Anthroposophical Life Gifts
V. Thoughts on Life and Death
Berlin, 16th April, 1918
In the public lecture given yesterday, “The Human Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom,” I alluded among many other things to an idea which one may have concerning the life of the soul and which of course is in no sense hypothetical, but one which directly corresponds to the reality of the soul-life. I call your attention to the fact that what forms the beginning and end of life in the animal world, and in a sense only comprises two moments — the entrance into physical life and the leaving it, conception and death — stands in such a relation to the animal life that one might say: animal life might be represented as a ladder, at the beginning of which there is conception, and at the end, death. I called your attention to the fact that these two experiences really run through the whole soul-life of the human being; at every moment the soul-life of man gathers into a whole that which is experienced in the animal kingdom, whilst the Group-Soul — which really never quite descends onto the physical plane — is establishing a reciprocal relation with the physical being through conception. And something like a touch of Ego-consciousness appears in the animal at the single moment of death. I called your attention yesterday to the fact that one who is able to observe the death of animals can gain an idea of how in reality the Ego-consciousness, which runs through the whole life of man, is only present in the animal at the moment of passing out of life. But the important thing is this: that the two moments, which in animal life are really only “two moments,” are gathered together into one, in a synthesis as it were, and go through human life in such a way that the human head, the peculiar kind of organization which I have described, can develop a continuous becoming-pregnant and dying, gently reminding one of the fact that this human soul-life continuously proceeds from the interweaving of conception and death. Such is the life of the human soul, and this gives rise to the justifiable thought of human immortality.
In addition I said: Every time that we have a thought, the thought is born of the will; and every time we will, the thought fades into the will. I said that Schopenhauer represented this in a very one-sided manner, for he represented the will alone as something real. He did not see that “will” is only one side of the matter, that in a certain sense it is simply dying thought, whereas the thought is the will being brought to birth. To describe as Schopenhauer does is like describing a human life only from the thirthy-fifth year to the end, whereas every man who reaches the age of 35 must have attained some other age before this, for the time from birth up to the 35th year must also be taken into account. Schopenhauer only depicts the will, he considers thought or the idea as an illusion. That however is only the other side of the question: the thought of the will which strives to be born; whereas the thought is the expiring will. And through the fact that in our soul-life we have a continual interweaving of thought and will, we thus have birth, which refers back to conception (for perception is conception) — and death.
This idea is one for which nothing further is necessary — even if we wish to establish it anatomically and physiologically — but present-day science and the will, the good-will, really to observe the phenomenon of the soul. Anyone who does not take the experiences made with the human brain in the manner of official science today, but really tests free from prejudice, what physiology and biology have to say of it will find what I have just said borne out scientifically. If instead of all the hocus-pocus carried on today at the universities for the purpose of investigating all sorts of things in the psychological-physiological laboratories (for anatomists have no thoughts but, instead of thinking, sit down before their instruments in order to maltreat the soul life of the person to be studied and then to “investigate”), if people would not put up with this, a real observation of the soul-life would be possible and it would be possible also to gain an idea of the continuous coming to birth and dying which goes on in the human soul-life itself, that metamorphosis which is only an intensification of Goethe's theory of metamorphosis. But the science of today has not yet even come to the point of understanding Goethe's metamorphosis after the lapse of a hundred years, let alone really carrying such a thought, once given to mankind, further.
Such thoughts as I try to sketch for you in the last lecture are nothing more nor less than Goethe's teaching on metamorphosis carried further. These things can all be established without any sort of clairvoyant consciousness. Real science and psycho-observation are alone necessary. If a number of students were brought to understand such things, instead of the many absurdities to which official science leads, the time would not then be far off when Spiritual Science would be impressed on the culture of mankind. For it is just such thoughts, which could be scientifically established today, and which need nothing else to make them fertile for the soul-life but the good-will to observe and to think — such ideas, such concepts might form the bridge from the outer materialistic science to Spiritual Science; which is not kept from spreading lest it would not be understood by those who have no clairvoyance, but because such a thing as this, which comes fresh into existence, cannot spread at all on account of the aggressiveness of the present-day scientific mind. It is my firm conviction that it will do no harm if these things are sometimes really called by their true names and described as they really are. We may say that the effect of a thought on the human soul-life is more important than the spreading of it abroad as a thought. It is much less important what sort of thoughts we have, than which forces we must use in order to grasp this or some other thought. The constitution of the human soul must be quite different, according to whether one grasps some entirely dead thought of the so-called science of to-day, or a living thought of Spiritual Science. In the case of the latter the whole inner nature of man is brought into play; he is inwardly quick and placed in the Cosmos; on the other hand through what present-day science produces, especially when carried beyond its own narrowest limits, he is pushed out spiritually from any connection with the Cosmos.
We must understand that. It is that which must really be introduced to mankind, through Spiritual Science. For just in those things that begin to be important for our immediate life, for example, education, instruction and everything connected with that, it is of immeasurable importance that the living ideas, which really leads straight into life, should penetrate human souls. It will become clear to the soul when it tries to view things in this manner, what are the tasks and what the essential point in the understanding of Spiritual Science for the whole spiritual culture of our time. That ought really to be grasped in its full significance. Then only would people see how unnecessary it is to look with unprejudiced eyes upon the almost entirely disjointed thinking which sometimes lies at the bottom of the present-day practice of life. The symptoms of this disjointed thinking are by no means so easy to grasp.
I drew your attention to one thing yesterday. In our manner of life it is necessary that nothing of what we might call sluggishness or idleness of thought should be developed. For just imagine if an inactivity of thought were to be developed amongst us! I have recently sung the praises everywhere of Oskar Hertwig's book “The Growth of Organisms.” I have called it the “best book of recent times” as regards his scientific achievements. I spoke without restraint, for a man who stands at the height of the scientific methods of his time has undertaken to disentangle the theories of Darwin and relegate them to their own boundaries! One could agree with him from beginning to end. Now comes his latest book, “In Defense of the Technical, Social and Political Darwinism.” As I have already said, one might really speak scathingly against the limitations of this book. For once, the natural-scientific investigator forsakes his narrow sphere — and talks real nonsense! I gave an example and mentioned that the good man says the following about the methods of natural science: “In the last resort all natural science should be constructed on the pattern of astronomy.” Of course this is not even original! Du Bois Reymond already said this in the year 1876, in speaking of the structure of the atomic world. We are to observe the realities round about us; then the astronomical theory, which is as far removed as possible from man, is set up as a pattern! Logically this is of no more value than if one were to explain the inner life to a family living in poverty somewhere in the country, by telling them: You need not consider how your own father and mother, son and daughter behave, but study the family life of a count's household; from that you can deduce how family rules and regulations should be constituted! Today such things are taken very superficially, and not even noticed; with us not only should there be no belief in authority but also no bed of idleness. We must understand that because an opinion is once formed about a person, one cannot thereafter rely on everything which might come from the same person. Herein is the question, and that must really be carried out practically, even down to the details of our conduct. Therefore no one should wonder if the one activity in Oskar Hertwig is praised to the skies and another found fault with; that must happen; we must accustom ourselves to look at life without prejudice. For he who does not practice this does not practice this does not notice on the one hand the direct realities of life, and on the other hand where he may find the entrance to the spiritual world. I should like to give a little example of this. I do not know how many people have noticed this, that is, have noticed it so as to draw forth the practical application of it to life
Some time ago there appeared in the “Berliner Tageblatt” an article by Fritz Mauthner in which he indulged in the most incredibly trivial, really dreadfully trivial strictures on a man who had written a book referring among other things to Goethe's horoscope. The critical language, Fritz Mauthner, wrote long columns in an uncommonly complacent manner, and tried to show what wrong the author is committing against the present age by writing about Goethe's horoscope and things like that, especially in a book which appeared in such a popular collection as “From Nature and the World of Spirit.” As regards this article of Fritz Mauthner's, one felt that really there was a little too much frivolity in it; but apart from that, the compiler of this book in the “From Nature and the World of Spirit” collection, is really a fairly average scholar of the present-day, and it did not seem that there was anything about which one was compelled to feel especially excited. Really one did not see why Fritz Mauthner should excite himself. One could understand it even less, considering that the compiler of this little book laughs at all those taken things treated therein seriously, and Fritz Mauthner only abuses this man because he speaks of the “horoscope.” Now he who compiled this little book justified himself and explained in the “Berliner Tageblatt” that it had not in the least that his intention to speak in favor of astrology. Thus the author really fulfilled all the conditions that even Fritz Mauthner, in his position, could demand. The two are thoroughly at one; but Fritz Mauthner attacked the man because he considered it extremely dangerous socially but a book of this kind should appear in such a collection. And the “Berliner Tageblatt” the remark that he could not but think that Fritz Mauthner had not understood the matter, for it was quite in agreement with what Mauthner himself had written. This is a particularly striking example of that degree of spiritual feeble-mindedness which really lies at the bottom of all these things. If on the other hand we bear in mind how greatly life is stimulated by what is expressed by such inferior mental activity, we are struck by the thoughts characteristic of the present-based spiritual culture. And we must really take note of these thoughts. That is a necessity, if we wish to gain understanding of the tasks which may really fall to Spiritual Science. What we must above all be aware of is that such things as deceit, lies are real powers, and we cannot imagine a worse deceit than when such a thing as this happens: one man writes a book on astrology, and another assails him because he does not wish anyone at all to write about such subjects. The first man then justifies itself by saying: “Come, I was only joking.” If he had said before hand, “I am only joking when I am talking about Goethe's horoscope,” Mauthner would have been satisfied.
These things are absolutely serious and are connected with the most serious tendencies of the present day, above all with that which we must also perceive, that Spiritual Science must of necessity find it difficult in our present time to work its way through and to attain something of what it is really incumbent on it to attain. It really demands strong and courageous thinking. The field for this has been in many ways prepared, and to understand how this has been done leads us to see that not alone were earthly, human beings active in this work, but that for centuries the great Ahrimanic forces of mankind have been at work. Besides all the things undertaken by the Ahrimanic beings in order to bring mankind into such confusion, out of which the way has again to be found, must be added the fact that men have been rendered incapable of perceiving that everything material is rooted in the spiritual and that everything spiritual desires to reveal itself materially. The world has been torn in pieces, its continuity destroyed. Above all, if we look at the outer history of the continuous Christian impulse — not of Christianity — we find Ahrimanic powers working through humanity, and particularly in the Christian development. One thing among others should be specially observed: the tearing asunder of what on the one hand is Sun and Sun-force, from what on the other is Christ and Christ-force. If the connection between these forces is not again recognized, the world will not easily be linked to the spiritual. One of the principal tasks of Spiritual Science is that we must rediscover, in another way — in a way which entails the spiritualization of mankind through the Christ-Mystery — the great Sun-mystery, which throughout the ages before the Mystery of Golgotha was not then the Christ-Mystery but which afterwards became the Christ-Mystery. Julian, the recreant, the apostate, only knew the Sun-Mystery in the old form; he did not yet understand that it was the Christ-Mystery. That was his tragic fate; he was overtaken by the world-historic delusion of seeking to communicate to humanity the secret of the spiritual power of the Sun. This led to his being murdered on his march through Persia.
In the 19th century we have to record another spiritual undertaking which was directed by Ahrimanic powers to prevent mankind from knowing that of which I am now speaking: the Sun-Mystery in its connection with the other Mysteries. We must look at these things thoroughly in the face. What I am about to say would, if I were to mention it in any scientific society or the like, instead of to persons prepared for it, of course be counted as madness. But we need not consider that. The point is that the truth must be spoken; for the decision as to whether we or others are deluded must not come into the question. In the 19th century a concept was first fundamentally established which now dominates the whole of science and which, if it still continues to do so to an increasing extent, will never allow healthy concepts about the spiritual life to find a place. To the ideas disseminated concerning the basic principles of physics and chemistry belongs the fundamental concept of the “conservation of force,” of the “conservation of energy,” as accepted today. Wherever you investigate today you will hear it said that forces are simply converted. (The examples quoted are of course justified in every respect.) When I stretch out my hand over the table I use pressure, but force expended is not consumed thereby; it is transmuted into warmth. Thus are all forces transmuted. A transmutation of force, of energy, takes place. “Conservation of substance and force” is indeed a favorite expression, used more particularly by all scientific thoughts today. It is considered an axiom that nothing originates nor passes away as regards matter, energy, and force. If this is kept within its proper limits nothing can be said against it; but the science does not keep it within its limits but reduced it to a dogma, a scientific dogma.
Just in the 19th century a remarkable Ahrimanic practice of coarsening the concepts has come about. A wonderful and extremely brilliant essay on the “Conservation of energy” has appeared by Julius Robert Mayer. This essay, which appeared in the year 1844, was rejected at that time by most of the cultured thinkers in Germany; it was considered amateurish. Julius Robert Mayer was indeed later confined in an asylum. Today we know that he made a fundamental scientific discovery. But it had no effect, and we can easily prove that those who mention him in connection with this scientific law have not themselves read his work. There is a History of Philosophy by Überweg, in which Mayer is also mentioned; he is spoken of in a few lines only. But he who reads those few lines is at once aware that this classical writer of the History of Philosophy, which all students must plow through, has entirely misunderstood him. The subject has not entered men's souls in the fine intellectual manner in which it was treated by Mayer, but in a much coarser manner. That principally comes about because, not the thoughts of Julius Robert Mayer himself, but those of the English brewer Joule and of the physicist Helmholtz, ignoring completely the thoughts of Julius Robert Mayer, have permeated science. It is not always considered necessary nowadays to look these things in the face. These relationships ought, however, to be pointed out in our higher teaching institutions. People really ought to learn why Darwinism found such quick circulation. For, believe me, if Darwin's book “The Origin of Species and Natural Selection” had simply appeared as a book given to the public, it would not have gained popularity in all circles, and these opinions would have vanished in the clouds. No, the thought which is at the base of Darwinism was already prepared beforehand. In 1844, a long time before Darwin, a book of gleanings was compiled, which mentions in the most trivial manner all the things which Lemarck and others have said. It was a purely book-selling speculative enterprise inaugurated by Robert Chambers in Edinburgh, knowing that the instincts of the 19th century could be relied upon to push such a thing through. Into this pregnant atmosphere, Darwin threw his ideas. All he did was to connect and combine the theory of selection with the ideas of Lamarck, for these things have been known to English practitioners for a long time. A book had previously appeared, “Ship-building and Tree-culture” by Patrick Matthew, in which the theory of selection is openly pronounced. The ways along which these things penetrated the culture of the 19th century had to be disclosed some time. History, as it is presented, is a myth; and in most spheres is a great deception. We must really look at what actually happened. For it makes a difference whether a young man learns that he has to deal with a scientific reality, or merely with the thoughts of an English brewer, Joule; whether something was really established by the scientific observations of the 19th century, or whether he had to deal with an enterprise of the Edinburgh publisher and bookseller, Robert Chambers. The truth is then discovered aright. Mankind must above all take its stand on truth.
This concept of the absolute — not relative — imperishability of matter and force prevents men — and what I am saying might be established physiologically today, it is only the dogma of the “Conservation of Energy” which keeps men back from seeing it — this concept prevents them from recognizing where substance really does disappear into nothingness and new substance begins. And this unique place in the world — there are many such — is the human body. Substance is not merely passed through the human body, but during the process experienced in the soul in the synthesis of conception and dying, it happens physically that a certain substance which is taken by us in fact disappears, that forces pass away and are generated anew. The things which come into consideration in this connection are really older than one thinks; but no value is placed on these observations. If we carefully study the circulation of the blood inside the eye with the instruments which are perfect enough today to enable us to see such things externally, we shall be able to corroborate what I have just said, externally and physically. For it will be proved that the blood goes to the periphery of an organ, disappears into it, and is again generated out of it, in order to flow back again; so that we are not concerned with a “circulation of the blood,” but with an arising and passing away. These things exist, but the dogmatic concepts of present-day science prevents one from recognizing the cause underlying them, and the men of today are thus prevented from observing in their true reality certain processes and happenings which are absolutely real.
What does it mean to present-day science when men die, purely as physical beings? No notice is taken of this by science. On the other hand sciences is constantly studying the dead because it cannot get at the living, but it takes no notice of the fact of dying. An example of this was given to me only yesterday. In the year 1889 Hammerling was temporarily entombed in Graz. Later on he was transferred to another vault. The gentleman who made the discovery told me only yesterday that during the transference of the body from the temporary vault, the skull disappeared. He investigated the matter and found out that in the University-Museum a plaster cast had been taken of the skull. The skull, wrapped in newspaper, had been left somewhere and was only restored to the rest of the body in its grave because the matter was then discovered. Thus we concern ourselves with the death, but not with the fact of death. Yet this fact of death likewise leads to the perception of important things. I have already pointed to the fact, in one of my last lectures that this human dust takes quite a particular course. I pointed out that it really tries to take an upward path. The dust that comes from human beings, unlike other dust, would be disbursed into the whole Cosmos — no matter whether the corpse is cremated or decays — were it not taken possession of by the power of the Sun, by the forces which are the Sun. In fact that force, which shines from the surface of a brilliant stone, or which we see in the colors of the plants, is only one of the Sun forces, it is that force which Julian the Apostate called the ‘visible sun.’ We also have the ‘invisible Sun’ which lies at the back of the visible one, as does the soul behind the outer physical human body. This force, which of course does not come down with streams of physical ether but only lives again in it, animates the human dust in quite a special way; quite distinct from the way it animates anything else, either mineral, vegetable or animal dust. A continuous interaction takes place after death between what remains of the purely external, physical man and the forces which streamed down from the Sun — they encounter each other. The forces which streamed down to act upon the human dust are indeed those forces which the dead man, now become a soul-and-spirit individuality, himself discovers after death. Whereas we, when we are incarnated in the physical body, see the physical Sun, the dead man, when he has passed through the gate of death, discovers the Sun first as the Cosmic Being Who animates human dust on the Earth below. This is one discovery among the many others which the dead man makes after death. He learns of the interweaving of the Sun-force, the spiritual Sun-force, and the human dust. When he learns to know this web composed of human dust and Sun-force, he first really becomes acquainted with the secret of reincarnation; seen from the other side, the next incarnation is being prepared and woven out of the Cosmos. Besides this he learns to know from the other side certain facts upon which the secret of reincarnation depends, and of which we will also speak in the near future.
This enables us to grasp the concept of how very different the ideas of the inner life of the human soul are when the soul has passed through the gate of death, as compared with the experiences which it has here. After death these are quite different in the whole configuration of the soul. Just as here on Earth we alternate between sleeping and waking, so does the dead man alternate between different states of consciousness. I have already called your attention to this in these lectures, but I will once more characterize it briefly from another point of view.
Among other things we live here in the inner thoughts of our soul. The dead man enters a world of reality. This reality consists of what to us are merely thoughts. Whereas in physical life we perceive the external, mineral, vegetable and animal worlds, and have our physical world besides, that of which we only experience the shadowy reflection in our thoughts is immediately present to the dead man when he has passed through the gate of death. The world he then enters really bears the same relation to the physical world as do objects to their shadows here. In our thoughts we have only the shadow of what the dead experience; but they experience it differently from the way we experience our thoughts. They learn something more concerning thoughts from what man on earth does, at least in our present-day epoch. For we usually dream in respects to our thoughts. But the dead man experiences that while he thinks, he lives in his thoughts as in realities; he grows, he expands, he flourishes; but to the extent to which she ceases to think and no longer lives in thought, he declines, becomes thinner and sparer. Even coming into being and passing away are, after death, connected with living in thought and living outside thought. If it were the case here that men who did not wish to thank became thinner, a remarkable world might be seen. But we only experience the ineffectual shadows of thought, which have no real results. The dead man experiences thoughts as realities; which neither nourish nor devour him in his existence as soul and spirit. The time in which the thoughts either nourish or devour him is at the same time that in which he develops his super-sensible life of perception. He sees how thoughts stream into him and pass out again. It is not such a perception as we have in our ordinary consciousness, where we have only finished perceptions; but a passing stream of thought life, which always connects itself with his own being. No matter how many things a human being on earth can see, yet, when he has seen everything, he is still exactly the same as before: except that afterwards he generally knows something of what he was before, but at least his organization has not altered to any considerable extent. With the dead man it is different; he sees himself in continuous interchange with that which he perceives. That is one of his conditions; the perception of the flowing-in and the continuous flowing-out of a living stream of thought. The other is that this ceases, and a quiet recollection of what has flowed through him comes about; an intense and far-reaching memory, not our abstract memory, but one connected with the whole of the Universe. These two conditions alternate. For that reason the dead are really only receptive to thoughts such as those brought to them from Spiritual Science, or from a spiritual point of view. The thought-organization usually possessed by men of today does not really reach the dead; and the kind of thought which does penetrate to the dead is not much appreciated by the men of today. They like thoughts which they can gather in some way from the outer world. But thoughts which we can only have by working upon them inwardly, which inwardly and spiritually have already a trace of that which thoughts have after death — this mobility and life is not liked by men. It is far too difficult for the men of today. Therefore they are nicely seated in their laboratory, and are able to have a microscope and to study the cells under the microscope, they can make the necessary incision with a knife; they can study the incision and are able to work out other observations in some way or other. They can then write remarkable books such as Oskar Hertwig's “Birth of Organisms.” But the moment they begin to think, they can write senseless books such as those of the present Oskar Hertwig. The only difference is that for such a book as his second one, even “thought corpses” would not have been necessary. For natural-scientific books, thought corpses are necessary; but for books like the second one, living thoughts would have been necessary, and these he has not got! It is necessary really to love such thoughts and to be able to live them. The moment a man left behind on Earth wishes to build a bridge to the friend who has passed through the gate of death, with whom he is linked by karma, he needs at least a disposition of mind which inclines towards life of thought. If we have this disposition of mind our thoughts are really quite a considerable addition to the life of our dead friends, and make a great difference to the existence of those stand between death and rebirth. But if a vague feeling lives in men's souls about everything which the dead consider should be different on the Earth from what it is, the living have but little satisfaction in this thought. Such vague feelings exist; men fear that the opinion of the dead might prevail over much that men think, feel and do in physical life. They are not conscious of this fear; but it holds them chained to materialism. For the unconscious, though we may not be aware of it, is still active. With the courage of the thinker we must not only put soul into the conscious life of idea, but also into the profoundest depth of the human being. This must be said again and again, if Spiritual Science is to be taken in full earnest. The question is not that we should accept some sentence or other which someone or other finds interesting or important for himself, but that just as an organism moulds itself together out of many units, so all the units should form together in man a whole attitude of soul, which for our time can only be characterized from the most varied points of view, as I have attempted to do. It is absolutely necessary that there should be some people at the present day who know how to take Spiritual Science seriously from this point of view, realizing that it gives to our time and active, living thought-life; so that one person does not fall out with another when they are both really quite in agreement; that there is therefore no reason for us to adopt the tendency of crying out when someone says something about the horoscope. That is not looking at the matter properly.
An age in which such an attitude of soul prevails brings forth much more besides from its depths. Unfortunately one can only allude to this briefly; but the possibility had to be created of really looking that in the face which arises out of the necessities of our time, and which is expressing itself sufficiently in such a catastrophic manner. Some people are indeed beginning today to have serious thoughts. But one sees how difficult it is for people to free themselves from the unreal situation towards the world and mankind in which the souls of today are enmeshed. How frequent the question arises which I have referred to briefly today and which I will go into further in the near future, the question: What is the position occupied by Christianity during the past centuries and thousands of years, seeing that although it has been working for hundreds of years, yet the present-day conditions are possible? This question has been touched upon at different points. It can be seen that the materials necessary to answer it are not yet to be found among what mankind calls today the scientific or religious or any other kind of studies. Spiritual Science alone will be able to produce these materials. For it is indeed an earnest question: How is the present-day man to regard Christianity? — considering that it has indeed worked for a long time in the past and yet has allowed such conditions to come about today. Those men are certainly peculiar who demand that Christianity should go back again to some of the forms existing before these conditions, who does have no feeling for the fact that if we go back to the same thing, the same must again come out of it. These people will certainly not very easily admit that something new of a penetrating and intense nature must strike into spiritual life. More as to this in our next lecture.