The Spiritual Development of Man. Lecture 2.Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 21, 1923:
When I last spoke to you, it was to show how, besides the physical body, man has an etheric and an astral body. And it was further pointed out how the etheric body, or the body of formative forces, can be experienced when a man becomes aware of the inner life of thinking. Man can have this experience if he becomes conscious of this inner life of thought. When he becomes so vividly conscious of this that he can live in this activity of thinking even when it is free from impressions arising out of external sense-perceptions and is not engaged in coordinating those perceptions but is free from all outside influences — when he rises by sheer inner strength to full awareness of a weaving, surging life of thought in himself, then this body of formative forces can be experienced.
This experience of thinking is at the same time experience of the etheric world. And I have already explained how, by rousing oneself inwardly and achieving this kind of thinking — which is by no means so difficult — one feels oneself living in one's Second Man and experiencing this Second Man as a kind of time-body, as something not at rest in a confined space like the physical body, but always in a state of flux and movement, something that can be observed in space only for a fleeting moment and even then hardly in defined outline. But this time-body reveals itself to human experience as the life-tableau which places before the eye of soul the entire course of earthly life hitherto in one comprehensive vision.
It is in fact a spiritual experience for the human soul when through this inner awareness of thinking a man enters into the etheric life of the universe. In this imaginative weaving and quickened life of the soul, which becomes experience of the etheric, one does not feel that shadowy, inner dimness which characterises the ordinary, dreamlike consciousness of the soul. Nor does one feel so separated from the world as one does in the physical body, isolated within the skin. One feels the outer world streaming into one, and one's own being streaming out into the world. One feels a member of the whole etheric universe, caught up in a world of movement. At the same time, however, all this is a rather disquieting experience, as of something unreal. Whereas in his physical body man is accustomed to feel himself standing firmly on the Earth, in this etheric experience he feels a certain insecurity in regard to his own existence. He has the feeling of being lifted out of the physical world while not yet firmly established in the spiritual world.
But that sense of being firmly rooted in the spiritual world is experienced when by earnest striving man attains what I have called the “deep silence of the soul.” As regards the force which normally serves him as modified breathing-power, man must learn not to spend this power in the breathing-process for forming words of vocal speech but, as indicated in “Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment,” to hold back what wants to pour itself into words. At the same time, however, he must strive inwardly to maintain that activity which otherwise finds its outlet in the spoken word. This is how he must achieve the inner silence. And when the soul does not stop at point ‘nought’ of this silence, but descends still more deeply into the negative region of silence, to the level below experienced silence, when by the strength of the spirit we hold in check the forces which want to press on into our breathing and our speech, and when at the same time we inwardly foster the impulse to speak but hold back the words before they take possession of the larynx — to put it differently, if we practice silence while developing the inner potentiality of speech — then we not only gain an inner stillness but the deep silence of the soul. In its relationship to speech, to the spoken word which sounds in the outer, physical world, this deep silence corresponds not merely to the degree of ‘nought,’ but to the negative potency. Then out of this deep silence there sounds what the spiritual world has to say to us, what — to use an ancient word — the Logos wants to reveal from out of the universe. Then we no longer speak, but have become the instrument through which the Logos speaks. And then we become aware of our own astral body within us and of the astral world of which I have spoken. This astral world is very different from the world which ordinary consciousness experiences through the senses and the reasoning intellect.
In this world of the senses and reasoning intellect we perceive in ordinary consciousness the material objects and processes in their gross density, filling space, and — to use a popular if not quite accurate figure of speech — pressing in upon our senses, so that we may have sense perception. While on the one side our senses and the reasonings of our intellect present to us the objects and processes of the external world in their gross substantiality, we have on the other side what are called the unreal thoughts and unreal feelings, those thoughts and feelings about which, as regards their relationship to reality, philosophers have argued through the ages. Whenever thoughts and feelings alone rise up in the soul, a man who depends entirely upon his ordinary consciousness has the desire to stretch out his hands, as it were, to take hold of something substantial in the material world, to make sure of the reality of existence.
Thus on the other side of existence, in our thoughts and feelings, we lead a life which is not immediately felt as real; yet out of these thoughts and emotions emerges man's moral world, the world of moral impulses. To regard the world like this, in its duality — on the one hand all that is grossly material and concrete and, to begin with, represents reality, and on the other, the less real thoughts and feelings which contain the moral impulses — this has something depressing about it for one who, confronted by science's assertion of the conservation of matter and energy, finds a kind of eternity being attributed to what is externally real, while that which arises out of thoughts and feelings as the moral world order appears to be doomed to perish in a vast graveyard of material existence — a conception to which the hypothetical conclusions drawn from the phenomena of nature must inescapably lead. Thus ordinary consciousness is faced with this duality: on the one hand the material world, on the other the moral-spiritual world; and man lives in this world, or rather in both the worlds which have so little to do with one another. With one side of his being man is given over to the material world in which the nutritive processes operate and in which, from these processes, his desires rise up, where his senses receive impressions and his intellect coordinates these impressions. He is conscious of belonging to this material world, but he is also conscious of the fact that his dignity as a human being can only be maintained if the moral-spiritual impulses which flow from the thoughts and feelings, whose reality is in dispute, have real meaning for him. And in his ordinary consciousness man here finds himself faced with the problem of imbuing his physical body, through which he is membered into the physical world, with qualities which for him must contain the element of unreality. In external nature he can discover nothing that is governed by the principle of moral-spiritual impulses. There he sees the stones subject to inexorable laws, containing nothing of moral-spiritual impulses. He observes the plants in their gentle tranquility, how in unfolding their blossoms they respond to the neutral light and warmth of the Sun, and here again he can find no trace of moral impulses entering into the Sun's warmth and light as they awaken the plants to life.
And finally, looking at the third kingdom of nature, the animal world with which, in respect of his physical organization, man himself has so much in common, he must admit that in the animal the moral functions have developed forms to which the designation ‘moral’ cannot be applied. The beast of prey is cruel, but this cruelty cannot be judged by moral standards, because the animal has descended below the level on which the moral impulses could with any justification be regarded as a moral-spiritual impulse. And then man may well look at his own physical-material nature and find that with part of his being he too has followed the descent.
Nevertheless, what is demanded of man, if his dignity as a human being is to be fully maintained, is that he himself must implant the moral impulses into this sunken part of his being. It is beyond ordinary consciousness to conceive a harmonious concord, a spontaneous merging, of the physical-material impulses and the spiritual-moral impulses. Here spirit and matter fall asunder. And man, contemplating the course of earthly life before him up to the time of his death, feels that as long as he lives, his own being will be involved in this conflict, where on the one side his physical-material organization calls for the introduction of the moral-spiritual impulses, while on the other side, nature shows him that nowhere in the laws of nature as such can moral-spiritual impulses take effect. Until the time of his death man finds himself in this dual position.
But then, when out of the deep silence of his soul, as I have described it, man's astral body and the world to which he belongs through his astral body begin to sound, there emerges from the depths of his soul a world the experience of which his ordinary consciousness denies him, but for which that same consciousness makes him long for when he feels the duality of the physical-material and the spiritual-moral. Then he perceives a world which is not unreal, a world which he experiences as being quite as real as the dense, material, concrete world of the senses, yet a world which, wherever its processes are in operation, lets the moral-spiritual impulses flow into the physical-material impulses. Here, on a higher level, man beholds a world which, compared with this earthly world, functions as if in the latter moral impulses were to enter into its binding and dissolving chemical processes.
Man looks into a world in which there is no such thing as hydrogen and oxygen combining in accordance with neutral laws of nature but in which hydrogen and oxygen combine by following moral impulses. Nothing opens there that has not at the same time a moral-spiritual meaning. But now man realizes that yonder world, in which the enhanced material element and the now powerfully creative moral-spiritual element interpenetrates, is the world which he will enter when he has passed through the gate of death; that it is the world from which he descended into the physical world, from his pre-earthly into his earthly life. It becomes clear to him that it is only this earthly physical world, the world of dualism, of opposites, in which nature and spirit face each other as if separated by an abyss, so that neither can reach the other. But what man also learns to understand is that he had to be placed into this physical world in order that he may experience how in this earthly physical world the spirit cannot really touch matter and that he himself, the earthly man, is the only being in the physical, earthly world who, of his own free will and acting on his own inmost, individual impulses, can establish this connection between spirit and matter.
If, under objective laws, anywhere in this physical world a moral-spiritual impulse could enter into a chemical process, into plant-growth or into sentient animal life, then it would have become impossible for man, as a combination of all that is in the cosmos, ever to gain his inner freedom and the ability to unite of his own free will the spiritual with the material.
In man's earthly life, however, there are two states of consciousness: there is the waking state from the time of awaking until falling asleep, and the sleeping state from the time of falling asleep until waking. During his waking hours man lives entirely in the world where spirit and matter are complete opposites, where spirit cannot touch matter and permeate it, and matter is powerless to raise its processes to the spiritual. But when man has penetrated into that world of which I said that it sounds out of the soul's deep silence, then he perceives that activity which he pursues during sleep, the activity of his astral body. And then he knows that every time he falls asleep he leaves behind the life which belongs to the Earth and returns to it on waking, that during the time when sleep interrupts his waking life he lives in that world in which he can begin to prepare for the union of spirit and matter. But in all that is woven during sleep between birth and death in a fine etheric-astral element, so that on waking it enters again into the duality between spirit and matter as that which man experiences and weaves during all the periods of his life passed during sleep between birth and death — in all this there lives what man carries with his being through the gate of death into yonder world where the possibility of matter being powerless to lift its processes to spirituality, or of the spirit being precluded from reaching matter, does not arise. With all that he has woven during his sleep, man now enters that world in which the functions of everything akin to matter rise to a spiritual level, while the spirit continually manifests in matter. And man perceives that the duality between spirit and matter exists only in that world in which he lives episodically between birth and death. Furthermore he knows that here he enters an entirely different world which, between falling asleep and waking, appears to him only as a reflection in a mirror, as a Fata Morgana, where he prepares himself for the reality of that world.
But when he has passed through the gate of death he actually enters that world and there continues with the weaving of the pattern traced by the life he led between birth and death. But now he weaves in such a way that he has not, on the one side, spirit free of matter, destined at some time to disappear in respect of its spiritual-moral impulses, for instance when the Earth reaches the state of heat-death [Wärmetod]. He enters a world where that which between falling asleep and waking had appeared to him in images — as it were in a Fata Morgana of soul-and-spirit — is now part of a real world, in which there is no duality between spirit and matter, in which spiritual substantiality perpetually penetrates the substantiality that has a resemblance to the material; where the laws of nature do not operate by themselves but merely form the lowest grade of the spiritual laws; where there are not mere abstract laws of the spirit-realm, but where the processes and laws of the lower spiritual grades already play into the processes — which are like material processes — operating at that level. Into this world man enters, to start on his way along the path between death and a future birth.
In this world man finds his way when he listens to what sounds from the depths of the soul's deep silence and apprehends what the spirit, the universal but individualized Logos, speaks to him, not in a physically audible language but in a language that is not only inaudible but even less than inaudible and, for that very reason, spiritually apprehensible. Thus man advances as he gains the inner word which does not become the external spoken word and yet inwardly applies the power which otherwise manifests itself only through the process of breathing, in the spoken word. — Thus man gradually develops his perceptive faculty for that world from which he descended, a spiritual world so intensely real as to leave not the slightest doubt that it is the world from which he descended to his physical, earthly existence and to which he will ascend again when he passes through the gate of death. In that world all the spiritual forces are as simultaneously active as are the material processes on the Earth. Everything material is here so far elevated as to prevent grossness and density from offering resistance to the moral-spiritual impulses.
To find one's way into the etheric-imaginative worl, one has to get behind the ordinary ways of thinking — the abstract, dead thinking, as it were — to the inner, living thinking. If one is to enter into the world of the deep silence where everything akin to matter becomes spiritual and all spiritual life becomes creative in matter, it is necessary not only to develop the faculty of living thinking behind the ordinary dead thinking, but to be able to pass behind the faculty of audible speech to the apprehension of the faculty of inaudible speech beyond, which is not audible sound but deep silence, from which no audible words resound. It is here that through the medium of profoundest silence the Logos speaks. But if one wants to advance still further, it is not enough to rise from living thinking — which, comparatively speaking, is only a process of forming images — to that which weaves and flows through the world but in its weaving and flowing speaks out of the deep silence, so that one feels caught up in the stream of this weaving world of flowing harmonies with one's Third Man — to progress even further one must lift oneself to yet another inner process.
In living thinking one is active in the etheric. At the second stage we live in a process not initiated by us but illumined by the Logos, a process which otherwise manifests only in the physical air through the spoken word. At the third stage one must become aware of a process which corresponds to what in the physical life of the Earth is a process of destruction. What is needed to reach the third stage is not only intensified thinking and an intensified faculty of speech projected into the stillness, but an inwardness of purpose in our activities as human beings on the Earth. Only one must bear in mind that ‘activity’ is not to be understood as applying merely to external physical action. We are also active when occupied only mentally in thoughts, for there too the will operates.
Every motive by which man rouses himself to activity, be it an inner process or an external process, finds its outlet in action and not in mere passive endurance. But every time action takes place, even if only in thinking that contains the initiative for action, a physical process takes place. Just as physical thinking gives rise to a process in the brain, and physical speech a modified breathing process, so in the action prompted by the initiative of the will-forces we have to do with an inner process, a process which can be likened to that destruction of material substances which we observe in all processes of combustion.
When we observe how a flame destroys the substance of a candle, we see — I need not here deal with any specific chemical aspect but I only wish to show what the senses can and must observe as a physical occurrence — we see how, irrespective of any metamorphosis and disappearance into something less visible, the flame, the process of combustion, destroys the constituent parts of the material.
Such processes as that in which the flame consumes the candle-substance occur wherever initiatives of will are astir within us. In his ordinary consciousness man ‘sleeps through’ these obscure processes of the will, as it were; they remain below the range of his cognition. He does not know what happens between the intention of lifting a hand and the actual movement of the hand. He does not know how the intention, which lives in his thoughts, shoots into his muscles and then effects the lifting of the hand. It is only the actual movement of the hand which the eye then sees. What lies between is a process similar to that of combustion. Within the human organism we are, however, incapable of such observations, whereas on a higher spiritual level we discern this process of combustion, which is the material process for the unfolding of the human will. When we follow this process of combustion we can find no indication that only matter is being changed; what happens is the elimination of the processes which go out from the ordinary nutritive functions in the human body. All those physical processes which are similar to combustion and form the basis for the unfolding of the will take place between the continuing action of the nutritive functions and blood formation.
There, where we see the blood forming, we gain an insight into these combustion-like processes. But within these processes we also find the surging will-forces in action. We witness a receding material process. To use a popular phrase, we see matter disappearing. But here we can become aware of something similar to what we experience in meditation, when we pass from thinking that is externally stimulated to inwardly quickened thinking; then, in this inwardly quickened thinking, we have something of which we become aware entirely through our own activity. — In the deep silence of the soul we have something which lies behind our physical breathing-process and which, coming out of the negative from the opposite direction, sounds forth from the spiritual World Soul as the voice of the Logos sounding out of the silence.
But we also gain an insight into those processes which work as combustion in our organism when we can discern what lies behind them, when in the destructive processes, in the generating of combustion in our organism, we can behold the Cosmic Will at work; as the power of the Logos stands behind the breathing engendered by the externally audible spoken word, so the creative power of the Cosmic Will holds sway behind the forces of combustion ever active in our organism. As we apprehend what spiritually underlies the modified breathing as it develops from the larynx into the spoken word, as we apprehend that voice of the spirit which rises out of the deep silence from the opposite direction to that of spoken words, but has to be arrested before it reaches the larynx — as we have this spiritual experience which brings us into the presence of the silent but all the more distinctive voice of the World Logos — so in all the combustion-like processes which we can observe within our organism we discern the Cosmic Will as it flows and weaves within them, and in which we ourselves participate — not unthinking will as imagined by Schopenhauer, but a will quickened and permeated by the spirit.
Now we feel a Fourth Man within us. Wherever in our physical organism combustion and the destructive processes take place, we feel creative processes. We experience ourselves within the creative world and in this creative world we become aware of all that is creative in ourselves.
And whereas previously through our Third Man, the astral man, we perceived a world in which there is no distinction between matter and spirit, so now we find a world in which the spirit not only lives in all processes and functions, but is the creative force in a world where nothing in the nature of material substance exists that is not formed out of the realm of the spirit. And likewise do we so experience the creative forces at work in us that within their sphere there is nothing akin to matter that is not their creation. And as we have already become aware of a world without the duality of spirit and matter, so we now learn to know a world in which the moral-spiritual impulses themselves are the only reality. As we look into this world, a drop of which is working individually in ourselves, and as in our Fourth Man we are given our share in this world to which we have ascended, we recognize in this Fourth Man a creative principle within us, but a creative principle of which we must say: it is something that does not exist anywhere in the surrounding world of nature, where the spirit does not reach matter, nor is it, to begin with, to be found anywhere in the world which appears to us within our own astral body. But it does become active wherever something higher, something in the nature of being, enters this astral world.
Just as man as a physical being moves in the physically penetrable air, so we experience life in the astral, a spiritual atmosphere of soul-life, where spiritual beings move about as we, as physical human beings, move in the physical atmosphere of the air. We now become aware not only of the voice of the Logos resounding through the astral world, but we now behold spiritual beings, moving and weaving in this astral world.
And there we learn to recognize our own being, which cannot now be here, but which, having passed through the etheric world in pre-earthly existence, lived in a former life on Earth. Now we perceive how the destroying combustion-process is connected with the moral impulses emanating from our last or several previous lives on Earth, how there lives in us this Fourth Man who at the same time is the creator of our destiny. Behind the seething combustion in our body we discover the creative power of the content of our previous life on Earth, which has now been able to rise to this region where, as creative force, it counteracts the destructive force of combustion. It can do so because it is not of the nature of present existence but of life on Earth long past, which has divested itself of all that is connected with the duality of spirit and matter and, having passed through the spiritual world, has there assumed its spiritually creative character. And we discover in the impulses which rise and surge up in our own being out of the depths of our otherwise obscure will-forces something which once was more or less the equivalent of what now constitutes part of our experience in the present earthly life, but which has undergone changes by first having been etherealized, then having lived in an astral world, and finally having risen in this astral world to a thrice higher stage. And this we now find contained in our shadowy ‘I’ of the present as the sustaining reality-bearing force of the creative will-power of our previous earthly lives.
Thus we have risen from the physical being of man to his three higher forms: the etheric man, containing the formative forces; the astral man, bearing the soul-forces proper; and lastly to the true ‘I,’ which is the result of previous earthly lives, while in the present life on Earth our ‘I’ weaves in that way only between falling asleep and waking. I have already described to you how during the time between falling asleep and awakening, the astral body weaves and lives within the ocean of the astral world; but, as has also been explained, during that time between falling asleep and waking up we still carry within this astral body the ‘I.’
But this ‘I,’ in as far as it is the ‘I’ of the present, is not yet capable of bringing its forces to bear upon the physical body. For here man shares the fate of the rest of nature: the duality of spirit and matter. Here man himself is faced with the spirit that is not yet active in matter, and matter that is impotent and divorced from the spirit.
[The sentence that follows has become garbled.] The outcome of this battle between spirit and matter as kindled by the will to overcome the duality of spirit and matter in the external physical world of the Earth, it lights up in man's being — the outcome of this inner conflict which behind the scenes of man's life continues also during waking hours in the sphere of the will, takes effect behind the scenes of existence during the time between falling asleep and waking. As long as man has only his ordinary consciousness, this is covered up by sleep. But during this sleep is woven that essence which, when again etherealized and ‘astralized’ after death, attains that creative force which, after having passed through the next period between death and a new birth, will have added a new measure of strength to the power which flows into our will-forces from long-past lives on Earth.
And so we can make a study of human life. We do not at first see into the depths of the will; we cannot observe what occurs in sleep. Real spiritual vision, however, reveals to us what is at work there as the creative principle, connected with long-past earthly lives, counteracting the process of combustion. And we discover how out of their moral, destiny-building impulses the former lives on Earth pulsate through our will. We discern how, while we sleep, all that is performed impulsively, emotionally, and intentionally by the human will, remaining dormant even during waking hours, weaves itself during the time between falling asleep and awakening into that being which sleep conceals from modern man, but which, pulsing as active will in our blood in the combustion-process of our future body, will unfold in our next earthly life as the creative ‘I.’ This creative ‘I’ will then again have been increased in strength to the extent of what we have developed in our present life between birth and death as a further addition to that which, as described, has come to us from previous earthly lives.
In this way we can distinguish the four members of man's constitution, and as we experience the reality of these four members in the human being, we gain at the same time a picture of human life as a whole. As I showed yesterday, the life which is earthly widens out into the life in the universal ether, which reaches to the boundaries of a kind of outer global shell, but radiates back the astral in the cosmos from all sides. With our astral body we live in this astral world, which remains hidden from earthly observation; but when, in the way I have described, we have reached the stage where we can experience the astral world, it does not only resound as the World Logos, but there emerge from the words of the Logos, as from the very foundations of spiritual life, the beings of the higher and lower hierarchies themselves — and among them our own spirit-being from long-past earthly lives.
Thus the knowledge we gain about man at the same time widens our soul's spiritual conception of the cosmos, of the universe, not only in the physical and etheric sense, but of the Cosmos as living soul-and-spirit as well.
Knowledge of man expands to knowledge of the world. As in our physical life on Earth there can never be inhalation alone or exhalation alone, because the alternating in-and-out breathing must penetrate and flow through us — living as we are in this rhythmic in-and-out breathing — we likewise cannot on a higher level acquire only a one-sided knowledge of man or knowledge of the worlds. As the inhaling calls for exhaling, knowledge of man demands knowledge of the world; as the exhaling calls for inhaling, knowledge of the world demands knowledge of man. Systole and diastole, contraction and expansion of the great physical-soul-and-spirit life of the world is knowledge of the world and knowledge of man, not side by side, but ever in an eternally changing rhythm, together-apart, together-apart, penetrating each other and functioning like the immortal life of the Cosmos itself, to which immortal man also belongs.
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