Monday, February 11, 2019
Consciousness, Memory, Karma: the three principles of earthly human existence
Earthly and Cosmic Man. Lecture 8 of 9.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, June 18, 1912:
It will be my task today to speak of the nature and being of Man, in order that the next lecture may contribute to an understanding of the development of mankind as a whole.
We will begin by considering something of primary and immediate importance in the life of the human being as he stands before us on the Earth. You know, of course, that the human being, as we see him, is not the creation of the Earth alone, but that his origin must be traced back to much earlier conditions of existence. From many writings and lectures you know that through spiritual-scientific research these preceding conditions of evolution, the preceding embodiments of the planet Earth, can be discovered and appropriately known as the pre-earthly “Saturn-condition,” the pre-earthly “Sun-condition” and the pre-earthly “Moon-condition” of our planet. The forces in man as a whole being do not proceed merely from processes that have been in operation on the Earth: the being of man contains heritages, as it were, from the earlier planetary conditions. These heritages have remained and are active in man. The human being in his whole nature can be understood only when we know that the first foundations of the physical body were laid during the ancient Saturn period; development proceeded through the Old Sun period and the Old Moon period, and the present form and structure of the human body did not unfold until the period of Earth evolution proper. In the other principles of human nature, too, heritages of pre-earthly conditions, not merely forces originating on the Earth, are actively in operation. Today, however, we will think of what man is as a creation of the Earth, living out his existence on the Earth; we will think of what is incorporated in his being during the Earth period, in pursuance of the mission of the Earth.
The powers or principles derived specifically from the Earth can be differentiated into three. There is, firstly, man's earthly consciousness; it is derived from the Earth and the forces of the Earth. It is, of all principles, the one that is most immediately present in the human being as he moves about the world today; and the purpose of everything that has come to pass in the process of the Earth's evolution has been to enable the human being, here on the Earth, to unfold his present consciousness. Consciousness is the most intensely present, the most familiar reality; it pervades and fills all waking existence; in it your thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and impulses of will run their course, in so far as you are “awake” human beings. This consciousness you know so well was not possessed by man in the pre-earthly conditions of the Earth, nor indeed during the first period of Earth evolution proper — which, to begin with, was only a recapitulation of pre-earthly conditions. Man acquired it gradually; or rather, it was bestowed upon him by the Creator Powers of the Universe.
In order to possess this consciousness the human being must waken from sleep and must make use of the senses, that is to say, of the instruments of the body. That he must also make use of instruments other than the senses is obvious; for in this everyday waking consciousness he does not merely formulate ideas and thoughts but also has feelings, experiences, impulses of will. This whole content of consciousness, filling and forming it, needs the outer, physical body, the earthly body; when an idea or thought is formed, the being of soul-and-spirit makes use of the instrument of the physical body. From this it is easy to realize that the consciousness into which the human being wakens in the morning is dependent upon the earthly body; and that when he thinks, feels, or wills in this ordinary consciousness he can only do so because he has the physical earth-body as an instrument.
As you will have read in the book Occult Science, the states of consciousness between death and a new birth are essentially different from those of consciousness as it is on Earth. For consciousness changes according to its instrument, and between death and rebirth, as a being of soul and spirit, man has at his disposal instruments of a different character from those available to him during life in the physical body. The physical body, from which the instruments of the everyday consciousness are formed, disintegrates and decays at death. Or rather, in the sense of Spiritual Science it would be better, instead of using the word “decay,” to say that it is given over to the element of universal Nature, for the dissolution or decay of the physical body to be observed outwardly is only illusion, maya. In reality, a great and mighty process underlies what is called the “dissolution” or “decay” of the human body. Whatever in man belongs to Nature passes over to Powers standing behind existence. At death the physical body of earthly man slips away, falls away from him; so that in speaking of man as a being of the Earth, we can only say that the instrument of his everyday consciousness falls away from him at death.
The first of the three principles of the Earth-man, therefore, is his consciousness. In considering his whole being, however, something must be kept separate and distinct from what is known as “consciousness” per se in ordinary sense-existence — something that is not, in the same sense as thinking, feeling, and willing, to be included in the general sphere of consciousness. What we call memory is distinct from these other processes. The thoughts and feelings arising from the store of memory and of remembrances are not subject to the same laws as the consciousness of which we have here been speaking. In order that consciousness may exist at all, the physical body must be preserved in its accustomed form. In respect of its “substance” the physical body is being renewed all the time; after seven or eight years we have within us quite other physical substances than were previously there. The physical substances change, but the “form” remains. And the form must remain, for it is the instrument for the ordinary consciousness. The ordinary consciousness can unfold thinking, feeling, and willing during the time the physical body retains its form. If, however, the memory and the remembrances were bound up with the “physical body,” they would not be able to survive for very long — at most for as long as the various substances of the physical body remain. This means that if the memory were bound up with the physical body, we should be able, at most, to remember back for six or seven years. The physical body is not, however, the instrument of the memory; in earthly man the instrument of the memory is the ether-body, or life-body. The ether-body is actively in operation through the whole life of man on Earth — so that what has been taken into the memory, from the first moment of consciousness to death, can remain all the time. It is this ether- or life-body which carries remembrances, memory pictures, from one period in life across to the other. The instrument for the earthly consciousness, therefore, is the physical body; the instrument for memory and remembrance is the ether-body. We should not be able to carry the remembrances of our life across the period stretching between death and a new birth if something quite definite did not take place — if, after forsaking the physical body at death we did not remain for a certain space of time in the ether- or life-body. This is the interval after death during which the past life spreads out like a great panorama, a great tableau. This “life-tableau” can only appear to us because after death we retain the ether-body for a short time. The ether-body is the instrument for acts of remembrance or recollection, and if we were to lose it altogether at death or immediately afterwards, no such tableau could rise up before us. We must be able to use the ether-body as an instrument, and something takes place while this life-tableau is before us after death. This whole life-tableau is gathered into, “inscribed” as it were, into the universal life-ether permeating space. And there it remains — in the universal life-ether. What was retained at the beginning for a few days only, is now inscribed in the universal life-ether in which we live perpetually. Because it is thus inscribed it is present throughout our further existence between death and the new birth in the future. We take with us through that period an “extract” of our ether-body, so that a connection can always be established with the life-tableau that has been inscribed into the universal life-ether. This is a kind of permanent organ whereby the remembrances of the last life remain accessible.
In consciousness per se there is, and can only be, the immediate Present; the immediate reality of “being” would vanish with the passing moment if, as men of Earth, we could only unfold consciousness in acts of thinking, feeling, and willing. That we are able to preserve what is contained in our life of thinking, of feeling, and of will is due to the ether-body; and even after death it is still preserved, in the universal life-ether. There we have the second principle of earthly, human existence: that which does not take flight with the passing moment, but remains in existence, preserved in the universal life-ether. Thus in the man of Earth, two principles are to be specified: earthly consciousness, and memory or remembrances — which are not to be identified with consciousness as such.
What, then, is the third principle?
The second principle is distinct from the first in that it does not permit experiences simply to pass away, but preserves them. The third principle of earthly man differs in an important respect from the second. In so far as thoughts have become memories, they have a definite character. Everything that is entrusted to the memory has this characteristic: during your life it is your own personal possession, part of your own personal “estate.” Memories that go with you through life until the time of death are your innermost possession, a possession remaining in you as a personality, until your death. It will not be difficult to realize that what you carry with you through life in your memory, in your remembrances, really means nothing in the outer world. It is within you, and only after death does it begin to mean something in the outer world — when it is inscribed into the universal life-ether. In the universal life-ether it is the “registered mark” of your personality. It was inner experience during life, and after death it remains for the following period of eternity as the register of your personality. There it is — inscribed into the life-ether. The “Inner” during life becomes the “Outer” in the life-ether after death. Up to the time of death these memories and remembrances are carried within us as our own, inner possession, and from death onward they are inscribed like an open secret, as it were, in the life-ether; there they live, and we remain connected with them because an “extract” from the life-body goes with us and we can always look back to what we once experienced. Just as memories and remembrances remain within us during earthly life, so, after death, we are in the life-ether, together with the experiences of our past earthly life.
It is different with all that even during our lifetime became outward reality — not remaining inward as did the remembrances and memories. Truth to tell, every single step we take with our feet during earthly life becomes outer fact, outer reality; for not only are we able to remember it, but the very step registers our “mark” upon the earthly realm — in that we move through the air, for one thing. Even in the physical sense, the whole of our active life becomes outer reality. And to what a still greater extent is this true of the moral life!
Good and kind-hearted actions in very truth become outer reality. Deeds born of compassion or of sympathy with the joys of our fellow-men do not live on only within us but also in the other human being, in our whole environment. All the time, the marks and traces of our life are being impressed upon Earth existence. The man for whom we performed a deed of compassion or a deed born of fellow-feeling with his joy or suffering carries the influence and effect of our action on with him through life. What we have felt and done lives on in the others, in the outside world. Think about this, and it will soon become plain that such actions do not belong exclusively to the man who performs them in the sense that his memory-pictures belong to him, but pass over into the world outside as active influences.
What is imparted in this way to the outer world during a man's lifetime is not like his memory-pictures inscribed in the ether body. The ether body is too intimately and fundamentally part of the whole personality to enable these actions and the effects of them to be registered in it. Nor would this be for the good during earthly life. For if some unkind or mischievous deed, for instance, were immediately to be inscribed in the ether body, the man would be doomed, throughout his whole life, to be aware of it; it would be a force in his ether body and in certain circumstances suffering would be entailed; working its way into his life-forces, the bad action would make him ill, discontented, feeble. If acts were inscribed in the ether body, as are the remembered thoughts, life would be made impossible for earthly man. Just as the ether body is the instrument for the thoughts, in so far as they become remembrances and memories, so is the astral body the instrument for deeds. Deeds proceed from the astral body. The astral body is the instrument for every action — as I have said, an action becomes part of and works as an influence in the outer world. Everyday consciousness is bound up with the physical body; remembrances and memory with the ether body; delicate and rarified though the astral body is, every action, remaining as it does as an influence in the outer world, has its source in the astral body. The consequence of this is that actions remain in a certain sense bound up with the astral body, just as memory remains with the ether body. While the human being is still living in the ether body after death, the “tableau of memory” unfolds — the memories of the life that is just over remain in the ether body. When the ether body has been laid aside after death and all that has been preserved in the form of personal memories has been inscribed into the universal life-ether, man's life continues, but now wholly in the astral body. In the astral body he has to live for a long time, bound up with the outer effects caused by his life. After death the human being lives through his actions in backward sequence; he lives backwards through everything he has done to other beings on the Earth. For a period amounting approximately to a third of the time of his life, he is living in his astral body through all the actions he performed on Earth. And just as the personal memories are inscribed into the universal life-ether when the ether body is laid aside a few days after death, so in the period during which the human being is bound up with the astral body, all his deeds are inscribed into the all-pervading cosmic astrality. They are within the cosmic astrality and he remains connected with them, just as he is connected with his personal memories which have been recorded as an abiding inscription in the cosmic ether — only his deeds are inscribed as it were into a different cosmic register. While the human being is living backwards through the deeds and acts performed in the past life, they are all inscribed in the cosmic astrality and he remains connected with them. Through his astral body, therefore, the earthly man remains connected with his deeds.
What I have just described is karma. What has been inscribed into the all-pervading cosmic astrality by a man's deeds — that, in very truth, is karma. That a strong moral stimulus lies in such knowledge is quite obvious, and possible allegations to the effect that Spiritual Science does not provide the deepest moral basis for life would be malicious calumny.
In what sense may we speak of a strong moral impulse in the principles of knowledge here described? Deeds performed during life are inscribed, after death, into the cosmic astrality. If a man has committed wrongs and has not, to the best of his ability, been able karmically to put them right during life, all such actions are written into his karma and remain connected with him. (Assuming that already in earthly life he did all he could to right some wrong or sinful action, he would thereby be spared from having it inscribed into his karma.) In that as a human being of the Earth he has an earthly astral body, he has his karma.
As a being of the Earth, then, man has, firstly, consciousness, of which the physical body is the instrument; secondly, his memory, with the ether body or life body as its instrument; and thirdly, karma — which belongs to him just as consciousness belongs to him in the physical body. In this sense, earthly man is a threefold being, consisting of his earthly consciousness, his memory, and his karma. Without these principles he is not, in the real sense, an Earth-man. A being who were to go about on Earth without unfolding in his physical body the consciousness belonging to human existence on Earth would not be Man. A being who did not unfold the faculty of memory belonging to human existence on Earth would not be man. Nor would a being who went through life in an earthly body without creating karma, be Man. What constitutes the Earth-man is that he unfolds consciousness through the physical body, memory and remembrance through the ether body, and through the astral body creates karma. These are the “earthly” principles in the being of man. A fourth principle must be added, namely, the Ego, the “I.” This is the principle of which we know that it flashed up, for the first time, in Earth-existence. The “I” passes from incarnation to incarnation, is within us while we are unfolding our earthly consciousness, while we are preserving picture after picture in our memory, and while we are accumulating karma from one incarnation to another. The “I” is within us, within these three principles of earthly manhood. What, then, still remains to be said about the earthly man?
The “I” flashed into manifestation for the first time on the Earth. The foundations of the physical body of earthly man were laid down during the Old Saturn period of evolution. Although after the Old Moon period, Earth evolution changed the nature of the physical body, the physical body is not a product of the Earth proper. The same is to be said of the ether body — which was laid down in germ during the Old Sun period — and of the astral body, for which the first foundations were laid during the Old Moon period. Let us try to picture the human being the following way. When Earth existence began, man came over from a pre-earthly evolution, as a being consisting of physical body, ether body, and astral body. In the course of Earth evolution his physical body was transformed into the instrument for his earthly consciousness, his ether body into the instrument of his personal memory, and his astral body into the bearer of karma. Physical body, ether body, astral body — these were bestowed upon man by earlier, pre-earthly periods of evolution, after which the Earth, in accordance with its mission, elaborated these three principles of his being. Let us keep them distinct. The physical body of man has become the marvelous, wonderful structure it is because it has passed through three stages of metamorphosis, together with the three earlier embodiments of the planet Earth; if it had remained as it was after the expiration of the Old Moon period, it would have been endowed with all the inner qualities it now possesses, but would not have been metamorphosed in such a way as to enable it to become the instrument of consciousness for earthly man. The physical body has not only the perfection it had attained at the end of the Old Moon evolution but, in addition, it has been so transformed as to become the bearer of the earthly consciousness of man. In the same way, the ether body has all the perfections previously contained within it, but only since the beginning of Earth evolution has it developed the forces which make it the bearer of man's personal memory. The astral body had acquired many perfections during the Old Moon period, but only through the operation of earthly processes could it become the instrument for the creation of karma. The “I” alone has been equipped with all its powers solely by the Earth. What the Earth itself worked into the being of man is to be observed only in the “I,” the ego.
What, then, has really been added to the human being by the “I”?
Let us suppose that man had all the qualities and attributes which the Earth mission has instilled into him, but not the “I.” This is, of course, an impossible hypothesis, because the “I” had necessarily to be bestowed upon him. — But let us assume that without unfolding the “I,” a being possessed the earthly qualities contained in physical body, ether body, astral body. Even if it had not been possible to develop these qualities and attributes on the Earth, their development might have been possible on other planetary bodies, and Spiritual Science is able to study the conditions of existence prevailing on other planets. A being of this kind would be able to unfold waking consciousness as it exists in man, would possess the faculties of thinking, feeling, and willing, but would not connect his thoughts, experiences, feelings, or impulses of will with an “I”-consciousness. Nevertheless it would be possible for such a being to have, like earthly man, consciousness, remembrances, the power to retain ideas and thoughts in the memory, and also karma. Such a condition would not be possible in an earthly man; but let us envisage that there might exist a being of his kind. What would there be within him? Consciousness, Memory, Karma — as they are within the human being. But in the earthly human being, the “I,” too, is present. What, then, is brought about by the “I”? Since karma is created, essentially, by the astral body, how does the “I” operate within its own sphere of karma?
What is brought about by the “I” itself is of even greater moment than human karma. For karma remains connected with the human being. Deeds performed in some life persist as his karma, and he can make compensation for them in a later life. In reality it is the astral body which causes karma to remain. But the “I” is a spiritual potency, a spiritual being. What the “I” creates, as the astral body creates karma, does not remain connected with man but detaches itself from him as forms created by thoughts. Whereas what is inscribed in his karma remains connected with him and is instilled into subsequent phases of Earth evolution, something else — of a very definite character — is brought into existence by the human “I,” and passes over into other worlds — as memories pass over into the cosmic life-ether. Just as karma is inscribed in the cosmic astrality, so the creations of the “I” — the forms created by thoughts and feelings — go forth into the world. Karma remains connected with the human being; but there are other creations — creations of the “I” — which detach themselves from him, to begin with, simply as forms, and live on as spiritual forms in the universe. What, then, is it in the human being that lives on? Firstly, his personal memories; secondly, his karma; thirdly, the forms born of his thoughts and feelings. But whereas he remains connected with his memories and with his karma, these thought-forms detach themselves from him and, as forms, become independent. As lifeless forms — which actually go forth as forms — the creations of the “I” live on in the outer world.
From this point we will continue in the next lecture.