The Evolution of Consciousness
1. First Steps towards Imaginative Knowledge
19 August 1923, Penmaenmawr
Throughout the ages, understanding the world has been closely associated with understanding man himself. It is generally recognised that in the days when not only material existence, but also spiritual life, was taken into consideration, man was looked upon as a microcosm, as a world in miniature. This means that man in his being and doing, in the whole part he plays in the world, was viewed as a concentration of all the laws and activities of the Cosmos. In those days it was insisted that understanding of the universe could be founded only on an understanding of man.
But here, for anyone who is unprejudiced, a difficulty arises at once. Directly he wants to arrive at so-called self-knowledge — the only true knowledge of man — he finds himself confronted by an overwhelming riddle; and after observing himself for a time, he is obliged to own that this being of his, as it appears in the world of the senses, is not completely revealed even to his own soul. He has to admit that for ordinary sense-perception part of his being remains hidden and unknown. Thus he is faced with the task of extending his self-knowledge, of thoroughly investigating his true being, before he can come to knowledge of the world.
A simple reflection will show that a man's true being, his inner activity as an individual, cannot be found in the world that holds good for his senses. For directly he passes through the gate of death, he is given over as a corpse to the laws and conditions of this sense-perceptible world. The laws of nature — those laws which prevail out there in the visible world — seize upon the physically dead man. Then that system of relationships, which we call the human organism, comes to an end; then, after a time depending upon the manner of his disposal, the physical man disintegrates.
From this simple reflection, therefore, we see that the sum of nature's laws, in so far as we come to know them through sense-observation, is adapted solely to breaking down the human organism and does nothing to build it up. So we have to look for those laws, for that other activity, which, during earthly life, from birth or conception to death, fight against the forces, the laws, of dissolution. In every moment of our life we are engaged with our true inward being in a battle with death.
If now we look round at the only part of the sense-world understood by people today, the mineral, lifeless world, this certainly is subject to the forces that signify death for the human being. It is pure illusion for natural scientists to think they could ever succeed, by relying on the laws of the external sense-world, in understanding even the plants. That will never be so. They will go some little way towards this understanding and may cherish it as an ideal, but it will never be possible really to fathom the plant — let alone the animal and physical man himself — with the aid of the laws which belong to the external world perceived by man.
As earthly beings, between conception and death, in our true inner being we are fighters against the laws of nature. And if we really want to rise to self-knowledge, we have to examine that activity in the human being which works against death. Indeed, if we are to investigate thoroughly man's being — which is our intention in these lectures — we shall have to show how, through a man's earthly development, it comes about that his inner activities ultimately succumb to death — how death gains the victory over the hidden forces opposing it.
All this is intended to show the course our studies are meant to take. For the truth of what I am now saying will be revealed only gradually in the various lectures. To begin with, therefore, we can merely indicate, by observing man without prejudice, where we have to look for his innermost being, for his personality, his individuality. This is not to be found within the realm of natural forces, but outside it.
There is, however, another indication — and such indications are all I want to give to-day — that as earthly men we live always in the present moment. Here, too, we need only be sufficiently unprejudiced to grasp all that this statement implies. When we see, hear, or otherwise perceive through our senses, it is the actual moment that is all-important for us. Whatever has to do with the past or the future can make no impression on our ears, our eyes, or on any other sense. We are given up to the moment, and thereby to space.
But what would a man become were he entirely given up to the present moment and to space? By observing ordinary life around us we have ample proof that, if a man is thus completely engrossed, he is no longer man in the full sense. Records of illness give evidence of this. Well-authenticated cases can be quoted of persons who, at a certain time in their lives, become unable to remember any of their former experiences, and are conscious only of the immediate present. Then they do the craziest things. Contrary to their ordinary habits, they buy a railway ticket and travel to some place or other, doing everything necessary at the time quite sensibly, with more intelligence, and perhaps with more cunning, than usual. They have meals and do all the other little things in life at the normal time. On arrival at the station to which they booked, they take another ticket, going possibly in an opposite direction. They wander about in this way, it may be for years, until they come to a stop at some place, suddenly realising they don't know where they are. Everything they have done, from the moment they took the first ticket, or left their home, is blotted out from their consciousness, and they remember only what took place before that. Their life of soul, the whole of their life as human beings on earth, becomes chaotic. They no longer feel themselves to be a unified person. They had always lived in the present moment and had been able to find their way about in space, but now they have lost their inner feeling for time; they have lost their memory.
When a man loses his inner feeling for time — his really intimate connection with the past — then his life becomes a chaos. Experience of space alone can do nothing to help towards the health of his whole being.
To put this in other words: A man in his sense-life is always given up to the moment, and in some cases of illness it is possible for him to detach his immediate existence in space from his existence as a whole — but he is then no longer man in the full sense.
Here we have an indication of something in man belonging not to space but only to time; and we must say that if one human experience is that of space, there is also another which must always be present in a man — the experience of time. For him to remain man in the full sense, memory must make the past present in him. Being present in time is something indispensable for a man. Past time, however, is never there in the present moment; to experience it we must always carry it over into the present. Therefore in a human being there must be forces for conserving the past, forces that do not arise out of space and are therefore not to be understood as laws of nature working spatially, for they are outside space.
These indications point to the fact that if a man is to be the central point of knowledge of the world and has to begin by knowing himself, he must seek first of all within his own being for that which can raise him above spatial existence — the sole existence of which the senses tell — and can make him a being of time in the midst of his spatial existence. Therefore, if he is to perceive his own being, he must summon up from within himself cognitional powers which are not bound up with his senses or his perception of space. It is at this particular stage of human evolution, when natural science is having so momentous an effort in focussing attention on the laws of space, that, for reasons to be shown in these lectures, the true being of man has in general been entirely lost to view. Hence it is particularly necessary now to point out the inner experiences which, as you have seen, lead a man out of space into time and its experiences. We shall see how, going on from there, he actually enters the spiritual world.
The knowledge leading over from the world of the senses to the super-sensible has been called, throughout the ages, Initiation-knowledge — knowledge, that is, of what constitutes the true impulse, the active element, of human personality. It is of this Initiation-knowledge that I have to speak in these lectures, as far as is possible today. For our intention is to study the evolution of the world and of man, in the past, present and future, in the light of Initiation-knowledge.
I shall therefore have to begin by speaking of how such Initiation-knowledge can be acquired. The very way in which these matters are spoken of to-day clearly distinguishes present Initiation-knowledge from that of the past. In the past, individual teachers wrestled their way through to a perception of the super-sensible in the world and in man. On the feelings of the students who came to them they made a strong impression by dint of their purely human qualities, and the students accepted the knowledge they offered, not under any compulsion, but in response to the teacher's personal authority.
Hence, for the whole of man's evolution up to the present time, you will always find described how there were separate groups of pupils, each under the guidance of a teacher, a “guru”, to whose authority they submitted. Even on this point — as on many others we shall come across in these lectures — Initiation-knowledge to-day cannot follow the old path. The “guru” never spoke of the path by which he had achieved his own knowledge, and in those bygone times public instruction about the road to higher knowledge was never even considered. Such studies were pursued solely in the Mystery-centres which in those days served as universities for those following a super-sensible path.
In the view of the general level of human consciousness which has been reached at this moment in history, such a path would no longer be possible. Anyone speaking of super-sensible knowledge to-day is therefore naturally expected to say at once how this knowledge is to be acquired. At the same time everyone must be left free to decide, in accordance with his own way of life, his attitude to those exercises for body, soul and spirit, through which certain forces within man are developed. These forces look beyond the laws of nature, beyond the present moment, into the true being of the world, and therewith into the true being of man himself. Hence the obvious course for our studies is to begin with at least a few preliminary remarks about the way by which a man to-day can acquire knowledge of the super-sensible.
We must thus take our start from man as he really is in earthly existence, in relation to space and the present moment. As an earthly being a man embraces in his soul and bodily nature — I say deliberately soul and bodily nature — a triad: a thinking being, a feeling being and a being of will. And when we look at everything that lies in the realm of thinking, in the realm of feeling and in that of the will, we have seen all of the human being that takes part in earthly existence.
Let us look first at the most important factor in man through which he takes his place in earthly existence. This is certainly his thinking. To his thinking nature he owes the clear-headedness he needs, as earthly man, for surveying the world. In comparison with this lucid thinking, his feeling is obscure, and, as for his willing — those depths of his being from which the will surges up — all that, for ordinary observation, is entirely out of range.
Just think how small a part your will plays in the ordinary world and in ordinary experience. Say you make up your mind to move a chair. You first have the thought of carrying it from one spot to another. You have a concept of this. The concept then passes, in a way you know nothing of, right into your blood and muscles. And what goes on in your blood and muscles — and also in your nerves — while you are lifting the chair and carrying it elsewhere, exists for you only as an idea. The real inner activity that goes on within your skin — of that you are wholly unconscious. Only the result comes into your thought.
Thus, of all your activities when awake, the will is the most unconscious. We will speak later of activity during sleep. During waking activity the will remains in absolute obscurity; a person knows as little about the passing of his thought into willing as in ordinary life on Earth he knows of what happens between falling asleep and waking. Even when anyone is awake, he is asleep where the inner nature of the will is concerned. It is only the faculty of forming concepts, of thinking, that enters clearly into man's life on Earth. Feeling lies midway between thinking and willing. And just as the dream stands between sleeping and waking, as an indefinite, chaotic conception, half-asleep, half-awake, so, coming halfway between willing and thinking, feeling is really a waking dream of the soul. We must take the clarity of thinking as our starting-point; but how does thinking run its course in ordinary life on Earth?
In the whole life of a human being on Earth, thinking plays a quite passive role. Let us be perfectly honest about this when observing ourselves. From the moment of waking until going to sleep a man is preoccupied with the affairs of the outer world. He lets sense-impressions flow into him, and with them concepts are then united. When sense-impressions pass away, only representations of them remain in the soul, turning gradually into memories. But, as I have said, if as earthly beings we observe ourselves honestly, we must admit that in concepts gained from ordinary life there is nothing which has not come into the soul from the external world through the senses. If without prejudice we examine what we carry deep down in our souls, we shall always find it was occasioned by some impression from without.
This applies particularly to the illusions of those mystics who — I am saying this expressly — do not penetrate to any great depth. They believe that by means of a more or less nebulous spiritual training they can come to an inward experience of a higher divinity underlying the world. And these mystics, these half or quarter mystics, are often heard to say how an inner light of the soul has dawned within them, how they have had some kind of spiritual vision.
Anyone who observes himself closely and honestly will come to see that many mystical visions can be traced to merely external sense-experiences which have been transformed in the course of time. Strange as it may seem, it is possible for some mystic, at the age perhaps of forty, to think he has had a direct, imaginative impression, a vision, of — we will take something concrete — the Mystery of Golgotha, that he sees the Mystery of Golgotha inwardly, spiritually. This gives him a feeling of great exaltation. Now a really good psychologist, who can go back through this mystic's earthly life, may find that as a boy of ten he was taken by his father on a visit, where he saw a certain little picture. It was a picture of the Mystery of Golgotha, and at the time it made hardly any impression on his soul. But the impression remained, and in a changed form sank deep down into his soul, to rise up in his fortieth year as a great mystical experience.
This is something to be stressed particularly when anyone ventures, more or less publicly, to say anything about the paths to super-sensible knowledge. Those who do not take the matter very seriously generally talk in a superficial way. It is just those who wish to have the right to speak about mystical, super-sensible paths who ought to know about the errors in this sphere which can lead people astray. They ought fully to realise that ordinary self-knowledge is chiefly made up of transformed external impressions, and that genuine self-knowledge must be sought to-day through inner development, by calling up forces in the soul not previously there. This requires us to realise the passive nature of our usual thinking. It deals with all impressions in the way natural to the senses. The earlier things come first, the later ones later; what is uppermost in thought remains above; what is below remains below. As a rule, therefore — not only in ordinary life but also in science — a man's concepts merely trail after processes in the external world. Our science has gone so far as to make an ideal of discovering how things run their course in the external world without letting thinking have the slightest influence on them. In their own sphere the scientists are quite right; by following this method they have made enormous advances. But they are more and more losing sight of man's true being. For the first step in those methods for developing inner forces of the soul leading to super-sensible cognition, called by us meditation and concentration, is by finding the way over from purely passive thinking to thinking that is inwardly active.
I will begin by describing this first step in a quite elementary way. Instead of a concept aroused by something external, we can take a concept drawn entirely from within and give it the central place in our consciousness. What is important is not that the concept should correspond to a reality, but that it should be drawn up out of the depths of the soul as something active. Hence it is not good to take anything we remember, for in memory all manner of vague impressions cling to our concepts. If, therefore, we draw upon our memory we shall neither be sure that we are not letting extraneous things creep in, nor sure that we have really set about meditating with proper inward activity. There are three possible ways of proceeding, and there need be no loss of independence on any of them. A simple, easily apprehended concept is preferable, a creation of the moment, not having anything to do with what is remembered. For our purpose it can even be something quite paradoxical, deliberately removed from any passively received idea. We have only to make sure that the meditation has been brought about through our own inner activity.
The second way is to go to someone with experience in this sphere and ask him to suggest a subject for meditation. There may then be fear of becoming dependent on him. If, however, from the moment the meditation is received, one is conscious that every step has been taken independently, through an inner activity of one's own, and that the only thing not determined by oneself is the subject, which, since it comes from someone else, has to be actively laid hold of — when one is conscious of all this, there is no longer any question of dependence. It is then particularly necessary to continue to act in full consciousness.
And finally, the third way. Instruction can be sought from a teacher who — one might say — remains invisible. The student takes a book he has never seen before, opens it at random and reads any chance sentence. He can thus be sure of coming on something entirely new to him, and then he must work on it with inner activity. A subject for meditation can be made of the sentence, or perhaps of some illustration or diagram in the book, so long as he is certain he has never previously come across it. That is the third method, and in this way a teacher can be created out of nothing. The book has to be found and looked at, and a sentence, a drawing, or anything else chosen from it — all this constitutes the teacher.
Hence it is perfectly possible nowadays to take the path to higher knowledge in such a way that the active thinking required will not be unjustifiably encroached on by any other power. This is essential for present-day mankind. In the course of these lectures we shall see how necessary it is for people to-day, especially when they wish to make progress on the path to higher worlds, to respect and treasure their own free will. For how, otherwise, is any inner activity to be developed? Directly anyone becomes dependent on someone else, his own will is frustrated. And it is important that meditation to-day should be carried through with inner activity, out of the will in thinking, which is hardly at all valued to-day, with modern science putting all the emphasis on passive observation of the outer world.
In this way we can win through to active thinking, the rate of progress depending wholly on the individual. One man will get there in three weeks, if he perseveres with the same exercises. Another will take five years, another seven, and someone else nineteen, and so on. The essential point is that he should never relax his efforts. A moment will come when he recognises that his thinking has really changed: it no longer runs on in the old passive pictures but is inwardly full of energy — a force which, although he experiences it quite clearly, he knows to be just as much a force as the force required to raise an arm or point a finger. We come to know a thinking that seems to sustain our whole being, a thinking that can hit against an obstacle. This is no figure of speech, but a concrete truth that we can experience. We know that ordinary thinking does no such thing. When I run up against a wall and get hurt, my physical body has received a blow through force of contact. This force of contact depends on my being able to hit my body against objects. It is I who do the hitting. The ordinary passive thinking does not hit anything, but simply presents itself to be hit, for it has no reality; it is only a picture. But the thinking to which we come in the way described is a reality, something in which we live. It can hit against something as a finger can hit the wall. And just as we know that our finger cannot go through the wall, so we know that with this real thinking we cannot fathom everything. It is a first step. We have to take this step, this turning of one's own active thinking into an organ of touch for the soul, so that we may feel ourselves thinking in the same way that we walk, grasp or touch; so that we know we are living in a real being, not just in ordinary thinking which merely creates images, but in a reality, in the soul's organ of touch which we ourselves have become.
That is the first step — to change our thinking so that we feel: Now you yourself have become the thinker. That rounds off everything. With this thinking it is not the same as with physical touch. An arm, for instance, grows as we grow, so that when we are full-grown our proportions remain correct. But the thinking that has become active is like a snail — able to extend feelers or to draw them in again. In this thinking we live in a being certainly full of force but inwardly mobile, moving backwards and forwards, inwardly active. With this far-reaching organ of touch we can — as we shall see — feel about in the spiritual world; or, if this is spiritually painful, draw back.
All this must certainly be taken seriously by those with any desire to approach the true being of man — this transformation of one's whole nature. For we do not discover what a man actually is unless we start by seeing in him something beyond what is perceived by our earthly senses. All that is developed through the activity of thinking is a man's first super-sensible member — later I shall be describing it more fully. First we have man's physical body that can be perceived by our ordinary sense-organs, and this offers resistance on meeting the ordinary organs of touch. Then we have our first super-sensible member — we can call it the etheric body or the formative forces body. It must be called something, but the name is immaterial. In future I will call it the etheric or formative forces body. Here we have our first super-sensible member, just as perceptible for a higher power of touching, into which thinking has been changed, as physical things are perceptible to the physical sense of touch. Thinking becomes a super-sensible touching, and through this super-sensible touching the etheric or formative forces body can be, in the higher sense, both grasped and seen. This is the first real step, as it were, into the super-sensible world.
From the very way in which I have tried to describe the passing over of thinking into the experience of an actual force within one, you will realise how little sense there is, where genuine spiritual development is concerned, in saying, for example, that anyone who wishes to enter the spiritual world by this path is merely indulging in fantasy or yielding to auto-suggestion. For it is the first reaction of many people to say: “Anyone who talks of the higher worlds in connection with a training of this kind is simply picturing what he has suggested to himself.” Then others take up the refrain, perhaps saying: “It is even possible that someone who loves lemonade has only to think of it and his mouth immediately begins to water, just as though he were drinking lemonade. Auto-suggestion has such power!”
All this may certainly be so, and anyone who is taking the rightful path we have indicated into the spiritual world must be well up in the things that physiologists and psychologists can get to know intellectually, and he should have a thoroughly practical acquaintance with the precautions that have to be observed. But to anyone who believes he can persuade himself by auto-suggestion that he is drinking lemonade, although he has none, I would reply: “Yes, that is possible — but show me the man who has quenched a real thirst with imaginary, auto-suggested lemonade!” That is where the difference begins between what is merely imagined passively and what is actually experienced. By keeping in touch with the real world and making our thinking active, we reach the stage of living spiritually in the world in such a way that thinking develops into a touching. Naturally it is a touching that has nothing to do with chairs or tables; but we learn to touch in the spiritual world, to make contact with it, to enter into a living relation with it. It is precisely by means of this active thinking that we learn to distinguish between the mystical fancies of auto-suggestion and the experience of spiritual reality.
All these objections arise from people not having yet looked into the way modern Initiation-knowledge describes the path for to-day. They are content to judge from outside a matter of which they may have heard simply the name, or of which they have gained a little superficial knowledge. Those who enter the spiritual world in the way here described, which enables them to make contact with it and to touch it, know how to distinguish between merely forming a subsequent concept of what they have experienced through active thinking and the perceptive experience itself. In ordinary life we can quite well distinguish between the experience of inadvertently burning our finger and a picturing of the incident afterwards! There is a most convincing difference, for in one case the finger is actually painful, in the other it is painful only in imagination. The same difference is encountered on a higher level between ideas we have of the spiritual world and what we actually experience there.
Now the first thing attained in this way is true self-knowledge. For, just as in life we have for our immediate perception a table here, chairs over there, and this whole splendid hall — with the clock that isn't going! — and so on; just as all this stands before us in space, and we perceive it at any moment, so, to the thinking that has become active and real, the world of time makes itself known — at first in the form of the time-world that is bound up with the human being himself. Past experiences that can normally be recovered only as memory-images stand before him as an immediately present tableau of long past events. The same thing is described by people who experience a shock through the threat of imminent death by drowning perhaps; and what they describe is confirmed — I always add this — by persons who think in an entirely materialistic way. To someone in mortal peril there may flash up an inward tableau of his past life. And this in fact is what happens also to people who have made their thinking active; suddenly before their souls arises a tableau of their life from the moment when they first learnt to think up to the present. Time becomes space; the past becomes present; a picture stands before their souls. The most characteristic feature of this experience — I shall have to go into it more closely to-morrow — is that, because the whole thing is like a picture, one still has a certain feeling of space, but only a feeling. For the space now experienced lacks the third dimension; it is two-dimensional only, as with a picture. For this reason I call this cognition Imaginative — a picture-cognition that works, as in a painting, with two dimensions.
You may ask: When I have this experience of only two dimensions, what happens if, still experiencing two dimensions, I go further? That makes no difference. We lose all experience of a third dimension. On a later occasion I will speak of how, in our day, because there is no longer any consciousness of such things, people searching for the spiritual look for a fourth dimension as a way towards it. The truth is that when we go on from the physical to the spiritual, no fourth dimension appears, but the third dimension drops away. We must get used to the real facts in this sphere, as we have had to do in others. It was once thought that the earth was flat, and ran off into an indefinite region where it came to an abrupt end; and just as it was an advance when people knew that if we sail round the earth we come back to our starting-point, so it will be an advance in our inner comprehension of the world when we know that, in the spiritual world, we do not go on from first, second, third dimensions to a fourth, but back to two dimensions only. And we shall see how, eventually, we go back to only one. That is the true state of affairs.
We can see how, in observing the outer world, people today cling in a superficial way to numbers: first dimension, second, third — and so a fourth must follow. No, we turn back to two dimensions; the third dissolves and we arrive at a truly Imaginative-knowledge. It comes to us first as a tableau of our life, when we survey in mighty pictures the experiences of our past earthly life and how we have inwardly gone through them. And this differs considerably from simple memories.
Ordinary memory-pictures make us feel that they come essentially from conceptions of the outside world, experiences of pleasure, pain, of what other people have done to us, of their attitude towards us. That is what we chiefly experience in our purely conceptual memories.
In the tableau of which I am speaking, it is different. There we experience — well, let us take an example. Perhaps we met someone ten years ago. In ordinary memory we would see how he came to meet us, what he did to us that was good or bad, and so on. But in the life-tableau we re-live our first sight of the man, what we did and experienced ourselves in order to gain his friendship, what our impressions were. Thus in the tableau we feel what unfolds outwardly from within us, whereas ordinary memory shows what develops inwardly from without.
So of the tableau we can say that it brings us something like a present experience in which one thing does not follow another, as in recollection, but one thing is side-by-side with another in two-dimensional space. Hence the life-tableau can be readily distinguished from memory-pictures.
Now what is gained from this is an enhancement of our inner activity, the active experience of one's own personality. That is the essential feature of it. One lives in and develops more intensively the forces which radiate from the personality. Having gone through this experience, we have to climb a further step, and this is something that nobody does at all willingly. It entails the most rigorous inner discipline. For what is experienced through this life-tableau, through the pictures presenting one's own experiences to the soul, gives us, even in the case of past experiences that were actually painful, a feeling of personal happiness. A tremendously strong feeling of happiness is united with this Imaginative knowledge.
It is this subjective feeling of happiness which has inspired all those religious ideals and descriptions — in Mohammedanism, for instance — where life beyond the Earth is pictured in such glowing terms. They are an Imaginative result of this experience of happiness.
If the next step is to be made, this feeling of happiness must be forgotten. For when in perfect freedom we have first exerted our will to make our thinking active through meditation and concentration, as I have described, and by means of this active thinking we have advanced to experience of the life-tableau, we have then to use all our strength in blotting this out from our consciousness. In ordinary life this blotting out is often all too easy. Those who go in for examinations have good reason to complain of it! Ordinary sleep, too, is finally nothing but a passive wiping out of everything in our daytime consciousness. For the examination candidate would hardly wipe out his knowledge consciously; it is a passive process, a sign of weakness in one's command of present events. When, however, the required strength has been gained, this wiping out is necessary for the next step towards super-sensible knowledge.
Now it easily happens that, by concentrating all the forces of his soul on a subject he himself has chosen, a man develops a desire to cling to it, and because a feeling of happiness is connected with this life-tableau, he clings to it all the more readily and firmly. But one must be able to extinguish from consciousness the very thing one has striven for through the enhancement of one's powers. As I have pointed out, this is much more difficult than the blotting out of anything in ordinary life.
You will no doubt be aware that when a person's sense-impressions have been gradually shut off; when all is dark around him and he can see nothing; when all noise is shut out so that he hears nothing and even the day's impressions are suppressed, he falls asleep. This empty consciousness, that comes to anyone on the verge of sleep, now has to be brought about at will. But while all conscious impressions, even those self-induced, have to be blotted out, it is most important for the student to remain awake. He must have the strength, the inner activity, to keep awake while no longer receiving impressions from without, or any experiences whatever. An empty consciousness is thus produced, but an empty consciousness of which one is fully aware.
When all that has been first brought to consciousness through enhanced forces has been wiped out and the consciousness made empty, it does not remain so, for then the second stage of knowledge is entered. In contrast to Imaginative knowledge, we may call it Inspired knowledge. If we have striven for empty consciousness by preparation of this kind — then, just as the visible world is normally there for our eyes to see and the world of sound for our ears to hear — it becomes possible for the spiritual world to present itself to our soul. It is no longer our own experiences, but a spiritual world that presses in on us. And if we are so strong that we have been able to suppress the entire life-tableau all at once — letting it appear and then blotting it out, so that after experiencing it we empty our consciousness of it — than the first perception to arise in this emptiness is of our pre-earthly life — the life before conception and descent into a physical body. This is the first real super-sensible experience that comes to a man after he has emptied his consciousness — he looks at his own pre-earthly life. From that moment he comes to know the side of immortality which is never brought out to-day. People talk of immortality only as the negation of death. Certainly this side of immortality is as important as the other — we shall have much more to say about it — but the immortality we first come to know in the way I have briefly indicated is not the negation of death, but “unbornness”, the negation of birth; and both sides are equally real. Only when people come once more to understand that eternity has these two sides — immortality and “unbornness” — will they be able to recognise again in man that which is enduring, truly eternal.
Modern languages all have a word for immortality, but they have lost the word “unbornness”, although older languages had it. This side of eternity, “unbornness”, was lost first, and now, in this materialistic age, the tragic moment is threatening when all knowledge of immortality may be lost — for in the realm of pure materialism people are no longer willing to know anything whatever of the spiritual part of man.
To-day I have been able to indicate — and quite briefly — only the very first steps on the path to super-sensible worlds. During the next few days something further will be described, and then we shall turn back to what can be known on that path about man and the world, in the present and past, and also to what needs to be known for the future.