Theosophy of the Rosicrucian [aka Rosicrucian Wisdom]. Lecture 1 of 14.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, May 22, 1907:
The title of this course of lectures has been announced as “Theosophy According to the Rosicrucian Method.” By this is meant the wisdom that is primeval, yet ever new, expressed in a form suitable for the present age. The mode of thought we are about to study in these lectures has existed since the fourteenth century A.D.; however, it is not my intention to speak of the history of Rosicrucianism. As you know, a certain kind of geometry, which includes, for instance, the Pythagorean Theorem, is taught in elementary schools of the present day. The rudiments of geometry are learnt quite independently of how geometry itself actually came into being, for what does the pupil who is learning the rudiments of geometry today know about Euclid? Nevertheless it is Euclid's geometry that is being taught. Only much later, when the substance has been mastered, do students discover, perhaps from a history of the sciences, something about the form in which the teaching that is accessible even in elementary schools today originally found its way into the evolution of humanity. As little as the pupil who learns elementary geometry today is concerned with the form in which it was originally given to mankind by Euclid, as little need we concern ourselves with the question of how Rosicrucianism developed in the course of history. Just as the pupil learns geometry from its actual tenets, so shall we learn to know the nature of this Rosicrucian wisdom from its intrinsic principles.
Those who are acquainted merely with the outer history of Rosicrucianism as recorded in literature know very little about the real content of Rosicrucian Theosophy. Rosicrucian Theosophy has existed since the fourteenth century as something that is true, quite apart from its history, just as geometrical truths exist independently of history. Only a fleeting reference, therefore, will here be made to certain matters connected with the history of Rosicrucianism.
In the year 1459 a lofty spiritual idividuality, incarnate in the human personality who bears in the world the name of Christian Rosenkreuz, appeared as the teacher, to begin with, of a small circle of initiated pupils. In the year 1459, within a strictly secluded spiritual botherhood, the Fraternitas Roseae Crucis, Christian Rosenkreuz was raised to the rank of Eques lapidis aurei, Knight of the Golden Stone. What this means will become clearer to us in the course of these lectures. The exalted idividuality who lived on the physical plane in the personality of Christian Rosenkreuz worked as leader and teacher of the Rosicrucian stream again and again in the same body, as occultism puts it. The meaning of the expression “again and again in the same body” will also be explained when we come to speak of the destiny of the human being after death.
Until far into the eighteenth century, the wisdom of which we are here speaking was preserved within a strictly secret botherhood, bound by inviolate rules which separated its members from the exoteric world.
In the eighteenth century it was the mission of this brotherhood to allow certain esoteric truths to flow, by spiritual ways, into the culture of Middle Europe; and thus we see flashing up in an exoteric culture many things that are clothed, it is true, in an exoteric form, but which are, in reality, nothing else than outer expressions of esoteric wisdom.
In the course of the centuries many people have endeavored, in one way or another, to discover the Rosicrucian wisdom, but they did not succeed. Leibnitz tried in vain to get at the source of Rosicrucian wisdom. But this Rosicrucian wisdom lit up like a flash of lightning in an exoteric work which appeared when Lessing was approaching the close of his life. I refer to Lessing's Education of the Human Race. If we do but read it between the lines, then (but only if we are esotericists) we shall recognize in its unusual utterances that it is an external expression of Rosicrucian wisdom. This wisdom lit up in outstanding grandeur in the man in whom European culture and, indeed international culture, was reflected at the turn of the eighteenth century: in Goethe. In comparatively early years Goethe had come into contact with a source of Rosicrucianism and he then experienced, in some degree, a very remarkable and lofty initiation. To speak of initiation in connection with Goethe may easily be misleading; at this point therefore it will be well to indicate something of what happened to Goethe during the period after he had left Leipzig University and before he went to Strassburg. He passed through an experience which penetrated very deeply into his soul and expressed itself outwardly in the fact that during the last period of his stay in Leipzig he came very near to death.
As he lay desperately ill, he had a momentous experience, passing through a kind of initiation. To begin with, he was not actually conscious of it, but it worked in his soul as a kind of poetic inspiration, and the process by which it flowed into his various creations was most remarkable. It flashes up in his poem entitled “The Mysteries,” which his closest friends have considered to be one of his most profound creations. And indeed this fragment is so profound that Goethe was never able to recapture the power to formulate its conclusion. The culture of the day was incapable of giving external form to the depths of life pulsating in this poem. It must be regarded as issuing from one of the deepest founts of Goethe's soul and is a book with seven seals for all his commentators. Then, however, the initiation took increasing effect in him and finally, as he grew more conscious of it, he was able to produce that remarkable prose-poem known as “The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily” — one of the most profound writings in all literature. Those who are able to interpret it rightly know a great deal of the Rosicrucian wisdom.
At the time when Rosicrucian wisdom was intended to flow gradually into the general life of culture, it happened, in a manner of which I need not speak further now, that a kind of betrayal took place. Certain Rosicrucian conceptions found their way into the world at large. This betrayal on the one hand, and on the other the fact that it was necessary for Western culture during the nineteenth century to remain for a time on the physical plane uninfluenced by esotericism — these two facts made it imperative that the sources of Rosicrucian wisdom, and above all its great founder, who since its inception had been constantly on the physical plane, should, to all appearances, withdraw. Thus during the first half and also during a large part of the second half of the nineteenth century, little of the Rosicrucian wisdom could be discovered. Only now, in our own time, has it become possible again to make the Rosicrucian wisdom accessible and allow it to flow into general culture. And if we think about this culture we shall discover the reasons why this had to be.
I will now speak of two characteristics of the Rosicrucian wisdom, which are important in connection with its mission in the world. One has to do with the attitude of the human being towards this Rosicrucian wisdom — which must not be identified with the occult form of Christian-Gnostic wisdom. We must touch briefly upon two facts appertaining to the spiritual life if we are to be clear about the fundamental character of Rosicrucian wisdom. The first of these is the relationship of the pupil to the teacher; and here again there are two aspects to consider. We shall speak, first, of “Clairvoyance,” and secondly, of what is sometimes called “Belief in Authority.” “Clairvoyance” — the term is really inadequate — comprises not only spiritual seeing but also spiritual hearing. These two faculties are the source of all knowledge of the world's hidden wisdom, and true knowledge of the spiritual worlds can come from no other source.
In Rosicrucianism there is an essential difference between the actual discovery of spiritual truths and the understanding of them. Only those who have developed spiritual faculties in a fairly high degree can themselves discover a spiritual truth in the higher worlds. Clairvoyance is the necessary pre-requisite for the discovery of a spiritual truth, but only for its discovery. For a long time to come, nothing will be taught exoterically by any genuine Rosicrucianism that cannot be grasped by the ordinary logical intellect. That is the essential point. The objection that clairvoyance is necessary for understanding the Rosicrucian form of Theosophy is not valid. Understanding does not depend upon the faculty of seership. Those who are incapable of grasping the Rosicrucian wisdom with their thinking have simply not developed their logical reasoning powers to a sufficient extent — that is all. Anyone who has absorbed what modern culture is able to give, who is not too lazy to learn and has patience and perseverance, can understand what a Rosicrucian teacher has to impart. Those who have doubts about Rosicrucian wisdom and who say that they cannot grasp it must not cast the blame on the fact that they are incapable of rising to the higher planes. The fault lies in their unwillingness either to exert their reasoning powers sufficiently or to put the experiences gained from general culture to adequate use. Just think of the tremendous popularization of wisdom that has taken place since the appearance of Christianity down to the present day, and then try to picture Christian Rosicrucianism as it was in the fourteenth century. Think of the relation of a human being then living in the world, with his teachers. It was only possible in those days to work by means of the spoken word. People do not, as a rule, rightly appraise what tremendous development has taken place since that time. Think only of what has been achieved by the art of printing. Think of the thousands and thousands of channels through which, thanks to this discovery, the highest achievements of culture have been able to flow into civilization. From books down to the latest newspaper article, you can perceive the innumerable channels through which countless ideas flow into life. These channels have only been open for mankind since that time and they have had the effect of making the Western intellect assume quite different forms. The Western mind has worked quite differently since then, and the new form of wisdom had necessarily to reckon with this fact. A form had to be created which would be able to hold its ground in face of all that flows into life along these thousands of channels. Rosicrucian wisdom can hold its own against any objection that might be raised by either popular or technical science. Rosicrucian wisdom contains within itself the sources which enable it to counter every objection made by science. A true understanding of modern science — not the dilettante understanding to be found even in university professors, but understanding that is free from abstract theorizing and materialistic conjectures, standing firmly upon the basis of facts and not going beyond them — can find from science itself the proofs of the spiritual truths of Rosicrucianism.
A second point concerning the relationship between teacher and pupil in Rosicrucianism is that the relationship of the pupil to the “guru” (as the teacher is called in the East) is fundamentally different from that prevailing in other methods of initiation. In Rosicrucianism this relationship cannot in any way be said to be based upon belief in authority. Let me make this clear to you by an example drawn from everyday life. The Rosicrucian teacher desires to stand in no different relation to his pupil than does a teacher of mathematics to his students. Can it be said that the student of mathematics depends upon his teacher simply out of belief in authority? No! And can it be said that the student of mathematics does not need the teacher? Some people may argue that he does not, because he may have discovered how to teach himself from good books. But this is simply a different situation from the one where student and teacher are sitting in front of each other. In principle, of course, self-instruction is possible. Equally, every human being, provided he reaches a certain stage of clairvoyance, can discover the spiritual truths for himself — but this would be a much lengthier path. It would be senseless to say: My own inner being must be the sole source of all spiritual truths. If the teacher knows the mathematical truths and imparts them to his pupil, the pupil is no longer called upon to have “belief in authority,” for he grasps these truths through their own inherent correctness and all he needs is to understand them. So is it with all occult development in the Rosicrucian sense. The teacher is the friend, the counselor, one who has already lived through the occult experiences and helps the pupil to do so himself. Once a man has had these experiences he need as little accept them on authority as in mathematics he need accept on authority the statement that the three angles of a triangle are equal to 180º. In Rosicrucianism there is no “authority” in the ordinary sense. It is far rather a matter of what is required for shortening the path to the highest truths.
That is the one side of the question; the other is the relation of the spiritual wisdom to culture in general.
These lectures will show you that it is possible for truth to flow directly into practical life. We are not setting up a system that is applicable in theory only; we are speaking of teachings which can be put to use in practical life by anyone who desires to know the foundations of the science of worlds and to allow the spiritual truths to flow into everyday life. Rosicrucian wisdom must not stream only into the head, nor only into the heart, but also into the hand, into our manual capacities, into our daily actions. It does not take effect as sentimental sympathy; it is the acquisition, by strenuous effort, of faculties enabling us to work for the well-being of humanity. Suppose some society was to proclaim human brotherhood as its aim and was to do no more than preach brotherhood. That would not be Rosicrucianism. For the Rosicrucian says: Suppose a man is lying in the road with a broken leg. If fourteen people stand around him pityingly but not one of them is able to help, the whole fourteen together are of less importance than a fifteenth who comes, perhaps, without any sentimentality at all, but is able to and actually does deal with the broken leg. The attitude of the Rosicrucian is that what counts is knowledge able to take hold of and intervene effectively in life. Rosicrucian wisdom considers that repeated talk about pity and sympathy has an element of danger in it, for continual emphasis upon sympathy denotes a kind of astral sensuality. Sensuality on the physical plane is of the same nature on the astral plane. It is the attitude that is always only willing to feel and not to know. Knowledge that is capable of taking effect in practical life — not of course in the materialistic sense, but brought down from the spiritual worlds — this is what enables us to work efficaciously. Harmony flows of itself from knowledge that the world must progress; and it flows all the more surely because it arises quite naturally out of knowledge. Of a man who knows how to deal with a broken leg, people might say: If he is no friend of humanity, he may just let the sufferer lie. Such a thing would be possible in the case of knowledge pertaining only to the physical plane. But it would not be possible for spiritual knowledge. There is no spiritual knowledge that would refrain from entering into practical life.
This, then, is the second aspect of Rosicrucian wisdom, namely, that it can be discovered only through the powers of clairvoyance but can be understood by normal human reason. It may seem strange to say that in order to have experiences in the spiritual world you must become clairvoyant, but that in order to understand what the clairvoyant sees this is not necessary. A seer who descends from the spiritual worlds and tells of what comes to pass there, bringing to the knowledge of men something that is necessary for humanity at the present time, can be understood if those who listen are willing to understand. For the constitution of the human being is such that it can be intelligible to him.
First of all we shall study the sevenfold nature of man according to the Rosicrucian teaching. We shall consider the whole nature of man as he confronts us; we shall learn to understand the nature of the physical body — which everyone thinks he knows all about but in reality knows nothing. As little as we can see the oxygen in water but must separate it from the hydrogen in order to recognize it, as little do we see the real physical human being when we look at another man standing before us. Man is a combination of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and the other higher members of his being, as water is a combination of oxygen and hydrogen. The being who stands before us is the sum total of all these members! If we are to see the physical body alone, the astral body must have separated from it: this is the condition in dreamless sleep. Sleep is a kind of higher chemical separation of the astral body with the higher members of man's nature, from the etheric and physical bodies. But even then it cannot be said that we have the real physical body before us. The physical body is alone only at death, when the etheric body too has left it.
This has a direct and concrete bearing. I will make it clear to you by means of an example. Think of some particular part of the astral body. In the remote past, the pictures which the human being perceived in dim, shadowy clairvoyance worked very differently than do mental images today. These pictures were impressed, first of all, into the astral body. Let us suppose that at one time pictures of the three dimensions of space — length, breadth, and depth — were impressed into the astral body. This picture of three-dimensional space which was once impressed into the astral body through the old, dim clairvoyance was carried over into the etheric body. Just as a seal is pressed into liquid sealing wax, so did the astral picture impress itself into the etheric body, and this in turn moulded the forms of the physical body. Thus the picture of three-dimensional space built an organ in a particular area of the physical body. Originally there was a picture in the astral body of the three perpendicular directions of space; this picture impressed itself, like a seal into wax, into the etheric body, and a certain part of the etheric body moulded an organ in the interior of the human ear, namely, the three semi-circular canals. You all have them within you; if they are in any way impaired you cannot orientate yourself within the three directions of space; you get giddy and cannot stand upright. Thus are the pictures of the astral body connected with the forces of the etheric body and the organs of the physical body.
The whole physical body of man in its plastic forms is nothing else than a product of the pictures of the astral body and the forces of the etheric body. Hence those who have no knowledge of the astral and etheric bodies cannot understand the physical body. The astral body is the predecessor of the etheric body, and the etheric body is the predecessor of the physical body. Thus the matter is complicated. The three semi-circular canals are a physical organ, just as is the nose. All noses differ from one another although there may be resemblance between the noses of parents and children. If you were able to study the three semicircular canals in the ears of human beings, you would find difference and resemblance just as in the case of noses, for these canals may resemble those of the mother or father. What is not inherited is the innermost spiritual core of being, the eternal in man which passes through the successive incarnations. Individual talents and faculties are not determined by the brain. Logic is the same in mathematics, in philosophy, or in practical life. The difference in the quality of the faculties becomes apparent only when logic is applied in domains where knowledge depends, for instance, upon the functioning of the semi-circular organs in the ear. Mathematical talent will be particularly marked when these organs are highly developed. An example of this is the Bernoulli family, which produced a succession of fine mathematicians. An individual may possess great incipient talent for music or some other art, but if he is not born into a human body that has inherited the requisite organic structures, he cannot bring these talents to expression.
So you see, the physical world cannot be understood without knowledge of how it is constituted. The Rosicrucian does not consider it his task to withdraw in any way from the physical world. Certainly not! For what he has to do is to spiritualize the physical world. He must rise to the highest regions of spiritual life and with the knowledge there obtained labor actively in the physical world, especially in the world of men.
This is the Rosicrucian attitude — the direct outcome of Rosicrucian wisdom. We are about to study a system of wisdom which will enable us to understand even the smallest things; and we shall not forget that the smallest thing in the world can be of importance to the greatest, that the smallest thing, in its rightful place, can lead to the highest of goals!
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