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The Foundations of Esotericism
GA 93a

Lecture XXI

Berlin, 19th October 1905

In order to form an exact concept in regard to the technique of reincarnation, we must, to begin with, make ourselves acquainted with an idea that has significance for the whole world-conception; that is, the law of effect and counter-effect. Each single effect calls forth its counter-effect.

This can be perceived in a crude way, as when, for instance I strike someone and he strikes back, so that a blow is followed by a counter-blow. We can observe this law in action in the whole of Nature. In Newton's writings this is stated in many places. It also holds good in the sphere of occultism. The counter-effect is not always perceptible, but it is for example clearly perceptible if you make a dent in a rubber ball. The stronger the pressure, so much the stronger is the re-action.

When in Nature an effect like heat arises this heat must be withdrawn from some other part of the surroundings; there cold arises as counter-effect.

This law of effect and counter-effect however also holds good for the entire spiritual world and it is of the utmost importance to know this if one wishes to understand reincarnation and karma. Action finds its expression on the physical plane. A feeling does not show itself directly on the physical plane. When I am connected with someone in friendship we can be separated physically, so that we cannot make our feeling known outwardly by means of an action and yet we can feel affection for one another. A feeling can have its direct effect on the astral plane. It is only when feeling passes over into action that it finds its expression on the physical plane. We must bear this difference in mind. We must be perfectly clear about the fact that every single action that takes place on the physical plane has its effect somewhere and also its counter-effect. Through the action an alteration is always brought about on the physical plane.

If we wish to comprehend the world in a deeper way, we should not limit ourselves solely to what we can see. Underlying all physical things there are forces which bring them into being. If, for example, we study the structure of a crystal we can observe its form, its colour; but connected with it are forces that build it up. These forces cannot be perceived on the physical plane, but they must also be there first. These forces which create the forms on the physical plane, that work there in a formative way, are not themselves on the physical plane.

When we try to think meditatively into a crystal, for example into an octagonal crystal, allowing it to enter deeply into our soul, adapting ourselves inwardly to its form, perhaps allowing its form to work upon us for an hour, and then succeed in suggesting it away, then one reaches the Arupa plane ... [Gap in text ...] Thus when we let some kind of crystal, for instance a rock crystal, work upon us, retaining its forms in the disposition of our soul and finally allowing them to disappear, then one is on the Arupa plane. In this way we actually experience that the forces which build up the crystal are on the Arupa plane.

All forces underlying the phenomena of the physical plane are to be found on the Arupa plane. It is true that through such observations no ideas can be gained which are directly related to human life. It is actually very difficult to transpose ourselves on to the Arupa plane by observing human actions, with the exception of the actions of an adept. But we gain very much when, taking our start from the purely physical, we undertake such a procedure as that of sinking oneself into a crystal; because in the crystal lies a great purity. In it there are no instincts and desires.

This ideal which man should attain in the distant future appears in its full purity when we sink ourselves into the silent mineral kingdom. A silent, unobtrusive, passionless stone possesses for occultists an extraordinary magical power. Even in the plant world one cannot make that silent, modest purity such an object of our contemplation's as one can in this oldest kingdom.

Now, as on the physical plane forces are at work that are actually present on the Arupa plane, so in the physical world we always have to take into consideration a revealed side, the phenomena, and a hidden side, the forces. When we are active on the physical plane, in the first place we bring about phenomena, but every action does in fact reach up also into the Arupa plane and has there its counter-action. Deeds on the physical plane impress themselves into the Arupa plane, like a monogram into a seal and there remain. The substance of the Arupa plane is delicate, soft and enduring; it is Akasha and human actions remain inscribed there.

We now come to all manifestations of the human being which contain feelings. All the feelings which man expresses have their counter-effect, just as deeds have, only the feelings do not reach up to the Arupa plane, but find their counter-effect in the lower parts of Devachan, on the Rupa plane.

Actually this is brought about by a certain contemplation of Nature. When we concentrate on a plant in the same way as on a crystal we must dwell much longer with our mental imagery on the plant, for we must not only let the form work upon us, but also its inner mobility, its life. In this way we can also bring about definite experiences, only this takes longer than in the case of the mineral. One must look at the plant every day in its process of growth. When we first allow the tiny plant to work upon us and observe its growth meditatively until it has sent forth blossoms and fruits, then allow this to continue working on us, extinguishing its sensible form—one can practise this for decades—then what the plant has released in us as soul forces transposes us into the lower regions of Devachan.

Now we must ask ourselves; what force is active in the plants, conditioning life. If we were able to creep into a plant, live within it, growing with its growth, if we were able to become selfless enough to creep into the plant world, then we should learn to know from outside what inwardly we know well, that is, human feeling; pleasure and pain, sorrow and joy, and so on.57... Notes differ and are not clear at this point. If we were able to put our pleasure outside ourselves, we should be able, through the pleasure, to grow pure mineral substances. Through this force certain yogis find it possible to influence the growth of plants; they have however practised these observations and meditations for many years, indeed through many incarnations.

Feeling has its counter-image on the Lower Devachanic plane. Man has no influence on the plants if he has not developed the forces of Yoga, but on our fellow human beings we can work in a living way through warm feeling. An educator of children can observe this. If during a lesson we approach the child with warm interest, we know what a life-giving power feeling has. In other ways too we can observe the effect of feeling in the world. There, where a beginning may be made in influencing growth, demands are also made upon feeling. Through art a beginning is made with what affects the growth of human beings. The artist has within himself at any rate the beginning of what is an organising force; in any case an artist of distinction as, for instance, the creator of the Zeus head. It is artistic creation in connection with human feelings which, if more intensively developed, would make it possible to influence the growth of plants. Theosophy should provide once more an impulse leading to an understanding of all that is truly artistic, where this is conceived in its world-cultural aspect in the purest, noblest sense.

Every combination of matter on the physical plane lacks an etheric body, but all that grows has an etheric body. If someone works artistically either in a visual or plastic way, this has an effect on the etheric body. An artistically formed piece of sculpture or a painting works directly on the etheric body. A virtue, on the other hand, works on the astral body. Many noble human beings who return from Devachan meet an etheric body which is in no way suited to their advanced astral body, because they have done nothing in the way of organised activity in the sphere of beauty. It therefore happens that many people who in their last incarnation lived very holy lives, but without concerning themselves with what is noble in the outer world of the senses, when approaching reincarnation experience a fear of re-birth, because they have not ennobled their etheric body through that beauty which is dependent on the senses.

This very frequently brings about an apprehension before incarnation and in an extreme case, rebirth as an idiot. When a person during his life as an idiot experiences all that is detrimental in his etheric body, this is balanced out in the following incarnation. Because the human being at the moment of incarnation, of birth, receives a shock if he has not ennobled his etheric body through allowing beauty which is dependent on the senses to work upon it, Freemasonry took beauty as its second principle. Wisdom, Beauty and Power or Strength are the three constructive forces; these have to be developed. Anyone possessing all three will in his next incarnation become a human being who fits harmoniously into his three bodies.

These things lay upon us the duty of re-introducing artistic activity into theosophical life. This is even now being taken up into the stream of the Theosophical Movement. The teachings as such had at first to work upon the astral body. Now feeling should also influence the etheric body. Great teachings are not only embodied in words, but in buildings, paintings and sculpture. If we were to have a world around us, built up in a style in keeping with the great Theosophical Movement, then we should have done much. Christianity is not only given as doctrine, but was painted by Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and also built into the Gothic cathedrals. Then the musical element emerged, which was absorbed by Christianity after it had become inwardly deepened.

After the world of feelings, we ascend into the world of thought. When someone grasps a pure thought he comes into a situation which is different from those brought about through his feelings and actions. For whoever grasps a pure thought conjures up also through this thought a counter-effect. Europeans have such pure thoughts very seldom, for the thoughts are generally clouded by instincts, desires and passions. There is usually only one area where they have pure thoughts, that is in mathematics. When people calculate, their passions are usually very little involved. Because the majority of people everywhere wish to exercise their feeling and critical faculty they have no love for mathematics. Here one cannot vote in parliamentary fashion. Mathematical truth is recognised by man through truth itself; a problem can only have one solution. Whether one or a million people hold their own view about it, the problem must find the same solution. Nowhere should we need majority decisions, if it were possible in all spheres to make decisions in a way as free from emotion, as objectively, as in mathematics. In Europe one can only point to this as to an ideal, in the hope that one day, in other spheres of life, judgements will be, reached equally objectively and free from emotion.

Thinkers would not disagree so violently if they would take all the factors into consideration completely objectively, for truth cannot approach man in different ways. People hold different opinions because with their instincts and passions they are involved in their ideas in different ways. Haeckel had different instincts from Wasman; this is why they reach different conclusions. No philosophy dealing with human matters was expressed so objectively, with such pure mathematical thinking, as the Vedanta philosophy which is truly philosophical in the highest sense of the word. Whoever imbues himself with this, knows what the following means: ‘I need no other person in order to know whether something is true.’ Whoever actually raises himself to this clear, passionless thinking, needs no other opinion.

Heraclitus and Hegel had freed themselves from their emotions to a greater degree than du Bois-Reymond, Herbert Spencer and Haeckel; they stand therefore at a higher level. There are different standpoints and conclusions, but not contradictory truths. Haeckel's truth crawls on the ground; the Vedanta wisdom ascends in passionless purity and surveys things from those heights. It does not contradict materialism, but has a higher standpoint. Goethe, in his ‘Metamorphoses of Plants’,58See Rudolf Steiner's comments in Goethe the Scientist tries to create a form as unemotional as that created by the mathematician. Through this he wished to create emotionally free thoughts and introduce the spirit of mathematics into higher regions. Only some degree of Yoga, some degree of purification of emotion, can make comprehensible what Goethe intends with his botany.

Because in this sense thought is something holy, with his thoughts man is on the Devachanic plane. The European is practically never on the Devachanic plane except when he is thinking mathematically. Certain kinds of artistic creation also rise up to the Devachanic plane. When Goethe attains to the highest heights as an artist he is only understood with great difficulty. In ‘Iphigenia’ and ‘Tasso’ he tried to introduce these passion-free thoughts; still more so in the drama ‘Die natürliche Tochter’. These dramas in particular have had a powerful effect on human beings who were strong and forceful. Such people shed tears over ‘Die natürliche Tochter.’

The counter-effect of thought which is on the Devachanic Plane is to be found on the Astral Plane. These thoughts work downwards on to the astral plane; other things work upwards. In the case of Fichte for instance the thought content in ‘Die natürliche Tochter’ worked on the astral plane, on his feeling, and reduced him to tears. This was the counter-effect of thought. Certain people were moved to the depths of their being through the influence of such pure thoughts. The counter-effect of action and feeling goes upwards; here it descends.

Even though thoughts seldom show themselves as such pure thoughts they are nevertheless always present as driving forces. Although different opinions give rise to much wrangling, the thoughts are there. If one is to live in thought on the Devachanic Plane, one must grasp thought in such a way that one develops feeling for the thought. Most people are in agreement with the first theosophical principle,59The first principle of the Theosophical Society founded by H.P. Blavatsky in 1875 runs: ‘To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour’. in so far as it is a thought. If one asks if he is also a representative of this in feeling, one would come to a different conclusion. Only when an opinion for which one stands is brought down to the astral plane, when it has become completely imbued with feeling, only then does the opinion become really effective. It is the aim of the Theosophical Movement to develop human beings so that they also bring life and feeling into what is inherent in its principles.

So let us recapitulate. The effect of all our outer actions is to be found on the Arupa Plane. In a life between birth and death we leave behind a whole skeleton of effects. From all that we have felt in life we leave the imprint on the Rupa Plane. From all that we have thought, an imprint is present on the Astral Plane. After death we go at first through Kamaloka and then reach the Rupa Plane. We come there when we have not yet had many such Devachanic thoughts. If we were to have only such thoughts we should already have become Chelas, occult pupils; then we should have the Devachanic Plane completely within us.

The Chela can remain on the astral plane; he is able to renounce Devachan because through his pure thoughts he has so clarified and strengthened his astral body that he can continue to make use of it. With us everything is dissolved in Kamaloka which has not yet been worked upon and ennobled by the ego. With savages the greater part is dissolved, with highly developed people the smallest. The ennobled astral body is taken with us into Devachan. Everything we have developed as our feeling life prepares us for a new life, works upon us. When we have united ourselves with all our deeds we are impelled towards our next incarnation. The part of the ego that has been made eternal, the I and the ennobled astral body, now returns and in the astral world unites itself again with a body that corresponds to what has not yet been ennobled. The preparation for union with an unfamiliar astral body is undertaken in Devachan. Then the etheric is added as a member. As a result of this arises the pre-vision of everything that awaits the human being. Just as when forsaking the physical body, memory awakens in the etheric and astral bodies of the immediate past and back to the time of birth, so now we have a preview of what is to come. Here something quite specific can occur: one can receive a shock which brings about idiocy. With a further descent the physical body is added.

Because thoughts are active only on the astral plane they are karmically the most intimate. They are creative through their own nature. Hence the saying holds good: What you think today you are tomorrow: The purer and more super-sensible the thought, the more one works creatively upon one's character.

Destiny is formed through yet other factors: feelings fashion the opportunities, actions fashion the form.



Physical Plane

– Actions

Arupa Plane

Astral Plane

– Feelings

Rupa Plane

Devachan Plane

– Thoughts

Astral Plane