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The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

3. Initiation-Knowledge—New and Old

21 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

In the study of Anthroposophy, a justifiable objection at first can be that the anthroposophical investigation of facts concerning the spiritual worlds depends upon calling up, through the training I have described, deep-lying forces in the human being, before these facts can be reached. Hence it might be said: All those who have not gone through such a development, and have therefore not yet reached the point of perceiving super-sensible facts for themselves, and actually experiencing super-sensible beings, have no means of proving the truth of what is said by the investigator of those worlds. Often, when the spiritual world is spoken of in public and information about it is given, the protest is heard: How should such ideas concern those who cannot yet see into this super-sensible world?

This objection rests on an entirely erroneous idea—the idea that anyone who speaks about the super-sensible worlds is talking of things quite unknown to his listeners. That is not so at all. But there is an important distinction, with regard to this kind of Initiation-knowledge, between what is right today and what was once right in the old days of which I was speaking yesterday.

You will remember how I described the path into the spiritual worlds. I spoke of how it leads us first to a great life-tableau, in which we see the experiences that have become part of our personality during this life on Earth. I went on to speak of how, having progressed from Imaginative-knowledge to that of Inspiration, a man is able, with empty consciousness and in absolute stillness and peace, to survey his pre-earthly life. He is thus led into that world of spiritual deeds which he has passed through between his last death and his recent descent to Earth.

Consider how, before making this descent, every human being has gone through such experiences; there is no-one who has not experienced in its full reality what the spiritual investigator has to tell. And when the investigator clothes in words facts at first unrecognised, he is not appealing to something quite unknown to his hearers but to what everyone has experienced before earthly life. The investigator of the spiritual world is simply evoking people's cosmic memories; and all that he says about the spiritual world is living in the souls of everyone, though in the transition from pre-earthly to earthly life it has been forgotten. In fact, as an investigator of the spiritual world, one is simply recalling to people's memories something they have forgotten.

Now imagine that during life on Earth a man comes across another human being with whom he remembers experiencing something, twenty years before, which the other man has completely forgotten. By talking with him, however, about the incident that he himself remembers clearly, he can bring the other man to recall it also. It is just the same process, though on a higher level, when I speak to you about spiritual worlds, the only difference being that pre-earthly experiences are more completely forgotten than those of earthly life. It is only because people are disinclined to ask themselves seriously whether they find anything in their souls in tune with what is said by the spiritual investigator—it is only because of this feeling of antipathy that they do not probe into their souls deeply enough when hearing or reading what the investigator relates. Hence this is thought to be something of which he alone has knowledge, something incapable of proof. But it can quite well be proved by those who throw off the prejudice arising from the antipathy referred to. For the spiritual investigator is only recalling what has been experienced by each one of us in pre-earthly existence.

Now someone might say: Why should anyone be asked, during his life on Earth, to take on this extra task of concerning himself with matters which, in accordance with cosmic ordering, or one might say with divine decree, he experiences during life beyond the Earth? There are those, too, who ask: Why should I go to this trouble before death to gain knowledge about the super-sensible worlds? I can very well wait till I am dead. Then, if all these things really exist, I shall come face to face with them.

All this, however, arises from a misunderstanding of earthly life. The facts of which the spiritual investigator speaks are experienced by human beings in pre-earthly existence, but they are not then the subject of thought, and only during life on Earth can thoughts about them be experienced. And only those thoughts about the super-sensible world that have been worked upon during earthly life can be carried with us through the gate of death, and only then can we understand the facts we experience between death and rebirth.

One might say—if one wished to give an uncompromising picture—that at this present stage of evolution a man's life after death is extraordinarily hard if, during life on Earth, he gives no thought to the spiritual world. For, having passed through the gate of death, he can no longer acquire any real knowledge of his surroundings. He is in the midst of what is incomprehensible for him. Understanding of what is experienced after death has to be striven for during life on Earth. You will learn from further descriptions that it was different for men of earlier ages. But, at the present moment of human evolution, men will be increasingly constrained to strive for an understanding of what they are to experience in the super-sensible world between death and rebirth. So one can say that speaking publicly of Spiritual Science is fully justified, for it can be proved by everyone. When it is established deeply enough in a man's soul, he will gradually come to say to himself: “What has been said through this spiritual investigator lights things up for me. It is just as if I had already experienced it all, and was now being given the thoughts in which to clothe the experience.” For this reason, when speaking of Spiritual Science, of spiritual knowledge, it is very necessary to choose terms of expression different from those used in ordinary life. The point is that a student of Spiritual Science, through the very words used, should have the impression: “I am learning something which does not hold good for the sense-world, something which in the sense-world is sheer nonsense.”

Then, you see, our opponents come and say: “What is said there about spiritual knowledge is all nonsense—pure fancy.” As long as these people know of nothing outside the world of the senses, and do not want to know of anything else, such a statement is justified, for the super-sensible world looks different from that of the senses. But if someone forgoes the one-sided witness of his senses and delves more deeply into his own soul, then he will say: “What the spiritual investigator says should simply give me the impulse to draw up from my own soul what is already there.”

Naturally there is much to hinder our making such a confession. Yet, where understanding of the super-sensible worlds is concerned, it is the most necessary confession of all. And it will be found that even the most difficult things become comprehensible when we are willing to penetrate in this way into our own depths.

There is no doubt that mathematical truths are among the most difficult things. They are held to be irrefutable. But the curious fact is that on entering the spiritual world we find that our mathematics and geometry are no longer correct. A very simple example will make this clear. From early youth we have learnt to look upon the old truths of Euclid as axiomatic, self-evident. For instance, it is stated as obvious that, given two points, A and B, the shortest distance between them is a straight line, and that any curved path between them is longer.

On a recognition of this fact—obvious for the physical world—rests the greater part of our geometry. But in the spiritual world it is the other way round. The straight line there from A to B is the longest way, and any other way is shorter because it can be taken in freedom. If at the point A one thinks of going to B, this very idea suggests an indirect way; and to hold to a straight course, and so at each single point to keep in the same direction, is hardest and causes most delay. Hence, in determining the most direct way in the two-dimensional or one-dimensional space of the spiritual world, we look for the longest way.

Now anyone who reflects about attentiveness, and delves deeply into his soul to discover what attentiveness really means, will find that in this connection, also, what is said by the spiritual investigator is true. For he will say to himself: “When I go around just as I choose, I get there easily, and I don't have to worry about traversing a particular stretch; I need do only what I do every day.” And most people are bustling around from morning to night. They are in such a hurry that they hardly notice how much of all they do is done from sheer habit—what they have done the day before, what other people say they should do, and so forth. Then it all goes smoothly. Just think what it would be like if you had to pay careful attention to every detail of what you do during the day. Try it! You will soon see how this slows you down.

Now in the spiritual world nothing is done without attentiveness, for there is no such thing as habit. Moreover, there is no such word as the impersonal pronoun “one”—at a certain hour one must have lunch, or one must have dinner at some other time. This “one”—for this occasion one ought to dress in a certain way, and so on—all that under the aegis of this little word plays such a great part in the physical world, particularly in our present civilisation, has no place in the spiritual world. There, we have to follow with individual attention every smallest step, and even less than a step. This is expressed in the words: In the spiritual world the straight way between two points is the longest way. So we have this contrast: In the physical world the direct way between two points is the shortest, whereas the direct way between two points is the longest in the spiritual world.

If we go down far enough into our soul, we find we can draw up from its depths a real understanding of this curious circumstance; and it becomes easier and easier to admit: “What the spiritual investigator says is actually wisdom I myself possess—I have only to be reminded of it.”

Then, side by side with this—since the steps to be taken for acquiring super-sensible cognition can to-day be found in books such as Knowledge of the Higher Worlds—everyone, in so far as his destiny, his karma, make it possible, can, as we shall see, follow this path and thus acquire his own perception of the spiritual worlds. In this way he comes to knowledge of the facts. Understanding for the ideas of the spiritual world has to be won by his coming to know in his own being all that was forgotten on entering earthly life.

Now it may be said that anyone is capable of grasping knowledge of the spiritual world when it is communicated in ideas. Thus, for understanding what the spiritual investigator offers, all that a man needs is his own sound, unprejudiced reason, provided it searches deeply enough into the soul. The investigator of spiritual facts, entering into the spiritual world, and speaking of its facts from first-hand knowledge—all this naturally requires a person to have pursued the path of knowledge on his own account. Hence it is justifiable for anyone who has acquired knowledge of the spiritual worlds to speak of them quite publicly to-day; for what people now absorb in life, if only at school, is an intellectual capacity, a power of discrimination, which equips them to understand what Spiritual Science brings forward. Here, too, things were different in earlier times, and the teachers in the Mysteries, the teachers of art and religion, went about it in a different way. Anyone to-day who speaks about spiritual knowledge to his contemporaries must so order his ideas that memories are aroused of their pre-earthly life. What he says to his audience, what he writes for his readers, must be so arranged that memories of the life before birth are evoked.

Whenever one speaks about Spiritual Science it is as if this appeal were made to the audience: Listen to what is said, and if you look deeply enough into your souls you will find it all there. Moreover, it will dawn on you that you cannot have learnt it during your life on Earth; no flower, no cloud, no spring, nothing earthly can have told you, not even science—for that is founded on the senses and the intellect. Gradually you will realise that you have brought this knowledge with you into earthly life, and that before this life you took part in things which have lingered on in your soul as a cosmic memory. All this has ben stirred up in you by the spiritual investigator. What he says, therefore, is indeed a call to the very depths of the human soul, not a demand that you should accept anything unknown. It is simply an appeal to men to call up in memory the greatest treasures of their own souls.

It was not so for mankind in the distant past. The wise men of the Mysteries, the priests, had to proceed in another way, for people then had a spontaneous memory of their pre-earthly existence. A few thousand years ago, even the most primitive man would never have questioned the presence in his soul of something brought down with him from the super-sensible into the life of the senses; it was an everyday experience in his dreamlike imaginations. In his soul he had something of which he said: “I do not owe this to my eyes that see the trees; I do not hear it with my ears that listen to the nightingale's song; nor have I received it through any other sense. I cannot have absorbed it during life on Earth; it was there as I made my descent; and when as an embryo I was given my earthly, physical body by another human body, there was already within me that which lights up now in my dreamlike imaginations. I have clothed it in my physical human body.”

Hence in those olden days a man would not have been shown the way to further development by his attention being called to what must be emphasised to-day: that we have a memory, at first unconscious but capable of being made conscious, of pre-earthly existence. In the old Mysteries, attention had to be drawn to something quite different.

A man in those days had a feeling of intense sadness when looking at all that was most lovely in the sense-world. He looked at the flowers, springing out of the earth in their wonderful beauty, and watched the blossoms unfold. And he saw also how beneficent the flowers were for him. He saw the loveliness of the springs bubbling forth in shady places, and his senses spoke to him of their refreshing powers. But then, he said to himself: “It seems as though all this has fallen—fallen through sin from the world I bear within me and which I have brought down into physical existence out of spiritual worlds.” So the teachers in the Mysteries then had the task of explaining how in the flowers, in the rippling waters, in the woodland murmurings and the song of the nightingale—everywhere spirit is working and weaving, everywhere spiritual beings are to be found. They had to impart to men the great truth: What is living in you lives also outside in nature. For a man looked upon the external world with sorrow, with pain, at the very time when his senses were freshest and most responsive—a time when least of all the intellect spoke to him of natural laws, and he looked upon the outer world with primitive senses. The beauty of its sprouting and budding forced itself upon his sight, his hearing and other senses; but all he felt was sorrow; for he was unable to reconcile it with the content of his pre-natal existence, which still lived on in his soul. Thus it was incumbent upon the wise men of the Mysteries to point out how the divine-spiritual dwells in all things, even in those of the senses. It was the spirituality of nature that these teachers had to make clear.

This, however, could be done only by taking a different path from that of to-day. Just as now it is necessary above all to guide men to a remembrance of their life before birth, for teachers in the ancient Mysteries it was necessary to call up in those around them a different memory.

Now a man passes his life rhythmically between two states, or really three: waking, dreaming, sleeping. Sleep takes its course in unconsciousness. The human beings of older epochs had indeed this state of unconsciousness in sleep, although it differed in certain respects from that of people to-day. They did sleep, however; they did sink down into the state of experiencing nothing in their souls, in their consciousness. But during sleep we are of course still living; we do not die and are born again when we wake. As soul and spirit we have a life during sleep, but the experience of it is completely wiped out for ordinary, everyday consciousness. People remember their waking experiences and at the most those during their dreams, but in ordinary consciousness they have no memory of anything they experience during dreamless sleep. The Mystery teachers of old treated their pupils—and through the ideas these spread abroad, all who came to them—in such a way that they were awakened to what was experienced in sleep.

Modern Initiation-knowledge has to recall what has lived in men's souls before earthly existence, whereas the old Initiation-knowledge had to evoke a memory of experiences during sleep. Thus all the knowledge that the Mystery teachers clothed in ideas was so designed that their students, or anyone else who heard it, could say: “We are being told of something we always go through in sleep. We press it down out of mind. The priests of the Mysteries have simply been enabled by their Initiation to perceive in sleep many things that are hidden from ordinary consciousness, but are all the same experienced.”

Just as in the old Initiation-wisdom there was a recalling to memory of what a man had lived through in sleep, to-day there is a recalling to memory of pre-earthly life. One of the signs distinguishing the old Initiation from the new is that in the old Initiation a man was reminded of what he normally slept through, which means that he had no recollection of it in waking life. The wise men of those Mysteries drew the experiences of the night up into waking consciousness of day, and to the people they said: “During the night you dwell with your soul in the spiritual world, and the spiritual world lives in every spring, in every nightingale and every flower. Every night you enter into the midst of all that you merely perceive with your senses during the day.”

And then a man could be convinced that the Gods he experienced in his waking dreams were also there outside in nature. Thus, by showing his pupil what happened in sleep, the wise teacher of the Mysteries made clear to him that divine-spiritual Beings were active out there in the realms of nature all the time. In the same way the spiritual investigator now has the task of showing that a man, before descending to Earth, was living as a spiritual being among spiritual beings in a world of spirit; and that what he experienced there he can recall on Earth in terms of concepts, of ideas.

In the Initiation-science of to-day, the real facts that distinguish sleep from waking come to be known when we advance from Imagination to Inspiration. What a man himself is as soul, as spirit, from falling asleep until he wakes, becomes clear only to Inspired knowledge, whereas the advance to Imaginative knowledge gives a man the tableau of his life. When this life-tableau unfolds for him in his waking state and with empty consciousness he is wrapped in cosmic stillness—as I have described—there enters his soul from the Cosmos, as Inspiration, the life before birth. And then his own true being appears to him in the form he lives in as a being of soul and spirit between going to sleep and waking.

Through Inspiration we become conscious of that which remains unconscious during sleep. We learn to perceive what we do as soul and spirit while asleep, and we become aware that on falling asleep the soul and spirit leave the physical body and the etheric body. The physical body is left in bed and also the etheric body—or body of formative forces, as it is seen to be in Imagination, and as I have described it. The higher members of man's nature, the astral body and the Ego-organisation, leave the physical and etheric bodies, returning to them when the time of waking comes. This cleavage of our being, which comes about in the rhythmical alternation of sleeping waking, can be seen in its real nature only through Inspiration. We then perceive that everything absorbed in ordinary waking life through our thinking, through our world of thought, is left behind. The thoughts we work upon, the thoughts we struggle with at school, whatever we have done to sharpen our earthly intelligence—all this has to be left behind with our physical body and etheric body every time we sleep. Out of these two bodies we take into the spiritual world, where as Ego and astral body we pass the time of sleeping, something quite different from anything we experience in our waking state. When we pass from waking to sleeping we experience what is not normally brought into consciousness. Hence, in speaking to you of these experiences, I have to clothe them in pictorial concepts, so that they can be reflected on with healthy human understanding. These pictorial concepts, which are mere shadows of really living thoughts, we leave behind when we fall asleep; and we then come to live in a world where thinking is not as it is here on Earth, but where everything is inwardly experienced. During sleep, in fact, we experience light unconsciously. In waking life we think about the effects of light—how it makes shadows and colours appear in relation to objects. All these thoughts, as I have said, we leave behind. In sleep we enter into the weaving, living light; we pour ourselves out into the light. And as in day time here on Earth we carry our body with us, and also our soul and spirit, and go about on the surface of the Earth through the air, so there, as sleeping man, we enter the weaving, waving light, becoming ourself a being, a substance, of the living light. We become light within the light.

When a man comes to Inspired knowledge of what he actually is each night, when this rises up into his waking consciousness, he at once realises that during sleep he lives like a cloud of light in cosmic light. This does not mean, however, living simply as the substance of light, but living in the forces which in waking life become thoughts, are grasped as thoughts. The light then experienced is everywhere permeated by creative forces, the forces which work inwardly in the plants, in the animals, besides existing independently as spiritual worlds. Light is not experienced in the same way as in the physical world but—if we may express it figuratively—the weaving, living light is the body of spiritual weaving, as it is also the body of each spiritual being.

Here, as men of the physical world, we are enclosed in our skins, and we see our fellow-men so enclosed. But in our sleeping state we are light within the light, and other beings are also light within the light. We do not, however, perceive it as light in the way it is perceived in the physical world, but—again figuratively—the clouds of light that we ourselves are, perceive other clouds of light. These clouds of light are either another man, or some kind of being giving new life to the plant world, or a being who, never incarnating in a physical body, dwells always in the spiritual world.

Light, accordingly, is not experienced there as it is in earthly life, but as living, creative spirituality. Now you know how, as physical men here on Earth, we live in something besides light—in the warmth our senses perceive. We feel and experience heat and cold.

If, now, on going to sleep we pass out of our physical body and etheric body, we live as substance of the warmth in the cosmic substance of warmth, just as we live as light in the light. Thus we are not only what I have called a cloud of light, but a cloud of light permeated by weaving waves of warmth; and what we perceive also bears warmth within it. Just as when we are asleep, and as beings of soul and spirit, we experience light not as light but as living spirit, and when through Inspiration we realise ourselves and other beings also to be living spirit—so it is in the case of warmth. It is impossible to make any headway in the spiritual world, even with Inspiration, if we cling to ideas acquired here on Earth. We have already found it necessary to get used to a different conception concerning the distance between two points, and we must do likewise for everything else. And just as when experiencing ourselves as light within light we actually experience ourselves as spirit in the spiritual world, so when experiencing ourselves as warmth, within the cosmic warmth, we do not experience this as warmth in the usual way of the sense-world, but as weaving, strength-giving love. As the beings of love which we are in the super-sensible, we experience ourselves among beings who can do no other than draw love out of their own essence; who can have no other existence than that of beings of love in the midst of a cosmic existence of love. Thus do we experience ourselves, to begin with, between going to sleep and waking, in a spiritual existence imbued through and through with love.

Therefore, if we wish really to enter the world in which we are every time we go to sleep until we wake, we must enhance our capacity for loving; otherwise this world is bound to remain an unknown world. Here in our earthly world it is not spiritualised love that holds sway, but a love in which the impulse of the senses prevails. In the spiritual world, however, it is spiritualised love—as I have been picturing it. Hence, whoever aspires to enter consciously the world he experiences every night has to develop his capacity for loving in the way described yesterday.

Now a man cannot find his true self without this capacity for love; for all that he really is during sleep—during a third part of his life on Earth—remains a closed book for him unless he can find his way into it through the training and enhancement of love. All that is experienced during sleep would have to remain an unsolved riddle for earthly being if they had no wish to enhance their capacity for love, so as to be able to gain some degree of knowledge about their own existence, their own being, in the changed condition between going to sleep and waking. But the form of activity developed in our thinking when we have our physical body and etheric body within us—that is, in our waking state—we leave behind in bed, and during sleep this becomes united in movement with the whole Cosmos. Anyone who wishes to understand clearly what goes on in the physical and etheric bodies during the night would have to be able to perceive from outside, while living as a being of warmth and light, how the etheric body goes on thinking all through the night.

We still have the power to think even when with our souls we are not there at all, for what we leave behind in the bed carries the waves of thinking on and on. And when we wake in the morning, we sink down into what has thus continued to think while lying there in bed. We meet our own thoughts again. They were not without life between our going to sleep and waking, although we were not present. To-morrow I shall be describing how, when thus absent, we can be much cleverer, far more intelligent, than during the day, when with our soul we are actually within our thoughts.

To-day I wished to indicate how thinking is continuous in the etheric and physical bodies, and how on waking in the morning, when we are aware of having had a dream, the dream tells us, as it were: When your soul wakes, and dives down again into the etheric body and physical body, it loses something of its power. On the one hand you have the physical body and etheric body; and on the other hand you have the astral organisation and Ego-organisation which in the morning re-enter the physical and etheric bodies. When they re-enter, it is as if a dense wave were flowing into one less dense—there is a blockage, experienced as a morning dream. The Ego and the astral body, which have been weaving all night in light and warmth, dive back into the thoughts, but by not at once understanding them, get them confused, and this blockage is experienced as a morning dream.

What more there is to say about dreams, how they are a puzzling element in human life, and the further relation between sleeping and waking—all this we will consider tomorrow.