it through man. It is a region of the world that can be contemplated by the gods only by means of human beings. Man must enter the physical world from the world he inhabits between death and rebirth in order to bring about a reciprocal intercourse for the gods with the world evolving here [see sketch below]. And for what purpose does this world, developing beyond the sense tapestry, exist? If this world were not there, the physical world would disperse in all directions. It is the world that would be reduced to dust, for it is the world in which only forces of antipathy hold sway. The world beyond the sense tapestry [circle] holds this physical world together. In the physical world, the tendency exists to expand and spread out constantly; this world [circle] holds it together.
The gods, too, however, only come into contact with this centripetally working world through the human being. The reason man has entered the cosmos is so that the world of the gods can come into a relationship, into a perceptive relation and intercourse, with this centripetal world.
Viewed from beyond the threshold, this centripetal world is cold and icy. To experience it is to be affected by something rigidifying, calcifying; yet it is filled with wisdom. It is woven, as it were, out of wisdom-filled thoughts, but it is cold, rigid, evoking chills. This cold, rigid world of forces holds the other [physical] world together. The human being is not organized so that he can sense this centripetal world directly. The person who enters the realm beyond the threshold feels this chill, this cold contraction. This coldness is the sign that one is actually entering with one's ego and astral body into the world which man enters each night, but without consciousness, not experiencing it. It is a sign that you enter consciously when you come into a world that makes you freeze, pervades you luminously with infinitely intensive wisdom, yet makes you freeze. Without this experience of freezing and stiffening to begin with, you cannot sense yourself pn the other side of the threshold with your ego and astral body.
This is an experience that can be had and it is, in fact, one that can be gained only through actual experience. Indeed, in accordance with the explanations that you find in my books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Occult Science, which are sufficient to have these experiences if they are consistently pursued — the region beyond the threshold has to be entered. For it is a region that is as real as the sense realm.
However, if one is familiar with it, when one comprehends that this region [beyond the sensory realm] exists — for one cannot truly understand the physical world without knowledge of the other one — then one realizes something else, namely, why one does go about in it. True, is it not, one cannot go about perpetually freezing and feeling chilled; this is why a boundary has been set up for his ordinary consciousness. One would really pass bad nights if one were consciously to experience the time between falling asleep and waking up. Then why does one go about in it — for, after all, one also goes about in the same world when one is awake — why does one? Man brings into this world of centripetal forces cosmic forces that dwell within his inner being. When we grasp clearly in our mind's eye what it is that lives as forces in man's inner being — we shall speak of it in more detail in the next lecture — it is an element that we can call love, warmth, warmth of soul; the human being carries this soul warmth into the cold domain. This is preeminently his cosmic task. He is the source of warmth for this sphere. If I may so express myself, inasmuch as the gods have created man — to put the matter trivially — they have created the opening for just this region that must hold together for them the world that would otherwise disperse in dust.
This is only one example. Tomorrow we shall hear of others, and particularly those that have to do with the social field so we may realize what mission men's social life on Earth has for the whole cosmos. However, this is just one example of how, from beyond the threshold, man is seen to have a task that is not exhausted by what is normally viewed as his task within this [physical] world, but how he has a cosmic mission, how he exists for something, so to speak, that lies within the scope of the great universal plan of the divine spirits. And just as one must realize that man's existence is in fact there in order for something to take place in the universe, so must one be able to see that in everything, even in regard to the most minute achievements of humanity, man is a member of the cosmos. One must realize that everything he does signifies something that surpasses what he can first perceive with his consciousness, and that all he does signifies something in relation to the whole cosmos. By expanding ordinary, small human perceptions, they can be transformed into cosmic world perceptions. This is of primary importance in spiritual science, and it is what humanity needs today.
In the last three to four centuries the whole of civilized mankind has fallen in a way out of its celestial sphere. It has occupied itself merely with what happens from birth to death and between waking up and falling asleep. The whole of modern life is composed only of this. This life, however, is doomed to death; this life is a gradually dying life. Place into it as many socialistic theories as you like as well as their metamorphoses into so-called actions; they will only hasten the decline. Bring any number of women's movements into this life and do not allow them to be fructified by a new spiritual science, and it will be less and less possible to attain what is actually instinctively desired by means of such feminist movements and the like.
What has to be fructified today must always be grasped at the right end. Oswald Spengler, who wrote a book about the decline of the West, has calculated correctly from actual scientific hypotheses that the decline of the West must definitely take place — that is, if one can only take into consideration the means at Spengler's disposal. In some measure, Oswald Spengler is right. This decline will certainly be forthcoming if an impulse does not come from spiritual science. Of course, he does not admit to such an impulse and therefore, from his standpoint, he is quite correct to write only of the West's decline. Out of this feeling of decline, Spengler — this theorist of decline — can, nevertheless, make many significant statements. He makes quite pertinent remarks at one point, for instance, about recent philistine, middle-class philosophies, mysticisms, or whatever one wishes to call them, such as vegetarianism, the manner in which discussions about food are ordinarily carried on, especially in those philistine magazines that are usually displayed in vegetarian restaurants. It is a commonplace philistine philosophy, the most philistine imaginable. But why is that? Is it so in the absolute sense? Yes, what is discussed there is naturally philistine in the absolute sense; for during the last three or four centuries people did not perceive the spirit concealed behind these things. People do not talk of the spirit today. Vegetarianism, anti-alcoholism, and other fine subjects are all debated from the standpoint of pure materialism. The spirit concealed behind them is not seen. Thus, the [negative] things have actually triumphed. Philistinism has arisen because the people who would like to begin to be spiritual are often really the worst materialists. They absorb the concepts of other materialists and, in some fashion, frame a spiritual system from them.
Now, in this regard, even theoretical constructions are extraordinarily interesting. As most of you know, a certain Leadbeater is active in the Theosophical Society. This Leadbeater has written all sorts of books, and a great number of people were particularly charmed when he wrote something like an occult chemistry; I even met scholars who were most delighted by this occult chemistry. What really happened? This Mr. Leadbeater has become acquainted with the materialistic chemistry of the present, with its molecules and atoms. This materialistic chemistry of today with its molecules and atoms describes oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, iron oxide, sodium acetate, and so on, building them up from these molecules and atoms. Out of such atoms Leadbeater builds up the spiritual worlds, the Spirits and the angels. He creates a spiritualism out of materialism. I have seen people who went about nearly enchanted when, among many things, the so-called "permanent atom" once swam around like a drop of fat on the soup of the Theosophical Society — such drops of fat sometimes did swim about, didn't they? This permanent atom — a remarkable thing! The human being dies; returns to Earth again. What is it that has here endured? Of course, people could not imagine that the human organism is constituted of forces. It would be an actual impossibility for them to picture how the human limb system organizes itself from one life to the next, how the head is structured out of the previous incarnation. For in regard to the head and the limbs, these people only conceive of something grossly material which is naturally placed into the grave. They cannot imagine that forces are contained within, and that one is actually referring to these forces when speaking in this way. After all, something must pass over from one life into the next! There is one atom among the millions and billions of atoms; this one atom passes through the spiritual world, then the atoms of the subsequent organism group themselves around this one atom, the permanent atom. It was the delight of theosophical folk to see how this drop of fat, the permanent atom, floated on the water soup of the Theosophical Society — the spiritual water soup, that is.
Truly, these matters were only mentioned in order to show how everything at the present, even something wishing to strive for the spirit, is corroded by the materialistic conceptions of the last three to four centuries; to stress how one must leave these ideas behind in order to arrive at any kind of constructive new direction. It is, however, as I pointed out yesterday: At the present time, there exist forces that are absolutely unwilling to allow anything to arise that can aid humanity in an upward reorganization.
You may ask: Then does humanity desire its downfall? One really cannot assume that people wish the downfall of the whole of civilization. Yet observation shows that they do, for they continue to live automatically in the old established manner. I will explain to you why they wish that. I need only indicate a single phenomenon and this will give you an explanation. Have you never seen insects flying about in a room where a light was burning and saw how they dived into the flame? Consider such a phenomenon, and then you will have a picture of the mood of modern humanity. One must simply take the phenomena of nature for what they are — symptoms of the activities of forces in the universe. We shall speak more about these things tomorrow as we seek to find the bridge to a certain form of social thinking.