The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 27th September 1905
Today we will concern ourselves with three important ideas connected with parts of human nature. These may be said to form guiding threads through the entire world. They are as follows: Activity or Movement; Wisdom, which is also called Word, and thirdly Will. When we speak of activity we usually mean something very general. The esotericist however sees in activity the foundation of the whole universe as it surrounds us. The original form of the universe is for the esotericist a product of activity. What is seemingly completed is really a stage of continuous activity, a point in continuity. The whole world is in ceaseless activity. In reality this activity is Karma.
When speaking about man, we speak of his astral body as being Karma, as being activity. Actually the astral body is that part of the human being which is closest to him. What man experiences, so that he differentiates between well being and misfortune, happiness and sorrow, emanates from his astral body. Love, passion, joy, pain, ideals, duty, are bound up with the astral body. When one speaks of joy and sorrow, desires, wishes, etc., one is speaking of the astral body. Man continually experiences the astral body, but the seer perceives its form. This astral body is in continuous transformation. At first it is undifferentiated, so long as man has not yet worked upon it. In our time however man works upon it constantly. When he distinguishes between what is allowed and what is forbidden, he works into it out of his ego. Since the middle of the Lemurian Age until the middle of the Sixth Root-Race man works upon his astral body.
Why does man work upon it? He works upon his astral body because, in the sphere of activity, every single activity calls forth a counter effect. If we rub our hand on a tabletop it becomes hot. The warmth is the counter effect of our activity. Thus each activity calls forth another. Through the fact that certain animals migrated to the dark caves of Kentucky they no longer needed their eyesight but only sensitive organs of touch, in order to find their way about. The result was that the blood withdrew from their eyes and they became blind. This was the result of their activity, of their migration into the caves of Kentucky. 7 Often quoted by Rudolf Steiner. See: Darwin, Origin of Species, Chapter 5.
The human astral body is in continual activity. Its life consists in this. In a narrower sense this activity is called human karma. What I do today has its expression in the astral body. If I give somebody a blow, that is activity and calls forth a counter blow. This is balance restoring justice — karma. Every action calls forth its counter action. With this must be considered the concept of cause and effect. In karma there is always something needing to be brought into balance; something further is always demanded.
The second guiding thread in human nature and in the universe is wisdom. Just as karma has something needing to be balanced, wisdom has something of rest, of equilibrium. It is therefore also called rhythm. All wisdom, according to its form, is rhythm. In the astral body there may perhaps be much sympathy, then there is much green in the aura. This green was once called forth as complementary colour.
Originally, instead of the green, there was red, a selfish instinct. That has been changed into green through activity, karma. In wisdom, in rhythm, everything is completed, balanced. In man everything rhythmical, filled with wisdom, is in the etheric body. The etheric body is therefore that in man which represents wisdom. In the etheric body repose, rhythm holds sway.
The physical body actually represents the will. Will, in contrast to absolute rest, is the creative element, that which is productive. Thus we have the following ascent: firstly karma, activity, what needs to be balanced; secondly wisdom, what has been brought to rest; thirdly will, such an overabundance of life that it can sacrifice itself. Thus activity, wisdom, will, are the three stages in which all being flows.
Let us study from this point of view the human being as he stands before us. In the first place man has his physical body. As he is at the present time, he has no influence at all upon his physical body. What man physically is and does is brought about from outside by creative forces. He cannot himself regulate the movement of the molecules of his brain; neither of himself can he control the circulation of the blood. In other words, the physical body is produced independently of man and is also sustained for him by other forces. It is as it were only lent to him. Man is incarnated into a physical body produced for him by other forces. The etheric body too is in a certain respect produced for him by other powers. On the other hand, the astral body is formed partly by other powers, partly by man himself. That part of the astral body which is formed by man himself becomes his karma. What he himself has worked into it must have a karmic effect. This is the undying, the non-transient in him. The physical body has come about through the karma of other beings; but that part of man's astral body in which he has worked since the Lemurian Age, that is his karma. Only when man through his work has transformed the whole of his astral body, has he reached the stage of freedom. Then the whole of his astral body is transmuted from within. He is then entirely the result of his own activity, of his karma.
If we select some particular stage of development we always find a part of man's astral body which is his own work. That, however, which is the result of his own work lives also in the etheric body and the physical body. In the physical body lives what man has made out of himself, through the physical body it lives in the physical world. He would be unable to form concepts about the physical world if he did not work in it through his organs. What man experiences in his astral body he builds into himself. In what he observes in the physical world his three sheaths are active. When for instance he sees a rose, all three sheaths are engaged. To begin with he perceives red. In this the physical body is engaged. In a camera obscura the rose makes the same impression. Secondly, the rose is conceived in the etheric body as a living idea. Thirdly, the rose gives pleasure to the person and in this the astral body is engaged. These are the three stages of human observation. Here the innermost part of man works through the three bodies into the external world. What man takes in from the outer world, he takes in through these three bodies.
Desire underlies all those things involving human activity or karma. Man would have no reason to be active if he had no desires. He has however the desire to take part in the world surrounding him. This is why we also call his astral body his body of desires.
An inner connection exists between man's activity and his organs. He needs his organs both for the lowest and the highest impulses. He also needs them in art. When someone has once and for all absorbed everything from the world, he has no further use for his organs. Between birth and death man accustoms himself to perceive the world through his organs. After death what he is thus accustomed to must slowly be put aside. If he still wishes to make use of his organs to perceive the world, then he finds himself in the condition which is called Kamaloka. It is a condition in which there is still desire to perceive through the organs, which however are no longer there. If after death a person could say that he had no further desire to use his organs, Kamaloka would no longer exist for him. In Devachan everything which man formerly perceived around him with his organs, is there perceived from within — without organs.
Karma, man's activity through the astral body, is something which has not reached a state of balance. When however the activity gradually comes into a state of balance, equilibrium is brought about. If one strikes a pendulum it gradually reaches a state of balance. Every activity which has not reached a state of balance finally comes to rest. Irregularities which are few in number can be observed, but when they are extremely numerous they balance each other. By means of an instrument, for instance, one can observe the irregularities caused in a town by electric trams. In a small town, where the trams are fewer the instrument continually shows strong oscillations, but in a big town, where the movement is greater and more frequent, the instrument is much quieter, because the many irregularities equalise themselves. So it is also in Devachan with each single irregularity.
In Devachan man looks into himself. He observes what he has taken in. He must observe this for as long as is needed for it to reach a rhythmical condition.
A stroke calls forth a counterstroke; but only through many intermediate happenings does the counterstroke return. The effect however persists during the intervening period. The inter-relationship between stroke and counterstroke is worked over in Devachan and transformed into wisdom. What has been worked over and transformed into wisdom is metamorphosed in man into rhythm in contradistinction to activity. What has been changed into rhythm passes over into the etheric body. After Devachan one has become wiser and better because in Devachan all experiences have been worked over. That part of the astral body, which as vibrations has been worked into the etheric body, is immortal. When a man dies that part of the astral body is preserved which he has worked over and transformed, also the very small part of the etheric body which has been worked through; the remaining part of the etheric body is dissolved in the cosmic ether. In so far as this very small part has been worked through, to that degree is his etheric body immortal. Hence when he returns he again finds this small part of the etheric body. What needs to be added to bring about completion determines the duration of his sojourn in Devachan.
When a human being has progressed so far that he has transformed his entire etheric body, Devachan is no longer necessary. This is the case with the occult pupil who has perfected his development and who has transformed his etheric body so that it remains intact after death and has no need to pass through Devachan. This is called the renunciation of Devachan. It is permissible to allow someone to work on one's etheric body when one is certain that he no longer brings anything of evil into the rest of the world; otherwise he would work his harmful instincts into it. Under hypnosis it can happen that the one hypnotised works into the world the harmful instincts of the hypnotist. In the case of normal people the physical body prevents the etheric body from being dragged and drawn hither and thither. When however the physical body is in a state of lethargy it is possible for the etheric body to be worked into. If one person hypnotises another and works harmful instincts into him, these also remain with him after death. Many of the practices of black magicians consisted in their creating willing servants by this means. It is the rule of white magicians to allow nobody to have his etheric body worked into unless by someone whose instincts have passed through catharsis. In the etheric body rest and wisdom prevail. When something bad enters into it, this element of evil comes to rest and therefore endures.
Before the human being as pupil is led to that point at which of his own choice he can work on his etheric body, he must at least, to a certain extent be able to evaluate karma in order to achieve self-knowledge. Meditation therefore should not be undertaken without continual self-knowledge, self-observation. By this means, at the right moment man will behold the Guardian of the Threshold: 8 See: Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and the Third Mystery Play. the karma which he has still to pay back. When one reaches this stage under normal conditions it merely signifies the recognition of his still existing karma. If I begin to work into my etheric body, I must make it my aim to balance my still remaining karma. It can happen that the Guardian of the Threshold appears in an abnormal way. This happens when a person is so strongly attracted to one particular life between birth and death, that because of the very slight degree of inner activity he cannot remain long enough in Devachan. If someone has accustomed himself to be too outward looking, he has nothing to see within. He then soon comes back into physical life. His desires remain present, the short Devachan is soon over, and when he returns, the collective form of his earlier desires still exists in Kamaloka; he comes up against this also. He incarnates. The old is then mingled with his new astral body. This is his previous karma, the Guardian of the Threshold. He then has his earlier karma continually before him. This is a specific form of the Double.
Many of the popes of the notorious papal age, as for example Alexander VI, have had such a Double in their next incarnation. There are people, and at present this is not infrequent, who have their previous lower nature continually beside them. That is a special kind of insanity. It will become ever stronger and more threatening, because materialistic life becomes ever more widespread. Many people who now yield themselves up completely to materialistic life will in their next incarnation have the abnormal form of the Guardian of the Threshold at their side. If now the influence of spirituality were not to be very strongly exercised, a kind of epidemic seeing of the Guardian of the Threshold would arise as the result of the materialistic civilisation. Of this the neurotic tendency of our century is the precursor. It is a kind of losing oneself in the periphery. All the neurotics of today will be harassed by the Guardian of the Threshold in their next incarnation. They will be pursued by the difficulties of a too early incarnation, a sort of cosmic premature birth. What we have to strive for in Theosophy is a sufficiently long time in Devachan, in order to avoid too early incarnations.
From this aspect we must consider the entrance of Christ into world history. Previously, anyone who wished to achieve a life in Christ had to enter into a Mystery school. There a state of lethargy was induced in the physical body and only through the purified priesthood could there be added to the astral body what was still needed for its purification. This constituted initiation.
But through the coming of Christ into the world, it came about that a man who felt himself drawn to Christ could receive from him something which could take the place of this old form of initiation. It is always possible that someone through union with Christ can preserve his astral body in so purified a condition that he is able to work into his etheric body without doing harm to the world. When one bears this in mind the expression ‘vicarious atonement through death’ receives a quite other significance. This is what is meant by the atoning death of Christ. Before this, death in the Mysteries had to be suffered by everyone who wished to obtain purification. Now the One suffered for all, so that through the world-historic initiation a substitute has been created for the old form of initiation. Through Christianity much that is of a communal nature has been brought about, which previously was not communal. The active power of this substitution is expressed in the fact that through inner vision, through true mysticism, community with Christ is possible. This has also been embodied in language. The first Christian initiate in Europe, Ulfilas, himself embodied it in the German language, in that man found the ‘Ich’ within it. Other languages expressed this relationship through a special form of the verb, in Latin for instance the word ‘amo’, but the German language adds to it the Ich. ‘Ich’ is J. Ch. = Jesus Christ. It was with intention that this was introduced into the German language. It is the initiates who have created language. Just as in Sanskrit the AUM expresses the Trinity, so we have the sign ICH to express the inmost being of man. By this means a central point was created whereby the tumultuous emotions of the world can be transformed into rhythm. Rhythm must be instilled into them through the Ich. This centre point is literally the Christ.
All western nations have developed activity, passionate desires. An impulse must come from the East in order to bring into, them a more tranquil condition. There is already a precursor of this in Tolstoi's book, ‘On Doing Nothing’. 9 Published 1893. A detailed description of Tolstoi's ideas in contrast to Western ideas is to be found in Rudolf Steiner's lecture 3.11.1904. Theosophy and Tolstoy. (Typescript). In the activity of the West we find chaos in many spheres. This is continually on the increase. The spirituality of the East should bring a central point into the chaos of the West. What throughout long periods of time had its function as karma, passes over into wisdom. Wisdom is the daughter of karma. All karma finds its compensation in wisdom. An initiate who has reached a certain stage of development is called a Sun Hero, because his inner being has become rhythmical. His life is an image of the sun which in its rhythmical course traverses the heavens.
The word ‘Aum’ is the breath. The breath is related to the word as the Holy Spirit is to Christ, as the Atma is to the I.