The Temple Legend
10. Evolution and Involution as they are Interpreted by Occult Societies
23 December 1904, Berlin *Lecture 10, Berlin, 23rd
Source for the text.
Derived only from shorthand notes by Franz Seiler, re-checked for the 1979 G.A. publication in German.
In my former series of lectures I have been speaking about occult schools and secret societies, and I think it right today to bring this whole course of lectures to a close before we pass on to a different subject next time. A week from now I shall speak about the meaning of the days connected in the Church Calendar with the Christmas Festival — most especially about Epiphany, which follows on the less important New Year Festival. 1 The German text, as handed down, reads: an Weihnachten, vor allen Dingen an das minder bedeutende Fest Neujahr anschliessen, das Fest der Epiphanie,’ which could be rendered as follows: ‘... about Christmas, most especially about the less important New Year's Festival the Festival of Epiphany.’ One must assume that the shorthand copy of Seiler intended the following: ‘... das minder bedeutende Fest Neujahr anschliessende Fest der Epiphanie's, which would give the rendering as in the text of the lecture above. The said lecture was held on 30th December 1904 and its subject was the “Three Kings” Festival.’ The lecture today, therefore, will be more in the nature of a conclusion.
The question might be asked: What is the deeper meaning of such secret societies, and what is their whole purpose in world evolution? To such a question, my answer would be that they have a real connection with the way in which beings in this world evolve and make progress. If you wish to develop yourself, you know that different kinds of exercises are necessary towards this end and that they are available. You have heard of Hatha Yoga, Rajah Yoga and other exercises of different kinds by means of which societies and brotherhoods connected with occult science have initiated their members.
Somebody might say: All this, surely, could be attained without these secret societies. But I can tell you — and in the course of the lecture you will realise it — that the world cannot do without such societies. To put it bluntly, it is quite unjustifiable to speak in public in the style of the Manifesto of the Freemasons which I read to you a fortnight ago. 2 In the lecture given on 9th December 1904 (lecture 8 in this volume). Regarding the style of speaking appropriate to lecturing in public, see The Course of My Life,Chapter 32.
One cannot attain to what is usually known as immortality unless one is to some extent familiar with the occult sciences. The fruits of occult science do, of course, find their way out into the world along many different channels. A great deal of occult knowledge exists in the various religions, and all those who participate deeply and sincerely in the life of a religious community have some share in this knowledge and are preparing themselves for the attainment of immortality in the real sense. But it is still something different, to subsist on the knowledge of this immortality and the feeling of belonging in the spiritual world in concrete experience and with full awareness.
All of you have lived many times; but not all of you are conscious that you have lived through these many lives. However, you will gradually attain this consciousness, and without it, man's life is lived through with incomplete consciousness. It has never been the aim of occult science to inculcate into man a dim feeling of survival, but to impart a clear, fully conscious knowledge of onflowing life in the spiritual world. And there is a certain great law which governs the progressive development of consciousness in all future stages of life. Namely, it is what man works at to help others attain such consciousness which contributes the most to its development. It is an apparently paradoxical proposition: Everything a being works at without aiming at developing its own consciousness, helps to maintain that being's consciousness.
Take as an example the building of a house. An architect builds a house; he does not build this house for himself, but undertakes the task of building it for reasons which have nothing at all to do with him himself. You know well that this is very seldom the case. There are many people who, to all appearances, are not working for themselves; and yet, in reality, they are.
A lawyer, for example, is to all intents and purposes working for his clients. Part of his work may well be selfless, but the real question is one of earning his living. Whatever men do in business merely for the sake of their own livelihood, to the extent that their business only serves that end, just so much is lost in the way of spiritual gain. On the other hand, everything that is introduced into the work for an objective end, everything that is connected with the interests of another, helps to conserve our consciousness for future evolution. So that is quite clear.
Now, think of the Freemasons. In the original arrangement, they gave this injunction to their members: Build such buildings as make no contribution at all to, or have nothing to do with, your own subsistence. All that has survived of the good old Freemasonry, are certain charitable institutions. And although the lodges have lost their living roots in the ancient wisdom and occult knowledge once in their possession, these charitable institutions are evidence of a humanitarianism which, while it is empty [of real substance] still persists and is cultivated as a tradition. Selfless activity is something that belongs to Freemasonry. Freemasonry did originally urge its members to work in the service of humanity, to build into the objective world.
We are living now in the epoch of evolution that may be called the mineral epoch; and our task is to permeate this mineral world through and through with our own spirit. Grasp exactly what this means. You are building a house. You fetch the stones from some quarry. You hew them into the shapes needed for the house, and so on. What are you joining this raw material, obtained from the mineral kingdom, with? You are joining raw material with human spirit. When you make a machine, you have introduced your spirit into that machine. The actual machine does, of course, perish and become dust; it will be broken up. Not a trace of it will survive. But what it has done does not vanish without a trace, but passes into the very atoms. Every atom bears a trace of your spirit and will carry this trace with it. It is not a matter of indifference whether or not an atom has at some time been in a machine. The atom itself has undergone change as a result of having once been in a machine, and this change that you have wrought in the atom will never again be lost to it. Moreover, through your having changed the atom, through your having united your spirit with the mineral world, a permanent stamp has been made upon the general consciousness [of mankind]. Just so much will be taken from us into the other world.
It is a fact that all occult science consists of knowing how a man can act selflessly in order to attain the greatest enhancement of his own consciousness. Consider how certain men who have known this very clearly, have been so selfless that they took steps to prevent their names from going down to posterity. An example of this is the Theologia Deutsch. 3 Written about 1380. First published by Luther (fragmentary edition) Wittenberg, 1516. Complete edition 1518. First German translation by Johannes Arndt, 1597. Translation into modern German by Franz Pfeiffer, Giitersloh, 1875. Nobody knows who wrote it. Outwardly, there is only ‘The man from Frankfurt’. He therefore took care that his name could not even be guessed. He worked in such a way that he merely added something to the objective world without asking for honour or for the preservation of his name. By way of comparison, let it be mentioned that the Masters, as a rule, are not personages known to history; 4 See note 21 to the lecture given on 23rd May 1904. (Lecture 1 in this volume). they sometimes incarnate [embody] themselves, when it is necessary, in historical personalities, but this is in a certain respect a sacrifice. The level of their consciousness is no longer compatible with any work for themselves — and preservation of a name does after all involve work for oneself.
It is difficult to understand this rule. However, you will now grasp that the Freemasons aim in this, as far as possible, to do their work in the world in such a way that it is concealed in the cathedrals, in social institutions and organisations, in charitable foundations. For selfless deeds are the real foundations of immortality: this is the reflex of selfless deeds in the outer world. They need not be of great account. If someone gives a coin to someone in a selfless way, then that is an action that is to be understood in that way; but only to the extent that it was selfless does it come into immortality. And very few [deeds] are selfless. A good deed may be very egotistical when, for instance, it creates a feeling of comfort. Good deeds spring extremely often from selfish motives. If a poor man living among us has no roast meat at Christmas, and I feel the need to give him some in order that I may feel justified in [eating] my own roast meat, that, after all, is egoistic.
In the Middle Ages no one could say who had built many of the cathedrals or painted many of the pictures. It is only in our epoch that people have begun to attach such value to an individual human name. In earlier epochs, more spiritual than our own, the individual name had less importance. Spirituality in those days was directed at reality; whereas our epoch adheres to the delusion that what is merely transient should be preserved.
I have said this only in order to indicate to you the principle on which these secret societies depended. It mattered to them to efface themselves altogether as personalities, and to allow what they did to live only in its effects. And this brings us to the heart of the secrets. The fact that some particular thing is kept secret is of less importance than keeping one's own share in the work secret. Everyone who keeps his own part secret thereby secures immortality for himself. The rule is therefore clear and unambiguous: As much as you yourself put into the world, that much consciousness the world will give you back. That is connected with the greatest universal laws.
You all have a soul and you all have a spirit. This soul and spirit are called upon to reach one day the highest stages of perfection. But you were already there before your first physical incarnation. You were first physically incarnated in the preceding races after the time of the Hyperborean and Polarian epochs. 5 The word nach (‘after’) is missing from the German edition, but to leave it out would be to negate the sense given in lecture I of this series: ‘Whitsuntide,’ given on the 23rd o May 1904, which reads: ‘It is a wrong conception when theosophists believe that reincarnations had no beginning and will have no ending. Reincarnation started in the Lemurian Age and will cease again at the beginning of the sixth Root Race or Age.‘ (See diagram opposite). The German would then read: ‘In physischer Inkarnation waren Sie in den vorhergehenden Rassen erst zur Zeit nach der hyperboraischen und polarischen Rasse vorhanden.’ Before that you were purely beings of soul. But as beings of soul you were a part of the world soul, and as spirit you were part of the general world spirit. The world soul and the world spirit were spread around you as Nature is spread around you today. Just as the mineral world, the plant world and the animal world are around you today, so were the worlds of soul and spirit spread around you then. And what was once outside you is now your soul; you have made inward what to begin with was outside. What today is your inward part was once spread about outside. This has now become your soul. The spirit, too, was once spread around you. And what is now spread around you will become your inner life. You will take into yourself what is now the mineral kingdom, and it will become your inner part. The plant kingdom will become your inner part. What surrounds you in Nature will become your inner being.
You will understand now how this is connected with the first example given: you build a church for others, not for yourself. You can take into [yourself] a world full of majesty, beauty and splendour if you make the world majestic, beautiful and splendid. To do something for the higher self is not selfish because it is not done only for the self. This higher self will be united with all other higher selves, so that it is [done] for all at the same time.
It is this that the Freemasons knew. The Freemason knew, when he helped [by] building with the spiritualisation of the mineral world, that this would one day become the content of his soul — and to build means nothing else than to spiritualise the mineral world. That is the significant thing: God once gave us the Nature that surrounds us, as mineral, plant and animal nature. We take these in [to ourselves]. It is not due to us that it is there; all we can do is to appropriate it for ourselves. But what we ourselves create in the world — that is what will, through ourselves, constitute our future being.
The mineral world, as such, we perceive; what we make out of it we will, in the future, be. What we make of the plant world, of the animal world and of the world of men, that too we will be, in the future. If you found a charitable institution or have contributed something to it, what you have contributed, you will be. If a man does nothing which he can draw back in this way into his soul from outside, he will remain empty. It must be possible for man to spiritualise as much as he can of the three kingdoms of nature — four, for mankind also belongs thereto. To bring spirit into the whole external world — that has been the task of the secret societies of every age.
You understand that that must be so. Take a child who is just learning to read and write. To begin with, all the equipment is around him. Today, the child begins to learn to read. Nothing is in him yet, but the teacher, the primers and so forth are there. So it continues until what was outside the child has been instilled into him. And the child acquires the capacity to read. And so it is with Nature, too. In times to come we shall have within us what is now spread around us. We are souls, we spring from the world soul, and we drew it in, when it was spread around us. The spirit was likewise drawn in, and Nature, too, will be drawn in by us, in order to stay within us as an active ability.
That is the great thought at the basis of these secret societies, that all progress is the result of involution and evolution. Involution is the drawing in, evolution is the giving out. All situations in the universe alternate between these two processes. When you see, hear, smell or taste Nature, you breathe it in. What you see does not pass away without leaving a trace on you. The eye itself perishes, the object perishes, but [the fact] that you have seen something remains. You will understand now that at certain times it can be necessary that an understanding of these things be available. We are going forward to an age when, as I recently indicated, understanding will reach right into the atom. It will be realised — by the popular mind too that the atom is nothing else than congealed electricity. Thought itself is composed of the same substance.
Before the end of our present cultural epoch one will in fact have come so far that people will be able to penetrate into the atom itself. When one is able to grasp the materiality between the thought and the atom, then one will soon be able to understand the penetration of the atom. And then nothing will be inaccessible to certain methods of working. A man standing here, let us say, will be able, by pressing a button concealed in his pocket, to [explode] some object at a great distance, let us say in Hamburg, just as wireless telegraphy is possible, by setting up a wave movement and causing it to take a particular form at some other place. This will be within man's power when the occult truth, that thought and atom consist of the same substance, is applied to practical life.
It is impossible to conceive what might happen in such circumstances if mankind has not by then reached selflessness. Only through the attainment of selflessness will it be possible to preserve mankind from the brink of destruction. The downfall of post-Atlantean culture will be caused by the lack of morality. The Lemurian race was destroyed by fire, the Atlantean by water; ours will be destroyed by the War of All against All, [by?] evil, through the struggle of men with one another. Humanity will destroy itself in mutual strife. And the despairing thing — more desperately tragic than other catastrophes — will be that the blame will lie with human beings themselves.
A tiny handful of men will save themselves and pass over into the sixth epoch. This tiny handful will have developed complete selflessness. The others will make use of every [imaginable] skill and subtlety in the penetration and conquest of the physical forces of Nature, but without attaining the essential degree of selflessness . They will start the War of All against All, and that will be the cause of the destruction of our civilisation.
In the seventh post-Atlantean cultural epoch, to be precise, this War of All against All will break out, in the most terrible way. Great and mighty forces will ensue from discoveries that will turn the entire globe into a kind of self-functioning electrical apparatus. The tiny handful will be protected in a way that cannot be discussed.
Now you will be able to picture more clearly than was possible when I spoke of these things last time, why the Good [and Proper] Form must be sought and in what sense Freemasonry became aware that it must build a building [dedicated to] selfless [ends]. It is easier to survive and pass over into the future, to the tiny handful of new humanity, with the good old forms, than in chaos.
It is easy to jeer at empty forms, but they have however a deep significance. They are adapted to the structure of our [period of] evolution. After all, they are connected with necessary stages in human nature and the development of the human soul. Just think of it: we are living in the fifth period of the fifth great post-Atlantean epoch; 6 See diagram at the bottom of the page. we have still to live through two more periods of this great epoch. Then the seven periods of the sixth great epoch will follow and then the seven periods of the seventh great epoch. This makes sixteen stages of evolution in the future. Humanity has still to pass through these sixteen stages. A man who can experience something of the conditions [of existence] that are possible there, is to a certain degree initiated. There is a certain correspondence between the degrees of initiation and the secrets of the epochs still to come.
In the ‘form-state’ of our planet there are seven great epochs and each of these epochs has seven sub-periods (cultural epochs) — forty-nine conditions, therefore, in all. In the next ‘form-state’ of our planet there are again forty-nine conditions. Thus there are definite stages for the investigation of the secrets of future phases of evolution. The higher degrees of Freemasonry had no other aim or purpose, originally, than to be an expression of each one of the future stages of the evolution of humanity. Thus in Freemasonry we actually have something which has been very good, namely, that a man who had attained a certain degree knew how he must work his way into the future, so that he could be a kind of pioneer. He knew, too, that one who had reached a higher degree could accomplish more. This arrangement according to degrees can very well be made, for it corresponds with the facts.
If, therefore, it were again possible to pour a new content, together with a new knowledge, into these forms, much good would accrue. Freemasonry would then be imbued with real spirit once again. But content and form belong to the Whole. The state of affairs today is, as I have said: the degrees are there, but nobody has really worked through them. In spite of this, however, they are not there for nothing. They will be brought to life again in the future.
The fifth cultural epoch is a purely intellectual one, an epoch of egoism. We are now at the high point of egoism. The intellect is egoistical in the highest degree, and it is the hallmark of our time. And so we must make our way upwards through intellect to spirituality, which was once there ...[Gap]
The secret of secrets is this, therefore: the human being must learn how to keep silence about the paths along which his ego unfolds, and to regard his deeds, not his ego, as the criterion. The real heart of the secret lies in his deeds and the overcoming of the ego through action. The ego must remain concealed within the deed. Elimination of the interests of the ego from the on-streaming flow of karma — this belongs to the first degree. Whatever karma the ego incurs is thereby wiped out from karma. Nation, race, sex, position, religion — all these work upon human egoism. Only when mankind has overcome all these things will it be freed from egoism.
You can identify, in the astral body, a particular colour for every nation, every race, every epoch. You will always find a base-colour there, that the person has as a member of one of these classifications or categories. This [specific colour] must be eliminated. The Theosophical Society works to level out the colours of the astral bodies of its adherents. They must be of like colour, like in respect of the base-colour. This base colour gives rise to a certain substance ... [Gap] ... [called kundalini, which holds together, within the human being, the forces which lead eventually to the spirit.] 7 called Kundalini, which holds together, within the human being, the forces which lead eventually to the spirit.] The latter part of this sentence (within square brackets) was a correction made for the earlier edition of this lecture, published on 23rd November 1947, in the members' newsletter of the German Anthroposophical Society, No. 47.
Bringing this levelling-out about will actually entail bloody war, and through such things as economic strife among nations, wars of exploitation, financial and industrial enterprises, conquests, etc., and through the adoption of certain measures, it will be more and more possible to set masses of people in motion and simply to compel them. The individual will acquire more and more power over certain masses of people. For the drift of this development is not that we will become democratic, but that we will become brutally oligarchic, in that the individual will gain more and more power. If the ennobling of morals is not achieved, then the most brutal forces will lead. This will happen, just as catastrophe by water happened to the Atlanteans.