Death and Immortality
Berlin, 26 October 1911
If I speak about death and immortality today, it may seem, as if at first such a consideration is caused in the personal needs of the human soul, which have little do with knowledge, with science. If you survey the series of spiritual-scientific talks that I have held, you yet realise that I applied a scientific standard to the considered objects already, even if a spiritual-scientific standard. Hence, the today's consideration does also not start from that what we find within our emotional life, within our longings and wishes towards a life that exceeds the life of the physical body. It will rather concern this: how has human knowledge to position itself to the questions of death and immortality completely in the sense, as this knowledge positions itself to other objects of our knowledge? Since if we abstain from the longing for a life which exceeds the bodily if we abstain from that what is to be understood possibly in the sense of concepts like fear of death and the like, we have the question of the nature of our whole human individuality in it as something that remains for the human knowledge regarding death and immortality.
But it may seem today, as if in case of all considerations of spiritual life these important questions of death and immortality are disregarded. Since if one takes one of the official psychologies, you find, indeed, the phenomena of the soul life discussed in detail. However, as far as they face us in the everyday life, for example, the question of the development of concepts, the question of memory, of perception, of attention and the like, but you will look in vain for a discussion about the real being of our soul life. Yes, you can find the prejudice just in most scientific circles this soul life that someone must be a dilettante who wants to put these questions as scientific ones.
But this scientific thinking has now to turn to roads different from the usual ones if it wants to consider issues like death and immortality. There that psychology is no longer enough which one calls “psychology without soul,” a psychology with which only the phenomena of the soul life should be considered, without looking at the real being of that what rests in our own individuality and whose expression the phenomena of the soul experiences are. Now spiritual science or anthroposophy is an unusual point of view regarding these as well as other questions.
Indeed, the questions of death and immortality have emerged like from dark depths of spirit already since more than one century from the Western cultural life. One has interpreted it always as a dream of single persons if it appeared with a great spirit, as for example with Lessing. One regarded it as a meaningless dream if it appeared with such men whose names are called less within the cultural life of the last decades. Concerning the questions of death and immortality spiritual science is also not in any opposition to natural sciences. Only the opinion is often spread, as if natural sciences must reject what spiritual science has to say for its part. Thus, we can experience that whenever something new appears, as it happened, for example, in the last decade with the problems of life, one points to the fact that the assumption of a real spiritual life that exceeds the only bodily, material life must be overcome gradually and completely. Spiritual science is not forced at all to deny something that appears, for example, in such discussions like in that by Jacques Loeb (1859–1924, German-American biologist) at the First Monists' Congress (Hamburg, 1911) about the problem of life. However, spiritual science has to hear repeatedly, as well as at that time, that it is over now with a spiritual-scientific consideration. For one can hope that one will succeed, finally, in the laboratory in producing life under outer material conditions.
Compared to all such matters I would like to remind you of one thing. There were times when one did not doubt really that one could once create life in the laboratory. People who have thought something to themselves with the representation of the Homunculus in the second part of Goethe's Faust and have remembered that this representation of Homunculus was really a kind of dream of the physical research of the Middle Ages and earlier times. That means that the creation not only of subordinated living beings, but also of the highest, the human being in the laboratory was a dream of the naturalists once. People who cherished this dream intended by no means that then the spirit had to be abolished from any consideration of humanity and the world.
No spiritual consideration of life contradicts the hope of producing life from the composition of outer substances. No, only the direction of the habitual ways of thinking matters. The habitual ways of thinking that develop with someone who immerses himself more and more in spiritual science show a view of a certain factor exceeding the material in the development of the human being and humanity.
The purely materialistic view of the human life says: there we see a human being entering the earthly existence, and we observe how the material processes happen this and that way, and we see the human being gradually growing up from a clumsy being to a human being who familiarises himself with life, can accomplish tasks of life. Moreover, we see descending processes after ascending ones as it were which lead gradually to the dissolution of the physical body or to death.
This materialistic consideration of life turns its attention solely to what one can reach with the senses and with methods of thinking and researching which are based on sensory views. There one is probably forced to exceed that what is given with the moment of birth or conception, because one cannot explain everything that appears in the human being if one pays attention only to those factors that prevail between birth or conception and death. Then one speaks of hereditary factors. However, as far as one remains within the purely material approach, one believes that all factors, all elements that should explain the human life consist only of that what one can observe between birth and death, or what comes into the human life by the inherited qualities of the parents or other ancestors.
However, as soon as people investigate this heredity, they realise that it is rather superstitious to lead back everything that the human being can realise in his life possibly to hereditary factors. Just in the last decade a brilliant historian, Ottokar Lorenz (1832–1904), tried once to examine families whose descent relations were known to what extent the qualities of the parents, grandparents and so on can be recognised in the lives of the descendants. However, he could get on this way of the purely experiential observation to nothing but to say, if one looks up in the line of ancestors, one finds that among the twenty to thirty ancestors whom everybody can count upwards human beings are who were either genii or idiots, wise men or fools, musicians or other artists, so that one can find all qualities, which are found with any human being, and that one does not come far in the reality if one clings to the prejudices of scientific theories if one wants to explain these or those hereditary factors, this or that expression of the human character, this or that quality.
Spiritual science adds a spiritual core to that what one can find in the line of heredity as conditions of the human life, which we cannot find in that which we search with the parents, grandparents and so on, but which we have to search within a supersensible spiritual world. So that in the course of the incarnation process something combines with the physical factors that is not physical that is of spiritual kind. This spiritual that one cannot see with physical eyes is that being that we carry in us as the result of our former lives on earth as one says. As it is true that we lead back our physical origin to our ancestors, we have to lead back a spiritual origin to a spiritual lineage, that means, to ourselves. Spiritual science is just forced to speak not only of one life on earth of the human being, but of repeated lives on earth. Indeed, one has to go far back for reasons that may become obvious in the course of these talks if we want to search our being in our previous life. So we say in the spiritual-scientific sense: we bring our essence with us from a former life, we have experienced this former life, and we have gone through death and then through a life between death and our appearance in this life.
Spiritual science is also forced to imagine this essence going through death and a supersensible life between death and a new life on earth. This essence is not a product of the material existence, but collects and forms the matter as it were, so that we receive this physical corporeality. Hence, we speak in spiritual science of repeated lives on earth. This idea of the repeated lives on earth faces us necessarily from the Western thinking first with Lessing (Gotthold Ephraim L., 1729–1781) in the work which he left as his testament, in the Education of the Human Race. There he says about this teaching: “even if it is the oldest one what the human beings have confessed to, must it not appear again at the summit of the human development?” In his Education of the Human Race Lessing also answers to some questions that can be objected the repeated lives on earth. Indeed, if such things appear with an excellent person, then people who judge this excellent spirit normally say: he performed great achievements, but later he became addicted to this strange dream of the repeated lives on earth, and one has to grant the great Lessing that he could also commit this strange mistake. — Thus, every little spirit feels called to condemn the great spirits with their “terrible mistakes.” Nevertheless, this idea did not let single persons of the nineteenth century rest, and even before the recent Darwinist natural sciences approached, the idea of the repeated lives on earth appears as a necessity of the human thinking again. Thus, it faces us in a book by Drossbach (Maximilian D., 1810–1884) about human rebirth, a somewhat confused book from our standpoint, but an attempt that allows itself just compared with scientific thinking to represent this idea. Soon afterwards, a little community was to be found which put a prize on the best writing about the immortality of the soul, and the prize winning writing by Widemann (Gustav W., 1812–1876) which was published in 1851 dealt with the problem of immortality from the standpoint of reincarnation. Thus, I could still state many a thing how the thinking has gradually induced many persons to consider this idea of reincarnation.
Then the scientific view of the human being came that was based on Darwin. At first, it considered the human being materialistically, and it will consider it still this way for a long. But if you take my book Theosophy or other books which are written in the spirit of spiritual science and natural sciences at the same time, you will realise that the scientific thinking — thought through to the end — imposes the necessity to the human being to think of the idea of incarnation. Nevertheless, it is not only this. I would like to show not only a logical consequence, but also that, indeed, the human being must come to the idea of reincarnation on basis of the same principle which prevails in natural sciences, namely of the principle of experience. However, another question arises there, is anybody able to collect experiences of that what should come in from supersensible worlds what should produce the human body and leave this body at death again?
One can realise cursorily still without spiritual-scientific foundations that something mental works on the outer body of the human being; but one does not like such considerations particularly today. If the human beings looked more exactly at the physiognomy of the human being in its different sculptural forms if one also looked at the facial play, at the gestures, which are individual with every human being, at the creative spirit, one would soon get a sensation how the spirit is internally working on the body.
Observe a human being who has been working on the big questions of life for about ten years, namely in such a way, as one does it in the outer science or philosophy where one reflects on these matters without having to say a lot. On the other side, observe a human being who has dealt with these issues so that they have become inner problems to him, so that they have taken him in states of the highest bliss, but also to the highest pains and the deepest tragedy. Consider a human being who deals with the questions of knowledge, and look at him, after he has led such a soul life for ten years, and you will realise how this work expresses itself in his physiognomy, how, indeed, the humanely mental works into the forms of the body. May one pursue now by certain methods such working on the outer physical body further to that point where not only certain forms of our face are changed in such a way that into them the character of the soul life is pressed, but where the indefinite form which the human being has at first becomes his completely elaborated figure?
It is necessary that the human being leads his soul life beyond the point where it is in the everyday life today. He has to learn to seize the supersensible in himself, that which is accessible to no outer observation. Then every human being can find both points by mere reflection, so to speak, where our life directly finds the supersensible.
These two points are the transitions from the wake state to sleep and again from sleep to the wake state. Since nobody should think so illogically that the human soul life stops with falling asleep and comes again into being with awakening. Our soul life must be in any state of existence in sleep, it must be somewhere to put it another way. The big question emerges which maybe the child puts that is justified for someone who gets involved with the questions of knowledge, namely the question: where does the soul go when the human being falls asleep? We see also other processes stopping, we see, for example, a burning candle going out. May one also ask there, where to does the fire go? Then we say, the fire is a process that stops if the candle goes out, and which begins again if it is kindled again. — May we compare the bodily process of the human being to the candle and say: the soul life is a process that goes out if the human being falls asleep in the evening, and is kindled in the morning when he awakes again? It seems perhaps to be in such a way, as if one could use this comparison. However, this comparison becomes impossible if, indeed, one could prove that not for the usual perception or sensation, but for a sensation to be attained by careful soul preparation that can face us which leaves our body with falling asleep and visits us with awakening again. If this is in such a way that while falling asleep not only a process takes place like a going out flame, but if we can pursue what leaves the body in the evening while falling asleep and visits it in the morning again if we can prove this process in its reality, then a supersensible inside the human being exists. Then one asks us this supersensible: how does it work within the body?
Even the famous naturalist Du Bois-Reymond (Emil Du B.-R., 1818–1896) pronounced the thought that one can understand the sleeping human being from the standpoint of natural sciences, but not the waking one in whom impulses, instincts, passions and so on surge up and down. You can read that what I have outlined today only briefly, more in detail in my writing How Does One Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds?I have described the methods there which we want to touch now briefly by which the human being gets around to getting to know the reality of that what leaves the body in sleep, and what with the awakening goes into him again. At first, we want to ask attentive soul viewers who have got a certain ability to listen to these important moments like falling asleep and awakening.
There we hear them saying what spiritual science can confirm absolutely that at first that changes what exists with sharp contours in the surroundings into something nebulous, into blurred forms. Then the falling asleep feels, as if his whole inner being is extended and does no longer depend on the forms of his skin; this is connected with a certain feeling of bliss. Then a strange moment occurs in which the human being can feel everything like in a brief vision that he has accomplished as satisfying moral things; this faces him vividly, and he knows that these are contents of his soul, he feels being in them. Then a jerk happens as it were, and the human being still feels: oh, this moment could last forever! — Some people just have this sensation who pay attention to the moment of falling asleep. The consciousness has disappeared.
The human being goes over to an inner essentiality at such a moment where the outer body plays no role, because the daily strain tires him. One feels as if the reality of the mental is scurrying. All methods of spiritual science which we can call experimental ones spiritual-scientifically consist in nothing but that the human being receives the inner power to keep that which is disappearing so that he can experience the moment of falling asleep completely consciously. The consciousness is kept. Since why does the consciousness dwindle while falling asleep? Because the human being cannot unfold that inner strength and willpower in the usual life to experience something else when the outer senses leave him. Let us ask ourselves, how much we experience in the usual life within the soul what is not stimulated by the outer impressions? There is a little left with most human beings surely. No wonder that the inner strength does not exist which can penetrate the soul-life and that is left by any outer experience at the moment, when it steps out while falling asleep. Any spiritual development is based on the penetration of our soul with the strength that the soul needs to receive the consciousness unless it receives it from the body. Meditation, concentration, and contemplation are experimental means to advance farther with the soul life than one can come in the usual life. I would like to bring in one example only.
Assuming that a human being can put a thought of benevolence or of something else in the centre of his experience and can exclude all the other thoughts, also those which one can get with the senses, to hold on this one thought only. Since the thoughts fly to the human being at such a moment as the bees fly to the flowers if one stands within the usual life. However, if one can have the strength to exercise concentration of thinking repeatedly, to practice meditative immersion, as soon as one can become free of the mere outer impressions, and delves repeatedly into pictorial thoughts which express something allegorically, then such a thought can startle the human soul-life, so that it becomes a stronger force than the human being normally has. Then such a human being falls asleep consciously, that means he experiences consciously that he grows with his soul life into a spiritual world. This is no dream, also no self-deception or self-suggestion, but something that is accessible, indeed, to every human being, but is to be reached only with care and energy. The human being can free himself completely from his physical corporeality. As he frees himself, otherwise, in sleep unconsciously from it, and as every human being is in sleep beyond the physical body, he will consciously live by such exercises in that what exists usually unconsciously beyond the human being. Briefly, the human being can experience a relief of his soul from the physical corporeality with soul exercises.
Indeed, one can always hold against such a representation that is based on inner experience: this is based on deceit! Nevertheless, whether it is based on deceit or on reality, this can be decided only by experience. Hence, I have to say repeatedly: what the human being believes to experience this way can absolutely be self-suggestion, for how far does the human being go self-deception! He can go so far that if he thinks, for example, only of a soda he already has its taste on the tongue. Something may well give the impression, as if it were perception of a spiritual world, but still it can be self-deceit. Hence, someone who does such exercises and makes his soul the experimenter must take all means to eliminate illusions. Nevertheless, in the end only the experience decides. Certainly, somebody can suggest the taste of a soft drink to himself, but it is another question whether he can quench his thirst with it.
There is the possibility to experience as reality what is in sleep beyond the physical body. How does one experience it? So that the human being makes his soul more and more independent and gets to know a quite new supersensible world. Indeed, he starts getting to know a world of spiritual light. Then something particular turns out there. The human being who otherwise does not consider his thoughts and mental pictures as realities takes them along when he leaves his body with his soul really. He loosens his conceptual life from all materiality, and this conceptual life experiences a transformation when the human being becomes free of his physical body. What I say now appears to materialistic minded people like daydreaming, even so it is reality. Our mere thoughts change into a world which we can compare — but only compare, it is different — with a propagating light with which we find the underlying cause of the things. So you get to the world in which you detach the thinking that is bound, otherwise, to the tool of the brain and submerge with your thinking in a newly appearing world. This expresses itself in the way that you feel more and more enlarged. You get to know a world of which the outer physical-sensory world is only a revelation. Spiritual beings, not atoms, form the basis of the outer sensory world, and we can penetrate as human beings into this spiritual world. So we are accepted by such a spiritual world as it were if we carry out this self-experiment in our soul.
We only attain a complete knowledge of the relation of this spiritual world to us human beings if we can also spiritually experience the moment of awakening. This is possible when the human being contemplates a lot about his inner life in meditation and concentration. For example, he can review that pictorially every morning or evening what he has experienced during the day or the day before to consider it contemplating or he contemplates his moral impulses and takes stock of himself. Then the human being gets around to experiencing the reverse moment consciously by such exercises where we submerge in our bodies that we experience, otherwise, unconsciously while awakening.
Then he experiences something that I can characterise only in the following way. You all may know that a healthy quiet sleep depends on our emotions. If the human being has thought ever so much, has exerted itself ever so much in his thinking, he falls easily asleep. But if anger, shame, remorse, and in particular a troubled conscience gnaw at him, he tosses and turns sleepless in bed. Not our thinking which we can carry over to the big spiritual world but our emotions can drive away the sleep.
Our emotions are associated with our soul life in the narrower sense. We share our thoughts with the world. The way in which our emotions just affect us is something intimately connected with what we ourselves are. Somebody who has learnt now in such a way to free his soul consciously from his body, also gets clear from immediate observation how he carries his emotions into the world into which he enters if he has become free of body. As blissful it makes us on one side to submerge in a world of spiritual light, free of the body, as much we feel chained in this world to our emotions gnawing at us. With it then we go into the spiritual world and have to carry it again into our body. However, by the mentioned exercises we find our emotional world again while submerging in our bodies. It faces us as something strange. We get to know ourselves submerging in our emotional world, and thereby we get to know, while we pursue it now consciously, what works in truth killing on our organism. I note here that I speak about death in a later talk that has a quite different meaning considering it with plants or animals than with the human being. Spiritual science does not take the easy way out to find these phenomena identical in the three realms if we pursue that consciously what has become the possession of our soul that it settles in our physical body and can work destroying in it. Then we get to know how our innermost being really forms the body while it combines with that what comes from father and mother and from the other ancestors as hereditary factors. There we see the human being entering in the physical life, we see him entering clumsily at first. He cannot yet speak; then we see the forms becoming more and more certain and see him becoming an active human being gradually.
Considering the whole development of the human being spiritual-scientifically, we realise how an inner essence develops and this forms the human being working on the body from the spiritual from birth or conception on. We find the same essence that works creatively on the body if we can pursue how it leaves the body and penetrates into a spiritual world. There we find two things: an element that enables us to pour out our own being like in a spiritual world of light; but we also find something in this essence that we must bring into this spiritual world, namely our emotional world, that is everything that we have got to know in life. In these two things we have on one side what is creative in the human being what leaves the body as our spiritual essence, goes through death and appears again in a new body after an interim and on the other side we have our emotions which we get to know by the spiritual-scientific view as a real being as that what destroys our body and leads to death.
Therefore, we realise how our spiritual essence enters in existence, builds up the body gradually, and we see this essence working the strongest in the first months where we do not yet have an inner soul life where we do not yet think. There we see the human being entering existence sleeping as it were. If we try to remember, we can come back to a certain point, not farther. We have slept into existence as it were. Only from the third, fourth years on the human being can feel as an ego. The reason is that the spiritual essence of the human being is busy forming the body at first. Then he comes to a point where the body has to grow only, and from then on the human being can use what flowed once in his body for his soul life which works within the physical body constantly in such a way that we take up the necessity of death at that time, where we start saying “I” to ourselves, up to which we can remember later where we begin an inner life.
What do we receive with this necessity of death? We receive the possibility to take up the outer world, to enrich our inside being perpetually, so that we become richer in life every day. In that part of our being that we carry in sleep into the spiritual world that forms our soul being everything is contained that we get as joys and sorrows, as pleasure and pain. While we live and develop a consciousness, we have the possibility for our inner essence to enrich it perpetually. We take this enrichment along if we go through death, but we can have it only because we had to destroy our bodies throughout life. Our body is built as it has developed from the preceding life. However, we absorb something new perpetually that enriches our soul life. Nevertheless, this new can no longer penetrate completely into our physical body, but only up to a certain degree. That expresses itself by the fact that we feel the fatigue of yesterday removed; but it cannot completely penetrate into our body. What penetrates into our body cannot develop completely in the bodily.
We take the former example once again. A human being works on questions of knowledge for ten years. Thus, his physiognomy has changed after ten years if this activity has been a matter of his heart. However, his body limits this change. The desire to develop internally further may still exist; but, the later absorbed can no longer work into the body. Hence, we see, because the body puts a border, the richer inner life beginning when the soul has poured forth into the body. First, we see the physiognomy of such a human being changing — of a thinker, poet or artist; then only we see the rich spiritual life developing. Not before our outside world limits us, we develop so surely, but we can no longer carry into our physical bodies what we develop in ourselves because our body is built up according to that what we have got in a former life on earth. Therefore, we have to carry through death what we still get internally. This helps us to build up the next body, so that we have built only in a body of the next life what must destroy our present body.
A view presents itself there that fits into the scientific thinking, a view of what death and immortality means what the repeated lives on earth mean. There we realise if we change our physiognomy how the human being has built that into his body what he has got in former lives on earth. We see the results of our former lives in the developing body, and we see in that what we get now what stands in the way of our bodily, so to speak, as a spiritual, the developing elements of our future life.
Spiritual science regards the earthly life as something that is between something former and something following. The later considerations will show how our perspective increases to the times of our existence which the human being spends free of body in the supersensible worlds. In order that such matters would not remain pipe dreams, it is necessary that we look at the methods that enable the soul to perceive even if it lacks the physical brain. Only because the human being enables the soul to perceive that in the supersensible what must remain, otherwise, a mere assertion it becomes a proven reality.
Today we stand strictly speaking only at the beginning of a science that deals with such matters. Just many people consider themselves as the best experts of the matters, as the most enlightened ones and regard these matters as fantasies. I would not be surprised if anybody said, this is daydreaming that completely contradicts any scientific truth! — Nobody will find it more comprehensible than I do if anybody says this. But while the human beings become engrossed more and more in spiritual science, they realise that we can prepare our souls by meditation so that it can know about itself, can develop inner forces by which it can still know, can still perceive if it leaves the body and can no longer perceive with the organs of the body. This has to be found experimentally — one may say, it is to be found spiritual-experimentally — that the soul is something that one can experience if it can no longer use the bodily organs. It goes through births and deaths and works in such a way that it builds up the body that goes through death and collects new forces to build the body during the earthly existence. With the questions of the nature of the human being, you attain answers to the questions of death and immortality at the same time.
Goethe said once in an essay that nature invented death to have much life. Spiritual-scientific research proves such a notion to be true saying, in any life, the human being enriches his soul life; he must die because his respective body is built as an effect of his former lives on earth. While killing his body, he creates the possibility to work into in a new body what now he cannot work into his body and into the world.
Such a worldview influences our lives deeply. If it penetrates our whole being if it remains not only a theory, we feel such a truth only as a truth of life. Since we say to ourselves when we have crossed the middle of our lives when our hairs begin becoming grey and our faces get wrinkles: life is going downhill! — Why is it going downhill? Because that what the soul has got cannot be brought into the body. However, what we have gained internally, and what must destroy our present bodies is worked into a new body. Someone can argue easily: you spiritual researchers state that the human being becomes weak in old age, so you say that just with the body the mind dwindles away! — As this objection is a given, it is a given that one only admits that such a man does not think about that: from what is our present brain built? — It is built from our former lives! We must destroy our bodies and our brains with our thoughts. But the thoughts, which kill the bodies, are those, which use the brain. It is obvious that something must stop that is bound to a tool like the brain. However, our spiritual being does not stop with it. That is why it occurs that we do no longer find the tools in ourselves to realise what we have appropriated in the present life if the human being moves in downward direction. Then this yet works in a soul life which is not bound to the brain, and which cannot be expressed by cerebral thoughts. This prepares itself to act creatively in the next life. One says it not only in Goethe's sense that nature invented death to have much life — but we have also to say, death is there to work out that in new forms what we acquire internally in life. In this sense, we can say if we see the age approaching: thank God, that life can go downward, that death can be! Since if it did not exist, we could not take up what flows towards us from the world in such a way that it forms us. We need death, so that we can make that what we experience the contents of our own being. Hence, we regard death as that by which just life can advance. Hence, there is no better adviser than spiritual science; it is not only a comforter towards the fear of death, but it gives us strength, while we are walking towards death and see the outside dying. Since we know that then the inside grows. Spiritual science will raise the whole life to a higher level at which life seems meaningful and reasonable.
From the following talks will arise that life does not proceed endlessly forward and backward, but that also reincarnation has a beginning and an end. Now I would only like to point to it. From that which spiritual science has to say about death and immortality arises that we have the effects of our present life in a following life.
The complete human existence disintegrates into the existence between birth and death and into that between death and a new birth. There we see what Goethe felt in terms of the simple life extended to the whole life while we look back not only at the little yesterday, but also at the big yesterday where we made our present life. We look there at the joys or pains of life and feel: joy strengthens us for the future; we must experience grief for overcoming obstacles to strengthen ourselves also for the future. There we see a big contrast expanding in the future life and think of the Goethe's verses:
If yesterday is clear and accessible,
Happiness and optimism flow to us from the internally conceived spiritual science showing us: indeed, the spirit forms the material and survives while the material life is destroyed to reveal itself always anew, and which applies the newly acquired. I would like to summarise this for the purposes of the today's evening with the words:
While living the spirit shows