Supersensible Knowledge. Lecture 1 of 2. Rudolf Steiner, Vienna, September 26, 1923:
Anyone who speaks today about supersensible worlds lays himself open at once to the quite understandable criticism that he is violating one of the most important demands of the age. This is the demand that the most important questions of existence shall be seriously discussed from a scientific point of view only in such a way that science recognizes its own limitations, has a clear insight into the fact that it must restrict itself to the sensible world of our earthly existence, and would become the victim of a certain fantastic blunder if it should attempt to go beyond these limits. Now, precisely that type of spiritual-scientific conception in accordance with which I spoke at the last Vienna Congress of the Anthroposophical Movement [West and East: Contrasting Worlds] and shall speak again today, affirms with regard to itself not only that it is free from hostility toward scientific thinking and the scientific sense of responsibility of our times, but also that it does its work in complete harmony with what may be proposed as objectives by the most conscientious scientific demands of those very persons who take their stand on the platform of the most rigid scientific research. It is possible, however, to speak from various points of view in regard to the scientific demands of the times, imposed upon us by the splendid theoretical and practical results in the evolution of humanity which have come about in the course of the last three or four centuries, but especially during the nineteenth century. I shall speak, therefore, today in regard to supersensible knowledge to the extent that this tends to fulfill precisely this demand, and I wish to speak in the next lecture about the supersensible knowledge of the human being as a demand of the human heart, of human feeling, during the present age.
We can observe the magnificent contribution which has been bestowed upon us even up to the most recent time through scientific research — the magnificent contribution in the findings about interrelationships throughout the external world. But it is possible to speak also in a different sense regarding the achievements which have come about precisely in connection with this current of human evolution. For instance, we may call attention to the fact that in connection with the conscientious earnest observation of the laws and facts of the external world of the senses, as this is afforded by natural science, very special human capacities have been developed, and that just such observation and experimentation have thrown a light also upon human capacities themselves. But I should like to say that many persons holding positions deserving of the greatest respect in the sphere of scientific research are willing to give very little attention to this light which has been reflected upon man himself through his own researches. If we only give a little thought to what this light has illuminated, we see that human thinking, through the very fact that it has been able to investigate in accordance with basic principles both narrowly restricted and also broadly expanded interrelationships — the microscopic and the telescopic — has gained immeasurably in itself, has gained in the capacity of discrimination, in power of penetration, the ability so to associate the things in the world that their secrets are unveiled, the capacity to determine the laws underlying cosmic relationships, and so forth. As this thinking is developed, we see it confronted with a demand — with which it is faced, indeed, by the most earnest research scientists: the demand that this thinking must develop as selflessly as possible in the observation of external nature and in experimentation in the laboratory, in the clinic, etc. And the human being has achieved tremendous power in this respect. He has succeeded in setting up more and more rules of such a character as to prevent anything of the nature of inner wishes of the heart, of opinions, perhaps even of fantasies regarding one's own being, such as arise in the course of thinking, from being carried over into what he is to establish by means of the microscope and the telescope, the measuring rule and the scales, regarding the interrelationships of life and existence.
Under these influences a type of thinking has gradually developed of which one must say that it has worked out its passive role with a certain inner diligence. Thinking in connection with observation, with experiment, has nowadays become completely abstract — so abstract that it does not trust itself to call forth anything of the nature of knowledge or of truth out of its own inner being.
It is this gradually developed characteristic of thinking which demands before everything else — so it appears at first — the rejection of all that the human being is in himself by reason of his inner nature. For what he himself thus is must be set forth in activity; this can really never exist wholly apart from the impulse of his will. Thus we have arrived at the point — and we have rightly reached this point in the field of external research — of actually rejecting the activity of thinking, although we became aware in this activity of what we ourselves signify as human beings in the universe, in the totality of cosmic relationships. In a certain sense, the human being has eliminated himself in connection with his research; he prohibits his own inner activity. We shall see immediately that what is rightly prohibited in connection with this external research must be especially cultivated in relationship to man's own self if he wishes to gain enlightenment regarding the spiritual, regarding the supersensible, element of his own being.
But a second element in the nature of man has been obliged to manifest its special aspect, which is alien to humanity even though friendly to the world, in modern research: that is, the human life of sentiment, the human life of feeling. In this modern research, human feeling is not permitted to participate; the human being must remain cold and matter-of-fact. Yet one might ask whether it may not be possible to acquire within this human feeling forces useful in gaining knowledge of the world. If it must be said, on the one hand, that inner human willfulness plays a role in feelings, human subjectivity, and that feeling is the source of fantasy, it must be answered on the other hand that, although human feeling can certainly play no important role as it exists at first in everyday life or in science, yet, if we recall — as science itself has to present the matter to us — that the human senses have not always in the course of human evolution been such as they are today, but have developed from a relatively imperfect stage up to their contemporary state, that they certainly did not express themselves in earlier periods so objectively about things as they do today, an inkling may then come to birth within us that there may exist even within the life of subjective feeling something that might be evolved therefrom, just like the human senses themselves, and which might be led over from an experience of man's own being to a grasp upon cosmic interrelationships in a higher sense. Precisely as we observe the withdrawal of human feeling in connection with contemporary research must the question be put as to whether some sort of higher sense might unfold within feeling itself if this were specially developed.
But very obviously do we find in connection with a third element of the being of man how we are driven by the altogether praiseworthy scientific view to something different. This is the will aspect of the life of the soul. Whoever is at home in scientific thinking knows how impossible it is for such thinking to proceed otherwise in grasping the interrelationships of the world than in accordance with causal necessity. We connect in the most rigid manner phenomena existing side by side in space; we associate in the strictest sense phenomena occurring in succession in time. That is, we relate cause and effect according to their inflexible laws. Whoever speaks not as a dilettante but as one thoroughly at home in science knows what a tremendous power is exerted by the mere consideration of the realms of scientific fact in this manner. He knows how he is captivated by this idea of a universal causality and how he cannot then do otherwise than to subject everything that he confronts in his thinking to this idea of causality.
But there is human will, this human will which says to us in every moment of our waking life of day: “What you undertake in a certain sense by reason of yourself, by reason of your will, is not causally determined in the same sense applying to any sort of external phenomena of nature.” For this reason, even a person who simply feels in a natural way about himself, who looks into himself in observation free from preconception, can scarcely do otherwise than also to ascribe to himself, on the basis of immediate experience, freedom of will. But when he directs his glance to scientific thinking, he cannot admit this freedom of will. This is one of the conflicts into which we are brought by the condition of the present age. In the course of these two lectures we shall learn much more about these conflicts. But for one who is able to feel this conflict in its full intensity, who can feel it through and through — because he must be honest on the one side as regards scientific research, and on the other side as regards his self-observation — the conflict is something utterly confounding, so confounding that it may drive him to doubt whether life affords anywhere a firm basis from which one may search for truth.
We must deal with such conflicts in their right human aspect. We must be able to say to ourselves that research drives us to the point where we are actually unable to admit what we are every day aware of; that something else must somehow exist which offers other means of access to the world than what is offered to us in irrefutable manner in the order of external nature. Through the very fact that we are so forcibly driven by the order of nature itself into such conflicts, it becomes for us human beings of the present time a necessity to admit that it is impossible to speak about the supersensible worlds as they have been spoken about up to a relatively recent time. We need to go back only to the first half of the nineteenth century to discover that personalities who, by reason of a consciousness in harmony with the period, were thoroughly serious in their scientific work called attention, nevertheless, to the supersensible aspect of human life, to that aspect which opens up to the human being a view of the divine, of his own immortality; and that in this connection they always called attention to what we may at present designate as the “night aspects” of human life. Men deserving of the highest regard have called attention to that wonderful but very problematical world into which the human being is transferred every night: to the dream world. They called attention to many mysterious relationships which exist between this chaotic picture world of dreams, nevertheless, and the world of actuality. They called attention to the fact that the inner nature of the human organization, especially in illness, reflects itself, nevertheless, in the fantastic pictures of dreams, and how healthy human life enters into the chaotic experiences of dreams in the forms of signs and symbols. They pointed out that much which cannot be surveyed by the human being with his waking senses finds its place in the half-awake state of the soul, and out of such things conclusions were drawn. These things border upon what is the subject of study also today for many persons, the “subconscious” states of the life of the human soul, which manifest themselves in a similar way.
But everything which appears before the human being in this form, which could still give a certain satisfaction to an earlier humanity, is no longer valid for us. It is no longer valid for us for the reason that our way of looking into external nature has become something different. Here we have to look back to the times when there still existed only a mystically colored astrology. Man then looked into the world of the senses in such a way that his perception was far removed from the exactness which we demand of science today. For this reason, because he did not demand of himself in his sense life that complete clarity which we possess today, he could discover in a mystical, half-conscious state something from which he could draw inferences. This we cannot do today. Just as little as we are able to derive today from what science gives us anything else than questions in regard to the true nature of man, just so little can we afford to remain at a standstill at the point reached by science and expect to satisfy our supersensible needs in a manner similar to that of earlier times.
That form of supersensible knowledge of which I shall speak here has an insight into this demand of our times. It observes the form that has been taken on by thinking, feeling, and willing in man precisely by reason of natural science, and it asks on the other side whether it may be possible by reason of the very thing which has been achieved by contemporary humanity in thinking, feeling, and willing to penetrate further into the supersensible realm with the same clarity which holds sway in the scientific realm. This cannot be achieved by means of inferential reasoning, by means of logic; for natural science justly points out its limitations with reference to its own nature. But something else can occur: that the inner human capacities may evolve further, beyond the point at which they stand when we are in the realm of ordinary scientific research, so that we now apply to the development of our own spiritual capacities the same exactness to which we are accustomed in connection with research in the laboratory and the clinic. I shall discuss this first in connection with thinking itself.
Thinking, which has become more and more conscious of its passive role in connection with external research, and is not willing to disavow this, is capable of energizing itself inwardly to activity. It may energize itself in such a way that, although not exact in the sense in which we apply this term to measuring and weighing in external research, it is exact in relationship to its own development in the sense in which the external scientist, the mathematician for example, is accustomed to follow with full consciousness every step in his research. But this occurs when that mode of supersensible cognition of which I am here speaking substitutes a truly exact development of this thinking in place of the ancient vague meditation, the ancient indistinct immersion of oneself in thinking. It is possible here to indicate only in general principles what I have said in regard to such an exact development of thinking in my books Occult Science: An Outline and Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, and other books. The human being should really compel himself, for the length of time which is necessary for him — and this is determined by the varying innate capacities of people — to exchange the role of passive surrender to the external world, which he otherwise rightly assumes in his thinking, for that different role: that of introducing into this thinking his whole inner activity of soul. This he should do by taking into his mind day by day, even though at times only for a brief period, some particular thought — the content of which is not the important matter — and, while withdrawing his inner nature from the external world, directing all the powers of his soul in inner concentration upon this thought. By means of this process something comes about in the development of those capacities of soul that may be compared with the results which follow when any particular muscles of the human body — for instance, the muscles of the arms — are to be developed. The muscles are made stronger, more powerful, through use, through exercise. Thus, likewise, do the capacities of the soul become inwardly stronger, more powerful, by being directed upon a definite thought. This exercise must be so directed that we proceed in a really exact way, that we survey every step taken in our thinking just as a mathematician surveys his operations when he undertakes to solve a geometrical or arithmetical problem. This can be done in the greatest variety of ways. It may seem trivial when I say that something should be selected for this content of concentration that one finds in any sort of book — even some worthless old volume that we know quite certainly we have never previously seen. The important point is not what the content of truth in the thing is, but the fact that we survey such a thought content completely. This cannot be done if we take a thought content out of our own memory; for very much is associated with such a thought in the most indeterminate way, very much that plays a role in the subconscious or the unconscious, and it is not possible to be exact if one concentrates upon such a thing. What one fixes, therefore, in the very center of one's consciousness is something entirely new, something that one confronts only with respect to its actual content, which is not associated with any experience of the soul. The matter of importance is theconcentration of the forces of the soul and the strengthening which results from this. Likewise, if one goes to a person who has made some progress in this field and requests him to provide one with such a thought content, it is not well to entertain any prejudice against this. The content is in that case entirely new to the person concerned, and he can survey it. Many persons fear that they may become dependent in this way upon someone else who provides them with such a content. But this is not the case; in reality, they become less dependent than if they take such a thought content out of their own memories and experiences, in which case it is bound up with all sorts of subconscious experiences. Moreover, it is well for a person who has had some practice in scientific work to use the findings of scientific research as material for concentration; these prove to be, indeed, the most fruitful of all for this purpose.
If this is continued for a relatively long time, even for years perhaps — and this must be accompanied by patience and endurance, since it requires a few weeks or months in some cases before success is achieved, and in some cases years — it is possible to arrive at a point where this method for the inner molding of one's thoughts can be applied as exactly as the physicist or the chemist applies the methods of measuring and weighing for the purpose of discovering the secrets of nature. What one has then learned is applied to the further development of one's own thinking. At a certain point of time, the person then has a significant inner experience. This consists in the fact that he feels himself to be involved not only in picture-thinking, which depicts the external events and facts and which is true to reality in inverse proportion to the force it possesses in itself, in proportion as it is a mere picture; but one arrives now at the point of adding to this kind of thinking the inner experience of a thinking in which one lives, a thinking filled with inner power. This is a significant experience. Thinking thus becomes, as it were, something which one begins to experience just as one experiences the power of one's own muscles when one grasps an object or strikes against something. A reality such as one experiences otherwise only in connection with the process of breathing or the activity of a muscle — this inner active something now enters into thinking. And, since one has investigated precisely every step upon this way, so does one experience oneself in full clarity and sober-mindedness of consciousness in this strengthened, active thinking. If the objection is raised, let us say, that knowledge can result only from observation and logic, this is no real objection; for what is now experienced we experience with complete inner clarity, and yet in such a way that this thinking becomes at the same time a kind of “touching with the soul.” In the process of forming a thought, it is as if we were stretching out a feeler — not, in this case, as when the snail stretches a feeler into the physical world, but as if a feeler were stretched out into a spiritual world, which is as yet present only for our feelings if we have succeeded to this stage, but which we are justified in expecting. For one has the feeling: “Your thinking has been transformed into a spiritual touching; if this can become more and more the case, you may expect that this thinking will come into contact with what constitutes a spiritual reality, just as your finger here in the physical world comes into contact with what is physically real.”
Only when one has lived for a time in this inwardly strengthened thinking does complete self-knowledge become possible. For we know then that the soul element has become by means of this concentration an experiential reality.
It is possible then for the person concerned to go forward in his exercises and to arrive at the point where he can, in turn, eliminate this soul content, put it away, in a certain sense render his consciousness void of what he himself has brought into this consciousness, this thought content upon which he has concentrated, and which has enabled him to possess a real thinking constituting a sense of touch for the soul. It is rather easy in ordinary life to acquire an empty consciousness; we need only to fall asleep. But it requires an intense application of force, after we have become accustomed to concentrating upon a definite thought content, to put away such a content of thought in connection with this very strengthened thinking, thinking which has become a reality. But we succeed in putting aside this content of thinking in exactly the same way in which we acquired at first the powerful force needed for concentration. But, when we have succeeded in this, something appears before the soul which has been possible previously only in the form of pictures of episodes in one's memory: the whole inner life of the person appears in a new way before the eyes of his soul, as he has passed through this life in his earthly existence since birth, or since the earliest point of time to which one's memory can return, at which one entered consciously into this earthly existence. Ordinarily, the only thing we know in regard to this earthly existence is that which we can call up in memory; we have pictures of our experiences. But what is now experienced by means of this strengthened thinking is not of the same kind. It appears as if in a tremendous tableau so that we do not recollect merely in a dim picture what we passed through ten years ago, for instance, but we have the inner experience that in spirit we are retracing the course of time. If some one carries out such an exercise in his fiftieth year, let us say, and arrives at the result indicated, what then happens is that time permits him to go back as if along a “time-path” all the way, for instance, to the experiences of his thirty-fifth year. We travel back through time. We do not have only a dim memory of what we passed through fifteen years earlier, but we feel ourselves to be in the midst of this in its living reality, as if in an experience of the present moment. We travel through time; space loses its significance, and time affords us a mighty tableau of memory. A precise picture of the life of the person is now created out of that which appears in an episodic manner, even according to scientific thinkers, when anyone is exposed to great terror, a severe shock, at the moment of drowning, for instance, when for some moments he is confronted by something of his entire earthly life in pictures appearing before his soul — to which he looks back later with a certain shuddering fascination. In other words, what appears before the soul in such cases as through a natural convulsion now actually appears before the soul at the moment indicated, when the entire earthly life confronts one as in a mighty tableau of the spirit, only in a time order. Only now does one know oneself; only now does one possess real self-observation.
It is quite possible to differentiate this picture of man's inner being from that which constitutes a mere memory picture. It is clear in the mere memory picture that we have something in which persons, natural occurrences, or works of art come upon us as if from without; in this memory picture what we have is the manner in which the world comes into contact with us. But in the supersensible memory tableau which appears before a person, what confronts him is, rather, that which has proceeded from himself. If, for instance, at a certain definite point of time in his life he began a friendship with a beloved personality, the mere memory picture shows him how this person came to him at a certain point of time, spoke to him, what he owes to the person, etc. But in this life tableau what confronts him is the manner in which he himself longed for this person, and how he took every step at last in such a way that he was inevitably led to that being regarding whom he had the knowledge that this being was suited to himself.
That which has taken place through the unfolding of the forces of the soul comes to meet one with exact clarity in this life tableau. Many people do not like this precise clarity, because it brings them enlightenment in regard to much that they would prefer to see in a different light from the light of truth. But one must endure the fact that one is able to look upon one's own inner being in utter freedom from preconceptions, even though this being of oneself confronts the searching eye with reproach.
This stage of cognition I have called Imaginative knowledge, or Imagination.
But one can progress beyond this stage. In that which we come to know through this memory tableau, we are confronted by those forces which have really formed us as human beings. While confronting this tableau of life, we know: “Within you those forces evolve which mold the substances of your physical body.” Within you, especially during childhood, those forces have evolved which have plastically molded approximately up to the seventh year the nerve masses of the brain, which did not yet exist in well-ordered form after your birth. We then cease at last to ascribe what works formatively upon the human being within to those forces which inhere in material substances. We cease to do this when we have this memory tableau before us, when we see how there stream into all the forces of nutrition and of breathing and into the whole circulation of the blood the contents of this memory tableau — which are forces in themselves, forces without which no single wave of the blood circulates and no single process of breathing occurs. We now learn to understand that man himself in his inner being consists of spirit and soul.
What now dawns upon one can best be described by a comparison. Imagine that you have walked for a certain distance over ground which has been softened by rain, and that you have noticed along the way tracks or ruts made by human feet or wagon wheels. Now suppose that a being should come from the moon and see this condition of the ground, but should see no human being. He would probably come to the conclusion that there must be all sorts of forces underneath the earth which have thrust up these traces and given this form to the surface of the ground. Such a being might seek within the earth for the forces which have produced the tracks. But one who sees into the thing knows that the condition was not caused by the earth but by human feet or wagon wheels.
Now, any one who possesses a view of things such as I have just described does not by any means for this reason look with less reverence, for example, upon the convolutions of the human brain. But, just as he knows that those tracks on the surface of the earth do not derive from forces within the earth, he now knows that these convolutions of the brain do not derive from forces within the substance of the brain, but that the spiritual-psychic entity of man is there, which he himself has now beheld, and that this works in such a way as to cause our brain to have these convolutions. This is the essential thing — to be driven to this view, so that we arrive at a conception of our own spirit-soul nature, that the eye of the soul is really directed to the spirit-soul element and to its manifestation in the external life.
But it is possible to progress still further. After having first strengthened our inner being through concentrating upon a definite content of thought, and then having emptied our consciousness, so that, instead of the images we ourselves have formed, the content of our life now appears before us, we can now put this memory tableau out of our consciousness, in turn, just as we previously eliminated a single concept, so that our consciousness was void of this. We can now learn to apply the powerful force so as to blot out from our consciousness that which we have come to know through a heightened self-observation as a spirit-soul being. In doing this, we blot out nothing less than the inner being of our own soul life. We learned first in concentration to blot out what is external, and we then learned to direct the look of our soul to our own spirit-soul entity, and this completely occupied the whole tableau of memory. If we now succeed in blotting out this memory tableau itself, there comes about what I wish to designate as the truly empty consciousness. We have previously lived in the memory tableau or in what we ourselves have set up before our mind, but now something entirely different appears. That which lived within us we have now suppressed, and we confront the world with an empty consciousness. This signifies something extraordinary in the experience of the soul. Fundamentally speaking, I can describe at first only by means of a comparison what now appears to the soul, when the content of our own soul is blotted out by means of the powerful inner force we apply. We need only to think of the fact that, when the impressions of the external senses gradually die away, when there is a cessation of seeing, hearing, perhaps even of a distinct sense of touch, we sink into a state closely resembling the state of sleep. In the present case, however, when we blot out the content of our own soul, although we do come to an “empty” state of consciousness, this is not a state of sleep. We reach what I might call the state of being merely awake — that is, being awake with an empty consciousness.
We may perhaps be enabled to conceive this empty consciousness in the following way. Imagine a modern city with all its noise and din. We may withdraw from the city, and everything becomes more and more quiet around us, but we finally enter, perhaps, a forest. Here we find the absolute opposite of the noises of the city. We live in complete inner stillness, in soundless quiet. If, now, I undertake to describe what follows, I must resort to a trivial comparison. We must raise the question whether this quiet, this stillness, can be changed still further into something else. We may designate this stillness as the zero point in our perception of the external world. But, if we possess a certain amount of property and we subtract from this property, it is diminished; as we take away still more, it is further diminished, and we finally arrive at zero and have nothing left. Can we then proceed still further? It may perhaps be undesirable to most persons, but the fact is that many do this: they still decrease their possessions by incurring debt. One then has less than zero, and one can still diminish what one has. In precisely the same way we may at least imagine that the stillness, which is like the zero point of being awake, may be pushed beyond this zero into a sort of negative state. A super-stillness, a super-quietness may augment the quietness. This is what is experienced by one who blots out his own soul content: he enters into a state of quietness of soul which lies below the zero point. An inner stillness of soul in the most intensified degree comes about, during the state of wakefulness.
But this cannot be attained unless it is accompanied by something else. This can be obtained only when we feel that a certain state associated with the picture concepts of our own self passes over into another state. One who senses the first stage of the supersensible within himself, who views this, is in a certain state of well-being, that well-being and inner blissfulness to which the various religious creeds refer when they call attention to the supersensible and at the same time remind the human being that the supersensible brings to him the experience of a certain blissfulness in his inner being. Indeed, up to the point where we exclude our own inner self, there was a certain sense of well-being, an intensified feeling of blissfulness. At that moment, however, where the stillness of soul comes about, this inner well-being is replaced completely by inner pain, inner deprivation, such as we have never previously known — the sense that one is separated from all to which one is united in the earthly life, far removed not only from the feeling of one's own body but from the feeling of one's own experiences since birth. And this signifies a deprivation which reaches the degree of tremendous pain of soul. Many shrink back from this stage, lacking the courage to make the transition from a certain lower clairvoyance and, after eliminating their own content of soul, to enter into that state of consciousness where resides that inner stillness. But, if we pass into this stage in full consciousness, there begins to enter, in place of Imagination, that which I have called in the books previously mentioned Inspiration — I trust you will not take offense at these terms — the experience of a real spiritual world. After one has previously eliminated the world of the senses and has substituted an empty consciousness, accompanied by inexpressible pain of soul, then does the external spiritual world come to meet us. In the state of Inspiration we become aware of the fact that the human being is surrounded by a spiritual world, just as the sense world exists for his external senses.
And the first thing, in turn, that we behold in this spiritual world is our own pre-earthly existence. Just as we are otherwise conscious of earthly experiences by means of our ordinary memory, so does a cosmic memory now dawn for us: we look back into pre-earthly experiences, beholding what we were as spirit-soul beings in a purely spiritual world before we descended through birth to this earthly existence, when as spiritual beings we participated in the molding of our own bodies. So do we look back upon the spiritual, the eternal, in the nature of man, to that which reveals itself to us as the pre-earthly existence, regarding which we now know that it is not dependent upon the birth and death of the physical body, for it is that which existed before birth and before conception, which made of this physical body derived from matter and heredity a human being. Now for the first time does one reach a true concept also of physical heredity, since one sees what supersensible forces play into this — forces which we acquire out of a purely spiritual world, with which we now feel united, just as we feel united with the physical world in the earthly life. Moreover, we now become aware that, in spite of the great advances registered in the evolution of humanity, much has been lost which belonged inherently to more ancient instinctive conceptions such as we can no longer use. The instinctive supersensible vision of the humanity of earlier ages was confronted by this pre-earthly life as well as human immortality, regarding which we shall speak a little later. For eternity was conceived in ancient times in such a way that one grasped both its aspects. We speak nowadays of the deathlessness of the human soul — indeed, our language itself possesses only this word — but people once spoke, and the more ancient languages still continue to show such words, of birthlessness as the other aspect of the eternity of the human soul. Now, however, the times have somewhat changed. People are interested in the question of what becomes of the human soul after death, because this is something still to come; but as to the other question, what existed before birth, before conception, there is less interest because that has “passed,” and yet we are here. But a true knowledge of human immortality can arise only when we consider eternity in both its aspects: that of deathlessness and that of birthlessness.
But, for the very purpose of maintaining a connection with the latter, and especially in an exact clairvoyance, still a third thing is necessary. We sense ourselves truly as human beings when we no longer permit our feelings to be completely absorbed within the earthly life. For that which we now come to know as our pre-earthly life penetrates into us in pictures and is added to what we previously sensed as our humanity, making us for the first time completely human. Our feelings are then, as it were, shot through with inner light, and we know that we have now developed our feeling into a sense organ for the spiritual. But we must go further and must be able to make our will element into an organ of knowledge for the spiritual.
For this purpose, something must begin to play a role in human knowledge which, very rightly, is not otherwise considered as a means of knowledge by those who desire to be taken seriously in the realm of cognition. We first become aware that this is a means of knowledge when we enter the supersensible realms. This is the force of love. Only, we must begin to develop this force of love in a higher sense than that in which nature has bestowed love upon us, with all its significance for the life of nature and of man. What I shall have to describe as the first steps in the unfolding of a higher love in the life of man may seem paradoxical.
When you undertake, with complete sober-mindedness as to each step, to sense the world otherwise than is customary, you then come upon this higher form of love. Suppose you undertake in the evening, before you go to sleep, to bring your day's life so into your consciousness that you begin with the last occurrence of the evening, visualizing it as precisely as possible, then visualizing the next preceding in the same way, then the third from the last, thus moving backward to the morning in this survey of the life of the day: this is a process in which much more importance attaches to the inner energy expended than to the question whether one visualizes each individual occurrence more or less precisely. What is important is this reversal of the order of visualization. Ordinarily we view events in such a way that we first consider the earlier and then the subsequent in a progressive chain. Through such an exercise as I have just given you, we reverse the whole life: we think and feel in a direction opposite to the course of the day. We can practice this on the experiences of our day, as I have suggested, and this requires only a few minutes. But we can do this also in a different way. Undertake to visualize the course of a drama in such a way that you begin with the fifth act and picture it successively through the fourth, then the third, and so on back to the beginning. Or we may represent a melody to ourselves in the reverse succession of tones. If we pass through more and more such inner experiences of the soul in this way, we shall discover that the inner experience is freed from the external course of nature, and that we actually become more and more self-directing. But even though we become in this way more and more individualized and achieve an ever increasing power of self-direction, yet we learn also to give attention to the external life in more complete consciousness. For only now do we become aware that the more powerfully we develop through practice this fully conscious absorption in another being, the higher becomes the degree of our selflessness, and the greater must our love become in compensation. In this way we feel how this experience of not living in oneself but living in another being, this passing over from one's own being to another, becomes more and more powerful. We then reach the stage where, to Imagination and Inspiration, which we have already developed, we can now unite the true intuitive entrance into the other being: we arrive at Intuition, so that we no longer experience only our self, but also learn — in complete individualization yet also in complete selflessness — to experience the other being.
Here love becomes something which gradually makes it possible for us to look back even further than into the pre-earthly spiritual life. As we learn in our present life to look back upon contemporary events, we learn through such an elevation of love to look back upon former earth lives, and to recognize the entire life of a human being as a succession of earthly lives. The fact that these lives once had a beginning and must likewise have an end will be touched upon in the next lecture. But we learn to know the human life as a succession of lives on earth, between which there always intervene purely spiritual lives, coming between a death and the next birth. For this elevated form of love, lifted to the spiritual sphere and transformed into a force of knowledge, teaches us also the true significance of death. When we have advanced so far, as I have explained in connection with Imagination and Inspiration, as to render these intensified inner forces capable of spiritual love, we actually learn in immediate exact clairvoyance to know that inner experience which we describe by saying that one experiences oneself spiritually, without a body, outside the body. This passing outside the body becomes in this way, if I may thus express it, actually a matter of objective experience for the soul. If we have once experienced in actual knowledge outside the body — ”clairvoyantly,” I mean — this spiritual element in existence, we know the significance of the event of laying aside the physical body in death, of passing through the portal of death to a new, spiritual life. We thus learn, at the third stage of an exact clairvoyance, the significance of death, and thus also the significance of immortality, for man.
I have desired to make it transparently clear through the manner of my explanation that the mode of supersensible cognition about which I am speaking seeks to bring into the very cognitional capacities of the human being something which works effectually, step by step, as it is thus introduced. The natural scientist applies his exactness to the external experiment, to the external observation; he wishes to see the objects in such juxtaposition that they reveal their secrets with exactitude in the process of measuring, enumerating, weighing. The spiritual-scientist, about whom I am here speaking, applies his exactness to the evolution of the forces of his own soul. That which he makes out of himself for the purpose of causing a spiritual world and, with this, the eternal being of man, the nature of human immortality, to appear before his soul, he makes with precision, if I may use an expression of Goethe. At every step which the spiritual-scientist thus takes, in order that the spiritual world may at last lie outspread before the eyes of the soul, he feels obligated to be just as conscientious in regard to his knowledge as a mathematician must be at every step he takes. For just as the mathematician must see clearly into everything that he writes on the paper, so must the spiritual-scientist see with complete exactitude into everything that he makes out of his powers of cognition. He then knows that he has formed an “eye of the soul” out of the soul itself with the same inner necessity with which nature has formed the corporeal eye out of bodily substance. And he knows that he can speak of spiritual worlds with the same justification with which he speaks of a physical-sensible world in relationship to the physical eye. In this sense the spiritual research with which we are here concerned satisfies the demands of our age imposed upon us by the magnificent achievements of natural science — which spiritual science in no wise opposes but, rather, seeks further to supplement.
I am well aware that everyone who undertakes to represent anything before the world, no matter what his motive may be, attributes a certain importance to himself by describing this as a “demand of the times.” I have no such purpose; neither shall I have such a purpose in my next lecture; on the contrary, I should like to show that the demands of the times already exist, and the very endeavor of spiritual science at every step it takes is to satisfy these demands of the times. We may say, then, that the spiritual-scientist whom it is our purpose to discuss here does not propose to be a person who views nature in a dilettante or amateur fashion. On the contrary, he proposes to advance further in true harmony with natural science and with the same genuine conscientiousness. He desires truly exact clairvoyance for the description of a spiritual world. But it is clear to him at the same time that when we undertake to investigate a human corpse in a laboratory for the purpose of explaining the life which has disappeared from it, or when we look out into cosmic space with a telescope, we then develop capacities which tend to adapt themselves at first solely to the microscope or telescope, but which possess an inner life and which misrepresent themselves in their existent form. When we dissect a human corpse, we know that it was not nature that made the human being into this bodily form, but that the human soul, which has now vanished, made it. We interpret the human soul from what we have here as its physical product, and anyone would be irrational who should assume that this molding of the human physical forces and forms had not arisen out of that which preceded the present state of this human being. But everything that we hold in the background while we investigate dead nature with those forces in connection with which we rightly deny our inner activity creates the potentiality, through this very act of holding in reserve, for a further development of the soul forces of the human being. Just as the seed of the plant lies out of sight under the earth when we have laid it in the soil, and yet will become a plant, so do we plant a seed in the soul in the very action of conscientious scientific research. He who is a serious scientist in this sense has within himself the germ of imaginative, inspired, and intuitive knowledge. He needs only to develop the germ. He will then know that, just as natural science is a demand of the times, so is supersensible research likewise. What I mean to say is that every one who speaks in the spirit of natural science speaks also in the spirit of supersensible research, only he does not know this. And that which constitutes an unconscious longing in the innermost depths of many persons today — as will be manifest in the next public lecture — is the impulse of supersensible research to unfold out of its germ.
To those very persons, therefore, who oppose this spiritual research from a supposedly scientific standpoint, one would like to say, though not with any bad intention, that this brings to mind an utterance in Goethe's Faust all too well known, but which would be applied in a different sense:
The little man would not sense the Devil
Even if he held him by the throat.
Now, I do not care to go into that. But what is contained in this expression confronts us in a different application in that which exists today as a demand of the times: that those who speak rightly today about nature are really giving expression, though unconsciously, to the spirit. One would like to say that there are many who do not wish to notice the spirit when it speaks, although they are constantly giving expression to the spirit in their own words!
The seed of supersensible perception is really far more widespread today than is supposed, but it must be developed. The fact that it must be developed is really a lesson we may learn from the seriousness of the times as regards external experiences. As I have already said, I should like to go into the details next time; but we may still add in conclusion that the elements of a fearful catastrophe really speak to the whole of humanity today through various indications in the outside world, and that it is possible to realize that tasks at which humanity in the immediate future will have to work with the greatest intensity will struggle to birth out of this great seriousness of the times. This external seriousness with which the world confronts us today, especially the world of humanity, indicates the necessity of an inner seriousness. And it is about this inner seriousness in the guidance of the human heart and mind toward man's own spiritual powers, which constitute the powers of his essential being, that I have wished to speak to you today. For, if it is true that man must apply his most powerful external forces in meeting the serious events awaiting him over the whole world, he will need likewise a powerful inner courage. But such forces and such courage can come into existence only if the human being is able to feel and also to will himself in full consciousness in his innermost being, not merely theoretically conceiving himself but practically knowing himself. This is possible for him only when he comes to know this being of his as coming out of that source from which it does truly come, from the source of the spirit, only when in ever increasing measure, not only theoretically but practically, he learns to know in actual experience that man is spirit, and can find his true satisfaction only in the spirit; that his highest powers and his highest courage can come to him only out of the spirit, out of the supersensible.
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