Friday, January 27, 2012

The Human Being's Indebtedness to the Earth — the Meaning of the World

Man as Symphony of the Creative Word. Lecture 3 of 12.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 21, 1923:

We have tried, again from a particular aspect, to place the human being into the universe. Today we wish to put the subject forward in a way which will, as it were, weld everything into a whole. During our physical life we live upon the Earth; we are surrounded by those events and facts which are there because of the physical matter of the Earth. This matter is moulded and shaped in the most varied manner so as to be adapted to the beings of the kingdoms of nature, up to the human form itself. The essential element in all this is the physical matter of the Earth. Today — because we shall immediately have to speak about its opposite — let us call this matter the physical substance of the Earth, comprising all that provides the material basis for the various earthly forms; and then let us differentiate from it everything in the universe which is the opposite of this physical substance, namely spiritual substance. This last is the basis not only of our own soul but also of all those formations in the universe which, as spiritual formations, are connected with physical formations.
It is not right to speak only of physical matter or physical substance. Think only of the fact that we must place into the total picture of the world the beings of the higher hierarchies. These beings of the higher hierarchies have no earthly substance, no physical substance, in what in their case we would call their bodily nature. What they have is spiritual substance. When we look upon what is earthly we become aware of physical substance; when we can look upon what is outside the earthly we become aware of spiritual substance.
Today people know little of spiritual substance. That is why they also speak of that Earth-being who belongs both to the physical and the spiritual — the human being — as though he, too, only possessed physical substance. This, however, is not the case. Man bears both spiritual and physical substance in himself in so remarkable a way as to astonish anyone who is not accustomed to pay heed to such matters. If, for example, we consider that element in man which leads him into movement, namely what is connected with the human limb-system and its continuation inwards as digestive activity, then it is incorrect to speak primarily of physical substance. You will soon understand this still more exactly. We only speak correctly about the human being when we regard the so-called lower part of his nature as having as its basis what is in fact spiritual substance. So that, if we were to represent the human being schematically, we would have to say: The lower man actually shows us a formation in spiritual substance, and the more nearly we approach the human head the more is man formed of physical substance. Basically the head is formed out of physical substance; but of the legs — grotesque though this may sound — it must be said that essentially they are formed of spiritual substance. So that when we approach the head we must represent the human being in such a way that we allow spiritual substance to pass over into physical substance; in the human head in particular, physical substance is contained. Spiritual substance, on the other hand, is diffused in a particularly beautiful way just where — if I may put it so — man stretches out his legs, stretches out his arms, into space. It is really as though the most important matter for arm and leg is precisely this being filled with spiritual substance, as if this is their essence. In the case of arm and leg it is really as though the physical substance were only swimming in the spiritual substance, whereas the head presents a compact formation composed of physical substance. In a form such as man possesses, however, we must differentiate not only the substance, but also the forces. And here again we must distinguish between spiritual forces and earthly, physical forces.
In the case of the forces, things are completely reversed. Whereas for the limb-system and digestion the substance is spiritual, the forces in the limbs — for instance in the legs — are heavy, physical forces. And whereas the substance of the head is physical, the forces active within it are spiritual. Spiritual forces play through the head; physical forces play through the spiritual substance of the limb and metabolic system in man. The human being can only be fully understood when we distinguish in him the upper region — his head and also the upper part of the breast, which are actually physical substance worked through by spiritual forces (I must mention that the lowest spiritual forces are active in the breathing). And we must regard the lower part of man as a formation composed of spiritual substance, within which physical forces are working. Only we must be clear as to how these things are interrelated in man, for the human being also projects his head-nature into his whole organism, so that the head — which is what it is because it is composed of physical substance worked through by spiritual forces — the head also projects its entire nature into the lower part of the human being; and what man is because of his spiritual substance, in which physical forces are at work, this, on the other hand, plays upwards into the upper part of the organism. In these activities in the human being there is mutual interaction. Man can in fact only be understood when he is regarded in this way, as composed of physical-spiritual substantiality and physical-spiritual dynamics, that is to say what is of the nature of forces.
This is something of great significance. For if we look away from external phenomena and enter into the inner being it becomes clear to us, for instance, that no irregularities can be allowed to enter into this apportioning of what is of the nature of substance and of forces in the human being.
If, for example, what should be pure substance, pure spiritual substance in man, is too strongly penetrated by physical matter, by physical substance — if, that is to say, physical substance, which should in fact tend upwards towards the head, makes itself too strongly felt in the metabolism — then digestion becomes too strongly affected by the head-system, and man becomes ill; certain quite definite types of illness then arise. And then the task of healing consists in paralyzing, in driving out, the physical substance-formation which is intruding into the spiritual substantiality. On the other hand, when man's digestive system, in its peculiar manner of being worked through by physical forces in spiritual substance, when this digestive system is sent up towards the head, then the head becomes, as it were, too strongly spiritualized, then there sets in a too strong spiritualization of the head. And now, because this also presents a condition of illness, care must be taken to send enough physical forces of nourishment to the head, so that they reach the head in such a way that they do not become spiritualized.
Anyone who turns his attention to man in health and sickness will very soon be able to perceive the usefulness of this differentiation, if he is really concerned with truth, and not with external illusion. But something essentially different also plays into this matter. What here plays in — the fact that man feels himself as a being constituted in the way I have described — this at first remains for the ordinary consciousness of today below in the unconscious. There, certainly, it is already present; and there it emerges as a kind of mood, a kind of life-mood of man. But it is spiritual vision alone that brings it to full consciousness, and I can only describe this spiritual vision to you thus: The man who knows from present-day initiation-science this secret of the human being — namely that the head is the most important, the most essential organ which needs physical substance with spiritual forces; who knows further that the most essential thing in the system of limbs and metabolism is spiritual substance which needs physical forces — the forces of gravity, of balance, and the other physical forces in order to exist; who can thus penetrate with spiritual vision into this secret of the human being and who then turns his gaze back to this human, earthly existence — this man must acknowledge himself as a tremendous debtor to the world. For he must admit that in order to maintain his human existence he requires certain conditions — but through these very conditions he becomes a debtor to the Earth. He is continually withdrawing something from the Earth. And he finds himself obliged to say that the spiritual substance, which as man he bears within himself during earthly existence, is actually needed by the Earth. When man passes through death, he should in fact leave this spiritual substance behind him for the Earth, for the Earth continually needs spiritual substance for its renewal. But this man cannot do, for he would then be unable to traverse his human path through the period after death. He must take this spiritual substance with him for the life between death and a new birth; he needs it, for he would disappear, so to speak, after death, if he did not take this spiritual substance with him.
Only by carrying this spiritual substance of his limb-metabolic system through the gate of death can man undergo those transformations which he must there undergo. He would be unable to meet his future incarnations if he were to give back to the Earth this spiritual substance which he actually owes to it. He cannot do this. He remains a debtor. And this is something which there is no means of bettering as long as the Earth remains in its middle period. At the end of Earth-existence things will be otherwise.
It is indeed the case, my dear friends, that one who beholds life with spiritual vision has not only those sufferings and sorrows — perhaps also that happiness and joy — which are offered by ordinary life, but — with the beholding of the spiritual — cosmic feelings, cosmic sufferings and joys, make their appearance. And initiation is inseparable from the appearance of such cosmic suffering as, for example, the fact that one has to admit: Simply because I must maintain my humanity I must make of myself a debtor to the Earth. I cannot give to the Earth what I really should give if, in a cosmic sense, I were to act with complete rectitude.
Matters are similar as regards the substance which is present in the head. Because throughout the entire course of Earth-life spiritual forces are working in the physical substance of the head, this head-substance becomes estranged from the Earth. Man must take away from the Earth the substance for his head. But he must also, in order to be man, continually imbue this substance of his head with extra-terrestrial spiritual forces. And when the human being dies, this is something extremely disturbing to the Earth, because it must now take back the substance of the human head which has become so foreign to it. When the human being passes through the gate of death and yields up his head-substance to the Earth, then this head-substance — which is entirely spiritualized, which bears within itself what results from the spiritual — does in fact act as a poison, as a really disturbing element, in the totality of the life of the Earth. When man sees into the truth of these matters, he is obliged to say to himself that the honest thing would be to take this substance with him through the gate of death, for it would in fact be much better suited to the spiritual region which man traverses between death and a new birth. He cannot do this. For if man were to take this spiritualized Earth-substance with him, he would continually create something adverse to all his development between death and a new birth. It would be the most terrible thing that could happen to man if he were to take this spiritualized head-substance with him. It would work incessantly upon the negation of his spiritual development between death and rebirth.
One must therefore acknowledge, when one sees into the truth of these things, that here, too, man becomes a debtor to the Earth; for something for which he is indebted to the Earth but has made useless for it, this he must continually leave behind, he cannot take it with him. What man should leave for the Earth he takes from it; what man should take with him, what he has made useless for it, this man gives over to the Earth with his earthly dust, thus causing the Earth immense suffering in its entire life, in its whole collective being.
It is indeed the case that at first, just through spiritual vision, something weighs heavily upon the human soul, something like a tremendous feeling of tragedy. And only when one surveys wider epochs of time, when one beholds the development of entire systems, only then is the prospect revealed that, when the Earth will have approached its end, in later stages of human evolution — in the Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan stages — will man be able to restore the balance, to annul the debt.
Thus it is not only by passing through the experiences of a single life that man fashions karma, but man creates karma, world karma, cosmic karma, just through the fact that he is an earthly human being, that he is an inhabitant of the Earth, and draws his substance from the Earth.
Here it is possible to look away from man, to look towards the rest of nature and see how — though man must burden himself with the debt of which I have just told you — balance is nevertheless continually restored by cosmic beings. And here one penetrates into wonderful secrets of existence, into secrets which, when taken in conjunction with each other, become something from which one can first gain a conception of the wisdom of the world.
Let us turn our gaze away from man and towards something which has claimed much of our attention during the last few days: let us turn our gaze to the world of the birds, represented for us by the eagle. We spoke of the eagle as the representative of the bird-world, as the creature which synthesizes the characteristics and forces of the bird-kingdom. When we consider the eagle, we are in fact considering, in their cosmic connection, all the attributes which prevail in the bird-world as a whole. In future, therefore, I shall simply speak of “the eagle.”
I have told you how the eagle actually corresponds to the head of man, and how those forces which give rise to thoughts in the human head give rise in the eagle to his plumage. So that the Sun-irradiated forces of the air, the light-imbued forces of the air, are actually working in the eagle's plumage.
This is what shimmers in the eagle's plumage: the light-irradiated power of the air.
Now the eagle — to whom many bad qualities may certainly be ascribed — does nevertheless possess, as regards his cosmic being, the remarkable attribute that outside his skin, in the structure of his plumage, everything is retained which is formed in it by the Sun-irradiated forces of the air. What takes place here is, in fact, only to be noticed when the eagle dies.
For it is only when the eagle dies that one becomes aware of what a remarkable superficial digestion he has compared with the thorough-going digestion of the cow, with its process of chewing the cud. The cow is really the animal of digestion — again as representative of many creatures of the animal kingdom. Here digestion is thoroughly performed. The eagle, like all birds, digests in a superficial way; the business of digestion is only begun. In the eagle, compared with his whole existence, digestion is merely a subsidiary process and is treated as such. On the other hand, everything in the eagle which has to do with plumage proceeds in a thorough way. (In the case of some other birds this is even more so.) Everything to do with the feathers is worked out with immense care. Such a feather is indeed a wonderful structure. Here we find most strongly in evidence what may be called earthly matter, which the eagle has taken from the Earth, spiritualized by the forces of the heights, but in such a way that the eagle does not assimilate it; for the eagle makes no claim to reincarnation. He need not, therefore, be troubled about what is being brought about in the earthly matter of his plumage through the spiritual forces of the heights; he need not be troubled about how this works on in the spiritual world.
Now, when the eagle dies and his feathers fall into decay — as already mentioned this holds good for every bird — the spiritualized earthly matter ascends into spirit-land and becomes changed back into spiritual substance.
You see we have a remarkable relative interplay as regards the relationship of our head to the eagle. What we cannot do, the eagle can; he can continually conjure forth from the Earth what becomes spiritualized in the Earth through spiritual forces working on earthly substance.
This, too, is why we experience such a remarkable sensation when we observe an eagle in its flight. We feel him as something foreign to the Earth, something which has more to do with the heavens than with the Earth, although he draws his substance from the Earth. But how does he do this? He obtains his substance in such a way that, as regards the Earth, he is just a robber. For according to what may be called the ordinary, commonplace law of Earth-existence no provision was made for the eagle to get anything. He becomes a robber; he steals his substance, as is done in all sorts of ways by the bird-kingdom as a whole. But the eagle restores the balance. He steals his material substance, but allows it to be spiritualized by the forces which exist as spiritual forces in the upper regions; and after death he carries off into spirit-land those spiritualized Earth-forces which he has stolen. With the eagles the spiritualized Earth-matter withdraws into spiritland.
Now the life of animals also does not come to an end when they die. They have their significance in the universe. And the eagle in flight is only a symbol of his real being. He flies as physical eagle — Oh, but he flies further after his death! The spiritualized physical matter of the eagle nature flies into the universe in order to unite itself with the spiritual substance of spiritland.
You see what wonderful secrets of the universe one comes upon when one enters into the reality of these things. Only then does one really learn why the various animal and other forms of the Earth are there. They all have their great, their immense, significance in the whole universe.
And now let us turn to the other extreme, to something which we have also studied during these days: let us turn to the cow, so venerated by the Hindu. There we have the opposite extreme. Just as the eagle is very similar to the head, so is the cow very similar to the human digestive system. The cow is the animal of digestion. And, strange as it sounds, this animal of digestion consists essentially of spiritual substance into which the physical matter consumed is merely scattered and diffused. In the cow is the spiritual substance, and everywhere the physical substance penetrates into it, and is absorbed, made use of, by the spiritual substance. It is in order that this may happen in a really thorough way that the process of digestion in the cow is so comprehensive, so fundamental. It is really the most fundamental digestive process that can be conceived, and in this respect — if I may put it so — the cow fosters what is fundamental to animal nature more thoroughly than any other animal in the absolute sense. She actually brings animal-nature — this animal egoism, this animal egoity — out of the universe down on to the Earth, down into the region of Earth-gravity.
No other animal has the same proportion between the blood-weight and the entire body-weight as the cow; other animals have either less or more blood than the cow in proportion to the weight of the body. And weight has to do with gravity, and the blood with egoity — not with the ego, for this is only possessed by man, but with egoity, with separate existence. The blood also makes the animal, animal — the higher animal at least. And I must say that the cow has solved the world-problem as to the right proportion between the weight of the blood and the weight of the whole body — when there is the wish to be as thoroughly animal as possible.
You see, it was not for nothing that the ancients called the zodiac “the animal circle.” The zodiac is twelvefold; it divides its totality into twelve separate parts. Those forces, which come out of the cosmos, from the zodiac, take on form and shape in the animals. But the other animals do not conform to the zodiacal proportion so exactly. The cow has a twelfth part of her body-weight in the weight of her blood. With the cow the blood-weight is a twelfth part of the body-weight; with the donkey only the twenty-third part; with the dog the tenth part. All the other animals have a different proportion. In the case of man the blood is a thirteenth of the body-weight.
You see, the cow has seen to it that, in her weight, she is the expression of animal nature as such, that she is as thoroughly as possible the expression of what is cosmic. A fact I have mentioned repeatedly during these days — namely that one sees from the astral body of the cow that she actually manifests something lofty in physical-material substance — this comes to expression of itself through the fact that the cow maintains the partition into twelve in her own inner relationships of weight. The cosmic in her is at work. Everything to do with the cow is of such a nature that the forces of the Earth are working into spiritual substance. In the cow Earth-heaviness is obliged to distribute itself according to zodiacal proportion. Earth-heaviness must accommodate itself to allow a twelfth part of itself to fall away into egoity. What the cow possesses as spiritual substance has necessarily to enter into earthly conditions.
Thus the cow, lying in the meadow, is in actual fact spiritual substance, which Earth-matter takes up, absorbs, makes similar to itself.
When the cow dies, this spiritual substance which the cow bears within herself can be taken up by the Earth, together with the earthly matter, for the well-being of the life of the whole Earth. And man is right when he feels in regard to the cow: You are the true beast of sacrifice, for you continually give to the Earth what it needs, without which it could not continue to exist, without which it would harden and dry up. You continually give spiritual substance to the Earth, and renew the inner mobility, the inner living activity, of the Earth.
When you behold on the one hand the meadow with its cattle, and on the other hand the eagle in flight, then you have their remarkable contrast: the eagle who, when he dies, carries away into the expanses of spiritland that earth-matter, which — because it is spiritualized — has become useless for the Earth; and the cow, who, when she dies, gives to the Earth heavenly matter and thus renews the Earth. The eagle takes from the Earth what it can no longer use, what must return into spiritland. The cow carries into the Earth what the Earth continually needs as renewing forces from spiritland.
Here you become aware of something like an upsurging of feelings and perceptions from out of initiation-science. It is usually believed about this initiation-science, well, that one certainly studies it, but that it results in nothing but concepts, ideas. One fills one's head with ideas about the supersensible, just as one otherwise fills one's head with ideas about the things of the senses. But this is not how it is. Penetrating ever further into this initiation-science, we reach the point of drawing forth from the depths of the soul feelings and perceptions the existence of which we formerly did not even surmise, but which nevertheless are there unconsciously in every human being; we reach the point of experiencing all existence differently from the way we experienced it before. And so I can describe to you an experience which actually belongs to the living comprehension of spiritual science, of initiation science. It is an experience which would make us acknowledge that if man alone were upon the Earth, we should — if we recognize his true nature — have to despair of the Earth ever receiving what it needs, namely, that at the right time spiritualized matter should be withdrawn and spirit-substance bestowed. We should have to experience an opposition between man and the being of the Earth, which causes great, great pain, and causes that pain because we have to admit that, if man is to be rightly man upon the Earth, the Earth cannot be rightly Earth because of man. Man and Earth have need of each other, but man and Earth cannot mutually support each other. What the being of the one requires is lost to the other; what the other needs is lost to the one. And we should have no security as regards the life-relationship between man and Earth were it not that the surrounding world enables us to say: What the human being is unable to achieve as regards the carrying of spiritualized Earth-substance over into spiritland, this is accomplished by the bird-kingdom; and what man is unable to do as regards giving spiritual substance to the Earth, this is accomplished by the animals which chew the cud, as represented by the cow.
In this way, you see, the world is rounded into a whole. If we look only at man, uncertainty enters our feelings as regards the being of the Earth; if we look at what surrounds man, our feeling of certainty is restored.
And now you will wonder even less that a religious world-conception which penetrates so deeply into the spiritual as does Hinduism venerates the cow, for she is the animal which continually spiritualizes the Earth, which continually gives to the Earth that spiritual substance which she herself takes from the cosmos. And we must learn to accept as actual reality the picture that, beneath a grazing herd of cattle, the Earth below is quickened to joyful, vigorous life, that there below the elemental spirits rejoice, because they are assured of their nourishment from the cosmos through the existence of the creatures grazing above them. And we would have to make another picture of the dancing, rejoicing, airy circle of the elemental spirits hovering around the eagle. Then again one would portray spiritual realities, and in the spiritual realities one would see the physical; one would see the eagle extended outwards in his aura, and playing into the aura the rejoicing of the elemental air-spirits and fire-spirits of the air.
And one would see that remarkable aura of the cow, which so strongly contradicts her earthly nature, because it is entirely cosmic; and one could see the lively merriment in the senses of the elemental Earth-spirits, who are thus able to perceive what has been lost to them because they are sentenced to live out their existence in the darkness of the Earth. For these spirits, what here appears in the cows is Sun. The elemental spirits whose dwelling place is in the Earth cannot rejoice in the physical Sun, but they can rejoice in the astral bodies of the animals which chew the cud.
Yes, my dear friends, there does indeed exist a natural history which is different from what is to be found today in books. What is actually the end and aim of the natural history found today in books?
There has just appeared the sequel to that book by Albert Schweitzer which I discussed some time ago. You may remember my article dealing with this little book on present-day conditions of civilization, which appeared some time back in “The Goetheanum”. [* See Das Goetheanum, No. 47 of 1923.] The preface to this sequel is in fact a somewhat sorry chapter in the spiritual productions of the present day; for whereas the first booklet, which I then discussed, possessed at least a certain force and the insight to admit what our civilization lacks, this preface is a really sorry chapter. For Schweitzer here takes credit to himself for being the first to perceive that, fundamentally speaking, knowledge alone can provide absolutely nothing, and that ethics and a world-conception must be gained from somewhere other than knowledge.
Now in the first place much has been said about the boundaries of knowledge, and it is — how shall I put it? — a trifle short-sighted to believe that one has been the first to speak about the boundaries of knowledge. This has been done by the natural scientists in every possible key. So one has no need to pride oneself upon being the first to discover the colossal error.
Seen apart from this, however, the fact appears that such an excellent thinker as Schweitzer — for he is an excellent thinker, as his first little volume certainly shows — has reached the conclusion that if we wish to have a world-conception, if we wish to have ethics, then we must look right away from science and knowledge, for these in fact give us nothing. Recognized science and knowledge, as put forward today in books, these aspects of science and knowledge do not enable us — as Schweitzer says — to discover meaning in the universe. For, indeed, if one looks upon the world as these personalities do, one cannot avoid the conclusion that eagles in their flight have no purpose, apart from the fact that they can be used in making armorial crests; cows are physically useful because they give milk, and so on. But because man also is regarded only as a physical being, he only possesses physical usefulness; and all this has no meaning for the world as a whole.
If people are unwilling to go further than this, they will certainly not reach the level where a world-meaning can appear; we must pass on to what the spiritual, to what initiation-science, can say to us about the world; then we shall certainly discover the meaning of the world. Then we shall find this meaning of the world as we discover wonderful mysteries in all existence — mysteries such as that which unfolds itself in connection with the dying eagle and the dying cow; and there between them the dying lion, which in his turn so holds spiritual substance and physical substance in balance within himself, through the harmony he establishes in the rhythm of breathing and of blood, that it is he who regulates, through his group-soul, how many eagles are necessary, and how many cows are necessary, to enable the correct process both upwards and downwards to take its course in the way I have described to you.
You see, the three animals — eagle, lion, ox or cow — they were created out of a wonderful intuitive knowledge. Their connection with man is imbued with feeling. For the human being, when he sees into the truth of these things, must really admit: The eagle takes from me the tasks which I myself cannot fulfill through my head; the cow takes from me the tasks which I myself cannot fulfill through my metabolism, through my limb system; the lion takes from me those tasks which I myself cannot fulfill through my rhythmic system. And thus from myself and the three animals something complete is established in the cosmos.
Thus one lives one's way into cosmic relationships. Thus one feels the deep connections in the world, and learns to know how wise are those powers which hold sway in the world of being into which man is woven, and which live and move around him.
In this way you see how we were able to weld together into a whole the divers matters which came to our knowledge when we sought to discover man's connection with the three animal representatives about whom we have spoken in recent weeks.

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