The Effects of Esoteric Development
Lecture 5 of 10
Rudolf Steiner, The Hague, March 24, 1913:
This course of lectures should rightly be considered as an explanation of certain experiences passed through by the student as changes produced in him by his esoteric development, or, shall we say, Theosophy; so that what is described is really to be looked upon as something that can actually be experienced during development. Naturally, only outstanding experiences, typical experiences, as it were, can be explained; but from the description of these characteristic experiences we may gain an idea of many other things we have to notice in the course of development.
In the last lecture we spoke principally of the fact that the student acquires a great sensitivity with respect to what goes on in the external life-ether, or in the ether as a whole. These experiences are connected with many other things, and one which we should particularly notice is the experience we have with respect to our power of judgment. As human beings, we are so placed in the world that in a certain way we judge the things that come before us, we form ideas about things; we consider one thing to be right, another wrong. A person's capacity for judging depends upon what is known as shrewdness, cleverness, discernment. This shrewdness, this cleverness, this discernment, is in course of his development gradually placed in a different light. This was briefly indicated in the last lecture. The student finds more and more that for the actual affairs of the higher, spiritual life, this shrewdness or cleverness is not of the slightest value, although he must bring as much of it as possible at his starting point on the physical plane if he wishes to enter upon the path to the higher worlds. And thus he comes inevitably into a position which may easily seem unendurable to the utilitarian; for while of necessity he needs something at first for his higher development, yet when he has acquired the needful quality it loses its value. To a certain extent the student must do everything possible to develop a sound power of judgment here on the physical plane, one that weighs the facts carefully; but having done so he must quite clearly understand that during his sojourn in the higher worlds this power of judgment has not the same value as it possesses here below on the physical plane. If the student wishes his higher senses to be sound he must proceed from a healthy power of judgment; but for the higher vision healthy judgment must be transformed into healthy vision.
But however highly we may develop, as long as we have to live on the physical plane we are still human beings of this plane, and on this physical plane we have the task of developing our power of judgment in a healthy way. Therefore we must take care to learn betimes not to mix the life in the higher worlds with that of the physical plane. One who wishes to make direct use on the physical plane of what he experiences in the higher worlds will easily become a visionary, an incompetent man. We must accustom ourselves to be able to live clearly in the higher worlds, and then, when we pass out of that condition, to hold again as firmly as possible to what is suitable for the physical plane. We must carefully and conscientiously maintain the twofold attitude demanded by the twofold nature of the spiritual and physical life. We accustom ourselves to the right attitude towards the world in this respect by accustoming ourselves not to bring what belongs to the higher worlds into the everyday course of life; to bring into everyday affairs as little as possible of that which may easily tempt us to say, for instance, when something in a person is unsympathetic to us, that we cannot bear his aura. In ordinary life, when speaking of this or that as unsympathetic, it is better to keep to the ordinary terms; it is better in this respect to remain like one's fellows on the physical plane, and to be as sparing as possible in ordinary life of expressions which only have their true application when used for the higher life. We ought carefully to refrain from mixing into daily life words, ideas, conceptions, belonging to the higher life. This may perhaps seem a sort of pedantic requirement to anyone who, from a certain enthusiasm for the spiritual life, shall we say, finds it necessary to permeate his whole being with it. And yet, that which in an ordinary way in ordinary life may perhaps seem pedantic, is an important principle of training for the higher worlds. Therefore, even if it should seem more natural to describe the ordinary life in words belonging to the higher life, let us translate them into the language most fitted for the physical plane. It must be emphasised again and again that these things are not without consequence, but are full of significance and possess active power. This being admitted, we may also speak without prejudice of the fact that, as regards the life in the higher worlds, the ordinary power of judgment ceases to be of use, and we learn to feel, to a certain extent, that the sort of cleverness we had before is now at an end. And here again the student notices — this is an experience which grows more and more frequent — he notices his dependence upon the etheric life of the world, that is, upon time. How often do we find in our particular age that people, even quite young people, approach everything in the world upon which judgment can be passed, and think that when they have acquired a certain power of judgment they can pronounce opinion about everything in existence, and speculate on everything possible. In esoteric development the belief that one can speculate on all things is torn out of the soul by the roots; for we then notice that our opinions are capable of growth and, above all, that they need to mature.
The student learns to recognise that if he wishes to arrive at an opinion with which he is himself able to agree, he must live for some while with certain ideas which he has acquired, so that his own etheric body can come to an understanding with them. He learns that he must wait before he can arrive at a certain opinion. Only then does he realise the great significance of the words: ‘Let what is in the soul mature.’ He really becomes more and more modest. But this ‘becoming modest’ is a very special matter, because it is not always possible to hold the balance between being obliged to form an opinion and being able to wait for maturity to have an opinion upon a subject, though delusion about these things is possible to a high degree, and because there is really nothing but life itself which can explain these things. A philosopher may dispute with a person who has reached a certain degree of esoteric development concerning some cosmic mystery, or cosmic law; if the philosopher can only form philosophic opinion he will believe himself necessarily in the right concerning the matter, and we can understand that he must have this belief; but the other person will know quite well that the question cannot be decided by the capacity for judgment possessed by the philosopher. For he knows that in former times he also used the conceptions upon which the philosopher bases his opinion, but allowed them to mature within him, which process made it possible for him to have an opinion on the subject; he knows that he has lived with it, thereby making himself ripe enough to form the opinion which he now pronounces at a higher stage of maturity. But an understanding between these two persons is really out of the question, and in many cases cannot be brought about directly; it can only come to pass when in the philosopher there arises a feeling of the necessity of allowing certain things to mature in his soul before he permits himself to give an opinion about them. Opinions, views must be battled for, must be won by effort — this the student recognises more and more. He acquires a profound, intense feeling of this, because he gains the inner feeling of time which is essentially connected with the development of the etheric body. Indeed, he gradually notices a certain opposition arise in his soul between the way he formerly judged and the way he now judges after having attained a certain maturity in this particular matter; and he notices that the opinion he formed in the past and the opinion he now holds confront each other like two powers, and he then notices in himself a certain inner mobility of the temporal within him; he notices that the earlier must be overcome by the later. This is the dawn in the consciousness of a certain feeling for time, which arises from the presence of inner conflicts, coming into existence through a certain opposition between the later and the earlier. It is absolutely necessary to acquire this inner feeling, this inner perception of time, for we must remember that we can only learn to experience the etheric when we acquire an inner idea of time. This develops into our always having the feeling that the earlier originates in ourselves, in our judgment, in our knowledge; but that the later flows into us, as it were, streams towards us, is vouchsafed to us. More and more clearly comes the feeling of what was described in the last lecture, viz., that the cleverness which springs from oneself must be separated from the wisdom which is acquired by surrender to the stream flowing towards one from the future. To feel ourselves being filled by thoughts, in contradistinction to our former experiences of consciously forming the thoughts ourselves — this shows progress. When the student learns more and more to feel that he no longer forms thoughts, but that the thoughts think themselves in him — when he has this feeling it is a sign that his etheric body is gradually developing the necessary inner feeling of time. All that went before will have the attribute of being something formed egotistically; all that is attained by maturing will have the characteristic of burning up and consuming what the student has made for himself. Thus the gradual change in his inner being results in a very remarkable experience; he becomes increasingly conscious that his own thinking, his own thought processes must be suppressed because they are of little value, compared with his devotion to the thoughts which stream to him from the cosmos. The individual life loses, as it were, one of its parts — that is extremely important — it loses the part we usually call personal-thinking, and there only remains personal-feeling and personal-willing. But these too undergo a change at the same time as the thinking. The student no longer produces his thoughts, but they think themselves within his soul. With the feeling that the thoughts have their own inner power through which they think themselves, comes a certain merging of feeling and will. Feeling, we might say, becomes more and more active, and the will becomes more and more allied to feeling. Feeling and will become more closely related to each other than they were before on the physical plane. No impulse of the will can be formed without accompanying development of feeling. Many of the student's deeds produce within him a bitter feeling, others produce an uplifting feeling. As regards his will, he feels at the same time that his own will-impulses must be adjusted in conformity with his feelings. He gradually finds that feelings which are there merely for the sake of enjoyment give rise to a kind of reproach; but feelings which are so perceived that he says: ‘The human soul must furnish the field of work for such feelings, they must be experienced inwardly, otherwise they would not exist in the universe’ — such feelings he gradually finds more justifiable than the others. An example shall be given at once, a characteristic example, in order that what is meant may be made quite clear; it is not intended to decry anything, but only to express the essential nature of this difference. Someone may find his pleasure in having good meals. When he experiences this pleasure, something happens within him — this is indisputable. But it does not make much difference in the universe, in the cosmos, when an individual experiences this pleasure in a good meal; it is not of much consequence to the general life of the world. But if someone takes up St. John's Gospel and reads but three lines of it, that is of immense consequence to the whole universe; for if among all the souls on earth none were to read St. John's Gospel, the whole mission of the earth could not be fulfilled; from our taking part in such activities there stream forth spiritually the forces which ever add new life to the earth in place of that which dies within it. We must distinguish a difference in experience between ordinary egotistic feeling and that in which we are but providing the field for experience of a feeling necessary for the existence of the world. Under certain circumstances a man may do very little externally, but when in his developed soul, for no personal pleasure, he is aware that through his feeling the opportunity is given for the existence of a feeling important to the universal existence — then he is doing an enormous amount.
Strange as it may seem, the following may also be said: There was once a Greek philosopher named Plato. He wrote many books. As long as a person only lives with his soul on the physical plane, he reads these books for his own instruction. Such outer instruction has its significance for the physical plane, and it is very good to make use of every means of instruction on the physical plane, for otherwise we remain stupid. The things achieved on the physical plane are there for the purpose of our instruction. But when a soul has developed esoterically, he then takes Plato, shall we say, and reads him again for a different reason; that is, because Plato and his works only have a meaning in the earthly existence if what he has written is also experienced in other souls; and the student then reads not only to instruct himself, but because something is accomplished thereby.
Something must be added to our feeling, enabling us to recognise a difference between egotistic feeling, which leans more towards enjoyment, and selfless feeling, which presents itself to us as an inner spiritual duty. This may extend even into external life and the external conception of life; and here we come to speak on a point which shines, it might be said, out of individual into social experience.
When a person acquainted with the secrets of esotericism observes what goes on in the world — how so many people waste their spare time instead of ennobling their feelings with what comes into the earthly existence from spiritual creations — he might weep over the stupidity which ignores all that in human life flows through human feeling and sentiment. And in this connection it should be noticed that when these experiences begin a certain more delicate egoism appears in human nature. In the following lectures we shall hear how this finer egoism is assumed for the purpose of overcoming itself; but at first it merely appears as a finer egoism, and during our theosophical development we shall find that a sort of higher thirst for enjoyment appears, a thirst for the enjoyment of spiritual things. And, grotesque as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that a man who is undergoing an esoteric development may at a certain stage declare, even though he may not allow this consciousness to grow into pride and vanity, that all that lies before him on the earth in the way of spiritual creations must be enjoyed by him; it is there for his enjoyment — so it belongs to him. And gradually he develops a certain urge towards such spiritual enjoyments. In this respect esotericism will not cause any mischief in the world, for we may be quite sure that when such a desire for the spiritual creations of humanity appears it will not be a drawback.
As a result of this something else appears. Gradually the student feels in a sense the awakening of his own etheric body, by becoming aware that feeling his own thinking is of less value, and by feeling the inflow of thought from the cosmos, interwoven as it is with the Divine. He feels more and more how will and feeling arise from himself; he begins to feel egoism only in his will and feeling, while he perceives the gifts of the wisdom, which he feels streaming through, as connecting him with the whole cosmos.
This experience is connected with another. He begins to feel inner activity of feeling and will, interwoven with inner sympathy and antipathy. A more subtle and delicate feeling tells him that when he himself does this or that it is a disgrace, for he has within him a certain amount of wisdom. Of something else he may feel that it is right to do it, according to his amount of wisdom. An experience of self-control appearing in feeling comes about naturally. We are overcome with feelings of bitterness when we feel a will arising from within, impelling us to do something or other which does not seem to be right in view of the wisdom in which we have now learned to share. This bitter feeling is most clearly perceived with respect to the things we have said; and it is well for one who is developing theosophically not to pass by inattentively without noticing how the whole of the inner life of feeling may be refined in this respect. While in the case of a person in exoteric life, when he has uttered certain words, when he has said something or other, that is the end of the matter, in the case of a person who has undergone a theosophical development there comes a clear after-feeling regarding what he has said; he feels something like an inner shame when he has expressed what is not right in a moral or intellectual sense; and something like a sort of thankfulness — not satisfaction with himself — when he has been able to express something to which the wisdom he has attained can give assent. And if he feels — and for this, too, he acquires a delicate sensitiveness — that something like an inner self-satisfaction, a self-complaisance with himself arises when he has said something that is right, that is a sign that he still possesses too much vanity, which is no good in his development. He learns to distinguish between the feeling of satisfaction which follows when he has said something with which he can agree, and the self-complaisance which is worthless. He should try not to allow this latter feeling to arise, but only to develop the feeling of shame when he has said anything untrue or non-moral, and, when he has succeeded in saying something suitable to the occasion, to develop a feeling of gratitude for the wisdom he now has part in, and to which he does not lay claim as his own, but receives as a gift from the universe.
Little by little the student feels in this way with respect to his own thinking. As has already been said, he must remain a man on the physical plane; and while not attaching too much value to the self-formed thoughts, he must still form them; but this self-thinking itself now alters, so much that he holds it under the self-control we have just described. Regarding a thought of which he may say: ‘I have thought that and it is in keeping with the Wisdom’ — regarding this thought he develops a feeling of gratitude towards the Wisdom. A thought which arises as a wrong, ugly, non-moral thought leads to a certain inner feeling of shame, and the student feels: ‘Can I really still be like this? Is it possible that I have still sufficient egotism to think this, in the face of the Wisdom that has entered into me?’ It is extremely important for him to feel this kind of self-control in his inner being. The peculiarity of this self-control is that it never comes through the critical intellect, but always appears in feeling, in perception. Let us pay great attention to this, my dear friends: A man who is only clever, who only possesses the judgment of the outer life, who is critical, can never arrive at what we are now speaking of; for this must appear as feeling. When he has acquired this feeling — when it arises as if from his own inner being — he identifies himself with this feeling either of shame or thankfulness, and feels that his own self is connected with this feeling. And if I were to make a diagram of what is thus experienced, it is as though one felt wisdom streaming in from above, coming towards one from above, streaming into one's head in front and then filling one from above downwards. On the other hand, a student feels that, as though coming from his own body, there streams towards that wisdom a feeling of shame, so that he identifies himself with this feeling, and addresses the wisdom as something given from outside; and feels within himself a region wherein this feeling, which is now the ego, meets the instreaming wisdom bestowed.
The pupil can inwardly experience the region where these two meet. To feel this meeting, proves a right inner experience of the etheric world; he experiences the thoughts pressing in from the external etheric world — for it is the wisdom streaming towards him from the external etheric world that presses in and is perceived by means of the two feelings — that is the rightly-perceived etheric world. And when he perceives it thus he ascends to the higher Beings which only descend as far as to an etheric body and not to a physical human body. On the other hand, he may experience this etheric world wrongly, in a certain sense. Rightly, the etheric world is experienced between thinking and feeling, in the manner just described. The experience is purely an inner process in the soul. The elementary or etheric world may be experienced wrongly, if it is experienced on the boundary between breathing and our own etheric body. If the student performs breathing exercises too soon, or in an incorrect way, he gradually becomes a witness of his own breathing-process. With the breathing-process of which he is then aware (the act of breathing being usually unnoticed), he may acquire a breathing which perceives itself. And this feeling may be associated with a certain perception of the etheric world. By means of all kinds of breathing-exercises a person may gain the power of observing certain etheric processes which really are in the external world, but which belong to the lowest external psychic processes, and which, if experienced too soon, can never give the right idea of the true spiritual world.
Of course, from a certain point in the esoteric practice a regulated breathing-process may also begin; but this must be properly directed. It then comes about that we perceive the etheric world, as has been described, on the border between thinking and feeling, and what we thus learn to recognise is only strengthened by our also coming to know the grosser etheric processes which take place on the border between the etheric world and our breathing-processes. For the matter is as follows: — There is a world of genuine higher Spirituality; this we attain through the interaction which takes place — as we have described — between wisdom and feeling; there we come to the deeds accomplished in the etheric world by the beings belonging to the higher hierarchies. But there are a great number of all sorts of good and bad and hostile and horrible and dangerous elementary beings, which, if we become acquainted at the wrong time, obtrude themselves upon us as if they really were a valuable spiritual world, while they are nothing more, in a certain sense, than the lowest dregs of the beings of the Spiritual world. He who wishes to penetrate into the Spiritual world must indeed become acquainted with these beings, but it is not well to become acquainted with them at the beginning. For the peculiarity is this: that if a person becomes acquainted with these beings at first, without traversing the difficult path of his own inner experience, he grows fond of them, has astonishing partiality for them; and it may then occur that a man who thus raises himself into the spiritual world in a wrong way, especially through such physical training as may be called a changing of the breathing-processes, will describe certain things pertaining to this spiritual world, as they appear to him. He describes them in such a way that many people may think them extremely beautiful, while to the occultist who perceives them in the inward experience, they may be horrible and loathsome. Such things are quite possible in the experience of the spiritual world.
We need not here speak of other processes which a person may undertake as a training, and through which he may enter evil worlds, because in Occultism it is the custom not to speak of that which one comes to know as the dross of the spiritual world. It is not necessary that we should enter spiritually into that world; hence it is not the practice to speak of the methods which go still lower than the breathing processes. Even the breathing-process, when it is not done in the right way, really leads to the dross-beings, which we must indeed come to know, but not at first, as they then make us enamoured of them, which ought not to be. We shall only obtain a true, objective standpoint regarding their value when we have penetrated into the spiritual world from the other side.
If the student now begins in this way to feel streaming out of himself, as it were, responsive feelings towards wisdom — the feeling of shame, and the feeling of thankfulness — if these responsive feelings spring up, as it were, from his own organism, then he thereby becomes first acquainted in the most elementary way with something of which he must learn more in the course of his further occult development. In the last lecture we pointed out that in the course of our gradual experience of the etheric we become aware of what is active in the etheric part of our brain, the Amshaspands, referred to in the teaching of Zarathustra. As regards our ideas we may also say: There we learn at first to form an idea of the active archangel beings and what they have to do in us. Through what is here stored up, through what here arises within us as the feeling of thankfulness or shame, which feeling has a personal character because it comes forth from ourselves — through this we gain the first elementary true conception of what are called the Archai or Primal forces; for we experience in the first most elementary way in the manner described what the Primal forces bring about in us. While the student — when he begins to experience in the etheric — first experiences the Archangels in his head in a shadowy way, one might say, in their activities, in their etheric working, he experiences in that with which the wisdom comes in contact in him, and which reacts to it, the Primal forces permeated with something like will, not entirely of its nature, but the Primal forces which have entered into him and work in the human personality. When he learns to feel in this way, he gradually obtains an idea of what the occultist means when he says: On that primeval embodiment of our earth, Ancient Saturn, dwelt the Primal Forces or the Spirits of Personality at their human stage, so to speak. At that time these Primal Forces or Spirits of Personality were human. They have now developed further, and in so doing they have attained the capacity of working from the supersensible world. And how do they manifest at the present time, in our earth-period, this power which they have acquired through the progress of their evolution as far as the earth? They have attained the capacity of being able to work from the supersensible upon our own bodily nature, and so to work on our sheath that they produce forces in our etheric body manifesting in the manner described. They have placed these forces in us, and if we feel today we are so organised that we can develop within ourselves the above-mentioned feelings of gratitude and shame as an inner natural process (and this can become our own experience), we must admit: That this can become an inward experience, that our etheric body should pulsate in this way, and respond in this manner to the Wisdom — to this end have the Primal forces poured forces into it. In the same way man himself in future incarnations of our earth will attain to the ability to imprint capacities such as these into a corresponding covering in other beings, who will be below him; he will imprint them into their inner being. What man is to know regarding the higher worlds will gradually be gained by inner experience, by our ascending, by our passing over from physical to etheric experience.
Let us try to make these matters still clearer. On ancient Saturn — as you know — heat was the densest physical condition, as it were, the only physical condition which had been reached by the middle of the Saturn period. And as you may read in my book An Outline Of Occult Science, the Saturn activities in the physical were currents of heat and cold. We may also speak of these currents of heat and cold from the psychic, soul-aspect, and say: Heat flowed in streams, but this heat was the flowing gratitude of the Spirits of Personality; or this flowing heat which moved in a different direction was the flowing feeling of shame of the Spirits of Personality. What we must gradually acquire is the capacity of connecting the physical with the moral activity; for the further we go into the higher worlds the more closely are these two things connected — the physical occurrence, which then ceases to be physical, and the moral, which then flows through the world with the power of the laws of nature.
All that has just been described as something which appears in inner experience through the altered etheric body brings about something else in the human soul. This human soul gradually begins to feel discomfort in being this individual man at all, this single, personal human being. It is important for us to learn to notice this; and it is well to make a rule of noticing it. The less interest one has developed previously to this stage of esoteric development in what concerns humanity in general, in what is common to humanity, the more disquieting does one find this on pressing forward. A person having developed no interest in mankind in general, and yet wishing to undergo an esoteric development, would feel himself more and more as a burden. For example, a person to whom it is possible to go through the world without sympathy and fellow-feeling with what another may suffer and enjoy, who cannot well enter into the souls of others, nor transpose himself into the souls of other human beings, such a person, when he progresses in esoteric development, feels himself to be a kind of burden. If in spite of remaining unmoved by human sorrow and human joy he undergoes a theosophical development, the student drags himself about with him as a heavy weight; and we may be quite sure his theosophical development will merely remain external, an intellectual affair only, that such a person is merely taking up theosophy like learning a cookery-book or some external science, unless he feels that he is a mere weight if in spite of his development he cannot develop a heart that truly feels with all human sorrow and all human gladness. Hence it is very good if, during a theosophical, occult development, we extend our human interests; and really nothing is worse during this esoteric progress than not to try to gain an understanding of every kind of human feeling and human sensation and human life. Of course, this does not postulate the principle — this must be emphasised again and again — that we should pass over all the wrong that is done in the world without criticism, for that would be an injustice towards the world; but it postulates something else; whereas before esoteric development we may have felt a certain pleasure in finding fault with some human failing, this pleasure in finding fault with other people entirely ceases in the course of esoteric development. Who does not know in external life people who like to deliver very pertinent criticisms of other people's faults? Not that the pertinence of judgment over human faults has to cease, not that under all circumstances, such an act as was committed, let us say, by Erasmus of Rotterdam when he wrote his book, The Praise of Folly, should be condoned; no, it may be quite justifiable to be stern against the wrongs done in the world; but in the case of one who undergoes an esoteric development every word of blame he utters or sets in motion pains him, and prepares more and more pain for him. And the sorrow at being obliged to find fault is something which can also act as a barometer of the esoteric development. The more we are still able to feel pleasure when we are obliged to find fault or when we find the world ludicrous, the less we are really ready to progress; and we must gradually gain a sort of feeling that there is, developing more and more within us, a life which makes us see these follies and errors in the world with eyes of which one is critical and the other filled with tears, one dry and the other wet. This inner dividing into parts, this becoming more independent, as it were, of that which was previously intermingled, also forms part of the change undergone by the human etheric body.