Saturday, February 18, 2012
Memory and Habit, Part 2. Conscience; the Christ Principle
The Riddle of Humanity. Lecture 12 of 15.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, August 27, 1916:
I would like to begin with some observations I made in the last lecture. Memory, in the form in which it appears in the present period, the Earth period, is a metamorphosis of other capacities of soul which mankind possessed on Old Moon. As I said, during this period of dreamlike imaginative vision, mankind did not possess a memory of the kind we have today. It was unnecessary because everything that was experienced in dreamlike imaginations was engraved objectively in the world and followed behind a human being like the tail of a comet. This mode of experience disappears with the arrival of the Earth period. And now there is something further one must keep in mind if one is to understand this matter fully: Conscious experiences cannot be engraved in the world substance in this fashion unless they have already been, in a certain sense, experienced beforehand; they are not experienced for the first time when the being in question, in this case, the human being, experiences them — they must, somehow, already have been experienced before. You can see, therefore, that everything mankind experienced through its Moon consciousness consisted in re-experiencing what had been thought for it by the beings of the higher hierarchies. On Old Moon the dreams men dreamed consisted of thoughts that had already been thought by the higher hierarchies. Human thoughts followed in the wake of these — if we can refer to the experiences of this dreamlike imaginative consciousness as thinking.
Other conditions obtain on Earth. Here, human life proceeds in such a way that a person's thoughts do not consist in a repetition of something that has already been thought and which then remain visible. Rather, as we heard yesterday, when a person thinks, his thoughts are preserved only within himself, due to the forces of resistance in his physical body. They are engraved in his own etheric substance and are only given over to the universal substance of the world when he dies. Only then is it possible to look back on everything one has consciously experienced in the manner in which one was formerly able to look back on it; during the time between death and a new birth it is possible to look back consciously on everything one has experienced.
What someone has engraved in his own etheric body and then carried through the gates of death out into the universal world-ether is destined, however, to undergo gradual changes. These changes are accomplished in the course of successive Earth incarnations, as the person experiences the whole of Earth existence. Just consider how much is contained in what a person thinks! Would it not be the most horrible thing imaginable if all men's thoughts were objectively engraved in the substance of the world and had to remain there eternally? But that is what would happen if, in the course of repeated lives on Earth, humanity were not in the position to be able to make good the thoughts that should not remain — to either improve them, or eradicate them and replace them with something entirely different, and so on. That is one of the things established by an evolution through successive lives on Earth. It gives mankind the opportunity to improve on what it carries with it through the gates of death into the substance of the world, so that a person can strive for a final Earth incarnation which only leaves behind in the ether-substance of the world that which really can remain.
Thus you can see that the process involved here is different from what took place with the dreamlike imaginative consciousness of Old Moon. During the Moon period, thoughts had been thought beforehand by the beings of the higher hierarchies and, to some extent, by the elemental beings. Then they were thought by the human beings. This caused them to become visible and to remain visible. Whatever thoughts were repeated in human thoughts remained visible. In the Earth period, however, everything that a normally-developed person thinks — this includes all the feelings and impulses of will about which he thinks — is engraved in his own etheric body, in his own ether substance. It only becomes part of the world's ether substance when he passes through the gates of death, and it would have to remain there if, in the course of successive incarnations, he did not rectify the things that need putting right.
This is completely valid for the normal soul life during its development on Earth and thus applies to the usual kind of waking consciousness we develop between birth and death. But it does not apply to the consciousness that is related to waking consciousness and that we develop between death and a new birth. As you know, we often have spoken about what, from now on, needs to begin to enter the consciousness of humanity as spiritual science and why it is urgently necessary that it begin to do so. And what needs to enter as spiritual science so that humanity will be able to achieve its goals on Earth does not derive from the same sources as normal waking consciousness. As you know, this spiritual science must be born on Earth; we have often emphasized the fact that it cannot be developed during the time between death and a new birth. You know that the spiritual knowledge developed here during a life on Earth can only be developed here, and that its effects reach into the world occupied by the dead in the time between death and a new birth.
Spiritual science, therefore, can neither be developed through ordinary daytime consciousness, nor can it be brought back directly into this world through the gates of birth — not in the form in which it must appear. Rather it must develop out of a different way of seeing things. Yesterday and today we have characterized two different kinds of conscious life: the consciousness of Old Moon, with the form of memory we described, and the form of consciousness that belongs to life on Earth — which could be called ‘object-consciousness’ — with its own kind of memory, which has also been described.
Now, the consciousness which originally gives one access to the contents of spiritual science is of a special kind. You know how I have often emphasized that spiritual science can be understood with the help of normal, healthy human reason, and that one can form a living connection with spiritual science without having to direct one's gaze out into the spiritual world. But to obtain spiritual science from the spiritual world in the first place is another matter and requires a particular mode of consciousness. Furthermore, if one understands it, this special mode of consciousness will also allow mankind to shape the future of the Earth in the way in which it must be shaped if humanity is not to fall into decadence. Mankind is already clearly standing on the threshold of decadence. If men are not to fall victim to it, they must develop an understanding for how the truths of spiritual science can flow from the spiritual world into our physical world.
If spiritual science is to fulfill its task for the future of mankind, it is necessary to achieve certain attitudes toward its truths. These attitudes are based in an obvious way on the path by which the spiritual-scientific truths pass from the spiritual world into the physical. As I have often explained — even in public lectures — while one is making discoveries in the spiritual world, the naturally-functioning memory that typifies our usual daytime consciousness is in a certain sense suspended. As you know, memory must be, in a way, overcome before one can discover the secrets from the other side of the threshold. But something new must also enter in. Obviously, what is consciously experienced should not just pass away. Something new occurs — and I ask you to keep this particularly in mind! — when a conception, or expression, characterizes something that is spiritual in the sense of spiritual science and thus has real spiritual content. In such a case it does not remain in the personal etheric body until death, but is carried directly from consciousness into the spiritual-etheric world. Thus a truly spiritual conception — I mean one that really touches on the spirit — is carried directly into the substance of the ether. In the case of Moon consciousness, what was thought became visible because it had already been thought before. The previously-thought content became visible on Moon through being thought by man. In the case of our usual waking consciousness on Earth, a conception is first embedded in the person's own etheric body and remains connected with him until he can correct it. Thus it is possible for unwarranted thoughts to be corrected in the course of karma. But a conception that really touches on matters of the spirit is carried into the general etheric substance. This must come to pass; it is necessarily so. It is necessary for the evolutionary process of the world that the contents of spiritual science now be inscribed upon the world.
You might say — well, perhaps you might not say it, but someone else might — ‘Yes, I prefer to leave everything that has to do with spiritual science to rest in peace; then I will not have to worry so much about my thoughts being directly engraved in the substance of the ether!’ The most recent time during which it would have been possible to speak in this way would have been during the Greco-Roman epoch, but it is no longer possible to do this. For what I said earlier about a person being able to correct what has been written into himself is true in so far as certain contents are concerned. But this ceases to apply in the matters I described yesterday — the matters that depend on Lucifer and Ahriman. In the future it will only be possible to conquer these two by establishing a balance between them. That, also, has been described. Even in our fifth post-Atlantean epoch it must be said that everything produced by a person out of himself can be corrected later. But if you do not learn to be on guard against Lucifer and Ahriman, the things that you think and do under their influence — such things as I have often described — will be engraved into the substance of the world. Where only the results of spiritual science would otherwise be engraved, these events will also be written down in the same manner.
We must learn to draw a fine distinction: On the one hand there is what we cause to be engraved only in ourselves and what is engraved in the universal ether-substance of the world because of its spiritual scientific content. On the other hand, there is what is engraved in the universal world-substance through the agency of Lucifer, the Tempter or Seducer, or by the agency of Ahriman, the Spirit of Falsehood.
Naturally, the phrases one often hears mouthed — for example, that one must be sure not to fall into the clutches of Lucifer or Ahriman — are worthless. But if we understand, firstly, the necessity of spiritual science and, secondly, its tasks, we must nevertheless ask ourselves in all earnestness: ‘What role, then, does the content of spiritual science have to play for a person who can behold the necessities facing humanity?’ It is important to know that we are involved in the transition to an age when our thoughts will once more be inscribed directly into the universal world-substance. This is being prepared. But this time it will be the thoughts that we ourselves think, not thoughts that have been thought beforehand. If one takes this into account, then a sense of responsibility for what we think can flow from it — responsibility for everything we do in the world of our thoughts. It is so easy to believe that our thoughts have no objective significance — indeed, as we said, until recent times this view was also essentially correct. But in our times it has already started to become a stark reality that a real lie, or untruths of the kind we described yesterday, are appropriated by Ahriman and engraved into the universal substance of the world. This fact determines the attitude that mankind must gradually learn to adopt toward thinking.
If one does not come to terms with what I have just been describing, it will be easy to develop anxieties. But if one weighs everything quietly, objectively, and calmly, there will be no need to become anxious. Indeed, it will not be possible to be anxious if one says to oneself. ‘Yes, I must feel a terrifying responsibility toward what I think.’ In the approaching age and for many thousands of years hence, it will be crucial that we human beings acquire a feeling of responsibility toward the thoughts we take hold of. If one so desires, it is possible, broadly speaking, to understand thinking as developing to the stage at which it is translated into speech and can thus be communicated. Until it has reached the stage where it is, at any rate, suitable for being communicated there is not much that Ahriman can do with our thinking. But Ahriman is on the alert once thinking has been taken to the point where it is ripe for communication, that is to say, the point where we are about to communicate it. He is there, waiting for an opportunity to take the thought and implant it into the universal world substance. Along with the wakefulness that enables us to see that our thoughts ultimately take their rightful shape and are thoughts for which we can take responsibility, we need to learn to view all thinking as a kind of search. At present, our consciousness is much too influenced by the feeling that every thought must be formulated immediately. But the purpose of our ability to think is not to help us immediately complete each thought! It is there so that we can seek out matters, pursuing the facts, putting them together and looking at them from all sides. But people today like to formulate their thoughts quickly — do they not — in order to get them from their lips or down on paper as quickly as possible. But we are not given the ability to think in order to formulate thoughts with undue haste but, rather, so that we can search. Thinking is to be seen as a process that can remain for a long time at the stage of searching for a form. One should postpone formulating thoughts until responsibility has been taken for the facts — until the facts have been turned and revolved and looked at from all sides — so that they have ceased to be the kind of fact I described earlier, facts about which twenty-six people can speak falsely and only four are able to speak the approximate truth. For thirty sat there and witnessed what happened!
An enormous amount depends on whether there are some people who understand the need for this very thing I have been describing. These days it is not even possible to calculate how deeply one sins against the maxim of using thinking as a method of seeking, and of suspending completed thoughts for as long as possible. That is why the phantoms of untruth buzz about our world, and why lying is becoming more and more habitual. But the more humanity leans toward lying and the more it is gripped by the tendency to lie, the more decadent it becomes. A constant oscillation between Lucifer and Ahriman begins to establish itself. On the one side, untruths are spoken, whether directly out of ill-will, or just out of thoughtlessness. And in placing together ‘ill-will’ and ‘thoughtlessness’ we have already indicated that Lucifer is in league with the Spirit of Lies! Lucifer is connected with the Spirit of Lies, for thus he obtains easy access, since, in their turn, lies generate passions. And we, meanwhile, are losing the power to establish a balance between what we think and what we feel and will. It is urgent that mankind become strongly enough aware of an immensely widespread, subconscious tendency, because this subconscious tendency opposes that step we have said is necessary for the future. It opposes the tendency to establish a tough-minded responsibility for whatever one formulates as a truth. Especially in the last few years, it has been dreadful to see how this sense of responsibility is disappearing. But the important thing is that we pay heed to these things. For, in the upper layers of their consciousness, men are not aware of the strength of the impulse to say what is false.
Something can only really become a truth after it has been placed, so to speak, in all kinds of positions and has had light cast on it from various directions — only if one has really suspended judgment for as long as possible. No overly-hasty expressed point of view, no overly-hasty expressed opinion, no report of an event that is delivered in too great a haste, can be the truth — but they can have the effect of bringing mankind more and more into decadence. This matter can even be the subject of experiments. We would probably agree that most people are not straightforward out-and-out liars. Some are, of course. But the worst thing of all is the unconscious and subconscious lying that is the result of Luciferic seduction — lying that contains a quarter or an eighth or a sixteenth of the truth. It might even be ninety-eight percent true, but the dynamic impetus of the remaining two per cent corrupts the whole thing and carries it all into corruption.
There is a further matter that must also be taken into consideration. Today, people have an insatiable appetite for putting things into words. Immediately, without delay, one must describe everything, one must know everything. People never use their thinking to search out the facts or to reflect upon them. And, especially in these times, it really does not require much talent to notice that so much lying is going on. People do notice — of course they do. But the generalization that, in the present day, there is much lying going on also requires our thinking to traverse a certain path. For this truth, in turn, also needs to be illuminated from many sides, since a truth can become exactly the opposite of the truth when it is formulated too quickly and not measured against reality. Recently I read an article about all the huge lies of the present day. Even though it does not require much talent to describe all the lies that are buzzing about our heads, this article was itself the most false thing of all! In spite of the fact that what it said was, of course, true in a way, the entire article was smothered in a sauce of lies; the whole article was a sauce of lies. Such articles are not worthy of criticism. What matters is for mankind to become aware that hasty words are undesirable and that one needs to immerse oneself in things and to illuminate them from all sides.
For you see, in the spiritual world it is especially important to have developed this feeling for the truth of what has been experienced in the physical world. A right and true understanding of the impulses of spiritual science requires this attitude toward the spiritual world, but it is also necessary in the world one experiences after passing through the gates of death. It is necessary to take into account the fact that we will not be able to understand the world which surrounds us in the time between death and a new birth unless we bring with us this fundamental attitude toward the truth. In order to understand anything about what one needs to accomplish in the spiritual world, this responsibility toward the truth is necessary.
At present there are many shocking circumstances which show us the downward path; we must seek the ascending path that corresponds to it. Through spiritual science future humanity must have developed a somewhat different attitude toward the truth. For there is much that must be generated in our own soul life and then embedded in the substance of the Earth and engraved in it as we pass through the remainder of the Earth period and then through the Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan periods. This leads me to something I want to say about the metamorphosis of memory.
I also have some things to say about metamorphosis in the sphere of habit. When we look back to the humanity of Old Moon to see from out of what our present-day habits have developed, we observe that the human beings of that time simply received their impulses from the spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies. They did not develop habits. Human habits are one characteristic of the Earth period and are concerned with principles that apply to it. Now that we have passed beyond the midpoint of the Earth period, we must prepare what is required for our subsequent development. Habit tears us away from the beings who send down their impulses to us from the spiritual world. And habit establishes the foundations for our freedom.
But we must once more come into a relationship with the beings of the higher hierarchies, into a new relationship. During Old Moon and also during the first part of the Earth period, we were unconsciously, or subconsciously, dependent on them without being able to do anything about it. Spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies, and even some elemental beings directed their impulses into our consciousness. Now we are freeing ourselves from this. The period of imitation in early childhood remains as a kind of residue, a remnant.
But we must again develop beyond a life of habit, both in the outer circumstances of our lives and in our moral behavior. I will simply refer you to the chapter in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity which deals with moral tact. There you can read how our freedom is established on the basis of the habits we develop. We must be aware of what is really being developed in our life of habits! We still possess remnants of a connection with the spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies, but these are not fully apparent to our usual Earth consciousness. That world is unknown. We leave this unknown world behind when we pass through the gates of the senses into the world in which we live. But we originate in the world that is beyond the senses. Spiritual science enables us to lift the veil of the senses and rediscover it. And we do actually bear a remnant of this world within us. It is simply not apparent to our usual Earth consciousness. Up to the end of the Moon period, and on into Earth times, we still lived with the beings of the higher hierarchies in that spiritual world over yonder. In passing through the gates of the senses we have left it behind. But not everything that our souls developed when we felt ourselves in the company of the beings of the higher hierarchies has been lost to us. We still carry an unconscious remnant with us. Among many other things, this unconscious remnant is also the basis of conscience. This is another way of viewing conscience. The whole of conscience is still inherited from the spiritual world. Only gradually, as we learn to understand the world once more and as we learn how to grasp it spiritually, will we discover a body of moral principles that will shed light on the more instinctive morality that is based on conscience. A morality that is increasingly filled with light will emerge — but, as goes without saying, only if humanity searches for it!
This is why there is so much talk about abstract ideals today — such as the great abstract ideals of Truth, Beauty, Goodness. But remember what I said eight days ago. Remember that there are beings in the spiritual world who correspond to the abstract ideals of beauty, truth, and goodness we encounter on Earth. It is toward these beings of the higher hierarchies — not merely toward the abstract ideals — that the human soul is once more moving as we pursue more or less abstract ideals in our deeds and activities. In order to raise ourselves up, even as far as Idealism, we must develop sufficiently to rediscover our connections with a living spiritual world whence must stream the impulses for what is done here on Earth. Spiritual science must step forward in order to provide humanity with the impulses for what needs to happen in the physical world. And, I should like to say, these are things you can lay your hands on — I am speaking symbolically: these are, spiritually speaking, things you can really lay your hands on.
Consider what our present-day, materialistic culture of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch has to say about the future of humanity and about what mankind should accomplish! Much of it is certainly beautiful. I do not want to criticize what is said, nor to reprimand anyone. But all this is really a search for abstractions! All these moral ideals and ideals about national economy, and all the many other kinds of ideals — these are all abstractions. Just compare these abstract pictures of the human impulses needed for the future with the living impulses that can come from spiritual science, impulses alive with the knowledge of what has to happen in this world to prepare for the future! Just think what is understood through knowing that one will be able to fulfill certain tasks by entering into a particular relationship with the hierarchy of the Angels, and that the shape of the world will be altered in certain specific ways, and so on. Try putting together all that you can find in the various lecture cycles about the development of humanity in the future and the positive actions that need to be taken. The difference between having something that is just abstract and dead, and having something that is alive, will be apparent if you compare this with the abstract moral idealism that is otherwise put forward. This aliveness and this awareness that the world is not just purely and simply there is going to be needed: minerals, plants, animals, and human beings are not simply there so that man can dictate the shape of the world by constructing all kinds of ideals which are nothing but abstractions. No, there is a living chain that reaches up through mineral, plant, animal, and human being to the Angels, Archangels, and beyond. And as this living connection is reestablished, the life that needs to flow into the development of humanity begins to flow again. Until people come to a more complete understanding of this fact through spiritual science they will continue to formulate abstract ideals — just thoughts — as though there could be something creative in thoughts that are not the thoughts of the Angels, Archangels, and so on! This ability to stand in a living connection with the sense and goal of the world will develop. The truth will become more moral, because one will feel a moral responsibility toward the truth. And morality will take on more the aspect of a wisdom-filled knowledge because one will know which beings are being served as one carries out this or that task.
The correct understanding of the Christ principle for our times is also contained in what I have just been saying. What has been obtained from the Christ principle up to now has not been enough to stem the manifold tide of decline that has swept, and will sweep, over our times. But, as I have often said before, Christ did not come with the message ‘Here I am. Quickly write down everything you can say about me so that humanity can believe in it until the last days of the Earth!’ That is what is taught by the short-sighted, narrow-minded theology of today. What it very often teaches implies that the Christ said ‘Certain things have I done. Quickly write them down, for that is what is to be taught until the last days of the Earth, and nothing shall be added to it.’
This assertion sits falsely. It is so false that people hesitate to utter it at all. I refer to those who consistently act in accordance with this assumption without ever once stating it. But the assumption on which they act sits falsely, very falsely. For the Christ said ‘I will be with you to the last days of the Earth.’ And this implies that it is always possible to receive Christ's revelation! In the early days of Christianity it was the Gospels that came from this source; today it is spiritual science.
Those who wrote down what could be written down in those days did not say ‘We have written this down, and there is nothing else in addition to what we have written that can be written.’ They said, rather, ‘And there are also many other things which Jesus did, that which, if they should be written down, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.’ As regards understanding the Christ, spiritual science lays bare a nerve that nothing else in our time is able to reveal. It is truly essential in our times to draw attention to the attitude mankind needs to achieve toward its own thoughts and toward the impulses on which it acts. So much is said about this — at any rate, much is written down — but most of it is unfounded, because people want to go in the other direction. They do not want thinking to be a path that must be traversed for a long, long time before one arrives at the goal and obtains something in which one can believe; they want to get the thinking over with as quickly as possible. But we can only arrive at the goal after we have established a relationship with truth. And even when we have arrived at something that is wholly correct — even though we have considered the matter from all sides to obtain a wholly correct manner of expressing it — we should never cease to look at it anew, considering it from yet other sides.
This is the most earnest challenge that spiritual science has to establish in our souls. And this building that is coming into being here is here to make us aware of this task of spiritual science. It shall stand here as a small, vulnerable point of departure from which what has been said can enter the hearts and souls of mankind. For this to happen, it is of course necessary that everything be done that can be done, for at present there is so much opposition.