Man in the Light of Occultism, Theosophy and Philosophy.
Lecture 5 of 10
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, June 7, 1912:
My Dear Friends,
Yesterday we made a general survey of some of the various forms of mysticism. We saw how the mystic, and especially the mystic of modern Christian times, is one who sets out to tread the occult path and undertakes in the first place, in preparation for the same, to overcome and transcend his personal everyday ego-consciousness.
We had to show also, from examples we brought forward, how it is possible for such a mystic to miss the road. Having done his best to extinguish ordinary consciousness, then in the moment when a supersensible experience ought to emerge in its place, it may well be that he enters into a region which excludes the possibility of all experience whatsoever. We saw how this has actually happened in the case of eminent mystics. We found that one very distinguished mystic spoke of the goal she had in view as a “marriage” and a “union.” At the same time we had to describe this marriage or union as inevitably involving a loss of self. The mystic is estranged from himself, he no longer possesses himself, but passes over — as it were in a kind of higher sleep — into a completely different element.
Herein lies the cause of why mysticism, generally speaking, although it can be a path to occultism, does not attain to the consciousness that is without an object. For the moment the mystic leaves the objects of this world, he loses also consciousness itself, and another state intervenes, a kind of intoxication; he loses himself and so cannot attain to what we named as the third element of occult experience: that higher consciousness which possesses not one of all the objects consciousness ordinarily possesses, and yet still is a consciousness.
I want now today to show you how the occultist on the other hand contrives to make, as it were, the leap out of ordinary consciousness and yet not lose himself but still retain something within which he himself can live. Let us first ask ourselves the question: How is it that the mystic loses himself? The answer is to be found in the fact that in the case of the majority of mystics, the most thorough investigation can discover no inner compelling reason why they should go out of themselves. No such inner need is present.
It would be quite easy, in the case of the mystics of whom we spoke yesterday, to point to external grounds that induced them to overstep the bounds of their own personality. In Saint Francis of Assisi, for instance, there is evidence of inherited clairvoyant, visionary states; and in the case of the various women mystics we cited, it was the personality — I say expressly, the personality — of Jesus Himself, Whom they regarded as a Bridegroom. Had it not been for the Christian tradition that worked upon them as a stimulus from without, they would never have arrived at their mystical state. In the case of all the mystics whom we studied yesterday, there was this external stimulus, but there was no inward compelling cause that moved them to overstep the bounds of self. Such an inward compelling cause is present in the case of the true aspirant after occultism. We may picture it to ourselves in the following way.
Imagine that someone sets out to meditate upon his ego, that strange and mysterious member of man's nature, the very center of his consciousness. He will note in the first place how it is the ego that holds his life together on the Earth. If you study your life, you will quickly discover that your external substantial body has very little to do with your continued existence on this Earth. Natural science can tell you that the substance of the body is completely renewed in the course of seven or eight years; so that there will certainly not be many of you who can claim to have today anything at all of the bodily substance you had as children: all of you will have to admit that your body has changed its substance completely and fundamentally in the course of your life. It has, indeed, become an entirely new body. The permanent element in your life is therefore most certainly not to be found in the substance of the body. And if you now turn from the external substance of the body and cast your eye over your inner life of soul, over your thinking, feeling, and willing, there too you cannot fail to notice how much change has come about. Look back over the years of your life and try to recall the thoughts — still more, the feelings and will impulses — that held sway in you when you were young. You have only to compare them with those of a later time of life to see at once what fundamental changes go on in your inner life of soul. It would not, however, occur to anyone in his senses to speak of himself as being a different ego from what he was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, or as many years ago as he can remember. The moment a man did have to admit to himself that, let us say, from three or four years of age up to seventeen he was one ego, but that since he was seventeen years of age he had been another ego — in that moment his being would be torn asunder; he would be, as we say, no longer in his right mind. Our ego, which is the center point of our consciousness, must be assumed to be something that is permanent throughout the course of earthly life. And yet, if we stop to think it over, we soon discover that even this assumption concerning the ego is not after all quite correct. When you speak to your fellowman of yourself, you say “I”; and you mean by “I” that which has held your consciousness together during the course of your earthly life. This is the fundamental feeling men have about the I or ego, and it has led a number of philosophers to regard the I as something which can be taken as a starting-point for any statement about the nature of the human being. In all modern philosophy we find again and again this inclination to take the ego as the starting-point. From Fichte to Bergson — to go no further back in time — you will find that philosophy is continually given this orientation. Remarkable and significant results have come to light from such considerations. Nevertheless, when one comes to reflect more deeply, quite another thought suddenly thrusts itself forward. It is this: We are constantly speaking of our ego and we are persuaded that this ego is something that persists and is permanent for the whole of earthly life; but do we really know this ego? Could we give any description or definition of it? Careful reflection will show us that the ego is not after all so permanent as we thought. Life itself contradicts the philosophers who speak of an enduring ego and think they can have knowledge of it. Every night when man goes to sleep, the “permanent” ego is disproved. For when man is asleep it is extinguished. So that when we speak of our ego in this way, we are in error. We contemplate our life, forgetting that we are omitting entirely what happens to our ego during sleep! This ego, of which we know that it belongs to us — in the night we know nothing of it at all. Therefore, when we think of our ego, we have to make the picture not of a continuous, but of an interrupted line.
How can such a thing be? How can it be that ego-consciousness is continually being broken? The explanation is that when we speak of the ego we mean really no more than the thought or idea of the ego. And since all ideas sink down in sleep into the darkness of unconsciousness, so does also the thought of the ego. The very fact that it sinks away with all our world of ideas should demonstrate to us that in the ego as we conceive it we have merely a picture or image of that of which we mean to speak when we say “I.”
We shall not, therefore, be able to find in the ego the occult starting-point for which we are looking. For the ego is only there for us, to begin with, as a picture. It is, however, a picture of a unique kind, the study of which can bring us to a very interesting result. For how in any case do pictures and ideas come into the soul? Through the fact that man has around him objects. If you examine carefully the ideas with which your consciousness is filled, you will find they are aroused by external objects; they are all — originally — pictures of external objects. Herein lies the source of our life of ideation: we owe it to the stimulation of external objects. If the objects were not there, we should never have ideas of them. With the idea of the I, however, it is different. In this respect the picture we have of the I is unique. In the world outside, look where you will, you can find no object to arouse it. This it is that distinguishes the idea of the I from all other ideas. We can point to no object that is the origin of it. Whatever it is that lives in the idea of the I and clothes itself in the words “I am,” we cannot find it anywhere in the whole wide compass of external life.
We are obliged, therefore, to admit that behind the idea of the I lies something totally unknown, something that is nowhere to be found in the external world in so far as this is open to man's perception. A strange and a marvelous thing, this I of ours! If we could lay hold of it inside us, as Bergson and others think we can, if it were possible to grasp more of it than the mere picture or idea, then we would be able to say that we had — not perhaps very much, but something of an earthly reality that is not given from without. But we cannot catch it, we cannot reach it!
There is, however, one thing we can know of this ego, one thing that can serve as a fulcrum, like the fulcrum Archimedes called for long ago, that he might unhinge the Earth. One thing we can discover when we focus our attention upon the I. Among all the multitude of questions and riddles that present themselves to us when we turn our thought to the outer world, there is one particular question that calls loudly for an answer, and it is the question which every aspirant after occultism must face if he would make the leap out of consciousness. He must ask himself: “In all the wide realm of earthly experience, do you see nothing at all of which you can say that it brings to expression the innermost part of your own being? Do you find nowhere anything in which your ego is expressed?”
To search for such an expression in our inner life will only lead to disappointment. There we simply enter into our transitory and fleeting ideas, and we can never be sure of finding anything to lead us beyond this world of temporal ideas. In any case we can never hope to get free of our personality — the very thing we must do as occultists — so long as we are gazing perpetually into it! In the external world outside us, on the other hand, there are only the experiences of man on Earth. Any expression of what corresponds to the I in man must needs be an external expression. The I itself we cannot reach; but when we look around us, we do find something that is an expression — and for the moment, the one and only expression — for our I. It is the human form or figure.
We have here reached a difficult point in our consideration, but we must find the way to master it. In the first place let me ask you to understand the term “human form” as indicating the form of man as we meet with it in the external world. You will, I think, not have any difficulty in following me when I say that as a plant is in its outward form the expression of its nature and being, as a crystal is formed in such a way as to correspond with its inner being, and as an animal too has a form that corresponds with its inner being, so must the human form correspond with the nature and being of man. And since from out the whole range of our earthly experiences we gather together our being in our I, the human form must needs be an expression of the human I. In other words, in all the vast realm of our experience there is this one thing — the human form or figure — which is an expression of the human being. It sounds a trivial thing to say, but it is in reality one of the most important utterances that can be made, and one upon which we do well to ponder and meditate.
The occultist must now go further. Of the ego he can say that he expresses it when he says “I,” but he cannot say that he has it, that it is “there” for perception. What he has, what is there, is the idea of the ego. The human form, on the other hand, seems to be there. And so the occultist finds himself in a strange and puzzling situation. He meets at every turn the human form, the expression of the human ego, while the ego itself still eludes him.
There is here only one possible course for the occultist to follow. And it is this. He must clearly understand that it is no different with the human form than it is with a human ego. If the human form be always there, then it does not correspond to the ego that is not always there. We are faced with the necessity of coming somehow to understand that the human form — which apparently we encounter every minute of our life — is not there, has no existence among earthly objects. It is exceedingly important to arrive at a perception that the form of man is possessed of a peculiar quality, and one in which it very nearly resembles the idea of the ego. For the human form too in its external aspect deceives us, it lies to us. That is what the occultist comes to realize — that the human form lies to him, pretending to be an expression of man's being, claiming to be there as plain reality, when all the time man's being remains hidden.
As you will see, we should be coming no nearer the goal we have set before us — namely, a “consciousness that has no object and is yet a consciousness” — if we set about acquiring a consciousness of the human form, since the human form is after all an external object! This means that the human form as we meet it in life cannot be what we are looking for as an expression of the ego.
Now, the occultist must of course know that he cannot live in ideas and conclusions that are taken from the world outside; the experiences to which he has now to penetrate cannot be received from without; for what comes to him from without goes to make up his Earth consciousness, and this he wants to transcend. When the occultist looks at the human form, what he has to do is to experience something in it that leads him out beyond Earth consciousness.
Is it possible to experience in the human form something that leads us out beyond all Earth consciousness? Yes, it is possible. Let us look first at the human countenance and observe the impression it makes upon us. If we want to attain a true perception of the human countenance, we must not be so foolish as to cling to our accustomed ideas of it. For we have here to enter upon a profound experience that will lead at last to the startling conclusion that the human countenance is not as it should be. We learn to see how the human countenance and all that belongs to it — indeed the whole of the upper part of man — has undergone change in course of time through the working of pride in the soul of man — pride and haughtiness and presumption.
This is the first experience we have to meet, when we begin to overstep the bounds of ordinary consciousness. We enter right down into a deep and original feeling of the soul where we say: “You lie to me, you human countenance and human head! Through pride and presumption you have given yourself a form you should not have. As I look at the whole upper part of man, I begin to see through your appearance; when I behold how pride and presumption have made their impress on man throughout many incarnations, then I begin to perceive an original human countenance that is quite different from you.” Thus, looking at the upper part of man, we perceive how through pride and presumption man has changed his original form.
A further observation has then to be made, and this time it concerns the remaining parts of the human figure. Here again, when the deepest and original perceptions of the soul are aroused, we have the impression that the human form is lying to us. The remaining parts of it — these too, no less than the head, ought to be different from what they are. Again we have to discover and eliminate some interfering influence in order to come to the original; and here it is passionate longing and desire. Changed in form and figure has man become, — above through pride and presumption, below through desire. If desire were not aflame within him, then the lower part of his organism would have a different form.
These two experiences are fundamental, upon them we must build. They are experiences that it is possible to have and that can lead one to pronounce two judgments: that man is too proud, and that man is too full of longing and desire. They are definite inner experiences in consciousness, and they force themselves upon one if one looks at the human being with the soul's deepest powers of perception. But what about their origin? Have they been aroused by any object in the whole wide world of Earth life? They are, as we have seen, only present when man begins to feel the imperfection of his own form, when he feels that his form had originally a different plan and character and has become changed through the working of pride and desire. It is not, therefore, any external object that has occasioned these experiences. Yet they are experiences that can make their appearance in human consciousness, that can be there simply through the fact that man lives his life on Earth together with his environment.
We have here made a discovery of extraordinary importance, namely, that it is possible to come to an inner judgment, an inner experience, that has no object. And this inner experience has the following result. The occult student conceives a dislike for his human form. He says to it: “You are false.” He withdraws from it — not like the mystics of whom we spoke yesterday, who, when they withdraw themselves, retain nothing of the experiences of Earth. No, the occultist steps forth out of ordinary experience and takes something with him; what he takes is a judgment about the human form. It is a judgment to which, in fact, expression has been given by man again and again in countless different ways.
What has here been described is, so to speak, the first elementary perception that stands at the beginning of occult consciousness — if it is genuine occult consciousness and not mere mystical experience. At the very beginning stands a judgment about the human being. The human form as such has been extinguished; not so, however, all inner experience. There remains a judgment concerning man, which says to him: “It is Earth life that has made you as you are; the form in which we see you now refers us back to another and altogether different form.”
In order to see quite clearly that we have here to do with the dawning of a “consciousness without object,” it will be necessary for us to study a little more closely this human form or figure. For when we showed how the occult student makes this leap out of himself, retaining only a kind of judgmatic feeling about the human form — finding fault with the one half for being too proud and with the other half for being too full of desire — we were speaking of an inner experience that is rather indefinite. As a matter of fact it is one which leads on, as we shall see later, to the highest regions of spiritual experience; as yet, however, it is undefined.
To come to greater definiteness, let us now study the human form in some detail. Speaking in scientific language, let us dissect the human form! When we try to do so, we are at once struck by the remarkable fact that the human form divides up of itself quite naturally into various members. We shall see clearly what these members are when we enquire how man came to receive his present form. We shall find that the truths which are drawn from the deep wells of occultism give us a complete picture of the memberment of the human form, show us how the human form has been put together.
The first thing about the human form that arrests our attention, the first thing in his form that makes man, is what I laid stress on in the opening words of these lectures: the fact that it is upright. Man is a being who walks upright. That is the first important thing about him — so to speak, the first member of his form: his upright posture.
It will perhaps seem to you as though there were something arbitrary about the way I am dissecting the form of man. But if you follow closely and carefully, you will see that it is not really so at all; the fact is, the essential being of man, as described for us in occult knowledge, is reflected in his form or figure.
The second thing that makes man man, and that will also be readily recognized as essential to the human form, is the fact that he is so constituted as to enable him to be a speaking being. Sound can be born in him. Consider how essential a characteristic this is. In general, man is organized in an upward direction, and in particular he is so organized that his speech organs, beginning from the heart and larynx, go upwards — up to the face. Study the human being from this aspect and you will find that all the forms of the limbs are so arranged as to suit the creation and the molding and forming of spoken sound. Thus we can say: the second important factor in the ordering of the members of the human form is that they are ordered and disposed with a view to speech.
The third thing that we have to regard as important for the form of man is the fact that it is symmetrical. Inevitably one feels that the human form would lose something of its real nature if it were not symmetrical. That then is the third essential, that the limbs and members are symmetrically disposed. As we know, there are exceptions, but the quality of symmetry is essential.
The fourth thing that comes into consideration manifests in the following way. If you will observe attentively these three first members of man's form — upright posture, speaking, symmetry — you will see that they are all directed outwards. The fact that man holds himself upright is something that places him into the external world. Speech is again something that obviously relates him to the external world. Finally, the symmetry of his form gives him a certain balance in space. Now we come to a different aspect. We come to the fact that man has an inside. From the purely physical point of view man has organs that are enclosed within his skin. We may, therefore, say that man has as the fourth member of his form the fact of enclosure within the skin, so that the organs on which the inner functions depend are inside and are protected from the external world. Enclosure or isolation within the skin is thus something that properly belongs to the human form.
To find the fifth member of the human form, you must give your attention to the fact that within it, in the parts that are shut away from the outside, we find organs, active inner organs. All that lives and works inside man — that is the fifth thing we have to note. That there is movement and life within him can convince us that man as he stands before us in his form is not dependent merely on the external world, but is dependent on his own inner man as well: he has within him as it were a center for all the weaving of his life and being. Contrast, for example, with the members we have already described, such a thing as the circulation of the blood. There you have a process that takes its course entirely inside man; it is something completely isolated from the world outside. Thus we have as fourth member the fact of enclosure or isolation, and as fifth, the inside of man that is so enclosed.
But now there is something further we have to observe about this inside of the human form. Looked at from the purely physical aspect, it is a duality. There are, first of all, organs like the lungs and heart, which owe their form to a compromise, for they receive an influence also from without. Even the heart, by reason of its connection with the lungs, has to be adapted to outside conditions. The air from outside enters into man through the lungs and is by this means brought into contact with the inner organs. Then we have, on the other hand, organs which show by their form that they are adapted solely and entirely to the inside of the body. These are the organs of the abdomen. They owe their very shape and form to the fact that they are inside man. It is quite possible to imagine that the stomach, intestines, liver, or spleen, if they were differently formed, could still be in connection with the heart and lungs and in some way or other fulfill their right and proper functions. When once the external world has found entrance into the lungs, then all the inner organs can assume their own several forms. They are determined entirely from within. So that we may say we have, as sixth, a member of the human which we may call the true inside of man in the bodily sense. It is important to realize that here we have a member of the human form which has no connection with the outside world.
We have now come to a boundary in the human form, where the outward direction begins to work again, where once more we find something that has strong relation to the outside world. Consider the shape of man's foot. If it were not formed for the ground, if it had not a sole, man would not be able to walk. If his foot, for example, ended in a point, he would be continually falling down. Thus, as we follow the human form downwards, we come again to organs that are adapted to external conditions. At the same time we note that the feet, and also the legs, help to give man his distinctively human form. If man were a fish, or if he were a creature that flies in the air, these organs would have to be formed quite differently; as it is, their form expresses the fact that man is a being who stands and walks upon the Earth. All the organs from the hips downwards are shaped with this end in view — that man shall be a being able to work and stand and walk upon the Earth. So that we may say, in the hips we have, as seventh member, a condition of balance. What is above the place of balance is either given an outward direction in its form, or as we have seen, turned inwards; what is below is formed in a downward direction. In the hips you have a point of equilibrium between these tendencies. Of all that comes below the hips, we may say that it is adapted to earthly conditions.
Then we have as eighth member organs that are entirely orientated with a view to conditions outside the human being: the organs of reproduction. Continuing further, a little reflection will enable you to see that for man to walk in the way that is proper to him, the thigh must be separate from the leg, there must be the bend between them. And so he has, joined on to the thigh, the knee, making it possible for him to adapt himself in his walk to earthly conditions. For it is earthly conditions that determine altogether the lower part of the figure of man. Then we have the leg and, separated again from it, the foot. Perhaps you will say: What about the hands? We shall see in the next lecture why the hands are left out in this connection.
And now I will ask you to follow this list we have made of the members of man's form.
- Upright posture.
- Orientation to the utterance of Sound.
- Enclosure within itself.
- The Interior of man that is so enclosed.
- The Interior of man in bodily aspect, having no connection with the outside world.
- Organs of Reproduction.
As I said before, it might at first sight appear arbitrary to show the human form divided in this way into twelve members. But everything man requires in his form in order for him to be Man on Earth is really comprised in these twelve members (I will explain tomorrow how it is with the hands), and in such a way that each member has a certain independence, each member is separate from the others. One could even imagine that each one of them, while remaining still in connection with the others, might assume quite another form from the form it actually has. It is perfectly possible in each single case to imagine other shapes or forms for the several members; but that the whole human figure stands before us as the result of the conjunction of twelve such members is a fact that cannot be gainsaid.
When you reflect upon the whole meaning and intention of man's existence upon Earth, you cannot leave out of account that he has a form and figure membered in this particular way, so that when we come to study his form we must inevitably think of it as divisible into twelve parts or members. These twelve members have always been regarded in occultism as of the deepest possible significance. We are bound to take them into consideration if we would understand the meaning of the form and figure of man in its relation to his being. Occultism has always known of them, and for reasons which will become clear to us in the course of these lectures, as we continue our study of man in the light of occultism, philosophy, and theosophy, the twelve members have received twelve specific designations.
What we gave as the first member has been called “Ram” (Aries)...
What we gave as the first member has been called “Ram” (Aries)...
The second is named “Bull” (Taurus)...
Symmetry is called “Twins” (Gemini)...
What we described as the quality of enclosure within itself is ... called “Crab” (Cancer).
What we described as the interior, the life that is so enclosed, is called “Lion” (Leo)...
The inner parts of man, that in bodily aspect have no connection at all with the outside world and point to the threefold character of man's nature, themselves typifying complete isolation from the outside world, are called “Virgin” (Virgo)...
Then we come to the condition of balance, and there no explanation will be needed for giving the name of “Scales”...
The organs of reproduction, which have once more the direction outwards, are denoted by the expression “Scorpion” (Scorpio)...
The Thigh is called “Archer” (Sagittarius)...
The knees, the “Goat” (Capricorn)...
The leg below the knee is “Waterman” (Aquarius)...
Finally, the feet are termed “Fishes” (Pisces)...
For the moment, I ask you to see in these Signs no more than signs and signatures for the various members that go to make the complete human form. Please regard them as nothing else than a means of distinguishing the several members of the human form. You know very well that these Signs belong to habits of mind and thought that are of great antiquity, and in particular that they play a part in astrology. I want you, however, to connect nothing else with them now than the fact that with their help we are able to study the human form and see how it lends itself naturally to division into twelve members. If it should seem that we are giving rather strange names and signs to these members of the human form, it is really only as it is with the sounds of human speech, where we cannot by any means always quickly recognise the meaning from the sound, or, shall we say, as it is with the letters of the alphabet, of which we are often quite unable to say at once why they designate this or that sound. All we have done is to find an expression for the twelve-membered figure of man and, for convenience of further reference, give these members names which have here and there found their way out of occultism into general use.
- Upright posture.
- Orientation to the utterance of Sound.
- Enclosure within itself.
- The Interior of man that is so enclosed.
- The Interior of man that in bodily aspect has no connection with the outside world.
- Organs of Reproduction.