by Rudolf Steiner
Volume II, Lecture XIII
A lecture for members of the Anthroposophical Society, from stenographic notes not revised by the speaker.
Dornach, May 30, 1924
The ability to perceive karmic connections in human life demands a clear understanding of laws and conditions of existence with which, generally speaking, the man of modern times is entirely unfamiliar. For into the karmic connections extending from one earthly life into another, spiritual laws are working, spiritual laws which will be totally misconstrued if they are associated in the slightest degree with causation similar to what is meant when we speak in the ordinary way of cause and effect.
In order to understand the real nature of karmic connections we must firstly have a clear and exact perception of what is happening within man beyond the sphere of his ordinary consciousness. And it is only by observing the being of man as revealed to super-sensible cognition, to Initiation-knowledge, that such understanding can be attained.
Let us therefore consider today how the attainment of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition makes it increasingly possible for human beings to recognise how they in the cosmos. This will enable us to continue the study of certain matters that were touched upon in recent lectures and will eventually lead to an understanding of karma.
It has often been said, even in public lectures, that at the stage of Imaginative Cognition a tableau of the present earthly life spreads out before us. A vista of our life lies before us in mighty pictures and we is able to behold things that cannot be yielded by memory in the ordinary sense.
In this vista which opens out as a result of the striving for Imaginative Knowledge, at first we are entirely within the physical and etheric bodies, but through the appropriate exercises we make ourselves completely independent of impressions transmitted from the physical body. In the activity of Imaginative Cognition man is therefore independent of his sense-impressions, and also of his intellectual knowledge. He lives entirely in the etheric body and the memory-tableau lies outspread before him.
We can therefore say: We are now living in the super-sensible, inwardly detached from our physical body. And in point of fact it would not be so difficult as it actually is for the majority of people to acquire this faculty of Imaginative Knowledge, if only there were a stronger inclination to break through the inner link between the life of soul and the physical body.
It is, of course, comparatively easy to break through the link with direct sense-perception. But remember that a person is also connected with his physical body through the attitude and tenor of soul he acquires in his earthly life. After all, our moods of soul are also dependent upon the physical body, are essentially influenced by the physical body. When a person ascribes one thing or another to his capacities, his talents or other qualities of soul, this is all related to his experiences in the physical body. If he is to acquire the faculty of genuine Imaginative Knowledge, he must free himself from all this; and if he succeeds, even if only for a moment, he knows what Imaginative Knowledge is and the life-tableau begins gradually to unfold.
It is necessary to bear in mind the difference between the condition of being bound up with the physical body and thus living within it, and the condition of being independent of the physical body, but still within it. There is a real difference, and it is the latter condition that obtains in the activity of Imaginative Knowledge. We remain within the physical body, we do not leave it, but we are nevertheless independent of it.
When you remain with your soul and spirit within the physical body, you fill the physical body, even if you are not bound up with it. I will illustrate this diagrammatically. —
Let us think, first, of man's everyday condition. Take this (a) to represent the physical body (inner curves), this the etheric body (outer curves) and this the soul and spirit (short branching lines).
The etheric body is connected everywhere with the physical body through the muscles, bones and nerves. These connections are everywhere, proceeding from the etheric body to the physical body. Now picture to yourselves that you have a porous clay vessel and you pour liquid into it. The liquid fills the pores and runs out into the porous clay. But it may also happen that your vessel is not porous and in that case none of the liquid is absorbed; the liquid will then be in the vessel but there will be no channels into the clay walls. In the activity of Imaginative Knowledge man is in this sense within his body but the etheric body does not enter into the muscles, the bones and so forth. This condition can be indicated by (b) in the diagram. Physical body; then etheric body which is now on its own; and within, the soul and spirit. All that has happened is that the etheric body is now inwardly detached. The result of this detachment will of course be perceptible when returning to the previous condition. It is therefore only natural that when a person really tries to make himself free of his physical body but remains within it, as is the case in the activity of Imaginative Cognition, he is aware not only of exhaustion but of actual heaviness. He becomes intensely aware of his physical body because he has now to make his way into it again.
This is the condition obtaining in the activity of Imaginative Cognition but not in that of Inspiration, Inspired Knowledge. In the activity of Inspired Cognition — which begins, as I have described to you, with consciousness that has been emptied of images — man is outside his physical body with the soul and spirit. Thus (c) in the diagram represents the soul and spirit outside the physical and etheric bodies.
The outer configuration must therefore be the same as in sleep. Knowledge through Inspiration is possible only when with his I and astral body a person can be outside the etheric body.
And now, when he returns into his physical and etheric bodies, he notices the presence there of something else; the physical and etheric bodies are not at all as he is accustomed to know them; something is there within them. This is very important, because knowledge of it gives an indication of the whole process of Initiation.
At first, a certain difficulty is experienced in coming back into the physical and etheric bodies after the state of Inspiration, because there is the feeling of entering into into something quite different.
Remember what I told you yesterday about the backward survey of the memory-tableau. If this memory-tableau is erased in the activity of Inspired Knowledge, we perceive what is present there within the physical body. And when the memory-picture of the phase between birth and the 7th year, until the time of the change of teeth, is erased, we perceive that within this physical body there was an Angelos, an Angel! We actually behold there a Being of the Third Hierarchy. So that what happens is this. We succeed in getting outside the physical body and then return into it as into our home ... and lo! we meet our Angel there when we look back upon the phase of life from birth until the 7th year.
Knowledge of such truths existed in the days of the ancient, instinctive clairvoyance, knowledge which took different forms in the various epochs of evolution; and these truths were taken into account in establishing certain customs and usages.
In olden times people were fully conscious that the giving of names should conform with spiritual realities. Generally speaking, people today are indifferent about the kind of names their children receive. For some the only consideration is whether the name has a pretty sound. There is often an element of coquetry in giving a name to a child; people ‘fancy’ the name. But in olden times people were mindful of the child's relation to the spiritual world and chose the name accordingly. In an epoch, for example, when a prophetic being was venerated under the name of ‘Elisha’, girls were sometimes named ‘Elisa-beth’, that is to say, the ‘house of Elisha’. In this way expression was given to the hope that by placing a child in the world with this name, the grace of the prophet would be ensured. And so the names were given with this aim in view.
What were the grounds for this? It was known that when a person has been outside his body and then returns into it, he sees himself as the bearer of spiritual Beings. And the whole conception that little children, especially, are guarded by their Angel originates in the fact that when with Initiation-knowledge we look back upon the phase of life from birth to the 7th year, we experience what I described yesterday by saying that when this phase in the memory-tableau is erased, the Hierarchy of the Angeloi, that is to say, the deeds and activities of the Moon-sphere shine through.
Again, when we look back upon the phase from the 7th to the 14th years and then return into the body, we find an Archangelos. This Archangel is of course also present within the human being from birth until the 7th year, but we do not find the Archangel when we are looking back only at the phase between birth and the 7th year.
And so when we return into the body after having been outside it, we become aware that there, within the body, are Beings of all the higher Hierarchies. But this form of self-knowledge, the knowledge that the body is the bearer of the Beings of the higher Hierarchies, cannot be acquired in any other way than by having first been outside the body and then returning into it again.
This can be understood only when it is connected with another fact. I have told you that the many heavenly bodies are but the outer signs of colonies of gods. Where the stars sparkle in the heavens there are, in reality, colonies of spiritual Beings. But you must not imagine that these gods have their consciousness only in Venus, or only in the Sun, or in Mercury, or in Sirius. They have their main habitation, the focal point of their existence in these several spheres, and this is true of all spiritual Beings of the cosmos who have anything to do with the earth. But it is impossible to say of their existence in the cosmos that they have their dwelling-place only in Mars, only in Venus, and so forth. Paradoxical as it will seem, I am nevertheless obliged to say that the Divine Beings who belong to the earth and who people Mars, Venus, Jupiter or another of the planets — also the Sun — would be blind if they inhabited only one of these spheres. They would live, they would be active — just as we can walk about and take hold of things even if we have no eyes; but they would not see — I mean, of course, in the way in which Divine Beings ‘see’ — they would lack a certain faculty for perceiving what is happening in the cosmos. But this, my dear friends, will lead you to ask: Where, then, is the eye of the gods, where is their organ of perception? This organ of perception is provided by the Moon, our neighbour in the cosmos — in addition to all its other functions. All the Divine Beings belonging to the Sun, to Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, have their eye in the Moon and are at the same time in the Moon.
And now think of some of the things of which we have spoken here from time to time. Take only one fact. The Moon was once part of the earth, and separated from the earth only in the course of time. Before the separation of the Moon, therefore, the eye of the gods was bound up with the earth; the gods beheld the cosmos from the earth. Hence at that time the great primeval Teachers too were able to impart their wisdom to mankind. For in that they were living on the earth, and the Moon was still within the earth, they could gaze into the cosmos with the eye of the gods. When the Moon departed, remembrance of this vision of the gods remained with them for a time; thus they could behold, in remembrance, what was now seen with the eye of man, and could communicate this to the gods. But the primeval Teachers themselves had then to make their way to the Moon, where they are to this day, and to found a colony there in order to be able to see with the eye of the gods.
And now turn your minds to something else. From the Moon, Jehovah reigned over the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and those of the primeval Teachers who were still associated with the cult and the teaching of Jehovah united with him in the Moon, in order to look out into the cosmos through his eyes. In time to come the Moon will again be united with the earth and then it will be possible for man on the earth to gaze into the cosmos with the eye of the gods. Vision of the cosmos will then be a natural human faculty.
It is only by understanding these things that we can come to know the nature of the universe. For only when man views the universe in this way can he have any true conception of the function of the Moon.
And now we have the reason why freedom, free spiritual activity, can unfold in earthly life. As long as the Moon was connected to the earth when the primeval Teachers taught people out of their store of remembrance, and as long as this teaching was preserved in the Mysteries — actually until the 14th century A.D. — all wisdom consisted in what had been seen with the eye of the gods. Only since the year 1413 has it become impossible for the earth to see with the eye of the gods. So that with the development of the Consciousness Soul, freedom begins to be within the reach of humanity.
But in point of fact man is on the earth only in the activity of sense-perception and intellectual knowledge, for the latter is also bound up with the physical body. The truth of the matter is as follows. Let us picture the human being. It is only in his sensory and intellectual knowledge that he extends beyond the Hierarchies who are within him. In respect of all that lies beyond his intellect, he is filled with the Third Hierarchy; in all that lies beyond his feeling, he is filled with the Second Hierarchy; in all that lies beyond his willing, he is filled with the First Hierarchy.
We are therefore in truth within the Hierarchies and it is only in respect of our sensory organs and intellect that we extend beyond their realm. It is actually as though we were swimming, with the head rising a little out of the water. With our senses and our intellect we rise out of the ocean of the activities of the Hierarchies.
All this we find when, having experienced the reality of perception outside the body, we return again into the body. And then we find that in very truth man is the House of the Gods.
Something else will now be clear to you. When the gods desire cosmic vision, they gaze through the eye of the Moon. But when they desire to behold the cosmos from the earth — whereby an entirely different aspect is revealed — then they must look from out from humans. The human race is the other eye of the gods!
In very ancient times it was natural for man to be able to see with the eye of the gods because the Moon was within the earth. And he will be able to do so again when in future time the Moon and the earth are re-united. Through Initiation, however, through becoming aware on returning into the body that the gods are present there, and through coming to know these gods, man learns to behold the world through the “eye of man.” Thus Initiation reveals to man what in earlier times was revealed to the gods through the eye of the Moon.
What we do with our everyday consciousness, the intentions we form, and so forth — all this depends upon ourselves; but our karma is shaped and fashioned by the Hierarchies within us. They are the architects and shapers of an entirely different world order belonging to the soul, to the moral aspect of life. This is the other aspect of man, the aspect of the Hierarchies who are within him.
As long as we remain at the stage of Imaginative Knowledge we are convinced, as we look back over our own earthly life, that we are a unity; we are also convinced that certain actions in life are free, because they proceed from this unity. With Imaginative Knowledge we perceive little of our karma. When we reach the stage of Inspired Knowledge, however, and then return into the body, we feel ourselves divided into a world of countless Hierarchies. We return into the body and at first do not know our identity. Are we the Angel, are we a Being of one of the Hierarchies, one of the Dynamis, or Exusiai? We are divided into a world of Beings, dazed by the multiplicity of our nature, for we are one with all these Beings.
At this point the appropriate exercises must make us so inwardly strong that we can assert our unity over against this multiplicity. And then — it is of course all an after-effect of the life between death and rebirth — we perceive how karma is shaped by the interweaving activities of the many Beings within us. Countless Divine Beings take part in the shaping of human karma. It is therefore true to say that man leads an earthly life in the real sense only in respect of his intellectual and sensory activity. In the activity of his life of feeling and of will — yes, and even in a more remote and hidden activity of thought — man shares in the life of the gods. In a hidden thought-activity he shares in the life of the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai; in respect of what is hidden in his life of feeling he shares in the life of the Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes; and in respect of his will he shares in the life of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
What we call human destiny is therefore an affair of the gods and as such it must be regarded.
But what does this mean for earthly life? If a person cannot accept his destiny with inner composure, if he rebels against his destiny, if — from his personal point of view of course — he is discontented with it, if he brings his destiny into confusion by subjective decisions, then it is as though he were continually disturbing the gods in the shaping of his destiny. Destiny can truly only be lived through in the right way when life is accepted with inner composure and tranquillity. To feel and perceive how destiny works is something that brings with it hard and heavy tests for human nature. If a person can succeed in taking his destiny seriously, this experience will give him a strong and deep impulse to live in communion with the spiritual world. And life itself will unfold in him a feeling for connections of destiny, of karma.
People of the modern age have to a great extent lost this sensitivity, this delicacy of perception; their perceptions have become crude. But suppose there is someone who looks back with more delicate perception upon the relationship he had with a human being who was an example to him in his youth — a teacher, perhaps. People do not always feel contemptuous about those who were their teachers; many look back with happiness to those who educated them. When this is so, the recollection can deepen into a very intimate experience. It may come to us that between our 7th and 14th years, for example, we always felt obliged to do whatever this revered teacher did; or we may realise that when this teacher told us something we felt as though we had already heard it, as though it were just being repeated. It is actually one of the most beautiful experiences in life when we remember something of this kind, feeling that it was repetition. And then it strikes us that something must underlie this experience. Healthy human reason will tell us that there is nothing to account for it in the present earthly life, and then the same reasoning faculty points us to previous lives. There are indeed many whose attention is directed in this way to earlier lives on earth.
Now what does it mean when we can look back to a teacher with feelings like these? It means that in our present life destiny has led this teacher to us. It is our karma to have such a teacher and it points to a previous earthly life.
As a rule — and this is shown by occult observation — as a rule it is not the case that in the previous earthly life the teacher was also our teacher; the relationship then was quite different. From a teacher we receive thoughts, ideas, even if they are clothed in the form of pictures; in true education we receive thoughts and ideas. When this is the case it points back, as a rule, to a relationship where feelings, not thoughts, were communicated by the person in question; there was less opportunity for receiving thoughts from him, but feelings were communicated — feelings which can be transmitted in so many different ways. And the same may apply to the present and a future earthly life.
Let us suppose that in this present life a person feels drawn by warm, inner sympathy to some other person with whom life does not bring him into specially close contact, whom he merely meets but to whom he is strongly drawn. In such a case it may happen that these feelings of sympathy lead to the other becoming his teacher in a later life.
What, then, has actually happened? When feelings of sympathy and attraction towards another person unfold in a person, this is the result of what the Beings of the Second Hierarchy — the Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai — unfold in and around the human being.
Then, in the next life, when the influence does not work by way of the feelings but by way of thoughts and ideas, this means that the Beings of the Second Hierarchy have given over what they wrought in a preceding life, to the Beings of the Third Hierarchy, to the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai; and it is they who are now working within the human being.
When, therefore, our karma unfolds from one earthly life to another, this means that actual deeds are passed on from one Hierarchy to another and that in the cosmos, in the spiritual cosmos, something of immense significance is taking place.
In looking at a person's destiny we gaze, as through a veil, into a wide vista of cosmic happenings. If we can become conscious of this, the impression will be one of tremendous power. You have only to picture it to yourselves, entering into it with the right feeling and understanding.
Imagine now that you are observing the manifestations of destiny in the life of a human being. This should never be done in a spirit of indifference, for in observing the destiny of a human being we are in truth beholding deeds which have poured from the highest Hierarchy into the lowest Hierarchy, and again from the lowest into the highest Hierarchy. We are gazing upon a weaving activity of life in the ranks of the Hierarchies when we study the destiny of a human being. It is something that must be contemplated with deep piety and veneration, because as we behold this destiny the world of the gods lies manifest before us.
This was the feeling I tried in some measure to convey when I was writing the Mystery Plays. Throughout the Plays you will find scenes that have their setting in earthly life and others that have their setting in the spiritual world. And I have also made it evident how not only the higher Hierarchies but elemental beings, also the Ahrimanic and Luciferic powers, mingle in the living, weaving deeds that flow from above downwards and from below upwards when the destiny of man is being fulfilled.
Think of the scenes when Strader and Capesius are within the super-sensible world in quite different forms of existence but for all that the same individuals. This is only the other side of man's life which is just as truly part of him — the side that belongs to the world of the gods and not to the world of the minerals, the animals, the plants, the mountains, the clouds, the trees and so forth. To learn to contemplate the destinies of human beings with reverence and awe — that too is something that the times demand of us. It is a dreadful experience to read biographies from the pens of materialistically minded authors today, for they write without an iota of reverence for the destiny of the one whose life they are narrating. Of a truth it would be well for biographers to realise that when they intrude into the life of a human being, even if only for the purpose of describing it, they are coming into invisible contact with all the Hierarchies.
Deliberations of this kind lead us to the ‘feeling’ side of Anthroposophy. We realise that everything offered to us in Anthroposophy must also touch our feelings. For in Anthroposophy it is not merely a question of acquiring knowledge; feelings about the world are quickened within us, feelings which alone can enable us to find our rightful place in life. And without such feelings we cannot truly understand or perceive the laws by which the karma of humanity is pervaded.
Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive
Continued in the next issue of SouthernCrossReview.org