13 October 1904, Berlin
The talks on the basic concepts of theosophy should give a short outline of the world view and way of life which one normally calls theosophy. However, I have to say something in advance in order to prevent misunderstandings about this theosophy. Anybody could believe that the Theosophical Society or the theosophical movement propagates the world view which I will give as something dogmatic. This is not the case. What is reported in the Theosophical Society by single persons is a personal view, and the Theosophical Society should be nothing else as a union where such world views are cultivated which lead to the higher spheres of spiritual life; so that nobody should believe that theosophy means the propaganda of any dogmas.
Indeed, if today one speaks of ideological associations if one speaks of monistic or dualistic views, one understands by such associations or societies those which have united on account of any dogma unless they have committed themselves to any dogma whether it is a justified or an unjustified dogma. That does not apply to theosophy. However, one has to emphasise on the other side that only someone who has penetrated into the nature of the theosophical world view is able to represent his personal view of it.
For the theosophical world view is such that the individual human beings freely agree without committing themselves externally to a dogma. They not need to commit themselves because everybody who gets to know the facts must come to the same views. The differences between the single investigators are much slighter in these fields than in the fields of the sensuous-scientific investigation of the external facts. You will not hear if you really penetrate into these matters that this or that theosophist who really has the mastery over the method of the theosophical world view does not agree with any other in essential matters. For the errors do no longer happen which simply happen in the fields of the external sensuous facts if we ascend to the higher fields of existence. It is not possible that one theosophist produces this world view, the other theosophist another one. Only this is possible that the one is less advanced and can only represent a part of the theosophical world view. If he then believes that that which he has recognised is the whole of the world view, it may happen that he is apparently contradictory to those who are more developed. The theosophists standing on the same level will not be contradictory to each other.
Further I would like to emphasise in this introduction that it is a bad misunderstanding if one often supposes that the theosophical world view has to do anything with the propaganda of Buddhism or Neo-Buddhism as some like to call it. That is out of the question. When Mrs. Blavatsky, Sinnett and other theosophists spread the basic theosophical views, they got their first stimulation from the East, from India. From there the first great teachings came during the seventies. This was stimulation; but what are the contents of the view which lives within the theosophical movement is a common knowledge not only of all times, but also of all those human beings who have penetrated into these matters.
It would be wrong to believe that one must make a pilgrimage to India or become engrossed in Indian writings in order to get to know theosophy. This is not the case. You can find the same philosophies and the same theosophical teachings in all cultures. However, only in the Indian Vedanta nothing is dirtied as it were by the external sensory science. In certain way there has been preserved that core of the world view which has always lived as theosophy. So it does not concern Buddhist propaganda but a world view which everybody can get to know everywhere. Moreover, I would like to emphasise in particular that it has something strange, however, for the modern human being if he reads of the origin of this world view in theosophical books which were published in the beginning. Esoteric Buddhism by Sinnett was most spread and stimulated most people who have occupied themselves with it to continue their study of theosophy. In the first chapter of this book it is pointed to the great teachers from whom the theosophical teachings come. However, such a thing is a little bit unpleasant to the European civilisation. Nevertheless, it is for somebody, who thinks clearly and strictly, nothing that does not correspond with the generally accepted ideas. For who wanted to deny that among the human beings are more or less developed ones? Who wanted to deny the big distance between an African black and possibly Goethe? And why should there not be on this ladder upward still much more developed individualities?
It was basically only like a surprise that in our development really so advanced personalities are found as they are described in Sinnett's book. However, such personalities have a quite extraordinary knowledge, a universal wisdom. It would have been pointless to them appearing before the world. It is no strange idea if we say that the so-called masters are for us nothing else than great initiators in the spiritual fields. Indeed, their development goes far beyond the degree which the current culture offers. They are great initiators to us; however, they do not demand the belief in any authority, in any dogma. They appeal to nothing else than to the own human knowledge and give instructions how to develop forces and capacities using particular methods which exist in every human soul in order to ascend to the higher fields of existence.
So I give you an apparently personal view in the first talks, because I deliberately say nothing that I could not prove. On the other side, I have also convinced myself that that which I have to say that way absolutely corresponds with those who have represented the theosophical world view at all times and in particular with those who represent it today. They are like people who stand on different points and look at a city. If they draw a picture of the city, these pictures are somewhat different from each other, according to the perspective of the point of view in question. Also the world views are different which are described according to the own observations of the theosophical researchers, of course. But it is basically always the same. The world view, which I give, corresponds to the world views, which other theosophical researcher give. It absolutely corresponds and differs only in the perspective of the point of view.
In this talk, I will give a picture of the basic elements of the human being according to his physical and spiritual entity, at first in a more describing way. Then in the second talk, I move on to two essential concepts of the theosophical world view, on reincarnation or re-embodiment and on karma or on the big human destiny. Then in the following talks, I give a picture of the three worlds which the human being has to go through on his big pilgrimage from the physical world, which everybody knows, from the astral world, which not everybody knows which, however, everybody can get to know if he applies the corresponding methods in patient way and from the spiritual world, which basically the soul-being has to go through. Then I will give the theosophical world view on a large scale: origin and development of the world and of the human being, what one can call theosophical anthropology and theosophical astronomy. This is the plan.
Above all, the components of the human nature have to be clear to us. With a careful study which theosophy provides we get to know that of these components of the human being for the usual consideration only the first main part exists: the physical nature of the human being in the broadest sense of the word, that which we call body. The materialist considers this human body as the only component of the human being. The theosophical world view still adds two other components: what one has called soul at all times, and as the highest component the imperishable being of the human being, which has no beginning and no end in our sense of the word: the mind or spirit.
These are broadly the basic elements of the human being. Who learns to observe in the higher realms of existence learns to observe soul and spirit like the physical eye learns to observe the sensuous, the physical. Indeed, people have lost the consciousness and also the ability of observing in these higher psychic and spiritual realms to a large extent since the spreading of the pure sensory science in the West. It has remained restricted only to small circles. The last who spoke something of these higher fields of human observation from the podium was Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the great German philosopher. He still spoke in such a sense that one can recognise that he knew something about that which one can know. When he opened his talks in Berlin at the new-founded university he spoke quite differently than other professors of philosophy since the 17th century. He spoke so that one recognises: He does not only want to teach what one can understand with the reason, but he wants to point to the fact that the human being himself can develop that sensory perception is something secondary and that the human being can develop capacities in himself which simply do not exist in the everyday life. In the history of the German cultural development these lectures of Johann Gottlieb Fichte were epoch-making. Today, however, they can be important only for somebody who digs them out again. The following passage is unforgettable: “This teaching requires a totally new inner sense-organ with which a new world is given that does not exist for the everyday human being ... Imagine a world of blind-born to whom therefore only the things and their relations are familiar which can be touched. Go among those and talk to them about colours and about the other relations which exist only by the light for the sighted people. You talk to them of nothing, and this is the better case if they say it; for you will soon notice the mistake and stop speaking, unless you are able to open their eyes.”
The human beings should pay attention to the observation of soul and spirit. Theosophy is not at all in any contradiction to the generally accepted science. The theosophist does not need to deny only one of the tenets of modern science. All that holds good. Like people who are blind to blue can perceive everything that exists in yellow and red colour nuances, however, nothing in blue those who are spiritually blind cannot perceive soul and spirit. This becomes completely obvious if the blind person becomes sighted using appropriate methods. If he becomes sighted, a new world lights up around him which was there just as little for him as for the blue blind person the blue colour nuances were there, before he was able to see the blue beside the red after an ocular operation.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte knew that. The human beings also knew this in those times in which humanity was not yet dazed I do not say that in a reproving sense. The human beings of that time knew this, and with few of them the tradition was also kept always and the methods were developed. They knew that if one speaks of the entity of the human being one has to do it not only with the body, but that the soul can be also perceived, that the soul has laws and is also embedded in a world like the body. In higher sense it is also with the spirit. The human body is controlled by the same laws by which the other things round us are controlled. In the human body we have the same that we have in the physical world; we find the same chemical and physical laws also in the human body. This physical world is perceptible for the physical senses. It exists not only subjectively for the human being, but also objectively for his perception. The human being carries out his physical activity subjectively. He digests, he breathes, he eats and drinks, he carries out that internal physical activity of the brain which mediates the internal activity of thinking; briefly, the whole activity which biology, physics and the other physical sciences teach us is carried out by the human being. And one can also perceive that. If the human being faces his fellow man, he perceives immediately or by means of science what he is subjective, what he is also objective.
However, the human being is subjectively something higher; he is also a sum of feelings, of desires, of passions. Just as you digest, you feel, you long for. You are also that! A human being does not perceive this objectively under everyday circumstances. If he faces his fellow man, he does not see his feelings, desires and passions externally. If the human being were blind, he would not see a lot of physical activities. Only because he can carry out a physical sensory activity the physical-subjective is also objectively perceptible to him. Because he does not carry out a sensory soul-activity at first, the subjective part of the soul, the feelings, the desires, the passions exist subjectively in every human being. However, if he faces his fellow men, he cannot perceive this. He can develop his soul-eye to perceive the world of desires and passions in order to be able to perceive the soul objectively just as he has developed a physical eye to perceive the body activity.
We call this world the astral world or the soul-world in which the average human being lives today, indeed, without perceiving it. He can perceive it, however, if he develops the corresponding forces within himself using the appropriate methods. What our generally accepted psychology describes as soul is not what theosophy understands as soul-life, but only the external expression of it.
An even higher world than the astral one is the spiritual world. However, someone who is able to perceive the soul because his organs are opened to the soul cannot yet perceive the spirit in his environment. He can perceive the soul, but not the thought itself. The soul seer beholds desires and passions, but not the thinking, not the objective thoughts. Hence, those who cannot see the objective thought deny the objective thought generally. One did not understand Hegel when he spoke of the objective existence of the thought-world. And those who cannot perceive it are also right, of course, from their point of view if they deny it. However, they can say nothing else than that they do not see it, just as the blind-born states that he sees no colour.
Body, soul and spirit are the three basic elements of the human being. Every basic element has three components or graduations again. The body is not as simple as the materialistic researcher imagines. It is a composed thing which consists of three members or three components. The lowest, coarsest part is as a rule what the human being sees with his physical senses, the so-called physical body. This physical body has the same forces and laws in itself as the whole physical world round us. Modern natural sciences study nothing else of the human being than this physical body; for also our intricate brain is nothing else than a part of this physical body. The theosophist calls everything physical body that is room-fulfilling, what we can see with the bare eye or with the microscope, briefly, everything that is composed of atoms for the naturalist. This is the lowest component of the physical being. However, many researchers already deny the next member of the physical being, the etheric body. The term etheric body may not be the best. But it does not depend on terms. The fact that one denies the etheric body is only the result of modern scientific thinking. The denying of this etheric body is connected with a permanent scientific quarrel for a long time. I want to indicate provisionally only briefly what is to be understood by this etheric body. If you look at a mineral, a dead, lifeless body, and compare it with the plant, then you say to yourselves and all people have said this up to the turn from the 18th to the 19th century, because then the quarrel began because of the etheric body: the stone is lifeless, however, the plant is imbued with life. Theosophy calls etheric body what must be added, so that the plant is not a stone. This etheric body is probably better called life-force in future, because the etheric force or life-force is something that natural sciences have spoken of up to the 19th century. Modern natural sciences deny anything like the life-force or vital force.
Goethe has already mocked at those who do not accept that life requires something to its explanation that is higher than the lifeless. Everybody knows the passage in his Faust:
To understand some living thing and to describe it,
the student starts by ridding it of its spirit;
he then holds all its parts within his hand
except, alas! for the spirit that bound them together.
(Faust, verses 1936-1939)
Goethe meant the band of life-force. I have explained this case in my book Goethe's World View. Today there are some naturalists again who believe to not manage with the lifeless who assume at least anticipating what the theosophists call the etheric body. They are called neovitalists. I need to refer only to Hans Driesch (1867–1941, German biologist, representative of vitalism) and others to show how the naturalist comes again to this etheric body as something really existing, even if under another term. The farther natural sciences advance, the more they will also recognise that the plant already has such an etheric body, because, otherwise, it could not live. Also the animal and the human being have such an etheric duplicate body. That human being who develops the higher bodies can really observe this etheric body also with the simplest, most primitive organs of mental view. One only needs a quite simple trick; indeed, only the esoterically qualified theosophist can do it. You know the word suggestion. Suggestion consists in the fact that the human being can perceive things which are apparently not there. At first we are not interested in the suggestion with which one talks a person into believing something.
Another kind of suggestion is more important for us to behold the etheric body. Someone who has occupied himself with the theory of suggestion knows that the hypnotist is able to suggest things away from a person, so that he does not see the existing things. Imagine that a hypnotist would suggest to a person that here is no clock. Then the person concerned would see nothing here in the room. This is nothing else than diverting the attention to an unusual field, an artificial diverting of attention. Everybody can observe this process with himself. The human being is able to suggest away what is before him.
The theosophist must be able to carry out the following trick, and then he gets to the view of the etheric body: he has to suggest the physical body of an animal or a person away. If his spiritual eye is woken, then he does not see anything at that place where the physical body was, but he sees the room filled with particular colour pictures. This instruction must be carried out, of course, with the greatest care, because illusions of all sorts are possible in these fields. Who really knows with which care with which precision exceeding any scientific accuracy just the theosophical research is usually done knows about that. The room is fulfilled with luminous pictures. This is the etheric duplicate body. This luminous picture appears in a colour which is not included in our usual spectrum from infra-red to ultraviolet. It resembles possibly the colour of the peach-blossom. You find such an etheric duplicate body with every plant, with every animal, generally with every living being. It is the external, sensuous expression of that which the naturalist anticipates today again, of that which one calls vital force. Thus we have the second member of the physical body of the human being.
However, the physical body still has a third component. I have called it the soul-body. You can get an idea of it if you imagine that not any living body is also able to feel. I cannot enter into the discussion whether the plant can also feel, that is a different matter. You have to consider what one roughly calls feeling. We want to keep in mind how the plant differs from the animal. Just as the plant differs from the stone by the etheric body, the body of the animal is different as a feeling body again from the mere plant body. We call soul-body or astral body what goes in the animal body beyond mere growth and reproduction what makes sensation possible. In the physical body, in the etheric body and in the soul-body, the bearer of the sentient life, we only have the external side of the human being and the animal. Thus we have observed what lives in space.
Now we get to that which lives inside, what we call the feeling self. The eye has a sensation and leads it to that place where the soul can perceive the sensation. Here is the transition from the body to the soul if we ascend from the soul-body to the soul, to the lowest member of the soul which is called sentient soul. The animal also has a sentient soul, because it transforms to emotions, inner life or soul-life what the body prepares to it for sensation. The clairvoyant cannot separately perceive the soul-body and the sentient soul. These are, so to speak, inserted into each other and constitute a unity. Roughly one can compare what here forms a whole the soul-body as an external cover and the sentient soul within it with the sword in the scabbard. This forms a whole for the mental observation and is called kama-rupa or astral body in theosophy. The highest member of the physical body and the lowest member of the soul form a whole and are called astral body in the theosophical literature.
The second member of the soul encloses memory and the low reason. The highest member contains the consciousness in the proper sense. The soul as well as the body consists of three members. As the body consists of physical body, etheric body and soul-body, the soul consists of sentient soul, intellectual soul and consciousness-soul. Only someone can get the correct concept of it that develops the capacities which lead to the real beholding using the spiritual-scientific methods. What we feel of the things from without sticks to the sentient soul. What we call feeling, feeling of love, feeling of hatred, feeling of longing, so sympathy and antipathy, sticks to the second soul member, to the intellectual soul, to kama-manas. The third member, the consciousness-soul, is that which the human being can observe only in one single point. The child only has a consciousness of the two first soul members as a rule. It lives only in the sentient soul and in the intellectual soul, but it does not yet live in the consciousness-soul. In this consciousness-soul the human being starts living in the course of his childhood, and then this consciousness-soul becomes the self-conscious soul.
Those who know to observe their own lives well consider this point in their life as something especially important. You find this point described in Jean Paul's own biography (1763–1825, German Romantic writer), where he experiences the consciousness of the inner self. “Never will I forget the appearance in me not yet told to anyone where I stood at the birth of my ego-consciousness of which I can give place and time. In a morning, I stood as a very young child in the front door and saw on the left to a woodshed, when all at once the internal face: I am an ego! Like a thunderbolt from the heaven went before me and stood still luminously. There my ego had seen itself for the first time and for ever. Delusions of memory are hard to imagine, because no other stories could add anything to this occurrence which only in the veiled sanctum of the human being took place whose novelty only gave permanence to such everyday accidents.” Thus I have shown the highest member of the human soul to you.
Indeed, the clairvoyant can perceive the three members of the soul externally. Like the etheric body the three members of the soul really present themselves to the external soul observation. I already said that one cannot behold the sentient body and the soul-body separately. This higher part of the human being, the soul, shows itself in that which the theosophical literature calls aura. Who wants to have knowledge of it must learn to behold it. The aura is threefold. Three members are inserted into each other like three oval nebulous formations which wrap up and veil the human guise. In this aura, the soul-body of the human being presents itself to our observation. It gleams in the most manifold colours which can only be compared with the spectral colours. In these colours which are on the higher octave of red and violet the aura gleams in the most manifold way. The human being is embedded in this like in a cloud, and in this cloud the desires, passions and impulses of the human soul express themselves. The whole feeling organism of the human being expresses itself in the wonderful play of colours of the aura. This threefold aura is the human soul. This is the soul if one understands it objectively. Everybody can perceive it subjectively: everybody feels and desires and has passions. He lives them in such a way as he lives digesting and breathing.
But the external usual school of psychology only describes what I have called the soul-body, or it still describes the external expression of the soul-life at most, but not what theosophy regards as soul. What it understands of the soul is an objective fact. But one can indicate it as Fichte did when he called attention to the fact that in this world higher experiences exist toward which the only sensually perceiving human being is like a blind-born.
Thus we have described the three members of the human physical body and the three members of the human soul. Since the third member of the physical body forms a unity with a member of the soul, we have first two parts plus one plus two, so five parts: physical body, etheric body, soul-body, intellectual soul, consciousness-soul in which the ego lights up. This ego is a quite interesting point in the aura. At a certain place this ego becomes discernible. Within the outer oval you find a strange, blue shimmering or blue fluorescent place, also oval-shaped. It is real in such a way, as if you see a candle flame; but with the difference which the astral colours have compared with the physical colours it is in such a way, as if you see the blue in the middle of the candle flame. This is the ego which is perceived within the aura. And this is a very interesting fact.
If the human being develops ever so far, if he develops his clairvoyant capacities ever so far, at this point he sees this blue ego-body at first, this blue light body. This is an overcast sanctuary, also for the clairvoyant. Nobody is able to behold into the real ego of the fellow man. This remains a secret at first also for somebody who has developed his soul senses. Only within this blue shimmering place something new begins to gleam. There is a new flame which begins to gleam in the centre of the blue flame. This is the third member, the mind. This mind again consists of three members like the other components of the human being.
The Eastern philosophy calls these members manas, buddhi and atma. These three components are developed with the present-day human beings so that, actually, only the lowest part, the spirit-self this is the correct translation of manas is developed as a rudiment. This manas is connected as firmly with the highest member of the soul as the sentient soul with the soul-body, so that again the highest part of the soul and the lowest part of the mind form a whole because one cannot distinguish them. One just beholds in the aura the highest member of the soul in the centre of the blue shimmering place where the ego is, and one sees the mind lighting up within the ego. Today the mind is developed with humanity up to the manas. The higher parts, buddhi and atma life-spirit and spirit-man are developed as rudiments, and we will see how they will develop speaking about reincarnation and karma in the next lecture.
The highest part of the soul and the lowest part of the mind are bound together. The theosophical literature calls manas what cannot be observed separately. The two highest parts, buddhi and atma, are the core of the human being, are the immortal human mind. Thus we have three times three members of the human being whose third member is linked with the fourth one to a whole and whose sixth member with the seventh one. The notorious heptad, which you can read so often, thereby comes about in the composition of the human being. In reality, the human being consists of body, soul and mind and any member again of three parts; two times two members are combined to a whole so that seven instead of nine members result. The human being lives in the second of the three members, the higher one. He cannot perceive them with his outer senses.
I have already mentioned in the introductory talk that the theosophical literature gives not only a description of the different fields of life, but shows also the means and ways with which the human being can get the methods enabling him to perceive all that. However, a certain spiritual development is necessary to get a correct view of that which I have described just as the naturalist has to learn microscoping to gain insight into the physical nature. Everybody can get to know this; it is not the property of few favourite, but common property of everybody. Those who have got involved with the instructions of the Theosophical Society and have themselves come to these views can tell of their experiences like an Africanist tells of his experiences. These cannot be checked unless you yourselves go to Africa. However, the methods are normally not taken seriously enough. If that were carried out really and seriously which is given in the last chapter of my book Theosophy, then a person could come already very far in the observation of the higher fields of human mind.
Who can make a theosophical world view to himself understands something that he could not understand before in the usual course of life. In fact you cannot understand particular fields with Goethe unless you have any idea of theosophy. Only somebody understands Goethe's explanations of the plant realm who has an idea of that which Goethe calls life processes or metamorphosis of the plants. That Goethe was a theosophist follows from a “concealed” writing which exists, indeed, in every edition, however, is read by the fewest: from the Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. This contains the whole theosophy, but in such a way as the theosophical truths have always been communicated. Only since the foundation of the Theosophical Society they have been expressed externally; in former times they could be shown only figuratively. The Fairy Tale is such a pictorial expression of the theosophical teachings. In Leipzig Goethe gained insight into that world of which we speak profoundly. Something in Faust points to the fact that Goethe belonged to the initiated theosophists. Something is with Goethe like the creed of a theosophist. I would like to finish this lecture with Goethe's words which could be like a motto of this lecture because they announce in general lines and in terse style that the world is not only physical nature, but also a psychic and a spiritual being. And Goethe expresses the fact that the world is a spiritual being where he allows the earth spirit to say the words which reveal the weaving of the spiritual life all over the world:
In the tides of life, in action's storm,
I surge and ebb,
move to and fro!
as cradle and grave,
as unending sea,
as constant change,
as life's incandescence,
I work at the whirring loom of time
and fashion the living garment of God.
(Faust I, verses 501-509)