Friday, March 28, 2014
The Way of Asceticism: Spiritual Disciplines Past and Present; the Threefold Nature of the Human Being
Today I have to add to what I said yesterday concerning old ways to spiritual knowledge yet a further example, namely the way of asceticism as practiced in former ages, asceticism in the widest sense of the word. And here I shall be describing a way that is even less practicable in our own times than the way described yesterday. For in our time, in our civilization, men's thoughts and customs are different from those of the days when men sought high spiritual knowledge by means of asceticism. Hence just as we must replace the way of Yoga today by something more purely spiritual and psychic, so must we replace the way of asceticism by a modern way. But we shall more easily apprehend the modern way into spiritual life if we train our ideas in grasping the way of asceticism.
Asceticism essentially is a matter of certain exercises. These exercises can extend to spiritual and psychic things. I wish, for the moment, to deal with the use made of these exercises for eliminating the human body in a special way, at certain times, from the sum of human experience. It is just by eliminating the body that experience of spiritual worlds is called up. These exercises consisted in training the body by means of pain and suffering, by mortification, until it was capable of enduring pain without causing too much disturbance to the mind; until the ascetic could bear physical suffering without his whole mind and soul being overwhelmed in the suffering. Mortification and enhanced en-durance were pursued because it was a matter of experience that as the physical was repressed, so the spiritual nature emerged, got free and brought about immediate spiritual perception, direct experience.
Now, it is a matter of experience — notwithstanding that these methods are not to be recommended today — it is yet a matter of experience that in whatever measure the physical body is suppressed, in the same measure man is enabled to receive into himself psychic and spiritual being. It is simply a fact that spirit becomes perceptible when the activity of the physical is suppressed.
Let me make my meaning clear by an example: Suppose we observe the human eye. This human eye is there for the purpose of transmitting impressions of light to the human being. What is the sole means whereby the eye can make light perceptible to man? Imaginatively expressed: by wanting nothing for itself. The moment the eye wants something for itself — so to speak — the moment the organic activity, the vital activity, of the eye loses its own vitality (if some opacity or hardening of the lens or eyeball sets in) — namely, as soon as the eye departs from selflessness and becomes self-seeking, in that moment it ceases to be a servant of human nature. The eye must make no claim to be anything for its own sake. This is meant relatively of course, but things must be stated in a somewhat absolute manner when they have to be expressed. Life itself will make it relative. Thus we can say: The eye owes its transparency to light to the fact that it shuts itself off from the being of man, that it is selfless.
When we want to see into the spiritual world — this seeing is meant of course in a spiritual-psychic sense — then we must, as it were, make our whole organism into an eye. We must now make our whole organism transparent — not physically as in the case of the eye, but spiritually. It must no longer be an obstacle to our intercourse with the world.
Certainly I do not mean to say that our physical organism as it stands today would become diseased — as the eye would be diseased — if it claimed life on its own account. For ordinary life our physical organism is quite right as it is, it is quite normal. It has to be opaque. In the lectures that follow we shall see how it is that our organism cannot be an “eye” in ordinary life, how it must be non-transparent. Our normal soul-life can repose in our organism just because it is non-transparent, and because we do not perpetually have the whole spiritual world of the universe about us when we gaze around. Thus, for ordinary life, it is right, it is normal, for our organism to be non-transparent. But one can know nothing of the spiritual world by means of it — just as one can know nothing of light by means of an eye that has cataracts. And when the body is mortified by suffering and pain, and by self-conquests, it becomes transparent. And just as it is possible to perceive the world of light when the eye lets the light show through it, so it is possible for the whole organism to perceive the spiritual world surrounding it when we make the organism transparent in this way.
What I have just described is what took place in ancient times, the times which gave rise to those mighty religious visions which have come down to our age in tradition, not through the independent discovery of modern men; and it is this that led up to that bodily asceticism that I have been attempting to elucidate.
Nowadays we cannot imitate this asceticism. In earlier ages it was an accepted thing that if one sought enlightenment, if one wanted tidings of the supersensible, the spiritual world, one should betake oneself to solitary men, to hermits — to such as had withdrawn from life. It was a universal belief that one could learn nothing from those who lived the ordinary life of the world; but that knowledge of spiritual worlds could only be won in solitude, and that one who sought such knowledge must become different from other men.
It would not be possible to think like this from our modern standpoint. Our tendency is to believe only in a man who can stand firmly on his feet, who can use his hands to help his fellow men, one who counts for something in life, who can work and trade and is at home in the world, That solitude which former ages regarded as the pre-requisite of higher knowledge has now no place in our view of life. If we are to believe in a man today he must be a man of action, one who enters into life, not one who retires from it. Hence it is impossible for us to acquire the state of mind of the ascetic in relation to knowledge, and we cannot learn of spiritual worlds in his way.
Now, this makes it necessary for us today to win to clairvoyance by psychic-spiritual means without damaging our bodies' fitness by ascetic practices. And this we can do. And we can do it because through our centuries-old natural-scientific development we have acquired exact concepts, exact ideas. We can discipline our thinking by means of this natural-scientific development. What I am now describing is not something antagonistic to the intellect. Intellectuality must be at the basis of it all, there must be a foundation of clear thinking. But upon the basis of this intellectuality, of this clear thought, there must be built what can lead into the spiritual world.
Today it is exceptionally easy to fulfill the demand that man shall think clearly. This is no slight on clear thinking. But in an age which comes several centuries after the work of Copernicus and of Galileo, clear thinking is almost a matter of course. — The pity is that it is not yet a matter of course among the majority of people. — But in point of fact it is easy to have clear thought when this clear thought is attained at the expense of the fullness, of the rich content, of thought. Empty thoughts can easily be clear. But the foundation of our whole future development must be clear thoughts which have fullness, clear thoughts rich in content.
Now, what the ascetic attained by mortification and suppression of the physical organism we can attain by taking in hand our own soul's development. By asking ourselves, for instance, at some definite stage of our life “What habits have I got? What characteristics? What faults? What sympathies and antipathies?” And when one has reviewed all this clearly in one's mind, one can try imagining — in the case of some very simple thing to start with — what one would be like if one were to evolve a different kind of sympathy or antipathy, a different content of soul.
These things do not come as a matter of course. It often takes years of inward work to do what otherwise life would do for us. If we look at ourselves honestly for once we shall concede: “What I am today I was not ten years ago.” The inner content of the soul, and the inner formation of the soul also, have become quite different. Now what has brought this about? Life itself. Unconsciously we have given ourselves up to life. We have plunged into the stream of life. And now: can we ourselves do what otherwise life does? Can we look ahead, for example, to what we shall be in ten years' time, and set it before us as an aim, and proceed with iron will to bring it about? If we can compass all life within the confines of our own ego — that vast life which otherwise works on us — if we can thus intensify in the will of our own ego the power which is usually spread abroad like a sea of life — if we can work at our own progress and make something out of ourselves — then we shall achieve inwardly what the ascetic of old achieved by external means. He rendered the body weak so that will and cognition should arise out of the weakened body, and the body should be translucent to the spiritual world. We must make our will strong, and make strong our powers of thought, so that they may be stronger than the body, which goes on its own way; and thus we shall constrain the body to be transparent to the world of spirit. We do the precise opposite of the ascetics of old.
You see, I have treated of these things in my book “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.” And what is there described, which differs completely from the old ascetic way, has been confused by many people with asceticism, has been taken to be the old asceticism in a new form. But anyone who reads it carefully will see that it differs in every respect from the way of asceticism in the past. Now, this new “asceticism” — which does not require that we should withdraw from life and become hermits, but keeps us active in the world — this new way can only be achieved by looking away from the passing moment to Time itself.
One has to consider, for instance, what one will be like in ten years' time. And this means that one has to take into consideration the whole span of a man's life between birth and death. Man is prone to live in the moment. But here the aim is: To learn to live in time, within the whole span of life. Then the world of spirit will become visible to us. We do indeed see a spiritual world around us when our body has thus become transparent.
For instance, everything described in my “Occult Science” rests entirely on knowledge such as this I obtained when the body is as transparent to spirit as the eye is to light.
Now you will say: Yes, but we cannot require every teacher to attain such spiritual cognition before he can become an educator or instructor. But, as I said yesterday in the case of Yoga, let me repeat: This is not in the least necessary. For the body of the child itself is living witness of spiritual worlds, and it is here that our higher knowledge can begin. And thus a teacher with right instinct can grow naturally into a spiritual treatment of the child. But our intellectual age has departed very much from such a spiritual treatment and treats everything rationally. So much so that we have reached the stage of saying: You must so educate as to make everything immediately comprehensible to the child at whatever stage he may be. Now, this lends itself to triviality — no doubt an extremely convenient thing to those engaged in teaching. We get a lot done in a given time when we put as many things as possible before the child in a trivial and rudimentary form, addressed to its comprehension. But a man who thinks like this, on rational grounds, is not concerning himself with the whole course of man's life. He is not concerned with what becomes of the sensation I have aroused in the child when the child has grown into an older man or woman, or attained old age. He is not taking life into consideration; for instance, he is not considering the following: suppose it is evident knowledge to me that it is advisable for a child between the change of teeth and puberty to rely mainly on authority; and that for him to trust to an example he needs to have an example set: In that case I shall tell the child something that he must take on trust, for I am the mediator of the divine, spiritual world to the child. He believes me; and accepts what I say, although he does not yet understand it. So much of what we receive in childhood unconsciously we do not understand. If in childhood we could only accept what we understood we should receive little of value for our later life. And Jean Paul, the German poet and thinker, would never have said that more is learned in the first three years of life than in the three years at the university.
But just consider what it means when, say, in my thirty-fifth year some event or other brings about the feeling: “Something is swimming up into your mind. Long ago you heard this from your teacher. You were only nine or ten years old, maybe, at the time, and you did not understand it at all. Now it comes back. And now, in the light of your own life, it makes sense. You appreciate it.”
A man who in later life can thus fetch from the depths of his memory what he now understands for the first time has within him a wellspring of life. A refreshing stream of power continually flows within him. Such a thing — this swimming up into the soul of what was once accepted on trust and is only now understood — such a thing as this can show us that to educate rightly we must not merely consider the immediate moment, but the whole of life. In all that we teach the child this must be kept in view.
Now, I have just been told that exception was taken to the image used for showing the child how man partakes of immortality. I was not speaking of “eternity,” but of “immortality.” I said “The image of the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis is there to be seen.” This image was only taken to represent the sensation we can have of the soul leaving the physical body.
The image itself refutes this objection; it was expressly used to meet the objection that the emerging of the butterfly is not a right concept of immortality. In the logical sense, naturally, it is not a right concept. But we are considering what kind of concept we are to give the child, what image we are to place before his soul so as to avoid confronting him with logic prematurely. What is thus given in picture form to a child of eight or nine years (for it was of children we were speaking, and not of introducing things in this way to a philosopher) — what is thus given can grow into the right concept of immortality.
Thus it all depends on the what (on what is given) — on having a living grasp of existence. It is this that is so terribly hard for our rationalistic age to grasp. It is surely obvious that the thing we tell the child is different from that into which it is transformed in later years — what would be the sense of calling a child unskilled, immature, “childish” (zappelig) if we were simply speaking of a grown man? An observer of life finds not only younger and more grown-up children, but childish and grown-up ideas and concepts. And to a true teacher or educator it is life we must look to, not adulthood.
It seems to me a good fate that not before 1919 did it fall to me to take on the direction of the Waldorf School — founded that year by Emil Molt in Stuttgart. I had been concerned with education professionally before that time; nevertheless, I should not have felt in a position to master so great an educational enterprise earlier to the extent that we can master it now, with the college of teachers of the Waldorf School — (master it, that is, relatively speaking — to a certain extent). And the reason is this: before that time I should not have dared to form a college of teachers consisting so largely of men and women with a knowledge of human nature — and therefore of child nature — as I was able to do that year. For, as I have already said, all true teaching, all true pedagogy must be based on knowledge of human nature. But before one can do this one must possess the means of penetrating into human nature in the proper way. Now — if I may say so — the first perceptions of this entering into human nature came to me more than 35 years ago.
These were spiritual perceptions of the nature of man. Spiritual, I say, not intellectual. Now, spiritual truths behave in a different manner from intellectual truths. What one perceives intellectually, what one has proved — as it is called — one can also communicate to other men, for the matter is ready when the logic is ready. Spiritual truths are not ready when the logic is ready. It is in the nature of spiritual truths that they must be carried with a man on his way through life, they must be lived with before they can fully develop. Thus I should never have dared to utter to other men certain truths about the nature of man in the form in which they came to me more than 35 years ago. Not until a few years back, in my book “Von Seelen Ratzeln” (Riddles of the Soul), did I venture to speak of these things for the first time. A period of thirty years lay between the first conception and the giving out of these things to the world. Why? Because it is necessary to contemplate such truths at different stages of one's life, they have to accompany one throughout different periods of life. The spiritual truths conceived when one was a young man of 23 or 24 are experienced quite differently when one is 35 or 36, or again at 45 or 46. And as a matter of fact it was not until I had passed my fiftieth year that I ventured to publish these outlines of a Knowledge of Man in a book. And only then could I tell these things to a college of teachers; and give them so the elements of education which every teacher must make his own and use with every single child.
Thus I may say: when my little booklet “The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy” appeared, I was speaking on education there as one who disagrees with much in modern education, who would like to see this or the other treated more fundamentally, and so on. But at the time this little book was written I should not have been able to undertake such a thing as directing the Waldorf School. For it was essential for such a task to have a college of teachers with a knowledge of man originating in a spiritual world. This knowledge of man is exceedingly hard to come by today; in comparison it is easy for us to study natural science. It is comparatively easy to come to see what the final member of organic evolution is. We begin with the simplest organism and see how it has evolved up to man. And man stands at the summit of evolution, the final member of organic development. But we know man only as the end product of organic development. We do not see into man himself. We do not look into his very being. Natural science has attained great perfection and we have every admiration for it and intend no disparagement — but when we have mastered this natural science we only know man as the highest animal, we do not know what man is in his essential nature. Yet our life is dominated by this same natural science. Now, in order to educate we need a human science — and a practical human science, at that — a human science that applies to every individual child. And for this we need a general human science.
Today I will only indicate a few of the principles which became apparent to me more than thirty years ago, and which have been made the basis for the actual training of the staff of the Waldorf School. Now, it must be borne in mind that in dealing with children of elementary school age (7-14) we have to do with the life of the soul in these children. In the next few days I shall have to speak also of quite little children. But, much though it grieves me, we have as yet no nursery school preliminary to the Waldorf School because we have not the money for it, and so we can only take children of 6 and 7 years old. But naturally the ideal thing is for children to receive education as early as possible.
When we receive them into the primary school, the elementary school, it is their souls that concern us — that is to say, their essentially physical education has been accomplished — or has failed of accomplishment — according to the lights of parents and educators. Thus we can say: The most essential part of physical education (which will, of course, be continuous, as we shall see when I describe the particular phases of education), the most essential part belongs to the period ending with the change of teeth. From that time on it is the soul of the child we have to deal with, and we must conduct the development of his soul in a way that strengthens physical development.
And when the child has passed the age of puberty he enters upon the age in which we must no longer speak of him as a child — the age in which young ladies and gentlemen come into full possession of their own minds, their own spirits. Thus man progresses from what is of the body, by way of the soul, into the spiritual. But, as we shall see, we cannot teach what is of the spirit. It has to be freely absorbed from the world. Man can only learn of spiritual things from life.
Where we have children of primary school age we have to deal with the child's soul. Now, soul manifests, roughly speaking, through thinking, feeling, and willing. And if one can thoroughly understand the play of thinking, feeling, and will — the soul's life — within man's whole nature, one has the basis for the whole of education.
To be sure, the multiplication table is not the whole of mathematics, but we must learn the multiplication table before we can advance as far as differential and integral calculus. In education the matter is somewhat different; it is not a wonderfully advanced science that I am now about to set forth, but the elements, the fundamentals. The advanced science here, however, cannot be built up as the differential and integral calculus is built up on elementary mathematics — it must be founded on the practical use made of these elementary principles by the teachers and educators.
Now, when people speak of the nature of the human soul today, in this materialistic age — if they allow the existence of the soul at all (and one even hears of a psychology, a science of the soul, devoid of soul) — but if they allow the existence of the soul, they commonly say: The soul, now, is a thing experienced inwardly, psychically, and it is connected somehow — I will not enter into the philosophical aspect — with the body. Indeed, if one surveys the field of our exceptionally intelligent psychology one finds the life of the soul — thought, feeling, and will — related, for the most part, to the human nervous system in the broadest sense of the word. It is the nervous system which brings the soul to physical manifestation — which is the bodily foundation of the soul's life.
It is this that I realized 35 years ago to be wrong. For the only part of our soul life as adult human beings (and I expressly emphasize this, since we cannot consider the child until we understand the man), the only part of our soul life bound up with the nervous system is our thinking, our power of ideation. The nervous system is only connected with ideation.
Feeling is not directly bound up with the nervous system, but with what may be called the rhythmic system in the human being: it is bound up with rhythm: the rhythm of breathing, the rhythm of blood circulation, in their marvellous relationship to one another. The ratio is only approximate, since it naturally varies with every individual, but practically speaking every adult human being has four times as many pulse beats as he has breaths. It is this inner interplay and relationship of pulse rhythm and breath rhythm, and its connection in turn with the more extended rhythmic life of the human being, that constitutes the rhythmic nature of man — a second nature over against the head or nerve nature. The rhythmic system includes the rhythm we experience when we sleep and awaken. This is a rhythm which we often turn into non-rhythm nowadays — but it is a rhythm. And there are many other such rhythms in human life. Human life is not merely built up on the life of nerves, on the nervous system, it is also founded in this rhythmic life. And just as thinking and the power of thought is bound up with the nervous system, so the power of feeling is connected immediately with the rhythmic system.
It is not the case that feeling finds its direct expression in the nervous life; feeling finds its direct expression in the rhythmic system. Only when we begin to conceive of our rhythmic system, when we make concepts of our feelings, we then perceive our feelings as ideas by means of the nerves, just as we perceive light or color outwardly. Thus the connection of feeling with the nerve life is an indirect one. Its direct connection is with the rhythmic life. And one simply cannot understand man unless one knows how man breathes, how breathing is related to blood-circulation, how this whole rhythm is apparent, for instance, in a child's quick flushing or paling; one must know all that is connected with the rhythmic life. And on the other hand one must know what processes accompany children's passions, children's feelings and the loves and affections of children. If one does not know what lives immediately in the rhythmic life, and how this is merely projected into the nerve life, to become idea (concept), one does not understand man. One does not understand man if one says “The soul's nature is dependent on the nerve-nature” — for of the soul's nature it is only the life of thought, thinking, that is dependent on the nerves.
What I say here I say from out of direct observation such as can be made by spiritual perception. There are no proofs of the validity of this spiritual observation, as there are proofs for the findings of intellectualistic thinking. But everyone who can entertain these views without prejudice can prove them retrospectively by normal human understanding, and, moreover, by what external science has to say on these matters.
I may add to what I have already said that a great part of the work I had to do 35 years ago, when I was engaged in verifying the original conception of this membering of man's nature which I am now expounding, was to find out from all domains of physiology, biology, and other natural sciences whether these things could be verified externally. I would not expound these things today if I had not got this support. And it can be stated in general with certainty that much of what I am saying today can also be demonstrated scientifically by modern means.
Now, in the third place, over against thinking and feeling, we have willing — the life of will. And willing does not depend directly on the nervous system, willing is directly connected with human metabolism and with human movement. — Metabolism is very intimately connected with movement. You can regard all the metabolism which goes on in man, apart from movement proper, as his limb system. The ‘movement system’ and ‘metabolic system’ I hold to be the third member of the human organism. And with this the will is immediately bound up. Every will impulse in man is accompanied by a particular form of the metabolic process, which has a different mode of operation from that of the nerve processes which accompany the activity of thinking. Naturally a man must have a healthy metabolism if he wants to think soundly. But thinking is bound up directly with an activity in the nervous system quite other than the metabolic activity; whereas man's willing is immediately bound up with his metabolism. And it is this dependence of the will on the metabolism that one must recognize.
Now, when we conceive ideas about our own willing, when we think about the will, then the metabolic activity is projected into the nervous system. It is only mediately, indirectly, that the will works in the nervous system. What transpires in the nervous system in connection with the will is the faculty of apprehending our own will activity.
Thus, when we can penetrate the human being with our vision we discover the relationships between the psychic and the physical nature of man. The ACTIVITY OF THOUGHT in the soul manifests physically as NERVOUS ACTIVITY; the FEELING NATURE in the soul manifests physically as the rhythm of the BREATHING SYSTEM and the BLOOD SYSTEM, and this it does directly, not indirectly by the way of the nervous system, not through the nervous system. THE ACTIVITY OF WILL manifests in man's physical nature as a fine METABOLISM. It is essential to know the fine metabolic processes which accompany the exercise of the activity of the will, a form of combustion process in the human being.
Once one has acquired these concepts, of which I can here only indicate to you the general outline — they will become clear in the next few days in all their detail, when I show their application — once you have these elementary principles, then your eyes will be opened also to everything which confronts you in child-nature. For things are not as yet in the same state in child nature. For instance the child is entirely Sense Organ, namely, entirely Head; as I have already explained, the child is entirely SENSE ORGAN. (Note by Translator: i.e. a baby, or child under 7.)
It is of particular interest to see by means of a scientific spiritual observation how a child tastes in a different manner from an adult. An adult, who has brought taste into the sphere of consciousness, tastes with his tongue and decides what the taste is. A child — that is to say, a baby in its earliest weeks — tastes with its whole body. The organ of taste is diffused throughout the organism. It tastes with its stomach, and it continues to taste when the nourishing juices have been taken up by the lymph vessels and transmitted to the whole organism. The child at its mother's breast is wholly permeated by taste. And here we can see how the child is — as it were — illuminated and transfused with taste, with something of a soul nature, (Note by Translator: i.e. the sensation of taste.) which later we do not have in our whole body, which later we have only in our head.
And thus we learn how to watch a tiny child, and how to watch an older child, knowing that one child will blush easily for one thing or another and another child will easily turn pale for this or that cause; one child is quick to get excited, or quick to move his limbs; one child has a firm tread; another will trip lightly, etc. Once we have these principles and can recognize the seat in the metabolic system of what comes to psychic expression as will, or in the rhythmic system of what comes to psychic expression as feeling, or in the nervous system of what manifests in the soul as thought, then we shall know how to observe a child, for we shall know whither to direct our gaze.
You all know that there are people who investigate certain things under the microscope. They see wonderful things under the microscope; but there are also people who have not learned how to look through a microscope; they look into it and no matter how they manipulate it they see nothing. First one must learn to see by learning how to manipulate the instrument through which one sees. When one has learned how to look through a microscope one will be able to see what is requisite. One sees nothing of man until one has learned to fix the gaze of one's soul, of one's spirit, upon what corresponds to thinking, to feeling, and to willing. The aim was to develop in the staff of the Waldorf School a right orientation of vision. For the teachers must first of all know what goes on in the children, then they achieve the right state of mind — and only from a right attitude of mind can right education come.
It was necessary at the outset to give some account of the threefold organization of man so that the details of the actual educational measures and educational methods might be more readily comprehensible to you.