12 January 1916, Basel
Uebersinnliche Mensch und Die Fragen der Willensfreiheit und Unsterblichkeit nach Ergebnissen der Geisteswissenschaft. (Free Will, Immortality. Lecture given at Stuttgart, Germany, April 24, 1918)
All serious investigation of man has always taken as its starting point the recognition that his being is spiritual. For it is quite obvious to anyone, a philosopher, for example, studying the nature of man that the kind of science that operates within the world of the senses is not able to reach the real essence of man, or at least, if it is thought that this essence can be comprehended by an understanding limited by the senses and bound by the normal operation of the human brain, as is more or less believed by the materialistic form of monism, then we find that our need for a deeper kind of knowledge remains unsatisfied and we are left with the feeling that something further is needed to show that the real being of man is to be found outside the world of the senses. I would like to bring to your notice one of the very first thinkers in the spiritual evolution of humanity who, through tremendous effort in his own thinking, even told his students at the university and those who heard his lectures elsewhere, how in the inner life of the soul one can get away from the situation which prevents the recognition of what the being of man really is and come to a point where this is possible. This is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. And he tried in what one might call a paradoxical way to show his audience what kind of activity the soul had to develop in order to find its way from the sensible to the super-sensible. For instance, he said to the audience at the beginning of his lectures, “Try to think the wall.” Well, of course, this was easy. The audience tried to put itself into the position of thinking the wall. Then after he had let the people think the wall for a while he said, “Now try to think the person who has been thinking the wall.” Fichte knew what he wanted, and even contemporary witnesses have described the scene — how the effect was immediate and convincing, how the audience was completely nonplussed when they tried to think the person who had thought the wall, and how their thinking was in a way paralyzed when they were unable to reach the goal put before them.
Goethe always studied these questions concerning the theory of knowledge from a particularly human viewpoint, that is, he was most concerned with those things in life which bear fruit, and there is a saying of his, which is greatly illuminated by Fichte's demand and the results it had, and this is that Goethe said he managed to lead a sane and wise life because he avoided thinking about thinking. Goethe always sought to be aware of the real nature of life wherever his soul was engaged and he felt that the attempt to think thinking put a person, keeping to the ordinary means of thinking, into an impossible position. Despite this, anyone beginning to investigate the super-sensible worlds can only rely on the thinking at the outset, for he very soon sees that what the senses can teach him or what can be achieved by combining sense phenomena only raises questions that lead man away from his real being. In his thinking he is within himself, and in employing the power of his soul to penetrate the inner activity of his thinking he can expect to find something that will lead him to the real being of man.
Now it is very odd that the further we get, the more effort we make with our thinking as employed in ordinary life, the greater our doubts become of finding in it a gateway into the world where the real being of man is. In fact, at last we become convinced through this experience of our thinking that — if I may use a somewhat crude expression — we can no more think thinking than we can wash water.
And yet, the real method, the real way of penetrating to those worlds where the real being of man can be known, or, as we shall see later, be experienced, is by way of the thinking. However, this method does not use the thinking as we do in everyday life or in science, but thinking is developed in a particular way so it becomes quite a different power in the soul from what it was before. And this is the basis for understanding any investigation of the super-sensible worlds — that we learn to experience how the thinking can be developed into something quite different in the soul from what it is in ordinary life and science.
Now I have often described the main essentials that have to be undertaken in order that the thinking becomes a different power in the soul from what it was before, and so today I shall not go into the things that the thinking has to perform to get, as it were, outside itself and become this new power in the soul. I shall just mention a few things to characterize what is actually achieved when this comes about. You can find a more detailed description of how the thinking is handled in my book, Knowledge of Higher Worlds and also in the second part of my Occult Science. Today I would only like to emphasize that there are certain inner exercises that the thinking has to undertake. These concern only the soul and consist in taking particular mental images into the consciousness and in being related to them in such a way that the soul is really able to experience something within the thinking. This can happen only when the thinking is inwardly permeated by something that is not normally present. The experience then achieved is the first step toward investigating the super-sensible worlds. It comes about by strengthening the thinking by meditation (the various kinds of meditation and concentration are described in the books mentioned above), and it makes us aware that the kind of thinking employed in ordinary life and science is not suitable for the investigation of super-sensible worlds. In particular we notice that in using our ordinary thinking we do not become conscious of the forces that lead us into the super-sensible worlds. And such exercises of the thinking, and a real inner experience of it, convince us more than any purely materialistic theorizing that a bodily instrument, the physical organism, is necessary in order that we can think as we do in ordinary life between birth, or rather conception and birth, and death. And because the bodily organism is necessary, because our thinking is dependent upon the bodily instrument for all that it achieves, our thinking cannot free itself from its connection with the physical world, and we cannot use this thinking for penetrating any world except the one in which it is not possible to find the being of man. We see that because our thinking is bound to the physical instrument we are prevented from penetrating into the super-sensible worlds. We observe this when we stop all outward perception in meditation, when we intentionally blot out the operation of our senses and bring to a standstill all our inner feelings and sensations, devoting ourselves inwardly in meditation entirely to a certain thought, in order to concentrate all the powers of our soul upon this thought, and thereby strengthen our thinking.
It is precisely in our meditation that we learn how we make use of the body in order to think, and our experience brings us a greater conviction concerning the dependence of the thinking upon the physical organism than any theoretical materialist could do. But we also notice that in living within the physical organism, the latter makes something possible that could not exist without it, that the thinking is given something it could not have were there no physical organism. I hope I may be permitted to make such a paradoxical statement. Its truth will become apparent as we proceed. What we notice is what has to remain of the thought afterward if our soul life is to be sound, and this is the memory of it. It is essential in our soul life that in addition to our thinking we must also have memory. If a person were not able to hold on to what he thinks he would not, for our ordinary physical world, be a normal person. Everything depends upon our being able to preserve our thoughts in our memory. And now we observe in our inner methodical training of our thinking that the physical organism is necessary in order that memory of our thinking is retained. But here we also notice that our thinking can be released from the physical organism — only not the kind of thinking that becomes memory.
What I have just said leads the scientist of spirit on a particular path. It leads him to realize that memory, as it normally exists in the human being, is a power that is only significant in the physical world and that it has to be separated from the activity of thinking. Just as the chemist arrives at the mysteries of the material world by separating substances from one another in the laboratory, so, too, the scientist of spirit has to proceed with the various functions of the soul, but his spiritually-scientific analysis consists in purely inward processes of the soul, and this is even more the case with the synthesis, the putting together again of what has been separated. Thus the necessity arises of separating the activity in thinking which leads to the normal memory, from the actual activity of thinking itself. But how can we do this? — This is the question which now arises: Analogous to the way certain substances are treated so that constituent elements that are dissolved in it can be extracted from it, how can we extract that part of the thinking that leads to memory so that something finally remains? This comes about by constantly dwelling on certain thoughts and pictures for a very long time, even if only for a very short period each day, and by laying the emphasis in this not on seeing that a memory remains, but on observing what we do when we are occupied in thinking. Then we observe that something lives in this thinking activity, which, it is true, we also always have in everyday life and in ordinary scientific investigation, but which remains unconscious, does not reach into our consciousness. I will make this clear by the following: Let us assume we perform an external action connected with our profession or business. In doing it we are constantly producing the same thing. A person has to choose a job which leads him to perform the same action every day. This is the main thing, for our everyday lives at least, to make something which can be produced by our action. The result is the main thing. But alongside this, something else frequently takes place and even when it concerns an external action, we can regard it as something most important and essential in our ordinary lives. In carrying out the same task every day we become more skilled, our hands become more alive so that we not only produce the necessary product, but we also intensify our own activity. Perhaps we do not often notice this intensification of our activity. But we can do so.
What I have described here about ordinary life, where it naturally has quite a different significance, must be applied by the scientist of spirit to the inner experience of his thinking, of the kind of thinking that he employs in meditation, when he immerses himself in a state of forgetfulness so far as his surroundings and various experiences are concerned. And he will then find, as long as he does not overdo the individual meditations — I shall speak further about this later — that in constantly and intensively pursuing such an inner development of his thoughts he will come to observe not the thoughts but the activity itself that works in his thinking. He observes that there is such an activity of thinking through the intensification of his own experience. And it is in feeling this activity of the thinking, in strengthening this activity so that he can be conscious of it in a way that does not come about in ordinary life and science, that he fashions something in his soul that he can then separate off from the memory-activity of his thinking. For the continuation of such exercises as have been described brings about a quite definite result. And this result is that a person, in these moments which he himself controls, can immerse himself to such an extent in a new activity, which the thinking now produces, that in this new activity memory actually disappears, and he is left solely with an experience of his activity. In developing and experiencing his thinking in this way, the thoughts themselves vanish and he lives entirely within his thinking activity. The curious thing is that having grasped this point where we live solely within our inner activity, we notice that in this inner activity of the soul we are without memory as we know it in normal life. Something else is present. I would like to use an illustration to show how our whole soul life is now altered by what happens in our thinking.
There is a well-known occurrence in the life-story of the poet Grillparzer. I am not mentioning this in order to prove that Grillparzer, as far as his capacity enabled him, took the same view as is put forward here, but because his experience provides us with a lever for what has to be produced rather more artificially if we wish to rise to an investigation of the super-sensible being of man.
Grillparzer had conceived the whole outline of his Golden Fleece. He had thought out the plan, the individual events and how they were related, in short, he had conceived his drama, The Golden Fleece, in thoughts. But the remarkable thing happened that later he forgot the form in which he had conceived it. He was absolutely unable to remember it. But, lo and behold! one day at the piano as he played a piece that he had played at the time he had conceived The Golden Fleece, his memory suddenly came to life again, and the whole thing was once more present in his mind. How did this come about? Well, it shows us that the inner activity, which was the same both times he played, enabled him to find the same thought content that he had before. As I have said, this is a step toward the kind of thing we are discussing here, but only a step. We have only to proceed further on the same path in the appropriate way.
For the peculiar thing that the one meditating, the scientist of spirit, arrives at is that on the one hand he feels his ordinary memory dying away — though naturally only for those times when he is practicing spiritual investigation — while on the other something else can arise that is not of the nature of memory but comes about in another way. This is the activity in which he has immersed himself. This activity constantly reappears. And then, when we have accustomed ourselves for a while to separating the activity of thinking from the thoughts that remain as memory, we notice that the whole mood of our soul life has become different under the influence of these exercises. When we have reached a certain point in the development of our soul through these exercises we notice something that can fill us with dismay — we notice that we can experience things where no memory of them remains. And because they leave no memory behind, they remain as processes of our experience, constantly in movement, in a way real dreams, but dreams that have great power over our inner soul life. And so in this kind of “empty” consciousness that is unable to preserve any memory of what it has thought, we very soon become aware how our own experiences come to us as if from outside us, in the way that sense perceptions come to us. This does not come about through the activity of the memory, nor through our normal effort to produce thoughts. The impression we get is more or less of our whole life as far back as the moment to which we can normally remember. Our thoughts appear as real entities; they appear to be alive. They do not appear as they normally do in our memory, but they approach us as living beings. Our thinking altogether assumes quite a different character under the influence of these exercises. It really becomes quite a different power in the soul. And I would like to add a further illustration to show the surprising way this change in our thinking activity can work.
Imagine that a statue stands before us — it has a definite form. Then imagine that the moment could arrive when this statue would begin to walk, to live. We would then experience something that goes against the laws of nature. Naturally this could not happen. But I want to use this illustration because something comes about in our soul life which can be compared to this. With the thoughts we have in ordinary life and that result in memories, we have in our inner experience the impression that these thoughts have to be passive copies that imitate the outer world, that they do not have their own inner life and that if they were to lead their own lives, then our soul life would, through this inner life of our thoughts, lead its existence in pure phantasy, in dreams, hallucinations and even more serious states. In our ordinary soul life our thoughts really do have something that can be compared with the forms of a statue. Here I have no intention of saying anything against the value of sculpture. That would of course be stupid. But we can nevertheless compare a dead statue with the kind of logic that operates in our ordinary thinking where we are not conscious of the actual activity in our thinking, of that which joins our thoughts together, which unites and divides them. Whereas the statue is unable to take on life, to become active, our inner logic, the inner weaving and life of our thoughts can be taken up into our consciousness, can become inwardly alive; in the same way an inner, living and logical being can arise out of the “logic” of the statue, a being that we feel to the extent of having the impression that we are in a quite different world. From this moment onward we know that what in the first instance freed itself from the memory, the actual activity of thinking, has now freed itself from dependence upon the physical organism.
The scientist of spirit is aware at this important point in his development that he has released his thinking activity from the physical organism, that his soul, inasfar as it moves in thoughts, has left his bodily organism, and that he is no longer in his body.
However paradoxical this may appear, it is true. This experience of the scientist of spirit has been characterized in earlier lectures here, and it can frequently be referred to because it describes something that has a shattering effect on the soul when it reaches the point I have just been talking about. For we cannot get away from the fact that the development which the scientist of spirit goes through involves inner upheavals and the surmounting of difficulties which we should know something about. This has no objective value. But if we are to speak about the ways and methods employed in investigating the super-sensible being of man, we should not omit this aspect. But now I must add that the way the science of spirit works, as I have been describing it here, can come into being only in our own time. For everything that comes into being in the course of the cultural evolution of humanity has naturally to appear at a particular moment. The scientific way of thinking was made possible three or four centuries ago by the inner conditions of human evolution existing at that time. Likewise, before our time it would not have been possible to train the powers of the soul in the way I have described. There had first to be a training of several hundred years in scientific method before thinking could acquire the necessary power to undertake such a development.
In earlier times, hundreds or even thousands of years ago, there were always people who penetrated into the spiritual worlds, though they proceeded along a different path and used different powers for their development, using methods that are no longer suited to humanity as it has evolved today. These methods have to be changed, just as the way we look at nature has changed during the course of time. Nevertheless, the observers of the spirit in the past also reached the point referred to here, where they were embraced by this living, weaving power of thought, the objective power of thought that permeates everything. And they described the moment when the soul can have this shattering experience as the soul's approach to the gate of death. — This whole experience makes us aware that having cultivated the activity of thinking to the extent that it has been transformed in the way I have described, we actually enter into this living state of thinking. Alone, we are faced with an inner — not a physical — danger. This is the danger of not being inwardly able to carry what is otherwise our normal everyday self-consciousness into the world we now experience. It is the danger of entering a world where we are powerless in our souls to take our self-consciousness with us, where at first we seem to lose ourselves so that we actually reach the state of approaching the gate of death. But in approaching it, it is as if we had left ourselves behind. This losing ourselves, this no longer feeling in possession of ourselves, is a shattering experience. And in becoming completely one with it, we get to know something further — that the self-consciousness that we have, which arises at the moment to which our memory stretches back, the moment when we are aware of ourselves as an ego, this self-consciousness is really more bound to the physical organism of the body than the other powers of the soul, so that when we loosen our connection with the bodily organism we face the danger of not being able to say “I” any more, of losing ourselves. We recognize what is taken from us when we go through the gate of death, when death really divides the spirit-soul nature from the physical-bodily nature. We really achieve what I would call a theoretical but living experience of what death is from an objective, spirit-soul viewpoint.
This is a shattering experience. And this is why those who knew something about it called it the approach to the gate of death. But now we have actually to follow the path that has been described as leading to this significant experience. Only in following the exercises described in my book Knowledge of Higher Worlds and in the second part of my Occult Science can we understand how these exercises are fashioned out of the experiences of the soul. In addition to this we also proceed along another line of development which runs more or less parallel to the first, and which prevents us from losing ourselves when we approach the gate of death with our consciousness. The scientist of spirit has therefore to undertake something else if he is not to lose himself at this point but rather can take himself with him into this other world. On the one hand we have seen that in order to reach this point we have to develop our thinking, to separate the power and activity of thinking from the power in the thinking that leads to memory, but now on the other it is necessary to develop the activity of our will, again with the help of certain exercises of the soul.
And here it must be said that this development of the will involves separating something from it that belongs to it in normal life, that — to use an expression from chemistry — something must be extracted from it. Of the normal activity of our will, especially when seen from the scientific viewpoint, we know that however filled with ideals we are, the will remains full of emotions and the like, which motivate it. These have to be present or the will would not function in ordinary life.
Now in order to progress along the path parallel to the first one, the scientist of spirit has to do exercises which enable him to separate the will from all those things that have to be present within it, because there must be motivation that stems from our physical nature, from our ordinary soul life, and so on — this kind of motivation, which for our ordinary life appears to be the most essential and most valuable, has to be separated from the will. Of course, this separation should not affect our ordinary lives or we would become quite useless or even worse, but such a will that is free of our everyday will should be brought about only in those moments when we wish to investigate the spiritual worlds. And here again there are exercises to achieve this. You will also find these in the books I have mentioned.
Whereas the aim of the thought exercises is to strengthen the thinking, to immerse ourselves in the experience of our thoughts that we place in the center of our consciousness, the aim of the will exercises is to gain an increasing control in shutting out the normal activity of the will, and to command an inner peace in the whole life of the soul. Our ordinary soul life is filled with the remains of the motives of our will, our cares and other feelings, in short, all those things that arise out of our ordinary soul life. The object of the exercises is to learn to suppress all this consciously.
Here the scientist of spirit brings something about which in ordinary life can only come about unintentionally. In order to describe this I must refer to our experience in ordinary life of the 24 hour cycle with its changing rhythm of waking and sleeping. It is not necessary now to go into what happens when the transition from waking to sleeping occurs. But everyone knows from his own trivial observation of life that the activity of our senses disappears in a particular order without any direction on our part — it would serve no purpose to describe this further here — and that even what finally remains, an inner feeling of ourselves, a consciousness of our own life, — that even this disappears too. Then we remain in a state of unconsciousness.
The scientist of spirit now discovers that when a person is in this unconscious state he is nevertheless within the being of his soul. He discovers this when in undertaking a particular development of his will he learns to produce a condition which on the one hand is similar to the state of sleep, but which on the other hand is so radically different from it that one could even say it is the very opposite of the state of sleep. The development of the will is aimed at eliminating all the activity of the senses, a condition that is normally achieved only in deep, unconscious sleep. This involves the same thing with the activity in our thinking, in our feeling, and in everything connected with the motives in our will. — The whole life of our senses and of our soul has to be suppressed by our own conscious intention. Having acquired the requisite power to achieve this we notice that we are able to bring our physical, organic life to a standstill. In sleep we achieve this without any effort on our part, but now we no longer need to remain unconscious, we do not enter into sleep, but experience the transition in a conscious state. The power that enables us to suppress our organic activity also enables us in another way and at the same time to lift our spirit-soul consciousness, which is now our activity of will, out of our body, so that we are no longer, as in sleep, withdrawn from our body in a state without consciousness — I do not have to explain all this today, as nothing in our discussion depends upon it — but we are fully conscious in sleep and are aware that we are no longer in that which lives in us, but that nevertheless our consciousness has not disappeared. Consciousness is fully present, including self-consciousness and the ability to know ourselves as an ego.
The reason this state is radically different from the state of sleep is that in sleep we have no consciousness, but here we leave the body consciously in such a way that we are able to look at the latter as we would look at a table or any other object. Thus we withdraw consciously from our body and are fully aware that we are outside it because we are able to perceive it as an object outside ourselves, just as we normally see physical objects outside ourselves.
To anyone who has never heard anything about these things or can gain no understanding of them, they can naturally appear only paradoxical and unreal. Despite this, it is a real process, much more real than the processes normally at work in the soul. By means of it the soul now manages to experience itself in the will to the extent of complete consciousness.
And now our experience goes further, but in describing it, we are bound to make it appear purely pictorial, as if only a symbol or perhaps even an allegory were meant. But this is not the case, for our inner experience is absolutely real. In this state where the will is detached from our normal soul activity, and where it is conscious, we come to experience something in us that is always there, not as substance, but as spirit-soul consciousness. We become aware of a second person in us that is always present in everyone, though it cannot be brought to light by our normal consciousness. Of course, if we were to say in the normal way that each person bears a second person within him, we would frequently be understood to mean something pictorial or contrived. This is not what is meant here. We really do become aware that we carry a second person within us that really has a consciousness and is witness to all the activity of our will in normal life.
We are never alone. In the depths of our being there is a true being evolving, watching what we do, a being that is in constant activity and which we gradually come to know when we do the exercises that have been described. But before we can make closer acquaintance with this being we have to overcome another shattering experience in our souls. The other similar experience I described as the approach of the scientist of spirit to the gate of death. This one can be described as follows: In our spirit-soul experience we become aware of what weaves in the world as pain and suffering. We experience the basis, the being, of this pain and suffering. We come to know for the first time what pain and suffering are in the soul. This we must do. For in experiencing this pain and suffering we develop the ability to grasp this inner conscious being in us as an immediate inner spirit-soul experience. We can say that a person who has an open heart and mind for what surrounds him in the world will in many respects find much that is beautiful, exalted in it and will see it as the flower of the world. A person who undertakes the exercises described knows that the flower of all the beauty, the exalted nature and the glory of the world rises as if out of the ground, the earth, of the pain that weaves through the world.
Of course people can come forward with their human wisdom and say that such a statement could make one despair of the wise direction of the world, even of the wisdom of God, for why has God not seen to it that the beautiful, the wonderful, the exalted can appear without this foundation of pain? — Such people produce objections out of their human wisdom without having any deep feeling for the iron necessities of existence. Anyone who asks why the exalted, the beautiful, the flower, cannot exist in the world without the basis of pain is more or less in the same position as a person who demands of a mathematician that he should draw a triangle whose angles do not add up to 180 degrees. Necessities simply exist. They do not contradict the wise guidance of the world. — All the exalted nature and beauty of the world evolves out of what we experience in the depth of our souls as pain, just as the flower of a plant has to evolve out of its root. This leads us to a deeper conception of life and of the world, it shows us in which fundamental elements of life beauty, exaltedness and wisdom have their roots, and that these could not exist, that the power to experience them could not exist, if we were not to acquire this power which is present only inasmuch as it grows out of pain.
Now the question arises: Why is it that we experience pain just at the moment when we permeate this inner observer, this inner consciousness of the soul with life? Why just then? — Although this is more difficult to understand, I would nevertheless like to describe it as exactly as possible. It begins when, having developed the will, we experience in our newly-evolved activity of the will what the inner observer is that weaves and lives within us. Our first experience of it seems to contradict all we have experienced in our soul life since we have been able to think. It is rather like — only to a far greater degree — thinking something through most carefully, and then someone comes and disproves our argument, showing it to be untenable. What rises up out of the depths of our will is felt just like such a living refutation. — A very remarkable and odd experience! It is just this something that comes about in the life of the soul, that begins like the pain of a refutation of our own soul life, that finally evolves and intensifies to the experience of our feeling the flowing stream of pain that moves over the mother earth of existence. It is this experience of pain which makes what rises up out of the will increasingly more concrete and more real.
We then come to a full realization of what this is. We gradually come to understand why it appears like this in the form of pain, for we now become aware of what normally cannot be experienced at all in the way of thinking and willing in our everyday lives, namely, what lies at the root of our ordinary experience, what actually has evolved in the depths of the soul throughout the whole of our life, and which we grasp when we have begun to become scientists of spirit. We experience part of our soul life that is normally hidden and what remains with us when everything is removed from our soul life that is bound to the instrument of the physical body. We experience the part of us which goes through the gate of death, which when we die goes on into the spiritual world. And because this part of us that goes into the spiritual world is not at first fit to live in purely spiritual surroundings, is not suited to the life we have developed, but simply exists in it without being properly adapted to it, it therefore appears to us at first in the form of pain and suffering. In the form that it develops it is really destined for another kind of experience. So now we know how the part of us that goes through the gate of death when our body disintegrates is present in the soul, and lives in the soul as its immortal core. In our inner experience we are like a plant feeling how it gradually prepares the forces in its growth that lead to the formation of the seed in the flower, which having lived a different life in the earth, can then develop into another plant of the same kind. We become aware of a new seed of life within us. — And just as the seed grows out of the forces of the plant and can become a new plant, so, too, we now experience that this seed of life, enclosed at first within pain, can lead to a further life on earth. The only difference is that whereas the plant can be destroyed by the conditions existing in space and time so that not every seed develops into a new plant, there are no such conditions or hindrances in the spiritual world when we have passed through the gate of death, but we proceed through the spiritual world and appear in a further life on earth. Then we have to seek out another body with which to unite ourselves, and which we fashion in joining ourselves to what is produced by our father and mother. We take what exists through heredity and impress our own organization upon it so that we can enter into a new life on earth.
In following this path I have described, the scientist of spirit comes upon two factors in his inner life of the soul. The one is that he feels the danger of losing himself, the other that he acquires consciousness in his otherwise unconscious thinking. The consciousness which he normally possesses is in danger of becoming lost. But the other kind of consciousness which arises out of the will can now be employed in entering into the world. At first we experience only pain in this seed of life in the will, but if the exercises are continued in the right way we discover that the pain in fact reveals mysteries of the world to us, for what really happens is that we take this consciousness which lies in the soul into a condition which we normally experience as emptiness, and which, if we could feel it, makes us powerless, but that now it ceases to be pain and we awaken to a life which may be compared to the awakening of the senses when they have been fashioned in the embryo and are then able to perceive the physical world.
When these two factors I have described are united, they become a new sense organ, which Goethe calls the “spirit eye” and the “spirit ear.” This is now really present. Our thinking, which has been developed to the point described, is united as activity within this new consciousness. A fully developed spirit-man, now existing entirely outside the physical body, is experienced by the soul within itself and lives together with it, and this spirit-man now lives within the spiritual world. In being within the spiritual world the spirit-man possesses a higher stage of memory, not the kind of memory that arises when thoughts reappear, but when what is present in the spiritual world appears before us as living being.
Then also everything we have experienced in time before we were joined to a physical body, before our previous death and conception and birth, all this appears before us as living being. The experiences of former lives on earth come into view. A higher kind of memory arises. Paradoxical as it may seem, this is something that can be developed. In the young child, faculties that are needed in ordinary life are not yet present and have to be developed. These make us competent in life. The new memory leads us to a perception of ourselves as spiritual beings within the spiritual world. We experience ourselves as spirit within the spiritual world. And just as we are surrounded in the physical world by physical beings that are of the same nature as our physical organism, in the spiritual world as spirit-man we are with beings of a spiritual nature. Such spiritual beings never appear in physical life. They have their tasks in the spiritual world and do not alternate their lives like human souls between a spiritual life between death and birth and a physical life between birth and death. We experience all this as a spiritually objective world before us. We must in no way imagine that this world is a mere repetition of the physical world. — I will discuss this aspect in greater detail on another occasion, I would only stress now that the whole way in which the spiritual world is experienced is different.
Now since people compromise themselves today when dealing with truths about the spiritual world, I will also have to compromise more than is normally the case with the prevailing approach to life when I now give you a further illustration. Let us assume that in our spiritual experience we are concerned with a human soul that passed through the gate of death many years ago. It can then happen, in the way that one spirit perceives another, that we can feel this soul of the dead affecting us. But it is not as some would imagine that we see a very much refined material picture, or the sort of nebulous ghost as imagined by trivial and superstitious kinds of clairvoyance, but in a quite different way the spiritual enters the consciousness which has arisen out of the stream of our will. In order to characterize how the spiritual is now experienced, I must say the following: Assume that as human souls we have thoughts. The thoughts live in us. Assume that a thought could experience itself, in which case it would say: I am in the human soul. The thought would not be like something that we copy from the outer world, but would realize that it exists in a world; it would know this. Thus the connection with the spiritual world is much more real than the connection with things in the visible world, though it is a different kind of connection. What lives in the spiritual world enters our consciousness so that the latter, which we ourselves have just now taken into the spiritual world in the way described, becomes aware of other consciousnesses he now meets. Our consciousness is now aware of living with spiritual beings.
We can therefore be aware of a soul that wishes to help us or draws toward us from the spiritual world — it can be a human soul or a soul that has never incarnated in the physical world — and such a soul we experience as living within our own consciousness. We see then that in our everyday lives we really have the spiritual world living within us in our consciousness. But because ordinarily we are not aware of this, we do not normally find these spiritual beings in our usual consciousness. But when we have something spiritual to carry out, where inventiveness is required, we can feel that the activity of the soul of a person who died long ago flows into our consciousness.
It is only natural to cite personal experiences in connection with this, though not out of any immodesty. There was, for example, the soul of a person who died many years ago, and who had quite special artistic gifts which were taken through death and then gave help when certain artistic things were being done. Having acquired this spiritual perception we are able to distinguish between what originates in ourselves — although we could please our pride and vanity more by ascribing it all to our own gifts — and what lives in us that originates in the spiritual world and the beings belonging to it.
And if someone says this could all be an illusion, hallucination, then we would reply that there are also certain types of philosophy which maintain that everything we see is only a creation of our eyes. We have only to think of Schopenhauer's statement “The world is only idea.” This had such an effect on one person that he told Goethe that when he closed his eyes the sun was not there — A more recent scientist who is by no means averse to including the more marginal areas of research in his work, commented that we have long since discovered that the man is dead and can no longer open his eyes, yet the sun is still moving through the universe.
I know all the various kinds of objections that can be brought against this, but it is nevertheless essentially apt. In the science of spirit we learn to distinguish between what is real in the world and what is merely thought out or simply experienced in the soul. Only life can teach us about the world of senses. In our spirit-soul experience only our own soul can be the arbiter and can recognize the reality of the beings and events that we perceive. If we can do this, then all the objections vanish, just as the objections of the philosophical idealists vanish in face of the realities of the physical world. Even in the physical world reality can only be experienced. There is no logical proof that can be advanced; only in life itself can we learn to distinguish the real from dreams and hallucinations.
Thus, too, in the spiritual world we learn to distinguish what is dreamed from what really is.
Today I only wanted to go as far as to show how through the investigation of the spiritual world we can acquire knowledge of our own spiritual being that belongs to this spiritual world. This particular way of looking at the spiritual world, which is based on an inner development of the soul, could only arise in the age of science as we now know it, which has been a kind of preparatory training for the further development of the soul. And it is quite understandable that having immersed itself for a time in the greatness of the scientific way of thinking, humanity has rejected the possibility of the soul attaining real knowledge of the spiritual world.
Every person, whether he is a scientist of spirit or not, can take in knowledge of this spiritual world and appreciate the degree of truth it contains. This is no different from being able to value the truths and products of chemistry for our ordinary lives without actually being chemists. The scientist of spirit completely understands when those who are immersed in ordinary science and have become familiar with the faculties of the soul that share in it, who have learned to use and develop these faculties for a method of investigation that has resulted in the tremendous successes of modern science (which the science of spirit fully recognizes) — he completely understands when such people must believe for a while that it is not possible to have a science beyond the one bound to the development of the senses and of the brain, that is, which is founded on the kind of thinking that is bound to the physical organism.
But what we can experience proves that the province of real knowledge can be widened to include the spiritual world, and that we really can investigate our spirit-soul being which proceeds through births and deaths in repeated lives on earth. A brilliant scientist of the 19th century, Du Bois-Reymond, quite rightly emphasized that the approach to knowledge which has led science to its great successes does not lead us beyond the sphere of nature perceptible to our senses, and therefore could not fathom the depths of existence. He was able to express this inability to know, this “not knowing,” because he himself was immersed only in the faculties of knowledge that can comprehend the outer world of the senses. And he said that if we wanted to undertake something in order to get beyond the natural world, we would enter into supranaturalism, that is, we would immerse ourselves in the spiritual world. But then he said, Where supranaturalism begins, science comes to an end. He did not yet know — and there is good reason why he could not know — that the faculties of our mind which are sharpened and strengthened in observing nature cannot lead to the spiritual world, but that these same faculties first have to transform our thinking and our will so that they can evolve differently from the way they do in ordinary science. Then they have to bring themselves to life, to acquire strength, in order to penetrate up into the spiritual world.
And so we must admit that, from one viewpoint at least, what Du Bois-Reymond said was right — that we cannot penetrate to the spiritual world with those faculties of acquiring knowledge which have brought success to natural science. But we can develop these very same faculties by a purely inner and spiritual method to lead us into the spiritual world. Then our knowledge does not remain purely passive (though in this form it has contributed much to science), but becomes something living. It is like the transition from the statue to living logic, to inner life, when the soul itself becomes living logic which can be permeated by what it finds flowing out from the will. Thus we can only experience what the spirit is when knowledge is awakened to life which lives as living knowledge in the living world of the spirit, when knowledge is awakened to life which normally is bound to the world of the senses and to the physical organs, but which now leads the human being to living knowledge. It is in turning knowledge into living knowledge, in discovering a new man, an inner being in us that we rise to the spiritual world, in which we live as spiritual beings among spiritual events and other spiritual beings. In this way we rise to the world where our true origin, our true task and our true purpose lie.