If we reflect upon ourselves, we soon come to realize that, in addition to the self we encompass with our thoughts, feelings, and fully conscious impulses of will, we bear in ourselves a second, more powerful self. We become aware that we subordinate ourselves to this second self as to a higher power. At first, this second self seems to us a lower being when compared to the one we encompass with our clear, fully conscious soul and its natural inclination toward the good and the true. And so, initially, we may strive to overcome this seemingly lower self.
A closer self-examination, however, can teach us something else about this second self. If periodically we look back on what we have experienced or done in life, we make a strange discovery, one that becomes more meaningful for us the older we become. Whenever we think about what we did or said at some time in the past, it turns out that we did a great many things we actually understood only at a later date. When we think of things we did seven or eight years ago — or perhaps even twenty years ago — we realize that only now, after a long time, is our mind sufficiently developed to understand what we did or said then.
Of course, there are people who do not make such self-discoveries because they do not try to. Nevertheless, this sort of soul-searching is extraordinarily fruitful. For in such moments as we become aware that we are only now beginning to understand something we did in our earlier years-that in the past our minds were not mature enough to understand what we did or said then-a new feeling emerges in our soul. We feel ourselves as if sheltered by a benevolent power presiding in the depths of our own being. We begin to trust more and more that, in the highest sense of the word, we are not alone in the world and that whatever we can understand or do consciously is fundamentally only a small part of what we accomplish in the world.
After we have gone through this process of discovery a number of times, an insight that is theoretically easy to understand can become part of our practical lives. We know, in theory at any rate, that we would not get very far in life if we had to do everything in full consciousness, rationally understanding all the circumstances and ramifications in every case. To see that this is so we need only consider how and when we accomplish those acts that are the wisest and most important for our existence. A moment's thought will reveal that we act most wisely in the time between birth and the moment at which memory, that first moment we can remember when in later years we try to recall our early life, begins.
This is to say that, as we think back to what we did three, four, or five and more years ago, we reach a certain point in childhood beyond which our memory does not extend. Our memory does not go back any further. Parents or other people can tell us what happened before that time, but our own memory does not go back beyond a certain point. This is the point in our lives when we first began to perceive ourselves as an I. People whose memory is intact can usually remember back to, but not earlier than, this moment.
Our souls, however, have already performed their wisest deeds before this time. Never again in later life, after we have attained full consciousness, will we be able to accomplish such splendid and tremendous deeds as those we accomplished out of the unconscious depths of our souls in the first years of childhood. As we know, we bring the fruits of earlier lives on earth with us into the physical world at birth. For example, at birth our physical brain is still an incomplete and unfinished instrument. The soul must then work on it, adding the finer, detailed structures that make it the medium of all the soul's faculties. In fact, before the soul is fully conscious, it works on the brain to transform it into an instrument to express all the capacities, aptitudes, characteristics, and so on, that it has as a consequence of earlier lives. This work on our own body is guided from a perspective that is wiser than anything we can achieve later with our full consciousness. Moreover, during this time when the brain is being transformed, we must also acquire the three most important capacities for life on earth.
The first capacity we must learn is to orient our body in space. People today do not realize what this means and that it touches on the most essential differences between human beings and animals. Animals are destined from the beginning to achieve their equilibrium in a certain way: one is destined to be a climber, another a swimmer, and so on. Animals are so constituted that from the outset they can orient themselves in space correctly. This is true even of primates. If zoologists were aware of this, they would put less emphasis on the number of similar bones, muscles, and so forth that human beings and animals have. After all, this is not nearly as important as the fact that human beings are not given an innate way to achieve equilibrium in space but must develop it out of their total being. 1For a further description of the essential differences between human beings and animals, see Wolfgang Schad, Man and Mammals, (Garden City, NY: Waldorf Press, 1977) and Rudolf Steiner, Study of Man, (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966).
It is significant that we must work on ourselves to develop from beings that cannot walk into ones that walk upright. We achieve our vertical position, our position of equilibrium in space, by ourselves. In other words, we establish our own relationship to gravity. Those who do not wish to consider the question deeply will, of course, easily dispute our explanation on apparently good grounds. They may claim, for example, that we are just as well constituted for walking upright as climbing animals are for climbing. Upon closer examination, however, we find that animals' orientation in space is determined by their physical organization. In human beings, however, it is the soul that establishes the relationship to space and shapes the organization.
The second capacity we learn out of ourselves from our essential being — which remains the same through successive incarnations — is language. This allows us to relate to our fellow human beings and makes us bearers of the spiritual life that permeates the physical world primarily by means of human beings. It has often been emphasized, and with good reason, that someone stranded on a desert island who had had no contact with other human beings before learning to speak would never learn to do so. What we receive through heredity, on the other hand, what is implanted in us for development in later years, does not depend on our interactions with other human beings. For example, we are predisposed by heredity to change teeth in our seventh year. Even on a desert island our second set of teeth would grow if we reached that age. But if our soul being, the part of us that continues from one life to the next, is not stimulated we will not learn to speak. In a sense, we must sow the seed for the development of the larynx in the time before our earliest memory-before we attain full I-consciousness-so that the larynx can then become an organ of speech.
There is still a third, even less well known, capacity that we learn on our own through what we bear within us through successive incarnations. I am referring here to our ability to live within the world of thoughts and ideas, the world of thought itself. Our brain is formed and worked on because it is the tool of thinking. At the beginning of life, the brain is still malleable because we must shape it ourselves to make it an instrument for the thinking appropriate to our essential being. The brain at birth is the result of the work of forces inherited from our parents, grandparents, and so on. It is in our thinking that we bring to expression what we are as individuals in conformity with our former earthly lives. Therefore, after birth, when we have become physically independent of our parents and ancestors, we must transform the brain we have inherited.
Clearly, then, we accomplish significant steps in the early years of life. We work on ourselves in accordance with the highest wisdom. In fact, if we had to rely on our own intelligence, we could not achieve what we must accomplish without our intelligence in the first few years of our lives. Why is this so? Why must all these things be accomplished from soul depths that lie outside our consciousness? Because, in the first years of our lives, our souls, as well as our whole being, are much more closely connected with the spiritual worlds of the higher hierarchies than is the case later.
Clairvoyants, who can trace the spiritual processes involved because they have undergone spiritual training, discover that something tremendously significant happens at the moment when we achieve I-consciousness, that is, at the moment of our earliest memory. They can see that, during the early years of childhood, an aura hovers about us like a wonderful human-superhuman power. This aura, which is actually our higher part, extends everywhere into the spiritual world. But at the earliest moment we can remember, 2Steiner describes the aura in Theosophy, 140–153. We can experience ourselves as a coherent I from this point on because what had previously been connected to the higher worlds then entered the I. Thereafter, our consciousness establishes its own relationship to the outer world.
This conscious relationship to the outer world does not yet exist in early childhood. In childhood, a dream world still seems to hover about us. We work on ourselves with a wisdom that is not in us, a wisdom that is more powerful and comprehensive than all the conscious wisdom we acquire later. This higher wisdom works from the spiritual world deep into the body; it enables us to form the brain out of the spirit. We can rightly say, then, that even the wisest person can learn from a child. For the wisdom at work in children does not become part of our consciousness in later life. It is obscured and exchanged for consciousness.
In the first years of life, however, this higher wisdom functions like a “telephone connection” to the spiritual beings in whose world we find ourselves between death and rebirth. Something from this world still flows into our aura during childhood. As individuals we are then directly subject to the guidance of the entire spiritual world to which we belong. When we are children — up to the moment of our earliest memory — the spiritual forces from this world flow into us, enabling us to develop our particular relationship to gravity. At the same time, the same forces also form our larynx and shape our brain into living organs for the expression of thought, feeling, and will.
During childhood, then, we work out of a self that is still in direct contact with the higher worlds. Indeed, to a certain degree, we can still do this even in later life, although conditions change. Whenever we feel that we did or said something in earlier years that we are only now coming to understand, we have an indication that we were guided by a higher wisdom at that earlier time. Only years later do we manage to gain insight into the motives of our past conduct. All this indicates that at birth we did not entirely leave behind the world we lived in before entering into our new, physical existence. In fact, we never leave it behind completely. What we have as our part of higher spirituality enters our physical life and remains with us. Thus, what we bear within us is not a higher self that has to be developed gradually, but one that already exists and that often leads us to rise above ourselves.
All that we can produce in the way of ideals and artistic creativity — as also the natural healing forces in our body, which continuously compensate for the injuries life inflicts — originate not in our ordinary, rational minds but in the deeper forces that work in our early years on our orientation in space, on the formation of the larynx, and on the development of the brain. These same forces are still present in us later. People often say of the damages and injuries we sustain in life that external forces will not be of any help and that our organism must develop its own inherent healing powers. What they are talking about is a wise, benevolent influence working upon us. From this same source also arise the best forces that enable us to perceive the spiritual world — that is, to have true clairvoyance.
We can now ask why the higher powers work on us only in the early years of childhood. It is easy to answer one half of this question, for if these higher forces continued to work on us in the same way into later life, we would always remain children and could never achieve full I-consciousness. What worked previously from without must be transferred into our own being.
But there is a more significant reason, one that can tell us more about the mysteries of human life. Spiritual science teaches that we have to consider the human body at the present stage of the earth's evolution as having developed from earlier conditions. People familiar with spiritual science know that in the course of this evolution various forces have worked on our whole being — some on the physical body, others on the etheric body, and others again on the astral body. 3The physical body is the corporeal aspect of the human being, related to the mineral kingdom. The etheric body, or body of formative forces through which life unfolds, is related to the plant kingdom. The astral body bears desires, pleasure and pain, and the qualitative world of emotions, and is related to the animal kingdom. See Occult Science, 21–28. We have evolved to our present condition because beings we call luciferic and ahrimanic have affected us. Through their forces, our essential being became worse than it would have been if only the forces of the spiritual guides of the world, those who want to advance our development in a straight line, had worked on us. Indeed, suffering, disease, and death can be traced to the fact that, in addition to the beings who advance our development in a straight line, luciferic and ahrimanic beings are also at work and continuously thwart our progress.
What we bring with us at birth contains something that is better than anything we can make of it in later life. In early childhood, the luciferic and ahrimanic forces have only a limited influence on our being. Essentially, they are active only in what we make of ourselves through our conscious life. If we retained the best part of ourselves in its full force beyond the first phase of childhood, its influence would be too much for us because the luciferic and ahrimanic forces opposing the part of ourselves that is better than the rest would weaken our whole being. Our constitution as human beings in the physical world is such that, once we are no longer soft and malleable as children, we can no longer stand to have the forces of the spiritual world continue to affect us directly. The forces that underlie our orientation in space and the formation of the larynx and the brain would shatter us if they continued to influence us directly in later life. These forces are so powerful that our organism would waste away beneath their holiness if they continued to work on us. However, for the activity that brings us into conscious contact with the supersensible world, we have to call upon these forces again.
This leads us to a realization that is very significant if we understand it rightly. In the New Testament it is put thus: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) What then seems to be the highest ideal for a human being if the above statement is correctly understood? Surely that our ideal must be to approach ever closer a conscious relationship with the forces that worked on us, without our awareness, in the first years of childhood. At the same time, we must realize that we would collapse under the power of these forces if they were immediately and too easily to affect our conscious life. That is why a careful preparation is necessary to achieve the capacities that lead to a perception of supersensible worlds. The goal of this preparation is to enable us to bear what we simply cannot bear in ordinary life.
Our passing through successive incarnations is significant for the overall evolution of our essential being, which has undergone successive past lives and will continue to go through future lives. The evolution of the earth runs parallel to our own. At some point in the future, the earth will have reached the end of its course; then the planet earth, as a physical entity, will have to separate from the totality of human souls — just as when we die the body separates from the spirit, and the soul, in order to live on, enters the spiritual realm between death and rebirth. 4For a description of earth evolution, see Occult Science, chap. 2. From this point of view, our highest ideal must be the striving to make all the fruits to be gained in earthly life truly our own before we die.
The forces that make us too weak to bear those forces that work on us in childhood originate in the organism of the earth. By the time this separates from humanity, we must have advanced to the point of giving over our whole being to the forces that presently work on us only in childhood. Only when we have reached this level can we claim to have attained our goal. Thus, through successive earthly lives, we must gradually make our entire being, including our consciousness, an expression of the forces that work on us under the guidance of the spiritual world in early childhood. This is the purpose of evolution.
After such considerations, the realization that we are not alone takes hold of our soul. This realization imbues us with humility, but also with a proper consciousness of our human dignity. We realize at the same time that something lives in us that can prove at all times that we can rise above ourselves to a self that is already surpassing us and will continue to do so from one life to the next. As this realization assumes a more and more definite form, it can have a very soothing, heartwarming effect and, at the same time, imbue the soul with the appropriate humility and modesty. What lives within us is truly a higher, divine human being, and we can feel ourselves pervaded by this being as by a living presence of whom we can say, This is my inner guide in me.
Given this, the thought easily arises that we should strive in every way possible to achieve harmony with that part in us that is wiser than our conscious intelligence. Thereafter, our attention will no longer be directed to the conscious self but will be focused instead on an expanded self, and from this perspective we can then combat and eradicate all our false pride and arrogance. From this feeling we will gradually come to a right understanding of our present incompleteness. We shall come to see that we will become complete when the comprehensive spirituality at work in us has the same relationship to our adult consciousness that it had to our unconscious soul life in early childhood.
Even though we may not remember anything from our first four years of life, we can safely say that the active influence of the higher spiritual realms lasts for about the first three years. By the end of this period we have become able to connect the impressions from the outer world with our I-concept. To be sure, this coherent I-concept cannot be traced back beyond the first moment we can remember. This is a moment that is difficult to locate, for with the awakening of distinct I-consciousness, our memory may be so weak that it cannot be recovered later. Nevertheless, we may say that people generally remember as far back as the beginning of the fourth year. In other words, we are justified in saying that the higher forces that have a decisive influence on us in childhood can work on us for three years. It follows that our constitution in the present, middle phase of the earth's evolution enables us to absorb these higher forces for only three years.
Now if, through some special cosmic powers, we could somehow remove the ordinary I from a person — if the ordinary I that has accompanied a person through successive incarnations could be separated from that person's physical, etheric, and astral bodies — and we could then replace the ordinary I with an I that is connected with the spiritual worlds — what would happen? After three years this person's body would fall apart! If such a thing were to happen, world karma would have to do something to prevent the spiritual being connected to the higher worlds from living in this body for more than three years. [During the transition from childhood to the following stages, our organism retains its viability because it can still change during this period. In later life it can no longer change, and therefore cannot survive with the self connected directly to the spiritual worlds.] Only at the conclusion of our earthy lives will we be able to retain the forces within ourselves that allow us to live with that spiritual being for more than three years. Then we will be able to say, Not I but this higher self in me, which has been there all along, is now at work in me. Until then, we will not be able to experience this. At most, we will be able to feel the presence of this higher self, but our actual, real human I will not yet be able to bring the higher self fully to life.
Let us now assume that a human organism were to enter the world at some moment in the middle of the earth's lifetime, and that, at a certain point by means of certain cosmic powers, this organism was freed of its I and received in its stead the I that is usually active only in the first three years of childhood — the I that is connected to the spiritual worlds we live in between death and rebirth. How long would such a person be able to live in an earthly body? Such a person would be able to survive in this earthy body only for about three years. After three years, world karma would have to intervene and destroy this human organism.
What we have assumed here did actually occur at one time in history. When the human organism known as Jesus stood on the banks of the Jordan to be baptized by John, his I left his physical, etheric, and astral bodies. But after the Baptism, that organism bore within itself the higher self of humanity in fully conscious form. The self that works on us with cosmic wisdom in childhood, before we are conscious of it, was then fully conscious in Jesus of Nazareth. And by this very fact, this self, which was connected to the higher spiritual world, could live in this human body for only three years. Events then had to follow a course that brought an end to Jesus' physical life three years after the Baptism.
Indeed, we have to understand the external events in the life of Jesus Christ as resulting from the inner causes discussed above. They are the outer expression of these causes. This reveals the deeper connection between the guide in us — which radiates into our childhood as into a dark room and always works under the surface of our consciousness as our best self — and what once entered into human history to live for three years in a human sheath.
This “higher” I, which is connected to the spiritual hierarchies, entered history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth — an event that is symbolized by the spirit descending in the form of a dove, saying: “This is my well beloved Son, today I have begotten him” (Matthew 3: 17). (Such is the original meaning of the words). What is revealed here? If we hold this image of the Baptism before our eyes, we have before us the highest human ideal. That is what is meant when the gospels tell us that Christ can be seen and known in every person. Even if there were no gospels and no tradition to report that a Christ once lived, our knowledge of the nature of the human being would tell us that Christ is alive in us.
To know the forces at work in childhood is to know the Christ in us. The question then arises whether this realization also leads us to acknowledge that Christ at one time really lived on earth in a human body? We can answer “yes” to this without requiring any documents, because true clairvoyant self-knowledge convinces people in our time that there are forces in the human soul that come from Christ.
In the first three years of childhood these forces are active without any effort on our part. They can also work on us in our later life — if we seek Christ in ourselves through contemplation. It was not always possible to find the Christ within; indeed, as clairvoyant perception reveals, prior to Christ's life on earth, there were times when no amount of contemplation would have helped people to find the Christ. Clairvoyant cognition teaches us that this is so. Between the time when Christ could not be found within and the present, when he can be found in this way, lies Christ's life on earth. It is because Christ lived on the earth that we can now find him within, in the way I have indicated. Thus, for clairvoyant perception, the fact that Christ lived on the earth is proven without recourse to any historical documentation.
It is as if Christ had said: Human beings, I want to be an ideal for you that presents to you on a higher, spiritual level what is fulfilled in the body. In the early years of life we learn out of the spirit, first, to walk — that is, we learn, under the guidance of the spirit, to find our way in earthly life. Then we learn to speak — to formulate the truth — out of the spirit. In other words, we develop the essence of truth out of speech sounds. Finally, we also develop the organ for our life as earthly I-beings. Thus, in the first three years of life, we learn three things. We learn to find the “way,” that is, to walk; we learn to represent the “truth” with our organism, and we learn to express “life” in our body through the spirit. There is no more meaningful paraphrase imaginable of the words “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
Most meaningfully, therefore, the I-being of Christ is expressed in the words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!” The higher spiritual forces form our organism in childhood — though we are not conscious of this — so that our body becomes the expression of the way, the truth, and the life. Similarly, the human spirit gradually becomes the conscious bearer of the way, the truth, and the life by permeating itself with Christ. Thereby we transform ourselves in the course of our earthly life into the power at work in us in childhood.
Words such as these about the way, the truth, and the life can open the doors of eternity for us. Once our self-knowledge has become true and substantial, these words will resound for us from the depths of our soul.
What I have presented here opens up a twofold perspective on the spiritual guidance of the individual and of humanity as a whole. First, as individuals, we find the Christ, the guide in us, through self-knowledge. We can always find Christ in this way because, since his life on earth, he is always present in us. Second, when we apply the knowledge we have gained without the help of historical documents to these documents, we begin to understand their true nature. They are the historical expression of something that has revealed itself in the depths of the soul. Therefore, historical documents should be regarded as part of that guidance of humanity that is intended to lead the soul to itself.
If we understand the eternal spirit of the words “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” in this way, we do not need to ask why we have to enter life as children even after having passed through many incarnations. For we realize that this apparent imperfection is a perpetual reminder of the highest that lives in us. We cannot be reminded often enough — we need to be reminded at least at the beginning of each new life – of the great truth of what we really are in our innermost essential being, that underlies all our earthly lives but remains untouched by the imperfections of earthly existence.
It is best not to present too many definitions or concepts when talking about spiritual science or theosophy [anthroposophy] or about occultism in general. It is better to describe things and to try to convey an idea of what they really are like. That is why I have tried here to give you a sense of what is characteristic of the first three years of life and of how this relates to the light that radiates from the cross on Golgotha. The description I have given bespeaks an impulse in human evolution that will make St. Paul's words “Not I, but Christ in me” come true. All we need to know is what as human beings we really are; on the basis of this knowledge we can then gain insight into the being of Christ. Only after we have arrived at this Christ-idea through a real understanding of humanity, and after we have understood that to find Christ we must seek him in ourselves, will turning to the Bible be useful for us. No one has a greater or more conscious appreciation of the Bible than those who have found Christ in this way.
Imagine that a Martian who had never heard anything about Christ and his works, came down to earth. This Martian would not understand much of what happened here, and much of what interests people today would not interest this visitor. However, this Martian would be interested in what is the central impulse of earthy evolution, namely, the Christ-idea as expressed in human nature. Once we understand this, we will for the first time be able to read the Bible correctly, for we will then see that it expresses in a wonderful way what we have first perceived within ourselves. You see, we do not need to be taught a particular appreciation of the gospels. When we read the gospels as fully conscious individuals, what we have learned through spiritual science enables us to fully realize their greatness.
I am hardly exaggerating when I claim that there will come a time when the general opinion will be that people who have learned to understand and appreciate the content of the gospels through spiritual science will see them as scriptures intended for the guidance of humanity and that their understanding will do the Bible more justice than anything else has so far. It is only through understanding our own inner being that we can come to see what lies hidden in these profound scriptures. Now, if we find in the gospels what is so completely part of our own being, it follows that it must have entered the scriptures through the people who wrote them. Thus, what we have to admit concerning ourselves — and the older we get, the more often we have to admit it — namely, that we do many things we don't understand fully until many years later: this must also be true for the writers of the gospels. They wrote out of the higher self that works on all of us in childhood. Thus, the gospels originate in the same wisdom that forms us. The spirit is revealed physically in the human body as well as in the writing of the gospels.
In this context, the concept of inspiration becomes meaningful once again in a positive sense. Just as higher forces work on the brain in the first three years of childhood, so the spiritual worlds imbued the writers of the gospels with the forces out of which they wrote their gospels. These facts reveal the spiritual guidance of humanity. After all, if there are people in the human race who write documents out of the same forces that wisely shape human beings, then humanity as a whole is truly being guided. And just as individuals say or do things they understand only at a later age, so humanity as a whole produced evangelists as mediators who provided revelations that can be understood only gradually. These scriptures will be understood more and more as humanity progresses. As individuals, we can feel a spiritual guidance within us; humanity as a whole can feel it in persons who work as the gospel writers did.
The concept of the guidance of humanity we have just established can now be expanded in many ways. Let us assume a person has found students or disciples, that is, people who declare their faith in him and become his loyal followers. Such a person out of genuine self-knowledge will easily realize that having found students gives him the feeling that what he has to say does not originate within him. Instead, spiritual forces from higher worlds want to communicate with the students and find in the teacher a suitable instrument for revealing themselves.
Such a teacher may then reason as follows: When I was a child, I worked on myself by means of forces that came from the spiritual world. The best I can now contribute here must also come from higher worlds. I must not consider it as part of my ordinary consciousness. Indeed, such an individual may feel that something like a daemon — the word daemon here refers to a benevolent spiritual power — works from the spiritual world through him on the students.
According to Plato, Socrates felt something like this when he spoke of his daemon as something that guided and directed him. 5Socrates, 470–399 B.C., Greek philosopher and teacher. Plato, 427–347 B.C., Greek philosopher, the most famous student of Socrates. Many attempts have been made to explain Socrates' daemon. However, to explain it we must accept the idea that Socrates could feel something akin to what emerges from the above considerations. Based on this, we then realize that during the three or four centuries when the Socratic principle prevailed in Greece, Socrates introduced a mood into the Greek world that served as preparation for another great event. The mood I am referring to accompanied the realization that what we perceive of an individual does not comprise the whole of what enters this world from the higher one. This mood continued to prevail long after Socrates' death. The best people who had this feeling later also best understood the words “Not I, but the Christ in me.” They realized that Socrates had to speak of a daemon-like force working out of the higher worlds, but through the ideal of Christ it became clear what Socrates had really meant. Of course, Socrates could not yet speak of Christ because in his time people could not yet find the Christ-being within.
Here again we feel something of a spiritual guidance of humanity; nothing can enter the world without preparation. Why did Paul find his best followers in Greece? Because Socratism had prepared the ground there. That is, more recent events in the development of humanity can be traced back to earlier events that prepared people to allow the later events to work upon them. This gives us an idea of how far the guiding impulse of human evolution reaches; it puts the right people at the right time in the place where they are needed for our development. In facts such as these the guidance of humanity is evident in a general way.