Fundamental Impulses in the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Times
This lecture is the first of eleven lectures in the lecture series entitled, Anthroposophy as Cosmosophy Volume I. It is also known as, The Center of Man's Being, part 1, and Evil and the Power of Thought.
23 September 1921, Dornach
Were an Oriental sage of ancient times, initiated in the Mysteries of the East (we must go back to very ancient times of Oriental civilisation, in order to contemplate what I wish to say), to turn his gaze on present-day Western civilisation, he would perhaps say to those belonging to this Western civilisation: To say the truth, you live entirely immersed in fear, fear rules your whole soul-constitution. In the most important moments of life fear permeates all you do — all you feel, too, and its results; as fear is closely related with hatred, hatred plays an important part in your whole civilisation.
Do not misunderstand me. I mean: were a wise man of the ancient civilisation of the East to stand amongst Western people with the same degree of culture and the same soul-constitution he used to possess in his time, then he would speak in this way and would perhaps give people to understand that indeed in his time and in his country, civilisation was built up on completely different foundations. Probably he would say: In my days, fear really played no part in the life of civilisation. In my days, when a world-conception had to be brought into the world, so that deeds and social life may spring out of it, the chief part was played by a joyful kind of pleasure, able to transform itself into devoted surrender to the world, into love.
This is what he would feel, and from his point of view he would show us the most important component parts, the most important impulses of present-day civilisation. And were we able to listen to him in the right way, then we would acquire thereby a great deal of what we really need in order to find the point from which we must start.
After all, a reminiscence of the ancient civilisation is still to be found in Asia, although strong European influences have entered its religious, aesthetic, scientific and social life. This old civilisation is decadent and when the wise man of the ancient East declares that love was the fundamental force of the ancient civilisation of the East, we must indeed say: In the present time, little of it can be seen directly. But he who is able to see, can positively discern this influence of an original element of pleasure, joy, love of the world and towards the world, even in the manifestations of decadence to be found in Asiatic culture.
In ancient times, the East contained little of what was demanded of man later on, when the word resounded, appearing in its most radical form in the Greek saying: Know thyself. This “Know thyself” entered man's historical life only with the appearance of the earlier stage of Greek culture. This kind of human knowledge did not as yet pervade the encompassing, enlightened world-conception of the ancient East, for it really did not turn its eye towards man's inner being. In this connection man is dependent on the circumstances ruling in the world around him. The ancient Oriental culture was founded under another influence of the Sun's light on the earth, under another influence of the earth's condition, than those appearing in the later civilisation of by what surrounded him as world, and he felt particularly induced to devote himself to the world with all his inner being. What weaved in this old Oriental wisdom and in the conception of the world arising out of this old Oriental wisdom, was knowledge of the world. Even the Mysteries — you can gather it from all that has been said to you in this connection for quite a number of years — and that which lived in the Mysteries of the ancient East, did not contain a real following of the demand: “Know thyself!” “Turn your gaze into the world, try to approach what lies hidden in the depths of the world's manifestations,” this could be taken as a demand of the ancient Eastern civilisation. But when Asiatic culture began to spread more toward the West, and Mystery colonies were founded in Egypt and Northern Africa, the teachers and disciples of the Mysteries were compelled to turn their gaze toward man s inner being. Particularly when the colonies of the Mysteries extended still farther West — there was a special site in ancient Ireland — the teachers and disciples of the Mysteries who came over from the East had to face the necessity of man's knowledge of self, of a real inner contemplation of man, because of the geographical conditions of the West, and consequently, the completely different elementary formation of the Western world. What these disciples of the Mysteries had already acquired in Asia in the shape of outer knowledge of the world, and knowledge concerning spiritual facts and beings lying at the foundation of the outer world, this enabled them now to penetrate deeply into what is really contained within man.
It would have been impossible to observe it over there, in Asia. The gaze turned toward man s interior would have become, so to say, lifeless. But what was brought into the Mystery colonies of the West as an acquisition gained by contemplating the world outside, now made it possible to look into man's interior. Indeed, one might say that at first only the strongest souls could bear what could be seen in man's inner being. Man's inner being rose into the consciousness of mankind in these Mystery colonies of Eastern origin founded in Western countries. A word addressed to the disciples by teachers of the Mysteries who already possessed this look into man's interior can really show what an impression this self-knowledge of manmade on these Mystery teachers; the word I mean is often quoted. But only in the earlier Mystery-colonies of Egypt, North-Africa and Ireland it was uttered for the disciple's preparation, and the initiate's attention in general, in respect of the experiences of man s inner being. The word which was then uttered was this one: No one who is not initiated in the holy Mysteries should gam knowledge of the secrets of man's inner being; it is not allowed to speak of such secrets before a non-initiate; for sinful are the lips that utter these secrets and sinful the ear that hears these secrets.
This word has often been uttered from out [of] an inner experience, from out that which a human being, prepared by the wisdom of the East, could experience when he advanced to a knowledge of man through the earthly conditions prevailing in the West. This word has been preserved traditionally; to-day, however, it is in constant use, but misunderstood, in its innermost essence, in secret orders and in secret societies of the West, that have really quite an influence in the world outside. But it is no longer spoken with the required earnestness, because people no longer know what they are saying when they utter these words. But even at present it does indeed happen that this word is taken as a motto in the secret orders of the West: Secrets exist concerning man's inner being; they must only be revealed in secret societies, for sinful are the lips that utter them and sinful the ear that hears them.
It must be said that in the course of time, many people (not those of Central Europe, but those of Western countries) learnt a great deal within their secret societies of what had been preserved traditionally from the investigations of an ancient wisdom. This knowledge is taken up without being understood at all, and to a great extent, enters into human actions as an impulse. It is indeed so, that during the last centuries, already since the middle of the 15th century, man's constitution rendered it impossible for him to see these things in their original form; he could only conceive them intellectually. It was possible to have an idea of them, but not to experience them. Single individuals only had premonitions. But these premonitions led many a human being into the sphere of the experiences that count most of all. Such people have at times taken up the strangest attitude towards life, for instance, Lord Bulwer, the author of Zanoni. We can understand him in his later years only if we know that he first acquired a traditional self-knowledge of man, but owing to his particular individual constitution, he was already able to penetrate into certain mysteries. This made him go further away from what is natural in life. In his case it is possible to see what an attitude toward life is assumed by a man who assimilates this differently-organised spiritual world, not only in thoughts, but in the whole attitude of his soul, in his inner experience. Then, many a thing must be judged differently, but not in the usual narrow-minded way. Of course, it is awful that Bulwer went about speaking with a certain emphasis of his inner experiences, accompanied by a younger female being, with a harp-like instrument on which she played in the intervals between his sentences. He appeared here and there at parties where he had often appeared quite formally and properly, sat down in his somewhat strange attire and before him sat the “harp-girl.” He said a few sentences, then the girl played, he continued talking and then the girl played again. Thus, in a higher sense, he brought something frivolous into this narrow-minded world, this narrowmindedness into which people sank more and more, especially since the middle of the 15th century.
People do not realize the degree of narrow-mindedness they have reached, and will know less and less about it, because it is becoming natural. Only ones “behaviour is looked upon as sensible. But there is a connection in the things in life, and modern dryness and sleepiness, the attitude of people toward each other, these belong to the intellectual evolution that arose in the last centuries. There is a connection in such things. A man like Bulwer does not fit into this evolution; it is quite possible of course to imagine elderly people going about the world, accompanied by younger people playing pleasant music. But the difference between the two soul-constitutions must only be seen in the right light, then also this will appear in its right light. In Bulwer something shone forth that he could not have acquired directly in our modern intellectual age, but only traditionally. We must, however, learn again what man's knowledge of self used to be in the Mystery-colonies I have mentioned.
The every-day man of the present age sees the world around him through the outer physical sense-impressions. He combines what he perceives, with his understanding. He also sees into his own self. This is really the world looked over by man, out of which his actions proceed. The sense-impressions he receives from outside, what he evolves out of these sense-impressions in the shape of representations, and that part of the representations transformed by impulses of feeling and impulses of will and directed towards man's inner being, then ray back again into consciousness as memories. This is what constitutes the soul s contents, the contents of the life in which man lives in the present time and out of which his actions proceed. Present-day man will at the most ask with a false kind of mysticism what is really contained in his inner being and what self-knowledge reveals. In bringing forward such a question he wants to find an answer through his usual consciousness. But out of this usual consciousness nothing else except outer sense-impressions, transformed by feeling and will, can arise. Only reflections, mirrored images of outer life, can be found by looking into man's inner being with the usual consciousness, and even when the impressions from outside have been transformed by feeling and will, man nevertheless does not know how feeling and will really work. Because the outer impressions have been transformed, man often takes what he sees within him as a special message from a divine world, an eternal world and not as the mirrored image of the outer world. But it is not so. What appears to a normal consciousness as self-knowledge, is only the transformed world outside reflecting itself into his consciousness from his inner being. If man really wants to look within himself, then — I have often used this image before — he would have to break this inner mirror. We look at the world outside. We have the outer sense impressions and connect them with thoughts. These thoughts then get reflected from within. By looking inside us, we only come as far as this inner mirror. We see what this mirror reflects in the form of memory. Just as we cannot look behind a mirror without breaking it, so we cannot look into man s inner being. The preparation given be the old wisdom of the East to the teachers and disciples of the Mystery-colonies that came over to the West, enabled them to see clearly behind memory into man's inner being. What they saw there, caused them to speak the words that were really meant to explain how well prepared one had to be, especially in those ancient times, before looking into man's inner being. What can be seen within man?
There we can see how something pertaining to the force of thought and perception which develops in front of the memory-mirror, penetrates under this memory-mirror. Thoughts penetrate below this memory-mirror and exercise an action on man's etheric body, in that part of man's etheric body which lies at the foundation of growth, and also at the foundation of the origin of will-forces'. When we look out into the sunlit space and survey all that comes to us through sense-impressions, something shines in our inner being, changing, it is true, into memory-thoughts on the one hand, but nevertheless oozes through the memory-mirror which pervades us just as the processes of nutrition, growth, etc. pervade us. The thought-forces first permeate the etheric body, this now exercises quite a particular action on the physical body. A complete change of the material being existing in man's physical body takes place in the physical body. Matter nowhere undergoes a complete destruction in the world outside. For this reason, the newer philosophy and natural sciences speak of the conservation of matter. But this law of the conservation of matter only applies to the outer world. Within man, matter is completely changed back into nothingness. Matter is completely destroyed in its essence. Our human, nature is based on this very fact: that we are able to throw back matter into chaos, destroying it completely deeper down than where I memory is mirrored.
This is what the disciple of the Mysteries who was led from the East into the Mystery-colonies of Ireland, and of the West in general, had to learn: within you, beneath your capacity of memory, you have something in you as man, that aims at destruction; if it would not be there, then you would not have been able to evolve your thinking. For your thoughts must develop through the forces of thought which permeate the etheric body. But an etheric body permeated with the forces of thought, has such an action on the physical body that matter is thrown back into chaos and destroyed.
When man therefore sets out in this frame of mind to investigate man's inner being, he will first come as far as memory, then he will enter a region where the human being wants to destroy, to annihilate what is there. Beneath our memory-mirror each one of use possesses the mama of destruction, of dissolution as far as matter is concerned, in order that man may develop his thoughtful Ego. There is no human self-knowledge that does not point out most earnestly this human fact.
Therefore, he that is to see this centre of destruction in man must take an interest in spiritual development. He must be able to say with the greatest earnestness: the spirit must subsist and for the sake of the spirit's existence, it is permissible that matter should be annihilated. Only when mankind will have heard for years about the things pertaining to spiritual-scientific investigations, it will be possible to show what is to be found in man. But it must be pointed out already to-day, for without this knowledge man will have illusions concerning himself, and concerning what he really is within the civilisation of the West. Within the world's evolution, man is the enveloping frame of a centre of destruction, and the downward forces can only be changed into ascending forces if man will realize that he envelops a destructive centre.
What would happen if man were not led to this state of consciousness through spiritual science? Well, already in the evolution of the present times we can see what would happen. What is to be found, as it were, isolated and separated from man, and should only exercise its action in man, play only this one part in man of throwing matter back into chaos, this instead comes out of the isolation and enters man's outer instincts. This will take place in genera! in the civilisation of the West and of the earth. It can be seen in everything appearing to-day as destructive forces, for instance in Eastern Europe. This is destructiveness thrown out from within and man will only be able to face the future in the right way, in connection with what goes on in him instinctively, if a real knowledge of man will again be there, if man will again be shown this centre of destruction inside him, which must however be there for the sake of the development of human thought. This very force of thinking man must possess in order to acquire the world-conception needed in the present age, this force of thinking which must exist in front of the memory-mirror, effects the continuation of thinking into the etheric body. The etheric body permeated with thought works destructively on the physical body. This centre of destruction exists in the modern man of the West; knowledge points it out. It is far worse, however, when this centre exists and man is unable to reach it with his consciousness, than when man acquires a fully conscious knowledge of this destructive centre and proceeds from this point of view into the modern evolution of civilisation.
Fear was the first thing that befell the disciples when they heard of these secrets in the Mystery-colonies. They learnt to know it thoroughly. They thoroughly learnt to know the feeling that fear arises when they looked into man's inner being, not dishonestly, in a hazy kind of mysticism, but honestly. The disciples of the Mysteries of the West were only able to overcome this fear because they were shown the full weight of the facts. Then they were able to conquer consciously what had to arise in the shape of fear.
Then, when the intellectual age appeared, this fear became an unconscious feeling and continues working as an unconscious fear. It exercises an action on life outside, hidden under all kinds of aspects. But it is in conformity with the present age to look into man's inner being. “Know thyself”, becomes a justified demand. Through the fear that was conjured up, and then through the overcoming of this fear, the disciples of the Mysteries were led to self-knowledge in the right way. The intellectual age dimmed the look for what was contained in man's inner being, but it was unable to drive away fear. Thus it came about that man stood and stands under the influence of this unconscious fear and reached the point of saying: There is nothing in man beyond birth and death. Man is afraid to look below the life of memories, the usual life of thoughts, which legitimately exists only between birth and death. He is afraid to look into what is really eternal in the human soul and on this fear, he establishes the teaching that there is nothing beyond this life between birth and death. Modern materialism has sprung out of fear and has not the slightest idea that it is so. This modern material world-conception is a product of fear.
Thus fear lives in the outer actions of human beings, in the social configuration and in the historical process ever since the middle of the 15th century; it lives especially in the materialistic world-conception of the 19th century. Why did human beings become materialistic, i.e. why did they only take into consideration the outer aspect in material existence? Because they were afraid to descend into the depths of man.
This is what the ancient sage of the East wished to express in the words: You modern people of the West live entirely in fear. You found your social organisations on fear, follow your artistic pursuits out of fear, and your materialistic world-conception is born out of fear. You and the successors of those who founded the old Oriental world-conception during my time, though they have fallen into decadence — you and these people of Asia will never understand each other, for in the people of Asia everything is born out of love, whereas in your case everything springs out of fear which is related with hatred.
Of course, this may sound drastic, but I am trying to bring it before you by making an old Oriental sage say it. Perhaps it will not appear too incredible if he were to speak like that supposing he were to arise again, whereas a present-day man would be looked upon as a fool were he to bring forward such things so drastically. But the drastic character of these things can show us what we have to learn to day for the sake of civilisation's healthy progress. Mankind must get to know again that, what constitutes the highest achievement of more recent times, namely intellectual thought, could not be there at all, unless the life of thought rises from within, out of a destructive centre which must be recognised in order to keep it in its place, inside, and prevent it extending to the outer instinct, and entering social impulses.
By looking over such things, it is possible to look deeply into the connections of life during more recent times. The world appearing as such a destructive centre, is to be found within us, beneath the mirror of memory. But the life of present-day man takes its course between that which the memory-mirror offers and the outer sense-perception. He adds to it a material atomistic world, which is a phantastic world because he cannot break through the representations gained through the senses.
But man is no stranger to the world lying beyond the outer representations gained through the senses. Every night, between falling asleep and waking up, he penetrates into this world. When you sleep, you are within this world. What you experience then, lies beyond the representations gained through the senses and is not the atomistic world set up by the dreamers of natural sciences. What the old Oriental sage experienced in his Mysteries, was the world lying beyond the sphere of the senses. It is only possible to experience it through devoted surrender to the world, when we are seized by the impulse of giving ourselves up completely to the world. Love must be active in knowledge if we wish to penetrate behind the sense-impressions. Especially the old civilisation of the East possessed this love in their knowledge.
Why must this resignation be acquired? Because, if we wish to get beyond the sense-world with our usual human Ego, we would suffer damage. We must give up our usual Ego if we want to enter this world beyond the senses. How does the Ego arise? Through the human being diving down into a chaos of destruction, — this is how the Ego is formed. This Ego must be steeled and hardened in that world existing within man as the world of a destructive centre. With this Ego it is not possible to live beyond the sphere of the outer sense-world.
Let us imagine the centre of destruction in man. It spreads over the whole human organism. What I am describing, is to be understood intensively, not extensively; but I will draw it schematically.1The schematic drawing can unfortunately not be reproduced. Here is the centre of destruction and here is the human frame. If that which is inside, were to spread over the whole world, what would then live in the world through man? Evil! Evil is nothing but the necessary chaos existing inside man, which has been thrown out. The human Self, the human Ego, must be hardened in this chaos, in what must exist in man and must remain in him as a centre of evil. This human Ego cannot live beyond the human sense-sphere in the outer world. Hence Ego-consciousness disappears in sleep and when it appears in dreams, its appearance is often a strange and a weak one towards its own self. The Ego which really undergoes a hardening process in the centre of Evil existing within man, cannot go beyond the sphere of the sense manifestations. Hence, the old sages of the East were of the opinion that only through resignation, only through love, it was possible to enter the supersensible sphere, only by giving up the Ego — and that on entering this world completely, one does not live in a world of Vana, one does not live in the woof of what is habitual, but in a world where this usual existence has been blown away, where there is Nirvana. This conception of Nirvana, the utmost resignation of the Ego, as in sleep, which existed as a fully-conscious knowledge in the disciples of the ancient civilisation of the East, this is what an old Oriental sage would point out, such a sage as I have placed hypothetically before your souls. He would say: With you, everything is grounded in fear, because you had to evolve the Ego. With us, everything was grounded in love, because we had to suppress the Ego. With you, an Ego desirous of asserting itself, speaks. With us, Nirvana spoke in the Ego's loving outpouring into the whole world.
These things can be grasped in thought and remain to a certain extent preserved there, but in the world of mankind they live as sensations, as fluctuating feelings and permeate human life. In such feelings and sentiments, they constitute what lives to-day on the one hand in the East, and on the other hand in the West. In the West, people have a kind of blood, a kind of lymph-fluid which is saturated with the Ego, hardened in the inner centre of Evil. In the East the human beings have a kind of blood, a lymph, containing the echo of the Nirvana-longing. In the present-day such things do not enter into the consciousness of the people of the East and of the West, owing to the uncouth way in which people think, for intellectual thought has something very uncouth. Intellectual thought somehow tries to bleed the human organism, to convert it into a microscopic slide and observe it under the microscope in order to form thoughts about it. The thoughts thus obtained, are terribly uncouth, even from an everyday aspect of experiencing things. This is what can at all be said in this connection: Do you think that it is able to grasp the finely-shaded differences to be found in the human beings that are for instance seated here next to each other? The microscope of course only gives unpolished, uncouth concepts of the blood and lymph. But finely-shaded differences even exist in people who come out of the same surroundings and conditions. But these shadings exist most intensively in human beings of the East and of the West; the intellect of course, can only grasp them quite bluntly and coarsely.
This is what takes place in the bodies of the Asiatic, European and American people and rules their reciprocal attitude in social life outside. The coarse, uncouth understanding employed in the last century for acquiring knowledge on nature outside, will not suffice to tackle the demands of a more recent social life and especially the adjustment between East and West will not be found. But this adjustment must be found.
Towards the end of the autumn people will be streaming to the Washington Conference where the statement made from out an instinctive genius by General Smuts, England's Minister for Africa will be discussed. He said that mankind's modern evolution is characterised by the fact that the starting point of civilisation's interests, which used to be in the Northern Sea up to now, will be transferred to the Pacific Ocean. A world culture is arising out of the civilisation of the countries lying around the Northern Sea, but the centre of gravity of this world-culture will be transferred from the North-Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
Mankind is facing this change. But people still talk to-day in such a way that what they say proceeds from the old coarse kind of thinking, so that nothing real and essential is reached; yet it must be reached, if we want to proceed. The signs of the times stand menacingly and significantly before us and tell us: So far, a limited trust and confidence sufficed in the intercourse of human beings that were really all of them afraid of each other in secret. Except, that this fear hid under the cloak of all kinds of other feelings. But now we require a soul-attitude able to encompass a world-culture. We need faith and trust of such a kind, that through them East and West will be balanced. Important points of view open out, which are just those we need. People to-day think that it is only meet and right to deal with economic questions — which position Japan will have in the Pacific Ocean, ways and means of organizing China in order that all the other nations on earth engaged in trade may find an open doorway, etc.
But these questions will not be settled in any world conference until man will have acquired consciousness of the fact that faith from one man to the other is a part and being of economics. This faith and trust will in future be gained only in a spiritual way. The civilisation in the world outside will need a spiritual deepening. To-day I only wished to show you from another side what I have often tried to assert here in this direction.