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The Foundations of Esotericism
GA 93a

Lecture XVII

Berlin, 12th October 1905

In occultism we differentiate in man firstly his actions, in so far as by actions we understand everything which proceeds from any kind of activity connected with his hands; secondly speech and thirdly thoughts. Everything which in this sense he accomplishes with his hands brings about its karmic results in his next earthly existence. What we speak concerns not only ourselves alone, but also a group of human beings having the same language, and this affects the karma of the group or race. In words lies a greater responsibility than in deeds alone: for with them we are preparing the configuration of a future race. What we think works on even into a new formation of our earth. We therefore distinguish three stages. Firstly: Human action is individual, with the exception of those actions in man that arise from nothingness. Secondly: Man cannot speak for himself alone; words concern a group of human beings. Thirdly: Thoughts are the concern of the whole of humanity.

With this, something else is connected. When we act we stand quite alone behind our actions. When we speak we are not quite alone in our words. Behind our words a spiritual being is working with us, standing behind us. Just as truly as the words we utter are imprinted quite exactly in the Akasha, so is it true that with every word we utter we impinge upon the body of a spiritual being who is incarnated in this Akashic substance into which our words penetrate. We must take this up into our feeling life; this is why we must pay such heed to our words. When we think, we are seemingly quite alone within ourselves; nevertheless beings of a spiritual nature are active with us in our thoughts, beings still higher and more significant than those active in our speech.

More lies in these things than in a whole world-history. Through them much can be explained. Let us consider a thought within us. Behind this thought a spiritual being is present. If we imagine ourselves enveloped on all sides by the body of a spiritual being, we can realise that a thought is only the expression of the body of the spiritual being working into us. Every time a thought flashes through our soul it is an impression, a kind of foot-print of a higher spiritual being, just as if we were walking over damp ground, leaving footprints, and were to say: ‘Here a person walked’. This spiritual being is formed of the same substance as that of which thought consists. The thought in us can only become the imprint of a higher spiritual being because this higher being has a body formed of the same substance as our thoughts.

When our foot imprints itself in the damp earth, this imprint is a negative, a counter-image of our foot. So is it too with our thoughts. In the higher spiritual world there is a counter-image for every thought. Image and counter-image are as interconnected as seal and sealing wax. The substance is the higher spiritual being which corresponds in our analogy to the sealing wax. Now we call thought, in so far as it corresponds to the sealing wax, intuition, and the impression we call abstract thought. We can say when we think: ‘I feel the traces of what is happening in higher worlds.’ It is with regard to this fact that in religious writings, for instance in the Revelation of St. John, the expression ‘seal’ is used. This corresponds with reality. It is also because a higher being is working with us in our words that every word is the impression of a seal. With the mystics the counter-image is called Imagination. Thus we have three levels of the thought element: the intuitive, the imaginative and the ordinary abstract thinking.

When man develops further, when abstract thought itself develops to the stage on which the beings are incarnated who work with us when we speak, then he is a Chela, an occult pupil. To be a Master means: To work in the substance in which the beings are incarnated who work with us in our thoughts. Imagination gives the picture. This is why the great religious teachers of earlier times spoke pictorially, for imagination gives the picture, not abstract thoughts. In all religions, teachings were expressed in pictures. At first the picture is for man something of lesser importance, but when he understands how to form again for himself a picture out of every thought, then he has reached a higher stage. This is the pre-requisite for a quite new kind of perception. Everything depends on a man developing to the point at which he no longer thinks merely abstractly, but at all times has his thoughts in pictures.

As a rule man forms merely thoughts. The more highly developed man must think in pictures, in images; that means ‘to imagine’. In this expression there already lies what is meant: ‘By means of a certain power to make an imprint in something, (to imagine).’ In creative fantasy, in the case of poet and artist, we find only a weak reflection of imagination. When a man who is seeking higher development speaks, he will try in certain cases, while speaking, to have before him the counter-image, the Imago. This is the source of the mighty pictures in religious writings. Whoever develops himself so far that he can create such pictures has attained the stage of the spiritual beings who are involved in the creation of races. One who develops in himself not only pictures, but intuitions, is not only involved in the creation of races, but in the creation of the next planetary existence. From the pictures there will resound what later will be manifested on the earth, but whoever works out of intuition creates something which is not yet existent, which is nowhere manifested, that is to say he creates out of Nirvana. This concept is inherent in every apocalypse: What will be manifested in the future can only be created out of intuition.

Through abstract thinking one makes a copy of something that exists. Through Imagination a man allows himself to be fructified by the formative spirit within him. Imagination corresponds to hidden realities which have arisen through the fructifying impulse of higher beings; thus one can see these higher spiritual beings on the Astral Plane. The prerequisite for this is to develop a speech that is not the expression of abstract thoughts, but of pictures. This is why mediums also speak in imaginations, in pictures and symbols, but unconsciously. Behind them the spirit is forming the symbols. The occult pupil does this in full consciousness, nevertheless in a way that is not arbitrary. In so doing he allows himself to be fructified by the spirit.

Just as man develops himself to the stage when he can create pictures and receive intuitions, so before he came into existence the external world was active; and indeed in such a way that in everything which is around us as mineral existence, as purely physical nature, Intuitions are working as creative forces. The crystal is external in so far as it reveals itself to the senses; it is however created by means of Intuitions. Behind the entire physical world lies a cosmos of Intuitions and finally a being, the Planetary Spirit, who produces the Intuitions. Behind all language Beings of Imagination are working and with them the Spirit of the Race. In all living things, Beings at the same spiritual level are at work. Behind all plants Imaginations are active. The completed form of the plant comes forth from Imagination and behind it stands a spiritual being: and everything imbued with consciousness and perception has arisen out of Thought itself

Now let us look at the whole universe, to begin with in its physical aspect: Earth, Sun, Moon and stars, the Milky Way and so on. Behind it stands a great intuitive Spirit. It is the same Spirit that manifests in our actions; he also stands behind the whole universe. Christianity calls him the Father. Because he is so little known he is also called the Unknown God, and in theosophical literature the first Logos.52Compare Rudolf Steiner's notes for Edouard Schuré May 1906. Zeichnen und Entwicklung der drei Logoi in der Menschheit published in No. 14 of Nachrichten der Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung Michaelmas 1965.

Behind everything living stands the Spirit of Imagination. It is the same Spirit who is also working in our speech; this is why the Christian religion calls Him the Word. Here something quite exact and actual is meant. This spirit who stands behind everything living is still working today in our speech, in each of our words, and is therefore rightly called ‘the Word’, another designation is: The Son or Christ. He is the Spirit who lives as imagination in everything that has life.

Then we ascend to what is conscious, what has a certain degree of perception, of consciousness, everything of an animal nature and what in man [Gap in text ...] This can already be grasped by thoughts. It is contained in every being. What takes place in the animal occurs in the first place within itself: abstract consciousness. All consciousness existent in the world also lives in man, in abstract thinking. Within himself man calls it ‘Spirit’; in so far as it works outside in the creative forces of Nature he calls it ‘Holy Spirit’. This is what underlies all perception and consciousness. Illness exists only in separateness. Spirit as such cannot be ill, but only when it is incarnated in lower bodies. The word ‘Heilig’ (healthy) means ‘heil sein’, to be well: it expresses the fact that the Spirit which flows through the world outside, is healthy. The Holy Spirit is nothing other than Spirit which is healthy through and through: this is why anyone who truly unites himself with the Holy Spirit (Heiliger Geist) receives the power of healing (heilen). This must be in harmony with the Holy Spirit flowing through the world. This is the Spirit which works from man to man as the true healer.

If we now turn our attention to the physical plane we find in the first place that we perceive through the senses. Behind is the great intuitive Spirit. Everything physically present has been made by this Spirit. Thus behind everything that lives in form as such, that can be perceived by the senses, stands the Father Spirit, the first Logos. Through merely observing we do not alter anything, but an alteration comes about when we act. Then we not only change what exists outside in the world, but also the forces working outside in the world. The moment we act we bring about an alteration on the physical plane. Behind these alterations however there lies also an alteration in the underlying force corresponding to the first Logos. This we influence by our actions; it remains, is there, cannot again be got rid of, unless it be eradicated by the same force which called it forth. And the alteration which is called forth through our deeds is what takes hold of us again as Karma. That which draws man into the physical world once more, if looked at from the point of view of Karma is called: Rupa. This is because it was accomplished in Rupa, through the body, through man's external nature. Thus we create in the body, in Rupa, when we work upon the outer Intuitions.

The second sphere in which today man is not entirely independent, but where another Spirit is working with him, is speech. Here we make impressions in a world behind which lies not only what is physical, but what has life. In the world of life the Imaginations about which we are speaking remain behind, formative forces which create new races. Our present race has been created out of what lay behind the words of earlier races. This is embodied in our race. In addition we have to consider everything which belongs in any way to Imagination. This shows us that with our words we produce impressions in the realm of the Son, in the realm of the second Logos. These return as the collective Karma of the whole race, for the word is not created by us alone; the Spirit of the Race is working with us. What is the foundation for this form of Karma? Where is the Spirit of the Race working? The Spirit of the Race is active in man's feeling, permeates the entire world of feeling. This resounds into what a human being has in common with his group.

What works in a much wider sense on Karma is feeling (Vedana). Thus firstly: Rupa, the corporality; secondly: Vedana, feeling. For those people who have not yet become Chelas, feeling has great importance where the perception of the second Logos and everything living is concerned. The aim of science is to study animals and plants apart from life. Even the greatest men of learning today have not yet advanced beyond the stage of comprehending life with feeling. It is the Imaginative understanding which first enables them to look into life itself.

In the outer world thought is connected with everything having sensation and consciousness. This has one thing in common with us: perception. The fact that we can in any way perceive the outer world in physical space as a world of colour and sound is only possible because we are able to transpose it into thoughts. We receive perceptions; we think about them. If there were no thoughts in the perceptions it would be the greatest folly on man's part to form thoughts about them. Thoughts would then be mere illusions if the perceptions had not arisen through thoughts. From the combination of perceptions it follows that in the first place perceptions are built up by thoughts which we can then extract from them: the laws of nature. These are nothing other than thoughts; it is the creative Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Perception is the boundary between the two, where our thoughts come in contact with the creative thoughts outside. Thus with a thought that we have we cannot work directly on life, but on the consciousness which in the outer world is itself thought.

Through thought we leave behind traces in all the spiritual beings who have brought about consciousness. What man builds up on the basis of perception in the way of thoughts, and what he produces as thoughts, has its repercussions on everything which makes perception necessary. Thirdly therefore we differentiate: Perception or Sanjna, the third element which has an effect on Karma.

Through all actions we call forth counter-actions as Karma, because we make an impact on the Intuitive World: Rupa.

Through all words we make an impact on the World of Creative Feelings around us: Vedana.

With our thoughts about perceptions we make an impact on the whole World of Thoughts outside us: Sanjna.

What we perceive around us will no longer be there when we appear again on Earth. Everything therefore which we think in connection with the world of perception will have no effect whatever on the future incarnation; only in this incarnation will it have a Karma-building force. Thought works upon our present character.

What comes forth from feeling, that is essentially connected with our surroundings; what enters into the world of Imagination, comes back to us in the following incarnation, in such a way that it appears within us as inborn tendencies and outside us as opportunities. Through our inborn tendencies we call towards us opportunities offered by the world, which form our destiny, through tendencies which have their source in Karma. Thoughts form the character: the tendencies or disposition lead karmically to the opportunities. Actions bring about the external destiny, all the bodily circumstances into which man is born. What we carry out through Rupa, our bodily nature, that is our actual destiny, that comes back to us karmically.

One can only create inborn tendencies for further incarnations consciously by reaching the stage of Imagination. Herein we find the secret of how the great founders of religions projected their influence beyond their own time. The pictures which they gave the people released dispositional tendencies for the following incarnations. Every picture that they instilled into the soul reappeared in the entire feeling-world of the human being. Either he wins such Imaginations for himself, or he receives them from his teacher. We win them for ourselves when we have gained control over our entire life of feeling: this is the case with the occult pupil. His feelings are subject to his own control; the rest of humanity is cared for in this respect by the founders of religions. A religion is the feeling-world of future races; outwardly therefore it can be submerged, for it lives on in human tendencies. Today tendencies are coming to the surface which were implanted in mankind in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is important that the materialistic images of the present day do not take root in human hearts, for in future times they would fill human beings with the most brutal instincts which are only directed to the world of the senses, if they were not opposed by spiritual ideas. Those desires and wishes live in man which are produced out of imagination. This is his desire-nature = Sanskara. Everything intuitive in man, the great impulses which he receives from the highest initiates, these actually overcome the Karma of Deeds. He who raises himself to Intuitions as such, penetrates through the physical world up to the Father Spirit. He who possesses intuitive knowledge can affect the Karma arising out of deeds. He begins to limit his Karma consciously.

For the ordinary person only those beings are comprehensible who also have consciousness. When he progresses to Imagination, life also becomes comprehensible; when he progresses to Intuition he can advance as far as the Intuitive forces.

A person can affect his Karma to the degree in which he himself possesses Intuition; or he must receive it from the high initiates in the form of great moral laws. Vijnana is the name used for the consciousness necessary for the overcoming of Karma. And now let us think of a man living in the world, carrying out his actions and dying. After his death something of him nevertheless remains here in this world which he has woven into it: Rupa, Vedana, Sanjna, Sanskara and Vijnana. These five are the balance of his account: his personal destiny as Rupa; the destiny of the nation into which he is born, as Vedana; the actual fact of his birth on this earth as Sanjna. In addition, working with Sanskara, the desire nature, and Vijnana, the consciousness. These are the five Skandhas.

What a man gives out into the world remains as the five Skandhas in the world. These are the foundation of his new existence. They have progressively less effect when he has consciously developed something of the last two. The more he has gained conscious power over Vijnana, the more does he gain the power of consciously incarnating in the physical body. In their essential nature the Skandhas are identical with Karma.