Errors in Spiritual Investigation
Meeting the Guardian of the Threshold
Pitfalls await those on the path of spiritual knowledge. Dr. Steiner's poignant depiction of self-love can be especially helpful. This love rises like a force of nature in one who follows a spiritual path. He also explores the encounter with the double, the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman, the role of fear, and the polar tendencies toward phenomenology and mysticism.
Lecture 12 of 14 from the volume: Results of Spiritual Investigation The volume of the Complete Edition of the works of Rudolf Steiner containing the original text of the this lecture, among eight others, is entitled: Ergebnisse der Geistesforschung, (No. 62 in the Bibliographical Survey, 1961).
6 March 1913, Berlin
Just as it is of great significance in every realm of human endeavor and investigation to know not only the path of truth but also the sources of error, so it is especially the case in the realm dealt with by our lectures here, the realm of spiritual science, of spiritual investigation. In this realm one has to do not only with sources of error that can be eliminated to a certain extent through judgment and reasoning but with sources of error that accompany every step of the spiritual investigation of truth. One has to do with errors that must be not only refuted but overcome, conquered. Only by knowing them in such a way that one keeps, as it were, a spiritual eye on these experiences in their character as error will it be possible to guard oneself against them. It is not possible in relation to this realm to speak of individual truths or errors, but it is necessary to be clear through which activity of the soul, through which confusion of the soul, man can fall into untruth on the path of spiritual investigation.
It is easy to grasp that one wishing to penetrate to the super-sensible world first needs a healthy organ of perception, just as healthy sense organs are needed for outer sense observation. The second thing one needs, in addition to the organ of perception, is a corresponding development of clarity of consciousness, which can clearly oversee and judge the observations. Even in ordinary sense observation of life it is necessary that we have not only healthy senses but also a healthy consciousness, that is, a consciousness not befogged or confused, not paralyzed in a certain way. Both these qualities of the soul life in a higher stage come to be of even greater significance in the realm of spiritual investigation. A comparison from ordinary sense observation will help us to understand this. Suppose someone has an abnormally developed eye, for example. He will not be in a position to observe objects in as accurate and unprejudiced a way as they should be seen. From hundreds of possible examples let us consider just this one. A very significant natural scientist of our day, who is not in the least inclined to submit willingly to any delusion, had a certain eye condition, and he described in his biographical sketch how this eye condition misled him, particularly at dusk, causing him to see things unclearly and, through this unclear seeing, to arrive at false judgments. He described, for example, how he often walked through darkness and, due to his eye condition, would see a figure that he took to be real but that was nothing other than something called forth by his abnormal eye. He then related how he once went around the corner in a strange city and, because he believed the city to be unsafe, his eye induced him to see someone approaching and wishing to assault him; he even pulled out a weapon to defend himself. He therefore was not in a condition, despite complete knowledge of his organ impairment, to judge the situation correctly, to recognize that what his eye called forth was not there at all. Errors can occur in this way in all our sense organs. I bring this up only as a comparison.
In the recent lectures it was described how the human being, through a certain inner cultivation, evolution, of his soul, can develop into a real spiritual investigator, how he brings into use real organs of spirit through which he can look into the super-sensible world. These spiritual organs must be developed in the right way to make it possible to behold — in an analogy with sense perception — not caricature and untruth but the truth, the reality, of higher spiritual worlds. As we have seen, this development of the higher spiritual organs, which can be brought about by a rightly applied concentration, contemplation, and meditation, depends upon the starting point in ordinary, everyday life. Every human being who wishes to evolve upward to a view of the spiritual world must, and this is quite natural and proper, take his starting point from ordinary soul development, from what is right and normal for everyday life and also for ordinary science. Only from this starting point, by taking into the soul those mental processes (Vorstellungsarten) that we have presented as meditations and as other exercises, can the soul ascend again to an observation of the spiritual world.
The problem now is that at the starting point, that is, before the beginning of a spiritual training, the future spiritual investigator must be in possession of a sound power of judgment, a capacity for judgment proceeding from true conditions. Every starting point that does not result from a sound power of judgment, that surrenders itself to the object, leads to unsound organs of spiritual observation, which can be compared to abnormally developed sense organs. Here we are again at the point that we have often mentioned in previous lectures: the significance of what one can designate as the soul life of the spiritual investigator before he begins his development as a spiritual investigator, his training for spiritual investigation. An unsound power of judgment, lacking ability to observe objects in their reality, leads man to see facts and beings of the spiritual world as distorted or, as we shall see today, in many false ways. This is, as it were, the first important point in all development toward spiritual investigation. Spiritual scientific training makes it necessary to take as one's starting point a sound power of judgment, an interest in the true relationships of existence, even before the path to the super-sensible worlds is embarked upon. Everything that readily surrenders itself to illusion in the soul, that readily judges in an arbitrary way, that represents in the soul a certain unsound logic, leads also to the development of unsound spiritual organs.
The other starting point that is of essential significance is the moral mood of soul. The moral ability, the moral force, is as important as sound logic and intelligence, for if unsound logic, if unsound intelligence, lead to faulty spiritual organs, so will a cowardly (schwachmuetig) or immoral mood at the beginning of the spiritual training lead one ascending into the spiritual world to a certain fogginess, a “stupor”, we could call it. One thus faces the higher world in a state of what one must designate as a kind of paralysis, even a loss of consciousness (Ohnmacht). It must be noted, however, that in the stage of soul development referred to here, that which is called losing consciousness, a stupor, cannot be compared with the loss of consciousness, the paralysis, of ordinary, everyday consciousness. In ordinary consciousness, losing consciousness occurs in relation to the areas of everyday life. Losing consciousness in the spiritual world means a stupor, a fogging; it means the saturation of consciousness with all that can stem from the ordinary sense world or from the ordinary experience of the day. The spiritual investigator who is in error cannot be befogged or unconscious to the same degree as in ordinary consciousness, but he can be unconscious in relation to the spiritual world by being filled in the spiritual field of consciousness with that which has justification only through its properties and way of appearing in ordinary sense and intellectual consciousness.
By taking such elements along into the spiritual world, the spiritual investigator dims his higher consciousness. The matter can be presented in the following way. Dimming of consciousness, impairment of the ordinary behavior of soul in everyday life, is like a penetration of sleep or of the dreams into the clear, everyday consciousness. A stupor, a fogging of the higher, super-sensible consciousness, however, is like a penetration of ordinary, everyday consciousness — the consciousness that we carry around with us in the ordinary world — into that consciousness in which it no longer belongs, into the consciousness that should oversee and judge the facts of the higher, super-sensible worlds purely and clearly. Any kind of immoral or weak moral mood, any kind of moral untruthfulness, leads to such a fogging of super-sensible consciousness. Among the essential and most significant aspects of preparing for a spiritual scientific training, therefore, is a corresponding moral development, and, if you go through my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, you will find special practices for the soul through which this appropriate moral mood can be established. Of particular damage in this striving is everything that overcomes man in ordinary life in the way of vanity, ambition, the ordinary sense of self, and a particular sympathy for this or that experience. Inner tranquility, impartiality, a loving penetration of things and worlds, an attentive interest in everything life offers, but especially a certain moral courage, a standing up for what one recognizes as true, are proper starting points for a spiritual scientific training.
From what has been said in preceding lectures, it should be clear that all spiritual training consists of an awakening of certain spiritual forces that exist in the soul but that slumber in ordinary life and must be developed. The spiritual organs and the super-sensible consciousness can be developed only when forces lying peacefully in the depths of the soul, forces that are weak or not at all developed in ordinary life, are really brought into consciousness.
The following can be seen from what has been said. Two things appear when man, through appropriate meditation, through concentrating his whole life of soul on individual mental images called into consciousness by his free will, tries to draw forth these forces resting in the depths of his soul. First, a quality that is always present in the soul but that in ordinary life can be kept relatively in check will be intensified, along with the other slumbering qualities in the depths of the soul; spiritual development cannot take place in any other way than by the whole soul life becoming in a certain respect inwardly more active, more infused with energy. This quality that is intensified at the same time as the others that one is trying directly to intensify one can call human self-love, sense of self. One could say that one begins to know this human self-love, this sense of self, only when one goes through a spiritual scientific training; only then does one begin to know how deep within the human soul this self-love slumbers. As has been pointed out already, he who engages in the exercises described in past lectures, thus intensifying his soul forces, notices at a certain moment in his development that another world enters his soul life. He must be able to notice, to have the knowledge to recognize, that the first form (Gestalt) in which the new, super-sensible world appears is nothing other than a projection, a shadow image, of his own inner soul life. These forces that he has developed in his soul life appear to him first in a mirror image. This is the reason that the materialistic thinker easily mistakes what appears in the soul life of the spiritual investigator for what can appear in the unhealthy soul life as illusions, visions, hallucinations, and the like. That objections from this side rest on ignorance of the facts has often been pointed out; this distinction, however, must be alluded to again and again. The unhealthy soul life, which beholds its own essence as in a mirror image, takes its own reflections for a real world and is not in a position to eliminate these reflections through inner choice. By comparison, in a true spiritual training it must be maintained that the spiritual investigator recognizes the first phenomena that appear as reflections of his own being; not only does he recognize them as such, but he is able to eliminate them, to extinguish them from his field of consciousness.
Just as the spiritual investigator is able through his exercises to intensify his soul forces so that a new world is conjured before him, so he must be able to extinguish this whole world in its first form; he must not only recognize it as a reflection of his own being but be able to extinguish it again. If he could not extinguish it, he would be in a situation comparable to something that occurs in sense observation and that would be unbearable, impossible in an actual development of the human soul. Imagine in ordinary sense observation that a person directed his eyes to an object and became so attracted to it that he could not avert his gaze. The person would not be able to look around freely but would be tied to the object. This would be an unbearable situation in relation to the outer world. With a spiritual development, it would mean exactly the same in relation to the super-sensible world if a person were not in the position to turn from his spiritual observation and extinguish what presents itself as image to his spiritual observation. He must pass the test expressed in the words, “You are able to extinguish your image,” overcoming himself in this extinguishing; if the image returns, so that he can know his reality in a corresponding way, then only does he face reality and not his own imaginings (Einbildung). The spiritual investigator therefore must be able not only to create his own spiritual phenomena and to approach them but also to extinguish them again.
What does this mean, however? It means nothing less than the need for an immensely strong force to overcome the sense of self, self-love. Why does the abnormal soul life, which arrives at visions, hallucinations, and crazy notions, see these creations as realities and not as emanations from its own being? Because the human being feels himself so connected, so bound, to what he himself brings forth that he would believe himself destroyed if he could not look at what he himself brings forth as a reality. If a human being leaves the ordinary world with an abnormal soul life, his self-love becomes so intensified that it works like a force of nature. Within the ordinary soul life we can distinguish very clearly between so-called fantasy and what is reality, for within the ordinary soul life we have a certain power over our mental images. Any person is aware of this power whose soul has been capable of eliminating certain mental images when it recognizes their error. We are in a different situation in relation to the outer world when we are confronted with forces of nature; when lightning flashes, when thunder rolls, we have to let the phenomena take their course; we cannot tell the lightning not to flash or the thunder not to roll.
With the same inner force, however, the sense of self appears in us when we leave the ordinary soul life; as little as we can forbid lightning to flash so little can we forbid self-love from appearing, developed into a force of nature, if it is only a reflection of one's own being, that which the soul presents as an image of its own being, perceived as a real outer world. From this one can see, therefore, that the self-education of the spiritual investigator must consist chiefly of overcoming piece by piece self-love, the sense of self. Only if this is accomplished at every stage of spiritual development through a strict self-observation will one come to be able at last to erase a spiritual world when it appears as described. This means to be in the position of allowing that which one has striven for with all one's might to fall into oblivion. Something must be developed through spiritual training (one can find this presented more precisely in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds) that actually does not exist at all in man's free will in ordinary life. If man in ordinary life undertakes to do something, he wants to do it if he neglects to do something, he doesn't want to do it. One must say that in ordinary life man is in the position of applying his will impulses. To extinguish, in the way I described, the spiritual world that appears, the will must not only have the described faculties but must be able, after the spiritual world appears, slowly to weaken itself bit by bit, to the point of utter will-lessness, even to the point of extinguishing itself. Such a cultivation of the will is accomplished only when the exercises for the soul, described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, are followed systematically. When we awaken the slumbering forces in our soul, self-love, the sense of self, are intensified. This intensification leads us under certain circumstances to consider as an outer reality that which we actually are ourselves, that which lies only within us.
Another thing that is necessary when the soul undergoes appropriate exercises for a spiritual training is for man, at a certain level of this development, actually to forsake everything in his consciousness, everything that in his life up to now gave him in outer, everyday life and in ordinary science the content of truth, security in truth, everything that gave him the possibility of considering something as reality. As indicated already in previous lectures, all supports that we have for our judgments in ordinary life, all basic reference points given us by the sense world, which teaches us how we must think about reality, must be forsaken. After all, we want through the spiritual training to enter a higher world. The spiritual investigator at an appropriate stage of his development now sees, “You can no longer have a support in the world that you want to enter; you can no longer have the support of outer sense perception, of the intellectual judgment you have acquired, which otherwise guided you correctly through life”; when he has seen this, then comes the all-important, serious moment in the life of the spiritual investigator when he feels as if the ground is gone from under his feet, as if the support that he has had in ordinary life is gone, as if all security that has carried him up to now is gone and that he approaches an abyss into which with every further step he will surely fall. This must in a certain way become an experience in the spiritual training. That this experience not be accompanied by every possible danger is the primary concern of a true spiritual training today.
An attempt has been made to explain this more fully in the book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. If one undergoes the exercises offered there, one comes step by step to a point at which one feels what has just been described; one feels oneself as if over an abyss. One has already become so tranquil in one's soul, however, that one beholds the situation with a newly acquired, special faculty of judgment; therefore the fear, terror, and horror that otherwise needs must overtake the human soul in a dangerous way — not an ordinary, everyday fear — do not appear. One learns to know the basis of the fear, terror, and horror, but one has already progressed so as to achieve a mood in which one can endure it without fear.
Here we are again at a point at which it becomes necessary for the soul to recognize the truth and not fall into error, because the support that one has in ordinary life has disappeared, and the soul feels itself as if placed over an abyss. This must occur in order that, out of the emptiness, that which is fully spiritual in the world can approach the soul.
What in ordinary life is called anxiety, fear, will be intensified through such a training, expanded, just as self-love and the sense of self are intensified and expanded, growing into a kind of force of nature. Something must be said here that perhaps sounds paradoxical. In ordinary life if we have not struggled through to a certain courage, if we are cowards, we are frightened by this or that event if we have courage, however, we can endure it. In the region of the soul life we have described, fear, terror, and horror will approach us, but we must be in the position, as it were, not to be afraid of the fear, not to be horrified by the horror, not to become anxious with the anxiety that confronts us. This is the paradox, but it corresponds exactly with an actual soul experience that appears in this realm.
Everything that the human being experiences on entering the spiritual world is designated ordinarily as the experience with the Guardian of the Threshold. I tried to describe something concrete about this experience in my Mystery Drama, The Guardian of the Threshold. Here it only need be mentioned that at a certain stage of spiritual development, man learns to know his inner being as it can love itself with the force of an event of nature, as it can be frightened and horrified on entering the spiritual world. This experience of our own self, of the intensified self of that inner being that otherwise never would come before our soul, is the soul-shaking event called the Meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold. Only by having this meeting will one acquire the faculty to differentiate truth from error in the spiritual world.
Why this experience is called the Meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold is easily comprehensible. It is clear that the spiritual world that man enters is always around us and that man is unaware of it in ordinary life only because he does not have the appropriate organs to perceive it. The spiritual world surrounds us always and is always behind that which the senses perceive. Before man can enter this world, however, he must strengthen his ego, his I. With the strengthening of the ego, however, the aforementioned qualities also appear. He therefore must learn above all else to know himself, so that when he is able to confront a spiritual outer world in the same way as he confronts an objective being he can distinguish himself from what is truth. If he does not learn to delimit himself in this way, he will always confuse that which is only within him, that which is only his subjective experience, with the spiritual world picture; he can never arrive at a real grasp of spiritual reality.
To what extent fear plays a certain role on entering the spiritual world can be observed particularly in the people who deny the existence of such a world. Among such people are also many who have different reasons for denying this spiritual world, but a great portion of those people who are theoretical materialists or materialistically tinged monists have a definite reason for denying this spiritual world, a reason that is clearly visible for one who knows the soul. We must now emphasize that the soul life of the human being is, as it were, twofold. In the soul not only does there exist what man ordinarily knows, but in the depths of the soul life things are happening that cast their shadows — or their lights — into ordinary consciousness. Ordinary consciousness, however, does not reach down to this level. We can find in the hidden depths of soul hatred and love, joy and fear and excitement, without our carrying these effects into conscious soul life. It is therefore entirely correct to say that a phenomenon of hatred directed from one person to another, taking place within consciousness, actually can be rooted, in the depths of soul, in love. There can be a sympathy, a deep sympathy, of one person for another in the depths of the soul, but since this person at the same time has reasons — reasons about which he perhaps knows nothing — he is confused about this love, about the sympathy, deceiving himself with hatred and antipathy. This is something that holds sway in the depths of the soul, so that these depths look quite different from what we call our everyday consciousness. There can be conditions of fear, of anxiety, in the depths of the soul of which one has no conscious idea. Man can have that fear in the depths of his soul, that anxiety in face of the spiritual world — because he must cross the abyss that has been described before entering — and yet be aware of nothing consciously. Actually, all human beings who have not yet entered the spiritual world, but who have acquired an understanding of entering, have to a degree this fear, this terror in face of the spiritual world. Whatever one may think concerning this fear and anxiety that are within the depths of the soul, they are there, though they appear stronger with one person, weaker with another. Because the soul might be injured, man is protected by the wisdom-filled nature of his being from being able to look further into the spiritual world, from being able to have the experience of meeting the Guardian of the Threshold until he is ready for it. Before that he is protected. Therefore one speaks of the experience of the Guardian of the Threshold.
We can note that a materialistically or monistically minded person, although knowing nothing of this experience, does have this fear in face of the spiritual world in the depths of his soul. There lives in such a person a certain antipathy to confronting the abyss that must be crossed; and to help him get past this fear, this anxiety in the soul in face of the spiritual world, the monist or materialist thinks out his theories and denies the spiritual world; this denial is nothing other than a self-induced anesthesia in face of his fear. This is the real explanation for materialism. As unsympathetic as it may sound, for one who knows the soul it is evident that in a meeting of materialistic monists, or those who deny soul and spirit, there prevails only the fear in the face of the spiritual world. One could say mockingly that fear-mongering is the basis of materialism, and although it is mocking it is nevertheless true. In materialistic literature, in the materialistic world conception, the spiritual investigator recognizes everywhere between the lines fear and anxiety in face of the spiritual world. What in ordinary life appears as materialism, however, as the soul condition present when a person is a materialist or a materialistically tinged monist, can also be present when a person arrives through definite measures at a certain spiritual vision. One can go through certain exercises in the soul and develop thereby from a more-or-less unhealthy soul condition to a more-or-less spiritual comprehension, yet one need not come by this means to a real understanding of the nature of the spiritual world. In a certain way one can carry up into the spiritual something of this fear about which one knows nothing, which has already been characterized and which underlies the materialistically minded person in the ordinary world.
If one does not grasp this connection, one can carry up into the spiritual world something that is terribly widespread in ordinary life: the love of ease of thinking, the love of ease of feeling. Fear is closely akin to love of ease, to clinging to habit. Why is man afraid of changing his situation? Because he loves his ease and comfort. This love of ease is closely related to fear. We have already described the basis for hatred; in the same way one can also say that lassitude, love of ease, are closely related to fear. One can, however, carry this love of ease up into the spiritual world. No one ought to object that human beings show no evidence of fear or love of ease, for this is again characteristic; it is characteristic that the ordinary mood of soul knows nothing of these things rooted in the subconscious. If man carries fear into the spiritual world, already having developed to the point of acknowledging the spiritual world, then an error arises in a spiritual region, an error that is extraordinarily important to consider the leaning toward phenomenalism.
People who become subject to this leaning become, rather than spiritual investigators, “specterseers” (to express it crassly), those who see ghosts (Gespensterschauer); they become possessed by a leaning toward phenomenalism. This means that they want to see the spiritual world in the same way as the sense world is to be seen; they do not want to perceive spiritual facts, spiritual beings, but something similar to the beings that the sensory eye can behold. In short, instead of spirits they want to behold specters, ghosts. The error of spiritualism (this is not to say that all spiritualism is unjustified) consists of this leaning toward phenomenalism. Just as the ordinary, everyday materialist wants to see only matter everywhere and not the spirit behind matter, so does he who brings to the spiritual world the same soul condition that actually exists in materialism want to see everywhere only ghostlike, condensed spirits.
This is one dangerous extreme of error that can emerge. One must say that this tendency to carry the ordinary field of consciousness up into the super-sensible field of consciousness exists in the widest circles, even among those who fully recognize a “spiritual world” and want “proof” of a spiritual world. The error here, however, lies in considering a proof valid only if it takes place in the realm of phenomenalism; it lies in considering that everything should be like condensed ghosts. Here something arises that was called in the beginning of our study a stupor, losing consciousness in relation to the spiritual world. While losing consciousness in ordinary life is the penetration of a sleeping or dreaming condition into consciousness, losing consciousness regarding the spiritual world means wanting to give worth only to that which appears in the same way as things in the ordinary world, so that one is unconscious in relation to the spiritual world; it is demanded that proof be supplied that can be taken in the way appropriate only in the ordinary world. Just as one brings sleep into the ordinary world if one falls unconscious, so one falls unconscious in relation to the beings and processes of the spiritual world if one takes into the super-sensible world that which is only an extract of sense reality (das Sinnliche). The true spiritual investigator also knows those realms of the spiritual world that condense into the ghostlike, but he knows that everything arriving at such a condensation is merely the dying, the withering in the spiritual world. When, for example, with the help of a medium, something is brought to life as the thoughts of a deceased person, we are confronted only with what remains behind, as it were, of the deceased. We are not dealing with that which goes through the portal of death, which passes through the spiritual world and appears again in a new earthly life. We are concerned in such a case not with what is present in the individuality of the dead person but with the sheath that is cast off, the wooden part of the tree, or the shell of a shellfish, or the skin of the snake that is cast off. In the same way, such sheaths, such useless remnants, are continuously being cast off from the being of the spiritual world and then, by way of a medium, they can be made perceptible — although as visible unreality. The spiritual investigator knows, to be sure, that he is not confronting an unreality. He does not surrender himself to the error, however, that in encountering the described phenomenon he is confronted with something fertile, with something sprouting and budding; rather he knows it as something dying, withering. At the same time it must be emphasized that in the sense world, when one confronts error, one is dealing with something that must be ignored, that must be eliminated as soon as it is recognized as error, whereas in the spiritual world one cannot cope with error in the same way. There, an error corresponds to the dying, the withering, and the error consists of mistaking the dying and withering in the spiritual world for something fruitful or full of significance. Even in the life of the ordinary human being, error is something one casts off; in the spiritual world error arises when the dead, the dying, is taken for something fruitful, sprouting; one mistakes the dead remnants that have been cast off for immortality.
How deeply the best individuals of our time have been entangled in this kind of phenomenalism, considering only such proof as valid, we can see in an individual who wrote so many excellent things about the world and now has written a book about these phenomena, about these different phenomena of spiritual investigation. I am referring to Maurice Maeterlinck and his book, About Death. We read there that he acknowledges a spiritual world but as proof acknowledges only what appears in phenomenalism. He does not notice that he tries to find in phenomenalism that which can never be found in phenomenalism. Then he criticizes the “phenomena” very acutely, very effectively. He does notice, however, that all this actually has no particular meaning and that the human soul after death does not exhibit a very intense vitality, that it behaves rather awkwardly, as though groping in the dark. Since he wants to admit only this kind of proof, he generally does not acknowledge spiritual investigation but remains stuck.
We see how the possibility of error opens itself to someone who would gladly recognize the spiritual world but is unable to do so, because he does not demand spiritual investigation but rather “specter investigation” and does not make use of what reality can give. His newest book is extraordinarily interesting from this point of view.
In the leaning toward phenomenalism we thus have the one extreme among the possibilities for error in spiritual investigation. The other extreme among the possibilities for error is ecstasy, and between phenomenalism and ecstasy, in knowing both, lies the truth, or at least truth can be reached if one knows both. The path of error, however, lies as much on the side of phenomenalism as on the side of ecstasy. We have seen what soul condition leads into the wish to acknowledge only phenomenalism. It is fear, horror, which man does not admit, which he tries to conceal. Because he is afraid to abandon all sense reality and to make the leap over the abyss, he accepts sense reality, demands the specters, and arrives thereby only at the dying, at that which destroys itself: This is one source of error. The other force of the soul, intensified through the exercises often described here is self-love, sense of self; self-love has as its polarity — one would like to say — the “getting out of oneself.” This “enjoying oneself in oneself” (pardon the expression; it is a radical choice but points exactly to what we are concerned with here) is only one side; the other side consists of “losing oneself in the world,” the surrender and dissolving and self-enjoyment in the other and the corresponding intensification of this self-seeking coming-out-of-one's self is ecstasy in its extreme. It is the cause of a condition in which man in a certain respect can say to himself that he has gotten free of himself. He has become free of himself, however, only by feeling the comfort of his own self in the being outside himself. If the one who knows the soul looks at the evolution of mysticism in the world, he finds that a large part of mysticism consists of the phenomena just characterized. As great, as powerful in soul experiences, as deep and significant as mysticism can be, the possibilities of error in ecstasy are actually rooted in a false cultivation of the mystical faculty of the human being. When man strives always to enter more and more into himself, when he strives through this for what is called the deepening of his soul life, strives, as he says, to find “God in himself” this God that man finds in his inner being is usually nothing other than his own I or ego made into God. With many mystics we find, when they speak of the “God within,” nothing other than the God imprinted with their own egos. Mystical immersion in God is at times nothing but immersing oneself into one's own dear ego, especially into the parts of the ego into which one does not penetrate with full consciousness, so that one surrenders one's self, loses one's self, comes out of one's self, and yet remains only within one's self. Much that confronts us as mysticism shows that with false mystics love of God is often only disguised self-love.
The real spiritual investigator must guard himself on the one hand against carrying the outer sense world into the higher world; he must guard on the other hand against the opposite extreme, against false mysticism, the coming-out-of-oneself. He must never confuse “love for the spiritual being of the world” with self-love. In the moment that he confuses these, the following occurs, as the true spiritual investigator, who has developed himself correctly, can verify. Just as one who is compelled by phenomenalism beholds only the remnants, the dying of the spiritual world, so he who surrenders himself to the other extreme sees only individual parts of the spiritual world, not spiritual facts and beings. In the spiritual world he does not do what one who contemplates the flowers in a meadow does; rather, he does what the one does who takes what grows in the field, chops it up and eats it. This comparison is peculiar but absolutely to the point. Through ecstasy the spiritual facts are not grasped in their wholeness, their totality, but only in that which pleases and benefits one's own soul, that which the soul can consume spiritually. It is actually a consumption of spiritual substance that is cultivated in the human being through ecstasy. Just as little as one learns to know things of this sense world by eating them, so little does one learn to know the forces and beings of the spiritual world through giving oneself to ecstasy in order to warm one's own self with what feels good. One thereby comes to a definite knowledge only of one's own self in relation to the spiritual world. One lives only in a heightened sense of self, a heightened self-love, and because one takes in from the spiritual world only that which can be consumed spiritually, which can be eaten spiritually, one deprives oneself of that which cannot be handled in this way, of that which stands apart from the nourishment gained through ecstasy. What one deprives oneself of, however, is by far the greatest part of the spiritual world, and the mystic who clings to ecstasy is deprived more and more. We find with mystics who ascend to the spiritual world through ecstasy that it is exactly as if they were always indulging themselves through repeating feelings and sensations. Many presentations of such mystics appear not as objective presentations of the conditions of the spiritual world but as though the one who gives the presentation were indulging in what he presents. Many mystics are actually nothing but spiritual gourmets, and the rest of the spiritual world, which does not taste good to them, does not even exist for them.
We see again how concepts change when we ascend from the ordinary world into the higher world. If in the ordinary world we occupy ourselves only with our own concepts, we become poorer and poorer, our logic becomes ever poorer. Finally we find that we can no longer find our orientation, and anyone who knows the facts can set us straight. In the ordinary world we correct this meagerness by widening our concepts. In the spiritual world, that which corresponds to ecstasy leads to something else. By taking into us realities, and not something unreal — but taking in only isolated parts, after picking out what suits us — we receive a view of the spiritual world that is only suited to ourselves. We carry ourselves into the spiritual world just as in the other extreme, in phenomenalism, we carry the sense world into the spiritual world. It can always be shown in the case of one who arrives at a false picture of the world through ecstasy that he began from an unsound force of judgment, from an incomplete factual logic.
We thus see how the spiritual investigator always must avoid the two extremes that bring him to every possible source of error: phenomenalism on the one hand and ecstasy on the other. In order to avoid the sources of error, nothing will be more helpful than for the spiritual investigator to cultivate one particular mood of soul, through which he is in a position, when he places himself in the spiritual world, to exist in the spiritual world, to be able to observe calmly in that world. One cannot always remain in the spiritual world, however, so long as one is in the physical body; one must also live with the physical world; therefore this mood of soul that the spiritual investigator must cultivate allows him in the physical world to strive as much as possible to grasp the facts of life with common sense, without sentimentality and untruthfulness. It is necessary for the spiritual investigator, to a much higher degree than is ordinarily the case, to have a healthy sense for facts, a genuine feeling for truthfulness. All fanaticism, all inaccuracy, which make it so easy to skirt what is really there, are harmful for the spiritual investigator. One can see already in ordinary life, and it becomes clear immediately in the realm of spiritual training, that lie who lets himself indulge only the least bit in inaccuracy will notice that it is only a tiny step from inaccuracy to lies and untruthfulness. The spiritual investigator, therefore, must strive to feel himself obliged to hold firmly to the truth, to mix nothing with the unconditional truth that exists in ordinary life, for in the spiritual world such a mixing leads from error to error. In those circles wishing to have anything to do with spiritual investigation, the justified opinion should be spread that an outer, distinguishing characteristic of the true spiritual investigator must be his truthfulness; the moment the spiritual investigator demonstrates that he feels little obligation to test what he says, speaking rather of things he cannot know about the physical world, he becomes flawed as a spiritual investigator and no longer can merit a full trust. This is connected with the conditions for spiritual investigation itself.
It must be brought to our attention again and again that, when the realms of spiritual investigation and spiritual science are spoken of today, it is unjustified to claim that only the spiritual investigator can see into the spiritual world and that one who is not yet a spiritual investigator is unable to know and understand and grasp it. You can learn from the descriptions in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, and from my presentation in An Outline of Occult Science that in our era to a certain degree every person, if only he makes the necessary effort, can become a spiritual investigator, no matter what his position in life is otherwise. Nevertheless, it is also possible for a person to understand the descriptions of the spiritual world without being a spiritual investigator. It is necessary to be a spiritual investigator not in order to understand the communications from the spiritual world but in order to discover them, to investigate what is present in the spiritual world. One must be a painter in order to paint a picture, but one need not be a painter to understand a picture; it is the same with understanding communications from the spiritual world with the sound human intellect. It is in order to investigate the spiritual world that the human being is endowed with the higher organs of observation. If what is investigated, however, is brought into the concepts of the ordinary world, as is often attempted here, the sound human intellect can, if only it is sufficiently unprejudiced and does not create obstructions for itself, grasp what is brought to light through spiritual investigation.
One could say that with spiritual investigation it is the same as it is with what grows under the earth and is found only when one digs into the earth like a miner. Whatever one finds there can originate only as it exists within the earth, developing in those layers of the earth that are covered by layers above it. What is in the depths of the earth cannot develop on the surface of the earth, which is illuminated by the sun during the day. If we then make an opening in the earth, however, and let the sunlight shine in, illuminating what is underneath, everything can appear in the light of the sun. It is the same with what can be gained through spiritual scientific investigation: it can be brought to light only if the soul has transformed itself into an organ of perception for the spiritual world. If it is brought into the concepts and mental images of ordinary life, however, then the human intellect, if only it is sufficiently sound, can understand and illuminate everything as if with spiritual sunlight. All of spiritual science, therefore, can be grasped by the sound human intellect. Just as a painting is not made merely for the painter himself, so the communications about the spiritual world are not only for the spiritual scientific investigator. Nevertheless, paintings are able to originate only through the painter, and the spiritual world can be explored only by the spiritual investigator.
He who believes that what comes from the communications of the spiritual investigator cannot be grasped by means of the ordinary intellect does not perceive at all correctly the nature and essence of the human capacity for thinking. In the human capacity for thinking reside faculties that stand in direct connection with the nature of the higher world. Because man is accustomed to approach only the ordinary sense objects with his concepts, he believes that the ordinary faculty of judgment vanishes in him if super-sensible facts are presented to him. He who develops his capacity for thinking, however, can cultivate this capacity in such a way that it can grasp what is brought to light through spiritual investigation. One must not have some notion beforehand, however, of how one can grasp such matters. This should result from the study itself. If one has a definite notion of how one should grasp these things, one surrenders oneself again to a serious error in relation to spiritual investigation. This is the second aspect that is especially noticeable in Maurice Maeterlinck's new book. He is an individual who wishes to direct his gaze to the spiritual world, who has made some fine observations about various things, and who has also tried to present the mysteries of the spiritual world dramatically; it is especially telling that this individual, in the moment in which he should approach the real science of the spirit, proves himself so inadequate. He demands a certain kind of understanding — not the kind given by the things themselves but the kind he imagines (ertraeumt), which he believes must appear to provide verification. In this way the greatest peculiarity arises: Maeterlinck takes to be merely a belief that which anthroposophy or spiritual science has to say when it speaks today about “repeated earthly lives” — when it speaks with a certain outer justification (not with a merely inner conviction, which would be akin to a certain primitive belief of humanity). He calls it a belief, because he cannot perceive that what we are concerned with here does not have to do with belief but with knowledge. He thus finds that the existence of that which develops further in man, moving from life to life, cannot be proved, because he has a definite idea of what constitutes proof. Maeterlinck can be compared in this realm to certain other people. Until recently, there existed a kind of belief, a certain mathematical-geometrical belief that is summarized in the words, the “squaring of the circle”; that is, one would seek by means of a mathematical-analytical, constructive thinking for that square which equaled the area or the circumference of the circle. This task of transforming the circle into a square was an ideal, as it were, toward which one always strove: the transforming of the circle into a square. Now, no one doubted that there could be a square exactly as large as a circle. In reality, of course, it is entirely possible for such a thing to exist, but it is impossible to show with mathematical constructions or with analytical methods just what the diameter of a circle would have to be to equal a particular square. This means that mathematical thinking does not suffice to prove something that is real, that is physical. There have been countless people who have worked on the solution of squaring the circle, until recent mathematicians proved that it is impossible to solve the problem in this way. Today anyone still trying to solve the problem of squaring the circle is considered not to know mathematics in this realm. Maeterlinck is equivalent to those people trying to square the circle in regard to what he is trying to prove. One can understand the spiritual world, can grasp that what is brought to light through spiritual investigation is real; one cannot prove the existence of this spiritual world, however, if one demands out of prejudice a particular kind of proof; one can prove it in this way as little as one can prove the squaring of a circle mathematically.
One would have to reply to Maeterlinck, therefore, that he tries to square the circle in the spiritual realm, or he would have to be shown how the concepts by which he would like to prove the existence of the spiritual world disappear when man passes through the portal of death. How is one supposed to prove the existence of the spiritual world with concepts such as those taken from the sense world? This, however, is what Maeterlinck is trying to do, and it is extraordinarily interesting that when he gives in to his healthy feeling, he has no choice but to acknowledge repeated lives on earth. It is very interesting how he expresses himself about a knowledge that he calls a belief, and I would like to read to you his own words: ‘Never was there a belief more beautiful, more just, more pure, more morally fruitful, more comforting, and in a certain sense more probable than this. With its teaching of gradual redemption and purification of all bodily and spiritual inequities, of all social injustice, all terrible’ injustices of destiny, it alone gives meaning to life. The goodness of a belief, however, is no proof of its truthfulness. Although six hundred million human beings devote themselves to this religion, although it is closest to the origins that are shrouded in darkness, although it is the only one without hatred, it should have done what the others have not done: bring us indisputable evidence. What it has given us up to now is only the first shadow of the beginning of a proof.” In other words, Maeterlinck is trying in this realm to square the circle.
We see especially clearly in this example how someone who can think that the benefit of spiritual science lies only in an extreme, in phenomenalism (all his writings show this), is totally unable to keep in view the significance and the real nature of spiritual scientific investigation. From such an example as Maeterlinck, we can learn a lot, namely that truth, which must be introduced into the world evolution of humanity, is really, when it first appears, in the position once characterized by Schopenhauer with the words, “In all centuries poor truth had to blush over being paradoxical.” To Maeterlinck, truth appears not just paradoxical but unbelievable, yet it is not the fault of truth. Truth cannot take on the form of the universally reigning error. Thus she looks sighing to her patron god, Time, which promises her victory and glory, but whose vast wings beat so slowly that she dies in the meantime. So it goes with the course of the spiritual evolution of humanity. It is most interesting and instructive that the best individuals today, those human beings who long to have their soul life connected with a spiritual world, are not capable of grasping the core of the actual science of the spirit. Instead, where it involves distinguishing the true path from the two possibilities for error, they stumble, because they do not dare leap over the abyss; they wish either to make use of their dependence on the ordinary world, in phenomenalism, or, if they do not do this, they seek an intensification of the sense of self in ecstasy. We cannot concern ourselves only with recognizing the character of the separate possibilities for error; we must concern ourselves with that which humanity must avoid if one is to recognize and close up the source of spiritual scientific error. From the way in which today's study has been undertaken, one conclusion can be drawn: spiritual investigation must know the sources of error. The temptation is always present in the soul to err in the direction of phenomenalism, and therefore to stand as though spiritually unconscious in relation to the spiritual world, or to err in the direction of ecstasy, which means wanting to enter the spiritual world with inadequate organs of spirit and thus receiving only isolated pieces and not related facts.
The path goes between the two extremes. One must know the possibilities for error. Because they can appear with every step in spiritual life one must not only know them but overcome them. The revelations of spiritual investigation are not only results of investigation but also victories over error, victory by means of a way of looking that has been gained previously, victory over the sense of self and more. He who penetrates more deeply into what we have tried to describe only sketchily today will become aware that — even if everywhere where we embark on the investigation of spiritual life the possibilities for error can lurk frighteningly — we nevertheless must conquer error again and again. He will become aware that spiritual investigation not only satisfies an indomitable yearning for that which man needs for certainty in his life but that its goal must appear, to one who regards this movement with comprehension, as attainable to a sound human sense. To conclude what today's lecture was to offer on the level of feeling, I would like to say that in spite of all obstacles, in spite of all things that can stand in a hostile way on the path of spiritual investigation, those who penetrate with a sound sense into the results of spiritual scientific. investigation feel and sense that these results penetrate — through difficult hindrances of soul, through bewildering darknesses of spirit — to a solemn clarity, to a luminous truth.