Saturday, December 30, 2023

Reincarnation: The Way, The Truth, and The Life


The Wisdom of the Spirit (Pneumatosophy)

Lecture 4 of 4

Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, December 16, 1911:

You will understand that only a short and in a sense superficial sketch of a pneumatosophy can be given in the four lectures at our disposal. Obviously, much can only be suggested, some of which, in fact, really calls for elaboration to confirm it. In some cases it will even be difficult to understand the context between the subject matter and what is here termed pneumatosophy. Yesterday, for example, we showed how one transcends the realm of merely psychic phenomena and enters regions that, in view of their whole nature, must be counted among the super-sensible worlds. We recognized this from the simple fact that the province of the soul in respect to such matters ends at a definite frontier, and that even shrewd psychologists, when studying and classifying the realm of the soul, are brought up short at that point.
Now, anthroposophists as such are familiar from another angle with concepts we encountered there, such as imagination, inspiration and intuition; so you will have to take for granted that all this, as set forth, for example, in my Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, can be understood and justified when one goes far enough in showing the threads that lead from the ordinary soul life — the life of visualizations, emotions and reasoning — to imagination, inspiration and intuition. It is natural that in making this transition we should focus our attention principally upon the psycho-spiritual elements that are present in our own soul and spirit, that we should, so to speak, first of all seek enlightenment concerning our own souls and spirits.
In the course of these lectures we pointed out that in Western civilization, right up to our own time, people have had difficulty in recognizing a fact that to us appears fundamental: that man's spirit passes through repeated Earth lives, and at the end of the second lecture we cited one who was thoroughly representative in the struggle with such difficulties, Frohschammer. Wrestling with problems of the first rank, he laments, “What would be the consequence if man's permanent element, his spirit, were compelled to immerse itself again and again in a corporeality, in a sort of purgatory, a prison, a dungeon?” “Should one,” asks Frohschammer, “look upon everything connected with the relations of love and the contrast of sexes as a provision for imprisoning the human soul for the period between birth and death?” In view of such an honest objection to the doctrine of repeated earth lives, it behooves us to ask ourselves whether Frohschammer possibly established a certain standpoint in the case, and whether there might not perhaps be another as well.
What we must grant in Frohschammer's attitude is his frank enthusiasm for everything beautiful and glorious in the world, in the face of all that he cites to the contrary. The spiritual life of the Occident imbued Frohschammer with this enthusiasm for the beauty and grandeur of the external world. The doctrine of repeated earth lives seems to him to imply that a spiritual-eternal element is assumed by the human individuality, the human spirit — an element that might be well content and blissful in the spiritual world, but which is forced into and embodied in a world in no way commensurate with the lofty sublimity of the human spirit. Were that the meaning of reincarnation, anyone developing a justified enthusiasm for the beauty and grandeur of God's nature, for historical evolution, and for all the latter has brought forth in the way of exalted human passions and impulses, might well resent the imprisonment of the human soul, as did Frohschammer.
Is that really the only point of view available? It must be admitted that among the advocates of the doctrine of repeated earth lives there are to be found even today those who maintain that the spirit descends from exalted heights into earth life. Such people are really not dealing with matters such as spiritual science is capable of bringing to light out of the spiritual worlds, but merely with general, vague ideas about repeated earth lives. We could ask ourselves, “Might not the condition into which we are born be something beautiful and grand? Might we not recognize that man, as he appears in his physical form, is an image of God in the true Biblical sense?” That would suffice to enkindle our enthusiasm, and then we would admit that man had been transferred, not to a dungeon, but to a beautiful field of action, to a beautiful house.
Does our contentment, our feeling at home, really depend upon the house, upon its beauty and grandeur, or upon the concessions we must make? Does it depend upon the house at all? Possibly its very grandeur and beauty might be oppressive and prison-like for an underdeveloped man, chained to it without knowing what to do with it. He might say, “Yes, the house is beautiful, but it annoys me to be locked up in it.” That is what becomes evident through observation based on spiritual science, observation that ascends by way of imagination, inspiration, and intuition to a genuine cognition of what remains continuous in man throughout his various earth lives.
The first thing man has always experienced when arriving in the imaginative world from the world of visualizations — retrogressing, as it were, in the manner often described — is, to be sure, a world of images. All sorts of people have at all times entered this imaginative world. Considered purely in appearance, this imaginative world, which can open up before the soul either through careful concentration and meditation or through special aptitude, still presents at first the rudiments of the external world of the senses. One sees houses, animals, people; various events unroll in pictures; scenes and beings are there in a living world of images. On the other hand, this imaginative world stamps itself as pertaining, in a certain sense, to the supersensible world through the fact that it is not within one's arbitrary power to decipher the symbolism of the images, that in determining this or that, one is subject to inner laws, that definite experiences express themselves in definite pictures.
Thus a man can be fairly sure that in any case he is developing certain levels of his soul, that in certain stages certain capacities grow, that he attains to living in certain regions of the super-sensible world, when, for example, a cup is offered him, or he is led through a stream, or he is baptized, and so forth. It can also happen that within this imaginative world, and these are less agreeable experiences, he encounters his various passions and impulses that appear to him symbolically either as huge, frightful animals, or as little squirming, wriggling ones. This plane of the spiritual world, attainable by man, can of course be described only approximately. On the whole, even when this world is highly distasteful and appears altogether hideous and the animals symbolizing his passions seem loathsome, this world appears in most cases quite agreeable. As a rule, people disregard the nature of what they experience and are gratified to be able to see at all in the spiritual world.
That is readily understandable because the spiritual world does not weigh heavily, even when it appears ugly. It is fundamentally a world of images, and only when a man lacks the requisite strength, so that it overwhelms him, crushes him, as it were, does it indeed destroy the health of the soul life. What we can call a feeling of moral responsibility, particularly toward the great world events, need not necessarily result from such seeing; the exact opposite can occur. People who have achieved great skill in penetrating this imaginative world may be morally quite casual, for instance, in the matter of a feeling for truth and falsehood. In this world there is strong temptation not to take truth pertaining to the physical world seriously, and that in a way is deplorable. One is prone to lose the ability to distinguish between what is objectively true and false.
To stand firmly in this imaginative world, to be able to learn its true meaning, is a matter of development. As a human being a man can be quite undeveloped and yet see into this imaginative world; he can see many vision-like phenomena of the higher world without rating at all high as a human being. It is all a matter of development. In the course of time development shows that one learns to distinguish certain imaginations exactly as one learns to differentiate in the physical world, only in the physical world this occurs so early in life that we take no account of it. In the physical world we learn to distinguish between an elephant and a tree frog, and as we learn to differentiate, the world begins to take shape. When a man first faces the imaginative world, it is as though he took the tree frog for the same sort of animal as the elephant.
How uniformly important this imaginative world seems! It is only through development that we learn the relative importance of different things, that something outwardly small may be perhaps more important than another thing outwardly bigger. These things of the imaginative world do not seem big or little to us by reason of what they are, but of what we see in them. Let us suppose a person to be haughty and arrogant. His quality of arrogance will appeal to him, and when he passes into the imaginative world this feeling, his delight in arrogance, is transferred to the size of the beings he sees there. Everything in the imaginative world that appears as arrogance, haughtiness, looks gigantic to him, while everything that to a humble man must seem great appears to him small, like the tiny tree frog. The appearance of this world depends entirely upon individual attributes. Perception of the correct relative sizes, the actual intensities and qualities, is a question of development.
The phenomena are entirely objective, but they can be completely distorted and seen in caricature. The essential thing is for man to pass through in a certain way what he himself is, in this higher cognition as well. He must learn to know himself in an imaginative way. That, indeed, is a precarious matter, because a perspective of what the imaginative world offers is wholly determined, rightly or wrongly, by the person's own qualities. What does that mean, that a man must learn to know himself through imaginative cognition? It means that through the agency of the images he meets in the imaginative world, he must see himself as an objective image. Just as in the physical world he has this bell before him as something objective, so he must meet himself in the imaginative world as the reality he is. This he can achieve in a normal way only by actually ascending through meditation from perception of the outer world to life in visualizations, that is, in certain symbolical visualizations that will free him from perception.
A man must live long and often enough in the pure inner life of visualizations to transmute it into something he passes through naturally. Then he will gradually notice something like a split in his personality. Often during the transition stages he will have to make an effort to prevent a certain condition from growing too strong. When this peculiar condition approaches, he faces a visualization in which he lives, in which he is. It seems to him that that is the way he is; that is he. Then occasionally he notices that the remainder of his being, the part of him not freed, becomes like an automaton. He notices a desire to express something automatically, to gesticulate. Unschooled people will sometimes catch themselves making faces, but that sort of thing should really not be allowed to go beyond an initial experiment. Here he must keep himself in hand. Like other objects, his own being must be kept without.
The possibility of attaining to this imagination as one should depends largely upon having previously developed certain psychic attributes, for in connection with this imaginative self-cognition all sorts of illusions arise. Everything in the way of human pride, in fact, every kind of human susceptibility to illusion, lies in ambush. You can see a great variety of things in the imaginative world. For example, you might mistake something that is really purely a matter of the feelings for yourself. It is a common phenomenon that people hold high opinions of themselves, and a person of this sort, in reflecting on the extraordinary creature he has become, is prone to conclude that he must have been something exalted, royal, or the like — Charlemagne, Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, or the reincarnation of some saint. Because such people tend to consider their individuality so important, the individuality they encounter occupying their body in the sense world, they can only assume that in a previous incarnation they were something exalted.
These matters are indeed serious, for they point to the fact that the manner in which a man's own being confronts him imaginatively depends entirely upon his soul. The point is that we alter our own being if we really get completely away from ourselves, if we work with all our energy to learn to know all our attributes that we can observe in ordinary life, the attributes we believe to be dreadful and possibly objectionable to other people. We must take serious note of these attributes that we carry about with us but really should not possess. We are naturally not concerned here with saying agreeable things but with speaking the truth objectively. We can rest assured that, if we will only go to work objectively, self-criticism will prove to be a full-time task, and only in the last extremity should we engage, as is rather commonly done by humanity, in criticism or judgment of others. He who occupies his mind much with others and criticizes them freely, can be sure that he is far too little concerned with himself to enable him to clear away what must be cleared away if he is to see his own individuality in its true likeness. The reply to the oft-repeated query of why one does not progress, which by rights a man should answer himself, is obvious. He should refrain from all criticism of others except when outer necessity demands it. Above all, he should never forget what this “refrain” implies. It includes, for example, the occasional acceptance of something disagreeable or baneful. Certainly one must accept such things, but anyone who seriously believes in karma knows, naturally, that he brought all that on himself; karma placed the other man where he was in order that he might inflict the injury. A genuine personal reason for taking the world to task never really exists.
A great deal, then, is required to attain to this imagination, this self-cognition. Having achieved it, you will see why Frohschammer's picture of imprisonment is wrong. You come to realize that, while this incarnation in which you find yourself is indeed wonderfully beautiful and glorious, you yourself are not beautiful, you are not so constituted as to be able to take advantage of all that it offers. You say to yourself, “Here I stand in the world, at a certain point of time and space, surrounded by all that is grand and mighty. I have bodily organs to convey all this glorious and mighty magnificence. I have every reason to believe that we live in a paradise, even when ills befall us because it all depends merely upon whether the dome of the sky towers above us, the stars travel their paths, the Sun rises every morning and sets in the glow of evening.” For full satisfaction, however, we are given our outer world and our bodies with their organs, but great indeed is the difference between what we might derive from the world and what we actually do derive. Why do we extract so little from it? Because something is embodied in our corporeality that is diminutive compared with the world, something that allows us to perceive a trifling sector of it. Just compare what your eyes actually see in the world with what you might see!
When we have learned to know ourselves imaginatively, we realize that we are by no means as well adapted to this world as we would be if we could make proper use of our entire organism. We discover that what we are, in the light of imaginative cognition, must be opposed by something else in the world. Here we arrive at an interesting dilemma that must impress our souls if we would really learn to know the world. We find that in view of all that surrounds him in the world, man, as he learns to know himself in the imaginative world, cannot possibly consider himself great and mighty. It is not a case of coming from a higher world and being imprisoned in this earth body, but of being not at all adapted to it, not able to make use of it all. For this reason the imaginative world is opposed by another, a world that corrects what man does badly as a result of his inability to use his body. As opposed to what man is in the imaginative world we have the whole cultural evolution of man, from the beginning of the world to the end.
Why is this the case? We understand now that in the course of the cultural evolution of the earth man must become, through many incarnations, what he will be able to be in some one future incarnation, and for this reason he has the longing to keep returning. In each incarnation he must long for what is impossible of achievement in a single earth life. He must keep returning; then he can eventually become what it is possible to be in one incarnation. Precisely by acquiring the knowledge of and feeling for what he really should be in one life, but what he cannot be for inner — not outer — reasons, he knows what feeling must predominate in the soul when he passes through the portal of death. The predominating feeling must be a longing to return, in order to become, in the next life and in subsequent ones, what he could not become in one incarnation. This longing for ever new earth lives must be the most powerful force. These thoughts can only be touched upon, but they yield the strongest confirmation of reincarnation.
The accuracy of what I have stated is confirmed by something else as well. We can continue our efforts to reach the spiritual world. In a purely technical way we can achieve perception of the higher world by ignoring external perceptions and devoting ourselves to the life of visualizations. There is a still further possibility of giving a definite turn to meditation and concentration, namely, by endeavoring to let our memories unfold with complete inner faithfulness, with absolute inner conscientiousness. This need only be done for a few hours, but seriously. What is one, really, in life? Well, by means of logic and the theory of knowledge we learn that one is an ego, but in ordinary life one is a very doubtful ego. One is exactly what this ego is filled with at the moment. If you are playing cards, you are exactly what the impressions of the card game provide. Your consciousness is actually filled with the impressions of the card game, or whatever it may be. This is the ego to which consciousness can attain. It is attainable, but it is something highly variable, fluctuating.
We really find out what this ego has been by placing our memories before us. Instead of having them behind us, as is usual, we place them before us. That is an important proceeding. In ordinary life we are the result of our memories. Suppose that on a certain day you had experienced nothing but disagreeable things, horrible things. Just think how all that, concentrated, makes you feel in the evening — cross, unresponsive, carping, and so on. Then again, you may have had nothing but gratifying experiences, again concentrated; you are pleasant, smiling, perhaps cordial. So, at one time we are one thing, at another time another. We are exactly what we have behind us as experiences. When we bring all these as memories and place them before ourselves, at the same time going through them once more, we are then behind them. If you do that seriously — not in a routine, mechanical way, if you really relive it all, even for only a few hours, then something enters your soul, if it is sufficiently observing, which one might call a sort of fundamental tone that you yourself seem to be — a bitter, acid-bitter, fundamental tone. If you then go to work on yourself thoroughly, which again really depends on your development, that process will rarely show you to yourself as a sweet being. You will be able to find a bitter fundamental tone in yourself.
That is the truth, whether we like it or not. One who is capable of applying the requisite attention to himself will in this way gradually arrive at what may be called inspirational cognition of himself. The path leads through bitter experiences, but finally one seems like an instrument badly out of tune in the harmony of the spheres, causing a discord there. Through this further self-knowledge we realize still more clearly how little we are able to make of this glorious divine nature, whereas we could make so much of it if we were equal to it. If we repeat such an exercise many times, then, toward the end of our lives, but beginning as early as the thirty-fifth year, the peculiar character of the tone compels us to realize how much there is to improve upon what we were in life, and that we should long for reincarnation in order to be able to correct our shortcomings. That is one of the most important results of inspirational cognition. When a man learns to know his own fundamental tone, he discovers how ill adapted he is to external nature, and how little opportunity he has to find peace and inner harmony. Those who boggle at the idea of reincarnation only show how incapable they are of understanding themselves in their inadequacy, how egotistical they are in having no wish to develop further so beautiful a gift of God.
The second goal, then, that we can reach in our search for self-understanding is inspiration: the understanding of man as the spiritual tone world reveals him. There, when we have learned to know our own tone, so to speak, we discover how ill adapted we are to what lives in the great realm of nature. Another possible approach would start from the lapse into mere morality of what properly pertains to destiny, taking account of how little we are able to arrive at the peace and inner harmony for which we yearn. Those who have achieved the power of self-knowledge will often have occasion to realize how incapable they are of finding the inner calm and confidence that they are bound to crave. Recall this beautiful passage in Goethe's writings. He is seated on a mountain-top that voices the tranquility of earth's lovely nature. Beneath him lies what earth's eldest son, the granite rock, has spread before his eyes, and he senses the greatness of nature's laws — repose in contrast to delirious joy or frantic misery — the swinging pendulum, the inner tone in the nature of man.
When we study the laws of nature, study what still lives in space as natural laws, we come to see that just as the evolution of culture is the counterpart of imaginative man, so the world of natural laws — the true laws of nature out there in space — are the counterpart of inspired man.
Penetrating maya, the world of spiritual activity reveals itself in the laws of nature with that inner quiet consistency that, through our errors, has become restless discordance, and we recognize it as such when we have discovered the inspired man within us. Then this thought can come to us that when we really understand the essence of nature's laws we know, indeed, that the earth passes from one form to another, but that something in the laws of nature gives assurance that in it, man must find the compensation for what he himself ruins. That is because of the inherent verity of the laws of nature, and it applies even when man passes through his various incarnations, that is, when he receives into himself throughout a long cultural evolution what he must so receive because it lies potentially within the scope of one incarnation.
Thus we find a deep connection between all that is spread out in nature as spirit deeds manifested in natural laws, and what we discover within ourselves, through inspiration, to be our deeper self. That is why in all esotericism, in all mysticism, the inner peace and harmony of nature's laws are always held up as the ideal for man's inner law. It was by no means fortuitous that in the ancient Persian initiation one who had attained to the sixth stage was called a Sun hero. His inner law and sureness were such that he could no more deviate from the prescribed path than could the sun from its course through the universe. If the sun could depart from its course for one moment, untold revolutionary destruction would inevitably result in the cosmos. There is a further step that we can take on our way to self-comprehension. We could ascend to the grasp of man in intuitive cognition, but that would lead us into such exalted regions that it would be extraordinarily difficult to clarify the matter, or to designate that world that appears externally as the counterpart of intuitive man.
From all this you will see that the human being is, in fact, able to observe all that he has the possibility of being, that is, what he might be in that glorious exterior structure of the world in which he is “imprisoned,” surely not because this exterior structure is bad, but because he falls so far short of measuring up to it. This shows us that the important thing is a right evaluation of all world contexts, a proper understanding of the basis of that sort of spiritual cognition, including the nature of man, that is presented by anthroposophy. Most of the objections commonly raised arise out of principles that completely misjudge world contexts.
Finally, we must ask, “Why is it necessary for man to be externally embodied at all?” In order to illustrate still further what little remains to be said, I should like to remind you of Dr. Unger's lectures on the position of the ego and the “I am” in the whole inner life of man; also of what you can find on the subject in The Philosophy of Freedom and in Truth and Science. True, a little thought can show us that a significant being hides behind the ego or the “I am,” but what we experience we experience in our consciousness precisely as our ego-consciousness, our self-consciousness. This is interrupted, even when we fall asleep, and if we were able to keep on sleeping, never awaking, we might still have an ego but we could never be aware of it through our own agency. Our awareness of it depends upon the employment of our bodily organization, our corporeality, while awake. We can experience other things outside of our body, but our ego in the first instance only by confronting the outer world. For if man had never descended to earth in order to make use of a body, he would for all eternity have felt himself to be but a component of an angel, as the hand feels itself to be a member of the organism, and he would never have achieved self-consciousness. He might have become aware of any number of grandiose facts in the world, but never could he have arrived at ego-consciousness without being incarnated in a physical body. That is where he had to turn for his ego-consciousness.
You need only study sleep consciousness in order to see that the human being does not work together with his ego in sleep. Ego-consciousness presupposes imprisonment in a body, employment of the instruments of the senses and of the brain. Now, if during a single incarnation man is able only to a slight extent to make use of all that is given him in this incarnation, it should not seem surprising when clairvoyant consciousness tells us that a thorough search in the human ego, in so far as the latter manifests itself in its true form, discloses as its prime impulse, its predominant force, the longing for ever new earth lives, in order to fill and enrich this ego-consciousness more and more, to develop it to an ever higher state.
In so doing we would be echoing something in our theosophy that the theosophists of the eighteenth century so often maintained, something that can be helpful if expanded into pneumatosophy. How did eighteenth century theosophists like Ottinger, Völker, Bengel, and others express from their monotheistic standpoint the activity of spirit and of divine spirits, or of the Divine Spirit, as they called it? They said, “The bodily world, corporeality, is the goal of God's ways.” That is a lovely concept, “the goal of God's ways.” It means that by virtue of its inherent impulses, divinity passed through many spiritual worlds, then descended in order to arrive at a kind of goal from which it turns back to rise again. This goal is the shaping, the crystallizing, of the bodily, corporeal form. Were we to translate this utterance of the eighteenth century theosophists into more emotional phraseology, we could say, “Ardently longing for incarnation in a corporeality is the way the spirit reveals itself to us when we contemplate it in the higher regions, and it ceases to manifest itself in this longing for incarnation only after it has been embodied and has started back. The Divinity manifests itself as ardently desiring embodiment in the flesh, and not until the re-ascent to the spirit has commenced may this ardor abate.”
That wonderful utterance of the eighteenth century theosophists did more to illuminate and clarify the mysteries of man than much that was said in the philosophies of the nineteenth century, and theosophical activity and endeavor fell off completely in the first two thirds of the nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century genuine theosophy of the older kind was to be found in diverse localities but it lacked the knowledge of incarnation because Christian evolution retarded it in the Occident. Concerning divinity, those eighteenth century theosophists knew that “corporeality is the goal of God's ways.” They knew the goal of God's ways, but not that of man. They did not find it in the case of man, otherwise they would have understood from each incarnation, from the entire nature of man, that there must arise the longing for a new embodiment, until such time as everything that fits man to rise to new forms of existence has been extracted from the life on earth.
At the conclusion of these lectures on pneumatosophy I feel more than ever how sketchy and incomplete everything must be left, and what I said in connection with the first two cycles, Anthroposophy and Psychosophy, applies here as well. The intention has been to provide stimulating suggestions. If you will follow up these suggestions, you will find plenty of material for working out what has been offered. You will need to look about in the world and take account of manifold factors. One cannot escape the fact, however, that spiritual science is so comprehensive that, were we to proceed systematically and in the manner commonly aimed at in other sciences, we would not have progressed to the point where our sections actually stand after ten years of work. We would be about as far along as we might be after the first three months.
Let me say at the close of this cycle that spiritual science depends upon souls that are seriously willing to work out independently what has been merely suggested. In such independent work much will crop up out of regions that have not even been mentioned. Everyone proceeding with an independent spirit will find points of contact for this work. Our communion will become ever closer if we keep intensifying the feeling that we receive something in order to be stimulated, so that our innermost self comes more and more to take part in the worlds that are intended to be revealed to mankind through the spiritual current we have come to call anthroposophy.

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