8 February 1912, Vienna
It was not without purpose that at the end of each of the two public lectures, I emphasised that Theosophy must not be regarded merely as a theory or a science, nor even a specific form of what is usually known as a body of knowledge, but must be something that can be transformed in the soul into actual life, into an elixir of life. What really matters is that we shall not only acquire knowledge through Theosophy but that there shall flow into us, from Theosophy, forces which help us not only in ordinary physical existence but through the whole compass of life — which includes physical existence and the discarnate condition between death and a new birth. The more we feel that Theosophy bestows upon us forces whereby life itself is strengthened and enriched, the more truly we understand it. When such a statement is made, people may ask: If Theosophy is to be a power that strengthens and infuses vigour into life, why is it necessary to absorb all this apparently theoretical knowledge? Why must we be troubled in our group-meetings with details about the preceding planetary embodiments of the Earth? Why is it necessary to learn about things that happen in remote ages of the past? Why are we also expected to familiarise ourselves with the more intimate, intangible laws of reincarnation, karma and so forth? ... Many people may think that Theosophy is just another kind of science, on a par with the many sciences existing in outer, physical life.
Now in matters of this kind, all considerations of convenience in life must be put aside; there must be scrupulous self-examination as to whether or not such questions are tainted by that habitual slackness in life which may all too justly be expressed by saying: Man is fundamentally unwilling to learn, unwilling to take hold of the Spiritual because this is inconvenient for him. We must ask ourselves: Does not something of this fear of inconvenience and discomfort creep into such questions? Let us admit that we really do begin by thinking that there is an easier path to Theosophy than all that is presented, for example, in our literature! It is often said light-heartedly that, after all, a man need only know himself, need only try to be a good and righteous human being — and then he is a sufficiently good Theosophist. Yes, my dear friends, but precisely this gives us the deeper knowledge that there is nothing more difficult than to be a good man in the real sense and that nothing needs so much preparation as the attainment of this ideal.
As to the question concerning Self-Knowledge — that can certainly not be answered in a moment, as so many people would like to think. Today, therefore, we will consider certain questions which are often expressed in the way indicated above. We will think of how Theosophy comes to us, seemingly, as a body of teaching, a science, although in essence it brings self-knowledge and the aspiration to become good and righteous men. And to this end it is important to study, from different points of view, how Theosophy can flow into life.
From among many pressing questions, let us take one in particular. — I am not referring to anything in the domain of science but to a question arising in everyday existence, namely, that of consolation for suffering, for lack of satisfaction in life. How, for example, can Theosophy bring consolation to people in distress, when they need consolation? Every individual must of course apply to his particular case what may be said about such matters. In addressing a number of people one can only speak in a general sense.
Why do we need consolation in life? Because something may distress us, because we have to suffer, to undergo painful experiences. Now it is natural for a man to feel that something in him rebels against this suffering. He asks: “Why have I to bear it, why has it fallen to my lot? Could not my life have been without pain, could it not have brought me contentment?” A man who puts the question in this way can only find an answer when he understands the nature of human karma, of human destiny. Why do we suffer? And here I am referring not only to outer suffering but also to inner suffering due to a sense of failure to do ourselves justice or find our proper bearings in life. That is what I mean by inner suffering. Why does life bring so much that leaves us unsatisfied?
Study of the laws of karma will make it clear to us that something underlies our sufferings, something that can be elucidated by an example drawn from ordinary life between birth and death. — I have given this example more than once. Suppose a young man has lived up to the age of 18 or so, entirely on his father; his life has been happy and carefree; he has had everything he wanted. Then the father loses his fortune, becomes bankrupt, and the youth is obliged to set about learning something, to exert himself. Life brings him many sufferings and deprivations. It is readily understandable that the sufferings are not at all to his liking. But now think of him at the age of 50. Because circumstances obliged him to learn something in his youth, he has turned into a decent, self-respecting human being. He has found his feet in life and can say to himself: “My attitude to the sufferings and deprivations was natural at that time; but now I think quite differently about them; I realise now that the sufferings would not have come to me if in those days I had possessed all the virtues — even the very limited virtues of a boy of 18. If no suffering had come my way I should have remained a good-for-nothing. It was the suffering that changed the imperfections into something more perfect. It is due to the suffering that I am not the same human being I was forty years ago. What was it, then, that came together within me at that time? My own imperfections and my suffering ... and my imperfections sought out the suffering in order that they might be expunged and greater perfection attained.”
This attitude can, after all, arise from quite an ordinary view of life between birth and death. And if we think deeply about life as a whole, facing our karma in the way indicated in the lecture yesterday, we shall finally be convinced that the sufferings along our path are sought out by our own imperfections. The vast majority of sufferings are, indeed, sought out by the imperfections we have brought with us from earlier incarnations. And because of these imperfections, a wiser being within us seeks for the path leading to the sufferings. For it is a golden rule in life that as human beings we have perpetually within us a being who is much wiser, much cleverer than we. The “I” of ordinary life has far less wisdom and if faced with the alternative of seeking either pain or happiness, would certainly choose the path to happiness. The wiser being operates in depths of the subconscious life to which ordinary consciousness does not extend. This wiser being diverts our gaze from the path to superficial happiness and kindles within us a magic power which, without our conscious knowledge, leads us towards the suffering. But what does this mean — “without our conscious knowledge?” It means that the wiser being is gaining greater mastery and this wiser being invariably acts within us in such a way as to guide our imperfections to our sufferings, allowing us to suffer because every outer and inner suffering expunges some imperfection and leads to greater perfection.
We may be willing to accept such principles in theory, but that, after all, is not of much account. A great deal is achieved, however, if in certain solemn and dedicated moments of life we try strenuously to make such principles the very life-blood of the soul. In the hurry and bustle, the work and the duties of ordinary life, this is not always possible; under these circumstances we cannot always oust the being of lesser wisdom — who is, after all, part of us. But in certain deliberately chosen moments, however short they may be, we shall be able to say to ourselves: I will turn away from the hubbub of outer life and view my sufferings in such a way that I realise how the wiser being within me has been drawn to them by a magic power, how I imposed upon myself certain pain without which I should not have overcome this or that imperfection. — A feeling of the peace inherent in wisdom will then arise, bringing the realisation that even where the world seems full of suffering, there too it is full of wisdom! This is something that Theosophy has achieved for life. We may forget it again in the affairs of external life, but if we do not forget it altogether and repeat the exercise steadfastly, we shall find that a kind of seed has been laid in the soul and that many a darkling mood of distress or weakness will change into brightness, into a sense of vigour and strength. And then we shall have acquired from such moments, greater harmony and energy in the life of soul.
Then we may pass on to something else ... but the Theosophist should make it a rule to devote himself to these other thoughts only when the attitude towards suffering has become alive within him. We may turn, then, to think about the happiness and joys of life. A man who adopts towards his destiny the attitude that he himself has willed his sufferings, will have a strange experience when he comes to think about his joy and happiness. It is not as easy for him here, as in the case of his sufferings. It is easy, after all, to find the consolation for suffering, and anyone who feels doubtful has only to persevere; but it will be difficult to find the right attitude to happiness and joy. However strongly a man may bring himself to feel that he has willed his suffering — when he applies this mood-of-soul to his happiness and joy, he will not be able to avoid a sense of shame; he will have a thorough sense of shame. And he can only rid himself of this feeling of shame by saying to himself: “No, I have not earned my joy and happiness through my own karma!” This alone will put matters right, for otherwise the shame may be so intense that it becomes sheerly destructive in the soul. The only salvation is not to attribute our joys to the wiser being within us. This thought will convince us that we are on the right road, because the feeling of shame passes away. It is really so: happiness and joy in life are bestowed by the wise guidance of worlds without our assistance, as something we must receive as Grace, recognising always that the purpose is to give us our place in the totality of existence. Joy and happiness should so work upon us in the secluded moments of life that we feel them as Grace, Grace bestowed by the supreme Powers of the world who want to receive us into themselves.
Whereas through pain and suffering we are thrown back upon ourselves, brought nearer to perfection, through happiness and joy we have the feeling of peaceful security in the arms of the Divine Powers of the world, and the only worthy attitude is one of thankfulness. Nobody who in quiet hours of self-contemplation ascribes happiness and joy to his own karma, will unfold the right attitude to such experiences. If he ascribes joy and happiness to his karma, he is succumbing to a fallacy whereby the Spiritual within him is weakened and paralysed; the slightest thought that happiness or delight have been deserved, weakens and cripples us inwardly. These words may seem harsh, for many a man, when he attributes suffering to his own will and individuality, will resolve to be master of himself, too, in experiences of happiness and joy. But even a cursory glance at life will indicate that by their very nature, joy and happiness tend to obliterate something in us. This weakening effect of delights and joys in life is graphically described by the lines in Faust: “And so from longing to delight I reel; and even in delight I pine for longing.” Anybody who gives a single thought to the influence of joy, taken in the personal sense, will realise that there is something in joy which tends to produce a kind of intoxication in life and obliterates the Self.
This is not meant to be a sermon against joy or a suggestion that it would be good to torture ourselves with red-hot pincers or something of the kind. Indeed it is not so! To recognise something for what it truly is, does not mean that we must flee from it. It is not a question of fleeing from joy, but of receiving it calmly and tranquilly whenever and in whatever form it comes to us; we must learn to feel it as Grace and the more we do so, the better, for thereby we enter more deeply into the Divine. These words are spoken, then, not in order to preach asceticism but to awaken the right attitude of soul to happiness and joy.
If anyone were to say: Joy and happiness have a weakening, deadening effect, therefore I will flee from them (which is the attitude of false asceticism and forms of self-torture) — such a man would be fleeing from the Grace bestowed upon him by the Gods. And in truth the self-torture practised by the ascetics and monks in olden days was a form of resistance against the Gods. We must learn to regard suffering as something brought by our karma and to feel happiness as Grace breathed down to us by the Divine. Joy and happiness should be to us the sign of how closely the Gods have drawn us to themselves; suffering and pain should be the sign of how remote we are from the goal before us as intelligent human beings. Such is the true attitude to karma and without it we shall make no real progress in life. Whenever the world vouchsafes to us the good and the beautiful, we must feel that behind this world stand those Powers of whom the Bible says: “And they saw that it [the world] was good.” But in our experiences of pain and suffering we must recognise what, in the course of incarnations, man has made of the world which in the beginning was good and what he must amend by educating himself to resolute endurance of these sufferings.
I have been speaking merely of two ways of accepting karma. From one aspect, our karma consists of suffering and happiness; and we accept our karma with the right kind of will — as if we ourselves have willed it — when we adopt the true attitude to the suffering and the happiness that come our way. But we can do still more. — And this will be the theme of the lectures today and tomorrow.
Karma does not reveal itself only in the form of experiences of suffering or joy. As our life runs its course we encounter — in a way that can only be regarded as karmic — many human beings with whom, for example, we make a fleeting acquaintance, others who as relatives or close friends are connected with us for a considerable period of our life. We meet human beings who in our dealings with them bring sufferings and hindrances along our path; or again we meet others who give us the greatest help. The relationships are manifold. We must regard these circumstances too as having been brought about by the will of the wiser being within us the will, for example, to meet a human being who seems to run across our path accidentally and with whom we have something to adjust or settle in life. What is it that makes the wiser being in us wish to meet this particular person? The only intelligent line of thought is that we want to come across him because we have done so before in an earlier life and our relationship had already then begun. Nor need the beginning have been in the immediately preceding life — it may have been very much earlier. Because in a past life we have had dealings of some kind with this man, because we may have been in some way indebted to him, we are led to him again by the wiser being within us, as it were by magic. Here, of course, we enter a many-sided and extremely complicated domain, of which it is only possible to speak in general terms. But all the indications here given are the actual results of clairvoyant investigation. The indications will be useful to every individual because he will be able to particularise and apply what is said to his own life. — A remarkable fact comes to light. About the middle of life the ascending curve passes over into the descending curve. This is the time when the forces of youth are spent and we pass over a certain zenith to the descending curve. This point of time — which occurs in the thirties — cannot be laid down with absolute finality, but the principle holds good for everyone. It is the period of life when we live most intensely on the physical plane. In this connection we may easily be deluded. It will be clear that life as it was before this point of time has been a process of bringing out what we have brought with us into the present incarnation. This process has been going on since childhood, although it is less marked as the years go by. We have chiseled out our life, have been nourished as it were by the forces brought from the spiritual world. These forces, however, are spent by the point of time indicated above. Observation of the descending line of life reveals that we now proceed to harvest and work over what has been learned in the school of life, in order to carry it with us into the next incarnation. This is something we take into the spiritual world; in the earlier period we were taking something from the spiritual world. It is in the middle period that we are most deeply involved in the physical world, most engrossed in the affairs of outer life. We have passed through our apprenticeship as it were and are in direct contact with the world; we have our life in our own hands. At this period we are taken up with ourselves, concerned more closely than at any other time with our own external affairs and with our relation to the outer world. But this relation to the world is created by the intellect and the impulses of will which derive from the intellect — in other words, those elements of our being which are most alien to the spiritual worlds, to which the spiritual worlds remain closed. In the middle of life we are, as it were, farthest away from the Spiritual.
A certain striking fact presents itself to occult research. Investigation of the kind of encounters and acquaintanceships with other human beings that arise in the middle of life shows, curiously, that these are the persons with whom, in the previous or in a still earlier incarnation, a man was together at the beginning of his life, in his very earliest childhood. The fact has emerged that in the middle of life — as a rule it is so, but not always — a man encounters, through circumstances of external karma, those persons who in an earlier life were his parents; it is very rarely indeed that we are brought together in earliest childhood with those who were previously our parents; we meet them in the middle period of life. This certainly seems strange, but it is the case, and a very great deal is gained for life if we will only try to put such a general rule to the test and adjust our thoughts accordingly. When a human being — let us say, about the age of 30 — enters into some relationship with another ... perhaps he falls in love, makes great friends, quarrels, or has some different kind of contact, a great deal will become comprehensible if, quite tentatively to begin with, he thinks about the possibility of the relationship to this person once having been that of child and parent. Conversely, this very remarkable fact comes to light. — Those human beings with whom we were together in earliest childhood — parents, brothers and sisters, playmates or others around us during early childhood — they, as a rule, are persons with whom in a previous incarnation we formed some kind of acquaintanceship when we were about 30 or so; in very many cases it is found that these persons are our parents or brothers and sisters in the present incarnation. Curious as this may seem, let us only try to see how the principle squares with our own life and we shall discover how much more understandable many things become. Even if the facts are otherwise, an experimental mistake will not amount to anything very serious. Contemplation of life during hours of quiet seclusion infuses it with meaning and brings rich reward; but no attempt must ever be made to arrange life according to our own predilections. We must not deliberately go in search of people who may happen to be congenial to us, whom we should have welcomed as parents. Preconceptions and predilections must never be allowed to give rise to illusions. You will realise that a real danger lies here. Countless preconceptions lurk within us but in these difficult matters it is a very healthy exercise to try to get rid of them.
You may ask me: What is there to be said about the descending curve of life? The striking fact has emerged that at the beginning of life we meet those human beings with whom in a previous incarnation we were connected in the middle period of life; further, that in the middle of the present life, we revive acquaintanceships which existed at the beginning of a preceding life. And now, what of the descending curve of life? During that period we are led to persons who may also, possibly, have had something to do with us in an earlier incarnation. They may, in that earlier incarnation, have played a part in happenings of the kind that so frequently occur at a decisive point in life — let us say, trials and sufferings caused by bitter disillusionments. In the second half of life we may again be brought into contact with persons who in some way or other were already connected with us; this meeting brings about a shifting of circumstances and much that was set in motion in the earlier life is cleared up and settled. These things are diverse and complex and indicate that we should not adhere rigidly to any hard and fast pattern. This much, however, may be said. — The nature of the karma that has been woven with those who come across our path especially in the second half of life, is such that it cannot be absolved in one life. Suppose, for example, we have caused suffering to a human being in one life; the thought may come easily that in a subsequent life we shall be led to this person by the “wiser being” within us, so that we may make amends for what we have done to him. The circumstances of life, however, may not enable compensation to be made for everything — but often only for a part. This necessitates the operation of complicated factors which enable such surviving remnants of karma to be adjusted and settled during the second half of life.
This conception of karma can shed light upon our dealings and companionship with other human beings. But there is still something else in the course of our karma to consider — something that in the two public lectures was referred to as the process of ripening, the acquisition of a real knowledge of life (if the phrase does not promote arrogance, it may be used). It is well to consider how we grow wiser. We can become wiser through our faults and mistakes and this is something for which we can only be thankful. In one and the same life it is not often that we have the opportunity of applying the wisdom gained from our mistakes and it therefore remains with us as potential power for a later life. But the wisdom, the real knowledge of life that we may acquire — what is it, in reality? I said yesterday that we cannot carry our thoughts and ideas directly with us from one life into the other; I said that Plato himself could not have taken his ideas directly with him into a later incarnation. What we carry over with us takes the form of will, of feeling, and in reality our thoughts and ideas, just like our mother-tongue, come as something new in each life. For most of the thoughts and ideas are contained in the mother-tongue, whence we acquire them. This life between birth and death yields us thoughts and ideas which really always originate from that same incarnation. Yes, but if this is so, we shall have to say to ourselves that it depends upon our karma! — However many incarnations we pass through, the ideas that arise in us are always dependent upon the one incarnation as apart from the others. Whatever wisdom may be living in your thoughts and ideas has been absorbed from outside, it is dependent upon your karma. Very much lies in these words for they indicate that whatever we may know in life, whatever knowledge we may amass, is something entirely personal, that we can never transcend the personal by means of what we acquire for ourselves in life. In ordinary life we never reach the level of the “wiser being” but always remain at that of the less wise. Anyone who flatters himself that he can learn more of his higher Self from what he acquires in the world, is harbouring an illusion for the sake of convenience. This actually means that we can gain no knowledge of our higher Self from what we acquire in life. Very well, then, how are we to attain any knowledge of the higher Self? We must ask ourselves quite frankly: To what does our knowledge really amount? It amounts to what we have acquired from experience — that and nothing more, to begin with. A man who aspires to Self-Knowledge without realising that his soul is only a mirror in which the outer world is reflected, may persuade himself that by penetrating within his own being he can find the higher Self; certainly he will find something, but it is only what has come into him from outside. Along this cheap, easygoing path no headway can be made. Rather we must ask about those other worlds where in truth the higher Self abides and the only available teachings here are those contained in Theosophy, for example, concerning the different incarnations of the Earth and the like. Just as we inquire about the environment of a child, about what is around the child, we must ask the same questions concerning the higher Self. Theosophy teaches us of the worlds to which the higher Self belongs, through telling us of Saturn and its secrets, of the Moon, of the evolution of the Earth, of Reincarnation and Karma, of Devachan, Kamaloca and so forth. By such teachings alone we can learn about the higher Self, about the Self which transcends the physical plane. And anyone who refuses to study these secrets is merely pandering to his own ease. For such a soul is always whispering: “Look within yourself — there you will find the Divine Man.” And what does such a man find? In reality nothing but experiences which have been gleaned from the outer world and then deposited within him! We find the Divine Man only when we seek for what is mirrored into this earthly world from realms outside and beyond it. Things which may sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable — they are true Self-Knowledge, true Theosophy! From Theosophy we receive illumination concerning the Self — our own higher Self. For where, in reality, is the Self? Is the Self within our skin? No, the Self is outpoured over the world; everything that is and has been in the world is part and parcel of the Self. We learn to know the Self only when we learn to know the world.
These apparent theories are, in truth, the ways to Self-Knowledge! A man who thinks he can find the Self by delving into his inner life and anchoring there, whispers to himself: “You must be a good and righteous man, you must be selfless!” ...Well and good, but it is often very obvious that such a man is becoming more and more egotistical. On the other hand, a man who wrestles with the great secrets of existence, who tears himself away from the wheedlings of the personal self and rises to what abides and can be found in the higher worlds — such a man is led to the true Self-Knowledge. When we think deeply about Saturn, Sun, Moon, we lose ourselves in cosmic Thought. — “Cosmic thoughts are living in thy thinking” — so says a soul who thinks in the sense of Theosophy; and he adds: “Lose thyself in cosmic thoughts.” The soul in whom Theosophy has become creative power, says: “In thy feeling, cosmic powers are weaving” — adding: “Experience thyself through cosmic powers.” ... not through powers which wheedle and cajole. This experience will not come to a man who closes his eyes, saying: “I want to be good and righteous.” It will come only to the man who opens his eyes of Spirit and sees the Powers of yonder worlds mightily at work, realising that he is embedded in these cosmic Powers. And the soul who gathers strength from Theosophy says: “In thy willing, cosmic Beings work,” adding: “Create thyself anew from powers of will!” In a man who has this conception of Self-Knowledge, transformation is wrought — through the might of cosmic realities.
Dry and abstract as this may seem, in truth it is no theory but something that thrives and grows like a seed of corn sown in the Earth. Forces shoot out in every direction and become plant or tree. So indeed it is. The feelings that come to us in Spiritual Science give us the power to create ourselves anew. “Create thyself anew from power of will!” Thus does Theosophy become the elixir of life and our gaze extends over the worlds of Spirit; forces pour into us from these worlds; we receive their forces and know ourselves, then, in all the depths of our being. Not until we bear World-Knowledge within us can we pass, step by step, away from the being of lesser wisdom within us, the being who is separated from the Guardian of the Threshold, to the “wiser being.” We penetrate through all that is concealed from one who does not yet desire the real strength but to which he can be led through Theosophy.