The Tension Between East and West
Part I: Anthroposophy and the Sciences
2 June 1922, Vienna
When the riddles of existence touch the human soul, they become not only great problems in life, but life itself. They become the happiness or sorrow of man's existence. And not a passing happiness or sorrow only, but one he must carry for a time through life, so that by this experience of happiness or sorrow he becomes fit or unfit for life.
Now, man's attitude to his own soul is such that the most important questions about it and about its spiritual essence do not arise from any actual doubts he has regarding the spiritual element within him. It is precisely because he is certain of his spiritual substance and because he cannot help seeing in it his human dignity and his true significance as a man, that the question of the fate of his soul becomes for him a tremendous riddle. To deny the mind in man himself does not, of course, occur to even the most rigid materialist. He acknowledges the mental as such, regarding it as a result of physical, material processes. Yet anyone who, with no such theory but simply from his deepest emotional needs, queries the fate of this soul of his, will find himself confronted by a plethora of phenomena and experiences. And these become riddles to him just because he is fully conscious of the mental or spiritual life, and must accordingly ask: Is this spiritual life a passing breath, rising from physical existence and returning with it once more into the generality of natural phenomena, or is it connected with a spiritual world within which it has eternal significance?
Of the many experiences in the realm of the psyche which present the riddles of the soul to our “mind's eye,” I will select only two.
There are, it may be objected, very few people on whom such experiences obtrude so much that they become even conscious, let alone theoretical, problems. But that is not the point. The point is that these experiences take hold of the subconscious or unconscious, establish themselves there, and flow up into consciousness only as a general temper or distemper of the soul, making us courageous and vigorous in life or making us dejected, so that at no point can we properly come to grips with life. As I have said, I want to pick out only two of these experiences.
The first appears before the “mind's eye” every evening when we fall asleep, when the mental and psychic experiences that have floated up and down during the day sink down into the unconscious as if extinguished. Now, when he looks at this experience or, as is most often the case, when the unconscious awareness of it affects his soul, man is overcome by a sense of the powerlessness of his mental life in face of the outside world. And just because man sees in this life his most valuable and dignified quality and cannot deny that he is in the true sense of the world a spiritual being, he is assaulted from within by this sensation of powerlessness, and has to ponder the question: Does the general process of nature overtake mental experiences when man passes through the gate of death, just as it always does at the onset of sleep? The first experience, if I may so put it, is a sense of the powerlessness of mental life.
The second experience is in a way a direct opposite of the first. We perceive it distinctly or indistinctly, consciously or unconsciously, when on waking, perhaps after passing through a fantastically chaotic dream world not attuned to reality, our spirit descends into our bodily existence. At such times we feel it informing our senses, feel too that our psychic experience is being permeated by the interplay between the outside world and our senses, which are of course physical and physiological. We feel the spiritual element descending further into our body; we inform our organs of will with it and become alert and self-possessed, able to make use of our body, our organism. On reflection, however, we cannot help realizing: Anatomy and physiology make a valiant attempt to penetrate and analyse the bodily functions from without; yet looking from within, we ourselves, by means of ordinary consciousness, do not know anything about the interrelationship between our spiritual element and our bodily functions. A glance at the simplest bodily function controlled by the will, the lifting of an arm or movement of a hand, tells us: First there exists in us the thought or concept of this arm-lifting or hand-movement. How this thought or concept flows down into our organism, however, how it informs our muscles, and how finally there comes about what again we know only through observation — what actually goes on inside remains hidden from ordinary consciousness. So, too, in that wonderful mechanism that physics and physiology show us, the human eye or some other sense-organ, there remains hidden the spiritual element that informs this wonderful mechanism.
We are thus faced with problems both by the powerlessness of our mental life and by the darkness into which we feel our spirit descending when it flows down into our own body. We are forced to conclude (most people certainly don't do so consciously, but it affects them as the temper of their soul): this spiritual element in its relationship with the organism is unknown to us just when it is creative; it is unknown to us at the very point in physical life where it manifests its outgoing function.
What every naive individual thus experiences extends, in a different form, to psychology itself. It would need a great many words to explain scientifically how these enigmas creep into the subject; but we can put it, rather superficially perhaps, as follows.
On the one hand, psychology looks at the mind and asks: What is the relation between this and the physical, the external and corporeal? In looking at the physical, on the other hand, and at what physical science has to say about it, some people — and in this respect psychology has a long history — believe that we must regard the mental as the really effective cause of the physical; others believe that we must regard the physical as the really empowering element, and the mental only as a kind of effect of it. The unsatisfactory nature of both views has been perceived by recent psychologists. They have therefore set up the curious theory of psycho-physical parallelism, according to which one cannot say that the body affects the mind or the mind the body, but only: corporeal processes are parallel to mental ones, and mental processes to bodily ones; one can only say what mental processes accompany the corporeal or what corporeal ones the mental.
Psychology itself, moreover, is conscious of this powerlessness of the mind! If we attempt to examine the mind, even as it presents itself to the psychologist, with ordinary consciousness, we find that it has something passive about it, so that we cannot see how it can penetrate dynamically the life of the body. Anyone who looks at the psychic characteristics of thinking and feeling (volition is impenetrable, so that for psychology much the same is true of will as of thinking and feeling) — anyone who looks at thinking and feeling with the tools of psychology finds them powerless, and cannot locate anything that would really be capable of effectively activating the physical. It is then that the psychologist experiences his sense of the powerlessness of mental life in the eyes of ordinary consciousness. The most varied attempts have certainly been made to overcome this feeling. But the disputes of philosophers and the changing philosophies that have succeeded one another provide the impartial observer of humanity with factual evidence of the impossibility for ordinary consciousness of approaching the mind's experience. Everywhere there obtrudes a sense of the powerlessness of the mind as it is perceived by ordinary consciousness.
With regard to this particular point, a series of works have appeared here in Vienna which represent milestones in the development of philosophy. Although I cannot associate myself in any way with their content, I believe that, from the standpoint of ordinary consciousness, these books are extraordinarily significant. They include Richard Wahle's The Whole of Philosophy and its End, which is designed to show that ordinary consciousness is incapable of reaching any significant conclusion about mental life, and that what philosophical investigation is here attempting ought to be handed over to theology, physiology, aesthetics and social science. And Richard Wahle went on to work out these ideas still more clearly in his Mechanism of Mental Life. We may say: here for once ordinary consciousness is revealed as basically incapable of saying anything about the problems of mental life. The ego, the psyche, everything that earlier psychology brought to light — all these collapse in face of the self-criticism of ordinary consciousness.
In recent years, however, psychology has, understandably and indeed of necessity, not attempted to deal directly with the things of the mind — in face of which, as we have seen, ordinary consciousness is powerless — but has sought to discover something about what are usually called mental phenomena indirectly, via the physical phenomena that spring from them. In this way, experimental psychology has come into being. This is a necessary product of our present attitude to life and methods of research. And anyone taking the philosophical standpoint that I do will never for one moment deny that experimental psychology is completely justified, though he may not perhaps agree entirely with this or that detail of its methods and results.
It is here that the other enigma of the soul comes in. However much we learn about what can be experienced by the human body in experimental psychology, the fact remains: everything that appears to be discovered in this way about purely psychic functions is, strictly speaking, only indirect knowledge, acquired via the body. It all belongs to a sphere which, at man's death, is given over to the general process of nature, so that through it can be learnt nothing about the soul, whose fate in the world is of such paramount concern to man. Thus we may say: for psychology, also, the great riddle of the soul reappears.
This point, too, has been made by a modern psychologist who for many years lived and worked here in Vienna, and who will never be forgotten by those who sat at his feet here, as I did. In the first volume of his unfinished work on psychology, he asks: What can any psychology ever achieve by establishing — whether experimentally or non-experimentally, I might add — how concepts combine and separate, how attention operates, how memory develops in life etc.? — if, precisely because of the scientific character of this psychology, with its emulation of natural science, we must renounce all claim to understand the fate of the human soul once the body crumbles into its elements? This was said not by some eccentric or other, but by that rigorous thinker Franz Brentano, who made psychology his central concern in life and who sought to apply to his work the strict scientific method of modern times. Yet he it was who presented the riddle of the soul to his contemporaries in the way I have just outlined, as something scientifically unavoidable.
From all this the impartial observer today must draw a conclusion. It is that, in the study of man, scientific methods will take us only to the point they have now reached; but that we cannot deal with the soul by means of ordinary consciousness, entirely adequate as this is for science and for ordinary life. And so, since for scientific reasons this fact must be apparent to the impartial observer today, I speak to you from the standpoint of a philosophy of life that concludes: it is impossible, with the soul-powers that manifest themselves to ordinary consciousness and operate in ordinary life and ordinary science, to investigate the life of the soul. There must be developed other powers, which to ordinary consciousness are more or less sleeping or, let us say, latent in the soul.
To adopt the right attitude to such a conception of life, we need something which, if I may say so, is found only rarely in people today. I would call it intellectual modesty. There must come a moment in life when we say to ourselves: When I was a little child, I developed a mental life that was so dim and dreamy that it has been forgotten like a dream. Only gradually did there arise from this dream-like mentality of the child something that enables me to orientate myself in life, to bring my thoughts, my impulses and my decisions into step with the world, and to become a capable being. Out of the vagueness and lack of differentiation of the child's mental life, interwoven with the body, has emerged that experience which derives from our inherited qualities, as these develop with the growth of the body, and which derives also from our customary education.
Anyone looking back, with intellectual modesty, on his development during his life on earth, will not be above saying to himself at a certain point: Why shouldn't this continue? The soul-powers which are the most important to me today, and by which I orientate myself in life and become a capable being, were dormant during my existence as a child. Why shouldn't there be dormant in my soul other powers that I can develop from it?
We cannot help reaching this conclusion, which springs from intellectual modesty. I call it intellectual modesty because men are inclined to say: the form of consciousness I have once attained as an adult is that of the normal person; any impulse in the life of the soul to be different from this so-called normal consciousness is eccentric or hallucinatory or visionary or something similar. The philosophical standpoint from which I speak definitely starts from a healthy psyche and attempts on this basis to develop powers dormant in the soul, cognitive powers, which then become clairvoyant powers in the sense in which I spoke yesterday of exact clairvoyance. What the soul has to undertake I indicated yesterday. I mentioned my books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, Occult Science, Riddles of the Soul and so on. There you will find details of those exercises which, starting from a healthy soul-life, lead upward to the development of the soul, which thus in fact attains a kind of spiritual vision with which it can see into a spiritual world, just as with the ordinary sense-organs it can perceive the physical and sensuous world. In each of these books there is a first part, which is accepted as something that can be definitely useful to man even by many opponents of the philosophy of life I am advocating. It shows that by certain exercises of an intellectual, emotional and moral kind man can produce in himself a state of soul and body that can be regarded as wholly healthy. They also enable him to be on his inner guard against anything which, deriving from an unhealthy life of the soul, leads to mediumism, hallucinations and visions. For everything brought about in this way is unacceptable to a true psychology. Visions arise not from the sphere of the soul, but because morbid structures exist in the organism; the same is true of mediumism. None of these have anything to do with sound psychology and sound psychic development, and indeed from the point of view of this sound psychology all must be condemned. Opponents today, however, find fantastic and harmful the exercises which follow these preparatory ones, and which are designed to draw from the soul those powers of thinking, feeling and volition which, once they are trained, introduce man into a spiritual world in such a way that he learns to orientate himself in it and can enter it at will.
I have already suggested how, as modern man, we manage by certain mental exercises to remove thinking from its ordinary state of passive surrender to the phenomena of the outside world, and to what appear inwardly as memories but are also connected with the outside world. We transcend this kind of thinking by carrying out exercises in meditation seriously, patiently and energetically, and by repeating them over and over again. Depending on predisposition, it may take one person years, another not so long; but each can note, as he arrives at the crucial point, how his thinking, from what I have previously called dead and abstract thinking, becomes inwardly vital thinking in tune with the rhythm of the world. A balanced view of the world and of life thus strives, not to conjure up visions or hallucinations from the soul, but to experience the life of thoughts and concepts with an intensity that we otherwise experience only through the outward senses.
You need only compare the vitality of our experience of the colours we perceive through the eye, and the sounds we hear through the ear, with the pallor of our experience of thought in ordinary consciousness. By energizing our mental life in the way I suggested yesterday, we can gradually give the mere life of thought and concept the same intensive quality as the life of the senses. Man today, seeking to know the spiritual, does not therefore, if he is a reasonable being, seek hallucinations and visions. He strives quite calmly to achieve the ideal of the life of the senses, with its intensity and plasticity, in his mental activity. And if you devote yourselves as students of the spirit to meditations such as I have described, you need not be in any way dependent on the unconscious or subconscious. You can refer to the exercises, they are all directed at what I am trying to describe — and you will find that everything that is carried out by way of exercises in the life of the soul is done as consciously, as reasonably, as precisely we may say, as are operations in mathematics or geometry.
To sum up: we are concerned here not with the old nebulous clairvoyance, but with a clairvoyance brought about by fully conscious and balanced experiences and exercises of the soul. The self-possession at each step is such that we can compare what a man experiences and makes of himself here with what we otherwise experience in the case of a geometrical problem. If not, the exercises have no value.
A conceptual life of this kind is energized; is independent of breathing; is set free of the body; is a spiritual function only; and in it, as we know by direct perception, thinking is carried out not by the body, but in the purely spiritual sphere. Only when modern man attains this kind of conceptual life does he feel his thinking, in contrast to abstract thinking, as something vital and not as something dead. Our sensation when we experience the transition from ordinary abstract thinking to vital thinking is exactly as if we found a dead organism suddenly come to life. And although this vital thinking is a spiritual process, it is not so linear, not so superficial as ordinary abstract thinking. It is full and plastic. And this plasticity is what counts.
Now, however, a very great deal depends on our carrying over the balanced attitude, required during the actual exercises, to the moment when this vitalized or plastic thinking appears in us. If at this moment we surrender ourselves to the images we have struggled to achieve, believing we find in them realities of a spiritual kind, then we are, not students of the spirit but simply fantasy-mongers. This is something we must certainly not become; for it could not provide us with a firmly based philosophy of life for modern man. Only when we say to ourselves: we have attained one component of spiritual life, but it is a semblance component; it merely tells us something about powers that operate within ourselves — about what we ourselves can do through our own human nature; only when we really say to ourselves: this imaginal knowledge cannot give us any information about any kind of outside world, not even about what we are in the outside world; only if we perceive ourselves in this semblance-making and know ourselves as a power living within it — only then do we have the right attitude to this experience and feel ourselves as spiritual beings outside the body, and yet feel ourselves only in ourselves, with an inner plasticity.
Only by having the courage to continue the exercises to the next stage do we attain true spiritual perception. This next stage not only involves developing the capacity to focus our consciousness upon certain concepts that are readily comprehended — as we comprehend geometrical concepts, which we know to contain no unconscious element — so as to increase our strength of soul; it must also, and more particularly, involve being able calmly and at will to banish these concepts from our consciousness. This is, in some circumstances, a difficult task! In ordinary life, forgetting is not particularly difficult, as our ordinary consciousness is only too well aware. But when one has just struggled, although without driving oneself into auto-suggestion — which cannot occur if we are self-possessed — to focus one's consciousness upon certain concepts, then unusual strength is required to banish them from consciousness again. However, one must develop this greater strength gradually; and just as at first we concentrated all our attention and inner strength of soul, so that we might dwell upon such a concept in a state of meditation, so now we must dispel these concepts, and all other concepts, calmly and voluntarily from consciousness. And there must be able to enter, from our will, what one might call “empty consciousness.” What “empty consciousness” (if only for a few moments) implies, can be judged by reflecting on what happens to ordinary consciousness when it has to forgo both sense-impressions and recollections — when for some reason or other man is deprived of external impressions and even memories: he falls asleep; that is, consciousness is depressed and dimmed. The opposite of this is what must happen: completely controlled, conscious wakefulness, despite the fact that the will has swept consciousness completely clear.
If we thus first strengthen the soul and then empty it, yet keep it conscious, there will appear before it, as colour to the eye and sounds to the ear, a spiritual environment. We can look into the spiritual world. And so we may say: to the spiritual investigation here intended, it is perfectly understandable that ordinary consciousness cannot reach the spirit and the soul, and indeed that it turns out, as Richard Wahle found for instance, that ordinary consciousness ought not to speak of an “I” at all! For in this sphere, ordinary experience can only indicate and label with words a dark element which is immersed in and contrasted with the clear light; and which will never emerge until we have developed powers that are usually lacking. It is a sober recognition of the limits of ordinary consciousness, tied to the body, that impels us to develop in ourselves those powers that alone are capable of really discovering the soul and the spirit.
There is another point to consider, however, if you seek to arrive by this path at a sound and not a morbid psychology. Taking the mediumistic, visionary and hallucinatory as morbid, the fact is that anyone who falls into this kind of morbid psychic activity is entirely absorbed into it. For the duration of his sickness of soul, at least, he becomes one with this activity. Quite the reverse with the exercises I have been proposing here. Anyone who explores the soul with their aid does, it is true, leave behind his physical body with its capacity for ordinary thinking and ordinary orientation in life. He steps out of this body and learns to see imaginally, free of body; he develops a visual thinking. Yet not for a moment is he completely subsumed in this higher man, if I may so call it without arrogance. He always remains capable of regaining his body and acting just as calmly as before: there always stands beside this more highly developed man that ordinary man with his healthy common sense who is a sober critic of everything to which in his vision this higher being attains.
By developing plastic, vital thinking and then creating an empty consciousness, we reach a view of our own psychic nature, one that embraces in a single image all we have encountered in this life since we entered it. Our past life does not stand before the soul as is usual in the memory, with isolated reminiscences emerging, independently or after some exertion. Instead, all at once our life is surveyed like a mighty tableau, not in space but in time. All at once, with a single glance of the soul, we survey our life; but we see it as it informs our growth and the energies of our physical body. We see ourselves as we have been here on this earth as thinking, feeling, willing beings, but in such a way that thinking, feeling and willing now densify and at the same time take their places organically within the human substance. We can see into our spiritual life in its direct association with the physical. We cease trying to establish by philosophical speculation how the soul affects the body. In seeing the soul, we also see how at every moment our physical life on earth has been informed by what the tableau shows us. This will be described more fully in the next few days.
The next step must now be to strengthen still further by removing them from our consciousness the energized concepts that we have introduced into ourselves. We do this by continually repeating the exercises, just as we strengthen muscles by repeated exercise. And by continuing with these energized concepts, we also manage to eliminate from our consciousness this whole newly achieved tableau of the life of the soul from birth to the present. This requires more effort than the simple elimination of images, but one does eventually achieve it. We succeed in removing from consciousness what in our earthly existence we call our inner life, so that now our consciousness is empty not only of current impressions, but also of all that we experience within as if in a second and finer body (which yet informs our growth and our memory), a finer being, an ethereal being as it were, a now for the first time super-sensible being. And when we do so, our consciousness, which though fully awake is now empty and yet has attained a greater inward power, will be able to see further in the spiritual world. It will now be able to look at the nature of its own soul before this descended from spiritual worlds to an earthly existence. Now, what we call the eternity of the human soul is taken out of the sphere of mere philosophical speculation and actually beheld. We learn to look at the purely spiritual that we were in a spiritual world, before we descended to clothe ourselves, through conception, foetal life and birth, in a physical earthly body.
Although attained by as exact a method as are mathematical concepts, this may seem fantastic to many people today. Still more paradoxical may appear what remains to be said, not only about the soul when it still had a spiritual existence, but also about the concrete nature of this experience. These things can only be suggested in this lecture; more will be said in subsequent lectures. The suggestions can perhaps be explained in the following terms.
Let us first ask ourselves: What do we actually see when, in ordinary life, as beings who recognize, understand and perceive, we enter into a relationship with our natural environment? We actually see only the external world. This is clear from what I mentioned at the beginning today. We actually see only the outside world, the cosmos. What takes place within us we see, too, but only by making it into something external through physiology and anatomy. Imposing as these sciences may be, we see what is within only by first externalizing it and then investigating it exactly as we are accustomed to do with external processes. Yet it remains dark down there in the region into which we descend, where we feel our spiritual element flowing into our body. In the last analysis, we see in ordinary life only what is outside ourselves; by direct observation we cannot look directly into man and see how the spiritual informs the bodily organs. Anyone, however, who can examine life impartially from the spiritual viewpoint I have established will conclude: noble and great is external appearance and the laws we discover in the external world of the stars and of the sun, which sends us light and warmth; noble and great is our experience when we either simply look — and we are complete men when we do so look — or when we investigate scientifically the laws by which the sun sends us light and warmth and conjures forth the green of plants; noble and mighty is all this — but if we could look into the structure of the human heart, its inner law would be even nobler and greater than what we perceive outside!
Man can sense this with his ordinary consciousness. But the science that rests on exact clairvoyance can raise it to the status of true research. It can say: far-reaching appear to us the changes in the atmosphere, and there exists an ideal of science which, here too, will discover greater and more potent laws; but greater still is what is present and goes on in the structure and functions of the human lung! It is not a question of size. Man is a microcosm in face of the macrocosm. But as Schiller said: “In space, my friend, dwells not the sublime.” He means the highest form of the sublime. This highest form can be experienced only in the human organism itself.
Between birth and death it is not investigated by man with his ordinary consciousness. Exactly the opposite is true, however, of our existence before we unite with the body — our spiritual existence, in a spiritual environment. In this life on earth, the inner world is dark and the outside world of the cosmos bright and full of sound; in the purely spiritual life before our earthly embodiment, the outer cosmic world is dark, and our world is then the inner world of man. We see this inner world! And truly, it seems to us no smaller and no less majestic than does the cosmos when we see it with our physical eyes during our earthly existence. As if it were our “outside world,” we come to understand the law of our spiritual inner world, and we prepare ourselves, in the spiritual realm, for dealing later with our bodily functions, with what we are between birth and death. For what we are between birth and death extends before us like a world, before we descend into this physical existence on earth.
This is not speculation. It is direct perception arising from exact clairvoyance. It is something which, starting from this exact clairvoyance, leads us some way into the connection between the eternal element in man and the life on earth — that eternal element which remains hidden from us between birth and death, and of which we see the first gleams when we are able to perceive it in the still unembodied state. And with this we explore a part of human eternity itself. We don't even have a word in our modern languages for this part of human eternity. We rightly speak of immortality; but we ought also to speak of “unborn-ness.” For this now confronts us as a direct experience.
This is one aspect of exact clairvoyance, one aspect of human eternity, of the great riddle of the human soul, and thus of the supreme problem of psychology in general. The other aspect arises from those other exercises, which I yesterday termed exercises of the will, through which we so take in hand our will that we learn to make use of it independently of the body I explained that these exercises induce us to overcome pain and suffering within the soul, in order to make it into a “sense-organ” (to speak loosely) or a spiritual organ (to speak exactly) of vision, so that we not only look at the spiritual, but see its authentic shape. And when we learn to experience in this way outside our body, not only with our thoughts but with our will itself — that is, with our entire human substance — there appears before the soul the image of death, in such a way that we now know the nature of experience without the body: both in thinking and in willing and in what lies between, feeling. In an imaginally creative way we learn to live without the body. And in doing so we gain an image of our passage through the gate of death; we learn how in reality, too, we can do without the body and how, passing through the gate of death, we enter once more that spiritual sphere from which we descended into this bodily existence. What is eternal and immortal in us becomes not only philosophical certainty, but direct perception. By training the will, we disclose for the soul's contemplation the other side of eternity — immortality — just as unborn-ness is disclosed by the training of thought.
When the soul becomes a spiritual organ in this way, however, it is as if, at a lower level, a man born blind had been operated on. What for those endowed with sight is a world of colours, the blind man has hitherto been accustomed to perceive by touch alone. Now, after the operation, he sees something quite new. The world in which he previously lived has changed. So too, anyone whose “mind's eye” is opened in the way I have described finds that his environment is changed. How far it is changed I wish to bring out today in only one respect.
Even with our unopened “mind's eye” we can see in life how, for example, a man takes his childish steps, then grows up and reaches a fateful moment in his life: he meets someone, and their souls link up so that the two people combine their fates and move on through life together. (As I said before, I want to single out just one event.) In ordinary consciousness we are drawn to regard what happens in life as a sum of chance occurrences; to regard it, too, as more or less chance that we are brought at last to this fateful meeting with the other person. Only a few individuals, like Goethe's friend Knebel, gain an inner wisdom of experience, simply in growing older. He once put this to Goethe in the following words: If at an advanced age one looks back on the course of one's steps in life, one finds that these steps seem to reveal a systematic arrangement, so that everything appears to have been present in embryo and to have developed in such a way that one was led by a kind of inner necessity to what we now see to have been a fateful event. Human existence as seen with the “mind's eye” unveiled is as different from the life observed by the unopened eyes as the world of colour is from the merely tactile one of the blind man.
Looking at the child's soul life and the interplay of sympathy and antipathy, we see how it develops from these first steps; how then, welling up out of his innermost being, the man himself, out of his innermost longings, directs his steps and brings himself to the fateful moment. This is sober observation of life. When we look at life in this way, however, we see it rather as we see the life of an old man. We should not say that an old man's life simply exists “in its own right;” by logical processes we know how to refer it to its infant beginnings; its very idiosyncrasies make us so refer it. What simple logic does for the old man's life is done for human life in general by exact clairvoyance, by true vision: if we are really to look at life as it develops from the innermost longings of the soul, we must follow it back. And when we do so, we come to earlier lives on earth, in which were prepared the longings that appear in the present and lead to our activities.
I have not been able to do more today than suggest that what leads to this comprehensive contemplation of life is not a tissue of fantasy, but an exact method. It is a contemplation which, by means of an advanced psychology, penetrates to the eternal in human nature. And on this foundation there now arises something that is a certainty, something that wells up out of the knowledge appropriate to us as modern men today and forms a basis for true inner piety and true inner religious life.
Anyone with an insight (and I may say that I am using the word “insight” in its literal sense) into the way the individual soul struggles free of the body, in order to enter a spiritual realm, will have a different way of looking at our social life too. Armed with this new attitude, he can see how friendships, relationships of love, and other associations are formed; how soul finds its way to soul, moving outside the family and other social groups; how physical proximity may be a means to the community of souls, the sympathy and togetherness of souls. He now knows that, just as the body falls away from the individual soul, so the physical element and all earthly events fall away from the friendships and from the relationships of love; and he sees how the soul-relationship that has come into being between men continues into a spiritual world, where it can also be spiritually experienced.
On a foundation of knowledge, not of faith, we can now say: as they stride through the gate of death, men find themselves once more together. And just as the body, which impedes our sight of the spirit, disappears in the spiritual world, so too in that world every impediment to friendship and love now disappears. Men are closer together there than in the flesh. A mode of knowledge that may still appear abstract in relation to true psychology culminates in this religious feeling and vision. Yet the philosophy of life I am here presenting does not seek to infringe religious faith. This philosophy can be tolerant; it can recognize fully the value of every individual religious faith, and even exercise it in practice; but at the same time, as a nurse to this religious life, it provides an epistemological basis for this religious life too.
I have sought today to say something basic about the relationship to psychology of a spiritually appropriate modern view of life. I know, better than many an opponent perhaps, the objections that can be raised to the beginnings of such a philosophy. But I believe I also know that, albeit entirely unconsciously, the longing for such a psychology is present today in countless souls. It therefore needs to be said over and over again: just as one does not need to be a painter to feel the beauty of a picture, so too one does not need to be a spiritual scientist oneself — although one can become one up to a point — to be able to test whether what I am saying here is true. Just as one can feel the beauty of a picture without being a painter oneself, so with ordinary common sense one can perceive what the spiritual scientist says about the soul. That one can see it, I think I have established all the more firmly in recognizing how souls thirst for a profounder approach to psychology and to the great riddles of existence in relation to the soul. The aim of a modern view of life such as has been outlined here today does in fact represent the desire of countless people, though they are not ordinarily aware of it; it forms the pain, the sorrow, the privation, the wish of countless people — of all those who are serious about what we must regard as constructive forces in face of the many forces of decline present in our age.
Anyone today who wishes to advocate a philosophy for the times must realize that he has to speak, think and will in harmony with what the souls in our serious age, if in many cases unconsciously, strive for. And I believe — if I may close on this note — that just such a philosophy as I have adumbrated does hold something of what countless souls strive for today, something of what they need as spiritual content and vital spiritual activity for the present and for the immediate future.