The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 6th October 1905
Today we are going to explain how Karma works and make clear to ourselves how it is connected with the so-called three worlds. All other worlds, with the exception of these three, hardly come into consideration when it is a question of human development; the relevant three are the physical, astral and mental worlds. During the day condition of consciousness, we are in the physical world; there, in a certain sense, we have purely and simply the physical world before us. We must only direct our senses outwards in order to have the physical world as such before us. But the moment we look on the physical world with interest, approach it with feeling, we are already partly in the astral world and only partly in the physical world. Only the beginnings of living purely in the physical world are present today in human life; for example, when one simply contemplates a work of art without experiencing any wish to possess it. Such a contemplation of a work of art is an important act of the soul, when, forgetful of self, one works as though on a spiritual task. This living purely in the physical world, forgetting oneself, is very rare. It is only seldom that nature is looked at in pure contemplation, for usually many other feelings are involved. Nevertheless, this selfless living in physical nature is of the very greatest importance; for only so can man have a true consciousness of self. In all other worlds the ordinary man is still immersed in a world of unconsciousness.
In the physical world man is not only aware of his self, he can also become selfless. His day-consciousness is however not yet selfless if he is unable to forget himself. Here the physical world is not the hindrance, but the playing in of the astral and mental worlds. If, however, he forgets himself, the separateness vanishes and he finds his ‘self’ spread out into what is outside. But it is only in physical life that present day man can develop this consciousness of self without separateness. Consciousness of self we call the ego. Man can only become conscious of self within an environment. Only when he gains senses adapted to a particular world can he become self-conscious in that world. Now he only has senses for the physical world but the other worlds continually play into the consciousness of self and cloud it. When feelings play into it, it is the astral world; when one thinks, the mental world plays into the consciousness.
Most people's thoughts are nothing more than reflections of the environment. It is very rare to have thoughts which are not so connected. Man only has such higher thoughts when senses awaken for the mental world, so that he not only thinks the thoughts, but perceives them around him as beings. He then has the same consciousness of self in the mental world as that possessed by the Chela, the Initiate. When someone tries to eliminate first the physical world around him, then all impulses, passions, changes of mood and so on, usually no thoughts are left. Let us only try to picture everything that influences man inasmuch as he lives in space and time. Let us try to call up before the soul everything connected with the place where we live and the time in which we live. Everything that the soul continually has within it as thoughts is dependent on space and time. All this has a transient value. One must therefore pass on from the reflected impressions of the senses and allow an enduring thought content to live in one in order gradually to develop devachanic senses. A sentence such as that from ‘Light on the Path,’ “Before the eyes can see they must give up tears”, *The original English of Mabel Collins is “Before the eyes can see they must be incapable of tears.” holds good for all times and all places. When we allow such a sentence to live within us, then something lives in us which is beyond space and time. This is a means, a force, which gradually allows devachanic senses to awaken in the soul for the eternal in the world.
Thus man has his share in the three worlds. It is only gradually however that he has come into this situation. He was not always in the physical world; only by degrees did he become physical and acquire physical senses. Previously he was on the higher planes. He descended from the Astral Plane to the Physical and before this from the Mental Plane. The latter we divide into two parts, the Lower Mental or Rupa Plane, where everything is already differentiated, and the Upper Mental or Arupa Plane, where everything's undifferentiated in a germinal condition. Man has descended from the Arupa Plane through the Rupa Plane and the Astral Plane to the Physical Plane. Only on the Physical Plane did he become conscious of self. On the Astral Plane he is not conscious of self and on the Rupa and Arupa Planes still less so. On the Physical Plane man for the first time came into contact with external objects in his immediate surroundings. Whenever a being encounters external objects, this marks the beginning of self-awareness. On the higher planes life was still completely enclosed within itself. When man lived on the Astral Plane the only reality he had arose out of his own inner life. This was in its very nature a picture consciousness. Even though this was a vivid experience it was nevertheless only a picture that arose within him. Of this, present daydreams are only a weak reminder. When for instance an astral human being approached salt, this affected him unconsciously and a picture of it would have arisen within him. If he approached someone who was sympathetic to him he would not have seen him externally, but a feeling of sympathy would have arisen within him. This life in the astral was one of absolute selfhood and separateness. Only on the physical plane can man relinquish his separateness, in that through the medium of his senses he perceives objects, merges himself with his surroundings, with the Not-I. Therein lies the importance of the physical plane. If man had not set foot on the physical plane, he would never have been able to relinquish his separateness and turn his senses outwards. This is actually where work on the development of selflessness begins. Everything except pure contemplation of physical things belongs more to the Ego. One must accustom oneself to live on higher planes just as selflessly as man has begun to do on the physical plane, albeit up to now but rarely. The objects of the physical plane compel man to become selfless and to give something to the object, which is Not-I. In regard to wishes, to that which lives in the soul, man still orders his life in accordance with his desires. On the physical plane he must learn to renounce, to free his wishes from self. That is the first step.
The next step is to order himself not according to his own wishes but according to those coming to him from outside. Further, when man consciously and out of his own will does not act in accordance with the thoughts that arise within him, but surrenders himself to thoughts which are not his own, then he soars upwards to the Devachanic Plane.
We must therefore seek in the higher worlds for something lying outside us in order to relate ourselves to it as we do to objects in the physical world. Hence, we must consider the wishes of the Initiates. The occult student learns to know the wishes which are right for humanity and he orders himself in accordance with them, just as through external compulsion one orders oneself according to sense objects. Culture and the education of wishes lead us to the Astral Plane.
When one becomes selfless in thoughts, allowing the eternal thoughts of the Masters of Wisdom to pass through our souls — through concentration and meditation on the thoughts of the Masters — then one also perceives the thoughts of the surrounding world. The occult student can already become a Master on the Astral Plane, but on the Mental Plane this is only possible for the higher Masters.
In the first place man stands before us in his physical nature. He lives at the same time in the Astral and Mental Worlds, but has self-awareness only in the physical world. He must traverse the entire physical world until his awareness of self has absorbed everything that the physical world can teach him. Here man says to himself: ‘I’. He connects his ‘I’ with the things around him, learns to expand his ‘I’ through contemplation; it flows outwards and becomes one with the objects which he has completely comprehended. If we had already comprehended the entire physical world we should no longer need it, for then we should have it within us. At present however man has within him only a part of the physical world. The human being who is born as a Lemurian in his first incarnation, who is just at the point of directing his ego towards the physical world, knows as yet but little of it. When however he comes to his last incarnation, he must have united the entire physical world with his ‘I’.
In the physical world man is left to himself, here nobody leads him, he is in very truth god-forsaken. When he came forth from the astral world the Gods forsook him. In the physical world he had to learn to become his own master. Here therefore he can only live, as he actually does live, swinging pendulum-wise between truth and error. He must grope about and seek his way for himself. Now for the most part he is groping in the dark. His gaze is turned outwards; he has freedom of choice, but he is also exposed to error. On the Astral Plane man had no such freedom; there he was subject to compulsion from the powers standing behind him. Like a kind of marionette he still dangled on the strings of the Gods; they still had to guide him. In so far as man today is still a soul being, the Gods still live in him. Here freedom and unfreedom are strongly mixed. His wishes are continually changing. This ebb and flow of wishes proceeds from within. Here it is the Gods who are working in man.
Man is still less free on the Rupa Plane of the Mental World, and even less free on the Arupa Plane of the Higher Mental World. Man gradually becomes free on the Physical Plane the more, through knowledge, he has become incapable of error.
To the same degree that he works on the Physical Plane and learns to know it, he gains the faculty of carrying up into the Arupa Plane what he has learned to know in the physical world. The Arupa Plane is in itself formless, but gains form through human life. Man gathers the results of the lessons he has learned on the Physical Plane and carries these, as firmly established forms in the soul, up into the Arupa Plane. This is why in the Greek Mysteries the soul was called a bee, the Arupa Plane a beehive and the physical earth a field of flowers. This was taught in the Greek Mysteries.
Now what was it that drove the soul down on to the Physical Plane? It was desire, craving: in no other way does one descend to a lower plane except through desire. Previously the soul was in the Astral World; this is the world of wishes. Everything which the Gods in the Astral World have implanted into human beings was purely a world of wishes. The most outstanding attribute of these Pre-Lemurian beings was the wish for the physical. Man at that time had a real craving for the physical: he had within him an unconscious, blind craving for the physical. This craving is only to be appeased through its satisfaction. Through the ideas, through the aspects of knowledge which he gains, this craving for the physical disappears.
After death the soul goes to the Astral Plane and thence to the Rupa and Arupa Planes. What the soul has gained it deposits there. What it has not yet brought with it, what is still unknown, drives it down again; this engenders the longing for new incarnations. How long the soul remains on the Arupa Plane depends upon how much the human being has gained on the Physical Plane. In the case of the savage this is very little and so in his case there is only a weak flashing up on to the Arupa Plane. Then he descends again to the physical world. One who has learned everything in the physical world no longer needs to leave the Arupa Plane, no longer needs to return to the Physical Plane, for he has fulfilled his duty in the physical world.
In regard to his astral being, man today still half belongs to the astral world. The astral sheath has been half broken through and he perceives the world of the physical through his senses. When he succeeds in living on the Astral Plane as he now lives on the Physical Plane, when he learns to make observations there in a similar way, then he also carries the perceptions of the Astral Plane up to the Arupa Plane. What he then bears upwards from the Astral Plane streams however still higher from the Arupa Plane up to the next higher, the Buddhi Plane. That too which he achieves on the Rupa Plane through meditation and concentration he takes with him up to the Arupa Plane and there gives it over to still higher Planes.
That part of man which is astral is opened half towards the physical world and half towards higher worlds. When it is opened to the physical world he allows himself to be directed by the perceptions of the sense world. From the other side he is subject to direction from above. The same is the case with his mental body. The latter is also partly directed from outside and partly directed from the inner world by the Gods, the Devas. Because this is so man must dream and sleep.
Now we can also understand the nature of sleeping and dreaming. To dream means to turn towards the inner Deva-forces. Man dreams almost the whole night only he does not remember it. During sleep the mental body is continually guided by the Devas. Man has as yet no consciousness of self on the higher planes, hence in dream he is not self-conscious. He begins to be so on the Astral Plane. In deep sleep he is on the Mental Plane. There he has absolutely no self-consciousness. It is only on the Physical Plane that man is awake. Here his ego is present and finds its full expression. The astral ego cannot yet fully express itself on the Physical Plane and must therefore at times leave the body. Man must sleep in order that this can take place. The conditions of dreaming and sleeping are only a repetition of earlier development. On the Astral Plane he was in a state of dream, on the Mental Plane he slept. He repeats these conditions every night. Only when he has acquired senses for the other planes does he no longer dream and no longer sleep, but he then perceives realities. The occult pupil learns to perceive such realities on the Astral Plane. He then has a reality around him. Whoever carries his development to a still higher stage is surrounded by a reality even in deep sleep. Then begins continuity of consciousness.
One must understand this sequence of delicate concepts; then one comprehends why man, when he has been on the higher planes again descends. What he does not yet know, what he has not yet recognised, what the Buddhists call Avidja, not-knowing, drives him back into physical existence. Avidja is the first of the forces of karma. According to Buddhistic teaching there are twelve Karmic forces which drive man down. These together are called Nidanas. As man gradually descends, the way in which Karma takes hold becomes apparent. Avidja is the first effect. It is the opposite pole to what meets man on the physical plane. Because he treads the physical plane and there unites himself with something, a reaction is called forth. Action always calls forth reaction. Everything that man does in the physical world also produces a reaction and works back as Karma. Action and reaction is the technique, the mechanism of Karma.