The Occult Significance of the Bhagavad Gita
30 May 1913, Helsingfors
In the last lecture I was trying to show you how the thinking of the present day, which tends to the formation of abstract concepts, is not really a gift of the outer physical world but a gift of the spiritual world. I tried to show you how at bottom this abstract thinking enters man's soul in exactly the same way as the revelations of the Beings of the Higher Hierarchies. The point then is this, that in our most ordinary life we really have something in us that is already of like nature to clairvoyant perception. Now we have something else in us as well, which is even more akin to clairvoyant perception even though in a more hidden way. I mean that consciousness that appears between our ordinary waking state and our sleeping — our dream consciousness. We cannot become familiar in a practical way with the ascent of the soul into higher worlds without trying to get a clear idea of the peculiar life that the soul leads in the twilight consciousness of dreaming. What now is a dream in reality?
Let us begin by considering the dream pictures we have around or before us, which in general are more fleeting, less sharply outlined than the perceptions of ordinary life. These pictures seem to flit past our souls. When, afterward, we come to analyze them objectively we can be struck by the fact that in most cases they have some kind of connection with our life on the physical plane. Of course, there are people who are only too ready to see something high and wonderful in their dreams, or to interpret them at once as revelations of higher worlds. There are those who really believe that a dream has given them something altogether new, something that has never been there before. In most cases we shall be mistaken in interpreting our dreams in such a way. In our careless haste we fail to recognize how, after all, some experience or other we have had on the physical plane more or less recently, or perhaps even many years ago, has reappeared in the changing, weaving pictures of our dreams. For this very reason it is quite easy for the materialistic science of our age to reject the idea that there is anything remarkable in the revelations of our dreams, and instead point out that dreams are simply copies or reflections of what has been experienced in external life. If you are acquainted with the present-day science of dreams you will realize that it is always at pains to prove that a dream contains nothing more than the reflections of the physical world that the brain carries in itself. It must be admitted that such an attitude can easily reject any higher significance in our dream life, showing that the higher revelations many people claim to have are pictures characteristic of the age in which they live, pictures that could not have been seen at all in any other age. So, for example, people today often dream in images derived from inventions and discoveries only made in the nineteenth century. It of course is easily proved that images derived from external life steal their way into the ever-changing play of dreams.
A person who would gain a clear idea of his dream experiences, learning something from them to help him in entering the occult worlds, must therefore be exceedingly careful in this realm. He must make a habit of carefully following out all the hidden connections. If he does so, he will realize that most of his dreams give him no more than he has already experienced in the outer world. But it is just when we become more careful in analyzing our dream life — and every aspiring occultist should do so — that we shall gradually begin to notice how one thing or another wells up before us that we could not possibly have experienced in our external life during this incarnation. One who follows such indications as are given in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment will notice that his dream-life gradually begins to change. His dreams do actually begin to assume a different character. One of the first experiences he can have may be the following.
Perhaps he has been thinking for a long time about some perplexing problem and has at last concluded that his understanding is not yet equal to solving it, nor is all that he has been able to learn from external sources adequate for solving it. Now it will not generally happen that he is immediately conscious of having a dream in which this problem is solved for him. Even so he will be able to have a certain higher consciousness at a comparatively early stage. As if awaking from a dream he will seem to remember something. He can say to himself, “I have not been dreaming about this problem, nor was I conscious of a dream I have had before. Yet a kind of memory is arising in me. It is as though some being had come near to me who solved this problem for me by giving or suggesting a solution.”
One who gradually widens his consciousness by following the indications I have given will have this experience fairly easily. He will recall something he has lived through as though in a dream, and will know that at the time he was not aware of experiencing it. Such an experience will seem to shine upward from the depths of his soul and he will say to himself, “When I was not there with my intelligence, my cleverness, when I was protecting my soul from the suggestions of my intellect, then my soul had greater power. My soul could come freely in touch with the solution of the problem, before which I was powerless with my intellect and understanding.”
No doubt scientists will often find it easy here too to give a materialistic explanation for such an experience. But one who has had it knows full well that what has appeared to him, emerging like the recollection of a dream experience, reveals something quite different from a mere reminiscence of ordinary life. The whole mood of his soul afterward tells him he has never had such an experience before. It brings him into a wonderful feeling of bliss and elation to realize that in the depths of his soul something more is active than is present in his ordinary consciousness. This recognition can become still more distinct, and it happens in the following way.
If we carry out energetically the exercises given in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, and if we continue to do so for a long time — even perhaps for several decades — then an experience may arise in our soul quite similar to what I have just been describing. For example, one which is mixed up with the recollection of an experience in everyday life we had years ago, perhaps a most disagreeable experience that we felt as a hard blow of fate and could never recall without pain and bitterness. Now something like the memory of a dream arises in our consciousness but it is a strange dream. It tells us that feelings live within us that drew this bitter experience to us with irresistible force and welcomed it gladly. Something lives in us that felt a kind of delight in bringing about all the circumstances that led up to this stroke of fate. When we have had such a dream remembrance, we know full well that while in our usual consciousness, which regulates our external affairs, there has not been a single moment — not one in the whole course of our present life — when we did not feel this stroke of fate with bitter pain. Yet, deep down within us there is something that stands in quite a different relation to this blow of fate. It used all its power and magnetic force to draw together the circumstances needed to bring about this misfortune. We did not know it at the time. Now we notice that behind our everyday consciousness another, deeper layer of our soul life was wisely at work.
If we have such an experience — and we shall have them if we earnestly carry through the exercises I have indicated — from then onward we have an extended area of knowledge and conviction. In ordinary life we feel ourselves in a certain relation to the outer world and the events that come to us in the course of our destiny. We meet these events with sympathy and antipathy. In the case mentioned this particular blow of fate was felt as a bitter and hateful experience. We did not know that all the time our soul had another wider life that had longed to live through what we felt to be so unwelcome. This feeling is quite different in its quality from any recollection out of ordinary life, for in our innermost being we are very different from what we imagine. It is just this difference that now becomes evident in our soul. It enters in such a way that we know it has brought us revelations from realms into which our everyday consciousness cannot penetrate. It widens our whole concept of our life of soul. We know then, by experience, that our soul-life contains something far more than its content within the limits of birth and death. If we do not penetrate into these deeper regions we have no idea that beneath the threshold of consciousness we are quite different beings from what we imagine ourselves to be in everyday life. When a new, significant feeling thus arises, the horizon of what we call our world expands into a new region. We realize why it is that in ordinary life we can enter it only under certain conditions.
In attempting to describe to you what may be called the occult development of dream-life, I have set before you two quite different conditions. Our ordinary dream-life, that most people experience continually at the border of sleeping and waking and that is nourished by images of everyday life, and an altogether new world of inner life that can arise on going through a certain training. We have the power to plunge into the regions of dream-life in such a way as to find a new world dawning upon us, one in which we have actual experiences of the spiritual worlds. One condition must be fulfilled, however, if we would have these new experiences between sleeping and waking during the night. We must be able to exclude the recollections and images of our ordinary life. So long as these interfere in this realm of dreams, so long do they make themselves important in it and block the way to real experiences of the higher worlds.
Why is it that the images from our everyday life thrust so insistently into this higher realm? Because, whether we confess it or not, we have the liveliest interest in all that concerns our particular selves in the external world. If some people imagine that they no longer take any special interest in their life, that makes no difference at all. No one who realizes how in this connection people can give themselves up to the grossest illusions, will be misled by such imaginings. After all, man is closely attached to the sympathies and antipathies of his everyday life. If you really try to carry out the exercises I have given for soul development you will soon realize that it all comes to this, that you must detach your interest from your everyday life. People carry out the directions given in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment in all sorts of ways. The book is read by many different people, and for many different reasons, and one's reason for looking into it will determine one's attitude to it. Thus, someone begins reading perhaps with the most beautiful feelings of how he may gain insight into the higher worlds. Then his curiosity is aroused — and why indeed should we not be curious about this realm! Curiosity often begins to stir even if one begins with the most holy feelings. That will only carry through for a little while, however, for all sorts of inner feelings begin coming in and make us stop, so we give it up.
But these feelings that we do not wish to recognize clearly, and generally interpret wrongly, are just those connected with sympathies and antipathies. We have to free ourselves from them in quite another way if we really mean to carry out these exercises. In fact, we do not free ourselves from them. That is why we stop doing the exercises. Though we say we want to break free of them we do not do it, but when a person is really in earnest about doing the exercises the effect they can have is seen very soon. His sympathies and antipathies toward life change a little. I must say this does not happen very often. When it does happen the change is of very great significance because it means we are struggling against the very forces that allow the images from our everyday life to arise in our dreams. They can no longer find their way in if we have come so far as to alter our sympathies and antipathies in any sphere of life, no matter which.
This alteration in the forces of sympathy need not occur in a high realm of life, but in some domain it must be carried out, perhaps in the most everyday affairs. There are people who say they do their exercises every day, morning and evening, and for hours at a time, and cannot go even one step into the spiritual worlds. Sometimes it is difficult to explain to them how easily one can understand that. In many cases they only need to realize this fact, that they are still grumbling about the same things they were grumbling about twenty, even thirty years ago, although they have been doing exercises all the time. The very language of their grumbling is still the same.
Then there are those who try to apply external means that can have certain effects in occultism. For example, they become vegetarians. In spite of all their endeavors to break away from a liking for meat, however, they attain no results from continued exercises. They may ascribe it to quite other reasons, thinking for instance that they need meat for their body, their brain, and therefore return occasionally to the flesh-pots of Egypt. Let us not imagine that it is an easy thing to transform one's sympathies and antipathies. To quote a passage from Faust, “Easy it is, yet is the easy hard.” This is an apt expression of the situation of the evolving soul that is trying to rise into higher worlds.
It is not a question of changing this or that particular sympathy or antipathy but of changing any whatsoever. If we do, then after certain exercises we can enter the domain of dream life in such a way that we bring nothing into it of our everyday sense experiences. Thereby in a certain sense new experiences have room to enter. When, through an occult development, we have really gone through such experiences in practice, we become aware of a certain layer of consciousness present in us that lies behind the everyday consciousness with which every person is familiar. In ordinary life our dreams take place in this second layer of consciousness, “dream-consciousness,” but it only becomes such through our carrying into it what we experience from our waking consciousness. If, however, we hold back all our everyday experiences from this region then experiences from the higher worlds can enter. These higher experiences are present in our surrounding world here every day. When they first arise we begin to realize that our everyday consciousness itself seems like a dream compared to the reality of those experiences. We find that reality only begins on that higher level.
Returning to the example of suffering a blow of fate that subsequently caused such bitter feelings, let us try to understand how one actually comes to realize the beginning of higher consciousness. Along with this bitterness we notice that there was something in us that sought out this misfortune, even feeling the need of it for our development. Now for the first time we realize in practice what karma is. We entered this incarnation with an imperfection in our soul. We felt it deeply, and thus were drawn by a magnetic power toward this blow of fate. By fully experiencing it we have mastered and done away with the imperfection. That is something real, and important. How superficial then is everyday judgment in creating a feeling of antipathy toward the misfortune. Here rather is the higher reality: Our soul goes forward from one life to another. How short is the time in which it can feel antipathy toward a blow of fate! When it looks out beyond the horizon of this incarnation, it feels one thing only to be necessary, to become ever more perfect. This feeling is stronger than any we have in our ordinary consciousness. Ordinarily, if it had been confronted previously by this blow of fate it would have slunk past it like a coward, would not have chosen the compensating necessity. But the deeper consciousness of which we know nothing does not do this. Instead it seeks its destiny, and feels it as a process of growth toward perfection. It says, “I entered into this life. I was aware of an imperfection that has been in my soul since birth. If I would develop my soul this imperfection must be remedied, but to do this I must go on to meet this misfortune. I must seek it out.”
There we have the stronger element in the soul, compared to which the web of ordinary life with all its sympathies and antipathies is like a dream. There beyond we enter into that life and feeling of which we can say, “It knows us better, is stronger in us than our ordinary consciousness.”
Now we notice another thing. If we really have the experience just described, if we do not merely know it in theory but truly experience it, then of necessity at the same time we have another experience. While we feel we can already enter into those regions where everything is different from what it is in ordinary consciousness, a feeling arises in us, “I do not want to enter.” This feeling is very deep. As a rule the curiosity that impels people to enter the spiritual worlds is not nearly strong enough to overcome the feeling of revulsion that says, “I will not enter.” The aversion we feel at this particular stage arises with tremendous force, and all sorts of misunderstandings about it are possible.
Suppose that someone has even received personal instructions. He comes to his instructor and says, “I cannot get on at all, your instructions are of no use.” Indeed he may honestly think so. If the instructor gives him the answer due him, however, he would not be able to understand it at all. This answer is, “You can enter perfectly well but you do not want to.” The pupil honestly believes he has the will to enter because his reluctance remains hidden in his subconsciousness. Indeed, the moment he begins to realize his reluctance he lessens it. The idea that he does not want to enter horrifies him so, he immediately begins to damp down his unwillingness.
This reluctance is a subtle and insidious thing. We feel that we cannot enter with the ego, the self, that we have acquired in this world. If a person wants to evolve to higher things he feels very strongly that he must leave this self behind. That, however, is a difficult thing to do because man would never have developed this self if he did not feel in his daily consciousness that he has it in order to develop it here. His ordinary ego has come into this world in order to evolve. Thus, when man wants to enter the real world he feels he must leave behind what he has been able to evolve in the ordinary world. Then there is only one way. He must have developed this self more strongly than he needs for his ordinary consciousness. As a rule he only develops it as far as he needs it in his ordinary life.
Now if you observe the second point in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, you will find it amounts to this, that the self must be made stronger than is necessary for the purposes of daily life. Only then are we able to go out of our body at night and still retain something that we have not used up. It is only when we have fortified our ordinary self by our exercises, and have an excess of self-reliance in us that we no longer want to shrink back from the higher worlds. But then a new and considerable danger arises. We no longer perhaps bring the recollections of ordinary life into our dreams but we bring something else — our expanded and strengthened self-consciousness. It is as though we filled that realm with it.
Anyone who carries through such exercises as given in my book and thus comes to have experiences like the inner soul experiences of Arjuna, enters the realm of dream-life with an expanded, strengthened self. The result is the same whether done by special training or whether we were destined to expand it at a definite period in our life. Arjuna is in this position. He stands at the boundary between the everyday world and that of dreams. He lives his way into that higher region because through his destiny he has a more powerful self in that realm than he needs in his ordinary life. This point I shall have to elaborate still further, showing why Arjuna has this more powerful consciousness, because now, as soon as he penetrates into that realm, Krishna at once receives him. Krishna lifts him out of the self he has acquired in ordinary life, and thus he becomes a different man from what he would have been if with his expanded self he had not met Krishna. In that case he would certainly have said to himself, “Blood relations are fighting against one another, events are taking place that must ruin the ancient holy caste-distinctions and the service to our ancestors — events that must corrupt our womankind, and conditions that will prevent us from kindling the fires of sacrifice to our forefathers.” All these things were part of Arjuna's everyday consciousness. By his destiny he was torn out of it. He must stand on ground where he has to break with all these accustomed feelings connected with old traditions. Thus he would have to say to himself, “Away with all I hold sacred; with all the traditions that have been handed down to me. I will hurl myself into the battle.” But that is not what happens. Krishna appears, and utters what must appear to Arjuna as the most extreme unscrupulousness, as egoism driven beyond all bounds. The excess of force that Arjuna would otherwise have experienced, that he would have used to live through his own life, Krishna uses as a power whereby he makes himself visible to Arjuna. To make this thought still more clear we may say that if Arjuna had simply met Krishna, even though the latter had actually come to him, he would have known nothing of him, just as we would know nothing of the sense-world if we had not received something from the sense-world itself that formed our senses for perceiving it. Similarly, Krishna must take from Arjuna his expanded and strengthened consciousness. He must in a sense tear his self out of him, and then by its help make himself visible to Arjuna. He makes a mirror, we can say, of what he has torn from Arjuna, so that he may be able to appear to him.
We have sought out what in Arjuna's consciousness enabled Krishna to meet him. There still remains unexplained how Arjuna came to it at all. Nowhere do we see the statement that Arjuna had done occult exercises. In fact he had not done any. How then is he able to meet Krishna? What was it that gave Arjuna a higher and stronger self-consciousness? We shall start from this question in the next lecture.