Tuesday, January 12, 2021
The Tasks and Aims of Spiritual Science : The Way of Jñana Yoga
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, November 13, 1909:
On this occasion let me once more call attention to the fact that as the German Section of the Theosophical* Society we find ourselves in an epoch of importance. What has been said in different lectures with regard to the cycles which run in SEVENS is no mere figure of speech, but is in harmony with the laws of existence. And having now completed a 7-years' cycle in the life of the German Section we may do well to pause and look into our whole work and endeavor. This work is only possible if the spiritual movement, in its development, contains in its inner ordering something of the laws of the great cosmic system. The cosmic system runs its course in cycles which can be reckoned according to the number 7; for we reckon 7 planetary conditions and so on.
* [In connection with the use of the words ‘Theosophy’, ‘theosophical’, in this text, it will be remembered that from the beginning of the century until the years 1911 or 1912, Dr. Steiner had been able to work as an independent teacher within the framework of the Theosophical Society and was the General Secretary of the German Section. His teaching of the unique nature and position of the Christ was at variance with the tendencies which had come to prevail in that Society and the statements on this subject made by its leaders, and Dr. Steiner's association with it inevitably came to an end. In 1912 the Anthroposophical Society was provisionally founded and its headquarters established at Dornach in 1913.]
In a movement like our own, the number 7 also has a certain part to play, and after 7 years our striving in a sense turns back again to the beginning, for it has in the meantime incorporated in itself what has been achieved; our striving turns back again to its beginning, but at a higher stage. It is only possible to arrive at this by considering how the whole rests upon an inner law.
If you look back a little at the work we have done in these 7 years, you will be able to notice one thing: there has been a certain order and regularity about this work. Of course you cannot take what I have said as being correct to a day, but if you take it in its essentials, you will see that it is true.
In the first years of our work in the German Section we so to speak laid the foundations. What we did in the first four years was to acquire some knowledge of the paths which lead to the higher worlds, of the great cosmic connections, and of the examination and testing of what is found in the Akashic Record with regard to the secrets of the cosmos. Those members who joined later have found it necessary — and will always do so — to acquire knowledge afterwards of this foundation of our work. This is indispensable for everybody; for it is not sufficient to assimilate only what has happened in the last three years and has enabled the movement to progress in the right way. If you look back you will see that the last three years have brought about the development of those truths and facts which have been put before you of late, perhaps in a somewhat astonishing form. If you try to establish the connection with what was done in the first four years of our work in the four-fold foundation, as it were, of the whole, you will see that even those great and all-embracing truths which have been impressing you so deeply have a very close connection with what happened in the first four years. You will be able to convince yourselves of this if you ponder it well. The younger members must bear written upon their hearts the absolute necessity of acquiring for themselves a firm and sure foundation. Wherever the work is being carried on, we are making it more and more possible for those who join later to pick up for themselves what has been accomplished here in the early days. It is really impossible for them to cooperate without this recapitulation; and the Theosophical movement must be taken seriously in the deepest sense. In this connection we may perhaps speak today on a subject that concerns the theosophical attitude of mind and the whole manner of theosophical thought; and we will relate it to the significant time through which we are passing. I mean the question: “What is the right attitude for the theosophist to take with regard to Theosophy itself?”
What is here meant will be clearer if I put the question in another way: “Why is Theosophy taught today at all as it is taught? Why is information given about the higher worlds, information that is the result of spiritual research and clairvoyant consciousness? Could one not perhaps proceed in quite a different way?” Let us suppose, e.g., that we were to begin by giving each person certain instructions as to how he can develop those inner faculties which at present are dormant within his soul, so that by means of these instructions it would be possible for him gradually to penetrate into the spiritual worlds himself, without having first been given any of the facts of the higher worlds, as is done today.
This was indeed the custom formerly, to a certain extent: it was so before the Theosophical movement in the modern sense came into being. For a long time it had been said: It is really not of much use for anyone to stand before the world and communicate the results of spiritual investigation. Such communications were accordingly withheld as far as possible, and only certain maxims were given to people as to how they should develop the faculties dormant within their own souls; as a rule people were not told any more than they had gradually come to see for themselves in the higher worlds. The question might now arise: Why is this path not taken today? Why are the results of spiritual investigation communicated to men?
This step has not been taken out of any personal preference or from any personal decision: there are good reasons for it. We shall understand it better if we constantly remind ourselves of what it is that Spiritual Science really tells us. It tells us of facts and truths from the realm of the higher supersensible worlds; it tells us of that which clairvoyant consciousness can discover in these higher worlds.
Now it is of course true that one who hears of such things and is not himself clairvoyant cannot convince himself of the facts as such through his own immediate vision; it is quite true that he receives them and cannot prove them by clairvoyant evidence. That is true; but it would be quite wrong to imagine that the man who is not clairvoyant cannot in any way prove or have insight into the facts which are now being presented. And it would be wrong to assert that one must merely take in faith and on authority what is given out of clairvoyant consciousness. These communications would be in the highest degree imperfect, would lack something essential, if they appealed only to authority and faith. What is being given out in the right way — this has often been emphasized — can be discovered only by clairvoyant consciousness; but when it has once been discovered — if only by one person — when it has once been seen and communicated, everyone can understand it by means of unprejudiced reason, that is to say by those faculties which are accessible to him on the physical plane. And it may well be said: Even if no one of those here present ever has the opportunity of proving everything immediately in the most comprehensive sense, everyone could at any rate make this possible if he had the time and the necessary mental faculties (I mean, faculties of the physical plane). Let us even consider such difficult matters as were treated of here in recent lectures with regard to the incarnations of Zarathustra, such difficulties as, e.g., that Zarathustra's etheric body passed over into Moses — let us even imagine that such difficult, far-reaching, and significant subjects are being dealt with: even then let no one assert that he who knows these things as the result of spiritual research appeals to blind credulity! That is by no means the case. But suppose someone were to come and say: “I for my part am no clairvoyant. But here is someone asserting these things about Zarathustra and his incarnations. I will now lay hold of everything that is at my disposal on the physical plane, everything that history hands down to us, everything that is contained in the stone monuments, or in ancient religious documents, and I will test all these most carefully.” And suppose he were to say further: “Assuming that what is being said is correct, does it tally with the facts that can be externally corroborated?” Such a person would then investigate thoroughly what can be confirmed by external means, and he would see that the more closely he investigated, the more he would find corroboration for what the clairvoyant has set forth. If the word “fear” had any meaning at all in this connection, then one could say that the research of Spiritual Science might perhaps really feel fear of an inexact examination; but it could never fear those who are ready to follow fully and accurately the paths of material investigation. For such people will see that the more closely they pursue their investigations, the more corroboration they will find for the facts which the clairvoyant communicates. But for the things that are not so remote or difficult, things which are connected with karma and reincarnation, and the life between death and a new birth — for these one only needs to observe, in an open-minded way, what ordinary life has to offer. And the more this is done, the more will confirmation be found for the facts communicated by the clairvoyant; that is to say, there are possibilities enough of convincing oneself that what is acquired from supersensible worlds can be confirmed by the outer physical world. This is something which should not be taken lightly, but which we should look upon as an essential fact. We must in our own lives put to the test the facts that only a few can really investigate; we should not always be repeating the phrase: That must be taken on trust! Accept as little as possible on trust; examine, test, and prove all the time! Only be sure that you do it in an open-minded, unprejudiced way. This, then, is the first thing upon which stress must be laid.
But now you will find that a testing of this kind requires great effort, it demands thought and work. It means that one must really set out to find confirmations in the physical world for what is stated out of clairvoyant research. And here we come to a matter of which we shall do well to speak, a matter that is closely connected with our main question. Is it not necessary, is it not even good, for the man of today, besides striving (as he certainly should strive) to penetrate into the spiritual world, also to occupy himself at the same time with an energetic cultivation of the ordinary means of knowledge and the ordinary methods of thought? In other words: Does the theosophist not do well to overcome the indolence that is certainly prevalent in the world today, and to develop his world of thought in all earnestness, to lay hold of the means by which man can be comprehended even only on the physical plane, and to turn these to his use? Is it not right that he should learn a great deal, and especially learn how to think?
It is indeed very difficult to make clear to the consciousness of the present day what is meant by this. It once happened that someone who wanted to make progress in theosophical knowledge and at the same time to learn how to think the thoughts with greater exactitude, came and asked me to recommend him what to read. I recommended him to study Spinoza's Ethics, so that he would be able to formulate in clear-cut outlines the thoughts that were being given him. Not many weeks afterwards he wrote to me that he could not see why he should study this book; it was rather voluminous and the whole object was simply to prove the existence of God, which he had never doubted; therefore he saw no need to wade through long trains of thought in order to prove the existence of God!
This is an example of just that kind of indolence with which men approach Theosophy or Spiritual Science today. They are very soon satisfied when they have come to some belief or other, and they fight shy of the trouble of building it up for themselves, bit by bit, into conceptions which are, admittedly, troublesome to acquire. But for such persons the only possible result is blind faith, whereas you will find that it ceases to be blind faith if you will really school your thinking and not simply want, out of curiosity, to develop those powers which lead to an elementary stage of clairvoyance. I do not, of course, say that this could not run parallel, but we need to train at the same time the physical powers of thought, those faculties of knowledge that have been given to us here on the physical plane; these must be trained too, even if it is irksome, in order that we may be in a position to form clearly defined ideas and clearly defined concepts of what is communicated to us from out of the higher worlds. It is very easy to imagine that it is better to have clairvoyance in the very smallest degree than it is to understand through the reasoning mind ever so many of the facts of the higher worlds. It might easily be said: “I really do not know why I am a member of this Society; we are always being told things about the higher worlds; all that is quite nice, but I would much prefer it if I could catch the merest glimpse of them myself by means of clairvoyant vision.” — I know a very learned theosophist who had an intense longing to get beyond mere learning to direct vision, and he expressed this longing as follows: “If only I could once be able to see even the tip of the tail of one of these elemental beings!” Such a remark is quite understandable. This particular theosophist would never have been ready to give up his knowledge of theosophical truth in exchange; but there might well be someone ready to do so, if he could gain only a small degree of clairvoyant vision. Such a feeling would, however, be wrong from every point of view. For we must consider the age in which we live. It is the age which, in the whole evolution of man, is the epoch when conscious thought must be developed, just as in the ancient Indian period a quite different kind of consciousness was evolved, a consciousness that was reminiscent of a dim, shadowy clairvoyance; the powers of the present day have gradually been developing ever since that time. It is only we in this age who in conjunction with the development of the Spiritual Soul have brought human thinking into the sphere of Earth evolution. For this reason Theosophy must now, at this time, be brought down out of the supersensible world and must make its appeal to the reasoned thinking of men.
We need to distinguish clearly between two conditions. Firstly: a man may not be much of a thinker, his thinking may indeed be quite primitive, and yet he may at the same time be comparatively far advanced as regards vision on the astral plane, and even, up to a certain point, on the devachanic plane; he may be quite advanced in this respect and able to see a great deal. Or again, the other case is possible: A man who knows a great deal about the theosophical truths may yet be able to see nothing at all for himself, may not be in the position, as we were saying, to see even “the tip of the tail” of an elemental being! This is also quite possible. Now let us ask ourselves: What is really the inner connection between these different faculties of the human soul?
Here it must be emphasized that to have something, and to be conscious of what we have, are two distinct things. It is extraordinarily important to grasp this point. You will understand it rightly if the question is put somewhat differently. You were all once clairvoyant; in primeval times everyone was clairvoyant, and there was a time too when men were able to look back into the far, far past. And now you may ask: But how is it that we do not remember our former incarnations if we were once able to look back through the ages? Then you may ask: If we become clairvoyant now, will that help us in the next incarnation to look back?
This fact you must have clearly before you, that the old clairvoyance is of no use for looking back today. You once had this clairvoyance. How is it, then, that the majority of people today do not remember their former incarnations? This question is of the greatest importance. People do not remember their former incarnations — although in earlier epochs they were clairvoyant to a greater or less degree — because in those times they had not developed the faculties which are the faculties of the self, of the ego. For the development of clairvoyant faculties in the general sense is not the essential point.
Let me make this clear to you by a comparison. Imagine that when you woke up in the morning you could remember nothing about your experiences of the day before. — Now, however clairvoyant people may have been in former times, if they did not pay attention to the development of the faculties of the ego, namely, the faculty of thinking, the power of discrimination, which are the special faculties of the human ego on this Earth, then the ego was not actively present in the former incarnations, the self-hood was not there! What, then, is there for people to remember? A self-contained ego must be there in the previous incarnation. That is the whole point! So that today it is only those people who in their earlier incarnations have worked through the medium of thought, of logic, of discrimination, who can remember those incarnations. Thus however advanced a man is in clairvoyance, if he has not in former incarnations worked through the power of discrimination, of logical thinking, he cannot remember a former incarnation. For he had not at that time set up the signpost, as it were, to which his recollection has to go back. So you will see that when one understands Spiritual Science, one cannot too quickly set to work to acquire just these very faculties of genuine thought.
Now perhaps you will say: But when I am clairvoyant I shall already have mastered the faculty of logical thinking. That is not so! Why have the Gods allowed human beings to exist at all? Because it was only in human beings that they could cause faculties to develop which otherwise could not have been developed at all. The power to think, to picture something in thoughts in which there is the quality of discrimination — this faculty can be developed only on this our Earth; formerly it did not exist, it could only come about through the fact of the existence of human beings. We might take the following comparison. — Suppose you have a grain of corn — of wheat, let us say. However long you look at it, no wheat will grow out of it. You must put it in the soil and let it grow, you must let the growth-forces work upon it. That which the divine-spiritual beings had before the formation of man may be compared to the grain of wheat. If this “grain of wheat” was to come to life in the form of thoughts, it had first to be cultivated by human beings on the physical plane. The only possible means of cultivating thoughts on the Earth from the higher world is through human incarnations. So that the thoughts of men on the physical plane have a character which is entirely their own and must lead up to what is possible in the higher worlds. It was necessary for the Gods that there should be men on the Earth. The Gods allowed men to come into being in order to preserve through them in the form of thought what they had had in the higher worlds. Thus what comes down from the higher worlds would never have taken form in thought if man had not been able to give it this form. And he who will not think on the Earth deprives the Gods of what they have reckoned upon, and he cannot accomplish what is his real human task and destiny upon Earth. For he can only attain this in an incarnation wherein he really labors at the development of his powers of thought. If this is realized, all the rest follows from it.
That which brings revelations, real facts about the spiritual world, can enter the human soul in manifold ways. It is certainly possible for men to come to clairvoyant vision without being clear thinkers, and indeed this is very frequently the case today. The majority of those who become clairvoyant are not clear thinkers. But those who are clear thinkers and those who are not will have very different experiences in the spiritual world. The difference might be expressed thus: What is revealed from out of the higher worlds impresses itself most clearly into those forms of mental perception which we bring to the higher worlds as thoughts. Thoughts are the best vehicle for the revelations.
But if we are not thinkers, the revelations must seek other forms, e.g. a picture. The most usual way for one who is not a thinker to receive revelations is in the form of a sense image. And you may often hear those who are visionary clairvoyants without being thinkers, describe in sense images what they have seen. These may have beauty; but we must at the same time be aware that a thinker has a different subjective experience from a non-thinker. If you have revelations as a non-thinker, the sense-image is there; this or that figure stands before you. It reveals itself out of the spiritual world. Let us say, you see the figure of an angel, or some symbolic form — perhaps a cross, a monstrance, a chalice. This is present in the supersensible realm and you see it as a finished picture. You say to yourselves that it is reality — but actually it is a picture. New experiences of the spiritual world will present themselves to the subjective consciousness of the thinker in a rather different way. It will not be the same as for the non-thinker. For the thinker, the things will not suddenly be there before him as though they had been shot out of a pistol; they will appear in a different way. Take a non-thinking, visionary clairvoyant and a thinking, visionary clairvoyant. They may both receive the same revelations. Let us take some particular case. The non-thinking clairvoyant sees this or that phenomenon of the spiritual world. The thinking clairvoyant does not see it yet, but only later; and the very moment he sees it, it is taken hold of by his own thought and he can at once discriminate and know whether it is or is not truth. He sees it somewhat later than the non-thinking clairvoyant, but when he does see it, it comes to him in such a form that he has already penetrated it with his thoughts, and can tell whether it is illusion or reality; so that in a sense he possesses something before he actually sees it. The revelation comes to him at the same moment as to the non-thinking clairvoyant, but he sees it later. When he sees it, however, it is already penetrated with judgment and thought, and he knows exactly whether it is a hallucination — i.e., whether his own desires are being objectivized — or whether it is objective reality. That is the difference in the subjective experiences of the two clairvoyants. The non-thinking clairvoyant sees the phenomenon at once, the thinking clairvoyant, later. In the ease of the former the picture will remain as it was; all he can do is to describe it. But the thinking clairvoyant will be able to link it up and bring it completely into line with what is present in the ordinary physical world; for the physical world, no less than the phenomenon which he has seen, is a revelation from out of the spiritual world.
From this you will see that if you approach the spiritual world equipped with the instrument of thought, you will be able to bring reliable judgment to bear upon what is presented to you.
But now something else follows. A person might dispute the value of communications from the spiritual world if he has not seen the phenomena for himself. Let us imagine a third person as well as the two mentioned. This third person is not clairvoyant at all but is informed of the results of spiritual investigation in so far as they have been acquired by clairvoyance combined with clear thinking. He looks upon them as reasonable. Yes, they are facts from the spiritual world. The thinking clairvoyant has acquired them, and anyone who has grasped them with his reason possesses them, even if he is not conscious of it. You do not need to be at all clairvoyant, yet you have the full value in yourself of what has been communicated to you. There is a difference between having something and being conscious that one has it. The relation of a non-clairvoyant theosophist to a clairvoyant theosophist can become clear by thinking of the following. — Imagine that you had been given a legacy, but had not yet heard about it. If this were the case, the legacy would nevertheless have its value for you. Even if you do not hear about it until later, yet you possess it all the same. So it is with whoever learns of the facts of the spiritual world through Spiritual Science. They are his, if he has grasped them in an understanding way; he possesses them and need only wait for the time when he will become conscious of them. The becoming conscious of them, however, is not of equal significance with their possession. This is particularly noticeable after death. Which is of more use — if we may put it thus trivially, to make the meaning clear — which is of more use to man after death: to see something in a visionary way, without thought, or to receive purely theosophical communications without seeing things in a visionary way?
One could easily imagine that visionary sight would be a better preparation for death than merely to hear of the facts of the spiritual world. And yet the truth is that after death, what a man has simply seen in a visionary way is of very little use to him, while on the other hand an actual reality is immediately present as soon as he becomes conscious of what he has received in spiritual communications, if he has grasped these with his understanding. It is what has been understood that is of value after death, whether it has been seen or not.
Consider the highest initiate. Through his clairvoyance he can behold the whole spiritual world! But this will not enhance his significance after death if he is not able to express these facts in human concepts. All that will help him after death is what he has possessed here on Earth in the form of clear concepts of thought. There are the seeds for the life after death. Of course anyone who is a thinker as well as a visionary clairvoyant can turn his visions to good account. But two non-thinking persons, of whom one is clairvoyant and the other merely listens to the results of the clairvoyance — these two will be in exactly the same position after death. There is no difference between them, for what we take into the life after death is what we acquire for ourselves here by means of clear thinking. This springs up like a seed; but not so, what we have merely already seen on Earth of the worlds we now enter. What we receive here from the higher worlds is not given to us as a free gift so as to make it easier for us when we leave the physical plane, but in order that we may translate it into the current coin of the Earth. What we have thus translated, just so much helps us after death. That is the essential thing.
Thus it is in regard to the life after death. But here on the physical plane too, the case of the visionary clairvoyant is different from that of the thinking clairvoyant. It is interesting and beautiful to see into the spiritual worlds, but nonetheless there is a difference when the spiritual worlds are beheld merely in a visionary way. Apart from the fact that it is impossible to be secure from illusions — and the only way to avoid illusions is to apply clear thinking to what has been seen — apart from this, let us suppose that a visionary clairvoyant has perceived this or that; then the form in which he perceives it, and which you can discover from his own account of it, is penetrated by elements of the physical plane. Has anyone ever described to you an angel that was not permeated by elements of the physical plane? He had wings. So have the birds. He had a human-shaped body. So has every human being on the physical plane. The things the visionary clairvoyant describes are, it is true, put together in a fashion that is not to be found on the physical plane, but the pictures are nevertheless composed of elements of the physical plane. This is not without justification; but you will see that such a picture has within it something that belongs to the Earth. The forms and pictures in your vision that are taken from the physical plane do not belong to the spiritual world, they only give a picture of the spiritual world in the domain of the senses. This I have set forth clearly in my Occult Science, which has now been completed. I have there shown that present-day clairvoyance must indeed be of a pictorial character in its early stages, but that it must not remain there, it must develop to the point where the last remnant of what is earthly in the visions is cast aside. There is of course a certain danger for the clairvoyant when he thus strips off the last remnant of Earth. For example, when he sees the angel and then strips off all that is earthly, he is faced with the danger of seeing nothing at all! What is it that can prevent one from losing the vision altogether on entering actually into the spiritual world? The seed that can spring up out of thinking! Thoughts afford the substance whereby what is in the spiritual world may be comprehended. We acquire the power really to live in the spiritual world by comprehending, in our world of the senses, what is no longer permeated by sense elements and yet is on the physical plane. Thoughts alone fulfill this condition. The only thing we may bring into the spiritual world is thoughts. With regard to a circle, for example, nothing of the chalk drawing of it, but simply and solely our thoughts about a circle. With these thoughts you can ascend into the spiritual worlds. You must bring nothing of the picture with you.
And now I can describe the above-mentioned subjective process more exactly. Let us suppose, for example, that something is seen in the field of spiritual vision — let us say, a monstrance. I will now characterize the two clairvoyants, the merely visionary and the thinking clairvoyant, by supposing that the one sees the monstrance here (a) and the other, the thinking clairvoyant, only sees it here (b)
It is only from this point onwards that he becomes conscious of it. He receives it, however, immediately with thoughts, he penetrates it with thought. But at the moment when the thinking clairvoyant fills his image with thoughts, it becomes indistinct for the visionary clairvoyant. It becomes black and indistinct here at this point (b) and reappears only after some time. Just at the point where thought can unite with the image, it becomes indistinct for the visionary clairvoyant; he is really never in a position to unite thought with it, therefore he never has the experience: ‘I was there with my ego.’ This experience can never come to the merely visionary clairvoyant.
All this takes us more intimately into the whole question, and it is exceedingly important to reflect upon it. It leads us to consider the necessity of developing our thinking, and of overcoming the disinclination to acquire an understanding knowledge for ourselves. It is a thousand times better to have grasped the ideas of Spiritual Science with thought first of all, and then — sooner or later, each according to his karma — to be able oneself to ascend into the spiritual worlds; a thousand times better than to have ‘seen’ straight-away and not to have grasped with thought the knowledge that is imparted in the movement known as the Theosophical. A thousand times better it is indeed, to know Theosophy and to see nothing as yet, than to see something and not be able to penetrate it with thought, for that is how unreliability is introduced.
You can express the matter even more exactly, as follows. — You say: There are at the present time very clear thinkers who can understand the theosophical view of the world in an intellectual way. How is it that it is sometimes just these people who have such difficulty in reaching clairvoyance? — Those who are not clear thinkers find it comparatively easy to become clairvoyant, and they are then apt to feel themselves superior to the thinkers, while the latter find it difficult to become clairvoyant at all. Here is the point — distant by a hair's breadth only — where a certain arrogance in disguise begins to assert itself. There is indeed hardly anything that breeds and fosters pride so much as a clairvoyance which has not been illumined with thought, and that is why it is so dangerous, because the clairvoyant does not as a rule consider himself proud at all, but very humble. He has no notion of the pride that consists in undervaluing the activity of thought and laying the chief emphasis on inspirations. It is a terrible form of pride, a masked pride.
The question is really as follows: How is it that for many a thinker — as experience teaches us — it is so exceedingly difficult to come to the point of being clairvoyant? This is connected with an important fact. What we call power of discrimination, power of judgment in man, in other words the logical thinking of the thinker, brings about a definite change in the whole structure of the human brain. Clear thinking causes a change in the physical instrument of the brain. Scientific research knows little of this, but it is a fact that a physical brain that has been used by a thinker has a different appearance from the brain which belongs to a non-thinker. The fact of being clairvoyant does not change it much. The brain of a non-thinker has very complicated convolutions, but that of a clear thinker is comparatively simple, without any special complications. Thinking actually expresses itself in the simplification of the convolutions of the brain. Present-day research knows nothing of this. Clear thinking is thinking that can survey wide vistas, not the thinking that occupies itself with analysis. Hence the greater simplicity of the brain-convolutions of a clear thinker. Whenever scientific research does condescend in any way to test clear thinking in its connection with material conditions, then it very soon appears that scientific research corroborates the statements of Spiritual Science. The examination of the brain of Mendeleeff, to whom science owes the exposition of the periodic system of the elements, confirms what Spiritual Science says. His brain convolutions were simpler than usual. Within certain limits he had the power of comprehensive thinking, and physical examination bore out absolutely the truth of what I have said. — I do not mention this as being of any very special value, but only by the way. — Thus, as I have said, a change comes about in the instrument, and this change must be brought about by the activity of thought itself. No one is born with all the faculties he will possess later; he may have tendencies in certain directions, but the faculties themselves he must first develop. So it is a fact that changes take place in the brain in the course of a man's life. After a life of thought the instrument of thinking is different from what it was before.
Now, the fact is that our etheric body, which for clairvoyant consciousness must be loosened from the physical brain, becomes more closely bound to the brain through the activity of thought. Thinking chains the etheric body firmly to the brain. If through his karma anyone has not yet the forces necessary to loosen it again at the right time, it may be that he cannot get far in clairvoyance in this incarnation; this depends on his karma. Supposing that in a former incarnation his karma had ordained him to be a clear thinker, then at the present time his thinking will not bind his etheric body so strongly to the brain; he will be able to set free his etheric body comparatively easily, and for the very reason that the elements of thought are the best preparation for ascending into the higher worlds — for this very reason he can investigate the secrets of the higher worlds in the most intimate way. Of course he must first set free again the etheric body from the brain. But if with what one may call the fine chiseling of thought the etheric body has become so caught in the physical brain that it is exhausted, then his karma may perhaps make him wait a long time before he can set it free again. When, however, the etheric body does become free, it will mean that he has passed the point of logical thought. Then what he has acquired can never be lost; no one can take it away from him. That is an essential and important fact, because otherwise clairvoyance can often be lost again after it has been acquired. Let me remind you once again that you were all clairvoyant in earlier times. Why is it that you no longer possess the faculty of clairvoyance? It is because in former times you were not bound to the Earth's existence, because you were remote, in spiritual worlds; you did not bring the spiritual world down into your faculties; your visionary clairvoyance was based upon the condition of being remote from the physical world.
This must be clear to us. We must inscribe these fine shades of thought upon our minds and souls; we must be clear that the task of a real occult science today is to impart those results of spiritual investigation which are permeated with a thinking content, so that one can always clothe the results of spiritual research in such a way as to be comprehensible through thinking to the man who is not clairvoyant. To this end they must first be combined with thought. This is why there is such difficulty with old books which speak of phenomena of the higher worlds. If you take up old books of this kind and approach them with the attitude of modern Spiritual Science, you will find something lacking in them all. These old books may impart wonderful knowledge, but they are not of much use to the man of today unless he is himself clairvoyant and knows how to place the knowledge rightly. In the case of modern Spiritual Science, however, anyone who takes pains is able to make something of what it presents, because he can permeate it with the element of thought he acquires on the physical plane. For the same concepts are used to grasp what is in the spiritual world and what is in the physical world. Present-day Natural Science speaks of evolution; so does Spiritual Science. If you have grasped the concept of evolution you can understand what is set forth in Spiritual Science. You can create a concept of karma, because you can create a picture of it in thought. Of course if you simply say, as many theosophists do: “Every spiritual cause has a spiritual effect, and this is karma”, you have then no conception of karma. You can see the law of cause and effect in a billiard ball, but that would be no right comparison for karma. But now take an iron ball and throw it into a vessel of water. If the ball is cold the water will remain as it is. But if you make the ball hot and then throw it in, the water will get warm as a result of what has been done to the ball. Here we have something which may be compared with karma; here we have a later event that is the result of an earlier.
It must be quite clear to us that one who permeates the facts of the spiritual world with thought can also impart them in such a way that everyone who has thoughts acquired here on the physical plane can apply these same thoughts to what is imparted from the spiritual worlds. If he does this he can understand it. Everyone ought to keep this in mind. Everyone ought to understand that the important thing is not the fact that we receive knowledge from the higher worlds, but how we receive it — that we receive it in a way that is suited to our present earthly conditions. We must see to it that we do not receive knowledge from the higher worlds in any other way. It is tempting just to believe what is told us, but this is very wrong. If someone is willing just to believe, it is as though he wanted merely to be told that there is a light; whereas he needs the light to light up his room! He must have the light; mere belief is no use. Thus it is important first of all to understand the nature of thorough, conscientious thinking, so that the knowledge of the spiritual world may be received through this channel. The knowledge can only be discovered if one has the power of clairvoyance; but when it has been discovered and investigated, it can be understood by everyone who receives it in the right way.
If one thinks in this way, then all the dangers which are otherwise bound up with what is called the Theosophical movement will be, in the main, averted. These very dangers will however immediately arise if people develop clairvoyant powers and do not see to it that their thinking, and more especially their perception and discernment, are enriched at the same time through their own thinking. Many people have the desire just to seize hold of something out of the spiritual world instead of carefully bringing their perceptive thought to bear upon what has after all to be acquired on the physical plane. Even a god cannot comprehend the world in terms of thought unless he incarnates on this physical Earth. He can comprehend the world in other forms and ways, but to comprehend it in this form he must incarnate upon the Earth. If you reflect upon this it will be clear to you that there are certain dangers connected with the development of faculties within oneself which are then wrongly used. He who develops a certain visionary clairvoyance and uses it wrongly by cutting off all possibility of convincing the world with it, he who remains on the astral plane alone and does not bring his experiences down on to the physical plane, is laying himself open to the danger that an abyss will open between his visions and the physical plane. Let us suppose that someone has had visions of real significance which belong to the astral plane. They may be true visions of reality — for this may happen even with the non-thinking, visionary clairvoyant. But now between him and the real foundations of the physical plane there opens out an abyss. Imagine for a moment that this cloth were the physical plane. The visionary clairvoyant is standing in front of it; he sees his vision. But behind the physical plane is the real spiritual world; the physical plane is maya. The visionary clairvoyant does not strip away the physical plane; this can be done only by one who makes use of the means of thought. Then only do you penetrate behind the physical plane; only with thinking clairvoyance can you ever understand it. The physical plane is there, but you do not see the spiritual world, the real spiritual world. The abyss opens before you, and the physical plane remains as maya. And the impossibility of penetrating through the physical plane rests upon the fact that the brain is not capable of eliminating itself. If you have learnt to think rightly, you do not directly use your brain in thinking. Thinking works on the brain, but the activity of thinking does not directly need the brain; it is nonsense to assert that the brain itself thinks.
About 35 years ago I was once walking along the street with a young student who was then well on the way to becoming an out-and-out materialist. He said “When a man thinks, the brain atoms are vibrating; every definite thought has a definite form” — and then he continued to speak of how it is really nonsense to presuppose anything like a soul which can think, for it is the brain which does the thinking. — I said to him: “Yes, but now tell me, why do you tell such fibs? If this is true you cannot say: I think! You must say: my brain thinks, And you must also say: My brain eats, my brain sees the Sun! You would then be speaking the truth.” He would soon see then what nonsense he had been carrying about in his head.
So it is not the brain that thinks. It needs no very serious consideration to get this point clear, unless one is a thorough-going modern materialist. Unless you are a ‘Monist’ in the modern sense of the word, you can easily be clear on this point. The activity of thinking is not primarily dependent on having the brain as its instrument. When thinking becomes pure, the brain is not involved. It only plays a part when a sense-picture is made. If you have a picture of a chalk circle in your mind, then this picture has been formed by the brain, but when you think of a pure circle apart from all sense-qualities, then the circle is itself the active element that gives form to the brain. Now, when a man has visionary clairvoyance, he remains in his etheric body and does not reach the physical brain. But the abyss can never be bridged by this method. What is there seen clairvoyantly is connected with what is behind the physical plane. He who scorns the path of thought develops powers which, so to speak, do not attain their object, do not really penetrate into the spiritual world. And the consequence is that there is a false relationship between what is continually being developed in his etheric body, and what he really is as man. The relationship is entirely false; his brain is not developed to the level of his clairvoyant faculties. The brain is crude, for the man has made no effort to ennoble it through thinking. It is crude; it has built up a barrier which it cannot penetrate and which hinders him from reaching spiritual reality in his visions. He goes away from reality, instead of coming nearer to it. And every possibility of making a judgment about the spiritual world is taken away. Such a man may certainly be able to see a great deal; but there is never any guarantee that what he sees will correspond with the reality. He alone is capable of judging who can distinguish between mere vision and reality. It is only the power of discrimination that can discriminate, and if this is lacking, mere vision can never be distinguished from reality. But this power of discrimination can be acquired only by effort on the physical plane. Thus one will be forever hovering about without firm foundations if one scorns the activity of thinking — hard and troublesome as it is.
This is what we must have clearly in our mind. Then it will be impossible for conditions to arise which otherwise arise so easily and may recur again and again, when by developing visionary clairvoyance men build up a dam against the world of reality and live in their dreams — which comes to the same thing as losing one's bearings in the physical world, as being not quite in one's right mind. Mere visionary clairvoyance easily leads to this. One can acquire the power of thoughtful discrimination by working in the only sphere where this can be developed, namely in the sphere of thinking, on the physical plane. If you despise the acquisition of this thoughtful discrimination, you will stray far from the path of truth. Discrimination is what we need, otherwise we shall bring about all the ills that are necessarily connected with what is called the Theosophical movement. He who gives himself up to blind belief, who merely accepts without reasoned thought all the communications from the higher worlds on the authority of another, will be doing something that is pleasant and easy, but in itself is fraught with danger. Instead of working the things out for himself and reflecting upon them, he accepts the knowledge of another, he assimilates the things that another person has seen, and refuses to test by means of his own thought what has been communicated. This is the cause of the ills to which the Theosophical movement is liable — but of course this should not frighten anyone from attaching themselves to it. It may happen that a person who has blind belief of this kind loses his bearings altogether and can no longer discriminate between what is true and what is untrue. Nothing can breed untruthfulness as effectively as a certain kind of visionary clairvoyance which is not supported and controlled by thought. And on the other hand, such clairvoyance breeds another quality, namely, a certain haughtiness and superiority which can even lead to megalomania. This is all the more dangerous because it is often not noticed. There is very serious danger of coming to think oneself superior because one sees something that another person does not see. And usually there is no idea of how deeply embedded in the soul this self-importance that borders on megalomania can be. It conceals itself in a certain way, especially when the clairvoyant swears by his own visions with absolute certainty and suffers no one to take exception to them. So we sometimes find people believing the most ridiculous rubbish, just because it has been communicated to them “from the astral plane.” They would never dream of believing such things if they had been told them as matters belonging to the physical plane; but if they are told them “from the astral plane” they believe them with the most slavish credulity. Whoever has freed himself from this habit will not be led astray by this or that swindle or humbug. But people will fall into the trap unless they develop within themselves the impulse to prove and test, instead of accepting and believing without effort or exertion. We must not make it easy for ourselves; we must consider it one of the most sacred tasks of man to reach a right conviction. If we think of it in this light, we shall spare no effort of real work, and we shall not merely listen to sensational communications from the spiritual world. Of communications from the spiritual world we have, so to speak, enough. It is necessary that we should have them, but it is also necessary to acquire the right attitude and the right kind of thinking to receive these things worthily.
This is what I wanted to say to you today. I did not want to say it merely as an admonition or a sermon. I wanted to show the whole basis, and for this reason it may have been rather difficult to keep pace with it in your thought; but in the methods I use I always try to adhere to what may be rightly looked for in the Theosophical Society. Many people like pious exhortations. I dislike them! I try to present things in such a way that they can clothe themselves in true forms of thought. When things of the physical plane are expounded, as has been done today, it does of course often entail hard thinking; for such things are neither as sensational nor as attractive as communications from the higher worlds. They are nevertheless of extraordinary importance. And you will not undervalue their importance if you say to yourself: If that is really to come to pass which ought to come to pass, namely, that in the course of ensuing incarnations a sufficiently large number of people have a memory of this present incarnation, then provision for this must be made beforehand. Develop, therefore, your power of judgment; then you are candidates for the memory, in your next incarnation, of the present one. See to it that you are able to follow the world with your thoughts. For however much you can see in a visionary way, it will give you no help in remembering back to the present incarnation. And it is the mission of Spiritual Science to prepare the way for what must needs come — namely, that there may be a sufficiently large number of people who out of their own knowledge can look back to this present incarnation. How many come to the point in this incarnation of accompanying their knowledge of Spiritual Science with clairvoyant powers depends on the karma of each individual. There are certainly many sitting here whose karma will not allow them to see the world clairvoyantly in this incarnation. But all those who acquire what is given in true Spiritual Science, clothed as it is in the forms of thought, will reap the fruits of it in the next incarnation; for in this one they will have laid the right foundation. A man may, so to speak, be a clairvoyant without knowing it; and one who studies Spiritual Science in the right way has the insight and can wait until his karma also allows him actually to behold the things for himself.