Tuesday, May 9, 2017
The eternal and the transient
The Living Gifts of Anthroposophy. Lecture 4 of 7.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, April 9, 1918:
In the course of these lectures I have of late often drawn your attention to the fact that occult truths, though coming from other sources, were always known to a few individuals through all periods of mankind's evolution; but that these persons always took great care that those who had been initiated into occult Mysteries should communicate nothing to those outside who were not initiated. Now we know that such things are still transmitted even when, in the further evolution of ordinary human life, they have lost their significance, and even their justification. Thus, certain truths are even today still strictly guarded by those who know them. We know, however, that certain things simply must be referred to today, they must not remain in secrecy any longer; but like other scientific truths, they too as spiritually scientific truths, must be made accessible to mankind in general.
Now this can only happen with respect to certain elementary things, but as regards these it must happen. Among the things of which we have spoken for a long time, much can certainly be reckoned as belonging to such truths, to such knowledge, as was guarded carefully in many quarters. Nevertheless an endeavor must be made to continue, in the spirit of these lectures, to encounter much which pertains to that which is guarded. Those who today hear these truths simply announced, should recognize in the truths themselves that they should be regarded with a certain great earnestness and reverence. For one of the reasons which make the Initiates afraid to communicate them is the fear of the want of reverence towards these truths in the man of today. Certainly we cannot pay much respect to what the materialistic sense of today regards as truth, nor are those things very much profaned by our not paying respect to them, at least not apparently. But certain things must be treated tenderly and reverentially if they are to be incorporated in the proper manner into the spiritual life of mankind.
To these belongs above all the knowledge about man himself; knowledge which at first seems simple when it approaches our soul, but which is of immensely important productiveness and range. These very considerations which have occupied us of late, and with all more or less culminate in bringing us near to the secret concerned with the connection between life in the physical body and the life between death and rebirth, just these very truths may lead man's observation very, very far, and serve to form a connection with much of a like nature which is intimately connected with the knowledge of man. We will now first of all direct our spiritual sight to these things of which we have already spoken from other points of view; we will today observe such things, but in one direction only, so as to keep to the point of view described in these lectures.
Natural science of modern times has, as we know, brought man very close to the animal. But we have already declared that what really differentiates men from the animal in the real sense of the word, is not taken into consideration at all by this modern natural science. It draws our attention, for instance, to the forms of the bones in man and in the higher animals and finds a great resemblance between them: it finds a great resemblance in construction, in morphology in general. So far it is certainly right, but it makes no reference to the most important thing. This which I have already pointed out once this winter, and indeed in a public lecture, at first presents itself from such a point of view that one can say: “He who with the necessary reverence and depth so approaches the observation of human life as to allow himself to be influenced by the great and important contrast between a man living physically here on the Earth and a human corpse, has set up a mystery before his soul in the impression of the contrast between the living man and a corpse.” What cannot then fail to strike him first of all is that the corpse is claimed by the forces of external Earth-nature, to which it was not subject in the time between conception or birth up to death, and from which it was immune by virtue of the fact that the living soul-element was connected with this combination of substances which confronts us in the corpse. Let us follow in thought what becomes of a corpse, whether disintegrated quickly by cremation or more slowly through decomposition (the two processes are exactly the same and only differ in rapidity). The substances combined materially in man will be dissolved in a more or less short space of time into the collective substance of our Earth; they pass over into it. Man can in fact follow with his ordinary senses and indeed with his ordinary thoughts all that becomes of the component parts of a corpse.
In this respect the spiritually-scientific investigator can go further. He can discover that what is present in the corpse immediately after death gradually passes over into an enormous realm of substance; this process is of course spread over centuries, but it passes into a great enormous realm of substance and dissolves, as it were, into the totality of our visible, outwardly perceptive world.
Now it is interesting to follow up the connection which exists between our Ego-consciousness here in physical life and this disintegrating corpse. Curiously enough the disintegrating corpse and the Ego-consciousness are connected in a certain respect. I say the Ego-consciousness: not of course the real, true Ego, for that passes of course through the portal of death and continues its life between death and rebirth. But what here in physical life floats before man is a picture of the Ego — for he has no consciousness of the Ego, only a picture of it in his consciousness — that is bound to the corpse, and indeed to that combination of substances which is dissolved into the Universe after death. The dissolution of the corpse into the Universe is nothing but the external picture of the collective Ego-consciousness; for in truth our Ego-consciousness belongs to the Universe into which our corpse is dissolved. The reason that between birth and death we maintain the opinion — a strange one for the occultist but a comprehensible and obvious one for ordinary man — that we are here, confined within the boundaries of our skin, is only because the substances in our body are held together between birth and death. It is also because of this cohesion that we believe ourselves to be in this content of space which we fill out with our flesh and blood. This is really absurd, we are not there at all. We are really everywhere; and between sleeping and waking we even try to be where the particles of matter and our body will be after death. Only between our birth and death does this Maya-consciousness come to us, of being within that content of space which is limited by our skin. But that is a Maya-consciousness which is produced in us. And death among many other things also disproves this Maya-consciousness concerning the physical material world. It leads the particles of our corpse where in reality our Ego-consciousness always dwells. This is already a very far-reaching concept.
But now you may ask: What is it then that when we are dead really carries our Ego-consciousness and its external image, the particles of substance of our body, out into the wide world? What forces are these?
There are three of these forces, which we can demonstrate somewhat in the following manner. One of these forces manifest during life in that in the very earliest time of our life we “crawl on all fours” and then we lift ourselves upright. While we are transforming ourselves from the crawling child to the man who walks upright, we are following a certain line of force, within which we place ourselves, and with which we identify ourselves. This line of force, from a spiritually-scientific point of view, is very clearly visible in man. From below runs a line which goes from the center of the Earth into the Universe. In olden times this was described simply by saying that a line goes from the center of the Earth into the Universe, which line differs for each human being, and differs indeed in each epoch, but always goes from the middle of the Earth into the Universe. That is one of the important lines of force in man. The way it works in our physical life only continues as long as this life, for the physical force of gravity of our body equalizes this force. The moment this physical force of gravity no longer works as it does in the living body, the moment the living body becomes a corpse, this line of force from the center of the Earth to the Universe discloses itself as that which chiefly pushes and caries our particles of matter. Of course they are always driven on further by their own weight; but if we were to follow up what becomes of them through a long period of time, we should find that they disburse in the direction of this force, even if this takes centuries to achieve.
The second force which here comes into consideration is one which chiefly comes to expression in human speech. We talk, or least we can talk. There is always a certain impulse in articulate speech. A certain centrifugal force lies in the air we breathe out when we speak. The spiritually-scientific investigator sees this force as slung round the first line. It has essentially a spiral form, twining around the vertical force. This force alters somewhat the pure force of repulsion; it brings it into play. Not only is this active, the third force must also be reckoned with, which proceeds from the following. Whereas speech develops a certain centrifugal force in an outward direction, thought, through which man is distinguished from the animal, works against this force which comes to expression and speech. This constitutes the third force. If we wished to draw at, we might do so in the following manner (see diagram). Through these three forces: the vertical force, the force working in speech and the force working in thought — the particles of a human corpse are slowly and gradually carried out in the Universe.
Here I must refer to something which in our dry, barren, soulless Age is really not treated with necessary reverence, although it is always and everywhere before us. It is something which really works in the physical world as the most mysterious thing of all, which is present in everyone in the physical world, although it's mysterious character is not realized. I refer to the colour of human flesh, as it reveals itself externally in man. You have only to think of the abundant variety expressed in each man we see in the flesh; how these questions differ essentially and every person, in fact we see as many different tints as there are people. He who busied himself with solving the secrets of the flesh-tints, as has already been attempted, will acquire a feeling for what is expressed in the colour of the flesh, in the tints of human skin. Something very mysterious expresses itself in the colour of the complexion. To one who approaches this from a spiritually-scientific point of view, the question: “What is really the meaning of this flesh-colour?” is of very great significance. For this peculiar colouring of the skin depends on two opposing forces; we might say on two counteracting forces of pressure which are active in man and which work against one another in the form. Indeed in a certain sense the Etheric or Formative-forces Body Works with an outward pressure, the Astral body works in opposition with an inward pressure; and this opposition goes on at all points. If the Astral body wishes to contract, to press from without inwards, the Etheric or Formative-forces Body wishes to press from within outwards, to expand; and as a result of these two forces of pressure from without and within, meeting in the human surface, plays a part in what is revealed in the colour of man's flesh-tints. What the etheric and astral bodies have to say to each other is expressed in a mysterious manner in the colour of the skin.
When we look at man, as he is here on the physical plane, we see the colour of his complexion. But this colour would appear differently if one could behold it as seen from within. Seen from within you, an average Central European, would not have a flesh-colored, pinkish color, but greenish blue. This greeny-blue colour shows itself in its after-effects after death. When the body of Formative-forces or etheric body expands in the sense of the three forces already characterized, and the dead man looks upon this image, he sees his flesh-colour as, in a sense, representing the after-effects coming from the other side. He sees it glimmering a greenish blue after death. Besides this there is something in a man's colouring which is essentially different from that which we see when we look at it in physical life from outside. Strictly speaking, this mysterious flesh-coloured is not only individually different in every different person, but it also alters in one and the same being in the course of his life, though only in minute shades of colour. Not only in certain diseased conditions do we sometimes look blooming and sometimes pallid, for those conditions are of course abnormal, but apart from these greater alterations the colour of the skin is continually changing. If this is seen “from the other side,” as the dead man sees it, something else is to be observed besides. It then discloses our entire memory-world, as though painted on tapestry. Thus, speaking pictorially, we must picture this flesh-colored tapestry as a dress, as a very fine garment, but now turned inside out as one turns a dress or a glove. We should then see from the other side what is otherwise turned inwards; of which, because it is turned inwards, we can only become conscious when it comes into the consciousness as memory; not as the content of thought, but as thoughts differing in their aura, vibrating thoughts. We learn to know only the outer life of what we drive down into our subconscious; we here do not learn to know how it glimmers through our skin, but the dead man learns to know this because of the after-effects of the colouring, after death. What a dead man looks back upon the dissolution of the etheric body, he retains it as “memory” behind him; he knows that is himself — “That is I, myself.” The investigations of Spiritual Science show that what in natural sciences is taken less into consideration — the great distinctions between man in the animal, viz., the vertical position, the power of speech; articulated language; the power of thought — these are the forces which after death carry man into the Universe, and the colouring of man's flesh is the physical expression on Earth for what works on after death as a residue of memory. Thus we distribute ourselves into the Universe after death and bear the outer signs of our Cosmic identity in what we show that our physical body here on Earth. Hence the feeling, which we connect with something so mysterious as the flesh-tints, that by reason of such a wonderful thing as the colour of his complexion more than through anything else, man must be a microcosm in relation to the macrocosm; we feel the universal significance of what thus confronts us in man. The basic colouring of a man is of great significance, for that is to some extent the colour of the tapestry upon which his memory appears after death; greenish, greenish-blue for the white races; violet-reddish for the Japanese; and just flesh-coloured for the black races.
These are things intimately and significantly connected with life between death and rebirth, for they prepare the new incarnation. An enormous amount lies in these things. In them lies the determining factor which leads a man to a certain race and so on in his next incarnation. The observation of the spiritual life does not only mean the satisfaction of our curiosity or of an inquisitive desire for knowledge; for life, as lived in the physical world, with all the things which make mysterious impressions on our mind, can only be correctly explained when we observe it in connection with the spiritual one.
Now you can imagine from the things which I have explained from a more or less elementary standpoint and which can be developed further, that an intimate introspection into human nature and its evolution is certainly connected with such a development. People of the present day are specially apt to shrink back from this introspection into human nature and its development. They do not desire it. On the another hand, just such persons as those to whom I have today and at other times called your attention, keep guard over certain occult truths, would like to gain power by having an exclusive possession of such things. This is of extraordinary importance. For there are men, though it may be difficult to believe this today, who in a certain sense, take part in the realisation of the world-plan by trying to understand from their occult sanctuaries, how the evolution of the world can best be realised, and how best to work powerfully upon mankind during the next 30, 40, 50 or 100 years! Nations, which have men among them who thus investigate the process of man's evolution and direct the political life in this sense, are of course in this respect in advance of others which do not enter into such things. These things play a great part in the life of mankind. We live today in an age when it will be necessary for man to pay attention to the fact that such things exist. I only wish to draw your attention to one thing in this direction today.
However calamitous the present events may be, however much, from a purely external, superficial point of view they surpass everything of a like nature since the historical life of mankind has been recorded, they are nevertheless part of a great comprehensive happening, a happening which can only be properly grasped by one who observes it with the necessary reverence and earnestness. Such a thing must be looked in the face. In certain abodes of our earthly humanity a great deal is known about the evolution of humanity. But that part of knowledge which could deliver power into the hands of those who know is very carefully guarded. I do not know to what extent you will believe this; but the things to which I refer are said in a way which leaves each one free to accept as much as he holds worthy of belief. The English-speaking population of today is striving after universal world-domination from certain impulses which we may perhaps go into more particularly at some other time. This is not said from many chauvinistic Central-European feeling, but is the result of quite objective occult investigations, and it would least of all be denied by those members of the Anglo-American population who are in the know. It might be disavowed perhaps, but not denied; but the wise ones wish it on no account to be known to the people. These men are also aware of the following, I shall make apparent to you by probing a little deeper.
In the course of human evolution, as we passed from the third and fourth into the materialism of the fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, many things which formally expressed truths were counted of no value, are really depreciated. If you search the old traditions you find everywhere the profoundest truths clothed in picture-form. Today men tolerate myths, pictures and images as “poetic license.” They tolerate it in Strindberg, for example, because he apparently wishes to give out poetry. But then modestly say that one need not believe it — and we are not supposed to see anything therein expressing the real truth of things. Mythical, pictorial expression is depreciated. Men do not feel that there is anything concealed behind the Imagination. This process will in the course of the Fifth Post-Atlanta epoch of culture extend as far as language, especially among the English-speaking population. Not only are “pictures” counted of no value as a means of expression, but the “word” as such is also depreciated. As today the materialistic consciousness disputes the picture, so in the future it will dispute the word. It will be said: the word is not of itself adapted to express anything at all. Fritz Mauthner has already tried in his “Criticism and Language” to impute to language all the superstitions which exists among mankind. Perhaps he may not have “an appropriate instrument” to work with; but his critical side is an appropriate tool, for he has to work with “unsuitable material”: the German language. There he deceives himself. The English-speaking occultists however have a suitable material in the English language. Its evolutionary impulse is to depreciate the full sense and content of the word then graduate to accept merely its degenerate meaning. Consider how much vagueness of meaning there is in the English language today and how much is merely scamped. Anyone studying English philosophy must notice that the language no longer yields a richness of words, full of content. Study, for example, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and others; their language gives forth nothing by means of which one can get into the spirit. We can see how big a part language plays when the problem of language is taken up by English-speaking occultists, for this lies in the impulse of the times. Therefore with them it is a question of thinking out means and ways from occult sources to exercise world-dominion without the help of language. That is the great contrast between East and West: the East with its uncommonly living intensity of language — the West with its throwing aside of the inner meaning of language. Here again the Central-European is placed between the two extremes. What takes place there has its symbol in something which is today proclaimed as loudly as possible, but is as untruthful as possible; it is done to cover up the reality, which is to gain the mastery over a realm in which language is losing its power in the process of its own development. This again is not set from any chauvinistic feeling but as the result of the most objective discovery in Spiritual Science.
That is something of which the great incisive catastrophic events of the present time are special features; it must bring about a great world-embracing struggle which must come to expression among mankind on earth in many different forms in the near future. In this respect we cannot think that things will be the same as in other wars; there have also been wars in former times, and peace made, and all went on as before. But this is something we must regard as perpetual. For we can only get reliable ideas concerning the incisive events of the present if we take such things into account. We must make up our minds today no longer to think superficially about certain relationships, but to go into their depths, otherwise there will be no important result from what we try to undertake. It will however be very difficult for the present time to become accustomed to what must flow out in this respect from spiritually-scientific observation. Just recently a mere detail showed me this, in a very ridiculous way; and just because it had a specially timely origin it was the more absurd. I have been recently busy with bringing out a new edition of the “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity;” I was at the time about 32 or 33 years old, so it is really a very long time ago! Such an interval brings many things to the service of the soul. Now in regard to this book I had at that time a great satisfaction, as I set forth in the magazine “Das Reich.” I corresponded much then with Eduard von Hartmann, author of “Philosophy of the Subconscious,” and when he received my “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” he wrote in his copy some remarks which he then placed at my disposal. I took down his remarks at the time and still have them today. You see, a really amiable motive which aroused my gratitude underlies what I now have to relate.
In the “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” I began by representing spiritual reality in the form of thought which grasps itself, because one can only attain to an understanding of the spiritual by really learning and really experiencing what first approaches man as the spiritual: the thought which understands itself and is dependent upon itself. But in coming to this result, I was obliged to speak about many things in sentences different from those used by persons speaking from different points of view. Thus on one page I had for instance the sentence: “The idea is an individualized concept, the concept is experienced in the spirit by means of intuition. The idea is an individualized concept and is brought into relation with the object outside through the Ego.” Among the senses through which Eduard von Hartmann drew his pencil at that time was this one, and he had the remark: “This is an unusual form of speech.” You see this was a very amiable objection, but very characteristic; for if we may compare the great with the small, we might cite the following: One Copernicus expressed the thought that the sun does not revolve around the Earth but the Earth around the sun, if someone had written on the margin: “This is an unusual form of speech,” how strange that would have appeared! Of course a form of speech to which one is not accustomed must appear when something new makes its first appearance. But you see how, from a quarter in which one might expect absolute understanding, one is greeted with the words: “That is an unusual form of speech!” If men had never decided to have unusual forms of speech there would be no progress at all, and this not only in the spiritual domain. This is an example, which clearly shows how such things are to be met with. You will find in all directions what the aversion exists towards the use of the language which Spiritual Science employs. The form in which the old world philosophies are presented today is like a worn-out press, it could not even be any longer used by the old-world philosophers themselves; it is so worn out that even the “Old Clothes Shop” would no longer accept the dress! But when it appears as a “world conception” which lives in the inner soul, people do not notice it! One must acquire a feeling for this, but that is part of what men of the present they need in order to understand the times; and the times must be understood.
This is what must ever again be taken to heart, otherwise the individual initiates and those keeping guard over their knowledge for the service of humanity will very easily gain the upper hand. Care must be taken that a certain knowledge is not placed at the service of one part of mankind, but at the service of mankind as a whole. As soon as man does not permeate the best knowledge with this sentiment it will become harmful to mankind.