Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

At the Gates of Spiritual Science
GA 95

1. The Being of Man

22 August 1906, Stuttgart

These lectures are intended to give a general survey of the whole field of theosophical thought. Theosophy has not always been taught as it is today, in lectures and books that are accessible to everyone. It used to be taught only in small, intimate groups, and knowledge of it was confined to circles of Initiates, to occult brotherhoods; ordinary people were meant to have only the fruits of this knowledge. Not much was known about the knowledge or the activities of these Initiates, or about the places where they worked. Those whom the world recognises as the great men of history were not really the greatest; the greatest, the Initiates, kept in the background.

In the course of the eighteenth century, on a quite unnoticed occasion, an Initiate made brief acquaintance with a writer, and spoke words to which the writer paid no special attention at the time. But they worked on in him and later gave rise to potent ideas, the fruits of which are in countless hands today. The writer was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.11712–1778, philosopher, critic of society.He was not an Initiate, but his knowledge derived from one.

Here is another example. Jacob Boehme,21575–1624, mystic. a shoemaker's apprentice, was sitting alone one day in the shop, where he was not allowed to sell anything himself. A person came in, made a deep impression upon him, spoke a few words, and went away. Immediately afterwards, Boehme heard his name being called: “Jacob, Jacob, today you are small, but one day you will be great. Take heed of what you have seen today!” A secret attraction remained between Boehme and his visitor, who was a great Initiate, and the source of Boehme's powerful inspirations.

There were still other means by which an Initiate could work in those times. For instance, a man might receive a letter intended to bring about action of some kind. The recipient might perhaps be a Minister, someone who had the power but not the ideas to carry out a particular project. The letter might be about something, perhaps a request, which had nothing to do with its real purpose. But there might have been a certain way of reading the letter. For example, if four words out of five were deleted and the last word left, these fifth words would make a new sequence conveying what was to be done, although the recipient, of course, was not aware of it. If the words were the right ones, they achieved their object, even though the reader had not consciously taken in their meaning. Trithemius of Sponheim,3Abbot of Sponheim, near Kreuznach, 1462–1516.a German scholar who was also an Initiate and the teacher of Agrippa von Nettesheim, used this method. Given the right key, you will find in his works much that is taught today in Theosophy.

In earlier times, only a few who had undergone adequate preparation could be initiated. Why was this secrecy necessary? In order to ensure the right attitude towards knowledge, it had to be restricted to those who were adequately prepared; the others received its blessings only. This knowledge was not intended to satisfy idle curiosity or inquisitiveness; it was meant to be put to work, to have a practical influence on political and social institutions in the world. In this way all the great advances in the development of humanity owe their origin to impulses issuing from occultism. For this reason, too, all those who were to be instructed in theosophical teachings were obliged to undergo severe tests and trials to prove their worthiness; and then they were initiated step by step, and led upwards quite slowly.

This method has been abandoned in modern times; the more elementary teachings are now given out publicly. This is necessary because the earlier methods, whereby only the fruits of the teaching were allowed to reach humanity, would fail. Among these earlier methods we must include religions, and this wisdom was a constituent part of all of them. Nowadays, however, we hear of a conflict between knowledge and faith. What is necessary today is to attain to higher knowledge by the paths of learning.

The decisive event which led to the making public of this knowledge, however, was the invention of printing. Previously, theosophical teaching had been passed on orally from one person to another, and nobody who was unripe or unworthy would hear of it. But knowledge of the material world was spread abroad and made popular through books; hence arose the conflict between knowledge and faith. Issues such as this have made it necessary for much of the great treasure of occult knowledge of all ages to be made accessible to the public. Whence does man originate? What is his goal? What lies hidden behind his visible form? What happens after death?—all these questions have to be answered, and answered not by theories and hypotheses and surmises, but by the relevant facts.

The purpose of occult science has always been to unravel the riddle of man. Everything said in these lectures will be from the standpoint of practical occultism; they will contain nothing that is mere theory and cannot be put into practice. Such theories have found their way into theosophical literature because in the beginning the people who wrote the books did not understand clearly what they were writing about. This kind of writing may indeed be very useful for curiosity-addicts; but Theosophy must be carried into real life.

Let us first consider the nature and being of man. When someone comes into our presence, we first of all see through our sense-organs what Theosophy calls the physical body. Man has this body in common with the whole world around him; and although the physical body is only a small part of what man really is, it is the only part of which ordinary science takes account. But we must go deeper. Even superficial observation will make it clear that this physical body has very special qualities. There are plenty of other things which you can see and touch; every stone is after all a physical body. But man can move, feel and think; he grows, takes nourishment, propagates his kind. None of this is true of a stone, but some of it is certainly true of plants and animals. Man has in common with the plants his capacity to nourish himself, to grow and propagate; if he were like a stone, with only a physical body, none of this would be possible. He must therefore possess something which enables him to use substances and their forces in such a way that they become for him the means of growth and so forth. This is the etheric body.

Man has a physical body in common with the mineral kingdom, and an etheric body in common with the plant and animal kingdoms. Ordinary observation can confirm that. But there is another way whereby we can convince ourselves of the existence of an etheric body, although only those who have developed their higher senses have this faculty. These higher senses are no more than a higher development of what is dormant in every human being. It is rather like a man born blind being operated on so that he can see. The difference is that not everyone born blind can be successfully operated on, whereas everyone can develop the spiritual senses if he has the necessary patience and goes through the proper preliminary training. A very definite form of higher perception is needed to understand this principle of life, growth, nutrition and propagation. The example of hypnotism can help us to show what this means.

Hypnotism, which has always been known to the Initiates, implies a condition of consciousness different from that of ordinary sleep. There must be a close rapport between the hypnotiser and his subject. Two types of suggestion are involved—positive and negative. The first makes a person see what is not there, while the second diverts his attention from something that is present and is thus only an intensification of a condition familiar enough in everyday life when our attention is diverted from an object so that we do not see it, although our eyes are open. This happens to us involuntarily every day when we are wholly absorbed in something. Theosophy will have nothing to do with conditions where consciousness is dimmed and dulled. To grasp theosophical truths a man must be quite as much in control of his senses when investigating higher worlds as he is when investigating ordinary matters. The serious dangers inherent in Initiation can affect him only if his consciousness is dimmed.

Anyone who wants to know the nature of the etheric body by direct vision must be able to maintain his ordinary consciousness intact and “suggest away” the physical body by the strength of his own will. The gap left will, however, not be empty; he will see before him the etheric body glowing with a reddish-blue light like a phantom, but with radiance a little darker than young peach blossom. We never see an etheric body if we “suggest away” a crystal; but in the case of a plant or animal we do, for it is the etheric body that is responsible for nutrition, growth and reproduction.

Man, of course, has other faculties as well. He can feel pleasure and pain, which the plant cannot do. The Initiate can discover this by his own experience, for he can identify himself with the plant. Animals can feel pleasure and pain, and thus have a further principle in common with man: the astral body. The astral body is the seat of everything we know as desire, passion, and so forth. This is clear to straightforward observation as an inner experience, but for the Initiate the astral body can become an outer reality. The Initiate sees this third member of man as an egg-shaped cloud which not only surrounds the body, but permeates it. If we “suggest away” the physical body and also the etheric body, what we shall see will be a delicate cloud of light, inwardly full of movement. Within this cloud or aura the Initiate sees every desire, every impulse, as colour and form in the astral body. For example, he sees intense passion flashing like rays of lightning out of the astral body.

In animals the basic colour of the astral body varies with the species: a lion's astral body has a different basic colour from that of a lamb. Even in human beings the colour is not always the same, and if you train yourself to be sensitive to delicate nuances, you will be able to recognise a man's temperament and general disposition by his aura. Nervous people have a dappled aura; the spots are not static but keep on lighting up and fading away. This is always so, and is why the aura cannot be painted.

But man is distinguished from the animal in still another way. This brings us to the fourth member of man's being, which comes to expression in a name different from all other names. I can say “I” only of myself. In the whole of language there is no other name which cannot be applied by all and sundry to the same object. It is not so with “I”; a man can say it only of himself. Initiates have always been aware of this. Hebrew Initiates spoke of the “inexpressible name of God”, of the God who dwells in man, for the name can be uttered only by the soul for this same soul. It must sound forth from the soul and the soul must give itself its own name; no other soul can utter it. Hence the emotion of wonder which thrilled through the listeners when the name “Jahve” was uttered, for Jahve or Jehovah signifies “I” or “I AM”. In the name which the soul uses of itself, the God begins to speak within that individual soul.

This attribute makes man superior to the animals. We must realise the tremendous significance of this word. When Jean Paul4Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, 1763–1825, poet. had discovered the “I” within himself, he knew that he had experienced his immortal being.

This again presents itself to the seer in a peculiar form. When he studies the astral body, everything appears in perpetual movement except for one small space, shaped like a somewhat elongated blue oval, situated at the base of the nose, behind the brow. This is to be seen in human beings only—more clearly in the less civilised peoples, most clearly of all in savages at the lowest level of culture. Actually there is nothing there but an empty space. Just as the empty centre of a flame appears blue when seen through the light around it, so this empty space appears blue because of the auric light streaming around it. This is the outer form of expression of the “I”.

Every human being has these four members; but there is a difference between a primitive savage and a civilised European, and also between the latter and a Francis of Assisi, or a Schiller. A refinement of the moral nature produces finer colours in the aura; an increase in the power of discrimination between good and evil also shows itself in a refinement of the aura. In the process of becoming civilised the “I” has worked upon the astral body and ennobled the desires. The higher the moral and intellectual development of a man, the more will his “I” have worked upon the astral body. The seer can distinguish between a developed and an undeveloped human being

Whatever part of the astral body has been thus transformed by the “I” is called Manas. Manas is the fifth member of man's nature. A man has just so much of Manas as he has created by his own efforts; part of his astral body is therefore always Manas. But a man is not able to exercise an immediate influence upon the etheric body, although in the same way that he can raise himself to a higher moral level he can also learn to work upon the etheric body. Then he will be called a Chela,5(Tschela) Sanskrit. The pupil of a teacher of occult knowledge. a pupil. He can thus attain mastery over the etheric body, and what he has transformed in this body by his own efforts is called Buddhi. This is the sixth member of man's nature, the transformed etheric body.

Such a Chela can be recognised by a certain sign. An ordinary man shows no resemblance either in temperament or form to his previous incarnation. The Chela has the same habits, the same temperament as in the previous incarnation. This similarity remains because he has worked consciously on the etheric body, the bearer of the forces of growth and reproduction.

The highest achievement open to man on this Earth is to work right down into his physical body. That is the most difficult task of all. In order to have an effect upon the physical body itself, a man must learn to control the breath and the circulation, to follow consciously the activity of the nerves, and to regulate the processes of thought. In theosophical language, a man who has reached this stage is called an Adept; he will then have developed in himself what we call Atma. Atma is the seventh member of man's being.

In every human being four members are fully formed, the fifth only partly, the sixth and seventh in rudiment only. Physical body, etheric body, astral body, “I” or Ego, Manas, Buddhi, Atma—these are the seven members of man's nature; through them he can participate in three worlds.