24 August 1924, Torquay
We shall best understand how karma is anchored in the individual and in the evolution of humanity, and how the single facts of karma lend themselves to description, if we begin by considering how human consciousness has evolved since the time when, even in his ordinary life, man had a direct, elementary perception of his karma. To-day it is a fact that in his waking consciousness man knows nothing of his karma. The world in which he lives from awaking to falling asleep prevents him from having any direct knowledge of his karma. But humanity has not always lived in the state of consciousness that is considered normal to-day. In olden times, moreover during the earlier Post-Atlantean periods of evolution, quite different states of consciousness prevailed, even in the everyday life of man. There are three states or conditions of normal consciousness to-day — I have often described them to you. Firstly, there is waking consciousness; secondly, dream-consciousness into which scattered reminiscences of the day's experiences make their way but mingled, too, with influences from the spiritual world; and lastly, sleep-consciousness proper, in which dimness and darkness surround the human soul and consciousness sinks away, so to speak, into unconsciousness.
- Waking consciousness.
- Dream consciousness.
- Sleep consciousness.
It was not always thus. There was a time in man's evolution when the experiences of his everyday consciousness took quite different forms. Let us look back some eight or ten thousand years to the epoch immediately following the Atlantean catastrophe whereby many widespread forms of civilisation and culture were wiped out of existence.
It was an epoch when land began to arise where formerly there had been sea, and sea to cover tracts that had once been land, a time moreover when the earth was destined to pass through a period of intense cold. We discover there a humanity which had survived the Atlantean catastrophe and was also endowed with three distinct kinds of consciousness but of an essentially different character from those of to-day. The prosaic, everyday consciousness of modern man in his waking hours, by which he sees other human beings and the creatures and happenings of nature in sharp outlines — this the men of those ancient times did not possess. They saw the human being without sharp contours, extending in all directions into the Spiritual, spreading out into the aura; and in this aura they saw his soul. Animals too were seen in great and mighty auras; in their case it was the inner processes — digestion, breathing and so forth — that became visible in the aura. Plants reached up with their blossoms into a sort of cloud which permanently surrounded the Earth. Everything was bathed in a dying astral light. The day-consciousness of men who lived directly after the Atlantean Flood was a gradually fading astral vision of the physical world. I say “fading,” for in its power of giving light it was gradually waning away; before the Atlantean catastrophe this power of vision in astral light had been much stronger and more intense.
The awakening to this condition of consciousness — for the entering into it may be compared to an awakening — was very different from the awakening of normal man to-day, where the soul is confronted with chaotic dreams before passing into the waking consciousness of day. When these people of antiquity awakened it was no mere world of dreams that invaded their consciousness; they were within a world of reality of which they knew also that therein they had been among spiritual Beings of the higher Hierarchies and elementary spirit-beings. “Waking up” was for them as it might be with a man of to-day who leaves a place in which he has had many experiences and goes somewhere else where in a sphere of new experiences he remembers the others. When in those ancient times a man entered waking life, he had the new experiences of day; but the remembrances remained with him of how he had been in another world, with other beings, not with the physical human beings who together with the plants and animals are generally around him, but with disembodied human souls living between death and a new birth, and with other beings, too, who never incarnate on the earth.
Man felt that he had departed from beings dwelling in the cosmos and was now placed into another world, into the world of physical experience between birth and death, Nevertheless he still preserved a memory of the spiritual world, the world through which human beings pass between death and a new birth. Vision of the spiritual world still streamed into his already fading astral vision. The condition of consciousness in which man to-day lives among purely physical beings did not then exist at all. In those times men had the following experience — it was not a dream but a picture that was graphic and real: when they passed into the day-consciousness and looked at trees, animals, mountains, rocks and clouds, they felt that this was the same world in which were living those spirit-beings and human souls who were not incarnate on the earth but living in the spiritual world that is man's habitation between death and a new birth. And then there came to these men a concretely real picture of how these beings pass into the trees and rocks while man is in his waking consciousness, how they disappear into the depths of the mountains or rise up to the heights of the clouds, steal away into all the created things of outer physical nature.
On going into a forest, a man would, for example, notice a tree and know that it was the hiding place of a being with whom he had been together in the night. Men then saw clearly, as an Initiate can still see to-day, how spirit-beings made their way into physical habitations as though into their homes. No wonder that all these things passed over into the myths and that men talked of tree-spirits, water-spirits, spirits of clouds and mountains, for they saw their companions of the night disappearing into the mountains, into the waves, into the clouds, into the plants and the trees.
Such was early dawn in the experience of the soul: men saw the spirit-world disappearing into the physical world of sense. They spoke reverently of the great and lofty Spirits as taking rest by day in these physical habitations; they spoke of the lesser, elementary beings who live among men and often among animals, as lurking in the things of nature. They expressed it even roguishly. But whether expressed in sublime and reverent language or in pleasantries, it was exactly what they felt about this condition of early dawn in the soul's experience.
Picture it to yourselves. A human being had been in a spiritual world during the last phase of his sleep; it was when he awoke, and only then, that he clearly remembered having been in this spiritual world. How was this? Why did he only see this spiritual, super-sensible world as he awoke, when the spirits were already disappearing? Why did he only then see this spiritual, super-sensible world in which he lived between death and birth? It was because in those days, when during the last phase of his sleep man was able to see the spirit-world, he experienced yet a third condition of consciousness which conjured up another, an entirely different world before his soul. For it was so that during the time he was “asleep” in his earthly existence and present with power of vision in the spiritual world, he looked back on the evolution of his own karma.
This third state of consciousness experienced by men during the epoch immediately following the Atlantean catastrophe, consisted in a vision of karma. This vision of their own karma was an absolute reality to them.
- Waking consciousness .... Fading astral vision.
- Dream consciousness ..... Vision of the spiritual world.
- Sleep consciousness ....... Vision of karma.
As the three states of consciousness alternate in the life of man to-day, so did ancient man experience successively the three conditions of a darkening astral vision, a vision of spiritual worlds and a vision of karma.
It is a fact that in olden times a vision of karma was a reality of consciousness for man; we can truly say that man once had a consciousness by means of which he beheld the reality of karma.
Evolution then took the following course. First of all this vision of karma ceased in the sleep that was of course no sleep as we understand it. The vision of karma began to grow dim. Of the facts of karma there only remained the knowledge possessed by the Initiates in the Mysteries. That which had once been vision and actual experience became a matter of learning and erudition. The ancient consciousness darkened and there only remained — so it was in the old Chaldean-Babylonian-Egyptian period — the power to look up into the spiritual world. Thus, in the centuries which preceded the Christian epoch, a vision of the super-sensible world still came about quite naturally, but the facts about karma were only taught, they were no longer seen. In the times immediately preceding the Christian era there was still an intense consciousness of the spiritual world, of the world in which man lives between death and a new birth, although the consciousness of karma had faded and was simply not there for humanity in general when the Christian era began. It is therefore understandable that special emphasis was laid upon man's connection with the spiritual world while he is in the disembodied state. Especially in the ancient Egyptian conception we can discern this intensely strong consciousness of the spiritual world, a purified, and clear-sighted consciousness of the world which man enters through the gate of death, when he becomes Osiris. But there is no consciousness any longer of repeated earthly lives.
Then came the gradual approach of the time which has now reached its apex and properly belongs to the humanity of our day. Astral vision has sunk into the prosaic, matter-of-fact consciousness we have in ordinary life between awaking and falling asleep, when we only perceive, for example, that insignificant part of man which is enclosed by his skin and consists in flesh and bones and different vessels; that is all we see in our day-consciousness. One can well understand that people want to array it in all kinds of so-called beautiful clothes in an attempt to give it some importance, since deep down in the sub-consciousness there is a feeling that in itself it is of no significance and belongs, rightly, in the radiant, glowing garment of the aura, of the astral and Ego nature. And when men became aware of the change from the vision that sees the human being in his aura to the vision that sees only the unimportant, bodily part of him, they endeavoured to imitate in the clothing what had once been seen as the aura; so that the fashions of old — if I may put it so — were in a certain sense copies of the aura. As for modern fashions, well, I can assure you they are no such thing!
The consciousness of the super-sensible world has taken on the form of chaotic dreaming. Man dreams it away! And in respect of the karma-consciousness, man is fast asleep. He would have the consciousness of karma if that part of his consciousness which is dreamless between falling asleep and awakening were suddenly to awake. Then he would have the consciousness of karma. Thus in the course of ten thousand years or thereabouts, the great change has taken place. Man “wakes” away — not only “sleeps” away — the spiritual reality in the physical world. He “wakes” away the Spiritual in nature, he “dreams” away the true spiritual world, he “sleeps” away his karma.
This development was necessary, as I have often told you, in order that the consciousness of freedom might arise. But humanity must now again emerge from its present condition of consciousness.
We have heard that what was a natural, albeit a dreamlike state of consciousness in olden times, namely knowledge of the super-sensible world and of karma, gradually grew dim and then became Mystery-teaching, while in the modern age of materialism it has been entirely lost. But in this age the possibility must again be found of building a bridge to consciousness both of the super-sensible world and of karma.
This means, in other words: When we picture to ourselves how in olden times at early dawn, the spirit-beings with whom man lived from falling asleep to awakening hid themselves in trees and clouds, in mountains and rocks, so that in the day man could say to himself when he saw a tree or a rock or a spring: “A spirit has been enchanted into it, a spirit with whom I was together during my sleep-consciousness” — so now, by accepting the new Initiation-Science, we must learn in our present day-consciousness to recognise the spirit and as we look at every rock or tree or cloud or star, or sun or moon, to recognise the spiritual beings in all their diversity.
We must set out on the path that leads to this. We must prepare for the time when it shall be even so. As truly as a man of olden time, on awakening, saw the spirit-beings with whom he had lived during the night steal into the trees and rocks, so truly for modern man shall the spirit-beings steal forth again from tree and rock and spring!
It can really happen, and in this way. A man can lay aside the standpoint of ordinary prejudice in which he has been living, into which even children in the kindergarten are led to-day; he can put aside the prejudices that make him imagine he cannot with healthy human understanding see into the spiritual world. And when the Initiate comes and tells of things of the spiritual world and of events that happen there, then, although he cannot yet himself see, nevertheless by making use of his unprejudiced human understanding, he can be enlightened by the communications that are given concerning the spiritual worlds. This is indeed, and under all circumstances, the right first step for each one to-day.
But difficulties are always cropping up ... Last year, after one of my lectures on how to attain knowledge of the spiritual worlds, a well-meaning paragraph appeared in a newspaper of some standing. We can really call it “well-meaning” and even “respectable” as compared with many vehement expressions of opposition to Anthroposophy to-day! In this lecture I had pointed out that there is no need to become clairvoyant in order to have knowledge of the spiritual world, but that when the seer imparts the knowledge it can be received and understood by the healthy human intellect. I had emphasised this very strongly. The man who wrote the paragraph said in all good faith: “Steiner wants to apply the healthy human intellect to knowledge of the super-sensible world. But so long as the human intellect remains healthy it can certainly know nothing of a super-sensible world; as soon as it does, it is no longer healthy.” I think I have never heard it put so honestly before! For it is after all what everyone is bound to say if he denies to the healthy human intellect a knowledge of the super-sensible world, and if he speaks in the usual way of the boundaries of knowledge. Either he must give up the present point of view, or he must agree with this assertion; no other way is really honest.
A modern Initiate can speak from clear and conscious knowledge of how from every star a spirit-being is released, of how other spirit-beings are released from plants. They come forward to meet us as soon as we pass beyond external sense-observation. Every time we go out into nature we may see all around where nature begins to be a little elemental, kobold-like elementary beings coming out of their stony shelters; if we become friendly with them, especially with the elementary beings of the mineral world, we can see behind them higher Beings who finally lead up to the First Hierarchy, to the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
It is a fact that if the exercises given in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment are practised regularly with strong inner energy, selflessness and devotion, they will lead — provided we have the necessary courage — to a new power of perception. We become able to see, for instance, in certain strata of the mountains, whole worlds of elemental beings lying hidden in rock and stone. They come forth on every side, they steal out, they grow big — and we discover that they have only been as it were rolled up and packed tight into these fragments of the elementary world. Beings are present in the mineral kingdom of nature, especially where the earth begins to grow green, and feels so fresh that we can scent its aroma and the aroma of the plants that cover it. But when we enter this sphere of elemental beings, we find that they can indeed inspire us with fear. For the beings we thus encounter are incredibly clever. We must be humble enough to say to ourselves, when we see these little dwarf-like beings emerging from the objects of nature: “How stupid man is! and how clever is this elemental world!” And because many do not like to say this in earnest, do not like even to admit that judged by spiritual perception a little new-born child is much wiser than a learned scholar, therefore these elementary beings withdraw from man's vision. If however we can discern them, the horizon is widened and the foreground opened up to us by these clever, playful little sprites leads away into a background that reaches right up to the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
Thus by means of the exercises to which I referred, a man whose consciousness has been made clear and quick by the study of what humanity has learned through modern natural science, can enter this world of elemental beings, and thence a higher world. If by a loving surrender to nature we thus acquire a consciousness that is not “sicklied o'er” by the authority-ridden knowledge that holds the ground to-day, we may gradually rise through Initiation-knowledge to that knowledge which humanity has lost.
And he who eventually attains the faculty to see the tree-spirits come forth from the trees — the same that the ancients saw stealing away in the dawn, and darting out again in the evening twilight — he will also be able, as he approaches a human being, to see emerge from him the figures of his earlier lives together with the evolution of his karma. For this kind of vision leads on to a vision of karma.
In the mineral world, where at first we perceive the clever, mischievous little dwarfs, the vision leads us to the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
In the plant world, the vision leads us to the Exusiai, Dynamis and Kyriotetes.
In the animal world (when we see emerge from the animals their own spiritual beings) we are led to a vision of the Archai, Archangels and Angels.
And in the human kingdom the vision leads to karma.
Behind the manifestations of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, behind all the other Beings of the higher Hierarchies, behind all the elemental nature-spirits who startle us by their cleverness when they dart forth from the minerals, or who come to meet us with their gentle importunities from the plant world, behind all that comes from the animals — fierce, passionate and violent as that may be at times, and also icy cold — behind all that stands here so to speak as a foreground, we face the overwhelming, the sublime manifestations of karma. For behind all the mysteries of the world there lies, in truth, the great mystery of human karma.
Having thus prepared our hearts and minds in the right way, we shall pass on in the remaining lectures to speak of particular facts of karma.