The Inner Nature of Man and Our Life Between Death and Rebirth
The first of six lectures to members of the Anthroposophical Society.
Rudolf Steiner, Vienna, April 9, 1914:
Our aim in this course of lectures will be to describe the inner life of man in relation to the life between death and rebirth, in order to show how intimately these two realms of existence are connected. A secondary aim will be to point out, as the result of this knowledge, certain guiding lines which will enable human beings to take the right course in many difficult situations in life, and which are fitted in many respects to give a sure support to the life of the soul, affording as they do, a thorough understanding of this soul-life. To this end it will be necessary for you to work through these first lectures, which are intended to provide a foundation. They will lead us into esoteric, scientific realms which to many might perhaps at first appear to be far removed from what human feeling would like to grasp at once; but when we have arrived at the true goal of these lectures you will see that this goal can only be attained in a pure manner if we first work through the apparently remote esoteric knowledge which is now to be put before you.
If, to begin with, we consider the inner life of man abstractly, it appears in the three forms we have often mentioned; in the forms of thought, feeling and will. But in order to consider this inward life fully, we must add a fourth, for to the inner life of man belong not only the three realms we have just mentioned, but also that which he obtains through the perceptions of the senses. We do not allow colours and sounds, perceptions of warmth and other sensations to rush past our consciousness, but we lay hold of these impressions, we turn them into perceptions. The fact that we are able to remember these impressions, that we are able to retain them, that we not only know a rose is red when we have one directly in front of us, but that we are able to carry the red of the rose with us, to preserve as it were, the colours as a conception in the memory — this testifies that the life of sensation, the life of perception through which we bring ourselves into touch with the outer world belongs also to our inner life. So that we may say, that we must count our perception of the outer world as part of our inner life, in so far as we make it into something inward in the very act of perceiving it.
We must reckon our thoughts, by means of which we create knowledge for ourselves regarding what is immediately around us, and through science regarding what is more distant, as that, by means of which we make the outer world into our own inner world in a much deeper sense than by perception. We do more than merely live in our perceptions, we reflect upon them and we are aware that through this reflection we are able to experience something of the secrets in the things perceived.
Next, we have to reckon our feelings as part of our inner life; in our feelings we are immediately in that realm of the inner life of man which contains within itself all that brings us as human beings in touch with the world in a manner worthy of humanity. The primary foundation of our truly human existence is that we are able to feel concerning things — that we are able to feel pleasure in what is around us. In a certain sense this is also the foundation of all our happiness and sorrow; for these are made up of feeling, which wells up and again subsides. Certain feelings arise within us, or force themselves on us, which uplift and strengthen our life and in which we feel happy and satisfied; other feelings arise through the events of life, through our destiny and also through our inward life, which give us pain and sorrow. When we use the word ‘feeling’, we are referring to the realm which embraces the happiness and sorrow of human life.
When we refer to the will, we are dealing with that which makes us of value to the world, which so places us in the world that we not only live a life of knowledge and a life of feeling within ourselves, but are able to re-act upon the world. What a human being wills, and what flows from his will into his actions, constitutes his value to the world. Thus we may say that in referring to the realm of will we are dealing with that element which shows that man is a part of the world and it is our inner life which thus flows out into the world and forms part of it. Whether they are the emotions and passions of criminal natures hostile to social life that flow into the will and thence become part of the world to the world's detriment, or whether they are the high, pure ideals which the idealist draws down from his contact with the spiritual ordering of the world and allows to flow into his actions, allows to flow perhaps only into his words which act upon human beings, stimulating them or revealing the worth of man — in either case we are always dealing with what lies in the realm of will, with what gives to man his value. So that all the wealth which man can really possess as a soul-being, is expressed, when we mention these four realms: Perceptions, Thought, Feeling and Will.
Now to one who goes somewhat more deeply into the consideration of what we may call the four inner spheres of the soul-nature of man, there appears a significant difference between the first two and the last two parts of this four-fold human being. In ordinary life, the difference does not really enter very much into the consciousness of man; at the most it only enters our consciousness when we reflect upon these four spheres of human nature in the following manner.
In speaking of perception, and reflecting upon it, we have the feeling that with perception we are directly in touch with the outer world. Through perception we interiorise the outer world; it furnishes something which belongs to our inner being when we have worked upon the sensation. But we have the feeling that we must so order our sensation that it gives us true images of the outer world in certain conditions, and every failing or defect in the life of perception and of sensation, every distortion of the senses means that our inner life is impoverished through our becoming poorer with respect to what we are able to obtain from the outer world.
In passing from perception to thought, we become aware that also with respect to thought we may have the feeling that we must not be satisfied if this thought merely stirs and dies down again within itself; thoughts only have an ultimate value when they represent within us something which is objective, something that is outside us. Our reflections would give us no satisfaction if through them we could not experience something about the outer world.
But when we pass to our feeling and reflect a little thereon, we find that this feeling, or, perhaps better, the life of feeling, is much more intimately connected with our own inner being than are thought and perception. When we wish to perceive or feel certain subtleties of the outer world in the right way, we have the idea that we must, to begin with, develop ourselves in a purely external manner on the physical plane. If we have a thought which we can call true, we say of this true thought that it must really hold good for all our fellow-men and it must also be possible to convince others of this thought if we can only find the right words to express it. But if we stand before a phenomenon of nature, or, shall we say, a human work of art, and through this develop our feelings, we know that fundamentally our human nature alone does not help us fully to exhaust what may thus be in front of us. It may be that when we hear a piece of music or see a painting we remain quite dull simply because we have not educated our feeling to be able to perceive its refinements. If we follow this direction of thought we find that this life of feeling is very interior and that we are unable to convey it to others directly in thought in the manner we experience it inwardly. In our life of feeling we are, under all circumstances, in a certain sense alone. We know at the same time that this life of feeling is the source of a special inward treasure, it is an inward result of evolution, and just because it is something so subjective, it cannot directly pass over into the object in the same way as it lives inwardly.
The same thing must be said with respect to the will. How different we human beings are with respect to what we will, with respect to what passes into our actions through our will! The great variety of human action really comes about through one person willing this and another that. When in the case of feeling we are able to rejoice in finding a companion in life who, in a purely inward, subjective manner, has arrived at a similar standpoint of feeling as ourselves, one who, through feeling, can so interiorise certain refinements in the external world that he has an understanding which is independent of and yet connected with us, we feel that our life is enhanced by such companionship. Each one of us has to develop his own feelings within himself; but we are able to find others whose feelings echo our own. For although the life of feeling is inward, it is still possible for different human beings to have feelings that are in unison. But there cannot be two wills which are directed to one and the same object, that is, two human beings who wish to do one and the same thing at the same time. The two wills cannot unite in a single object. Even the handle we grasp to turn a machine we can only grasp ourselves, though another helps us with it, the part of the work that we do through our own will is only half of the whole work. We do our half, the other person the other half. Two will-impulses cannot exist together in one object. Although we occupy common worlds through our will, it is exactly through this will that we are so placed in the world that each of us is a single individuality. It is just by this we are shown how the will constitutes the individual worth of a human being, how from this standpoint the will is the innermost thing.
We may gather from this that perception and thought are more external in the inner life of man, and that feeling and will are more internal, and constitute his true inner nature.
Now with respect to these four spheres of human soul-life another distinction may be seen, even through an entirely external, exoteric method of observation. When we confront the world with our perception we may say that this perception does indeed bring the world to us, but from one standpoint only. How small is that section of the world which through our perception we are able to make into our own inner life! In perception we are dependent upon place and time. We must allow that the very least part of what we perceive in the world enters our inner life through our perception. And with respect to our thought we have the notion that no matter what efforts we make there are always further steps that can be taken; through our thought we can always press on further and further. In short, we have the notion that the world is there outside, and through perception and thought we can only make ourselves masters of a tiny portion of this world. It is different with feeling; for in this case one asks: what possibilities of feeling, what possibilities in the way of joy and sorrow are within us? What might we not bring forth from the depths of our soul! And if we did bring it forth, how much more nobly should we feel about the things of the world!
Whereas with regard to perception and thought one has the notion that there is a great deal outside in the world of which one can experience only a small portion through perception and thought; with respect to feeling one has the sensation: within me are endless depths; could I but bring them forth, my feeling would become richer and richer. I can only bring forth the smallest part and transform it into actual feeling ... through perception and thought I can only turn a tiny portion of the world into my own inner world, in the sphere of actual experience I can only give expression to a part of the possibilities I have within me. And this is also the case to a much higher degree with the will. I refer to one thing only. How strongly we feel our shortcomings in what we do, as compared with what we might do, or in what it is possible for us to do!
Thus we realise that we only bring a portion of the outer world into our inner life through our perception and thought; and we are only able to bring forth a part of what lies deep down in the soul, through our feeling and our will. Thus the four spheres of our soul-life are divided, as it were, into two parts; perception and thought on the one side, feeling and will on the other.
An entirely different light is thrown upon these four spheres of our inner life when we try to illumine esoterically that which we may thus explain exoterically by means of thought.
You know that during the night when a person is asleep, the connection between his ‘I’ and his astral body on the one hand, and his physical body and etheric body on the other, is different from what it is while he is awake. During the day while he is awake his physical body, etheric body, astral body and ‘I’ are coupled together in a normal manner. This connection is loosened during sleep, so that the astral body and the ‘I’ are away from the sphere of the senses and from the sphere of thought, that is, away from the entire sphere of the instruments of consciousness, and therefore the darkness of night is spread over normal consciousness and unconsciousness supervenes. Now, when through his esoteric exercises a person so strengthens his soul that he knows and perceives — that is, he spiritually knows and perceives — in the spiritual soul-being which he is during the night; when he is unconscious outside the body, when he really experiences this spiritual soul-being as his own human nature outside the body, then a new world appears to him, a spiritual world, just as a physical world exists for a person when he makes use of the senses and the brain which serves thought. Thus a spiritual world is around him.
Now, the spiritual environment which can then be observed, is by no means always the same. Were a person to place himself in the position of a spiritual investigator, he would see at various times and in various ways, how the intention always affects what a person sees spiritually. It is not the conscious intention, but rather the unconscious, instinctive intention which always affects what he really wants to know. If, for example, a person goes out of his body in order to come in contact with a dead person, this intention affects the whole of his spiritual field of consciousness; he overlooks, as it were, all that does not belong to this intention. If he succeeds at all, he steers straight for the dead person and his destiny, in order to see what he desires to see in connection with him. The rest of the spiritual world remains unnoticed — it would be better to use the word obscure — and the person then feels his connection with the dead. Thus what a man sees in the spiritual world, depends upon his intention. And so you can understand, that what is described by the clairvoyant consciousness regarding what it sees in the spiritual world, may vary infinitely with different clairvoyant individuals. Each one may have seen quite correctly what he did see, according to the purpose in him when he withdrew his soul and spirit from his physical, bodily part. In this and the following lectures I shall describe what the clairvoyant consciousness sees when it enters into the spiritual world with the intention of knowing the inner human-life — these four soul-spheres of Perception, Thought, Feeling and Will — in order actually to get behind that which ebbs and flows in this human soul causing it happiness and sorrow.
Let us suppose that a clairvoyant consciousness has reached the point where the spiritual and soul-part can really leave the physical bodily-part in a way similar to what is usually done unconsciously during sleep; and he leaves it with the definite purpose — the definite impulse to become acquainted with, to feel really confronted with the inner life of man. He will meet with what I shall now try to describe.
The first thing that the clairvoyant consciousness meets with, is in fact a complete reversal of his entire mental outlook. As long as we are in the body we look around us with our senses and think about what we see with our intellect. We look upon a world of mountains, rivers, clouds, stars, etc., and at one point in this world we see ourselves as a very small thing compared with this great world. When the clairvoyant consciousness begins to act outside the body, this relationship is exactly reversed. The world which ordinarily is outspread before our senses and which we reflect upon with the intellect that is connected with our brain — this world disappears from our view. It no longer provides us with thoughts, but one feels as if poured out into this world, one really feels as if one has left one's body.
This perception is correctly expressed when we say to ourselves, Thou art now poured out into the world which previously thou didst look upon, thou art in it, thou fillest the whole space up to a certain limit, and yet thou thyself livest in time. This is a sensation to which one has to become accustomed; it is at first a sensation which may be expressed by saying, that what previously was outer world has now become inner world. Not as if one now carried within one this former outer world, but one has the feeling it has become one's inner world; one feels: thou art living in the space in which formerly thy sense-impressions were outspread and art regarding the objects and processes of which thou didst think. Thou art living in it. ... And when one develops clairvoyant consciousness to a certain extent, the tiny being, the man, who formerly seemed to stand in the centre of the sensible horizon, now really becomes the world, and we look on it as we formerly looked on the whole of the outer world which was outspread in space and ran its course in time. To a certain extent we have become the world. Only imagine what a reversal of the human way of considering the world it is, when that which previously was not world, that to which one had said ‘I’ — when this now really becomes the world outside, towards which everything tends. It is as if from every point of space one were to look towards a single centre and there behold oneself. It is as if one floated back and forth in time and at a certain point, on a wave of this stream of time, one found oneself. One has oneself become the world.
That is the first impression received when — and I once more lay stress on this — when with ‘intention’ to learn to understand the inner life of man, one develops the clairvoyant consciousness; that is the first impression. Is it not remarkable that one goes out of the body with intention to learn about the inner life of man and the first thing that meets one is the human form itself? But how changed is this human form! One cannot say it often enough: that one must go out of the body with the intention of becoming acquainted with the inner life of man and then all that I now tell you takes place. Naturally, it does not necessarily always appears the same. How differently does this human form present itself! One knows: ‘That which thou art now looking at, is thyself; yea, it is thee. Thou who formerly didst feel thyself within thy skin, within thy blood, art now outside.’
At first one sees only what one might call the outer form of that which stands there; though changed. These eyes, those parts which were eyes, shine like two suns, but suns which inwardly vibrate with sparkling light, suns which sparkle, whose light shines out and fades, giving forth radiant light — thus do the eyes appear in the changed human form. The ears begin to sound in a certain way. One does not see the ears as one does in the physical world, but one feels a certain resonance. The whole skin shines with a sort of radiation, which one feels rather than sees. In short, the human form appears to one as something which gives forth light, sound and magnetic, electric radiations. These expressions are naturally inappropriate, because they are taken from the physical world. Thus does the world stand before us, and this is our world at the beginning of the clairvoyant experience we have described. One sees the human being which sparkles with light, the whole skin sparkles so that one can feel it, the eyes can be seen, the ears heard. And when one has this impression, one knows: Thou hast seen thy physical body, from outside the body. One knows: seen from the standpoint of the spirit the physical body is like this.
If one then tries to exercise an inner activity out there, outside the body, which may be compared to reflection — though this differs somewhat from ordinary thinking, for it is the exercise of an inner creative soul-force — if one does this, one sees something more in this shining being; one sees forces moving within it, something like a circulation of force permeating this shining form. Then one knows: That which thou seest like a separate part within thy light body is thy thought-life seen from outside. One may call that of which one now sees part, the etheric body. One sees the etheric body as the weaving thought-life. It is like a circulation of dark waves, a spiritual blood circulation, one might describe it as dark waves in the light-body, giving a peculiar appearance to the whole and constraining one to acknowledge there in thy physical body pulses and weaves the etheric body, which thou now seest from outside, which now becomes visible to thee.
You see, therefore, that outside the body one gains the knowledge that the physical and etheric bodies really exist, and how they appear when seen from outside.
But this inward strengthening may go still further. If one were only to see what I have just described, one would appear peculiar in the spiritual world: one would appear in the spiritual world like a being who on the physical plane could indeed receive impressions from the outer world, but who was inwardly entirely void of feeling, who could feel nothing at all. What corresponds to feeling on the physical plane, can also move us inwardly when outside the body. It is not feeling, for feeling has meaning and existence only within the physical body, but it is that which corresponds to feeling in the spiritual world. Previously, for instance, we merely felt that we were within space and moved in time; in that space in which we observed events and beings and in that time in which we realised that we were in it. When, however, the inner soul-nature which corresponds. to feeling is awakened outside the body, the soul-nature begins to develop a knowledge through which all sorts of things come to light, through which one not only feels as if outspread in space, but through which one perceives something in this space, something which moves in the stream of time; as ‘being.’ One now finds, not what one formerly saw by means of the body and its organs in the outer world, but one finds one has experiences in the inner part of this outer world, in the spiritual part which lives and moves in this outer world. It is as if the space, in which formerly one had only been aware of oneself, were now filled with innumerable stars all in motion, to which one belongs oneself. Then one knows: Thou art now experiencing thyself in the astral body outside the physical body in such a way that what formerly was only felt, now comes to life as inner content.
In looking back at that part of oneself seen previously, which we described as the outer world — that light-body with the dark thought-circulation of the etheric body within it — then, at the moment of concentration [outside the body] upon the astral, the star-life of the astral body, — the body one has left behind — appears different. The exact difference may be expressed as follows: Thou canst concentrate upon thyself, looking back on thy light-body and thy etheric-thought body; thou canst so concentrate on thyself that an inner star-world comes to life within these, regarding which thou knowest: This thou fillest completely, now thou lookest back on thy physical body which thou hast left behind; the shining may then cease, the thought circulation also.
This is done to a certain extent voluntarily and in the place of what has faded, comes an image of our own being, which appears to us — it cannot be expressed otherwise — it appears as our ‘personified karma.’ That, which as human beings we bear within us, that on account of which we shall have this or that fate, is here as if rolled into one. Before us stands our karma personified. When we see this we know: thou art that; such thou really art in thy moral, inner being, as thou standest as an individuality in the world, that thou thyself really art!
Then emerges another consciousness and this consciousness which now supervenes is very depressing. For instance, one sees the whole of this personified fate in such a way that one feels it in most intimate connection with one's body, with one's earth-man, and indeed in such a way that one knows directly: The manner in which thy muscles are constructed in thy earthly body, the whole form of thy muscular system is the creation of this thy fate, thy karma. Now comes the time when one says to oneself: How different Maya or Illusion is from reality! As long as we are on the physical plane we think that this man of muscle consists of fleshly muscles; in reality these fleshly muscles are crystallised karma. And they are so formed in man, so crystallised, that, even to the finest chemical formation man bears his crystallised karma in his muscular system. So strongly is this the case that the spiritual observer sees quite clearly that when for example a person has exercised his muscles so that they have taken him to a place where an accident happens to him, it happened because in his muscles lay the spiritual force which drove him of himself to the place where the accident occurred. The cosmic order has crystallised our fate within our muscular system. In our muscular system lives the spirit (crystallised for the physical plane), which without our apparent knowledge leads us everywhere, directing our coming and our going in accordance with our karma.
If inward strengthening is carried further, if the pupil while outside his body, experiences his inner being still further, there arises within him what in physical life on the physical plane corresponds to the impulse of the Will. As soon as this life of Will rises within a man — but when outside the body — he feels not only as if he were within a system of stars, but as if he were in the sun of this system: he knows that he is one with the sun of his planetary system. One might say that when a person inwardly experiences his astral body he knows that he is one with the ‘planets’ of his planetary system; when he experiences his ‘I’ outside the body he knows that he is one with thy sun of his solar system, to which everything turns, around which all is ordered. If we look back on that which is now no longer within us, but outside — and what is outside us, so long as we are in the physical body, is within us when we are outside the body, and what is within us, when we are in the physical body, is outside us when we are outside the body — if one now looks back at oneself, something else appears; in looking at oneself, one is confronted by the necessity that what exists out there in the physical world as one's own body, had to come into being and must again decay.
The growth and decay of the physical body is what confronts one. One becomes aware that there are Spiritual Powers and Beings which guide and direct the coming forth and growth of this physical body and that there are others which disintegrate this physical body. One becomes aware of that into which this actual growth and decay in the physical world again crystallises. For one knows that this growth and decay is connected fundamentally with the bone-system of man. With the formation of the bone-system in the human physical body, judgement, so to say, is given, regarding the form in which the human being experiences birth and death in the physical body. The way in which a man comes into being and decays, is decided by the way in which the bone-system is crystallised within him. The knowledge comes to one — thou couldst not be the being thou art in physical existence if the whole world had not co-operated in order to bring about the hardening of the physical nature, so that it appears as it does in thy bone-system. In the skeleton one learns to reverence — curious as this may sound — the ruling Cosmic Powers which find their spiritual expression in all the Beings concentrated in the life of the sun. One learns to recognise that this skeleton has been sketched out, as it were, in the cosmic order as the fundamental plan of man, and that the other physical organs have been attached to it.
Thus to clairvoyant vision, that which now has become the outer world culminates in the symbol of death, or one might say, in the vision of the skeleton. For through such clairvoyant experiences one at length acquires knowledge of how the spiritual worlds have fashioned an external physical symbol, as it were, of themselves — these spiritual worlds to which one really belongs with one's inner being and into which one enters on going out of the body. At this fourth stage we also learn that when we perform actions in the world, when we exercise our will, a force is active within us of which we are unconscious on the physical plane and which we only now learn to recognise. If we but make a forward movement and in doing so employ the mechanism of our skeleton, universal cosmic forces take part in the action, forces into which we really first enter when we have experienced this fourth stage outside our body.
Suppose a person goes for a walk and with the aid of the mechanism of his bones moves his limbs forward; he imagines that he does this for his own pleasure. In order that forces might come into existence to enable us to move ourselves forward by the mechanism of our bones, the whole world had to come into being and the whole world had to be filled with divine spiritual forces, spiritual forces of which we only become aware when we arrive at the fourth stage. The divine spiritual Cosmos participates in our every step, and though we think that it is we who move our feet forward, we could not do so if we did not live within the spiritual Cosmos, within the divine world. As long as we are in our physical body we gaze around us; there we see the beings belonging to the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, we see mountains, rivers, oceans, seas, clouds, stars, sun and moon; what we see externally has an inner Being and we ourselves enter into this inner Being when we live outside our body in the manner described. When we live in these Beings we know that their spiritual essence, that which is hidden behind the radiant Sun, behind the shining stars, behind the mountains, rivers, seas, clouds — that which is hidden there lives in the mechanism of our bones when we move them, and that all this must be so.
We can now more clearly understand what was said previously. Just as our will is inwardly connected with the mechanism of our bones, our feelings are inwardly connected with our muscular system. This muscular system is the symbolical expression of our feeling-system. In order that our muscles can be constructed as they are, permitting of expansion and contraction, so as in their turn to set the mechanism of the bones in motion — in order that this can come to pass, the whole planetary system is necessary. We learn this when we find ourselves in our astral body. In our muscular system lives the whole planetary system, just as the whole cosmos lives in the mechanism of our bones. What can be said in a similar way about our thoughts and our sense-perceptions will follow in the next lectures.
Spiritual knowledge reveals such things to us. From this we see that spiritual knowledge is truly not merely something which gives us thoughts and ideas, but which can permeate our whole soul so that we thereby really learn to know ourselves; we become different human beings in all our feeling and thinking. For when a person accepts what has just been described as the experience of clairvoyant consciousness — and which I think can easily be understood — if he accepts this and allows it to work upon his mind and then gathers it together in one fundamental feeling in his soul, how may this fundamental feeling be expressed? How must we describe in a few words that which is enkindled within us as an inner feeling through this clairvoyant knowledge?
We look at that which seemingly is most ordinary, the expression of our most everyday moods, and we receive something like an impression of what is described concerning Capesius and Benedictus in the opening sentences of my Mystery Drama, The Soul's Probation, namely how in man are gathered together the aims which divine Spiritual Beings have set before them, how into the nature of man flows that which divine Spiritual Beings have thought throughout the worlds, If we wish to sum this up in one vital feeling, we may describe it by saying that we now regard human nature differently from what we did before, we now know in a different manner than formerly that human nature is permeated by the divine Cosmos. Our consciousness is fired by this and waxing stronger declares with inner understanding of soul and feeling that if we wish to understand man, we cannot do so otherwise than by recognising that the whole is born from out Divine-Spirituality. When we consider him and observe how his feelings flow into his muscular activity and how Divine-Spirituality, the Cosmos, enters into his bones, how the whole universe lives in the movement of his bones and the whole planetary system lives in the contraction, expansion and relaxation of his muscles, when we ponder on this and feel it deeply, we can say with full understanding: Of a truth man is born from God:
EX DEO NASCIMUR
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