14 May 1912, Berlin
The question as to the meaning and purpose of existence frequently arises in life and in the sphere of philosophy. Study of Spiritual Science will certainly produce a kind of humility in regard to this question, for although we know that investigation of the spiritual worlds leads thought and perception beyond the material world of sense, we also realise that it is not possible to speak forthwith about the primal origins or the ultimate and highest meaning of life. The retort of superficial thinking here will certainly be: What, then, do we know, if knowledge of the meaning and purpose of life is beyond our reach?
An analogy that is entirely in line with the attitude of Spiritual Science and indicates what is permissible or not permissible in regard to this question, can be put in the following way: Suppose a man wants to journey somewhere In his home town he can only get information as to how to reach a much less distant place, but he is sent off with the assurance that once there, further help will be available. Although he makes inquiries here and there as he goes along, he cannot know the exact path which will bring him to his final destination; nevertheless he is sure of arriving eventually because he is always able to find his way from place to place.
As students of Spiritual Science, we do not ask about the ultimate goal but about the one lying immediately ahead, in other words, about the goal of the Earth. We realise that it would be senseless to inquire about the ultimate goal for we have recognised that evolution is a reality in the life of man. It must therefore never be forgotten that at the present stage of our existence it is not possible to understand the goals of much later phases of evolution and that a higher vantage-point must be reached if we are to understand the meaning of a far distant goal. And so we ask about the goal lying immediately ahead, realising that by keeping it before us as an ideal and striving with the right means, we shall eventually attain it, thereby reaching a further stage in development. At that stage it will be legitimate to ask about the next goal, and so on. Thus if it were ever suggested that Spiritual Science might tend to make a man arrogant because his outlook extends beyond the ordinary world into a spiritual world, in reality his attitude will be one of humility towards these sublime matters about which superficial questions are so often asked.
We inquire, to begin with, about the goal of the Earth. In other words: What is it that man adds, essentially, to the fruits of the preceding periods of Saturn-, Sun-, and Moon-evolution, by developing on the Earth through repeated physical incarnations? We will here recall certain matters which will help us to associate concrete and definite ideas with what may be called the meaning and purpose of Earth-evolution. Let me speak, to begin with of the following.
When intellectual thinking, based upon reason, came to birth during the Graeco-Latin epoch it would actually be true to say, in the sixth century B.C. a certain thought found frequent utterance, namely, that all philosophy, all deeper contemplation upon the secrets of existence, proceeds from Wonder, Amazement. In other words: As long as the human being can feel no wonder at the phenomena of life around him, so long is his life vapid and thoughtless, and he asks without intelligence about the why and wherefore of existence. All philosophy begins with wonder was a much quoted saying during the ancient Graeco-Latin epoch. What, in reality, does it signify in man's life of soul?
It would be difficult today to find anyone in civilised Europe who has never set eyes on a locomotive in motion; not so very long ago, however, there were such persons although nowadays they would, of course, only be found in very remote districts. If such a person sees a train moving along, he will feel wonder and amazement at the sight of an object going forward without any of the means with which he is acquainted. It is a known fact that many such people, in their astonishment at seeing a locomotive in movement, asked if the horses pulling it along were inside! Why were the people cast into amazement and wonder by what they saw here? It was because they were looking at something which in a certain sense was known, and at the same time unknown to them. They knew that things move forward, but whatever they had seen had always been provided with quite a different means of movement. Now they were looking at something on which they had never set eyes before. And this gave rise to wonder.
If during the Graeco-Latin epoch, men could only become philosophers when they were capable of wonder, they must have been persons who perceived, in everything taking place in the world, something at once known and unknown, in so far as the happenings and phenomena seemed to contain more than appeared on the surface something unknown to them.
Why had the attitude of the philosophers to be that the primary causes and certain attributes of things in the world lay in a sphere unknown to them? As it will be admitted that philosophers are at least as clever as people who give no thought at all to what goes on around them, it cannot be supposed that philosophers are capable of accepting only what is to be perceived by means of the ordinary senses. Therefore they must find something lacking or rather, they must surmise the presence of something which sets them wondering something that is not present in the world of sense. And so, before the days of materialism, the philosophers always sought for the Supersensible in the phenomena presented to the senses. The wonder felt by the philosophers, therefore, is associated with the fact that certain things are not to be comprehended through what presents itself to the eyes of sense. They said to themselves: What I there perceive does not tally with what I picture it to be; I must therefore conceive that super-sensible forces are present within it. But in the world of sense the philosophers perceived no super-sensible forces. That alone is enough to make a thinking man realise that a subconscious memory, not reaching into consciousness, has persisted in the human being since times when the soul perceived something more than the actual phenomena of the sense-world. In other words: Remembrance arises of experiences undergone before the descent into sense-existence. It is as though the soul were to say: I discern things and their effects which can only call forth wonder in me, because they are different from what I have seen before; enlightenment on them can only be found by means of forces which must be drawn from the super-sensible world. And so all philosophising begins with wonder, because in reality man approaches the phenomena of existence as a being who comes into the world of the senses from a super-sensible world and finds that the things of the sense-world do not tally with what he perceived in the super-sensible world. Wonder arises in him when the form in which the things of sense are made manifest, can only be explained by knowledge he once possessed in a super-sensible world. And so wonder points to the connection of man with the super-sensible world, to something belonging to a sphere he can only enter when he transcends the world in which his physical body encloses him. This is one indication of the fact that here, in this physical world, there is a continual urge within the human being to reach out beyond himself. A man who can only remain shut up in himself, who is not driven by wonder beyond the field of the I, of the ordinary Ego, remains one who cannot reach beyond himself, who sees the sun rise and set without a thought and with complete unconcern. This is the kind of existence led by uncivilised peoples.
A second power which releases the human being from the ordinary world, leading him at once away from material perception into super-sensible insight, is Compassion, Fellow-feeling (Of this, too, I have spoken). Those who go heedlessly through the world do not regard compassion as having any great mystery about it; but to the thoughtful, compassion is a great and mysterious secret. When we look at a being only from outside, impressions come from him to our senses and intellect; with the awakening of compassion we pass beyond the sphere of these impressions. We share in what is taking place in his innermost nature, and transcending the sphere of our own I, we pass over into his world. In other words: we are set free from ourselves, we break through the barriers of ordinary existence in the physical body and reach over into the other being. Here, already, is the Supersensible for neither the operations of the senses nor of the reasoning mind can carry us into the sphere of another's soul. The fact that compassion exists in the world bears witness that even in the world of sense we can be set free from, can pass out beyond ourselves and enter into the world of another being. If a man is incapable of compassion, there is a moral defect, a moral lack in him. If at the moment when he should get free from himself and pass over into the other being, feeling, not his own pain or joy but the pain or joy of that other if at that moment his feelings fade and die away, then something is lacking in his moral life. The human being on Earth, if he is to reach the stature of full and complete manhood, must be able to pass out beyond his own earthly life, he must be able to live in another, not only in himself.
Conscience is a third power whereby the human being transcends what he is in the physical body. In ordinary life he will desire this or that; according to his impulses or needs he will pursue what is pleasing and thrust aside what is displeasing to him. But in many such actions he will be his own critic, in that his conscience, the voice of his conscience sounds a note of correction. Final satisfaction or dissatisfaction with what he has done also depends upon how the voice of conscience has spoken. This in itself is a proof that conscience is a power whereby the human being is led out beyond the sphere of his impulses, his likes and dislikes.
Wonder and Amazement, Compassion or Fellow-feeling, Conscience these are the three powers by means of which the human being, even while in the physical body, transcends his own limitations, for through these powers, influences which cannot find entrance into the human soul by way of the intellect and the senses, ray into physical life.
It is easy to understand that these three powers can only unfold through incarnations in a body of flesh. Man must, as it were, be kept separate by a body of flesh from what pours into his life of soul from another sphere. If a body of flesh did not separate him from the spiritual world and present the outer world to him as a sense-world, he would be incapable of wonder. It is the material body which enables wonder at the things of the world of sense to arise in man, compelling him to seek for the Spirit. Compassion could not unfold if the one human being were not separated from the other, if men were to live an undivided existence in which a single flow of spiritual life pervaded the consciousness of them all, if each soul were not separated from other souls by the impenetrable sheath provided by the physical body. And conscience could not be experienced as a spiritual force sending its voice into man's world of natural urges, passions and desires, if the material body did not hanker after things against which warning must be given by another power. And so the human being must be incarnated in a physical body in order that he may be able to experience wonder, compassion and conscience.
In our time, people concern themselves little with such secrets, although they are profoundly enlightening. But in a past by no means very remote, a great deal of attention was paid to these things:
Think only of the world of the Greek Gods, the Gods of Homer; think of their actions and activities; try to understand the nature of the impulses working in Achilles, a being who stands there like a last survivor of an earlier generation on Earth. He, too, was born of a divine mother. Read through the Iliad and the Odyssey and ask yourselves whether this being, standing halfway between Gods and men, was ever stirred by anything like conscience or compassion? Homer builds the whole of the Iliad around the fury of the wrath of Achilles and wrath is a passion. Everything in the Greek legend centres around this; the Iliad tells of what came about as the result of a passion the wrath of Achilles. Consider all the deeds of Achilles described in the Iliad and see if you can say of a single one that Achilles is here moved by anything like compassion or conscience. Neither is there a single example of the stirring of wonder. The very greatness of Homer lies in his power to depict these things with such sublimity. When Achilles is told of some terrible happening, his behaviour is far from that of a man filled with wonder. And then turn to the Greek Gods themselves: they give vent to all kinds of impulses which are certainly of the nature of egotism when they manifest in a human being enclosed in a physical body. In the Gods they are spiritual impulses. But among the Greek Gods there is no compassion, no suggestion of conscience, nor anything like wonder. Why not? Because Homer and the Greeks knew that these Gods were Beings belonging to a period of evolution preceding that of the Earth a period when the Beings who were then passing through their human stage under the conditions prevailing in existence, had not yet received into the life of soul the powers of wonder, compassion and conscience. It must be constantly remembered that the earlier planetary conditions through which the Earth has passed and in which such Beings as the Greek Gods underwent their human stage, were not there for the purpose of implanting Wonder, Compassion, and Conscience in the life of soul. That is precisely the mission of Earth-evolution! The purpose of Earth-evolution is that there may be implanted into the evolutionary process as a whole, powers which could otherwise never have come into existence: Wonder, Compassion and Conscience.
I have told you how the birth of conscience can clearly be traced to a certain period of Greek culture. In the works of Aeschylus, what we call conscience played no part; there were only remembrances of the avenging Furies, and not until we come to the works of Euripedes is there any clear expression of conscience as we know it now. The concept of conscience arose only very gradually during the Graeco-Latin epoch. I have told you that the concept of wonder arises for the first time when men begin to philosophise in the world of Graeco-Latin culture. And a remarkable fact in the spiritual evolution of Earth-existence throws far-reaching light upon what we know as compassion, and also, in the true sense, love. In the age of materialism it is exceedingly difficult to maintain in true and right perspective, this concept of compassion or love. Many of you will realise that in our materialistic times this concept is distorted, in that materialism associates the concept of love so closely with that of sexuality with which, fundamentally, it has nothing whatever to do. That is a point where the culture of our day abandons both intelligence and sound, healthy reason. Through its materialism, evolution in our time is veering not only towards the unintelligent and illogical but even towards the scandalous, when love is dragged into such close association with what is covered by the term sexuality. The fact that under certain circumstances the element of sexuality may be associated with love between man and woman is no argument for bringing so closely together the all-embracing nature of love or compassion, and the entirely specific character of sexuality. So far as logic is concerned, to associate the concept of, say, a railway engine with that of a man being run over, because engines do sometimes run over people, would be just about as intelligent as it is to connect the concept of love so closely with that of sexuality simply because under certain circumstances there is an outward association. That this happens today is not the outcome of any scientific hypothesis but of the irrational and, to some extent, unhealthy mode of thinking prevailing in our time.
On the other hand, another telling fact points to the significance inherent in the concept of love and compassion. At a certain point in the evolution of humanity, and among all the peoples, something is made manifest which, while differing in many essentials, is identical in one respect all over the Earth, namely in the adoption of the concept of love, of compassion. It is very remarkable that six or seven centuries before the inpouring of the Christ-Impulse into humanity, founders of religion and systems of thought appeared all over the Earth, among all the peoples. It is of the highest significance that, six centuries before our era, Lao-tse and Confucius should have been living in China, the Buddha in India, the last Zarathustra (not the original Zarathustra) in Persia, and Pythagoras in Greece. How great the difference is between these founders of religion! Only a mind abstracted from reality and incapable of discerning the differences can suggest, as is often mischievously done today, that the teachings of Lao-tse or Confucius do not differ from those of other founders of religions. Yet in one respect there is similarity among them all; they all teach that compassion and love must reign between soul and soul! The point of significance is this: six centuries before our era, consciousness begins to stir that love and compassion are to be received into the stream of human evolution. Thus whether we are thinking of the birth of wonder, of conscience or of love and compassion in the stream of evolution ... all the signs point to the fact that in the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch of culture, something was imbued into mankind which we may recognise as the meaning and purpose of Earth-evolution.
It is so superficial and foolish when people say: Why was it necessary for man to come down from the worlds of Divine Spirit into the physical world, only to have to reattain them? Why could he not have remained in the higher worlds? Man could not remain in those worlds because only by coming down into the physical world of Earth-evolution could he receive into himself the forces of wonder, love or compassion, and conscience or moral obligation.
We look at the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch of culture and perceive, during its course, the dawn of impulses which in reality only from that time onwards spread more and more widely among mankind. It is very easy today to emphasise how seldom humanity is ruled by compassion and love, how seldom by conscience. But in pointing to these things, we must also be mindful of the fact that in the Graeco-Latin age, slavery was still an accepted custom, and that even a philosopher as great as Aristotle still regarded the existence of slaves as a necessary principle of human life; we must also remember that since those days, love has so far gained ground that even if today inequalities still persist among men, there is already present in their souls something like a feeling of shame that certain conditions exist. This in itself indicates that the forces which entered at that time into evolution are unfolding within the souls of men. Nobody would dare nowadays if he is to avoid the tragic fate of Nietzsche (the followers of Nietzsche can be ignored altogether, for in his right mind Nietzsche would have repudiated them) to stand openly for the introduction of slavery as it was in Greece. Nobody will deny that the greatest of all forces in the human soul is that of love and compassion, and that it must be man's task to make the voice that sounds out of another world into the soul, more and more articulate.
Holding firmly in our minds that the unfolding of the three powers described constitutes the meaning and purpose of Earth-evolution, we turn to the greatest of all Impulses the Christ-Impulse which poured into evolution during the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch. Even outer circumstances indicate that this Impulse is given at the very time when the Earth is ready for the development of the three powers of wonder, compassion or love, and conscience, or moral obligation, as intrinsically human qualities. Many studies have given us a picture of how the Christ-Impulse made its way into the evolution of humanity.
I want here to refer to one aspect of the Christ-Impulse. I have told you that certain spiritual, superhuman forces were held back in the spiritual worlds at the beginning of the evolutionary process on the Earth. This Impulse streamed into the Earth at the time of which an indication is given in the Bible, namely, at the time of the Baptism in the Jordan. It was an Impulse, therefore, untouched by the Luciferic forces as it had been kept back until the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch; in that epoch it streamed into humanity. And now think of this in connection with certain things we have ourselves experienced. If people are incapable of giving any concrete explanation of how the spiritual world plays into the physical world, it is really out of place for them to come out with crude and unreal ideas like that, for example, of the Three Logoi. I have said many times that the word Logoi can convey to the ordinary intelligence nothing more than its five letters. When it is alleged in certain quarters outside that here we speak of Christ as the second Logos, we do well to realise that misrepresentation and distortion are the order of the day. We ourselves are quoted as the source of statements which have actually originated somewhere else! Our constant endeavour is to deepen, to widen and to gather from every side, knowledge that can shed light on the Christ Idea. Yet outside our field of work, by talking round an abstract concept, people allege that we speak of the Christ as the Second Logos. In the Theosophical Society, conscience ought to be too sharp to permit such allegations. So long as sheer misrepresentation of other people's views is possible, the Theosophical Movement cannot be said to have reached any particularly high level, and while this sort of thing goes on, it is futile to boast about freedom of opinion in the Society. This is an empty phrase as long as people allow themselves to spread false ideas of the views held by others. Certainly there must be freedom to spread every shade of opinion but not freedom to misrepresent the views of others! Spiritual conscience must be sharpened in this respect; otherwise all feeling for truth would in the end be driven out of the Theosophical Movement and then it would not be possible to cultivate the true spiritual Movement within the framework of the Theosophical Movement. These things must not be glossed over but taken really seriously. Certainly, there may be fewer publications, if the aim is to print only those things which are founded upon genuine, reliable knowledge. But after all, what harm will be done if there is less printing? What does it matter if less is said, so long as what is said is true and in accordance with reality? It was recently stated in periodicals abroad that the Christ is spoken of by us as the Second Logos and that we are said to be cultivating a narrow Theosophy, suitable for Germany, but not for any other country; we are said to be cultivating a narrow Theosophy, whereas a really broad Theosophical Movement is being conducted from a certain centre in Leipzig of which you have heard. When things of this kind are to be read, it can only be concluded that there does not exist in the Theosophical Movement the sharpness of conscience that is the pre-requisite of a spiritual movement. And if we lack this sharpness of conscience, if we do not feel, the most intense responsibility to the holiest truth, we shall make no progress on any other path. These things have had to be said. And within the Theosophical Movement it will above all be necessary to have eyes for the quality of love and compassion.
If we conceive the Christ Impulse to be the down-pouring of that spiritual power which was kept back in the ancient Lemurian time in order to flow into evolution during the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch at the point marked by the Baptism in the Jordan, reaching its culmination in the Mystery of Golgotha then it is clear that He Who is known as the Christ was not, even at that time, incarnated in the ordinary sense, in a physical human being. We know what complicated processes were connected with the man Jesus of Nazareth in order that for three years of his life the Christ Impulse might live within him. We are therefore able to understand that for three years the Christ Impulse lived on the Earth in the three sheaths of a human being, but we realise, too, that even at that time, the Christ Impulse was not incarnated on the Earth in the ordinary sense but that He pervaded the body of the Being Jesus of Nazareth. This must be understood when it is said that it is not possible to speak of a return of Christ, but only of an Impulse which was present once, during the time of the events in Palestine beginning with the Baptism in the Jordan, when there remained only the physical body, the ether-body and the astral body of Jesus of Nazareth; within these sheaths the Christ was then present on the very soil of the Earth. From that time Christ has been united with the spiritual atmosphere of the Earth and can there be found by souls who are willing to receive Him. From that time onwards and only from that time onwards He has been present in the spiritual atmosphere of the Earth. The great turn given to Earth-evolution lies in the fact that from that time forward there was a power in the Earth which it did not previously contain.
We know that what we actually see in the kingdoms of Nature around us is not reality, but Maya, the Great Illusion. In the kingdom of the animals we see the individual forms coming into being and passing away; the Group-Soul alone endures. In the plant kingdom, the individual plants appear and disappear, but behind them there is the Earth-Spirit which does not pass away. So it is, too, in the kingdom of the minerals. The Spiritual endures, but the Physical, whether in the animal, plant or mineral kingdom, is transient, impermanent. Even the outer senses discern that the planet Earth is involved in a process of pulverisation and will at some future time disintegrate into dust. We have spoken of how the Earth-body will be cast off by the Spirit of the Earth, as the human body is cast off by the individual human Spirit. What will remain as the highest substance of the Earth when its goal has been reached? The Christ Impulse was present on the Earth, so to say as spiritual Substance. That Impulse endures and will be received into men during the course of Earth-evolution. But how does It live on? When the Christ Impulse was upon the Earth for three years, It had no physical body, no ether-body, no astral body of Its own, but was enveloped in the three sheaths of Jesus of Nazareth. When the goal has been reached, the Earth, like man, will be a fully developed being, a meet and fitting vehicle for the Christ Impulse.
But from whence are the three sheaths of the Christ Impulse derived? From forces that can be unfolded only on the Earth. Beginning with the Mystery of Golgotha, whatever has unfolded on the Earth since the Fourth Post-Atlantean period as the power of wonder, whatever comes to life in us as wonder passes, finally, to the Christ, weaving the Astral Body of the Christ Impulse. Love or Compassion in the souls of men weaves the Ether-Body of the Christ Impulse; and the power of conscience which from the time of the Mystery of Golgotha until the goal of the Earth is attained, lives in and inspires the souls of men, weaves the Physical Body or what corresponds with the physical body for the Christ Impulse. 1See also: Christ and the Twentieth Century (25.1.12). Published in the volume entitled: Turning Points of Spiritual History.
The true meaning of words from the Gospel can only now be discerned: Whatsoever ye have done to one of the least of these My Brethren, ye have done it unto Me. (Matt. 25. 40). The forces streaming from man to man are the units integrating the Ether-Body of Christ: love, or compassion, weaves the Ether-Body of Christ. Thus when the goal of Earth-evolution is attained, He will be enveloped in the threefold vesture woven from the powers that have lived in men and which, when the limitations of the I, have been transcended, become the sheaths of Christ.
And now think of how men live in communion with Christ. From the time of the Mystery of Golgotha to the attainment of the goal of Earth-evolution, man grows more perfect in that he develops to the stature that is within his reach as a being endowed with the power of the I. But men are united with the Christ Who has come among them, in that they transcend their own I and through wonder, build the Astral Body of Christ. Christ does not build His own Astral Body, but in the wonder that arises in their souls, men share in the forming of the Astral Body of Christ. His Ether-Body will be fashioned through the compassion and love flowing from man to man; and His physical body through the power of conscience unfolding in human beings. Whatever wrongs are committed in these three realms deprive the Christ of the possibility of full development on the Earth that is to say, Earth-evolution is left imperfect. Those who go about the Earth with indifference and unconcern, who have no urge to understand what the Earth can reveal to them, deprive the Astral Body of Christ of the possibility of full development; those who live without unfolding compassion and love, hinder the Ether-Body of Christ from full development; and those who lack conscience hinder the development of what corresponds with the Physical Body of Christ ... but this means that the Earth cannot reach the goal of its evolution.
The principle of Egotism has to be overcome in Earth-evolution. The Christ Impulse penetrates more and more deeply into the life and culture of humanity and the conviction that this Impulse has lived its way into mankind, free from every trace of denominationalism as, for example, in the paintings of Raphael, this conviction will bear its fruit. How Christ may truly be portrayed is a problem still to be solved. Men on Earth will have to be greatly enriched in their life of feeling if, after the many attempts made through the centuries, another is to succeed to some slight extent in expressing what the Christ is as the super-sensible Impulse living on through Earth-evolution. The attempts made hitherto do not even suggest what form such a portrayal of Christ should take. For it would have to express how the enveloping sheaths woven of the forces of wonder, compassion and conscience are gradually made manifest. The countenance of Christ must be so vital and living that it is an expression of the victory won over the sensory, desire-nature in men of Earth victory achieved through the very forces which have spiritualised the countenance. There must be sublime power in this countenance. The painter or sculptor will have to express in the unusual form of the chin and mouth, the power of conscience unfolded to its highest degree. The mouth must convey the impression that it is not there for the purpose of taking food but to give utterance to whatever moral strength and power of conscience has been cultivated by men through the ages; the very structure of the bones around the teeth in the lower jaw will seem to form themselves into a mouth. All this will have to be expressed in the countenance. The form of the lower part of the face will have to express a power whose outstreaming rays seem to shatter the rest of the way that certain other forces are vanquished. With a mouth like this, it will be impossible to give the Christ Figure a bodily form similar to that possessed by the physical human being today. On the other hand, all the power of compassion will flow out of His eyes the power that eyes alone can contain not in order to receive impressions but to bear the very soul into the joys and sufferings of others. His brow will give no suggestion of thought based upon earthly sense-impressions. It will be a brow conspicuously prominent above the eyes, arching over that part of the brain; it will not be a thinker's brow which merely works upon material already there. Wonder will be made manifest in this projecting brow which curves gently backwards over the head, expressing wonder and marvel at the mysteries of the world. It will be a head such as is nowhere to be found in physical humanity.
Every true representation of the Christ must be a portrayal of the Ideal embodied in Him. When man reaches out towards this highest Ideal and strives through Spiritual Science to represent it in Art, this feeling will arise in greater and greater strength: If you would portray the Christ, you must not look at what is actually there in the world, but you must let your whole being be quickened and pervaded by all that flows from contemplation of the spiritual evolution of the world, inspired by the three great impulses of Wonder, Compassion and Conscience.