3 October 1903, Berlin
Somebody who speaks today about the nature of the soul exposes himself to misunderstandings and attacks from two sides. Above all, the theosophist, who speaks from his standpoint, from the standpoint of knowledge and cognition, is attacked by the official science, on the other hand, also by the adherents of the various confessions.
Today science wants to know little about the soul, the psyche, even that science which carries psyche in its name, psychology. Even the psychologists would like to refrain completely from that which one calls, actually, the soul. That is why one could stamp the catchword: psychology without soul. — The soul is said to be something questionable, something uncertain that one simply investigates, for example, the appearance of different mental pictures like one also investigates a physical process; but one wants to know nothing about the soul itself. The modern natural sciences can impossibly assume anything like a soul. They say that the human mental pictures are also subject to the physical laws like all other phenomena in nature, the human being is nothing else than a higher disposed natural product. Therefore, we should not ask what the soul is. In doing so, one refers to Goethe’s word:
According to eternal,
Iron, great laws
We all must complete
Our existence’s circle.
Like a rolling stone moves, the human being has to develop according to the eternal laws. On the other side, the religions are against it, which rest on tradition and revelation.
Theosophy is neither an adversary of religion nor of science. It wants to attain truth like the researchers by knowledge, and it does not deny the basic truth of the religions.
This basic truth is often little understood by those who represent the religions. Original, eternal truth forms the basis of all religions. The religions existing today developed from it. Then, however, later ingredients overgrew them. They lost their deeper truth. The core of truth lies behind them. However, science has not yet advanced so far that it has ascended from the matter to the spirit. It is not yet so far that it investigates the spiritual with the same enthusiasm as it investigates the natural phenomena. Science finds its core of truth in future. So, this higher truth of religion got lost, and science has not yet found it. Today, theosophy stands between them. It falls back on the past, on the lost, and it tries to investigate in the future what has not yet been found. In return, it is attacked by both sides. The habits and the external customs of today are different from those of former times, but in spite of the frequently praised tolerance of our modern time one still tries to intimidate those who represent an uncomfortable opinion. Somebody who speaks of the soul today, like the naturalist speaks of the external facts, is no longer burnt, indeed, but also methods are found to burden and to suppress him.
Nevertheless, we get a certain consolation looking at the future if we judge the present-day relations by the events of the past. When in the 17th century the Italian researcher Redi put up the assertion that the lower living beings do not simply arise from something lifeless, he only just escaped the destiny of Giordano Bruno. At that time, one was of the view in general that the lower living beings developed from inorganic substances. The view of Redi is generally valid today, and somebody, who denies the sentence: nothing living comes from the non-living would be regarded as being backward.
In general, Virchow’s sentence is valid: only life from life. — However, the sentence: soul only from soul does not yet find belief even today. But as knowledge has advanced to the insight that life can only originate from life, science takes over the sentence: no soul comes from something without soul. — Then one also looks down at the limited science of our days as it happens today in regard to the opinion of Redi’s contemporaries. We stand with regard to the soul on the same standpoint as the scientists of the 17th century with regard to life. According to the present-day view the spiritual is said to develop from life only; the soul is said to come from the animal being just like that. With compassionate smile one will look down at this view in later times as one smiles today at the view that life comes from something without life. The soul did not grow up from the very basis of the mere life; the soul arose from something spiritual. As life only seizes the form of the animal to present itself, the soul once touched the animal form to spread out. Our knowledge is woven into the current of the external reality, and in doing so we forget what should occupy us mostly. The soul is endlessly close to us. We ourselves are it. If we look into ourselves, we see the soul. This is hard to understand for the human beings. Our observation is directed predominantly to that which is outside us. But should that be closer to us than that which we are ourselves?
The human beings realise the external research today, they are strange to themselves. Why do the human beings understand the truth of the external research so easily and ignore what is the next to them? Nevertheless, the soul is closer and more familiar to them. Any natural phenomenon has only to take the way through the senses. These change and often fake the picture. The colour-blind sees the colours in a different way than they are real. And apart from such exceptional phenomena, we know that all eyes are different; not two human beings see the colours in the identical nuances. According to the eye of the seeing human being, to the ear of the hearing one, the impressions are different. But we ourselves are our souls; we are able to look for it at every moment. It is peculiar that on this knowledge the influence of a great poet is based, namely: how much closer do our souls touch us than everything that is outside us. Tolstoy’s emotionalism is based on this knowledge stupefying him. From this view he goes into battle against culture, fashions, and moods.
We do not see our soul only because we have not got used to considering it in its own figure. Today our confidence in the material is invigorated, whereas our ways of thinking have become dull for the soul. Even those who do not adhere to religions make themselves comfortable with researching. Goethe is quoted with preference to their justification. One should think only as little as possible and do research. “Feeling is everything; name is but sound and smoke.” With these words by Goethe one wants to disprove the reasons of the soul researchers. Everybody should find everything in his feeling; one believes to remain preserved in a lack of clarity, disregarding the reasons. One seems to take a kind of lyrical approach for the most suitable concerning the soul. Because everybody is so near to the soul, he believes to be able to understand everything out of feeling.
Should these really be Goethe’s own views which he allows to pronounce Faust in these words? The dramatist must have the right to let his persons speak out of the situation. If these words which Faust uses towards the childish Gretchen were his creed, why Goethe would let Faust explore all wisdom of the world? “Have now, oh! Philosophy” et cetera. It would be a strange denial of his researching, of his doubtfulness. If we wanted to resign ourselves with nothing else than unclear feelings concerning the soul, would we not resemble to a painter who offers no clear outlines, no copy of that in his picture what he has seen outside, but would be content to express his feeling only? No, the soul cannot be explained by uncertain feeling. Theosophy wants to announce real scientific wisdom and turns just as little exclusively to the feeling as science does it if it explains electricity. Not wallowing in feelings theosophy tries to further the cognition of the soul. No, it turns to frank striving for knowledge. The own soul leads somebody, who tries to investigate it, to those who sat at the feet of the Masters.
Since the Theosophical Society was founded in 1875, it has nurtured real science of the soul. It wants to teach the human beings to behold the soul. Today everybody wants to talk about soul and mind without having taken care seriously to recognise them. Everybody likes to disregard the difficulties which bar his way, therefore, the most dilettantish attempts spread. Theosophy wants to help those who thirst for mental wisdom, and wants to do psychology as seriously as one investigates nature scientifically. These are the difficulties which oppose the soul researcher today where everybody who has not studied them is not allowed to talk about natural sciences; however, everybody is allowed to talk about the soul who has not investigated it.
Of course, the method of investigating is different. The scientist works with physical apparatuses. Using them, he penetrates deeper and deeper into the secrets of nature. The word applies to the soul research that the secrets can be disclosed neither with levers nor with screws. The more the field of observation extends, the more natural sciences can progress. These observations only require the usual healthy human reason. But what the researcher uses of reason in the laboratory is not substantially different from that which is also necessary in business or technology, it is only a little more intricate; however, it is no other procedure.
The spiritual truth deals not only with the healthy human mind; it turns to other forces which rest in the depth of the human soul. It requires a development of the cognitive faculties. The possibility of this development always existed. The origin of all religions goes back to them. Everything that Buddha, that Confucius, that all the great founders of the different religions taught goes back to this deeper spiritual truth. At the moment when the human race was there in such a way as it still exists, the soul was there also, and it could be investigated developing the cognitive faculties.
It was less necessary to extend knowledge than to develop the internal cognition to behold what rests in the soul. In the fields of the external sciences everybody depends on the time in which he lives. Aristotle, the great scholar of antiquity, could not do some scientific observations in the 4th century B. C. which are possible only today with the help of modern natural sciences. But the soul was there always as something complete, and today one stands more distant to this knowledge only than our ancestors in the dim antiquity because one does not want to investigate the own soul. The Theosophical Society is there to develop this good will. Doing this it does nothing new. This has happened at all times. But as it is easier to investigate what presents itself us physically, soul and mind are also more difficult to recognise and not so easily accessible and to everybody violent. But already in grey antiquity the human beings have observed this multi-formity, this composite character of the soul.
What is the soul? As long as we believe that the soul is something that only lives in the body and leaves it then again, we cannot get knowledge of the soul. No, it is something that is active in us and lives and penetrates all performances of the body. It lives in the movement, in the breathing, in the digestion. But it is not steady in all our activities.
We have arisen from a small cell, like the plant arises from the seed. And like the plant builds itself from the organic forces, from the germ, the human being also develops from organic forces, from the small gametes. He forms the organs of his body as the plant forms its leaves and flowers, and the growth of the human being is the same as that of the plant. Therefore, the old researchers also attributed a soul to the plant. They spoke of the plant soul. They found that the human beings have this activity of building the organs in common with all plants. What builds up all the organs in the human being is something that corresponds to the plant soul. They called it the vegetative soul and regarded the human being as related to nature, to everything organic. The first that forms the human being is something plant-like, hence, one considered the plant soul as the first level of the soul. It created the human organism. It built our body with its limbs, eyes, ears, and muscles, it built our whole body. We resemble the plant concerning growth and structure of our body like every organic being.
If we only had the plant soul, we would not advance beyond the only organic life. But we possess the ability of percipience, of feeling. We suffer pain if we pierce one of our limbs with a needle, while the plant remains untouched if a leaf is pierced. That points to the second level of the soul, to the animal soul. It gives us the abilities of sensing, desiring and moving, what we share with the whole animal realm and call it, therefore, animal soul.
That is why we get the possibility to grow not only like the plants, but to become the mirror of the whole universe. The vegetative soul induces us to take up the substances which form the organism, the animal soul moves us to take up the subordinated soul-life. The sentient life is based on desire and pain. As our vegetative soul could not develop organs if there were not substances around us in the world, also the animal soul can scoop the feeling, the desire only from the world of desires, of the impulses around us. Like without the driving force of the germ no plant could develop from its seed, just as little an animal-like being could originate if it could not fill its organs with impressions if it could not fill his life with desire and pain. Our vegetative soul constructs the organic body from the material world. From the world of desires, the world of kama or the kamaloka, the animal soul takes up the materials of desire in it. If the body were lacking the ability to take up desires in it, then desire and pain would stay away from the plant soul forever. Nothing originates from nothing.
The human being has the soul of desires in common with the animal. The naturalists are right to ascribe the lower soul qualities also to the animal. It concerns, however, a difference of the level. The miraculous facilities of the bee state and the ant state, the dens of the beavers whose regular arrangement corresponds to intricate mathematical calculations prove it. But also in other way the soul increases in the animal up to something similar to the human reason. Technical skills as the human being practices them consciously can be aroused particularly with our pets by training. However, a big distance is present; there is only a dim sensing with the lowest animals, the most developed animals have something like reason to a high degree.
Now this third level of the human soul-life forms the intellectual soul. We would get stuck in the animal realm if we only had an animal soul as we would not advance beyond the plant if we had a vegetative soul only. That is why the following question is so important: does the human being not really differ from the higher animals? Is there no difference?
Somebody, who puts this question to himself and checks it unreservedly, finds that the mind of the human being, nevertheless, towers all animals. If the Pythagoreans wanted to prove the higher soul of the human beings, they emphasised that only the ability of counting would be given to them. Even if anything similar is found with certain animals, the immense difference comes clearly to the fore between animal and human being, because we deal with an original ability of the human soul organs, whereas it is training with the animal.
Because the human being can count, he differs from the animal, but also because he advances beyond the animal and the immediate need. No animal advances beyond the immediate need of the temporal and the transient. No animal rises to the real and true, beyond the immediate sensory truth. The sentence that two times two is four must apply at any rate, may the transient truth of the senses lose their validity under other circumstances. May beings live on the planet Mars of which kind ever, may they hear the tone by means of their ears differently, may they perceive colours differently, all thinking beings on all planets must equally accept the correctness of the calculation two times two is four. What the human being gains from his soul, is valid for all times. It was valid for millions of years and will be valid in millions of years because it is descended from the imperishable.
Thus the imperishable part in us which makes us citizens of eternity rests in our transient part, in the animal-like part. As the animal soul is built from the substances of kama, the higher mind soul builds itself from the spiritual realm.
Nothing comes into being from nothing. Aristotle, the master of those who had knowledge who was, however, no initiate, arrives at the concept of miracle where he speaks of the spiritual. He constructs the body strictly lawfully from nature, but he lets the soul come into being every time anew by a miracle of the creator. The soul is a creation from nothing for Aristotle. A new creation is every soul also for the exoteric Christianity of the later centuries. However, we do not want to assume the perpetual miracle of soul creation. Like the origin of the vegetative soul has resulted from the plant, that of the animal soul from the world of the instinctual life, the mind soul has to come into being — unless nothing has to originate from nothing — from the spiritual of the world. We are led to the spirit, to the soul of the universe as Giordano Bruno expresses it in his works: by the organic forces of the universe and the soul forces of the universe.
Why do we all have a particular soul? Why does every soul have its particular qualities? Science explains the particular qualities of the animals by means of natural development of a species from a species. But every animal species still carries qualities in itself which point to its origin from other animal species.
The spiritual soul can develop only from something individual-spiritual. Just nobody would think that a lion originated directly from the cosmic forces of the universe, as absurd it would be to suppose that the individual soul developed from the general spiritual contents of the universe, from the spiritual reservoirs of the universe. Theosophy stands there on the ground which just corresponds to a scientific view. As sciences let a species develop from a species theosophy lets a soul develop from a soul. It also lets the higher arise from subordinated.
The single soul develops from the universal soul like the animal formed from the general animal principle. According to the soul principle a soul comes into being from a soul. Every soul is a result of a soul and is again cause of a soul. The soul which itself is eternal rises from the eternal origin. Theosophy goes back to the so-called third human race with whose appearance the higher soul element could come to the fore as an impact in the organic. One calls this human race the Lemurian one. Prior to this, the soul element was in the animal. For also the animal world comes from the soul element. It has only taken hold of the animal to fulfil its functions. From there it works from soul to soul.
Hence, education means to develop what rests as an individual in the human being. The first principle of education is to wake this higher soul element resting in every human being. With the animals the single animal coincides with the concept of the genus; a tiger is on a par with the other tiger in any essential part. However, one is not justified to regard a human being as of the same kind as the other human being. The soul of every human being differs from that of the other human being. In order to arouse the soul element in the human being, the art of education must also be different for any individual human being. Because the awakening of the soul forces was the beginning of any education, higher beings had to be there when that third human race rose to spiritual life. The soul did not develop from wildness, from ignorance. Millions of years ago, when the human beings rose from the only impulsive condition, it did not happen by itself, but by the great teachers helping this human race.
There must also be great teachers who tower above humankind surrounding them, who draw them up to a higher point of view. Also today there are teachers who tower above the present knowledge who reproduce the soul germ. I discuss in an additional talk where these teachers come from. One has known about these leaders of humankind at all times. One of the most excellent philosophers, Schelling, who himself was no theosophist, speaks in one of his often misunderstood works also of them.
These great teachers who can give information about the spiritual who are experts of the soul element whose wisdom is of etheric kind, is a mental cognition, they have supported and led humankind. The Theosophical Society wants to lead the human beings again to these soul researchers. In their middle are these who can give information about the nature of the soul. They cannot come to the fore in the world, they cannot say: accept our truth, because the human beings would not understand their language. The great truth is hidden to most people. The task of the Theosophical Society is to lead the human beings to the sources of wisdom. We have these goals in luminous clearness before us.
Our era has advanced so delightfully far that it denies the existence of the own soul. The task of our movement is to give back this era the confidence in itself and in the eternal and imperishable in us, in the divine core of our being.