Philosophy, Cosmology, and Religion
"The French Course" ~ Lecture 5 of 10
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 10, 1922:
In recent times, the question of the unconscious has come to the fore and is often spoken of in psychology. Everything in human soul life that cannot be reached, observed or explained by ordinary consciousness is relegated to the region of the unconscious. When this unconscious realm is mentioned, it is always supposed — notwithstanding the assumption that it must remain unknown — that it contains forces that do work into the conscious soul life. The emergence of this idea of the unconscious is due wholly to the fact that a certain skepticism, indeed a feeling of impotence, has arisen in recent times in regard to solving specific problems of philosophy, cosmology and religion. The insight that we have described here as imaginative, inspired and intuitive knowledge has the task now of probing into this undefined reservoir, which figures in so many ways in recent science as “the unconscious.” It is just by means of this supersensible knowledge — by reaching other levels of consciousness in which a different soul condition exists, hence a different perceptual capacity — that the concrete facts, which are not accessible to ordinary consciousness, must be investigated. Today I would like to give you an example of such research in an unconscious region of the soul, namely the experiences the human soul undergoes between going to sleep and waking.
Ordinary consciousness remains quite unconscious of what happens to the human soul in sleep. But we should not believe that these experiences have less meaning or are less decisive in a man's life than experiences of waking consciousness. Certainly, for external life, for our work and activities, for humanity's outer progress, the waking hours are of primary consideration. But for the configuration and the development of man's inner being, the rich experiences of the state of sleep are of the first importance. Even though man remains unconscious of them, these experiences are real, and their after-effects play into waking life. Man's general mood of soul during his waking hours is permeated by the after-effects of sleep. His physical and etheric organizations, which are worked upon by his astral organization and his actual spiritual organization, that is to say his ego organism, are permeated also. They too are influenced during waking life by the after-effects of sleep.
For ordinary consciousness the phenomena of sleep appear as follows: sense perception begins to dim down, in the end it is entirely extinguished; the same also happens in the case of thinking, feeling and willing. Except for the transitional state when we are dreaming, man sinks into an unconscious condition. But what happens to the soul then — and this must be strongly emphasized — is something absolutely real. What remains unconscious to ordinary consciousness in this respect can be illuminated by imaginative, inspired and intuitive cognition. Therefore, I will describe for you
the soul's experiences during sleep. At least sketchily, I will describe how imagination, inspiration and intuition can perceive what, for ordinary consciousness, is unconscious. I will outline the soul's experiences as if they were lived through consciously, for they are experienced consciously through higher cognition. It is not as if the soul were unconscious throughout the night, but what would otherwise have remained unconscious can be seen by means of imagination, inspiration and intuition. Light can in this way be cast upon it so that it becomes visible. The following then comes into view.
When man first enters into the state of sleep, the sense world around him ceases to exist for the soul. He goes into an inner experience that is undifferentiated, in a certain sense indefinite. The soul feels — I say feels but it does not feel; if it were conscious, it would feel — it feels enlarged as in a widespread fog. In this inward feeling and experiencing during this first stage of sleep subject and object cannot at first be distinguished. No separate phenomena and facts are distinguishable; it is a general sensing of a nebulous universality, which is sensed as one's own existence. But simultaneously there appears in the sleeping person what may be called a deep need to rest in the divine essence of the cosmos. With this outflowing of experience into an undifferentiated condition is mixed an indefinite longing — one must use such a word after all — “to rest in God. “ As I said, I describe it as if the events, experienced unconsciously, were passed through consciously. Thus, the external world of daytime, everything the soul receives through the senses, is swallowed up. All the stimuli through which the soul feels in the body are gone and, likewise, all the impulses by means of which the soul sends its will through the body are gone. The soul has at first a general, universal sensation accompanied by a longing for God.
In this condition, which arises initially after falling asleep, dreams can intervene. They are either symbolic pictures of outer experiences, memory pictures, symbolic images of inner bodily conditions, and so on, or they are dreams in which certain true facts of the spiritual world can be intermingled without the ordinary dreamer being able to acquire a definite knowledge of what the dreams really contain. Even for one who views this condition of soul with imaginative cognition — for by means of it one can do this already — dreams do not throw light upon the inner facts, rather do they veil the real truth. For this truth, in relation to what is meant here, can only be perceived by a person, if, out of his own free will, he prepares himself in an appropriate manner through soul exercises such as have been described here. Only as a result of these soul exercises can a clear view of this first stage of sleep be attained.
If you look with such cognitional faculties into this first stage of sleep, when you can divine it, it shows itself to be similar to, but not exactly the same as the unconscious experiences of earliest childhood. Indeed, if man were in a position to bring these experiences to consciousness and pour them into the concepts and ideas of ordinary consciousness, such as philosophy is occupied with, then these philosophical ideas would attain reality. The philosophy to which we should thus attain would be something real. So it can also be said that in the first stage of every sleep man becomes an unconscious philosopher. He attains to what in waking consciousness is cultivated in his soul as ideas, as dialectics and logical laws. If the flowing into the cosmic mists of the etheric world and the soul's longing to rest in God could be permeated with the experience of actuality, if man could bring these two soul experiences to consciousness and pour them into abstract philosophical ideas, then these ideas would come alive. Philosophy would then be as it was in Greece before Socrates, and in still earlier epochs of humanity. It would be an inwardly experienced reality.
We have now learned to know two stages of man's unfolding: that of his earliest childhood, which, if brought to consciousness, would represent the reality of philosophical ideas and the experience of the first stage of sleep, which, as we have noted, is quite similar to the unconscious experience of childhood, and which, when brought to consciousness, could in the same way give a living experience of reality to a philosophy worked out during waking life. That describes the first, somewhat brief stages that a human being undergoes from the time of falling asleep to waking up.
After the soul has been for a time in the state of sleep described above, another condition sets in. This second stage of sleep is such that instead of the experience of his own physical and etheric bodies, which he has when awake, man has a form of experience through which he feels inside himself the cosmos that in daytime surrounds him. While in the first stage the soul experiences no clear distinction between subject and object, this difference now becomes increasingly meaningful except that during sleep man has come into the reverse condition from that of being awake. He now feels and experiences himself in the cosmos and looks back on his physical and etheric organisms as upon an object. Just as he vaguely feels his organs — lungs, liver, heart, and so on — in day consciousness, now, in sleep, he experiences the cosmic content within himself; he himself becomes, as it were, cosmos in his soul. Not as if he extended out into the whole cosmos; rather, he experiences something like a reflection of the cosmos within him.
The first unconscious experience — which even so is wholly real — is, I might say, a fragmentation of this inner soul experience. The soul feels as if it were divided up into many separate parts of a manifoldness. It feels itself not as a unity but as a multiplicity; as if, when awake, we were to experience ourselves in the brain not as a homogeneous being but as a multiplicity of eyes, ears, lungs, liver and so on, and we were missing the sense of unity. Thus, during sleep, we experience, so to say, the cosmic ingredients without at first experiencing their unity. That brings about a condition of soul which, if we were conscious of it, we should have to describe as permeated by anxiety, even fear. The soul, however, really experiences the objective processes that cause this nightly anxiety, just as the organic processes of the physical and etheric organisms underlie what might be experienced here or there by the soul as anxiety coming from within. They are, in fact, fear-inspiring occurrences that the soul has to live through.
In this stage of sleep, occurrences of waking life now reveal their effects. For modern man living after the Mystery of Golgotha there appear the after-effects of what he experiences in waking life as inner religious devotion to Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha. The attention man gives to it, all reverence and worship that he develops for the Christ and that Mystery during his waking life, have after-effects in this second stage of sleep. It was otherwise for those who lived on earth before the Mystery of Golgotha. They received from their religious leaders appropriate measures, religious functions to carry out, whose effects they could carry over into sleep and that worked there in such a way that this anxiety could gradually be overcome. For a person living after the Mystery of Golgotha his inner bond with Christ, his feeling of belonging to Him, the religious rituals directed to Christ Jesus, his whole relation to Him and his actual conduct in reference to this relationship, all this now works into the life of sleep and helps to overcome that anxiety which oppresses the soul.
As I said, I describe things as they appear to inspired consciousness, but they certainly are experienced by the soul as reality. So, while I present concepts taken from conscious life, the actual corresponding processes are really present in the life of the soul. If, in daytime, we have developed a relation to the Christ, we actually meet His guiding power during this second stage of sleep. It is this guiding power of Christ through which we overcome the anxiety that oppresses the soul. Out of this anxiety there develops a cosmic relationship of the soul to the world. As a result of the development of this relationship, but in such a way that the soul experiences it as its inner life, the movements of the planetary system in our solar cosmos stand before the soul. It does not expand out into the planetary world during sleep, but an inner replica of it lives in the soul. It actually experiences the planetary cosmos in a replica. Even if what the soul experiences every night as a small, inner globe, a celestial globe, does not illuminate day consciousness, it does stream into the reality of daily life and continues on in the physical and etheric organizations in the systems of breathing and blood circulation, the whole rhythmic system, we find that these processes are accompanied by impulses and stimuli that live in the physical and the etheric body and work into waking life out of the inner planetary experience which the soul has in sleep. While we are awake, therefore, the planetary movements of our solar system pulse through our breathing and circulation as after-effects of sleep.
During sleep — supersensible vision shows us that astral and ego organizations are outside the physical and etheric bodies — the planetary movements do not work directly. They are experienced by the soul outside the physical and etheric organisms. But within the sleeping physical body the impulses from the previous night echo and reverberate, the same impulses that have pulsated through breathing and circulation during the day. During the following night an after-effect of these impulses is present, and they are renewed the next morning as a consequence of what the soul experienced in the night as an inner replica of the planetary cosmos.
Now in addition to this cosmic experience during the second stage of sleep something else happens. The soul receives distinct impressions of all the relationships it has ever entertained with human souls in its various lives on earth. We actually have within us, I might say, “markings” of all the relationships we have had with other human souls in successive earth lives. They now appear before the soul in a certain pictorial form. Although unconsciously, the soul really experiences everything that has been good or bad in its dealings with other people. Likewise, it experiences its developing relationships with spiritual beings who dwell in the cosmos and never live in a physical body, who always live in a supersensible existence as opposed to the physical life of man. The human soul in sleep thus lives in a rich network of relations with those human souls with whom it has established such connections. These connections reappear, as does everything that has remained from them as after-effects of the right and wrong a person has done to others, the good and evil he may have caused. In short, the existing destiny of a person confronts his soul in this stage of sleep.
What an older philosophy has called karma appears at this stage every night before man's soul. Since the planetary experiences continue to work as stimuli in the breathing and blood circulation, and thus in man's physical and etheric organizations, it is possible for someone capable of perceiving such things through inspired cognition to observe that this experience of repeated earth lives also plays over into day consciousness, even though it is not directly present. It is clearly evident to inspired cognition, which perceives what the soul experiences, that repeated earth lives are a fact, for to the view of inspiration they present themselves directly together with the relationships established at any time with other people. Man's development through repeated earth lives presents itself because these relationships are beheld. One relationship points back to one certain earth life, another points to another life, and so on. In this way, karma appears before man's eyes as an established fact.
The experiences of the soul during sleep work in such a manner into day consciousness that man's general mood, making itself felt during the day in the form of a dull awareness of himself, depends on what we undergo in this second stage of sleep. Whether we feel happy or unhappy in our dimly perceived inner self, whether we feel lively or languid, is to a great extent the result of what is experienced in this stage of sleep. So, during this stage we find ourselves actually outside in the cosmos, even though what we experience within the soul is a copy of the cosmos; and what we experience of repeated earth lives and karma appears before the soul as images and reflections. These replicas of the cosmos and our destiny that stand before our soul contain what can be called man's inner existence in the cosmos. If you are able to formulate in concepts and ideas what has been attained through inspired cognition by letting it stream back into ordinary consciousness, you arrive at a true cosmology that encompasses the whole of man. Such a cosmology then is an experienced cosmology. We can say that when this stage of sleep is consciously reflected back, man learns to recognize himself as a member of the cosmic order — a cosmic order that is expressed in a planetary sense, as a cosmic ordering of nature.
But now, within this cosmic order, the moral world order arises. This is not as it is in earth life, where on the one side we find the order of nature with its own systems of laws but lacking morality, and on the other side a moral world order experienced as far as earthly existence is concerned only in the soul. Instead, we have a unified world before us. What we experience as a planetary cosmos is permeated and spiritually impregnated by a continuous stream of moral impulses. We live simultaneously in a natural and a moral cosmos.
You realize the full significance of these nightly events for waking life. So, we can say that what the soul experiences in the cosmos between going to sleep and waking is more real and full of meaning for man's outward configuration than what confronts him by day, for the life functions of the physical and etheric bodies, as well as our own moral condition, are results of our cosmic experience during sleep.
The third stage of sleep is characterized by a gradual transition from experiences within the planetary cosmos to an experience of the world of the fixed stars, so that this world is experienced by the soul as a kind of reflection. Yet these are not reflections of those outer sense pictures of the constellations such as we have in waking life. Instead, the soul becomes familiar with those beings of whom it was said in earlier lectures that intuition recognizes as the spiritual beings corresponding to the stars. Here in the sense world in our physical consciousness we experience the physical sense pictures of the stars. When, as I have described, we penetrate the spiritual world with intuition, we recognize that the sun and other fixed stars as perceived by ordinary sense perception are merely the reflected physical images of certain spiritual beings. The soul lives within these spiritual beings of the stars during the third stage of sleep. It feels after-images of the star constellations, that is to say, it feels the relationships that exist between the activities of the spiritual star-beings. The soul experiences such constellations.
Ancient dreamlike science specifically described how the life of the fixed star constellations and zodiac streamed into the soul. This is, after all, the main part of the soul's experience in sleep. In the sense world you arrive at a better correspondence to the single spiritual beings if you look at the constellations as a whole instead of gazing at single stars. In sleep, the soul, being free of the physical and etheric bodies, becomes so liberated that it confronts them both as objects, just as we usually have around us the objects of the external world as perceived by the senses. The soul really finds its way as a spiritual being into a cosmos consisting of other spiritual beings. What it unconsciously goes through there can be illuminated by intuitive knowledge. But the experiences there also have their after-effects in waking life; the general well-being, health and vigor of the human body — not of the soul as in the first stage of sleep — are after-effects of what the soul experiences during the night among star-beings. Especially there comes before the soul, even if unconsciously, the whole event of birth in its broadest sense; that is, the way the soul enters a physical body through conception and embryonic life. Again, there comes before the soul how the body is abandoned in death and how man's spirit being passes into the soul-spiritual world. Every night, the truth concerning the events of birth and death really confront the soul. It is also an after-effect of the night-time experiences that man has a dim feeling during the day that birth and death by no means signify for human life only what they appear to be to sense observation. It is simply not true that a man with sound common sense could believe that birth and death are nothing but the events they appear to be in outer material life. Man in fact does not believe this, but it is not true to say that the reason for his disbelief is only because in his fantasy he imagines that he is an eternal being whose existence persists beyond death. No, man cannot believe it because of the picture experienced every night by the soul of how man enters earth life from the spiritual world and withdraws again into the world of spirit. This picture streams into the soul by day and is experienced by it as a vague feeling about the world and human life.
What appears during waking life as religious longing, as religious awareness, is an after-effect of the soul's experience among the stars. What I have just described is the stage of man's deepest sleep. In actual fact, it is out of his sleep that man derives the religious feelings of his waking life.
Just as religious life can be founded today in knowledge by means of the experience resembling that of primordial humanity but permeated and formulated in intuitions by the fully developed consciousness, it can also be said that man can attain this religious knowledge if, through super-sensible intuition, he is able to perceive and illuminate the condition of deepest sleep. For what rests in the depths of sleep was also the source of what preserved man's knowledge of the divine. Our day-consciousness is only a reflection of the potentialities for consciousness open to man. Likewise, what man bears within him as a natural religious feeling appears as a reflection of the glory and sublimity experienced by his soul, even if unconsciously, in the third stage of sleep. Man sinks into the life of sleep not only to renew his tired body, or to gain the stimuli from sleep that his breathing and circulation need, or to acquire from the spiritual world the other impulses he needs. What permeates him with religious feeling penetrates to the soul's surface, to the region of day-consciousness from the profound depths through which human soul life streams during sleep.
One might say that as man lives a philosophical life during the first stage of sleep, similar to that of earliest childhood — however paradoxical that sounds to present-day consciousness — and as in the second stage he lives a cosmological life, so, in the third stage, he lives a life of being permeated with divinity. From this third stage of sleep, man must then return to daytime consciousness.
Having retraced the above-mentioned stages in backward sequence during the last stage of sleep, man returns again to waking consciousness. Since man's soul and spirit are outside his physical and etheric organizations in sleep, if this phenomenon of sleep is to be comprehended fully, intuitive knowledge must answer the question: Why is man drawn back into his physical and etheric bodies again? What impulse is at work there? If the intuitive perception of sleep is extended far enough, it is possible to recognize this impulse. As man cognizes these spiritual beings who correspond to the sun or the constellations of the other fixed stars, he then recognizes that the impulse comes from the spiritual beings whose reflection in our physical world is the moon. Indeed, the forces of the moon permeate our whole cosmos, and when, through intuition, we recognize not only the physical existence of the moon but also her spiritual correlations, we find that these spiritual beings, who correspond to the physical moon, are the entities who, in their working together, produce the impulses to bring us back into our physical and etheric bodies after we have reached the deepest stage of sleep. It is above all the moon forces that connect man's astral and ego organization with his physical and etheric organisms.
Every night, when out of the spiritual world the soul desires to re-enter its physical and etheric bodies, it must place itself within the streams of the moon forces. It is of no concern here — that will be obvious to you — whether it be new or full moon. For even when, as new moon, the moon is not visible to the senses, those forces are nevertheless active throughout the cosmos that bring the soul back into the etheric and physical bodies from the spiritual worlds. They are active even though the moon's phases appearing to the senses as half-moon, full moon, etc., are metamorphosed sense pictures that correspond to events in the soul being of the moon; these, to be sure, have something to do with man's spirit and soul in the physical and etheric bodies. Indeed, the particular configuration in which man's soul-spiritual and physical-etheric natures are linked is determined by those forces that rule and interweave in the cosmos and come to physical expression in the moon, the sense object, with her various phases that we perceive.
Thus, we can also look into the concealed aspects of man's life of waking and sleeping and inform ourselves concerning what it is that brings him back each morning into his daytime life. He returns through the same stages in reverse order, and while he passes through the last stage, which is permeated by a longing for God, the dreams mix again into his sleep life and he gradually submerges into his physical and etheric organizations.
Why is it that when man goes through the gate of death he is no longer subject to the moon forces? How does he withdraw from them when he spends a long time in the spiritual world? These questions as well as the secrets of birth, death and repeated earth lives will be considered in the next two lectures.