The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 7th October 1905
When the physical body is discussed most people have a very unclear, confused idea of what it actually is. In point of fact what we have before us is not just the physical body but a combination of the physical body with higher forces. A piece of rock crystal is also physical but in its very nature this is something quite different from the human eye or heart, which are also physical. The eye and heart are parts of the physical body, but they are intermixed with man's higher members and through this, something is brought about which is completely different from other aspects of the physical. In water we find oxygen and hydrogen but they look quite different from when we see them separated. Then we are aware of their difference. In water we have before us a mixture of both. What meets us in the physical body of man is also a mixture comprised of the physical, etheric and astral bodies.
The physical human eye is similar to a camera, for, as with the camera, there appears within it a picture of the surrounding world. Only when one abstracts from the physical eye everything that is not to be found in the camera, does one discover what is the specific nature of the physical eye. So too one must abstract from the entire physical body everything that is not purely physical: only then does one have what in occultism is called the physical body. In itself it can neither live, think nor feel. There then remains a very wisely ordered, extremely complicated automaton, a purely physical apparatus. This, alone, was all there was of human existence at the Old Saturn stage. At that time the eyes were present only as little cameras. What was produced as [a] picture of the surrounding world came to the consciousness of a Deva being. In the middle of the Saturn evolution the so-called Asuras (the Archai) were sufficiently advanced to make use of the apparatus. At that time they were at the human stage. They made use of the automata and the pictures they produced. The Asuras themselves were not within the apparatus but outside and only made use of the pictures as we make use of photographic apparatus in order to take pictures of a landscape. Thus the physical body of man was at that time an architectural structure of a physical apparatus operated from outside. This is the first stage of human existence.
The second stage of development was the permeation of this physical apparatus with the etheric body. It then became a living organism. That also found expression in the configuration of the body. The automaton was built up out of a fairly firm undifferentiated mass, similar to what today is a jelly-like substance, like a soft crystal. 40In Marie Steiner's notes: ‘formed out of an undifferentiated gelatinous mass like a mineral protoplasm’. In the second Round of evolution in the Old Sun existence, the physical automaton was imbued with the etheric body. In this Round the solar plexus developed. It is so called because still today only rudiments of the organ are present. It fashions a nervous system into the physical apparatus. In the case of the plant something similar is present. That is the second stage.
But these stages are not final; evolution gradually progresses. Even today the solar plexus is an active agent in certain animals which have not developed a spinal cord. All invertebrate animals are single forms from left behind stages of what was laid down earlier. It was only on the Earth that man cast out from himself the vertebrate animals. In earlier times his organism was still somewhat similar to that of the crab at the present day. Man has progressed beyond that earlier stage whereas the crab has remained stationary. It is an astonishing fact that the whole inner formation of the crab has a certain similarity to the human brain. There is actually a similarity between the internal formation of the crab and the human brain. Like the human brain the crab too is enclosed in a hard shell. After man had developed a spine and had metamorphosed the upper vertebrae, he cast off the hard shell. The crab has not developed further. It has adapted itself to its environment by means of a hard shell that it had to have and which serves the same purpose as does the protective covering of the whole body in man.
The third stage is that in which the whole is transformed by the astral body working within it. This organic transformation is connected with the development of the heart and the circulation of the blood. The heart of the fish has remained stationary at a halfway stage. 41Fish have a heart with two compartments consisting of atrium and ventricle. The development of the heart is proportionate to the degree in which there is an increase in the inner warmth of the body; this signifies nothing other than a drawing of the astral into the body.
The spinal cord with the brain is the organ of the ego. This is surrounded by the threefold protective sheath of the astral, etheric and physical bodies. After the organ of the ego (spinal cord and brain) had been prepared, the ego laid itself in the bed made ready for it, and spinal cord and brain appear as organs in the service of the ego.
The four-fold man is put together in this way. It is the Pythagorean square.
- The spinal cord and brain are the organ of the ego.
- The warm blood and the heart are the organ of Kama (astral body).
- The Solar plexus is the organ of the etheric body.
- The actual physical body is the complicated physical apparatus.
Thus has the four-fold being of man been constructed.
In occultism what we have now described is again called a spiral (Wirbel), something that builds from outside inwards and unites with what builds up from within. Physical body, etheric and astral bodies have built up the human being. Then the ego makes itself felt and this builds from within outwards. These are the four constituents of man. Here we find in the outer an imprint of the four-fold man. All further development is of such a nature that the human being, starting from this point of the ego, consciously experiences what previously he went through unconsciously.
Today, in order to realise that this is so, one must in the first place investigate what took place when our ego was being developed. In order to do this we must, as it were, take up our position under a certain organ. This is most aptly expressed in the Buddha legend. It says in the legend that Buddha remained seated under the Bodhi tree until he attained illumination in order to rise to higher stages, to Nirvana. For this Buddha had to place himself under the brain, under the organ of consciousness. That means the paths he had previously traversed unconsciously he had to traverse again consciously. Under the large brain there lies, more towards the back of the head, the small, tree shaped brain (the cerebellum). Under this brain Buddha placed himself. The cerebellum is the Bodhi tree. This shows how what is said in such profound legends is actually taken from human evolution.
Everything that is now known only by means of anatomy was at that time known in quite another way. The occult investigator made his researches with the help of the Kundalini light. The pupil was prepared for this in the following way. He came to a Master. If the latter found him trustworthy he received as instruction, not actually a teaching — today it has become different, today man must find his way by means of intellect and concepts — but the Master spoke somewhat as follows: ‘Every day for about six weeks you must spend several hours in meditation and give yourself up to some sentence of eternal value, completely sinking yourself into it.’ At present man cannot do this because life in modern civilisation makes too many demands on him. At that time the pupil meditated six to ten hours daily. He cannot do this nowadays without withdrawing from the whole life around him. At that time however the pupil required hardly any time for external needs. He found his nourishment in outer nature. He therefore made use of his time for meditation, perhaps uninterruptedly for ten hours. By this means he very soon progressed so far that he brought his body, which at that time was less dense, into such a condition that the Kundalini light was awakened within him. This is for the inner being what sunlight is for the outer world. Actually we do not see external objects, but reflected sunlight. The moment when, with the help of the Kundalini light, we can illuminate the soul, it becomes as visible as an object shone upon by the sun. So for the yoga pupil the whole inner body gradually became illuminated. All ancient anatomies were seen from within, through inner illumination. Thus the (Indian) monks, who clothed their experiences in legends, spoke of what they had perceived through the Kundalini light.
Now we must ask ourselves how the different parts of the human body are worked upon. In regard to what belongs to the brain and spinal cord, man first works consciously on the physical plane through the human ego [Gap in the text ...] He has at present no influence on anything else. He has for instance no influence on the circulation of the blood. Such things are developed by degrees. Here other beings co-operate, Deva beings, so that all creatures having a blood circulation are dependent on Deva forces for its regulation. The astral body is permeated and worked upon by different Deva forces. The lowest work on the astral body. Higher forces work on the etheric body and still higher Devas on the physical body, the most perfected body possessed by man. The astral body is strikingly less perfect than the physical body. The physical heart is indeed very clever; the stupid one is the astral body, that directs into the heart all kinds of heart poisons. The most perfect part of man is the physical body, less perfect is the etheric body and still less perfect is the astral body. What is only in its beginnings, the ‘baby’ in man, is the ego Organisation. This is the four-fold man, which contains the ego as the temple contains the statue of a god.
The whole development of human culture is nothing other than the working of the ego into the astral body, the education of the astral body. Man enters into life filled with desires, impulses and passions. In so far as he masters these impulses, desires and passions, he is working his ego into the astral body. When the Sixth Root-race, the Sixth Epoch, has reached its conclusion, the ego will have completely worked into the astral body. Until then the astral body will continue to be dependent on the support of the Deva forces. As long as the ego has not permeated the entire astral body, so long must the Deva forces support the work.
The second stage of development, which follows that of the cultural, is the development of the esoteric pupil. He works the ego into the etheric body. Through this the Deva forces are gradually released by the work of his own ego. Then he also gradually begins to see into himself.
We can now ask: what is the significance of the astral body, for what purpose does man have an astral body? It is to give him the possibility, by way of his desires, to do what otherwise he would not have done, and to betake himself to the physical plane. For before man can acquire objective knowledge on the physical plane he must direct to it his wishes and desires. Without these he would have been unable to develop an objective observation of the world or a sense of duty and morality. Only after a gradual transformation of his desires can these be changed into duties and ideals. Man can only pursue this path by means of the driving, organising power of the astral body.
The etheric body is the bearer of thoughts. What is thought within man, is etheric outside, just as what is desire within him, is astral outside. But it is only when pure thinking begins that etheric substance is radiated into the astral impulses. As long as thinking is not yet pure thinking we have astral substance surrounding the etheric form. So thought-forms, as they are called, are made out of a kernel of etheric substance surrounded by astral substance. Along the paths of the nerves stream the so-called abstract thoughts, which however are in reality the most concrete, for they are etheric forces. As soon as man even begins to think, he is already working the ego into his etheric body. When a man dies it becomes clear that the physical body has nothing to do with the ego. Every connection between the physical body and the ego is broken off after death. Previously this connection took place indirectly through the other bodies. When these are no longer there the corpse has no further relation to the ego. Then the outer Deva forces receive it and it is again absorbed into the physical environment. The word ‘verwesen’ (decay) does not mean only a passing away, but a return to the ‘Wesen’ (being) out of which the body came forth. This is what may be said in respect of the physical body. The Dutch word ‘Lichaam’ does not mean ‘Leichnam’ (corpse) but the physical body which has to be carried about.
The etheric body is to a great extent in a similar situation to the physical body. It is taken up in the same way by the Devas and then again dissolved into general circulation. But there remains from the etheric body what the human being himself has worked into it and this does not dissolve. It is this which later, at the time of reincarnation, forms a central point, around which what is to be added is crystallised. This small part of the etheric body remains present in the case of everyone. In the same way there remains from the astral body as much as the human being has worked into it. Only during the last third of the Sixth Root-Race will the entire astral body be retained by all people of normal development.
Thus development begins by man's working consciously on his astral body. The task of the Chela, the occult pupil, consists further in the transformation of his etheric body. The stage of chelahood is completed when after death the entire etheric body remains intact. The sojourn in Devachan is necessary in order to make possible a renewal of the forces of the etheric body. The small portion of the etheric body which to begin with man carries into Devachan can grow into the complete etheric body, because the necessary conditions are created there.
This makes comprehensible the varying length of the sojourn in Devachan. When the human being stands at the beginning of his development and has transformed but very little of his etheric body he can only remain in Devachan for quite a short time. The part of the etheric body that is lacking must be replaced for him by the external Devas. When he develops further he sojourns for a progressively longer time in Devachan; thus the time that he spends there increases in proportion to his own development. People, however, who are more advanced sometimes reincarnate earlier for other reasons, for instance, because they are needed in the world.
When the Chela dies, the entire etheric body is present. Thus at this stage the Chela can renounce Devachan because the etheric body has been completely worked through. Then, after quite a short time, re-birth takes place. He waits at first in the astral world, as in a place of transition, until he receives a definite mission from his Master. Then he can again take possession of his etheric body in order to reincarnate once more.
Until this stage is reached a duality is necessary for evolution, i.e. that which man is unable to develop inwardly for himself is built into him from outside. Help must be brought to him from without. Thus in Devachan the etheric body is once more made complete by external Deva powers. The Physical Plane and Devachan are polar opposites. Between them lies Kamaloka, a place of transition, a transitional stage, an intermediary condition that causes the human being to be connected with what he has worked into his astral body. The astral body leads man on to the Physical Plane, where he directs his attention outwards. Here desires are cultivated by contact with external things. When a person dies his craving for outer objects does not immediately cease, although he no longer has organs bringing him into connection with them. The desire remains but the organs are lacking. In Kamaloka he must break himself from this longing for the outer-world. Kamaloka does not actually belong to normal development; it is only a stage where habits must be relinquished. It is because man can no longer satisfy his wishes, because he no longer has organs for the physical world, that Kamaloka comes about.
When someone commits suicide he has identified his ego with the physical body. For this reason the longing for the physical body is all the more intense. It seems to him that he is like a hollow tree, like someone who has lost his ego. He then has a continual thirst for himself.
When a man is put to death by violence he is in a similar situation. In the case of someone who meets a violent death he continues seeking for his physical body until the time when he would otherwise have died. This seeking can bring about harmful reactions. In such a case it can happen that a man who meets his end by violence is filled with a terrible rage against those who have caused his death. Then in the murdered man the blow is changed into a counter blow. Thus from the astral world, the souls of Russians executed for political reasons fought against their own countrymen on the side of the Japanese. This happened in the Russo-Japanese war; it is however not a general rule.