Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Earthly Death and Cosmic Life
GA 181

4. The Cosmic Thoughts and our Dead

5 March 1918, Berlin

In a recent lecture held here I spoke of the possible relations of the incarnate to the discarnate human souls—the so-called dead;—relations not only possible but which really always exist. To-day I shall add a few remarks to what I have already said.

From various facts presented to our souls by Spiritual Science, we know that in course of the earth's evolution, the spirit of man passes through an evolution of its own. We know that man can only understand himself by a fruitful consideration of the question: What is man's attitude in any one incarnation, in his present incarnation, to the spiritual world, to the spiritual realms? To what stage of evolution has mankind in general attained in the time when we ourselves live in a definite incarnation.

We know that outer observation of this general evolution of mankind allows of the opinion that in earlier times, earlier epochs, a certain ‘atavistic clairvoyance’ was poured over mankind, the human soul was then, as it were, nearer to the spiritual worlds. But it was also further from its own freedom, its own freewill, to which in our age we are nearer while more shut off from the spiritual world. Anyone who knows the real nature of man at the present time must say: in the unconscious self, in the really spiritual part of man, there is, of course, the same relation to the whole spiritual world; but in his knowledge, in his consciousness, man in general cannot realise it in the same way as was possible to him in earlier epochs, though there are exceptions. If we enquire into the reason why man cannot bring to consciousness the relation of his soul to the spiritual world,—which is, of course, as strong as ever though of a different kind—we find that it is due to the fact that we have passed the middle of the earth's evolution and are now in the ascending stream of its existence, and our physical organisation (although, of course, this is not perceptible to external anatomy and physiology) has become more ‘physical’ than it was, so that in the time we spend between birth or conception and death, we are no longer organised to bring fully to consciousness our connection with the spiritual world. We must clearly understand that no matter how materialistic we are we actually experience in the subconscious region of the soul much more than the sum of our general conscious knowledge.

This goes even further, and here we come to a very important point in the evolution of present humanity. In general, man is not able to think, perceive and feel all that could really be thought, perceived and felt within him. At the present time he is gifted for far more intensive thoughts and perceptions than are possible through the coarse material components of his organism. This has a certain consequence, namely, that at the present epoch of human evolution we are not in a position to bring our capacities to complete development in our earthly life. Whether we die young or old has very little influence upon that. For both young and old it is the rule that, on account of the coarse substance of his organism, man cannot fully attain to what would be possible were his body more finely organised. Thus, whether we pass through the gate of death old or young, there is a residue of unexercised thoughts, perceptions and feelings which, for the above reason, we could not elaborate. We all die leaving certain thoughts, feelings and perceptions unexercised. These are there, and when we pass through the gate of death, whether young or old, these occasion an intense desire to return to earthly life for further thinking, feeling and perceiving.

Let us reflect upon the bearing of this. We only become free after death to form certain thoughts, feelings and perceptions. We could do much more for the earth if we had been able to bring them to fruition during our physical life, but we cannot do this. It is actually true that every man to-day could do much more for the earth with the capacities within him than he actually does. In earlier epochs of evolution this was not so, for when the organism was finer there was a certain conscious looking into the spiritual world, and man could work from the spirit. Then he could, as a rule, accomplish all for which his gifts fitted him. Although man is now so proud of his talents, the above is true.

Because of this, we can recognise how necessary it is that what is carried through the gate of death unused should not be lost to earth-life. That can only be brought about by cultivating the union with the dead under the guidance of Spiritual Science, in the sense often described, by rightly maintaining the connection with the dead with whom we are united by karmic ties, and endeavouring to make the union a conscious, a fully conscious one. Then these unfulfilled thoughts of the dead pass through our souls into the world, and, through this transmission, we can allow these stronger thoughts—which are possible to the dead because they are free from the body—to work in our souls. Our own thoughts we cannot bring to full development, but these thoughts could work within us.

We see from this that what has brought us materialism should also show us how absolutely necessary at the present time and for the near future is the quest of a true relation to the spirits of the dead. The only question is: How can we draw these thoughts, perceptions and feelings from the realm of the dead into our own souls?

I have already given certain hints as to this, and in the last lecture spoken of the important moments which should be well observed: the moment of falling asleep and that of waking. I shall now describe with more detail a few things connected with this.

The dead cannot directly enter this world of ordinary waking life, which we outwardly perceive, in which we act through our will and which rests upon our desires. It is out of their reach, when they have passed through the gate of death; yet we can have a world in common with them if, spurred on by Spiritual Science, we make the effort—which is difficult in our present materialistic age—to discipline the world of our thinking as well as our outer life, and not to allow our thoughts the customary free course. We can develop certain faculties which introduce us to a ground in common with the spirits who have passed through the gate of death. There are, of course, at the present time a great many hindrances to finding this common ground. The first hindrance is one to which I have but little referred, but what is to be said thereon follows from other considerations already discussed here. The first hindrance is that we are, as a rule, too prodigal with our thoughts, we might even say we are dissipated in our thought-life. What, exactly, is meant by this?

The man of to-day lives almost entirely under the influence of the saying: ‘Thoughts pay no toll.’ That is, one may allow almost anything to flash at will through the mind. Just consider that speech is a reflection of our thought life; and realise what thought-life is allowed free course by the speech of most people, as they chatter and wander from subject to subject, allowing thoughts to flash up at will. This means a dissipation of the force with which our thinking is endowed! We continually indulge in prodigality, we are wholly dissipated in our thought-life. We allow our thoughts to take their own course. We desire something which occurs to us, and we drop that as something else occurs; in short, we are disinclined in some respects to keep our thought under control. How annoying it is, sometimes, for instance, when someone begins to talk; we listen to him for a minute or two, then he turns to quite a different subject, while we feel it necessary to continue the subject he began. It may be important. We must then fix our attention and ask ourselves, ‘Of what did we begin to talk?’ Such things occur every day, when subjects of real earnestness are to be brought into discussion, we have continually to keep in mind the subject begun. This prodigality, this dissipation of thought-force, hinders thoughts which, coming from the depths of our soul-being, are not our own, but which we have in common with the universal ruling spirit. This impulse to fly at will from thought to thought does not allow us to wait in the waking condition for thoughts to come from the depths of our soul-life; it does not allow us to wait for ‘inspirations,’ if we may so express it. That, however should be so cultivated—especially in our time, for the reasons given—that we actually form in our souls the disposition to wait watchfully until thoughts arise, in a sense, from the subsoil, which distinctly proclaim themselves as ‘given,’ not formed by ourselves.

We must not suppose that the formation of such a mood is able to appear on swift wings—it cannot do so. It has to be cultivated; but when it is cultivated, when we really take the trouble to be awake and, having driven out the arbitrary thoughts, wait for what can be received in the mind, this mood gradually develops. Then it becomes possible to receive thoughts from the depths of the soul, from a world wider than our ego-hood. If we really develop this, we shall soon perceive that in the world there is not only what we see, hear and perceive with our outer senses, and combine with our intellect, but there is also an objective thought-texture. Only few possess this to-day as their own innate knowledge. This experience of a universal thought-tissue, in which the soul actually exists, is not some kind of special occult experience; it is something that any man can have if he develops the aforementioned mood. From this experience he can say: In my every-day life I stand in the world which I perceive with my senses and have put together with the intellect; I now find myself in a position in which I am as though standing on the shore, I plunge into the sea and swim in the surging water; so can I, standing on the brink of sense-existence, thus plunge into the surging sea of thought. I am really as though in a surging sea. We can have the feeling of a life—or, at least, we have an inkling of a life, stronger and more intense than the mere dream-life, yet having just such a boundary between it and outer sense-reality as that between dream-life and sense-reality. We can, if we desire, speak of such experience as ‘dreams,’ but they are no dreams! For the world into which we plunge, this world of surging thoughts which are not our own, but those in which we are submerged, is the world out of which our physical sense-world arises, out of which it arises in a condensed form, as it were. Our physical world of sense is like blocks of ice floating in water: the water is there, the ice congeals and floats in it. As the ice consists of the same substance as the water, only raised to a different physical condition, so our physical world of sense arises from this surging, undulating sea of thought. That is its actual origin. Physics speaks only of ‘ether,’ of whirling atoms, because it does not know this actual primordial substance. Shakespeare was nearer to it when he makes one of his characters say: ‘The world of reality is but the fabric of a dream.’ Men lend themselves too easily to all kinds of deception in respect to such things. They wish to find a great atomic world behind physical reality; but if we wish to speak of anything at all behind physical reality, we must speak of the objective thought-tissue, the objective thought-world. We only arrive at this when, by ceasing the prodigality and dissipation of thought, we develop that mood which comes when we can wait for what is popularly called ‘inspiration.’

For those who study Spiritual Science it is not so difficult to develop the mood here described, for the method of thought necessary for the study of anthroposophical Spiritual Science trains the soul for such development. When a man seriously studies Spiritual Science he comes to the need of developing this intimate thought-tissue within. This thought-tissue provides us with the common sphere in which are present we ourselves on the one hand, and on the other hand the so-called dead. This is the common ground on which we can ‘meet with’ them. They cannot come into the world which we perceive with our senses and combine with our intellect, but they can enter the world just described.

A second thing was given in the observation of finer, more intimate life-relationships. I spoke of this last year and gave an example which can be found in psychological literature. Schubert calls attention to it; it is an example taken from old literature, but such examples can still often be found in life. A man was accustomed to take a certain walk daily. One day, when he reached a certain spot, he had a feeling to go to the side and stand still, and the thought came to him whether it was right to waste time over this walk. At that moment a boulder which had split from the rock fell on the road and would certainly have struck him if he had not turned aside from the road on account of his thought.

This is one of the crude experiences we may encounter in life, but those of a more subtle kind daily press into our ordinary life, though as a rule we do not observe them; we only reckon with what actually does happen, not with what might have happened had it not been averted. We reckon with what happens when we are kept at home a quarter of an hour longer than we intended. Often and often, if we did but reflect, we should find that something worthy of remark happened, which would have been quite different if we had not been detained.

Try to observe systematically in your own life what might have happened had you not been delayed a few minutes by somebody coming in, though, perhaps, at the time, you were very angry at being detained. Things are constantly pressed into one's life which might have been very different according to their original intention. We seek a ‘causal connection,’ between events in life. We do not reflect upon life with that subtle refinement which would he in the consideration of the breaking of a probable chain of events, so that, I might say, an atmosphere of possibilities continually surrounds us.

If we give our attention to this, and have been delayed in doing something which we have been accustomed to do at mid-day, we shall have a feeling that what we do at that time is often—it may not always be so—not under the influence of foregoing occurrences only, but also under the influence of the countless things which have not happened, from which we have been held back. By thinking of what is possible in life—not only in the outer reality of sense—we are driven to the surmise that we are so placed in life that to look for the connection of what follows with what has gone before is a very one-sided way of looking at life. If we truly ask ourselves such questions, we rouse something which in our mind would otherwise lie dormant. We come, as it were, to ‘read between the lines’ of life; we come to know it in its many-sidedness. We come to see ourselves, so to speak, in our environment, and we see how it forms us and brings us forward little by little. This we usually observe far too little. At most, we only consider the inner driving forces that lead us from stage to stage. Let us take some simple ordinary instance from which we may gather how we only bring the outer into connection with our inner being, in a very fragmentary way.

Let us turn our attention to the way we usually realise our waking in the morning. At most, we acquire a very meagre idea of how we make ourselves get up; perhaps, even the concept of this is very nebulous. Let us, however, reflect for a while upon the thought which at times drives us out of bed; let us try to make this individual, quite clear and concrete. Thus: yesterday I got up because I heard the coffee being made ready in the next room; this aroused an impulse to get up; to-day something else occurred. That is, let us be quite clear, what was the outer impelling force. Man usually forgets to seek himself in the outer world, hence he finds himself so little there. Anyone who gives even a little attention to such a thought as this will easily develop that mood of which man has a holy—nay, an unholy—terror,—the realisation that there is an undercurrent of thought which does not enter the ordinary life. A man enters a room, for instance or goes to some place, but he seldom asks himself how the place changes when he enters it. Other people have an idea of this at times, but even this notion of it from outside is not very widespread to-day. I do not know how many people have any perception of the fact that when a company is in a room, often one man is twice as strongly there as another; the one is strongly present, the other is weak. That depends on the imponderabilities. We may easily have the following experience: A man is at a meeting, he comes softly in, and glides out again; and one has the feeling that an angel has flitted in and out. Another's presence is so powerful that he is not only present with his two physical feet but, as it were, with all sorts of invisible feet. Others do not, as a rule, notice it, although it is quite perceptible; and the man himself does not notice it at all. A man does not, as a rule, hear that ‘undertone’ which arises from the change called forth by his presence; he keeps to himself, he does not enquire of his surroundings what change his presence produces. He can, however, acquire an inkling, a perception of the echo of his presence in his surroundings. Just think how our outer lives would gain in intimacy if a man not only peopled the place with his presence but had the feeling of what was brought about by his being there, making his influence felt by the change he brings.

That is only one example. Many such can be brought forward for all situations in life. In other words, it is possible in quite a sound way—not by constantly treading on his own toes—for a man so to densify the medium of life that he feels the incision he himself makes in it. In this way he learns to acquire the beginning of a sensitivity to karma; but if he were fully to perceive what comes about through his deeds or presence, if he always saw in his surroundings the reflection of his own deeds and existence, he would have a distinct feeling of his karma; for karma is woven of this joint experience. I shall now only point to the enrichment of life by the addition of such intimacies, when we can thus read between the lines, when we learn to look thus into life and become alive to the fact that we are present, when we are present with our ‘consciousness.’ By such consciousness we also help to create a sphere common to us and to the dead. When we in our consciousness are able to look up to the two pillars just described: a high-principled course of life, and an economy, not prodigality of thought,—when we develop this inner frame of mind it will be accompanied by success, the success that is necessary for the present and the future when, in the way described, we approach the dead. Then, when we form thoughts, which we connect not merely with a union in thought with one of the dead, but with a common life in interest and feeling; when we further spin such thoughts of life-situations with the dead, thoughts of our life with him, so that a tone of feeling plays between us—when we thus unite ourselves, not to a casual meeting with him but to a moment when it interested us to know how he thought, lived, acted, and when what we roused in him interested him,—we can use such moments to continue, as it were, the conversation of the thoughts. If we can then allow these thoughts to lie quiet, so that we pass into a kind of meditation, and the thoughts are, as it were, brought to the altar of the inner spiritual life, a moment comes when we receive an answer from the dead, when he can again make himself understood by us. We only need to build the bridge of what we develop towards him, by which he on his side can come to us. For this coming it will be specially useful to develop in our deepest soul an image of his entity. That is something far from the present time because, as we said, people pass one another by, often coming together in most intimate spheres of life and parting again without knowing one another. This becoming acquainted does not depend on mutual analysis. Any one who feels himself being analysed by those living with him, if he is of a finely organised soul, feels as though he received a blow. It is of no moment to analyse one another. The best knowledge of another is gained by harmony of heart; there is no need to analyse at all.

I started with the statement that cultivation of relations with the so-called dead is specially needed to-day, because not from choice but simply through the evolution of humanity, we live in an epoch of materialism. Because we are not able to mould and fashion all our capacities of thought, feeling and perception before we die, because something of it remains over when we pass through the gate of death, it is necessary for the living to maintain the right intercourse with the dead, that the ordinary life of man may be enriched thereby. If we could but bring to the heart of men to-day the fact that life is impoverished if the dead are forgotten! A right thinking of the dead can only be developed by those in some way connected with them by karma.

When we strive for a similar intercourse with the dead as with the living (as I said before, these things are generally very difficult, because we are not conscious of them, but we are not conscious of all that is true, and not everything of which we are conscious is on that account unreal)—if we cultivate intercourse with the dead in this way, the dead are really present, and their thoughts, not completed in their own life will work into this life. What has been said makes indeed a great demand on our age. Nevertheless, it is said, because we are convinced by spiritual facts, that our social life, our ethical religious life, would experience an infinite enrichment if the living allowed themselves to be ‘advised’ by the dead. To-day man is disinclined to consult even those who have come to a mature age. To-day it is regarded as right for quite a young man to take part in councils of town and state, because while young he is mature enough for everything—in his own opinion. In ages when there was a better knowledge of the being of man, he had to reach a certain age before being in any council. Now people must wait until others are dead in order to receive advice from them! Nevertheless, our age, our epoch, ought to be willing to listen to the counsel of the dead, for welfare can only come about when man is willing to listen to their advice.

Spiritual Science demands energy of man. This must be clearly understood. Spiritual Science demands a certain direction; that man should really aspire to consistency and clearness. There is need to seek for clearness in our disastrous events: the search for it is of the utmost importance. Such things as we have been discussing are connected, more than is supposed, with the great demands of our time. I have tried this winter, and many years before this world-catastrophe, in my lectures on the European Folk-Souls, to point out much which is to be found to-day in the general relations of humanity. A certain understanding of what plays its part in present events can be derived from reading the course of lectures I gave in Christiania on ‘The Mission of the Several Folk Souls.’ It is not too late, and much will still take place in the coming years for which understanding can be gained from that series of lectures.

The mutual relations of man to-day are only really comprehensible to one who can perceive the spiritual impulses. The time is gradually approaching when it will be necessary for man to ask himself: How is the perception and thought of the East related to that of Europe—especially of Mid-Europe? Again, how is this related to that of the West, of America? These questions in all their possible variations ought to arise before the souls of men. Even now man should ask himself: How does the Oriental regard Europe to-day? The Oriental who scrutinises Europe carefully, has the feeling that European civilisation leads to a deadlock, and has led to an abyss. He feels that he dare not lose what he has brought over of spirituality from ancient times when he receives what Europe can give him. He does not disdain European machines, for instance, but he says—and these are the actual words of a renowned Oriental: ‘We will accept the European machines and instruments, but we will keep them in the shops, not in our temples and homes as he does.’ He says that the European has lost the faculty to perceive the spirit in nature, to see the beauty in nature. When the Oriental looks upon what he alone can see—that the European only holds to outer mechanism, to the outer material in his action and thought—he believes that he is called upon to reawaken the old spirituality, to rescue the old spirituality of earthly humanity. The Oriental who speaks in a concrete way of spiritual things says: (as Rabindranath Tagore a short while ago) Europeans have drawn into their civilisation those impulses which could only be drawn in by harnessing Satan to their car of civilisation; they utilise the forces of Satan for progress. The Oriental is called upon—so Rabindranath Tagore believes—to cast out Satan and bring back spirituality to Europe.

This is a phenomenon which, unfortunately, is too easily overlooked. We have experienced much, but in our evolution we have left out of account much that might have been brought in if we had, for instance, a spiritual substance like that of Goethe, livingly in our civilisation. Someone might say: The Oriental can look towards Europe to-day and know that Goethe lived in European life. He can know this. Does he see it? It might be said: The Germans have founded a Society, the ‘Goethe Society’. Let us suppose the Oriental wished to be well-informed about it and to look into the facts. (The question of East and West already plays a part, it ultimately depends on spiritual impulses.) He would say to himself: Goethe worked so powerfully that even in 1879 the opportunity presented itself to make Goethe fruitful to German civilisation in an unusual way, so to say, under favourable circumstances. A Princess, the Grand Duchess Sophia of Weimar, with all those around her, in 1879 took over Goethe's library of writings in order to cultivate it as had never been done for any other writer before. That is so. Let us, however, consider the Goethe Society as an outer instrument. It, too, exists. A few years ago the post of President fell vacant. In the whole realm of intellectual life only one, a former Minister of Finance, was found to be elected as President of the Society! That is what is to be seen outwardly. Such things are more important than is usually supposed. What is more necessary is that the Oriental, aflame with spirituality and wise in it, should come to know that there is in European civilisation a Spiritual Science directed by Anthroposophy; yet he cannot know of this. It cannot reach him, because it cannot get through what exists—because the President of the Goethe Society is a retired Minister of Finance. But, of course, that is only one phenomenon symptomatic of the times.

A third demand, we might say, is an incisive thinking bound up with reality, a thinking in which man does not remain in want of clearness, in vague life-compromises. On my last journey someone put into my hand something concerning a fact with which I was already acquainted. I will only give a short extract from a cutting from a periodical:—

‘To any one who has ever sat on a school bench, the hours when he enjoyed the conversations between Socrates and his friends in “Plato” will ever be memorable; memorable on account of the prodigious tediousness of these speeches. He remembers, perhaps, that he found them absolutely idiotic, but, of course, he did not dare to express this opinion, for the man in question was indeed Socrates, the Greek Philosopher. Alexander Moszkowski's book, “Socrates the Idiot,” (publisher, Eysler and Co., Berlin), duly does away with this wholly unjustifiable estimate of the great Athenian. The multi-historian, Moszkowski, undertakes in this small, entertaining book nothing less than almost entirely to divest Socrates of his dignity as a philosopher. The title “Socrates, the Idiot,” is meant literally. One will not go astray in the assumption that scientific discussions will be attached to this work.’

The first thing which strikes a man when he is made acquainted with such a matter makes him say: How does so extraordinary a thing come about, that a person like Alexander Moszkowski should wish to furnish proof that Socrates was an idiot? This is the first impression; but that is a feeling of compromise which does not arise from a clear, incisive thinking, a confronting of actual reality.

I should like to compare this with something else. There are books written on the life of Jesus from the standpoint of psychiatry. They examine all that Jesus did from the standpoint of modern psychiatry and compare it with various abnormal actions, and the modern psychiatrist proves from the Gospels that Jesus must have been an abnormal man, an epileptic, and that the Gospels can only be understood at all from the Pauline point of view. Full particulars are given on this subject.

It is very simple to lightly overlook these things; but the matter lies somewhat deeper. If we take the stand of modern psychiatry, if we accede to it as officially recognised, on thinking over the life of Jesus, we must come to the same conclusion as the authors of these books. We could not think differently or we should be untrue; in no sense a modern psychiatrist. Nor should we be true modern psychiatrists in the sense of Alexander Moszkowski, if we did not regard Socrates as an idiot. Moszkowski only differs from those who do not regard Socrates as an idiot, in that they are untrue;—he is true—he makes no compromise. It is not possible to be true and to take up the standpoint of Alexander Moszkowski without regarding Socrates as an idiot. If a man wishes to be at the same time an adherent of the philosophy of life held by modern science and yet to esteem Socrates without regarding him as an idiot, he is untrue. So, too, is a modern psychiatrist who holds to the life of Jesus. Modern man, however, does not wish to go so far as this clear standpoint, or he would have to put the question differently. He would have to say to himself: I do not regard Socrates as an idiot, I have learned to know him better; but that demands the rejection of Moszkowski's philosophy of life; in Jesus, too, I see the greatest bearer of ideas who has at any time come in touch with earthly life; but this demands the rejection of modern psychiatry; they cannot agree!

The point in question is: clear thinking in accordance with reality, a thinking that makes none of the ordinary idle compromises which can only be removed when one understands life. It is easy to think—or be filled with indignation, if one is asked to allow that according to Moszkowski, Socrates is an idiot; yet it is consistent with the modern philosophy of life to regard Socrates as an idiot. People of this age, however, do not wish to draw these logical conclusions, they do not wish to relinquish anything like the modern philosophy of life lest they come into a still more troublesome position. One would then have to make compromises, and perhaps admit that Socrates was no idiot; but suppose it then appears that—Moszkowski is an idiot? Well, he is not a great man; but if this were applied to much greater men, many and various untoward things might happen!

To penetrate into the spiritual world, a thinking in accordance with truth is necessary. This requires, on the other hand, a clear recognition of how things stand. Thoughts are real entities, and untrue thoughts are evil, obstructing, destructive entities. To spread a veil of mist over this avails nothing, because man himself is untrue if he wishes to give to Moszkowski's philosophy of life equal weight with that of Socrates. It is an untrue thought to place the two side by side in his soul, as the modern man does.

Man is only true when he brings before his soul the fact that he either stands with Moszkowski, at the standpoint of the pure mechanism of pure natural science, regarding Socrates as an idiot, in which he is then true; or, on the other hand, he knows that Socrates was no idiot, and then in order to think clearly, the other must necessarily be firmly rejected. The ideal, which the man of to-day should set before his soul, is to be true; for thoughts are realities, and true thoughts are beneficial realities. Untrue thoughts—however well they may be enwrapped with the cloak of leniency as regards their own nature,—untrue thoughts received into man's inner being, are realities which retard the world and humanity.