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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Rosicrucian Esotericism
GA 109

2. Soul in the World around Us

Budapest, June 4, 1909

As I said yesterday in the introductory lecture, the intention in this course is to give a picture, a kind of review of the theosophical world conception. It will be necessary to speak of a number of subjects with which many in the audience are already familiar. But only by learning of these truths from their very foundations will it be possible later on to consider higher regions.

Before beginning the actual theme, I want to speak of a matter of exceptional importance. Why is it that we must concern ourselves with theosophical ideas and theories before we can ourselves actually experience anything in the spiritual world? Many people will say, “The results of clairvoyant investigation are made known to us, but I myself cannot yet see into the spiritual world. Would it not be wiser if, instead of the results of investigation being communicated to us, I were told how I can myself develop clairvoyance? Each individual would then be able to undertake the further development himself.”

Those who are unacquainted with the principles of occult investigation may believe that it would be better if such facts had not previously been made known. But in the spiritual world there is a definite law, the significance of which we will make clear by an example. Suppose that in a certain year some properly trained clairvoyant had perceived this or that in the spiritual world. Now imagine that ten or twenty years later, another equally trained clairvoyant could see the same thing even if he had known nothing whatever about the result obtained by the first clairvoyant. If you were to believe that this could happen, you would be making a great mistake, for the truth is that a fact of the spiritual world that has once been discovered by a clairvoyant or by an occult school, cannot be investigated a second time if the would-be investigator has not first been informed that it has already been discovered. If, therefore, in the year 1900 a certain fact had been investigated and in the year 1950 another clairvoyant reaches the stage of being able to perceive the same thing, he can succeed only if he has realized that someone has already investigated and fathomed it. Therefore, already known facts in the spiritual world can be perceived only when their import has been consciously grasped as communications already made. This is the law that establishes for all epochs the foundation of universal brotherliness. It is impossible to penetrate into any domain of the spiritual world without a link having first been made with what has already been fathomed by the Elder Brothers of humanity. The spiritual world sees to it that nobody can become a law unto himself, saying, “I am not concerned with what is already there. I shall investigate only for myself.” None of the facts communicated in spiritual science today could be perceived by individuals, however highly developed and advanced, if they had not been previously known. Because a link must be there with what has already been discovered, the theosophical movement had also to be founded on this basis.

In a comparatively short time from now, many individuals will become clairvoyant, but they would be able to see only unreality, not truth, in the spiritual world if they had not heard of what had already been investigated. First one must have knowledge of these truths, such as is given by theosophy, or the science of the spirit, and only then can they be actually perceived. Even a clairvoyant must get to know what has already been discovered, and then, after conscientious training, he can perceive the facts himself. It may be said that the divine beings fertilize a faculty of seership only once in a human soul and if this single, virginal fertilization has been achieved, then other human beings must pay attention to what this first soul has discovered in order to have the right to see it themselves. This law lays the foundations of an inner, universal brotherliness, a true brotherhood of men. From epoch to epoch wisdom has passed through the occult schools and been faithfully harbored by the Masters, and we, too, must help to preserve this treasure and maintain brotherliness with those who have already achieved something if we wish to make our way into the higher regions of the spiritual world. What is striven for on the physical plane as moral law is natural law in the spiritual world.

Theosophy teaches us that everything physical or material is born out of the spiritual. But in our epoch it behooves us not to be satisfied with this bare realization of a spiritual world. That behind everything material, everything physical, there is the spiritual, is an essential, but abstract, consciousness of spirit. What is necessary is to develop definite concepts and ideas of how the spiritual becomes manifest in each domain. Today one can only guide some other individual by conscientiously ensuring that he takes all the steps leading from the external into the spiritual world.

The first kingdom to be observed among the physical kingdoms around us, is that of the minerals, the world of stones. The kingdom of the minerals is distinguished from the human kingdom, for example, by the fact that a man knows that if he has given someone else a hard blow, the latter feels pain. There is no outer evidence that a mineral feels pain from a blow. From this the conclusion is drawn that in man there is a soul that feels pleasure and suffering, but not in the mineral. We will not at the outset insist that the mineral also has a soul, because there we must already take note of the results of clairvoyant investigation. The stone as it lies before us has in it nothing of the nature of soul. But what is essential in a spiritual world conception is that observation shall be directed to the right place and not to a false one. Think of a tiny animal observing a human being but actually able to see only his fingernails. It would say that these fingernails are objects on their own, for the tiny animal cannot realize that the nails belong to and are part of an organism. When it is able to survey and see the whole, then its observation will be true. The same principle applies to the spiritual investigator and the mineral world. If you regard the stone as being something complete in itself, you are in the position of the tiny animal that takes the fingernails or the teeth to be the whole man, a complete being.

Think of the rocks on the earth. They can only be conceived as having grown out of the whole organism of the earth. But where is the being of which these rocks are parts, to which all these rocks belong? There are spiritual beings to whom the whole world of stones belongs. These beings feel happiness and pain, pleasure and suffering just as does the human soul, so that we can properly speak of a mineral soul. You must not, however, judge on the basis of mere analogies, because that might lead you to think that when a stone is smashed the mineral soul feels pain, but that is not the case. A man feels pain if one of his fingers is crushed, but in similar circumstances the mineral soul feels contentment and pleasure. The being belonging to the mineral experiences great happiness when stones are crushed, and pain when the fragments are put together again. Because in the external world, mineral fragments are constantly being separated off and put together again, pleasure and pain are continually being felt in the souls of the beings who belong to the mineral kingdom. Suppose we have salt here and a glass filled with warm water. What happens if we drop the salt into the water? To clairvoyant observation the grains of salt do not only dissolve in the water but feelings of well-being arise; actual pleasure becomes evident when the salt permeates the water in the glass. Then, when the water cools and a cube of salt crystallizes out, this causes suffering to the mineral soul. In mountain ranges where rocks have formed this is what has happened. When crystals form in the earth the process is accompanied by suffering and pain for the beings belonging basically to the mineral kingdom.

When a planet is born, collects into a coherent mass and condenses, this process causes pain and suffering to the spiritual beings involved in it. When a planet such as our earth comes into existence, the process is accompanied by pain and suffering. You may now ask me where then these beings are that the eye does not see, that feel pain and suffering, well-being and happiness, when, for example, stones are broken up by workmen in a quarry. Where are these beings? In a comparatively lofty spiritual world! The mineral substance seen by the eye is only a shadowy image of these beings. They live in a world we call the world of formlessness. Spiritual beings live in our whole mineral world-in the world of formlessness according to occult investigation. Why do we use this expression, “world of formlessness?” This will be understood at once when we turn to the world of plants.

The plant, too, is the expression of certain beings of soul. Here again we will study the results of spiritual investigation. This tells us that when, for example, in the autumn, the corn is mown and the scythe cuts through the stalks, no suffering is felt by the soul-beings whose bodies are the plants. No indeed! We must not think of suffering here because whole streams of joy and contentment weave over the area. Equally, when the animal is turned out to graze, it means happiness for the plant souls, not pain. It can be compared with the feeling experienced by a mammal when its offspring sucks its milk; this gives a feeling of bliss. What our planet furnishes on its surface in the way of nourishment for the beings inhabiting it, is, so to speak, milk for the beings that belong to the planet and have their habitation in the center of the earth. You may ask if all of them are able to find a place there. Certainly they are, because of the prevailing law of permeability. Their self-surrender, when a certain degree of maturity has been reached, means bliss for the plant soul. Pain is caused when plants are torn out of the soil. Now you. may say: Yes, but when mischievous boys and girls uselessly tear off flowers how can that possibly cause happiness to the plant soul? Would it not be much better to root out the plant altogether? How can that cause it pain? From the point of view that is valid for the physical world you are certainly right in saying this. But it must not be forgotten that these points of view are by no means always authoritative for the spiritual worlds. A person may look more handsome when he has torn out the first grey hairs that have appeared on his head but pain is caused nevertheless. It is all a matter of the point of view concerned and we cannot struggle against the occult world with moral considerations. Beings, souls—they also belong to the plants—beings and souls for which the plant world supplies the bodies. We will now try to form an idea of how happiness and suffering take their course in the plant world.

The plant world is a shadow of the spiritual world. Where, then, are the beings that belong to it? In the world of form. They are also known by different names. The spiritual beings belonging to the mineral kingdom inhabit a spiritual realm, the realm of formlessness; the spiritual beings belonging to the plants live in the realm of form.

Realm of Formlessness, Arupa or Upper Devachan.

Realm of Form, Rupa or Lower Devachan.

The souls of the minerals belong to a definite region of the spiritual world, indeed, to its upper region. This must not surprise you, for the higher the realm in which the souls live, the more thoroughly they conceal themselves. Why is the one realm called the realm of formlessness and the other the realm of form?

When a crystal is smashed it is its form alone that is destroyed. This can, however, be reconstructed somewhere else, independently of the form that was destroyed. When a salt crystal comes into existence in nature it need not necessarily do so out of another crystal. It can only arise from the substance of salt and disappear again as form. That is the characteristic of formless substance. In the case of the plant, the form cannot come into existence in the same way, out of substance, out of the formless. The plant—this is its essential characteristic—must develop out of a parental plant. The form must pass over from progenitor to offspring in the case of the souls of the beings in the realm of form; procreation takes place as the result of transmission of the form. The form alone, nothing else, is contained in the seed.

It is a superficial belief of science that there is no great difference between plant seed and animal egg. In the animal egg, form and life are transmitted from progenitor to off-spring: Life is transmitted. In the seed of the lily nothing except the form is preserved and it is transmitted to the new lily. What happens in the mineral is that the forces that, so to speak, implant the form arise in the higher realm of Devachan. In the case of the crystal, the formlessness shoots as it were into the form confronting the eye. We must, therefore, say that the whole planet upon which plant life unfolds is surrounded by collective life containing the impulse that enables the life of the plant to arise from it, and from the plant seed only the form. From the life of the old lily nothing passes over to the flower bed or flower pot in which the seed is lying. That the new lily is imbued with life is due to the fact that the seed has been received into the. universal life of our earth.

Here we come to the transition to the animal kingdom. The form alone is passed on through the seed; life arises because the seed is received into the universal life of our earth. The quality of soul in the animal is visually perceptible and it is therefore self-evident to speak of happiness and suffering, joy and pain in this case. If we are to be clear about what happiness and suffering mean in the plant kingdom, we must turn to the study of other beings because happiness and suffering are felt outside single plants; the whole organism of the earth feels them, just as when you cut a finger the pain is not in the finger itself but is led over to the whole organism. If you want to understand what pain is in the plant, you must turn to the earth as a whole in order to contact the soul of the plant there. The essential difference lies in the fact that if an animal is wounded, the pain is situated inside its skin, as is also the case with the animal nature of the human being. Here we are coming ever nearer to individualization; the higher the evolution of the kingdoms of nature ascends, the nearer we come to beings whose center is within themselves. We study the plant rightly only when we study it in connection with the earth as a whole. The animal has a soul and admittedly feels happiness and suffering within the limits of its skin. We do not actually see this soul because it is in the realm we call the astral world. The animals are creatures that have a center in themselves and their souls live in the astral realm. Thus there is a certain systematic order in our idea of the world. The mineral conceals its soul deeply, the plant less deeply and the animal less deeply still; the animal has its center in itself, in the realm that is invisible. We must look for the souls of the animals in a world other than the physical.

Thus we distinguish four kingdoms. Firstly, the realm of the visible forms of minerals, plants and animals, the physical world. Secondly, the realm where the invisible nature of the animal is to be found, the astral world. Thirdly, the realm of the plants, the souls of which are hidden in lower Devachan. Fourthly, the realm of beings whose souls are hidden in upper Devachan. The differentiation is obvious even from observation of the external world. We will now, however, turn to the results of clairvoyant investigation.

In the space occupied by the mineral as such, nothing of the nature of soul is present. This space is void of soul, black, but round about and outside it luminosity begins; further away this luminosity increases in strength. What is it? It is the etheric body of the mineral that originates in the cosmos, drawn from a part of the ether where no actual mineral exists. The cosmic soul forces of the mineral experience joy and sorrow in the space where the etheric body of the mineral is present. There suffering begins, or happiness, perhaps, anticipates the severance of stone from a quarry like a spiritual ray of light. The etheric body of the mineral encircles its physical body. It could be said that where the mineral exists as such, the etheric body has densified to such a degree that it has become physical. The difference between mineral and plant arises through the fact that the etheric body of the plant is within it, permeating every single part. The green pervading the plant is the substance described previously as being the etheric body of the mineral outside it.

But if all that could be said about the plant were that it is permeated by an etheric body, it would not blossom but only produce green leaves. When the plant begins to blossom, clairvoyant consciousness sees something spreading over and playing around it. This is the astral life, which brings about the crowning of the growth. The green plant grows and finally something new, the astral element, spreads over and plays around it but never penetrates into it.

The animal has spiritually within it what hovers around the plant. When what hovers around the plant is inside the skin, the being is an animal. What hovers above the plant, the astral element, surrounds the whole earth. It is the collective astrality of the earth that hovers like smoke above the plant when it is about to flower. Happiness and suffering are not seated within the plant itself but are felt by the earth. The animal itself experiences happiness and suffering; the astral body within the animal weaves and is astir in the whole astrality of our earth. The mineral kingdom is as though embedded in an etheric world and has its etheric body around it. The plant is permeated by an etheric body and because the plant world is embedded in an astral body that is part of the collective astrality of the earth, pain and happiness are experienced outside the plant itself. The being that is not only swathed by the astral element but can actually take it into itself, is the animal.

Thus we have now surveyed the three kingdoms of the world surrounding us and their connection with the higher worlds.

Man is a little world in himself, the product of all that surrounds him. What we have discovered today we will use tomorrow in order to comprehend the structure of the human being.