Man in the Light of Occultism, Theosophy and Philosophy.
Lecture 3 of 10
Rudolf Steiner, Christiania, Norway, June 5, 1912:
My Dear Friends,
It was related yesterday how the pupil of occultism, when he has gone through the preparation of which we spoke, meets with experiences which cannot be otherwise described than with words that apparently contradict one another. We named three such experiences: the unmanifest light, the unspoken word, and consciousness without knowledge of an object.
It is no easy matter to form clear ideas of these three experiences. The thinking of ordinary life and the researches carried out on the ordinary paths of knowledge, and more especially in natural science, are closely connected with the physical body. True, the physical body is not the really active principle in human research, but it is the instrument man has necessarily to employ when he wants to acquire knowledge of the external objects in his surroundings. Everyday knowledge, and more especially scientific knowledge, can be acquired in no other way than through the instrument of the body, and in particular of the brain.
When, however, the pupil in occultism undergoes the experiences of which we spoke yesterday, he comes to a point where he is able to think without using his brain. To a materialist of today such a statement will of course seem absurd. It is nevertheless true. The occultist himself is assured of it from inner experience. All the knowledge and thought about external objects that can be attained in the pursuit of ordinary science are indeed shadowy and lifeless in comparison with the forms and pictures elaborated by the soul when it is free of the physical brain.
Speaking to theosophists, I may cut the matter short and say at once that a man who has succeeded in becoming free of the instrument given him with his physical body makes use of his etheric and astral bodies and of his ego organism. That is to say, he uses other members of his being, with which we have become familiar in theosophy.
What now arises in the soul has a much greater inner power and is far more inwardly alive than the thoughts we are accustomed to form about external objects. It gives us moreover the feeling of being surrounded on every side by a kind of fine substantiality, which one can only describe by saying that it is like flowing light. You must not, however, think of the light which is communicated through the eye, that is to say, through an external bodily instrument, but imagine rather that this substance which surrounds us like a surging sea is felt and experienced inwardly. It does not manifest in any sort of shining, but we experience it inwardly, and the intensity of the experience is such as to banish all feeling we might otherwise have of being in a nothingness.
The man who actually finds himself within this element will certainly not say he is in a nothingness, for it has an astounding effect upon him, unlike anything he has ever experienced hitherto. He feels as though it would tear him to pieces and scatter him throughout space — or we might also put it, as though he were going to melt away and be dissolved, or again as though he were losing the ground from under his feet, as though all external material support were falling from him. That is the first experience: flowing spiritual light, without any outward manifestation at all. It is the first inward experience with which every aspirant after occultism has to become familiar.
And now if the pupil is rather weak in nature and has not been accustomed to think much in life, he will at this point get into difficulties. Indeed, he will hardly be able to find the way further unless he has learned in life to think. This is the reason for the preparation of which we spoke yesterday, the long practice and development of a sublime intellect and power of judgment. It is not what we acquire through these in the outward sense that is of so much importance, it is the discipline we undergo in learning to think more keenly and clearly. This discipline now comes to our aid when we enter, as aspirants after occultism, into the element of flowing light; for not the thoughts themselves are effective here, but the powers we have attained for self-education by means of the thoughts. These powers go on working, and presently we have around us something more than flowing hidden light: forms begin to emerge, forms of which we know that they do not come from the perception of external objects, but have their origin in the element in which we ourselves are immersed.
If we reach this point, then we do not lose ourselves in the flowing light, but experience in it forms that are far more alive than the forms seen by any dreamer or visionary. At the same time they have in them nothing whatever of the nature of external perceptions. The qualities we perceive in outward things by means of the senses are completely absent; but we do find in these forms in enhanced measure what we otherwise only experience when we make for ourselves thoughts. And yet the thoughts that come to us now are no mere thoughts, but forms that have being and are strong and secure in themselves.
This is the first experience for the aspirant after occultism, and it continues and grows stronger and stronger in the course of his occult life. At first it is weak; at first we have to be content with a small and limited experience. Then more is given to us: gradually we learn more and more, until we come at last to experience a world that we recognize as being behind the world of the senses. A remarkable fact is brought home to us at this point. The forces that can enable us to have such an experience are not to be found anywhere within the compass of Earth life, nor are they subject to earthly laws. At the same time we observe that our capacity for thinking about the affairs of ordinary life and about natural science has on the other hand been developed in us by forces that do belong entirely to the Earth.
As you know, before man attained to his present form and figure, he underwent a great many transformations. During this time of change and development, the forces of the Earth worked upon him. Gradually, little by little, the brain and the sense organs received the forms they have today. If we were to set out to explain the eye or the ear or even the brain itself, as they are today, we should have to say that at the beginning of Earth evolution all these organs were totally different. During Earth evolution the forces of the Earth have worked upon them and endowed them with the form they have today. When we think about the affairs of everyday life, as well as when we carry out investigations in the method of natural science, we use what the brain and the sense organs owe to the forces of the Earth. The activity we develop in such thinking contains nothing that has not been contributed by the forces of the Earth. The ordinary human being who sees the things around him and reflects upon them, the scientist too, who studies and works in his laboratory or observatory, make use of nothing in brain or sense organs that does not derive its origin from the forces of the Earth.
That development, however, of our brain that enables us, by working upon it, to bring forth the higher members of our nature and to behold the flowing spiritual light, has not its source in earthly conditions but is in an inheritance from forces that worked upon man before the Earth became Earth. You will remember that before the Earth became Earth, it passed through conditions known as Moon, Sun, and Saturn. The forces which make man capable of perceiving with his senses and of permeating his perceptions with thought do not come from those past states of the Earth. But everything that sets us free from the working of the senses and of natural scientific thinking, and makes us capable of bringing forth higher members within us, as it were straining the brain to its utmost and pressing forth the etheric and astral bodies and ego until these are able to live in the flowing light — all this we bear in us as an inheritance from the times of Saturn, Sun, and Moon; it comes to us from pre-earthly times of evolution and is nowhere to be found within the whole circumference of Earth existence.
When science comes to the point (and it will do so, though it take a long time on the way) — comes to the point of understanding the mechanism of the senses and of the brain, it will be extraordinarily proud of the achievement. But even then it will only be able to grasp the thinking and investigating that can be accounted for out of earthly conditions and that accordingly hold good for earthly conditions alone. Man will never, so long as he restricts himself to the forces of the Earth, be able to explain the whole brain, nor all the apparatus and arrangements of the sense organs, for, in order to give a full explanation of the activities in brain and senses and of how they came to have their present forms, we must look back to what are called the Saturn, Sun, and Moon conditions of the Earth. The forces that are active in man when he is not using his senses and his brain — the forces, that is, that he inherits from Saturn, Sun, and Moon — have been paralyzed and held in check by what the Earth with her forces has made of the brain and senses.
When we enter the flowing light, we do not feel as feel as though we were thinking what we find there. For when we are thinking a thought we have the impression we are thinking it now; whereas what we experience in the flowing light does not at all give us the feeling we are thinking it now. It is most important to note this point. To the clairvoyant who enters into this condition, the forms of which I spoke do not seem like thoughts he is thinking now, but like thoughts that have been preserved in the memory, like thoughts one is able to call up into remembrance.
You will now understand why we have to ignore our intellect and quicken and strengthen our power of memory. Out of this wide spiritual sea of light, forms emerge which are only perceptible in the way that we apprehend memories. If our memory power had not undergone a strengthening, these forms would escape us and we should perceive nothing; it would be as though there were all around us nothing but a flowing sea of inward light. That we can perceive thought-forms swimming in the sea of inner light is due to the fact that we are able to perceive not with the intellect but with a strengthened power of memory; for these forms can only be perceived by means of the faculty of memory.
Nor is this all. What is perceived with the faculty of memory enables us to look back into long-past conditions of evolution, into Moon, Sun, and Saturn stages of evolution; but the forms we perceive in this way, and that are like the pictures of memory, are not the only thing. In fact, they make a less powerful impression upon us than something else, something of which we could say — notwithstanding that we know quite well it is no more than a surging sea of light — that it gives us pain and pleasure, that it begins even to sting and burn us, and on the other hand to fill us with bliss.
What does the occultist discover here? In the surging sea of light he has come to perceive strange forms; these he is able now to grasp with the understanding. They do not, as at first, lay claim only to the faculty of memory; they have become so powerful that the understanding can grasp them. How do they strike him? What does he notice about them? As a matter of fact the occultist does not notice anything particular in these forms unless he has previously interested himself in the thoughts of philosophy. Then he recognizes that the thoughts of the philosophers are in reality shadow pictures of what he is now perceiving with the eye of the spirit in the surging sea of light. Yes, the moment has come when we can at last learn what philosophy really is. All the philosophy in the world is nothing else than thoughts and ideas which are like reflections thrown up into our physical life, pictures whose origin is in the supersensible life which the clairvoyant can perceive in the way we have described. The philosopher himself does not see what lies behind his pictures; he does not know what it is he is thus casting up into physical consciousness. He has only the pictures. But the occultist can point to their origin, he can point to the origin of the great thoughts of all the philosophers who have ever played a part in the history of man. The philosopher sees only the shadow picture in thought; the occultist sees the real and living light that is behind. How can this be?
The reason is that in our brain we have still something left of pre-earthly forces, forces that come from the Saturn, Sun, and Moon stages of evolution. Generally speaking, these forces have to a large extent been paralyzed in us, but we have in the brain some small remnant at least of what the brain is capable of, by virtue of these forces. The forces that work in the brain of a philosopher are not earthly forces. They are a dim and weak reflection of pre-earthly forces. The philosopher is quite unconscious of the fact, but in his brain lives an inheritance from pre-earthly times, and the use he makes of his brain depends on the working of this inheritance. It would not, however, be able to work at all had not a particular event taken place during Earth evolution, an event which the philosopher of modern times is of course quite unprepared to accept. If the Earth had been simply the reincarnation of what had been present in Saturn, Sun, and Moon, if it had been able to give man no more than the forces it had living in it from the time of Saturn, Sun, and Moon, then there could never have arisen on Earth such a thing as contemplation, the kind of reflective thought that we find in such a marked degree in philosophy. And philosophy, you know, is really present in every single human being; everyone philosophizes a little. Philosophy is only possible on Earth because an irregularity crept in when the reincarnation of our Earth took place. An important portion of the creative forces which brought our Earth into being was diverted; these forces did not continue to work in the same way as the rest, and they now have a spiritual influence upon man that is like the physical influence of moonlight upon the Earth.
The effect of moonlight, as you know, is due to the fact that the Moon casts back the light of the Sun. Moonlight is reflected sunlight. Now the fact that man is able to transcend the mere memory picture of clairvoyance and, as it were, to throw something up into physical existence which makes its appearance there as philosophy, is dependent on a particular spiritual force that works plastically into the human brain, forming it and molding it. In the Mosaic books of the Bible this spiritual force is named Jahve or Jehovah; it is a reflected light of the Spirit, just as in a physical aspect moonlight is reflected sunlight.
In respect of his brain, therefore, man cannot be entirely explained out of the inheritance he has brought with him from pre-earthly conditions. We can only understand the human brain when we know that just as the physical light of the Sun is thrown on to the Earth by the Moon (at a time when the sunlight itself is not shining on that part of the Earth) so man, in so far as he lives in his brain, receives spiritual light thrown back from beyond the Earth.
Every inspiration man receives not from his own forces but from
beyond himself helps him to rise to a knowledge of the world which may be described as philosophical. A philosophical comprehension of the world is one that causes man to seek in all the various things of the world a single and undivided foundation. That is the characteristic of philosophy. Whether man calls this Ground of the World “God” or “World Spirit” is of no moment; the desire he feels to gather up everything together and relate it all to a single Ground is due to influences of the spiritual world which are active in his brain. The moment he becomes clairvoyant and sets free his ether body, he recognizes that not only has he now succeeded in making active what he has inherited from earlier stages of evolution, but in his brain influences are at work which may be compared with the influences of moonlight, in the sense we have already explained.
At this point I would like to draw your attention to a fact about philosophy that will, I think, be clear to you from all we have been considering.
As philosopher, man has not that which the clairvoyant perceives as yogi force and which blends in with the forces inherited from earlier times. He has, however, the thought pictures, not knowing that behind them stand the forces which were active in pre-earthly conditions, and which are called the Jahve forces. This he does not know. He sees only the shadow pictures of thought which have been created for him by the work of his ether body upon the flowing light — for as the flowing light becomes active in his brain, thought shadow-pictures are produced there, and these we call philosophy. The philosopher himself knows nothing of the process; he knows only that he lives in these thought pictures. I want you, however, to note — it will be useful to you later on — that as philosopher, man is unconsciously clairvoyant. That is to say, he lives in shadow pictures of clairvoyant states, without himself knowing anything of clairvoyance. He lives in these shadow pictures; he achieves with them all that a philosopher can achieve, and at last comes to a point where he can connect and combine the philosophical ideas and conceptions he has elaborated, relating them all to one single being or entity. For that is the invariable characteristic of philosophy. It is, however, not possible to find within these thought pictures the Christ Being. By working in all honesty and sincerity with the material of philosophy, we find one single Ground of the World, but we never find a Christ. If you come across the idea of Christ in a philosophy, you may be quite sure it has been borrowed from tradition; it has been imported — inconsistently, though perhaps quite unconsciously. If the philosopher remains at his philosophy, he cannot possibly find any more than the neutral God of the Worlds; he can never find a Christ. No consistent philosophy can contain the conception of Christ. It is impossible. Let us be quite clear on this point. Let anyone who has the desire and the opportunity to do so cast his eye round among the philosophers and see whether these can find the Christ in their philosophies. Take, for example, such a widely and fully developed system of philosophy as that of Hegel. You will find that Hegel cannot approach the Christ within the system of philosophy. He has as it were to bring Him in from the world outside; his philosophy does not give him the Christ.
For the time being, we will let this suffice for a description of the first experience the aspirant for clairvoyance undergoes, an experience he learns to designate as “unmanifest light.”
Gently and slowly — scarcely perceptibly, to begin with — the second experience comes upon him. There are indeed many clairvoyants who have had the first experience for a long time and still hardly understand what the second experience is. The effect of its approach may be described in the following way. While the flowing light is something that makes us feel we are being scattered in it, makes us feel we are, as it were, being spread abroad in space — with the second experience, which can be called the experience of the “unspoken word,” we have the feeling as though something were coming toward us from every direction at once.
In the same degree to which in the first experience we feel ourselves spread out over the whole world do we now have the impression of something coming toward us, approaching us on all sides, while we ourselves are like to dissolve away. For the man who has this experience and is not yet at home in it, the sense of melting away is accompanied by very great fear. Something bears down upon us from all around; it is as if an edge or skin of the world were approaching us. What this means for us we can express in no other way than by saying it is as though we were being addressed in a language very hard to understand, a language that is never spoken on Earth. No word that proceeds from human larynx can be compared with the speech we now experience. Only by thinking away from the spoken word everything that has to do with external sound can we begin to form some idea of the great cosmic sounding that now bears down upon us on all sides. At first it makes but a faint impression upon us; then, as the power of occult learning and occult self-discipline increases, this perception of a spiritual world grows stronger and stronger.
As now with clairvoyant sight we behold approaching us from all sides this vast skin of the world — and yet not at all like an external skin, but bearing down upon us like a mighty sounding of tones — we have a strange and remarkable feeling; and the fact that we have it is a sign to us that we are on the right path. We find ourselves thinking: “It is in very truth my own self that is approaching me; there for the first time is my own true self! Only apparently am I enclosed in my skin, when I live here in the physical body. In reality my being fills the world; and it is my own being that is now coming to meet me as I pass over into the occult state. It is coming toward me from all directions.” So does occult experience take its course — first the expansion of the spiritual life, then again its concentration. And the latter we connect with a definite idea. For it comes to us like words — sounding spiritually and full of deep meaning; and we form the conception of the “unspoken word,” the “unspoken language.”
Now we must go a step further. For even as man has a heritage out of pre-earthly conditions that helps to form and fashion his brain, so has he also forces remaining from pre-earthly conditions which work not in his brain but in his heart. The heart is a very complicated organ; and as in the brain not only earthly but pre-earthly forces are active (although in external study and research we make use, as we have seen, of the earthly alone), so in the heart too we find an activity of pre-earthly forces. Whatever man needs for the obtaining of earthly air and nourishment, whatever he needs for the care of his organism and for its maintenance in life — all this is given him in earthly forces. But for man to be able to perceive what we have termed the “unspoken word,” not only have higher members of his being to be, as it were, pressed out of his brain, but also out of his heart.
It can happen that for a long time a man is able to perceive as clairvoyant the spiritual light, if he has pressed forth from his brain the higher members of his body. If, however, these higher members still remain firmly united with the heart, as they are in ordinary life, then we have a clairvoyant who is able to behold the flowing light (for that he can do with the help of the soul forces that have become free from the brain), but not able to apprehend the unspoken word. For we can only begin to hear the unspoken word when the higher, supersensible members have been freed also from the heart. The capacity of the heart to do this, so that man can unfold a soul life that is not bound to the instrument of the heart, belongs to a higher heart organism. Our ordinary soul life on the physical plane is united with the organ of the heart. When men are able to set free the higher members of their body from the physical heart, they come to experience a life of soul that is connected with a higher organism than the physical heart of blood and muscle. When the pupil learns to experience, in his soul, forces of the heart that are higher than those connected with the physical heart, then he can in very truth attain knowledge of the unspoken word; it makes itself known to him, coming toward him on every hand. Thus, while the perception of the supersensible light depends on the emancipation of man's higher being from the physical brain, the perception of the unspoken word depends on the emancipation of the higher members from the physical heart.
As there are persons who, without being themselves aware of the fact, have in them something of the pre-earthly forces that formed and fashioned the brain, so are there also persons who have in them something of the pre-earthly forces that formed and fashioned the heart. And they are much more numerous than is generally supposed. If there were not today those who not only have these ancient heritages in their being, but are moreover engaged in working upon them (we shall see later how this comes about), there would be no theosophists. You would not all of you be sitting here today! The reason why you are sitting here is simply this, that at some moment in your life, when a theosophical book came into your hands or some truth out of theosophy was communicated to you in a lecture, immediately you became conscious of something of that ancient inheritance which you bear within you and which consists of forces that worked to form your heart before the earth was created. The fact that what came to you through theosophy made a deep impression upon you meant that it produced in you an experience similar to the philosopher's experience in his shadow pictures. You experienced the shadow pictures of what a clairvoyance of the heart, all unknown to you, was able to receive through the words that were spoken. In that moment you heard through the words, and what you heard was something quite wonderful; otherwise you would not have become a theosophist. For you the external word was but an echo, coming to you from without, of what the clairvoyant heart had itself investigated by means of pre-earthly forces, an echo of what comes from the realm of occultism and had already been speaking to you in shadow pictures which you yourself could experience. Through the outer word you heard speak the inner word. In the spoken word you caught the echo of the word that cannot be spoken. Through the human language you heard what is spoken from out of divine worlds in the language of the gods.
If those who today sincerely and honestly feel themselves drawn to the study of theosophy do not always know that a degree of clairvoyance is already active in them, then it is with them as it is with the philosophers who see the shadow pictures of their unconsciously clairvoyant brain and do not know the real nature of the thoughts in which they are living. The brain is more readily susceptible to earthly forces and on this account more easily made into an earthly organ; therefore men who in our time investigate the laws of Earth and occupy their brain with external knowledge so strengthen the earthly parts of their brain that the super-earthly brain is completely paralyzed from within. But the heart is far less susceptible to the influence of the earthly forces; on this account it is easier to find an approach to human souls through what theosophy brings down to men than through pure philosophy. Unless people allow the material interests of life to obstruct and hinder what can in this way speak to their hearts, they will always — and especially in our own time — be responsive to the truths of theosophy. The truths of theosophy can be understood by everyone, excepting only those who have become too deeply engrossed — whether theoretically or practically — in external material interests in one form or another. People who have allowed themselves to be caught and entangled in these interests until they have no feeling for anything beyond them — these alone fail to comprehend theosophy. A mist spreads itself out, covering and hiding what should unfold from the heart when it is touched by theosophy.
Thus, in order to understand philosophy we must have in us something that is responsive to the strange and singular forms of which we spoke earlier and that throws up shadow pictures of these forms; we must have trained our brain to think thoughts within which the higher super-physical forces can reflect themselves; and, as you know very well, this happens but rarely. In order to understand theosophy we need no such preparation. To appreciate the truth of what may be derived from occult research, when the researcher has emancipated from heart and brain the higher forces, the spiritual members of his being — for this, all that is required is that we do not have our attention diverted by external life. The very simplest person has forces that suffice for the understanding of theosophy. There is no need for a scientific education. Everyone, provided only that he does not meet them with preconceived judgments, can understand certain theosophical truths. For these theosophical truths are facts of occult research reflected, as in shadow pictures, in the ordinary experiences of life. They come from the unspoken word, which is “heard” — to speak metaphorically — when man has set free from the physical heart the higher members of his being, when, that is to say, he can live not only in a super-physical brain but in a super-physical organ of the heart.
To express in terms of scientific concepts and in correct logical language that which the super-physical heart can investigate — for this it is of course essential that one is already familiar with scientific concepts. In theosophy, however, there is no such need. The most important theosophical truths can as a matter of fact be clothed in simple concepts; you know yourselves how little can suffice for an adequate understanding of the fundamental truths of theosophy. A very great deal of what we are often saying in lectures here is not said for the purpose of convincing simple-minded people; they can quickly follow and be with us. Wherever the heart and soul are healthy, this will always be so; everyone who has not been made ill by material interests will be with us. What is necessary, however, in our time is that theosophy should find protection from the unjust attacks of a science that deems itself justified. We have to place the simple, easily established theosophical truths before the world in such a way that they will themselves demonstrate their validity when men think subtly and with clarity and correctness. (This condition, please note, is indispensable.) Then to an unprejudiced and well-ordered thinking it will become abundantly clear that there is no truth which contradicts theosophy. Such a thinking, however, is not only exceedingly rare, it is extraordinarily difficult of attainment. Preconceived ideas of external science are astonishingly widespread today, claiming to rest not, it is true, on personal authority but on an unassailable external authority — which has no firm nor sure foundation.
We may often see how those who think they have a comprehensive knowledge of a particular branch of science, or even those who have made themselves familiar in a popular manner with some of its results, take for granted that their thinking is far enough advanced for them to be able to have insight into the relationship of theosophy to science. As a rule, however, such insight is quite beyond their reach. Clear and well-ordered thinking is by no means so common in our time as one might suppose. There are sciences which can be pursued today with a quite un-ordered thinking, with a thinking which has been developed within the narrow bounds of some specialized science and cannot pass beyond them.
Today one can be in the literary world, one can be an author and publish books, without having developed one's thinking particularly. For as a rule people do not examine and see whether behind what is apparently a product of mental and spiritual ability there exists any well-ordered and correct method of thought. People do not enquire into this today, simply because they have not at hand any means of detection. Yet it does not take much to be able to appraise thought; many people have the capacity as a kind of instinct, and a little acquaintance with occult research and occult forces will strengthen it.
Allow me in conclusion to relate an incident intended to serve as an illustration of the strange experiences that can happen to one if one is a little sensitive to such things. It is all insignificant experience, but it illustrates my point.
I was walking yesterday along a certain street. My gaze fell, quite involuntarily, on a particular spot in a bookshop window. All at once I felt as though I had been stung — really just as though a gadfly or a bee had stung me! Spiritually, that was how I felt. I was curious to know the cause. To begin with, I could find nothing in the shop window that could have stung me like that. But when I looked carefully, I saw a book lying there on which was a legend, intended, so it appeared, to vindicate the trend of thought in the book, the author meaning to describe with this saying his own attitude of mind. But why should it sting me? You will see presently. These were the words:
“Your speculative churl Is like a beast which some ill spirit leads, On barren wilderness, in ceaseless whirl, While all around lie fair and verdant meads.”*
and underneath was written “Goethe: Faust.”
- From Translation by Anna Swanwick.
But who says this in Faust? Mephistopheles says it! These are not the words to choose when you want to quote Goethe! They are words he puts into the mouth of Mephistopheles. And if they are quoted seemingly in honest approbation of their meaning, it argues a disorderly thinking, The author wants to cite Goethe; but inner reasons compel him to quote Mephistopheles — that is, the devil. That shows me that something is amiss with his thinking. The sting I experienced came from the displaced and disordered thinking.