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Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts
GA 26

On the Picture Nature of Man

Supplementary to the last set of Leading Thoughts

It is most important that it should be understood through Anthroposophy that the ideas which a man gains by looking at outer Nature are inadequate for the observation of Man. The ideas which have taken possession of men's minds during the spiritual development of the last few centuries fail to realise this fact. Through them men have grown accustomed to thinking out natural laws, and to explaining by means of them the phenomena which are perceived by the senses. They then turn their attention to the human organism, and think that that too can be explained through bringing the laws of Nature to bear upon it.

Now this is just as though, in considering a picture which a painter had created, we only took into account the substance of the colours, their power of adhering to the canvas, the way in which these colours were applied, and similar things. But such a way of regarding the picture does not reveal what is contained in it. Quite other laws are active in the revelation contained in the picture than those which can be perceived by considering such points as these.

It is a question of realising that in the human being too something is revealed which cannot be grasped from the standpoint of natural law. If anyone has once thoroughly made this conception his own, then he will be able to understand man as a picture. A mineral is not a picture in this sense. It reveals only what is directly evident to the senses.

To a certain extent when regarding a picture we look through what the senses perceive to its spiritual content. And so is it also in the observation of the human being. If we truly understand the human being in the light of natural law, we do not feel that these laws bring us into contact with the real man, but only with that through which he reveals himself

We must experience spiritually that when we regard a man only from the point of view of natural law, it is as if we stood before a picture seeing only ‘blue’ and ‘red,’ and quite unable through an inner activity of the soul to relate the blue and red to that which reveals itself through these colours.

When viewing things from the standpoint of natural law we must perceive the mineral in one way, the human being in another. In the case of the mineral it is, for the spiritual understanding, as if we were in immediate touch with what is perceived; but in the case of man it is as though we could only come as near to him through natural laws as to a picture which we do not see clearly with the eye of the soul but only touch and feel.

When once we have gained the perception that man is a ‘picture’ of something, we shall be in the right mood of soul to progress to that which manifests in this picture.

The pictorial nature of man does not manifest in one way only. An organ of sense is in its nature least of all a picture, and mostly a kind of manifestation of itself like the mineral. The human organs of sense approach nearest to natural laws. Let us but contemplate the wonderful arrangement of the eye, which by natural laws we are able to comprehend. It is the same with the other organs, though not often so clearly evident. It is because the sense organs, in their formation, show a certain compactness. They are arranged in the organism as complete formations, and as such assist in the perception of the outer world.

But it is otherwise with the rhythmic actions in the organism. They are not complete, but evanescent, the organism in them continually forming and then declining. If the sense organs were like the rhythmic system, we should perceive the outer world in a perpetual growth.

The sense organs are like a picture on the wall. The rhythmic system is like the scene that unfolds itself if canvas and painter are imaged by us at the conception of the picture. The picture is not yet there, but it comes more and more into being. In studying the rhythmic system, we have to do with a perpetual process of becoming. A thing that has already come into existence remains in existence, for a time at any rate. But when we study the human rhythmic system we find the process of becoming, the upbuilding process, followed directly and without a gap by the passing out of existence, the destructive process. In the rhythmic system there manifests itself a picture, coming into existence, but never finished nor complete.

The activity which the soul discharges in conscious devotion to what is brought before it as the finished picture, may be styled Imagination. On the other hand Inspiration is the experience that must be unfolded in order to comprehend a growing picture.

But this is different again in the contemplation of the metabolic and limb system. Here it is as if one was before a bare canvas and unused paints, and an artist not even painting. To get a perception of the metabolic and limb system, one must get a perception that has as little connection with the senses, as have the bare canvas and unused paints with that which is afterwards the artist's picture. And the activity that is developed by the soul in pure spirituality out of the metabolic and limb system is as when, upon seeing the painter and an empty canvas and unused paints, one experiences the picture to be painted later. In order to understand the metabolic and limb system the soul must exercise the power of Intuition.

It is necessary that the active members of the Anthroposophical Society should concentrate in this way on the essential and fundamental nature of anthroposophical study. For it is not only the knowledge one gains by study but the experience achieved thereby that matters.

From what has here been explained our study will lead us to the following Leading Thoughts.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

38. We have shown how man is to be regarded in his picture-nature and in the spirituality which thereby reveals itself. Once this perception is attained, then, in the spiritual world where we see man living and moving as a Spirit-being, we are also on the point of seeing the reality of the moral laws of the soul. For the moral world-order is then revealed as the earthly image of an order belonging to the spiritual world. The physical world-order and the moral are welded together now, in undivided unity.

39. From out of man, there works the human Will. This Will confronts the ‘Laws of Nature’ which we derive from the external world, as something altogether foreign to their essence. The nature of the sense-organs can still be scientifically understood by virtue of their likeness to the objects of external Nature. In the activity of these organs, the Will, however, is not yet able to unfold itself. The nature that manifests itself in the human rhythmic system is already far less like any external thing. Into this system the Will can already work to some extent. But the rhythmic system is in constant process of coming-into-being and passing-away, and in these processes the Will is not yet free.

40. In the system of metabolism and the limbs we have a nature which manifests itself in material substances and in the processes they undergo; yet are the substances and processes in reality no nearer to this nature than are the artist and his materials to the finished picture. Here, therefore, the Will is able to enter in and work directly. Behind the human Organisation living in ‘Natural Laws,’ we must grasp that inner human nature which lives and moves and has its being in the Spiritual. Here is the realm in which we can become aware of the real working of the Will. For the realm of sense, the human Will remains a mere word, empty of all content, and the scientist or thinker who claims to take hold of it within this realm, leaves the real nature of the Will behind him and replaces it in theory by something else.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

41. In the third of the last Leading Thoughts, we pointed to the nature of the human Will. Only when this is realised, do we enter with understanding into a sphere of the world where Destiny or Karma works. So long as we perceive only that system of law which holds sway in the relations of the things and facts of Nature, our understanding is entirely remote from the laws that work in Destiny.

42. When the law in Destiny is thus perceived, it is revealed at the same time that Destiny cannot come into existence in the course of a single physical life on Earth. So long as he inhabits the same physical body, man can realise only the moral content of his Will in the way that this particular physical body, within the physical world, allows. Only when he has passed through the gate of death into the sphere of the Spirit, can the Spirit-nature of the Will come to full effect. Then will the Good and the Evil be severally realised—a spiritual realisation to begin with—in their corresponding outcome.

43. In this spiritual realisation man fashions and forms himself between death and a new birth. He becomes in being an image of what he did during his earthly life; and out of this his being, on his subsequent return to Earth, he forms his physical life. The Spiritual that works and weaves in Destiny can only find realisation in the Physical if its corresponding cause withdrew, before this realisation, into the spiritual realm. For all that emerges in our life by way of Destiny proceeds out of the Spiritual; nor does it ever take shape within the sequence of physical phenomena.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

44. We should pass on to a spiritual-scientific treatment of the question of Destiny by taking examples from the life and experience of individual men and women, showing how the forces of Destiny work themselves out, and the significance they have for the whole course of human life. We may show, for instance, how an experience which a man undergoes in his youth, which he can certainly not have brought upon himself entirely of his own free will, may none the less to a large extent give shape to the whole of his later life.

45. We should describe the significance of the fact that in the physical course of life between birth and death the good may become unhappy in their outer life, and the wicked at any rate apparently happy. In expounding these things, pictures of individual cases carry more weight than theoretical explanations; they are a far better preparation for the spiritual-scientific treatment of the subject.

46. Events of Destiny which come into the life of man in such a way that their determining conditions cannot possibly be found in his present life, should be cited. Faced with such happenings, a purely reasonable view of life already points in the direction of former lives on Earth. It must of course be made clear by the very way in which these things are described that no dogmatic or binding statement is implied. The purpose of such examples is simply to direct one's thoughts towards a spiritual-scientific treatment of the question of Destiny.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

47. Of all that is latent in the forming of man's Destiny, only the very smallest part enters the everyday consciousness. Yet the unveiling of our Destiny teaches us most of all, how the Unconscious can indeed be brought to consciousness. They in effect are wrong, who speak of what is, for the time being, the Unconscious, as though it must remain absolutely in the realm of the unknown, thus constituting a barrier of knowledge. With every fragment of his Destiny that is unveiled to him, man lifts into the realm of consciousness something that was hitherto unconscious.

48. In so doing man becomes aware that the things of Destiny are not woven within the life between birth and death. Thus the question of Destiny impels him most of all to the contemplation of the life between death and a new birth.

49. Conscious human experience is thus impelled by the question of Destiny to look beyond itself. Moreover, as we dwell upon this fact, we shall develop a true feeling for the relation of the Natural and the Spiritual. He who beholds the living sway of Destiny in the human being, stands already in the midst of spiritual things. For the inner connections of Destiny have nothing of the character of outer Nature.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

50. It is most important to point out, how the study of the historic life of mankind is called to life when we show that it is the souls of men themselves, passing from epoch to epoch in their repeated lives on Earth, who carry over the results of one historic age into another.

51. It may easily be objected that such a line of thought robs history of its naive and elemental force. But this objection is untrue. On the contrary, our vision of historic life is deepened when we can trace it thus into man's inmost being. History becomes more real and more abundant, not poorer and more abstract. In describing these things we must, however, unfold true sympathy and insight into the living soul of man, for we gaze deep into the soul along these lines of thought.

52. The epochs in the life between death and a new birth should be treated in relation to the forming of Karma. Further Leading Thoughts will indicate the way in which this can be done.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

53. The unfolding of man's life between death and a new birth takes place in successive stages. For a few days after passing through the gate of Death the whole of the past earthly life is seen in living pictures. This experience reveals at the same time the gradual severance of the vehicle of the past life from the human soul-and-spirit.

54. In a time that comprises about a third of the past earthly life, the soul discovers in spiritual experiences the effect which this life must have in accordance with an ethically just World-order. During this experience the purpose is begotten in the soul to shape the next earthly life in a corresponding way, and thus to compensate for the past.

55. There follows a purely spiritual epoch of existence. During this epoch, which is of long duration, the soul of man—along with other human souls karmically connected with him, and with the Beings of the Hierarchies above—fashions the next life on Earth in the sense of Karma.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

56. The epoch of existence between death and a new birth, when the Karma of man is fashioned, can be described only by the results of spiritual research. But it must always be borne in mind that such description appeals to our intelligence. We need only consider with open mind the realities of the world of the senses, and we become aware that it points to a spiritual reality—as the form of a corpse points to the life that in-dwelt it.

57. The results of Spiritual Science show that between death and birth man belongs to Spirit-kingdoms, even as he belongs between birth and death to the three kingdoms of Nature: the mineral, the plant and the animal.

58. The mineral kingdom is recognisable in the form of the human being at any given moment; the plant kingdom, as the etheric body, is the basis of his growth, his becoming; the animal kingdom, as the astral body, is the impulse for his unfolding of sensation and volition. The crowning of the conscious life of sensation and volition in the self-conscious spiritual life makes the connection of man with the spiritual world straightway apparent.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society

59. Open-minded contemplation of Thinking shows that the thoughts of the ordinary consciousness have no existence of their own, but arise only as the reflected images of something. Man, however, feels himself to be alive in his thoughts. The thoughts are not alive, but he himself is living in them. This life has its source in Spirit-beings, whom we may describe (in the sense of my book, Occult Science) as the Beings of the Third Hierarchy—a kingdom of the Spirit.

60. Extended to the life of Feeling, the same open-minded contemplation shows that the feelings, though they arise out of the body, cannot have been created by it. For their life bears in it a character independent of the bodily organism. With his bodily nature man can feel himself to be within the world of Nature. Yet just in realising this with true self-understanding, he will feel that with his world of Feeling he is in a spiritual kingdom. This is the kingdom of the Second Hierarchy.

61. As a being of Will, man's attention is directed not to his own bodily nature, but to the outer world. When he desires to walk he does not ask, ‘What do I feel in my feet?’ but ‘What is the goal out there, which I desire to reach?’ In willing, man forgets his body. In his Will he belongs, not to his own nature, but to the Spirit-kingdom of the First Hierarchy.