March 2, 1924
Continuing our studies of karma, it is necessary for us to perceive first how karma enters into humanity's development. We must perceive how destiny, interwoven as it is with free deeds, is really shaped and molded as the physical reflection of the spiritual world.
To begin with, I shall have to say a few things concerning the human being as he lives on earth. During these lectures we have been studying earthly man in relation to the various members of his being. We have distinguished in him the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body and the organisation of the “I”. But there is yet another way of perceiving his several members, namely when we simply look at him as he stands before us in the physical world.
In today's lecture — independently of what we have already been discussing — we shall therefore approach a different distinction of the members of the human being. Then we shall try to build a bridge between what we discuss today and that which is already known to us.
Observing the human being as he stands before us on the earth — simply according to his physical form — we recognise in this physical form and configuration three clearly distinct members. If they are not generally distinguished, it is only because what counts as science nowadays looks at the facts in a superficial way. It has no feeling for what reveals itself when these things are observed with a perception that is illumined from within. There, to begin with, is the head of man. Even outwardly considered, we can perceive that this human head appears quite different from the rest of the human form. We need but observe the origin of the human being as embryo. The first thing we can see developing is the head organisation. The whole human organisation takes its start from the head. All that afterward flows into man's form and figure and configuration, is, in the embryo, a mere system of appendages. As physical form he is at first head and head alone. In the first period of embryo existence, the functions these organs assume in later life — as breathing, circulation, nutrition and so on — are not undertaken as such from within the embryo. The corresponding functions are supplied from without inward, so to speak: provided for by the mother-organism, through organs which are no longer attached to the human being later on.
Man, to begin with, is simply a head. He is altogether “head,” and the remaining organs are only appendages. Then, at a later stage, the organs which to begin with were mere appendages, grow and gain in importance. Therefore, in later life the head is not strictly distinguished from the rest of the body. But that is only a superficial characterisation of the human being. For in reality even as physical form he is a threefold being. All that constitutes his original form — namely the head – remains throughout his earthly life as a more or less individual member. People only fail to recognise the fact, but it is so.
You will say: Surely one ought not to divide the human being in this way — beheading him, so to speak, chopping his head off from the rest of his body. That such is the anthroposophical practice was only the fond belief of the Professor who reproached us for dividing man into head, chest organs and limb organs. But it is not so at all. The fact is that what appears outwardly as the formation of the head is only the main expression of the human head-formation. Man remains “head” throughout his whole earthly life. The most important sense-organs, it is true — the eyes and ears, the organs of smell and organs of taste — are in the actual head. But the sense of warmth, for example, the sense of pressure, the sense of touch, are spread over the whole human being. That is precisely because the three members cannot in fact be separated spatially. They can at most be separated in the sense that the head-formative principle is mainly apparent in the outward form of the head, while in reality it permeates the whole human being. And so it is, too, for the other members. The “head” is also there in the big toe throughout man's earthly life, inasmuch as the big toe possesses a sense of touch or a sense of warmth.
Thus we have characterised, to begin with, the first member of the human being as he stands before us in the sense-world. In my books I have also described this organisation as the system of nerves and senses. This, then, is the first member of the human being, the organisation of nerves and senses. The second member is all that lives and finds expression in rhythmical activity. You cannot say of the nerves-and-senses system that it finds expression in rhythmic activity. For if it did, in the perception of the eye for instance you would have to perceive one thing at one moment and then another, and a third and a fourth; and then return again to the first, and so on. In other words, there would have to be a rhythm in your sense-perceptions; and it is not so. Observe on the other hand the main features of your chest-organisation. There you will find the rhythm of breathing, of circulation, the rhythm of digestion and so forth. There everything is rhythmical.
This rhythm, with the corresponding organs of rhythm, is the second thing to develop in the human being; and it extends once more over the whole human being, though its chief external manifestation is in the organs of the chest. The whole human being is heart, is lung; yet lung and heart are localised, so to speak, in the organs. It is well known that the whole human being breathes; you breathe at every place in your organism. People speak of a skin-breathing. Only here, once more, the breathing function is mainly concentrated in the activity of the lungs.
The third thing in man is the limbs-organism. The limbs come to an end in the trunk or chest-organism. In the embryo stage of existence they appear as mere appendages. They are the latest to develop. They are the organs mainly concerned in our metabolism. For by their movement — and inasmuch as they do most of the work in the human being — the metabolic process finds its chief stimulus.
Therewith we have characterised the three members that appear to us in the human form. But these three members are intimately connected with the soul-life of man. The life of the human soul falls into Thinking, Feeling and Willing. Thinking finds its corresponding physical organisation chiefly in the head. Its physical organisation, it is true, extends throughout the human being; but that is only because the head itself, as I said just now, exists throughout the human being.
Feeling is connected with the rhythmic organisation. It is a prejudice, even a superstition on the part of modern science, to suppose that the nervous system has anything directly to do with feeling. The nervous system has nothing directly to do with feeling at all. The true organs of feeling are the rhythms of breathing and of circulation. All the nerves do is to enable us to form the concept that we have feelings. Feelings have their own proper organisation in the rhythmic organism. But we should know nothing of our feelings if the nerves did not provide for our having ideas about them. Because the nerves provide us with all the ideas of our own feelings, modern intellectualism conceives the superstitious notion that the nerves themselves are the organs of our feeling. That is not the case.
But when we consciously observe our feelings — such as they arise out of our rhythmic organism — and compare them with the thoughts which are bound to our head, our nerves-and-senses organisation, then, if we have the ability to observe such things at all, we perceive the same difference between our thoughts and our feelings as between the thoughts which we have in our day-waking life, and our dreams. When you dream, in pictures, your consciousness is living in the pictures of the dream. These pictures, however, have the same significance as in another form our feelings have. Thus we may say: We have the clearest and most light-filled consciousness in our ideas and thoughts. We have a kind of dream consciousness in our feelings. We only imagine that we have a clear consciousness of our feelings; in reality we have no clearer consciousness of our feelings than of our dreams. When, on awaking from sleep, we recollect ourselves and form wide-awake ideas about our dreams, we do not by any means grasp the actual dream. The dream is far richer in content than what we afterward conceive of it. Likewise is the world of feeling infinitely richer than the ideas, the mental pictures of it in our conscious mind.
And willing is completely immersed in sleep. Willing is connected to the limbs — and the metabolic and motor organism. All that we really know of our willing are thoughts such as: I will pick up this watch.
Think of it quite sincerely, and you will have to admit that you form the idea: “I will pick up the watch.” Then you pick it up. As to what takes place, starting from the idea and going right down into the muscles, until at length you have an idea once more (namely, that you are actually picking up the watch) following on your original idea — all this that goes on in your bodily nature between the mental picture of the intention and the mental picture of its realisation, remains completely unconscious. So much so that you can only compare it with the unconsciousness of deep, dreamless sleep.
We do at least dream of our feelings, but of our impulses of will are like being asleep without dreams.
You may say: I have nothing at all from sleep. Needless to say, we are not speaking from the physical standpoint; from a physical standpoint it would of course be absurd to say that you had nothing from sleep. But in your soul too, in reality, you have a great deal from your sleep. If you never slept, you would never rise to the Ego-consciousness.
Here it is necessary to realise the following. When you remember the experiences you have had, you go backward — as along this line (see diagram). Beginning from now, you go backward. You generally imagine that you go farther and farther backward along the line. But it is not so at all. In reality you only go back until the last time you awakened from sleep. Before that moment you were sleeping. All that lies in this intervening part of the line (see diagram) is blotted out; then from the last time you fell asleep until the last time but one when you awakened, memory follows once more. So it goes on. In reality, as you look back along the line, you must always interpose the periods of unconsciousness. For a whole third of our life we must insert unconsciousness. We do not observe this fact. But it is just as though you had a white surface, with a black hole in the centre of it.
You see the black hole, despite the fact that it is empty. Likewise it is when you remember. Although no reminiscences of life are there (for the intervals of sleep), nevertheless you see the black nothingness — that is, the nights you have slept through. Your consciousness impinges on them every time, and that is what really makes you call yourself “I.” If it went on and on, and nowhere impinged on anything, you would never rise to a consciousness of “I.”
Thus we can certainly say that we have something from sleep. And just as we have something from our sleep in the ordinary sense of earthly life, so do we have something from that sleep which always prevails in our willing. We pass sleeping through what is really going on in us in every act of will. And just as we get our Ego or I-consciousness from the black void in this case (referring to the diagram), so likewise our I is inherent in what is sleeping in us during the act of will. It is, however, that I which lives throughout our former lives on earth.
That is where karma holds sway, my dear friends. Karma holds sway in our willing. Therein are working and wielding all the impulses from our preceding life on earth; only they too, even in waking life, are veiled in sleep.
Once more, therefore: when we conceive man as he stands before us in earthly life, he appears to us in a threefold form: the head-organisation, the rhythmic and the motor-organisation. The three are diagrammatically divided here, but we will always bear in mind that each of the members belongs in its turn to the whole person. Moreover, thought is connected to the head-organisation, feeling to the rhythmic organisation, willing to the motor-organisation. Wide awake consciousness is the condition in which our ideas, our mental pictures exist. Dreaming is the condition in which cur feelings exist. Deep sleep (even in waking life) is the condition in which our volition exists. We are asleep in our impulses of will, even in waking life.
Now we must learn to distinguish two things about the head, that is, about our thinking. We must divide the head, so to speak, more intimately. We shall thus be led to distinguish between what we have as momentary ideas or mental pictures in our intercourse with the world, and memory. As you go about in the world, you are constantly forming ideas according to the impressions you receive. But it also remains possible for you subsequently to draw the ideas forth again out of your memory. Moreover, the ideas you form in your intercourse with the world in the given moment are not inherently different from the ideas that are kindled in you when memory comes into play. The difference is that in the one case they come from outside, and in the other from within.
It is indeed a naïve conception to imagine that memory works in this way: that I now confront a thing or event, and form an idea or mental image of it; that the idea goes down into me somewhere or other, as if into some cupboard or trunk, and that when I afterward remember it, I fetch it out again. Why, there are whole philosophies describing how ideas go down beneath the threshold of consciousness, to be fished out again in the act of recollection. These theories are utterly naïve. There is of course no such trunk where the ideas are lying in wait. Nor is there anywhere in us where they are moving about, or whence they might walk out again into our head when we remember them. All these things are completely non-existent, nor is there any explanation in their favour. The fact is rather as follows:
You need only think of this. When you want to memorise something, you generally work not merely with the activity of forming ideas. You help yourself by quite other means. I have sometimes seen people in the act of memorising; they thought as little as possible. They performed outward movements of speech — quite vehement movements, repeated again and again, like this (with the arms), “und es wallet und woget und brauset und zischt” (a line of Schiller's poem: The Diver). Many people memorise in this way, and in so doing they think as little as possible. And to add a further stimulus they sometimes hammer the forehead with their fist. That, too, is not unknown.
The fact is that the ideas we form as we go about the world are evanescent, like dreams. It is not the ideas which have gone down into us, but something quite different that emerges out of our memory. To give you an idea of it, I should have to draw it thus —
Of course it is only a kind of symbolic diagram. Imagine the human being in the act of seeing. [The object of sight] goes in through his eye, through the optic nerve into the organs into which the optic nerve then merges.
We have two clearly distinct members of our brain — the more outer peripheric brain, the grey matter; and beneath it, the white matter. Then the white matter merges into the sense-organs. Here is the grey matter (see the diagram); it is far less evolved than the white. The terms “grey” and “white” are, of course, only approximate. The objects make an impression on us, passing through the eye and on into the processes that take place in the white matter of the brain. Our ideas or mental images, on the other hand, have their organ in the grey matter, which, incidentally, has quite a different cell-structure, and there the ideas light up and vanish like dreams. The ideas flicker up, because beneath this region (compare the diagram once more) the imaging process is taking place.
If it depended on the ideas going down into you somewhere, and you then had to fetch them out again in memory, you would remember nothing at all. You would have no memory. It is really like this: In the present moment, let us say, I see something. The impression of it (whatever it may be) goes into me, mediated by the white matter of the brain. The grey matter works in its turn, dreaming of the impressions, making pictures of them. The mental pictures come and go; they are quite evanescent. As to what really remains, we do not conceive it at all in this moment, but it goes down into our organisation, and when we remember, we look within; down there the impression remains permanent.
Thus when you see something blue, an impression goes into you from the blue (below, in the diagram), while here (above, in the diagram) you yourself form an idea, a mental image of the blue. The idea is transient. Then, after three days perhaps, you observe in your brain the impression that has remained. Once more you form the idea of blue. This time, however, you do so as you look inward. The first time, when you saw the blue from without, you were stimulated from outside by a blue object. The second time — namely now, when you remember it — you are stimulated from within, because in effect the blueness has reproduced itself within you. In both cases it is the same process, namely a process of perception. Memory too is perception. In effect, our day-waking consciousness consists in ideation, in the forming of ideas; but there — beneath the ideation — certain processes are going on. They too, rise into our consciousness by an act of ideation, namely by our forming of ideas in the act of memory. Underneath this activity of ideation is the perceiving, the pure process of perception. And, underneath this in turn, is Feeling.
Thus we can distinguish more intimately, in our head or thought-organisation, the perceiving and the activity of ideation. What we have perceived, we can then remember. But it actually remains very largely unconscious; it is only in memory that it rises into consciousness. What really takes place in man is no longer experienced in consciousness by man himself. When he perceives, he experiences in consciousness the idea, the mental representation of it. The real effect of the perception goes into him. Out of this real effect, he is then able to awaken the memory. But at this place the unconscious already begins.
It is just as it is in physical life — you breathe in; the air you now have in your was outside you a short while ago, it was the air of the outside world; now it is your air. After a short time you give it back again to the world. You are one with the world. The air is now outside you, now within you. You would not be human at all if you were not so united with the world as to have not only what is within your skin, but also what connects you to the whole surrounding atmosphere. And as you are thus connected physically, your are also connected spiritually: the moment you descend into the next subconscious region — the region out of which memory arises — you are connected with what we call the Third Hierarchy: Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai. Just as you are connected through your breathing with the air, so are you connected with the Third Hierarchy through your head-organisation, namely the lower head-organisation. This, which is only covered over by the outermost lobes of the brain, belongs solely to the earth. What is immediately beneath is connected with the Third Hierarchy: Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai.
Now let us go down into the region, psychologically, of feeling: corporeally speaking, of the rhythmic organisation, out of which the dreams of our feelings arise. There we are connected with what constitutes the Second Hierarchy — spiritual Beings who do not incarnate in any earthly body, for they remain in the spiritual world. But they are continually sending their currents, their impulses, the forces that go out from them., into the rhythmic organisation of man. Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes — they are the Beings whom we bear within our breast.
Just as we bear our own human I actually only in the outermost lobes of the brain, so do we bear the Angeloi, Archangeloi, etc. immediately beneath this region, yet still within the organisation of the head. There is the scene of their activities on earth; there are the starting-points of their activity. And in our breast we carry the Second Hierarchy — Exusiai and the rest. In our breast are the starting points of their activity.
And as we now go down into our motor-organism, the organism of movement, in this the Beings of the First Hierarchy are active: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
The transmuted food, the food we have eaten, circulates in our limbs, where it undergoes a living process of combustion. For if we take only a single step, there arises in us a living process of combustion, a burning-up of what is, or was, outside us. We ourselves, as humans, are connected with this combustion process. As physical human beings with our limbs and metabolic-organism, we are connected with the lowest level. And yet it is precisely through the limb-organisation that we are connected with the highest. With the First Hierarchy — Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones — we are connected by virtue of what imbues us there with spirit.
Now the great question arises (it may sound trivial when I clothe it in earthly words, but I can do no other), the question arises: What are they doing — these Beings of the three successive Hierarchies — what are they doing?
The answer is: the Third Hierarchy, Angeloi, Archangeloi, etc. — concern themselves with what has its physical organisation in the human head, i.e. with our thinking. If they did not concern themselves with our thinking — with what goes on in our head — we should have no memory in ordinary earthly life. For it is the Beings of this Hierarchy who preserve in us the impulses which we receive with our perceptions. They underly the activity which reveals itself in our memory; they lead us through our earthly life in this first sub-conscious, or unconscious, region.
Now let us go on to the Beings of the Second Hierarchy — Exusiai, etc. They are the Beings we encounter when we have pass through the gates of death, that is, in the life between death and a new birth. There we encounter the souls of the departed who lived with us on earth; but we encounter, above all, the spiritual Beings of this Second Hierarchy — the Third Hierarchy together with them, it is true, but the Second Hierarchy are the most important there. With them we work in the time between death and a new birth — we work upon all that we felt in our earthly life, all that we brought about in our organisation. Thus, in union with these Beings of the Second Hierarchy, we elaborate our coming earthly life.
When we stand here on the earth we have the feeling that the spiritual Beings of the Divine World are above us. However, when we are in that sphere between death and a new birth we have the opposite idea — the Angeloi, Archangeloi, etc., who guide us through our earthly life, live, after our death, on the same level with us — so to speak. And immediately beneath us are the Beings of the Second Hierarchy. With them we work out the forming of our inner karma. All that I told you yesterday about the karma of health and illness — we work it out with these Beings, the Beings of the Second Hierarchy. And when, in that time between death and new birth, we look still further down — looking through the Beings of the Second Hierarchy — then we discover, far below, the Beings of the First Hierarchy, Cherubim, Seraphim, and Thrones.
As earthly humans, we look for the highest Gods above us. Between death and a new birth, we look for the highest Divinity in the farthest depths beneath us. We, all the time, are working with the Beings of the Second Hierarchy, elaborating our inner karma between death and a new birth: that inner karma which afterward emerges, imaged in the health or illness of our next life on earth. While we ourselves are engaged in this work — working alone and with other human beings, upon the bodies that will come forth in our next life on earth — the Beings of the First Hierarchy are active far below us, and in a strange way. For with respect to their activity — a portion, a small portion of their activity — they are actually involved in a necessity. They, as the creators of the earthly realm, are obliged to follow and reproduce what the human being has fashioned and done during his life on earth. They are obliged to reproduce it — though in a peculiar way.
Think of a person in his earthly life: in his Willing (which belongs to the First Hierarchy), he accomplishes certain deeds. The deeds are good or evil, wise or foolish. The Beings of the First Hierarchy — Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones — need to form and mold the counter-images thereto in their own sphere.
You see, my dear friends, we live together. Whether the things we do with each other are good or evil; for all that is good, for all that is evil, the Beings of the First Hierarchy must shape the corresponding counterparts. Among the First Hierarchy, all things are judged; yet not only judged, but shaped and fashioned. Thus between death and a new birth, while we ourselves are working at our inner karma with the Second Hierarchy and with other departed souls, meanwhile we behold what Seraphim, and Cherubim and Thrones have experienced through our deeds on earth.
Yes, here upon earth the blue vault of the sky arches over us, with its cloud forms and sunshine and so forth; and in the night, the star-lit sky. Between death and a new birth the living activity of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones extends like a vault beneath us. And we gaze down upon them — Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones — even as we here look up to the clouds, and the blue, and the star-strewn sky. Beneath us, there, we see the Heavens, formed of the activity of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. But what kind of activity? We behold among the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones the activity which results as the just and compensating activity from our own deeds on earth — our own, and the deeds through which we lived with others. The Gods themselves are obliged to carry out the compensating action, and we behold them as our Heaven, only Heaven is there beneath us. In the deeds of the Gods we see and recognise the consequences of our earthly deeds — whether this deed or that be good or evil, wise or foolish. And, as we thus look downward, between death and a new birth, we relate ourselves to the mirrored image of our deeds, just as in earthly life we relate ourselves to the vault of heaven above us.
As to our own inner karma, we ourselves introduce it into our inner organism. We bring it with us to the earth as our faculties and talents, our genius and our stupidity. Not so what the Gods are fashioning there beneath us; what they have to experience in consequence of our earthly lives comes to us in our next life on earth as the facts of destiny which meet us from without. We may truly say that the very thing we pass through asleep carries us in our earthly life into our Fate. But in this is living what the corresponding Gods, those of the First Hierarchy, had to experience in their domain as the consequences of our deeds during the time between our death and a new birth.
One always feels a need to express these things in pictures. Suppose we are standing somewhere or other in the physical world. The sky is overcast; we see the clouded sky. Soon afterward, fine rain begins to trickle down. What hitherto was hovering above us, we see it now in the wet fields and the trees sprinkled with fine rain. So it is when we look back with the eye of the Initiate, from human life on earth into the time we underwent, before we came down to this earth, that is to say, the time we underwent between our last death and our last birth. For there we see the forming of the deeds of the Gods in consequence of our own deeds in our last life on earth. And then we see it, spiritually raining down, so to become our destiny.
Do I meet a human being whose significance for me in this life enters essentially into my destiny? That which takes place in our meeting was experienced in advance by the Gods as a result of what he or she and I had in common in a former earthly life. Am I transplanted during my earthly life into a district — or a vocation — which is important for me? All that approaches me there as outer destiny is the image of what was experienced by Gods — Gods of the First Hierarchy — in consequence of my former life on earth, during the time when I was myself between death and a new birth.
One who thinks abstractly will think: “There are the former lives on earth; the deeds of the former lives work across into the present. Then they were the causes, now they are the effects.” But you cannot think far along these lines; you have little more than words when you enunciate this proposition. But behind what you thus describe as the Law of Karma, are deeds and experiences of the Gods; and only behind all that is the other.
When we human beings confront our destiny only by way of feeling, then we look up, according to our faith, to the Divine Beings or to some Providence on which we feel the course of our earthly life depends. But the Gods — namely those Gods whom we know as belonging to the First Hierarchy, Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones — have, as it were, an inverse religious faith. They feel their necessity among humans on earth — whose creators they are. The aberrations human beings suffer, and the progressions they enjoy, must be balanced and compensated by the Gods. Whatever the Gods prepare for us as our destiny in a subsequent life, they have lived it before us.
These truths must be found again through Anthroposophy. Out of a consciousness not fully developed, they were perceived by mankind in a former, instinctive clairvoyance. The Ancient Wisdom did indeed contain such truths. Afterward only a dim feeling remained of them. In many things that meet us in the spiritual history of humanity, the dim feeling of these things is still in evidence. You need but remember the verse by Angelus Silesius which you will also find quoted in my writings. To a narrow religious creed it sounds impertinent:I know that without me God can no moment live; If I come to naught, He needs must give up the Ghost. [From The Cherubinic Wanderer. Book I. 8.]
Angelus Silesius went over to Roman Catholicism; it was as a Catholic that he wrote such verses. He was still aware that the Gods are dependent on the world, even as the world is dependent on them. He knew that the dependence is mutual; and that the Gods must direct their life according to the life of men. But the Divine Life works creatively, and works itself out in turn in the destinies of men. Angelus Silesius, dimly feeling the truth, though he knew it not in its exactitude, exclaimed:I know that without me God can no moment live; If I come to naught, He needs must give up the Ghost.
The Universe and the Divine depend on one another, and work into one another. Today we have recognised this living interdependence in the example of human destiny or karma.
Continued in the next issue of SCR.