Wednesday, July 4, 2018
What the world needs now is Nirvana: "Not I, but Christ in me"
Cosmosophy. Volume 1. Lecture 1
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 23, 1921
If an Oriental sage of ancient times — we must return to very ancient times of Oriental culture if we are to consider what I wish to say here — one who had been initiated into the mysteries of the ancient East, were to turn his gaze on modern Western civilization, he might say to its representatives, “You are really living entirely in fear; your whole mood of soul is governed by fear. Everything you do, but also everything you feel, is saturated with fear and its reverberations in the most important moments of life. Since fear is closely related to hatred, hatred plays a great role in your entire civilization.”
Let us make this quite clear. I mean that a sage of the ancient Eastern civilization would speak in this way if he stood again today among Western people with the same standard of education, the same mood of soul, as those of his ancient time. He would make it plain that in his time and his country, civilization was founded on a completely different basis.He would probably say, “In my day, fear played no part in civilized life. Whenever we were to promulgate a world conception, allowing action and social life to spring from it, the main thing was joy — joy that could be enhanced to the point of a complete giving of oneself to the world, that then could be enhanced to love.” This is how he would experience it, and he would indicate as a result (if he were rightly understood) what were from his point of view the most important ingredients, the most important impulses, of modern civilization. If we knew how to listen to him in the right way, we would gain much that we really need to know in order to find a starting point for trying to get a grip on modern life. Actually, an echo of the ancient civilization still prevails in Asia, though strong European influences have been absorbed into its religious, aesthetic, scientific, and social life. This ancient civilization is in decline, and when the ancient Oriental sage says, “Love was the fundamental force of the ancient Oriental civilization,” then certainly it must be admitted that but little of this love can be traced directly in the present. One who is able to discern it, however, can see even now, in the phenomena of decline of the Asiatic culture, the penetration of this primeval element of joy, of delight in the world and love for the world.
In those ancient times there was in the Orient little of what afterward has been required of man since the thought resounded that found its most radical expression in the Greek saying, “Know thyself!” This “Know thyself” actually entered human historical life only in the ancient Greek culture. The ancient Eastern world conception, comprehensive and light-filled, was not yet permeated by this kind of human knowledge; it was in no way oriented toward directing man's gaze into his own being.
In this respect the human being is dependent on the conditions prevailing in his environment. The ancient Oriental culture was founded under a different effect of sunlight on the earth, and its earthly conditions were also different from those of the later Western culture. In the ancient East, man's inner gaze was captured, one could say, by all that surrounds the human being as the world, and he had a special Inducement for giving over his entire inner being to the world. It was cosmic knowledge that blossomed in the ancient Oriental wisdom and in the view of the world that owed its origin to this wisdom. Even in the mysteries themselves — you can infer this from all you have been hearing for many years — in all that lived in the mysteries of the East there was no actual adherence to the challenge, “Know thyself!” On the contrary — “Turn your gaze outward toward the world and try to let that approach you which is hidden in the depths of cosmic phenomena!” — that is how the challenge of the ancient Oriental culture would have been expressed.
The teachers and pupils of the mysteries were compelled, however, to turn their gaze to the inner being of man when the Asiatic civilization began to spread westward. As soon, indeed, as mystery colonies were founded in Egypt and in North Africa, but particularly when the mysteries began to develop their colonies still further to the West — a special center was ancient Ireland — then the teachers and pupils of the mysteries coming over from Asia were faced, simply by virtue of the geographical conditions of the Western world and its entirely different elemental configuration, with the necessity of cultivating self-knowledge and a true inner vision. Simply because these mystery pupils, when still in Asia, had acquired knowledge of the outer world — knowledge of the spiritual facts and beings lying behind the outer world — simply through this, they were now able to penetrate deeply into all that actually exists in man's innermost being. In Asia all this could not have been observed at all. The inward-turning gaze would have been paralyzed, so to speak. By means of all that was brought from the East to the Western mystery colonies, however, man's gaze having long been directed outward so as to penetrate into the spiritual worlds, was now enabled to penetrate into man's inner being. It was actually only the strongest souls who could endure what they perceived. Man's inner being actually first came to the consciousness of humanity in these mystery colonies transported from the Orient and founded in Western regions.
One can indeed realize what an impression was produced by this self-knowledge on the teachers and pupils of the Oriental mysteries if we repeat a saying that was addressed to the pupils over and over again by the teachers who had already cultivated that vision of man's inner being, a saying that was to make clear to them in what kind of mood of soul this self-knowledge was actually to be approached. The saying to which I am referring is frequently quoted. In its full weight it was uttered only in the more ancient mystery colonies of Egypt, North Africa, and Ireland as a preparation for the pupil and as a reminder for every initiate regarding the experiences of man's inner being. The saying runs thus, “No one who is not initiated in the sacred mysteries should discover the secrets of man's inner being; to utter these secrets in the presence of a non-initiate is forbidden; the mouth uttering these secrets lays the burden of sin upon itself, and the ear burdens itself with sin when it hearkens to those secrets.”
Time and again this saying was uttered from the inner experience that an individual, prepared by Oriental wisdom, was able to attain when he penetrated, by virtue of the earthly conditions of the West, to knowledge of the human being. Tradition has preserved this saying, and today it is still repeated — without any understanding of its innermost nature — in the secret orders and secret societies of the West that outwardly still have a great influence. It is repeated only from tradition, however. It is not uttered with the necessary weight, for those who say it do not really know what it signifies. Even in our time, however, this saying is used as a kind of motto in the secret orders of the West: “There are secrets concerning man's inner being that can be transmitted to people only within the secret societies, for otherwise the mouth uttering them is sinful, and the ear hearing them is likewise sinful.”
One must say that, as time has evolved, many people — not in Central Europe but in Western lands — learn in their secret societies what has been handed down as tradition from the researches of the ancient wisdom. It is received without understanding, although as an impulse it actually often flows into action. In more recent centuries, actually since the middle of the fifteenth century, the human constitution has become such as to make it impossible to see these things in their original form; they could be absorbed only intellectually. One could receive concepts about them, but one could not attain a true experience of them. Individual shad only some intimations of it. Many people could penetrate into this realm of experience through such intimations.
Such people have sometimes adopted strange forms of outer life, as, for instance, Bulwer Lytton, who wrote Zanoni. What he became in his later life can be grasped only if one knows how he received, to begin with, the tradition of self-knowledge, but how, by virtue of his particular, individual constitution, he was also able to penetrate into certain mysteries. He thereby became estranged from the natural ways of life. Precisely in him it is possible to see what a man's attitude toward life becomes when he admits into his inner experience this “foreign” spiritual world, not merely into his concepts but into his whole mood of soul. Many facts must then be judged by other than conventional standards.
It appeared, of course, quite outlandish when Bulwer traveled about, speaking of his inner experiences with a certain emphasis, while a young woman who accompanied him played a harp-like instrument, for he always needed to have this harp-music in between the passages of his talk. Here and there he appeared in gatherings where everything else went on in a completely formal, conventional way. He would enter in his rather eccentric garb and sit down, with his harp-maiden seated in front of his knees. He would speak a few sentences; then the harp-maiden would play; then he would continue his talk, and the maiden would play again. Something coquettish, in a higher sense of the word — one cannot help characterizing it in this way at first — was thus introduced into the ordinary world where pedantic human convention has made such increasing inroads, particularly since the middle of the fifteenth century.
Humanity has little idea of the degree of conventionalism into which it has grown; people have less and less idea of it simply because it comes to seem natural. One sees something as reasonable only insofar as it is in line with what is “done.” Things in life, however, are all interconnected, and the dryness and indolence of modern times, the relationship human beings now have to one another, belongs to the intellectual development of the last few centuries. The two things belong together. A man such as Bulwer Lytton, of course, did not fit into such a development; one can quite well picture to oneself people of more ancient times traveling about in the world accompanied by a younger person with some pleasant music. The disparity between one attitude of soul and another need only be seen in the right light; then such a thing can be understood. With Bulwer Lytton, however, something lit up in him that no longer could exist directly in the modern intellectual age but only as tradition.
One must, however, recover the knowledge of the human being that lived in the mystery colonies of which I have spoken. The ordinary human being today is aware of the world around him by means of his outer, physical sense impressions. What he sees, he orders and arranges with his intellect. Then he looks also into his own inner being .Basically this is the world that man surveys and out of which he acts. The sense impressions received from outside, the mental images developed from these sense impressions, these mental images as they penetrate within, becoming trans-formed by impulses of feeling and of will, together with everything that is reflected back into consciousness as memories — here we have what forms the content of the soul, the content of life in which modern man weaves and out of which he acts. At most modern man is led by a kind of false mysticism to ask, “What is actually within my inner being? What does self-knowledge yield?” In raising such questions he wishes to find the answer in his ordinary consciousness. This ordinary consciousness, however, only emerges from what actually originated in outer sense impressions and has been transformed by feeling and will. One finds only the reflections, the mirror-images, of outer life when looking in to one's inner being with ordinary consciousness; and although the outer impressions are transformed by feeling and will,man still does not know how feeling and will actually work. For this reason he often fails to recognize what he sees in his inner being as a transformed mirror-image of the outer world and takes it, perhaps, as a special message from the divine, eternal world. This is not the case, however. What appears to the ordinary consciousness of modern man as self-knowledge is only the transformed outer world, which is reflected out of man's inner being into his consciousness.
If man really wished to look into his inner being, he would be obliged — I have often used this image — to break the inner mirror. Our inner being is indeed like a mirror.We gaze on the outer world. Here are the outer sense impressions. We link mental images to them. These mental images are then reflected by our inner being. By looking into our inner being we arrive only at this mirror (see drawing below, red). We see what is reflected in this memory mirror (red arrows). We are just as unable to gaze into man's inner being with ordinary consciousness as we are to look behind a mirror without breaking it. This, however, is precisely what was brought about in the preparatory stage of the ancient path of Oriental wisdom: the teachers and pupils of the mystery centers that came to the West could penetrate directly through the memories into the inner being of man.Out of what they discovered they afterward spoke those words that actually were meant to convey that one had to be well prepared — above all in those ancient times — if one wished to direct one's gaze to the inner being of man.
What, then, does one behold within the human being? There, one sees how something of the power of perceiving and thinking, which is developed in front of the memory-mirror, penetrates below this memory-mirror. Thoughts penetrate below this memory-mirror and work into the human etheric body, into that part of the etheric body that forms the basis of growth but is also the origin of the forces of will. In looking out into the sunlit-space and surveying all that we receive through our sense impressions, there radiates into our inner being something that on the one hand becomes memory images but that also trickles through the memory-mirror, permeating it just as the processes of growth, nutrition, and so on permeate us.
The thought-forces first permeate the etheric body, and the etheric body, permeated in this way by the thought-forces, works in quite a special way on the physical body. Thereupon a complete transformation arises of the material existence that is within the physical body of man. In the outer world, matter is nowhere completely destroyed. This is why modern philosophy and science speak of the conservation of matter, but this law of the conservation of matter is valid only for the outer world. Within the human being,matter is completely dissolved into nothingness. The very essence of matter is fully destroyed. It is precisely upon this fact that our human nature is based: upon being able to throw back matter into chaos, to destroy matter utterly,within that sphere that lies deeper than memory.
This is what was pointed out to the mystery pupils who were led from the East into the mystery colonies of the West, especially Ireland. “In your inner being, below the capacity for memory, you bear within you something that works destructively, and without it you could not have developed your thinking, for you must develop thinking by permeating the etheric body with thought-forces. An etheric body that is permeated with thought-forces, however, works on the physical body in such a way as to throw its matter back into chaos and to destroy it.” If, therefore, a person ventures into this inner being of man with the same attitude with which he penetrates as far as memory, he enters a realm where the being of man wants to destroy, to extinguish, what is there. For the purpose of developing the human, thought-filled “I” or ego, we all bear within us,below the memory-mirror, a fury of destruction, a fury of dissolution, in relation to matter. There is no self-knowledge that does not point with the greatest intensity toward this inner human fact.
For this reason, whoever has had to learn of the presence of this source of destruction in the inner being of man must take an interest in the evolution of the spirit. With all intensity he must be able to say to himself: spirit must exist and,for the sake of the continuance of the spirit, matter should be extinguished.
It is only after humanity has been spoken to for many years about the interests connected with spiritual scientific investigation that attention can be drawn to what actually exists within the human being. Today we must do so, however,for otherwise man would consider himself to be something different from what he really is within Western civilization .Within Western civilization man is the sheath for a source of destruction, and actually the forces of decline can be trans-formed into forces of ascent only if man becomes conscious of this, that he is the sheath for a source of destruction.
What would happen if man were not to be led by spiritual science out of this consciousness? Already in the evolution of our time we can see what would happen. What is isolated, separated, as it were, in the human being, and should work only within him, at the single spot within where matter is thrown back into chaos, now breaks out and penetrates outer human instincts. That is what will happen to Western civilization, yes, and to the civilization of the whole earth. This is shown by all the destructive forces appearing today — in Eastern Europe, for instance. It is a fury of destruction thrust out of the inner being of man into the outer world, and in the future man will be able to find his bearings regarding what actually flows into his instincts only when a true knowledge of the human being once again prevails, when we become aware once more of the human source of destruction within, which must be there, however, for the sake of the evolution of human thinking. This strength of thinking that man must have in order that he may have a world conception in keeping with our time, this strength of thinking which must be there in front of the memory-mirror, brings about the continuation of thinking into the etheric body, and the etheric body thus permeated by thinking works destructively upon the physical body. This source of destruction within modern Western man is a fact, and knowledge merely draws attention to it. If the source of destruction is there without man being able to bring it to consciousness, it is much worse than if man takes full cognizance of this source of destruction and from this stand-point enters into the evolution of modern civilization.
When the pupils of these mystery colonies, of which I have spoken, first heard of these secrets, their immediate response was fear. This fear they learned to know thoroughly. They became thoroughly acquainted with the sensation that a penetration into man's inner being — not frivolously in the sense of a nebulous mysticism but undertaken in all sincerity — must instill fear. This fear felt by the ancient mystery pupils of the West was overcome only by disclosing to them the whole significance of the facts. Then they were able to conquer through consciousness what had to arise in them as fear.
When the age of intellectualism set in, this same fear became unconscious, and as unconscious fear it is still active. Under all kinds of masks it works into outer life. It is suited to the modern age, however, to penetrate into man's inner being. “Know thyself” has become a rightful demand. It was by a deliberate calling forth of fear, followed by an overcoming of this fear, that the mystery pupils were directed to self-knowledge in the right way.
The age of intellectualism dulled the sight of what lay in man's inner being, but it was unable to do away with the fear. It thus came about that man was and still is under the influence of this unconscious fear to the degree of saying, “There is nothing at all in the human being that transcends birth and death.” He is afraid of penetrating deeper than this life of memory, this ordinary life of thought, which maintains its legitimacy, after all, only between birth and death. He is afraid to look down into what is actually eternal in the human soul, and from this fear he postulates the doctrine that there is nothing at all outside this life between birth and death. Modern materialism has arisen out of fear, without having the least intimation of this. The modern materialistic world conception is a product of fear and anxiety.
This fear thus lives on in the outer actions of human beings, in the social structure, in the course of history since the middle of the fifteenth century, and especially in the nineteenth century materialistic world conception. Why did these people become materialists, that is, why would they admit only the outer, that which is given in material existence? Because they were afraid to descend into the depths of the human being.
This is what the ancient Oriental sage would have wished to express from his knowledge by saying, “You modern Westerners live entirely steeped in fear. You establish your social order upon fear; you create your arts out of fear; your materialistic world conception has been born from fear. You and the successors of those who in my time established the ancient Oriental world conception, although they have come into decadence now — you and these people of Asia will never understand one another, because with the Asiatic people, after all, everything sprang ultimately from love; with you everything originates in fear mixed with hate.”
This certainly sounds radical, so I prefer to try to bring the facts before you as an utterance from the lips of an ancient Oriental sage. It will perhaps be believed that such a one could speak in this way were he to return, whereas a modern person might be considered foolish if he put these things so radically! From such a radical characterization of these things, however, we can learn what we really must learn today for the healthy progress of civilization. Humanity will have to know again that rational thinking, which is the highest attainment of modern times, could not have come into existence if the life of ideas did not arise from a source of destruction. This source must be recognized, so that it may be kept safely within and not pass over into outer instincts and thence become a social impulse.
One can really penetrate deeply into the connections of modern life by looking at things in this way. The world that manifests as a source of destruction lies within, beyond the memory-mirror. The life of modern man, however, takes its course between the memory-mirror and the outer sense perceptions. Just as little as the human being, when he looks into his inner being, is able to see beyond the memory-mirror, so far is he from being able to penetrate through all that is spread out before him as sense perception; he cannot see beyond it. He adds to it a material, atomistic world,which is indeed a fantastic world, because he cannot penetrate through the sensory mental images.
Man is no stranger, however, to this world beyond the outer, sensory mental images. Every night between falling asleep and awakening he penetrates this world. When you sleep, you dwell within this world. What you experience there beyond the sensory mental images is not the atomistic world conjectured by the visionaries of natural science. What lies beyond the sphere of the senses was actually experienced by the ancient Oriental sage in his mysteries. One can experience it, however, only when one has devotion for the world, when one has the desire and the urge to surrender oneself entirely to the world. Love must hold sway in cognition if one wishes to penetrate beyond the sense impression. It was this love in cognition that prevailed especially in the ancient Oriental civilization.
Why must one have this devotion? One must have this devotion because, if one sought to enter the world beyond the senses with one's ordinary human I, one would be harmed. The I, as experienced in ordinary life, must be given up if one wishes to penetrate into the world beyond the senses. How does this I originate? This I is formed by the human being's capacity to plunge into the chaos of destruction. This I must be forged and hardened in that world lying within man as a source of destruction. With this I one cannot live beyond the sphere of the outer sense world. Let us picture to ourselves the source of destruction in whole human organism. What I am portraying is to be understood intensively, not extensively, but I would like to sketch it for you. Here is the source of destruction, here the human sheath. If what is inside were to spread out over the whole world, what would then live in the world through man? Evil! Evil is nothing but the chaos thrust outside, the chaos that is necessary in man's inner being. In this chaos,which must be within man, this necessary source of evil in man, the human I, the human egoity, must be forged. This human egoity cannot live beyond the sphere of the human senses in the outer world. That is why the I-consciousness disappears in sleep, and when it figures in dreams it often appears as though estranged or weakened.
The I, which is actually forged in the source of evil, cannot pass beyond the sphere of the sense phenomena. Hence to the perception of the ancient Oriental sage it was clear that one can go further only through devotion, through love, through a surrender of the I — and that on penetrating fully into this further region one is no longer in a world of Vana, of the weaving in the habitual, but rather in the world of Nirvana, where this habitual existence is dispersed.
This interpretation of Nirvana, of the sublimest surrender of the I, as it exists in sleep, as it existed in fully conscious cognition for the pupils of the ancient Oriental civilization — it is this Nirvana that would be alluded to by an ancient Oriental such as the one I introduced to you hypothetically. He would say, “With you, since you had to cultivate the egoity, everything is founded on fear. With us, who had to suppress the ego, everything was founded on love. With you, there speaks the I that desires to assert itself. With us, Nirvana spoke, while the I flowed out lovingly into the entire world.”
One can formulate these matters in concepts, and they are then preserved in a certain way, but for humanity they live as sensations, as feelings, fluctuating and permeating human existence. Such feelings and sensations constitute what lives today on the one hand in the Orient and on the other in the West. In the West, human beings have a blood,they have a lymph, that is saturated by egoity forged in the inner source of evil. In the Orient, human beings have a blood, a lymph, in which lives an echo of the longing for Nirvana.
Both in the East and in the West these things escape the crude intellectual concepts of our time. Intellectual understanding strives somehow to draw the blood from the living organism, put it on a slide, place it under a microscope, look at it, and then form ideas about it. The ideas thus arrived at are infinitely crude, even from the point of view of ordinary experience. This is all that can be said. Do you believe that this method touches the subtly graded distinctions between the people who sit here next to one another? The microscope naturally gives only crude concepts about the blood, about the lymph. Subtle shades of difference are to be found even among people who have come from the same milieu. These nuances, however, naturally exist much more intensely between human beings of the East and those of the West, although only a crude picture of them can be gained by the modern intellect.
All this thus lives in the bodies of the human being from Asia, Europe, and America, and in their relation to one another in outer social life. With the crude intellect that has been applied in the last few centuries to the investigation of outer nature, we shall not be able to tackle the demands of modern social life; above all we shall not be able to find the balance between East and West, though this balance must be found.
In the late autumn of this year (1921) people will be going to the Washington Conference, and discussions will take place there about matters that were summed up by General Smuts, England's Minister of South Africa, with, I would say, an instinctive genius. The evolution of modern humanity, he said, is characterized by the fact that the starting point for cultural interests, which has hitherto been in the regions bordering the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, is now moving to the Pacific. The culture of the regions situated around the North Sea has gradually spread throughout the West and will become a world culture. The center of gravity of this world culture will be transferred from the North Sea to the Pacific.
Humanity stands face to face with this change. People still talk, however, in such a way that their speech emerges out of the old, crude concepts, and nothing essential is reached — although it must be reached if we are really to move forward. The signs of the times stand with menacing significance before us, and they say to us: until now only a limited trust has been needed between human beings, who in fact were all secretly afraid of one another. This fear was masked under all sorts of other feelings. Now, however, we need an attitude of soul that will be able to embrace a world culture. We need a trust that will be able to bring into balance the contrasts of East and West. Here a significant perspective opens up, which we need. People today believe that economic problems can be handled quite on their own account — the future position of Japan in the Pacific, or how to provide all the trading peoples on earth with free access to the Chinese market, and so on. These problems, however,will not be settled at any conference until people become aware that all economic activities and relations presuppose the trust of one human being in another. In the future this trust can be attained only in a spiritual way. Outer culture will be in need of spiritual deepening. I wished today to look from a different viewpoint at matters we have discussed often before. Tomorrow we shall speak further in this way.