29 January 1912, Cassel
Today we will lead on from the lecture of the day before yesterday to certain matters which can promote a deep personal understanding of Anthroposophical life. If we survey our life and make real efforts to get to the roots of its happenings, very much can be gained. We shall recognise the justice of many things in our destiny and realise that we have deserved them. Suppose someone has been superficial and thoughtless in the present incarnation and is subsequently struck by a blow of fate. It may not be possible, externally, to connect the blow of fate directly with the thoughtlessness, but a feeling arises, nevertheless, that there is justice in it. Then again, looking back on our life, we find blows of fate which we can only attribute to chance, for there seems no explanation for them whatever. These two categories of experience are to be discovered as we survey our life.
Now it is important to make a clear distinction between apparent chance and obvious necessity. When a man reviews his life with reference to these two kinds of happenings, he will fail to reach any higher stage of development unless he endeavours to have a very clear perception of everything that seems to him to be due to chance. We must try, above all, to have a clear perception of those things we have not wished for, which go right against the grain. It is possible to induce a certain attitude of soul and to say to ourselves: How would it be if I were to take those things which I have not desired, which are disagreeable to me, and imagine that I myself actually really wanted them? In other words we imagine with all intensity that we ourselves willed our particular circumstances.
In regard to apparently fortuitous happenings we must picture the possibility of having ourselves put forth a deliberate and strong effort of will in order to bring them about. Meditatively as it were, we must induce this attitude to happenings which, on the face of them, seem to be purely fortuitous in our lives. Every human being today is capable of this mental exercise. If we proceed in this way, a very definite impression will gradually be made upon the soul; we shall feel as though something were striving to be released from us. The soul says to itself: ‘Here, as a mental image, I have before me a second being; he is actually there.’ We cannot get rid of this image and the being gradually becomes our ‘double.’ The soul begins to feel a real connection with this being who has been imagined into existence, to realise that this being does actually exist within us. If this conception deepens into a vivid and intense experience, we become aware that this imagined being is by no means without significance. The conviction comes to us: this being was already once in existence and at that time you had within you the impulses of will which led to the apparently chance happenings of today. Thereby we reach a deeply rooted conviction that we were already in existence before coming down into the body. Every human being today can have this conviction.
And now let us consider the question of the successive incarnations of the human being. What is it that reincarnates? How can we discover the answer to this question?
There are three fundamental and distinct categories of experiences in the life of the soul Firstly our mental pictures, our ideas, our thoughts. In forming a mental picture our attitude may well be one of complete neutrality; we need not love or hate what we picture inwardly, neither need we feel sympathy or antipathy towards it. Secondly there are the moods and shades of feelings which arise alongside the ideas or the thoughts; the cause of these moods in the life of feeling is that we like or love one thing, dislike or abhor another, and so forth. The third kind of experience in the life of the soul are the impulses of the will. There are, of course, transitional stages, but speaking generally these are the three categories. Moreover it is fundamentally characteristic of a healthy life of soul to be able to keep these three kinds of experiences separate and distinct from one another. Our life of thought and mental presentation arises because we receive stimuli from outside. Nobody will find it difficult to realise that the life of thought is the most closely bound up with the present incarnation. This, after all, is obvious when we bear in mind that speech is the instrument whereby we express our thoughts; and speech, or language, must, in the nature of things, differ in every incarnation. We no more bring language with us at the beginning of a new incarnation than we bring thoughts and ideas. The language as well as the thoughts must be acquired afresh in each incarnation. Hebbel 51Hebbel ... diary: ‘After his soul journey Plato is now possibly being caned at school for — not understanding Plato.’ Hebbel's diaries Nr. 1335. once wrote something very remarkable in his diary. The idea occurred to him that a scene in which the reincarnated Plato was being soundly chastised by the teacher for his lack of understanding of Plato would produce a very striking effect in a play! A man does not carry over his thought and mental life from one incarnation to another, and he takes practically nothing of it with him into his postmortem existence. After death we evolve no thoughts or mental pictures but have direct perceptions, just as our physical eyes have perceptions of colour. After death the world of concepts is seen as a kind of net stretching across existence. But our feelings, our moods of heart and feeling these we retain after death, and we also bring their forces with us as qualities and tendencies of soul into a new earthly life. For example, even if a child's life of thought is undeveloped, we shall be able to notice quite definite tendencies in his life of feeling. And because our impulses of will are linked with feelings we also take them with us into our life after death. If, for instance, a man succumbs to a mistaken idea, the effect upon his life of feeling is not the same as if he devotes himself to the truth. For a long time after death we suffer from the consequences of false mental presentations and ideas. Our attention must therefore turn to the qualities and moods of feeling and the impulses of will when we ask ourselves what actually passes on from one incarnation to another.
Suppose something painful happened to us ten or twenty years ago. In thought today we may be able to remember it quite distinctly and in detail. But the actual pain we felt at the time has all but faded away; we cannot re-experience the stirrings of feelings and impulses of will by which it was accompanied. Think for a moment of Bismarck 52Bismarck: ‘Gedanken und Erinnerungen’ (Thoughts and Memories), 1898, 2 volumes. and the overwhelming difficulties we know he had to face when he took his decision to go to war in 1866; think of what tumultuous feelings, what teeming impulses of will were working in Bismarck at that time! But even when writing his memoirs, would Bismarck have been conscious of these emotions and resolves with anything like the same intensity? Of course not! Man's memory between birth and death is composed of thoughts and mental pictures. It may be, of course, that even after ten or twenty years a feeling of pain comes over us at the recollection of some sorrowful event, but generally speaking the pain will have greatly diminished after this lapse of time; in thought, however, we can remember the very details of the event. If we now picture to ourselves that we actually willed certain painful events, that in reality we welcomed things which in our youth we may have hated, the very difficulty of this exercise rouses the soul and thus has an effect upon the life of feeling. Suppose, for example, a stone once crashed down upon us. We now try with all intensity to picture that we ourselves willed it so. Through such mental pictures — that we ourselves have willed the chance events in our life — we arouse, in the life of feeling, memory of our earlier incarnations. In this way we begin to realise that we are rooted in the spiritual world, we begin to understand our destiny. We have brought with us, from our previous incarnation, the will for the chance events of this life.
To devote ourselves in meditation to such thoughts and elaborate them, is of the highest importance. Between death and a new birth too, much transpires, for this period is infinitely rich in experiences — purely spiritual experiences, of course. We therefore bring with us qualities of feeling and impulses of will from the period between death and a new birth, that is to say, from the spiritual world. Upon this rests a certain occurrence of very great importance in the modern age, but one of which little notice is taken. The occurrence is to be found in the lives of many people today, but it is usually passed by unnoticed. It is, however, the task of Anthroposophy to point to such an occurrence and its significance. Let me make it clear by an example.
Suppose a man has occasion to go somewhere or other and his path takes him in the wake of another human being, a child perhaps. Suddenly the man catches sight of a yawning chasm at the edge of the path along which the child is walking. A few steps further and the child will inevitably fall over the edge into the chasm. He runs to save the child, runs and runs, entirely forgetting about the chasm. Then he suddenly hears a voice calling out to him from somewhere: ‘Stand still!’ He halts as though nailed to the spot. At that moment the child catches hold of a tree and also stops, so that no harm befalls. If no voice had called at that moment the man would inevitably have fallen into the chasm. He wonders where the voice came from. He finds no single soul who could have called, but he realises that he would quite certainly have lost his life if he had not heard this voice; yet, however closely he investigates he cannot find that the warning came from any physical voice.
Through close self-observation many human beings living at the present time would be able to recognise a similar experience in their lives. But far too little attention is paid to such things. An experience of this kind may pass by without leaving a trace — then the impression fades away and no importance is attached to the experience. But suppose a man has been attentive and realises that it was not without significance. The thought may then occur to him: At that point in your life you were facing a crisis, a karmic crisis; your life should really have ended at that moment, for you had forfeited it. You were saved by something akin to chance, and since then a second life has as it were been grafted onto the first; this second life is to be regarded as a gift bestowed upon you and you must act accordingly. When such an experience makes a man feel that his life from that time onwards has been bestowed upon him as a gift, this means that he can be accounted a follower of Christian Rosenkreutz. For this is how Christian Rosenkreutz calls the souls whom he has chosen. A man who can recall such an occurrence — and everyone sitting here can discover something of the kind in their lives if they observe closely enough — has the right to say to himself: Christian Rosenkreutz has given me a sign from the spiritual world that I belong to his stream. Christian Rosenkreutz has added such an experience to my karma. This is the way in which Christian Rosenkreutz chooses his pupils; this is how he gathers his community. A man who is conscious of this experience knows with certainty that a path has been pointed out to him which he must follow, trying to discover how he can dedicate himself to the service of rosicrucianism. If there are some people who have not yet recognised the sign, they will do so later on; for he to whom the sign has once been given will never again be free from it.
Such an experience comes to a man because during the period between his last death and his present birth he was in contact with Christian Rosenkreutz in the spiritual world. It was then that Christian Rosenkreutz chose us, imparting an impulse of will which leads us now to such experiences. This is the way in which spiritual connections are established. Materialistic thought will naturally regard all these things as hallucinations, just as it regards the experience of Paul at Damascus as having been an hallucination. The logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that the whole of Christianity is based upon an hallucination, therefore upon error. For theologians are perfectly well aware that the event at Damascus is the foundation stone of the whole of subsequent Christianity. And if this foundation stone itself is nothing but an illusion, then, if thought is consistent, everything built upon it must obviously be fallacy.
An attempt has been made today to show that certain happenings, certain experiences in life may indicate to us how we are interwoven in the spiritual fabric of world existence. If we develop the memory belonging to our life of feeling, then we live our way into the spiritual life which streams and pulses through the world. Theoretical knowledge alone does not make men true Anthroposophists; those who understand their own life and the life of other human beings in the sense indicated today — they and they alone are true Anthroposophists. Anthroposophy is a basic power which can transform our life of soul. And the goal of the work in our groups must be that the intimate experiences of the soul change in character, that through the gradual development of the memory belonging to the life of feeling we become aware of immortality. The true theosophist or Anthroposophist must have this conviction: If you really will, if you apply the forces within you in all their strength, then you can utterly transform your character. We must learn to feel and experience that an immortal element holds sway in ourselves and in everything else. An Anthroposophist becomes an Anthroposophist because his faculties remain receptive his whole life long, even when his hair is white. And this realisation that progress is possible always and forever will transform our whole spiritual life today.
One of the consequences of materialism is that human beings become prematurely old. Thirty years ago, for example, children looked quite different; there are children today of ten or twelve years of age who give the impression almost of senility. Human beings have become so precocious, especially the grown-ups. They maintain that lies such as that of babies being brought by the stork should not be told to children, that children should be enlightened on such matters. But this enlightenment itself is really a lie. Those who come after us will know that the souls of our children hover down as bird-like spirit forms from the higher worlds. To have an imaginative conception of many things still beyond our comprehension is of very great importance. As regards the fact in question it might be possible to find a better imaginative picture than the story of the stork. What matters is that spiritual forces operate between the child and his parents or teachers, a kind of secret magnetism must be there. We must ourselves believe in any imaginative picture we give to the children. If it is a question of explaining death to them, we must point to another happening in nature. We can say: ‘See how the butterfly flies out of the chrysalis. The same thing happens to the human soul after death’ But we must ourselves believe that the world is arranged in such a way that the forces in the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis present us with an image of the soul going forth from the body. The world-spirit has inscribed such a picture in nature to draw our attention to the process. It is tremendously important to be always capable of learning, of remaining young, independently of our physical body. And that is the great task of theosophy that has become Anthroposophy: to bring to the world the rejuvenation which it needs. We must get beyond the banal and the purely material. To recognise soul and spirit as powers operating in life — this must be the aim of the work in our groups. We must be permeated more and more with the knowledge that the soul can gain mastery over the external world.