29 January 1912, Kassel
Today we will lead on from the lecture of the day before yesterday to certain matters which can promote a deep personal understanding of the anthroposophical life. If we pass over our life in review and make real efforts to get to the root of its happenings, very much can be gained. We shall recognise the justice of many things in our destiny and realise that we have deserved them. — Suppose someone has been frivolous and superficial in the present incarnation and is subsequently struck by a blow of fate. It may not be possible, externally, to connect the blow of fate directly with the frivolousness, but a feeling arises, nevertheless, that there is justice in it. Further examination of life will reveal blows of fate which we can only attribute to chance, for which we find no explanation whatever. These two categories of experiences are to be discovered as we look back over our life. Now it is important to make a clear distinction between apparent chance and obvious necessity. When a man reviews his life with reference to these two kinds of happenings, he will fail to reach any higher stage of development unless he endeavours to have a very clear perception of everything that seems to him to be chance. We must try, above all, to have clear perception of those things we have not desired, which go right against the grain. It is possible to induce a certain attitude of soul and to say to ourselves: How would it be if I were to take those things which I have not desired, which are disagreeable to me and imagine that I myself actually willed them? In other words, we imagine with all intensity that we ourselves willed our particular circumstances.
In regard to apparently fortuitous happenings, we must picture the possibility of having ourselves put forth a deliberate and strong effort of will in order to bring them about. Meditatively as it were, we must induce this attitude to happenings which, on the face of them, seem to be purely fortuitous in our lives. Every human being today is capable of this mental exercise. If we proceed in this way, a very definite impression will ultimately be made upon the soul; we shall feel as though something were striving to be released from us. The soul says to itself: “Here, as a mental image, I have before me a second being; he is actually there.” We cannot get rid of this image and the being gradually becomes our “Double.” The soul begins to feel a real connection with this being who has been imagined into existence, to realise that this being actually exists within us. If this conception deepens into a vivid and intense experience, we become aware that this “imagined” being is by no means without significance. The conviction comes to us: this being was already once in existence and at that time you had within you the impulses of will which led to the apparently chance happenings of today. Thereby we reach a deep-rooted conviction that we were already in existence before coming down into the body. Every human being today can have this conviction. — And now let us consider the question of the successive incarnations of the human being. What is it that reincarnates? How can we discover the answer to this question?
There are three fundamental and distinct categories of experiences in the life of soul. Firstly, our mental pictures, our ideas, our thoughts. In forming a mental picture, our attitude may well be one of complete neutrality; we need not love or hate what we picture inwardly, neither need we feel sympathy or antipathy towards it. Secondly, there are the moods and shades of feeling which arise by the side of the ideas or the thoughts; the cause of these moods in the life of feeling is that we like or love one thing, dislike or abhor another, and so forth. The third kind of experiences in the life of soul are the impulses of will. There are, of course, transitional stages but speaking generally these are the three categories. Moreover it is fundamentally characteristic of a healthy life of soul to be able to keep these three kinds of experiences separate and distinct from each other. Our life of thought and mental presentation arises because we receive stimuli from outside. Nobody will find it difficult to realise that the life of thought is the most closely bound up with the present incarnation. This, after all, is quite obvious when we bear in mind that speech is the instrument whereby we express our thoughts; and speech, or language, must, in the nature of things, differ in every incarnation. We no more bring language with us at the beginning of a new incarnation than we bring thoughts and ideas. The language as well as the thoughts must be acquired afresh in each incarnation. Hebbel once wrote something very remarkable in his diary. — The idea occurred to him that a scene in which the reincarnated Plato was being soundly chastised by the teacher for his lack of understanding of Plato would produce a very striking effect in a play! A man does not carry over his thought and mental life from one incarnation to another and takes practically nothing of it with him into his post-mortem existence. After death we evolve no thoughts or mental pictures but have direct perceptions, just as our physical eyes have perceptions of colour. After death, the world of concepts is seen as a kind of net stretching across existence. But our feelings, our moods of heart and feeling — these we retain after death and also bring their forces with us as qualities and tendencies of soul into a new earthly life. For example, even if a child's life of thought is undeveloped, we shall be able to notice quite definite tendencies in his life of feeling. And because our impulses of will are linked with feelings, we also take them with us into our life after death. If, for example, a man lends himself to fallacy and error, the effect upon his life of feeling is not the same as if he lends himself to truth. For a long time after death we suffer from the consequences of false mental presentations and ideas. Our attention must therefore turn to the qualities and moods of feeling and the impulses of the will, when we ask: What is it that actually passes on from one incarnation to another?
Suppose something painful happened to us ten or twenty years ago. In thought today we may be able to remember it quite distinctly and in detail. But the actual pain we felt at the time has all but faded away; we cannot re-experience the stirrings of feeling and impulses of will by which it was accompanied. Think for a moment of Bismarck and the overwhelming difficulties of which he was conscious in taking his decision to go to war in 1866; think of what tumultuous feelings, what teeming impulses of will were working in Bismarck at that time! But even when writing his memoirs, would Bismarck have been conscious of these emotions and resolves with anything like the same intensity? Of course not! Man's memory between birth and death is composed of thoughts and mental pictures. It may, of course, be that even after ten or twenty years, a feeling of pain comes over us at the recollection of some sorrowful event, but generally speaking the pain will have greatly diminished after this lapse of time; in thought, however, we can remember the very details of the event. If we now picture to ourselves that we actually willed certain painful events, that in reality we welcomed things which in our youth we may have hated, the very difficulty of this exercise rouses the soul and thus has an effect upon the life of feeling. Suppose, for example, a stone once crashed down upon us. — We now try with all intensity to picture that we ourselves willed it so. Through such mental pictures — that we ourselves have willed the chance events in our life — we arouse, in the life of feeling, memory of our earlier incarnations. In this way we begin to realise how we are rooted in the spiritual world, we begin to understand our destiny. We have brought with us, from our previous incarnation, the will for the chance events of this life.
To devote ourselves in meditation to such thoughts, and elaborate them, is of the highest importance. Between death and a new birth too, much transpires, for this period is infinitely rich in experiences — purely spiritual experiences, of course. We therefore bring with us qualities of feeling and impulses of will from the period between death and a new birth, that is to say, from the spiritual world. Upon this rests a certain occurrence of very great importance in the modern age, but one of which little notice is taken. The occurrence is to be found in the lives of many people today but usually passes by unnoticed. It is, however, the task of Anthroposophy to point to such an occurrence and its significance. Let me make it clear by an example. — Suppose a man has occasion to go somewhere or other and his path happens to take him in the wake of another human being, a child perhaps. Suddenly the man catches sight of a yawning chasm at the edge of the path along which the child is walking. A few steps farther and the child will inevitably fall over the edge into the chasm. He runs to save the child, runs and runs, entirely forgetting about the chasm. Then he suddenly hears a voice calling out to him from somewhere: “Stand still!” He halts as though nailed to the spot. At that moment the child catches hold of a tree and also stops, so that no harm befalls. If no voice had called at that moment the man must inevitably have fallen into the chasm. And now he wonders from whom the voice came. He finds no single soul who could have called, but he realises that he would quite certainly have been killed if he had not heard this voice; yet however closely he investigates he cannot find that the warning came from any physical voice.
In deep self-observation, many human beings living at the present time would be able to recognise a similar experience in their lives. But far too little attention is paid to such things. An experience of this kind may pass by without leaving a trace — then the impression fades away and no importance is attached to the experience. But suppose a man has been attentive and realises that it was not without significance. The thought may then occur to him: At that point in your life you were facing a crisis, a karmic crisis; your life should really have ended at that moment, for you had forfeited it. You were saved by something akin to chance and since then a second life has as it were been planted on the first; this second life is to be regarded as a gift bestowed upon you and you must act accordingly. When such an experience makes a man feel that his life, from that time onwards, has been bestowed upon him as a gift, this means that he can be accounted a follower of Christian Rosenkreutz. For this is how Christian Rosenkreutz calls the souls whom he has chosen. A man who can recall such an occurrence — and everyone sitting here can discover something of the kind in their lives if they observe closely enough — has the right to say to himself: Christian Rosenkreutz has given me a sign from the spiritual world that I belong to his stream. Christian Rosenkreutz has added such an experience to my karma. — This is the way in which Christian Rosenkreutz chooses his pupils; this is how he gathers his community. — A man who is conscious of this experience knows with certainty that a path has been pointed out to him which he must follow, trying to discover how he can dedicate himself to the service of Rosicrucianism. If there are some who have not yet recognised the sign, they will do so later on; for he to whom the sign has once been given will never again be free from it. — That such an experience comes to a man is due to the fact that during the period between his last death and his present birth, he was in contact with Christian Rosenkreutz in the spiritual world. It was then that Christian Rosenkreutz chose us, imparting an impulse of will which leads us, now, to such experiences. This is the way in which spiritual connections are established. Materialistic thought will naturally regard all these things as hallucinations, just as it regards the experience of Paul at Damascus as having been an hallucination. The logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that the whole of Christianity is based upon an hallucination, therefore upon error. For theologians are perfectly well aware that the Event at Damascus is the foundation-stone of the whole of subsequent Christianity. And if this foundation stone itself is nothing but an illusion, then, if thought is consistent, everything built upon it must obviously be fallacy.
An attempt has been made today to show that certain happenings, certain experiences in life may indicate to us how we are interwoven in the spiritual fabric of world existence. If we develop the memory belonging to our life of feeling, we grow onwards into the spiritual life which streams and pulses through the world. Theoretical knowledge alone does not make men true theosophists; those who understand their own life and the life of other human beings in the sense indicated today — they and they alone are true theosophists. — Anthroposophy is a basic power which can transform our life of soul. And the goal of the work in our groups must be that the intimate experiences of the soul change in character, that through the gradual development of the memory belonging to the life of feeling we become aware of Immortality. The true theosophist or anthroposophist must have this conviction: If you so will, if you really apply the forces within you in all their strength, then you can utterly transform your character. We must learn to feel and perceive that the Immortal holds sway in ourselves and in everyone else. — What makes a man into a true anthroposophist is that his faculties remain receptive his whole life long, even when his hair is white. The realisation that progress is possible always and forever will transform our whole spiritual life.
One of the consequences of materialism is that human beings become old prematurely. Thirty years ago, for example, children looked quite different; there are children today of 10 or 11 years old who give the impression of old and aged people. Human beings — especially adolescents — have become so precocious, so old beyond their years. They maintain that lies such as that of babies being brought by the stork should not be told to children, that children should be “enlightened” on such matters. Those who come after us will know that the souls of our children hover down as bird-like, spirit-forms from the higher worlds. To have an imaginative conception of many things still beyond our comprehension is of very great importance. As regards the case in question, it is possible to find a much better imaginative picture than the legend of the stork; the reality is that spiritual forces are in play between the child and his parents or teachers; a kind of secret magnetism is in operation. We must ourselves believe in any imaginative picture we give to the children. If it is a question of explaining death to them, we must point to another happening in Nature. We say to the children: “See how the butterfly flies out of the chrysalis. That is what happens to the human soul at death.” — But we must ourselves believe that the Powers behind the Universe have given us, in the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, an image of the soul going forth from the body. The World-Spirit has inscribed such a picture in Nature to draw our attention to what here transpires. It is infinitely important to be always capable of learning, of always remaining young, independently of our physical body. The great task of Theosophy, or Anthroposophy, is to bring to the world the rejuvenation of which it stands sorely in need. We must get beyond the banal and the purely material. To recognise Soul and Spirit as powers operating in life — this must be the aim of the work in our Groups. More and more we must be permeated with the knowledge that the soul can gain mastery over the external world.