Reincarnation and Immortality
I. Free Will, Immortality
24 April 1918, Stuttgart
Wie Kann die Erforschung der Uebersinnlichen Wesenheit des Menschen Bewirkt Werden? (The Supersensible Being of Man. Lecture given at Basel, Switzerland, January 12, 1916)
Of all the problems related to the soul life of the human being and that have constantly to be faced by each individual, those concerning free will and immortality are among the most important. I have planned today's lecture so that these two questions can be discussed in conjunction with each other. I have not united these two fundamental problems of human soul life arbitrarily, but I hope to be able to show how intimately they belong together and how it is hardly possible to make a thorough study of the one without the other.
Anyone dealing with these two problems who has any grasp of what we are concerned with in human and spiritual history will immediately be aware of two facts. Apart from approaching such problems through faith, about which I intend to make neither positive nor negative comment here, people have tried to come to grips with them purely on the basis of thinking, scientifically and philosophically. Entirely on this basis of thinking attempts have been made to gain the most shrewd, penetrating and profound knowledge about the two problems. Anyone who tackles them cannot fail to note how individual scientists have disputed and acted in quite contradictory ways when dealing with free will and immortality.
There must be some reason why humanity finds it so difficult to get anywhere with questions which lie so close to the efforts of the human soul, and which arise out of the deepest needs of the soul. The human soul incessantly tells itself that within the human being is hidden something that exists beyond birth and death, and which one should be able to investigate scientifically. It also tells itself that there must be something like free decision at the root of human action, a not being bound to natural necessity as a falling stone is. But when on the basis of its thinking, the soul then tries to investigate the things that are so important to it, it can set out with the greatest hopes of achieving something, but soon other considerations show that it is possible to say as much against it as for it.
The approach I have represented for many years now — and also in these lectures here — seeks to clarify these questions from its own viewpoint and it thinks it recognizes not only the path that has to be followed to arrive at a conception of the two problems that is humanly satisfying, but it believes it also recognizes why it is that there is so much of a contradictory and unsatisfactory nature in other approaches to the problems. As is usual in these lectures given from the viewpoint of the science of spirit, in dealing with such problems I am obliged to take a quite different course from that taken by ordinary science. Science takes the facts, makes pronouncements about its findings, and then reaches its conclusions on the basis of these findings. The scientist of spirit normally has to proceed differently, especially when dealing with such subjects as these today.
The scientist of spirit first must give an idea as to how he arrives at his results. He has constantly to describe the path upon which the source of his findings is revealed to him. For naturally he is dealing with things that cannot be reached by means of the ordinary senses, and which are far removed from the usual processes of knowledge. He therefore has to give an idea of the path upon which he reaches a point where his findings appear set out before the eye of the spirit.
Such questions as we have before us today are of particular concern to the human being himself, for they are pre-eminently questions of human self-knowledge.
It is quite possible to say — as I have already done here many times — that the science of spirit is definitely an admirer of the magnificent and tremendous progress which humanity has enjoyed as a result of scientific work in recent times. But it is precisely because it realizes how to value the findings of natural science, as far as they can be valued, that it also knows how far these scientific methods can go, and where they can obtain no information.
We have to admit that for such questions as we are considering today, questions that concern human self-knowledge above all, the magnificent and admirable work of scientific thinking and particularly its method of thinking are more of a hindrance than a help. Therefore by way of introduction let me give you an example.
Serious and well-intentioned scientists have constantly directed their particular way of thinking to what goes on within the human being himself, to what surges to and fro in his soul life. We can take an example to show how the scientist is bound to miss the way that would lead to a solution, not because of any mistake he makes, but because of his method. A good scientist, Waldstein, has published among his works, which are very good in parts and which deal with the border-area embracing the nervous system and the soul, a dissertation on the unconscious ego. He speaks about all sorts of things that go on in the human soul, and which are of significance to the soul but of which our ordinary consciousness is not aware. He says, for instance — and anyone can think of hundreds of thousands of similar examples — supposing I stand in front of a window of a bookshop and look into it. My eye falls on the most varied collection of books. It is a scientific bookshop. Nothing but serious books are there. Because of my profession I am attracted by one particular book that is in the window: Concerning Mollusks. — And the moment I see this book, Concerning Mollusks, I cannot help beginning to laugh quietly. Now I am, after all, a serious scientist and there is no apparent reason why I should begin to laugh when I see this book, Concerning Mollusks. What has caused me to laugh when looking at the title of a book about mollusks? I close my eyes — the scientist continues — in order to find out what has caused me to laugh. And, lo and behold! — now that my eyes are no longer drawn toward the book I can hear dimly in the distance amid many other noises and hardly audible, for it is a long way off, the sound of a barrel organ, and this barrel organ is playing the very tune to which I first learned to dance decades before as a very young man. At that time I attempted to learn the steps of the quadrille to this tune. I did not give much attention to the tune then, for I was very much occupied, first, in learning the steps and then in giving attention to my partner in the proper way. So even at that time I only noted the tune in a half-dreaming state. But now, although I have not concerned myself with this tune in any way more recently, the moment I see the book about mollusks, this tune strikes up in the distance, and I have to laugh quietly. Had I not closed my eyes — for when I looked at the book I knew nothing about a barrel organ playing, it simply beat on my ear unnoticed — I would not have discovered why I had to laugh when I saw the book. This shows me how remarkable are the things that go on inside us, that move and work in the subconscious, and how this subconscious nature pursues its ways in the human being.
Such examples he describes in great numbers, and others have cited similar ones. But in following such learned dissertations one very quickly notices that although the people certainly know that they are dealing with something that belongs to a knowledge of what works and lives in the human being, their scientific thinking cannot achieve anything that leads to a furtherance of a real knowledge of what lives in man as his true being. For this we have to advance a stage further. And this is what I must deal with first — the path that leads us to self-knowledge. But I want, first of all, to place the two questions before you so that you see how they have to be dealt with in order to be felt and understood absolutely clearly.
In choosing where we begin with this, we should not take the hardly perceptible impressions in the human self, such as those of the barrel organ, for then we only arrive at what it is that affects the self, and not what lies behind it. To put the question satisfactorily, we have to ignore this continual movement into which all sorts of things are incorporated, such as the sound of the barrel organ, and turn to something that has a different relationship to human life. In our soul life there is a continual movement of mental images which are gained through our normal way of perception, and also feelings and will impulses — all these play a role when we hear something like a barrel organ. But basically, the whole of our ordinary everyday soul life is more or less similar to the case of the barrel organ. It is true that we are fully conscious of at least part of what lives in our ordinary consciousness, but there is also an immeasurable amount, the origin of which we do not know. Science quite rightly looks for causes of what plays into our soul life in this way in the physical body, the part of us that passes away with death. We are completely taken up with this interplay of our mental images. But there is one thing where we have to admit that it has a quite different character from this continual movement of our feelings and sensations. This is the realization, — which brings with it a certain power of judgment, — that we cannot simply allow our mental images to come and go as they please. On the contrary, we have to take ourselves in hand and say: Some ideas and images are right, others are wrong. — We begin to develop logic in our thinking, — logic that is designed to enable us to have the right relationship to reality.
Can it be the normal interplay of our mental images that is at work when we say that something is right or wrong? No, it cannot be the normal interplay, for now right and wrong ideas or images appear. All now depends on our being able to judge according to something that rejects wrong ideas — which arise out of bodily necessities, just as much as good ones do — and accepts good ideas. Something therefore of a quite different nature from what can otherwise be found by normal scientific self-observation, plays into our soul life. That is why the philosophical approach has constantly entered in at this point.
Whenever the attempt has been made to save the human being from being simply the outcome of his physical functions, it has always been pointed out how something plays into the soul life that cannot come from the body. Sometimes it is the right thing, sometimes the wrong; both appear in the same way. But it is just on this point that we can see that this kind of approach cannot pursue the matter to a conclusion, that it is really impossible to find out anything in this way. For we get no further than establishing the facts, while the fundamental causes and real nature of the case are sought in vain. — That is the one point.
On the other hand, there is the fact that among all the other things that take place in our soul life we are also able to say Yes or No to a particular action, to decide to do it or to leave it undone. But this contradicts every kind of scientific observation. For this action can only take place on the basis of our bodily nature, our human nature, and this means that we have to seek this basis in our human nature according to laws which function according to necessity. Human freedom does not come into it. — This is the other boundary. We have to start with these two points.
Twenty-five years ago in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity I attempted to make these two boundaries or limits my starting point, and purely on the basis of observation sought to establish what lives in the human soul, what really happens in the human soul when an action is performed where a person feels he is employing his freedom.
At that time I did this in such a way as to remain within purely philosophical considerations. Today I will try to offer a solution, as far as is humanly possible, on the basis of the findings of the science of spirit. In order to do this, however, it is necessary to approach these two points that I have just characterized as the border points of genuine self-knowledge, in a way that only the science of spirit can approach them.
One of the characteristic things about the science of spirit is that we do not allow the soul to investigate in its everyday condition. Our ordinary consciousness does this, as does science too, but in the science of spirit we evolve the soul beyond the point it attains if simply left to its own natural development. We ourselves must take the soul in hand, and it has to develop into something different. For it has to be able to see and perceive something different from what can be perceived with the ordinary means of acquiring knowledge. It has, if I may indicate this right at the outset, to be able to grasp with its spiritual eye the spirit that lives in man.
Most people maintain that this is a subject for belief only, but this is really simply because they do not wish to make any effort to consider such things as the human spirit, that they say this. The actual method and practice of the scientist of spirit proves that it is not just a belief that is acquired, but knowledge as certain in its sphere as is scientific knowledge in the natural sphere. We must, of course, be quite clear that by undertaking certain exercises and functions, the soul has to attain a quite different constitution from the one it has in normal life and ordinary science. It has to acquire a different kind of perception. In my writings, where more detailed information about these matters can be found, I have called the first stage that the soul reaches in investigating the spiritual world, imaginative knowledge.
How do we acquire this imaginative knowledge? Mainly by applying our thinking, our minds in a different direction from the one usual in everyday life. To take the example already cited, we have to try to introduce something into our thinking that is as remote as possible from the barrel organ. For the barrel organ introduced a kind of unknown quantity into the soul life, which was not even noticeable. Precisely the opposite must be the case if we wish to train our souls, to prepare ourselves for spiritual investigation. Nothing must enter our soul unless the soul itself admits it. This can only be done if we succeed — naturally only for the purposes of our investigations — in eliminating the past we have lived through, and the future we look forward to, and in concentrating in our souls solely on the present, as far as possible in one comprehensible mental image, a mental image that we have put together ourselves so that we know what is in it. And we have to do this again and again.
What is characteristic about this is that such activity should be completely removed from any kind of dream life in the soul. No one can become a scientist of spirit in the right way who is fond of giving himself over to self-indulgence and dreaming. No one who willingly indulges in a false mystical way, in something indefinite, can ever become a scientist of spirit. For such indulgence does not lead to the science of spirit. We can only take up the science of spirit if we experience something in our souls that we ourselves have put there with every conceivable effort of our own consciousness, and then constantly concentrate upon it and devote ourselves to it. In my writings I have called this meditating, and by this I mean meditating in the proper sense that we are directed toward our own consciousness, our own soul activity.
There is a further point I would like to mention. Not only must this meditating be far removed from any kind of dream state or false mysticism, it must also be removed from everything that produces hypnotic and suggestive conditions in the soul. Staring at shining objects, for example, by means of which hypnotists produce a hypnotic state is the very opposite of the first condition of a spiritually scientific training. All the various kinds of exercises that dull the consciousness are the very opposite of spiritually scientific training.
What we are concerned with is placing ideas, feelings and will impulses, of which we have a clear picture, into the center of our soul life with full consciousness, so that we are as clear as we are when using the full powers of our thinking. In fact, this absolutely clear thinking, carried out with our full consciousness, must be our example and pattern. We have to be careful not to stop at this, however, for then we achieve nothing, but this should be a pattern for all the activity the soul undertakes in exercises directed toward finding the path into the spiritual world.
It may perhaps take years of trying, but the passing years stand us in good stead, for the fact that we get older as we do the exercises is a great help in enabling something to happen. Constant attempts to concentrate our soul life upon our self-directed mental images by means of meditation, results in the development of our imaginative life. This means that we no longer need only to use pictures and mental images that we ourselves put together, but that such pictures, such imaginations, themselves appear as objective entities in the soul, and in fact, we can live in such imaginations. It is only when we have prepared ourselves in the way I have described, that these imaginations no longer arise out of the body, but out of the life of the soul.
But we also become conscious of gradually following an inner necessity. In living in this world of pictures — for it is the imaginative world that we first experience — we gradually cease to believe that we can arrange the pictures as we please, but that we are bound to certain laws, just as we are bound to laws in the outer world.
You can set a chair upon the table; it stays there. If you put it somewhere in the air, it falls down. If in looking at the outer world you wish to remain within reality, you find yourself bound to certain laws. As you develop your soul in the right way you will gradually see that you are similarly bound to laws in your inner world that are just as objective as, for instance, the law that a chair can only stand on something that supports it. On the one hand, we feel that with our consciousness we are part of the world in which the pictures exist; on the other hand, we feel bound to the underlying order which may be compared to the kind of order that exists in the physical world.
In two particular respects we have to be able to differentiate carefully what we experience. We should not confuse the latter with what people experience under the influence of ordinary visions, for these ordinary visions come from the body. They are not induced by ourselves, and do not take the place in the soul. Imaginations, on the other hand, are processes which take place in the soul. Whoever has not learned to differentiate between imaginations and visions can, it is true, become a visionary who allows all sorts of vague clouds to arise out of his body, but he can never become a scientist of spirit. We are simply not consciously present when visions arise, and this is a most important point. It is in fact just as important and actual as the cautionary rules we adopt when pursuing chemical, physical and physiological methods.
I would like to cite a critic of the spiritual scientific approach who has a high opinion of his own book wisdom. I have no wish to speak about all the rubbish he has said concerning my science of spirit, but I shall quote something from a book of this so-called learned gentleman. This book has attracted considerable notice and has already gone into a second edition after quite a short time. The author relates what happens to him sometimes when lecturing. For a time he speaks in such a way that he thinks over everything he says, but then sometimes he has observed that he does not think any longer, or at least thinks about something else, but yet he continues to speak.
Well, first I promise never to impose myself upon you by ambling on when I have ceased to think! On the other hand, it must be emphasized that whoever believes it is possible to approach the mysteries of the soul when acting this way, is from the start much too stupid to be able to grasp anything about the fundamentals of what the true science of spirit is. He is also much too stupid to make any remotely correct statements about the science of spirit. With this one statement he proves how far he is from what is meant here. For the most essential thing is that the science of spirit must emphasize that consciousness must be present wherever the spiritual is sought. All visions and every kind of undirected dreaming, even if it is impressive enough to captivate a public without thinking as to the means by which it is captivated, — all this is quite out of the question, not only when we speak, but also in connection with what goes on inside us in our souls, if we are on the path to the spirit indicated by the science of spirit.
The other thing that has to be differentiated from what I have called imagination, is our ordinary fantasy. Our higher imaginative life is not simply an act of our fantasy any more than it is a visionary or undirected mystical experience. With our fantasy, it is true, the pictures have a certain law and order, but they are arranged inwardly in quite a free way. — With our fantasy we are not so bound to the objective course of the pictures as we are in our ordinary perception or in the life of imagination where we know that the chair cannot stand in the air.
If, therefore, in our inner training of the soul we reach the point of having before us what we cannot have before us in our ordinary consciousness, in our ordinary everyday life, we do not simply experience a world of pictures that arises out of the soul, the origin of which the soul itself has experienced bit by bit. We now experience a new world, a world of pictures, a world that otherwise we do not have around us. This is the first thing that anyone has to struggle for who wishes to penetrate into the real spiritual world.
But now something specially important happens on this path toward spiritual investigation. The visionary is satisfied with this world of pictures. He says that that is what he has sought. The dreamer is also satisfied. — But the person who achieves imaginative knowledge is by no means satisfied with this world of pictures. He regards it only as a means for proceeding further. For the experience of this world of pictures is accompanied by a strengthening of our means of experience. We have to find quite different inner forces in our soul life if we want to hold on to these pictures, or be really consciously present when they come into existence. These forces are quite different from those we must use when ordinary pictures arise, when speaking in the ordinary way, or when writing books. This strengthening of our consciousness is the important factor, for by these means the soul becomes stronger than it is otherwise in life, or needs to be. There is nothing to be gained by this world of pictures other than a strengthening of our soul life. We should say to ourselves: This whole world of pictures is only a preparation for the spiritual world.
Then, having experienced ourselves — and I say “experienced ourselves” intentionally — we realize that there is not really any objective world in these pictures, but that we have the means to penetrate into this objective world. We have, as it were, in this world of pictures a spiritual eye and a spiritual ear, but they are not yet transparent. Imagine that you have eyes in your eye sockets, but that they are not made of a transparent glasslike substance, but are darkened and opaque. This is the nature of this world of pictures within us, which is more likely to cut us off from the spiritual world, but which can be strengthened by taking into our souls the first available means to penetrate into the spiritual world. We have to acquire a further power. And this is acquired by feeling the power that we experience in these pictures. In experiencing them to the full, we acquire a second power. You can find more detailed information in my books.
The second power consists in making the pictures transparent and transaudient, then doing away with them, just feeling ourselves in the pictures, having only strengthened our own self, but making the whole world of pictures transparent. We have to be in it, but we no longer have to see it. This is a condition that the visionary does not want at any cost, for he is immensely satisfied to feel himself in the pictures, to have, as he thinks, “the whole spiritual world” before him. He has no wish to make the pictures transparent. The scientist of spirit utilizes what he experiences with the pictures only to strengthen his ego that thereby becomes stronger than the ordinary ego, and can now maintain itself. When the ego maintains itself, it also maintains the world of pictures for itself, but by means of this inner strength it no longer directs its gaze to the perception of the world of pictures. The latter is overcome, so that although we live in this world of pictures we no longer perceive it and no longer look at it as something coming to us as a reality from outside.
Further energetic practice of the exercises having made the imaginations transparent, the second thing necessary in order to enter the spiritual world comes about. This is what I call inspired knowledge. In using this word I would ask you to take it only in the sense that I have explained here, and not to confuse it with all sorts of superstitious notions. It is what appears in the soul when the latter has been strengthened in the world of pictures and then has eliminated. The world of pictures becomes transparent, and the outer objective spiritual world makes itself known in spiritual hearing, spiritual perception. It is not that then we have only the strengthened self before us, for our experience now gives us the possibility of knowing that there is a spiritual world around us, just as there is a physical world around us which we perceive with our physical eyes and ears. In fact, anyone who is of the opinion that proper investigation is not necessary in order to enter the spiritual world, or that talk about the spiritual world is only a lot of meaningless words, is quite wrong. And likewise wrong is the person who maintains that the scientist of spirit is a kind of visionary whose task is easy compared with the serious work which goes into the discoveries made in the laboratory and observatory. However difficult it may be for us to adopt the methods of ordinary science, it is even more difficult to master all the preparation necessary for the soul to get beyond the stage of imagination and enter the spiritual world as I have described. Irresponsible statements about such matters can come only from those who have never bothered to get a true idea of what the science of spirit is.
Having now penetrated into the spiritual world when it is revealed to us in a way similar to our experience of color and sound in the physical world, something happens which we feel in a remarkable way. By continuing to apply ourselves to inspiration we continue to experience it and what happens then is what can be called a reversal of going to sleep. It is most important to grasp this. We know that by means of imaginative and inspired knowledge we have gone through all the various conditions that we normally only experience when we go to sleep. This making ourselves free of the physical body in imagination and inspiration is the same as when, in going to sleep, the physical body follows only its own laws, which have nothing to do with what happens in the soul. Notice what happens when we go to sleep: our normal perceptions become unclear and sink away, then we become unconscious. This sinking away of our physical perceptions does not happen because the physical body is tired, but because something else takes the place of our perceptions — namely, imaginations. It is not that we develop a lower form of soul activity, but a higher. This is even more the case with inspiration.
If we proceed even further it is as if we were to wake up in the middle of sleep and see our bodies lying there apart from our souls. This is a real experience. We see that when we have experienced inspiration we are outside our bodies. We are not unconscious, however, but within the spiritual world. We now enter into what made itself known in inspiration, we enter into it, coming to know its beings and processes, step by step. In my writings I have called this third stage of spiritual knowledge, intuition.
We penetrate into the spiritual world by imagination, inspiration and intuition. This is how we immerse ourselves in the spiritual world by the transformation of the soul. It cannot be attained by empty phrases or meaningless mystical talk about losing oneself in this or the other, but only by really earnest work on the soul. — Having reached this stage — and we do not have to call it a higher stage than our ordinary life, but only a different kind of knowledge — we then have quite a different relationship to the outer world than we have without this knowledge.
Although it is well known to many of you after all the lectures I have given here, I would nevertheless like to mention in passing that it is not that a scientist of spirit is a scientist of spirit from the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep as, say, a chemist is a chemist even when not in his laboratory. For the times when the scientist of spirit is not actually immersed in the spiritual world he is an ordinary human being like anyone else. He naturally lives according to what the outside world demands of him. It is a great mistake to imagine that the scientist of spirit becomes a different person. Many misunderstandings arise in the outside world about various kinds of societies because their members constantly suggest that they are a higher kind of human being. This is quite irresponsible and is certainly not meant here. What is meant is that in certain states of life we train the soul to enter the spiritual world, and that during these states, in this condition of soul, the soul has a different relationship to the outer world than usual, even regarding the more subtle distinctions in life.
It may well seem odd to you, but it is nevertheless true, that it means a great deal to those who look at life in a one-sided way, whether one is a materialist or a spiritualist — spiritualist not in the sense of Spiritualism, but of German philosophy. It is really all the same to a scientist of spirit whether a person is a materialist or spiritualist. But this is not the point. For the materialist who approaches the outer material world with his deepened self, however material the phenomena are that he investigates, proceeds from matter to spirit, because spirit lies at the roof of all matter. If you start with matter and do not stop halfway, however rabid a materialist you may be, but are willing to apply your thinking to the investigation, you will then be on the right track. Neither should a spiritualist stop halfway, for then he only speaks eternally about spirit, and perhaps even despises matter. The important thing is not to talk about spirit, but to find the way from spirit to matter, to immerse oneself in matter, and to take the spirit with one into it. It is a fact that the spiritualists, who always chatter about spirit and have no idea of how to apply this spirit to our more immediate and useful life, are perhaps even more harmful than the materialists.
Whether we start from matter or from spirit is not important. What is important is that we continue our investigations to a conclusion. But in a certain respect this does not happen in the case of the methods pursued by modern science. Although modern physiology and biology deal almost exclusively with the material aspect, even when studying the human being, their methods — that is, their method of thinking, not the facts they discover — cannot get behind the real mysteries of, say, human evolution. And for the questions we are now considering it is just this that is so important.
You are well aware that the idea of evolution is one of the special achievements of modern science. But evolution has become a pretty threadbare word. The whole of science, including the human being, has come within the orbit of the idea of evolution, and this has led to the discovery of much useful and significant material. However, despite this, science has really only discovered half of what is necessary to make the human being understandable. For the human being is not as simple as all that, and cannot simply be understood on the basis of this single line of evolution.
Man is a complicated being. If we are to apply the idea of evolution to the human being and really penetrate the real mysteries of his nature, we must apply the idea of evolution to the human organism, as the latter appears to our everyday senses, quite differently from the somewhat oversimplified approach attempted by science until now. For in dealing with the human being we have to differentiate between different parts — the head with the senses and the nervous system (for simplicity's sake I call it the head organism), the more central organism connected with the breast and abdominal regions, and the third, consisting of what takes place at the periphery of man's body. Anyone who has seen a human skeleton will know that what is expressed so differently from animals in the formation of man's extremities, his arms and hands, his legs and feet, is not only different in its outward expression, but this differentiation is also continued on a more inner level.
Everything we experience outwardly concerning the human being is in the first instance, material. We come to know the real mysteries of this when we are in the position of being able to immerse ourselves in this material manifestation. Then in applying the idea of evolution as held by modern science we find that it only explains the middle of the three parts, the breast region. The human being considered from the aspect of his head organism cannot be explained by this idea of evolution. Why should this be? — Because the head of man not only undergoes a forward evolution, but within this forward evolution it also evolves in the opposite direction, a retrogressive evolution. The head, instead of building up, reduces, takes something away from the straightforward course of evolution, does not stop when the impetus of evolution comes to an end, but then ossifies more than the rest of the organism. We can see in this peculiar ossification of the head a trivial outer expression of the fact that anatomically the brain is strangely undifferentiated, a fact that the findings of modern science also point to — modern science and the science of spirit point to the same fact. Looking at the human being as a head organism, we are not concerned with one straight line of evolution, but with a development that at one time moves forward, then stops and becomes retrogressive.
In becoming familiar with imagination, inspiration and intuition, our inner experience enables us to penetrate further into the structure of the material world than — however odd it may appear — those who always want only to experience the spirit. This experience of the spirit presupposes that we can penetrate into the material sphere. We then experience what our minds, which really make us human beings, really are. What happens in the unconscious when our minds are active? This is very odd — in using our minds, our heads become hungry. The head loses substance. Every idea that is permeated by our thinking is a partial condition of hunger. Ascetics, who have set about it in the wrong way, have then tried to let the whole body starve in order to call up certain ideas. This is wrong. In fact, the right thing comes about simply by establishing a certain unstable equilibrium. In our organism we have only a proper equilibrium and are properly nourished insofar as our middle organism is concerned, and respecting our head, only in sleep. All the time we are awake the head must suffer from undernourishment. This is the retrogressive evolution. It is derived from the withdrawal of evolution, from reducing substance.
And lo and behold, we come upon something that is tremendously important, that provides the bridge from natural to scientific knowledge.
We ask: How do our minds function? Is it due to a forward, germinal kind of evolution? No, it is due to evolution becoming retrogressive, where evolution stops and crumbles, thus making room for soul experience. If we believe that evolution simply continues in a straight line as it does in our purely animal, middle organisms, we never arrive at a concept of the independence of our minds, of our experience of thinking. This only happens when we know that evolution has to withdraw, as does everything that induces growth and life, in order that room is made within the head for the soul. Only in knowing how the head is the foundation of our soul life do we come to appreciate the independence of our experience. In penetrating to imagination, inspiration and intuition we see, therefore, how our thinking, whether right or wrong, affects our soul life. The body has to suspend its functions in order that the soul life can be present.
We can then proceed further. The thinking part of us that takes up an independent position in the organism can be perceived, and we can see what it is and how it enters the human being when we say that one thing is right and another wrong, how it emerges out of our organism. And we have learned to recognize what sort of experience we have in imagination, inspiration and intuition. But now, in what way do we experience our thinking? We find that as it exists in everyday life, providing it is a real kind of thinking, it does not simply follow the haphazard way of our mental images, but evolves logically, rightly or wrongly, and that it is an unconscious form of inspiration to the human being. This is the great discovery that we make.
The science of spirit leads us consciously into the sphere of inspiration. This can come about only by recognizing the fact that something flows into us that tells us to reject one thing and accept another. This is an unconscious form of inspiration. — Where does it come from? We discover this through the science of spirit in our experience of imagination, inspiration and intuition. If, having attained to imagination we do not rest there but immerse ourselves in inspiration, we come to see what it is that inspires us. This turns out to be the life that we lived before entering the body given to us by our mother and father, at birth or at conception. We now realize that this physical life is a continuation of a spiritual life that we have lived. Now through the thinking itself we learn that the human being descends from out of a spiritual world and enters into an existence where the mother and father provide him with a bodily vehicle which comes into being at birth or conception. In recognizing our thinking as unconscious inspiration and in perceiving intuitions, that is, in speaking of an intuitive thinking, of intuition living in our thinking, we are really speaking about the spirit-soul existence of man which he has before birth, or rather, before conception.
In future the problem of immortality will be expanded considerably. Thus far, people have only interested themselves egoistically in what happens after death. But the life that we live here in a physical body is the continuation of a spiritual life. The science of spirit opens up the possibility of looking at our life here in conjunction with the immortal soul as it was before it entered into the physical body at birth or conception.
Let us observe the human being from another aspect of his evolution. Here I shall have to say something very paradoxical. But I also know that the paradox I am going to speak about, which perhaps people will regard as somewhat perverse, will in fact be a solid possession of the science of the future.
Let us look at the organism belonging to our extremities, that is, everything connected with the formation of our arms and hands, feet and legs, and see how these are continued on the inward plane. Here we have quite a different picture of evolution. With the head organism we saw how evolution has to be retrogressive. In the limb organism we have the odd situation that it is a shade ahead of what is normal in the middle organism; our extremities, our limbs, are really over evolved. Here the human being progresses beyond the norm established in the evolution of the head. Even the form — the time is unfortunately too short to go into all the details — and the whole life of our limb organism provides proof that we are here concerned with over-evolution, for it tends toward something for which the human being has no need for the preservation of his body. Our evolution goes beyond this, whereas our heads have evolved retrogressively. What is the consequence of this? — Because of this over evolution something is brought to life unconsciously in us that we only recognize when we have attained a grasp of the imaginative life and when this has then been deepened through inspiration and intuition.
When the spiritual eye of the scientist of spirit perceives the limb organism, he sees how something is added to the organism. This something is, in fact, an imagination which arises as a matter of course in its own right. The extremities overdo evolution, thereby allowing something to be taken into the soul that cannot be seen with our normal eyes, but which appears immediately when we attain to imaginative life. Through the medium-ship of our limbs an imagination is produced, having nothing to do with our life here in the body. What have we here that is integrated into our limbs, and that can only be grasped as an imagination? It is nothing other than what later goes through the gate of death, that provides the foundation for the continuation of life after death.
On the one hand, what exists before birth, before conception, unfolds its life in our heads, that have undergone retrogressive evolution to allow inspiration to work in our thinking, on the other, what bears our soul life in a kind of vehicle into the spiritual world after death, is integrated into our limb organism. Thus on the one hand we are endowed with unconscious inspiration in our heads, while on the other we are endowed with unconscious imagination in our limbs, whereby the part of us that goes through the gate of death lives unconsciously in us, bearing us into immortality after death. We therefore come to know life before birth and life after death in two different ways, the former as unconscious inspiration, the latter as unconscious imagination.
It is possible to study biologically and physiologically the connection between the limb organism and the rest of the human organism. We then have only to see how in their structure the primary sexual organs are connected with the feet, and the secondary sexual organs, that is, the breasts only, are connected with the arms. Thus we have before us the physical basis for producing a new life, which then separates off, that has been integrated into the human being through the limb organization. This physical basis is complete when the human being reaches puberty, though he continues his life beyond this.
What we have here as our physical organization has its counterpart. The physical organism, insofar as it is connected with the sexual organization, is the basis for producing further physical life. The spirit-soul nature, which is the basis of the organism of our extremities is, on the other hand, necessary in order to produce what is sent beyond the gate of death and brings about the next life on earth.
We have here a starting point for a rigorous scientific investigation of the problem of immortality. And when more than twenty-five years ago I pointed out in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity that it is necessary to observe correctly if we wish to approach freedom, I also indicated that on the other hand we have to progress toward purely intuitive thinking. Today I would add: This intuitive thinking is to be perceived before birth or conception. This was already written in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity when I called the one element of the human will, intuitive thinking. The other element that arises as imaginative life I called, for the purposes of discussing freedom, moral fantasy, in order to make the book possible for those who consider the science of spirit a lot of nonsense. It is described there from a philosophical viewpoint. The scientist of spirit adds that what is described there as moral fantasy is a part of what lives in the human organization as unconscious imagination and which then emerges in moral action.
I said at that time that the interaction of moral fantasy and intuitive thinking is responsible for action on the part of the human being based on free will. Today I would add: What is the thinking? It is our inspiration here, that belongs to the sphere of pre-earthly existence. When does it become manifest? — It becomes manifest when we are able to work out an action that is so dear to us that it has nothing to do with our instincts and inclinations, that it is as dear to us as a person whom we really love because we have come to recognize and respect his inmost being. When we perform an action out of love — that is, not out of egoism, nor on the basis of our fluctuating mental images or ideas, but out of insight into the inner necessity of the action — then we give ourselves over to intuitive actions, we are then inspired by the life before birth.
But where does the power to do this come from? — It is the power that takes us into the spiritual world after death. This goes on in us subconsciously. As moral action freely unfolds, there lights up what lies before birth or conception. This unites with what enters into the spiritual world after death. During our life between birth and death we already carry out actions where what lies before birth plays a part in us in our intuitive thinking, that flows as inspiration into our lives. What lies beyond death is really not connected with us at all, but is nevertheless carried out by us. It is characterized by being performed out of love: this is the truly free action. We therefore have to say that what enters us as inspiration by way of our intuitive thinking, has no connection with our body. And what works imaginatively has no significance for the moment, but only after death. These two factors, having nothing to do with the body, are the real forces that work in the true, free act of will in the human being. The profound mystery is that when we investigate the free will we find that nothing mortal in the human being carries out the actions, but we find that free actions are carried out by the immortal part of man.
The problems of free will and of immortality are intimately connected because the only truly free actions are those in which the super-sensible plays a part, which is not yet bound to the body, which the human being has evolved in the spiritual world before he bears a body, and in which this super-sensible is joined to what results from over evolution, which has as yet no significance for our present development, but which will have significance after death, and which shines into those actions that are carried out apart from us. This is why I said in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity that one cannot put the question: Is the human being free or unfree? — For this always leads to the wrong answers. It is not a question of “either — or,” but of “both — and.”
The human being performs many actions arising out of the needs of his body, out of the interplay of mental images rising up out of the body as a result of the impulses of the body. But he always has the ideal of performing actions where he can say: What is to happen here is so free that I do not come into it; it is as free of me as the human being whom I love; it only happens because I realize that it should happen. Our whole human thinking is set in this direction, and it gradually seeks to infiltrate into our unfree action. The human being extricates himself from unfree actions by evolving increasingly toward his true self, especially in what he does and wills, where the spheres of before birth and after death shine into his willing. He evolves toward freedom within the sphere of unfreedom; he is on the way to becoming increasingly free. This is not a question of “either — or” but of action. Those who put the question in this way cannot possibly find an answer to the problem of freedom. On the contrary, it is a question of “both — and.” The human being is free in his actions inasmuch as the immortal soul is revealed to him underlying the life of the physical body. What he does is released by his thoughts, flowing by way of love into deeds, and his freedom will be measured by the extent to which this happens.
In conclusion today I would simply like to show how the problems of immortality and free will illumine each other, and how they are so closely connected with each other. Free will can only be the possession of an immortal being. No one can be an adherent of free will without recognizing man's immortality at the same time. And those who do recognize man's immortality know that the human being is on the path of evolution toward freedom.
The kind of considerations we have discussed today, in which the science of spirit enables us to approach the most important questions that then point to the necessity of selfless self-knowledge, are normally fraught with prejudices. For they indeed make great demands upon us. We have to take ourselves rigorously in hand if we are to succeed in persevering with the whole power of our souls in what I have called imaginative ideas. It is something we have yet to learn. It would be much more comfortable if we could answer the most profound questions and mysteries of human life without all this.
What leads people today to regard the science of spirit as nonsensical and irrelevant? It is because they are unconsciously afraid of the powers that have to be developed in order to grasp the spirit in a completely free kind of experience of the spirit. For courage is necessary for such investigation, courage to believe that we do not immediately fall into an abyss of nothingness when we are dependent upon our own powers for producing a particular kind of experience which we ourselves place before our souls. It is certainly easier to want to penetrate the mysteries of life with outer means than to be told that the soul needs an inner strengthening far beyond anything found in ordinary life. It is therefore largely a matter of comfort and fear that leads to opposition to the science of spirit. Such things, however, will gradually be overcome by a humanity that is increasingly thirsting for truth.
I would like to close today's lecture by quoting, in a somewhat modified form, the words of a German thinker. The science of spirit is slandered by many people today because it is not properly understood and recognized, because people do not see how necessary it is for human life. But if we really contemplate the course of human evolution, we are bound to say that however overbearing the opposition, the misunderstandings, the slanders that oppose the truth, the truth will find its own way through the narrowest cracks in the rocks of human evolution, however great the pressure from the rocks may be. The truth we have been talking about today — that on the one hand we recognize the needs of present day humanity, existing in the subconscious, and that on the other we look into the spiritual world and see how it reveals itself to us on the path from imagination to intuition — this is the kind of truth that must be seen by the scientist of spirit as the kind that will find its way through, however great the weight of opposition and slander that rests upon it. For the truth winds its way against obstacles through the tiniest cracks in the rock of human evolution, and is bound to triumph in the end.