Saturday, March 23, 2019
The Sevenfold Human Being: Physical Body, Etheric Body, Astral Body, Ego, Manas, Buddhi, Atman
The Gospel of John. Lecture 2.
Rudolf Steiner, Basel, Switzerland, November 17, 1907:
According to Spiritual Science man, as he stands before us, is divided — from one point of view — into seven parts, of which the physical body perceptible to our senses is only one part of the human being. Man possesses this physical body in common with the whole of the mineral kingdom surrounding us; the forces at work in our physical body are the same as those operating in the whole of so-called inanimate nature.
This physical body is, however, permeated by still higher forces, just as a sponge may be permeated by water. The difference between inanimate and animate bodies is that in inanimate bodies the materials of which they are constituted follow physical, chemical laws only; but in animate bodies the various materials are combined with one another in a very complicated manner, and only under the influence of the etheric body can they be held together in this form, which to them is unnatural and is forced upon them. The physical materials have the constant tendency to group themselves according to their own nature; this signifies the destruction of the living body, and the etheric body fights continually against this destruction.
When the etheric body withdraws from the physical body, the substances of the physical body group themselves in the manner natural to them, and the body becomes a corpse and falls to pieces. The etheric body, therefore, continually combats the destruction of the physical body.
Each organ of the physical body has behind it this etheric body. Man has an etheric heart, an etheric brain, etc., which holds together the corresponding physical organ. One is naturally tempted to picture the etheric body in a material way, somewhat like a thin cloud, but in reality the etheric body consists of a number of currents of force. The clairvoyant sees in the etheric body of man certain currents that are exceedingly important.
Thus, for example, there is a stream which rises from the left foot to the forehead (see diagram), to a point which lies between the eyes, about half an inch down within the brain; it then returns to the other foot; from there it passes to the hand on the opposite side; from thence through the heart into the other hand, and from there back to its starting-point. In this way it forms a pentagram of currents of force.
This current is not the only one in the etheric body; there are very many of them. It is to this stream of force that man specially owes his upright position. We do not find this current in animals: they are bound to the Earth by their front limbs. In respect of the form and size of the human etheric body we may say that in its upper part it is an exact image of the physical body. The lower parts are different; here they do not coincide with the physical body. There is a great secret underlying the relationship between the etheric and physical bodies, one which throws a strong light upon human nature. The etheric body of a man is female; that of a woman is male. This explains the fact that in each man's nature there is much that is feminine, and in each woman's nature there is much that is masculine. In the animals the etheric body is larger than the physical body. Thus, for example, in the case of the horse the clairvoyant sees that his etheric body projects above his head like a cap.
There is something in man that is much closer to him than his blood, muscles, nerves, etc.: namely, his feelings of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain — all that he calls his inner being. In Spiritual Science this is called the astral body, and man possesses it in common with the animals only.
A man who is born blind only knows the world around him imperfectly; for him the world of color and light does not exist. Man is in the same position in respect of the astral world: it exists just as truly, it surrounds and permeates the physical world, but he does not perceive it. When a man's astral senses are opened, the astral world becomes visible to him. The significance and importance of this moment in the development of a human being is, however, very much greater than when a man who is born blind recovers his sight through an operation. Every human being knows this astral world, although imperfectly, for his astral body is transposed into it each night.
We repose in the astral world in order to restore the harmony of the astral body, for from the standpoint of Spiritual Science tiredness is only disharmony in the physical and astral bodies. The relationship between the physical and astral bodies may be illustrated in the following way. If we take a sponge, cut it into a thousand small pieces and place them in a glass of water, so that the water is absorbed into these tiny pieces, this represents the waking condition of the average man. If we squeeze out the little sponges and collect the water again in its container, it flows together into one common mass: In the same way the human astral bodies, which during the day were individualized, like the drops of water which were absorbed into the tiny sponges, enter into the common astral substance and are strengthened by it. This we recognize each morning by the fact that our tiredness has gone. Until a person becomes a seer, his astral body during the night mingles with the others; but in a seer the conditions are different.
The various plants do not possess an astral body of their own, but the whole world of plants has one astral body in common, namely that of the Earth. The Earth is a living being and the plants are part of it — just as the hair belongs to the human body.
The fourth principle of man is the ego. The word “I” can only be uttered by a man with reference to himself; this word can never strike our ear from outside with reference to ourselves. When this “I” sounds in a being, then God is expressing Himself in him. In respect of the ego, the animal, plant, and mineral worlds are in a different position. For example, an animal can no more say “I” to itself than a finger on our hand can say “I” to itself. If the finger desired to name its “I,” it would have to point to the “I” of the human being; in the same way the animal would have to point to an ego which belongs to a being living in the astral world. All lions, all elephants, etc., have a group-ego in common; thus there is a lion group-ego, an elephant group-ego, and so on.
If the plants wished to point to their ego they would have to point to a common ego in the center of the Earth, in the lower spiritual world. When an animal is injured, it feels pain. In the plant it is different, and the seer is able to say that the plucking of a flower or the cutting of the corn gives to the Earth the same pleasant feeling that a cow experiences when her calf draws the milk from her. But when a plant is torn out of the Earth by the root, this is just as though one were to tear a piece of flesh out of an animal. It is felt in the astral world as pain.
Were we to seek for the ego of the minerals, we should not find it in a being forming a center in the spirit world, for the ego of the minerals is to be found in the higher spiritual world outspread everywhere as a force of the whole cosmos.
In the Christian occult doctrine the world in which the egos of the animals are found — the astral world — is called the world of the Holy Spirit, and the world which contains the egos of the plants — the lower spiritual world — the world of the Son. When the seer begins to have perceptions in this world, the “Word,” the “Logos,” speaks to him. In the same occult teaching the world of the mineral egos — the higher spiritual world — is called the world of the Father Spirit.
Man is involved in a process of continuous development. We have now become acquainted with all four principles of his nature; they are what Pythagoras referred to in his school as the lower quaternary. The savage, the civilized man, the idealist, the saint — all possess these four parts. But the savage is the slave of his passions; the civilized man no longer follows indiscriminately all his passions and desires; the idealist does this still less; and the saint has fully mastered them.
The ego works upon the astral body, and separates a portion from it. In the course of human evolution this part grows larger and larger, whereas the inherited portion becomes ever smaller. In Francis of Assisi almost the whole of the astral body was worked upon by the ego and transformed. This transformed part forms the fifth principle of human nature: the Spirit Self.
But the ego can also become master of the etheric or life-body. The part of the etheric body which has been transformed by the ego is called Life Spirit. The etheric body is transformed under the influences of art and religion. The influence of religion is especially strong because it is repeated day after day, and this repetition is the magic power which transforms the etheric body. But the conscious work in occult training acts most strongly upon the etheric body, and meditation and concentration are the means here used.
The relative speed in the transforming of the etheric body and the astral body may be compared to the movement of the hour hands and the minute hands of a clock. If a man succeeds in changing his temperament ever so little, which depends on the conditions of his etheric body, this is of more value to him than the acquisition of many clever theories.
It requires the very greatest strength to change the physical body consciously. The means for this are only given in the occult school. We can only indicate here that the regulation of the breathing forms the beginning of this transformation. The physical body that has been consciously transformed by the ego is called Spirit Man or Atman. The force for the transformation of the astral body flows to us from the world of the Holy Spirit; the force for the transformation of the etheric body flows to us from the world of the Son or the Word; the force for the transformation of the physical body flows to us from the world of the Father Spirit or the Divine Father.