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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit
GA 96

XIV. The Lord's Prayer: An Esoteric Study, Prayer and Meditation

28 January 1907, Berlin

Today I'd like to consider the question as to how far religious confessions can be seen, using specific examples, to have their foundation in the science of the spirit, or, as we may also put it, in occult science. I only want to consider a very small part of this subject concerning the spiritual scientific foundation of religions. You are going to see that this concerns a fact known to everyone in our civilization, even the most naive individuals, a spiritual fact that holds the most profound truths and fundamentals of the science of the spirit, and one only has to look for it to see how mysterious and full of wisdom are the connections that exist in cultural life.

Let us start with the question of Christian prayer. You all know 'Christian prayer’, as it is called today. We have spoken of it before and some people may well have asked themselves: ‘How does Christian prayer relate to the view of the world we have in the science of the spirit?’ Through this view of the world, members of the spiritual scientific movement have heard something about another way in which man, the human soul, can rise to the divine spiritual powers in the universe; about meditation, about that particular way of inwardly living with a spiritual thought; also something or other about what the great spirits that guide humanity have given us; or about the spiritual reality that lived and lives in the great civilizations. If we consider those civilizations we are given the means of entering for a short time in our souls into the divine and spiritual streams in this world.

Someone who meditates, even in the simplest way, using one of the meditations given by the spiritual guides of humanity; someone who meditates and thus lets one of the formulae, one of the significant thoughts, be present in his mind—you know it cannot be any kind of thought, but has to be something given by the Masters of Wisdom and of the Harmony of Inner Feelings—someone who meditates and lets these formulae come alive in his heart, finds he has entered into the stream of a higher spirituality; a higher power flows through him. He lives in it. First he creates the ability to strengthen his ordinary powers of mind, to elevate them and give them life, and with sufficient patience and perseverance, perhaps having let this power flow into him to strengthen him morally and intellectually, the moment will come when deeper powers are aroused that lie dormant in every human soul, powers awakened by such a meditative thought. From the simplest way of gaining moral strength up to the highest regions of clairvoyant potential, all kinds of stages can be reached by meditating like this. For most people it is just a matter of time, patience and energy to reach the higher levels. Meditating like this is usually considered a more Eastern way of going to higher levels to meet one’s god. In the West, and especially in the Christian world, we have prayer instead, the prayer in which the Christian goes to higher levels, to his god, prayer in which the Christian seeks to gain entrance to the higher worlds in his particular way.

Now above all else we must be clear that much of what is thought to be prayer today would not have counted as such at all in the early Christian sense, and least of all in the view of the founder of the Christian religion, Christ Jesus himself. In truly Christian terms it never is prayer if someone asks his god for something to satisfy his own personal and egoistical desires. When someone pleads or prays for his own personal wishes to be met, he will soon reach the point where he completely forgets the universal and comprehensive nature of anything which is granted in answer to prayer. He thinks the divine spirit will specifically meet his own desires. A farmer who is growing a particular crop may need rain, perhaps, whilst his neighbour needs the sun to shine. One of them prays for rain, the other for sun. What is divine providence to do? And this quite apart from anything divine providence is supposed to do when two armies face one another in the field and each is praying for victory, each considering its own victory to be the only just and fair one. You can see immediately how little universality and general humanity lies in such prayers, and that if a god were to grant them, only one party would be satisfied.

Praying in that way people forget the prayer in which Christ Jesus set the basic mood that should prevail in any prayer, the prayer that says: ‘Father, let this cup pass; but not my will but your will be done.’91Matthew 26: 39. That is the basic mood of Christian prayer. Whatever people intercede or pray for, this basic mood must be a bright note sounding again and again in the soul as someone seeks to offer Christian prayer. The prayer formula then becomes a means of raising ourselves to higher regions so that we may feel the god within us. The formula will then also drive away any egoistical wish and will impulse, so that the words ‘not my will but your will be done’ will have real meaning. We then give ourselves up to and enter deeply into the divine world. When we achieve this basic mood as the true mood for prayer, Christian prayer is exactly the same—only with more of a feeling note to it as meditation. And this Christian prayer originally was exactly what meditation also is. It is only that meditation is more at the level of thought, seeking to be in harmony with the divine streams that go through the world and doing so by means of the thoughts of the great guides of humanity. The same thing is achieved, but more at the level of feelings, in prayer.

We see therefore that in both prayer and meditation people seek to achieve something which we may call oneness of the soul with the divine streams that go through the world, something which at its highest level is known as ‘mystic union’ with the godhead. Prayer and meditation, are the first step towards this. Human beings could never unite with their god, they could never make connection with the higher spiritual entities if they themselves were not an outflowing from this divine spirit.

As we all know, man is dual by nature. He has the four bodies that make up his essential human nature, bodies we have often mentioned before—physical body, ether or life body, astral body and I. Within the I lies the potential for the future—manas, buddhi, atman, or spirit self, life spirit and spirit human being.

To gain the right insight into the way these two essential realities of human nature are related, we have to go back for a moment to the time when man came into existence. You all know from earlier lectures that man as he is today is a symphony of the two essential realities—threefold potential for the future in manas, buddhi and atman, his three higher principles on the one hand, and physical body, ether body, astral body and I as the four lower principles on the other. We also know that he evolved to be like this in a far, far distant past which we call the Lemurian age of the earth.

Going back from our present age, through the Graeco-Latin, then the Egyptian, Assyrian and Chaldean, the Persian and also the Indian civilizations, we gradually come, as we go further and further back, to the great Atlantean flood that lives on in the mythologies of all peoples, and to our ancestors who lived in the land that lay between Europe and America, a land which we call Atlantis. Further back we come to ancestors who lived in primordial times in a land which then lay between Australia and India. The higher trinity of man—spirit self, life spirit and spirit human being—did not unite with the four lower bodies, as we call them—physical body, ether body, astral body and I—until the middle of that period.

We have the right idea if we see it like this. During Lemurian times on this earth, the highest life form was not the physical human being we know today. There was just a kind of highly developed animal form which today envelops our present-day human being. At that time it consisted of the four lower bodies. Higher human nature, the eternal in man, with the three potential elements that will develop further in the future through manas, buddhi and atman, had until then been in the keeping of the godhead. To imagine what happened at the time, in a way that may be rather commonplace but does help us to see it, think of all the people who today make up the whole of humanity having developed bodies by then that would enable them to absorb the human soul rather the way a sponge is able to absorb water.

Think of a vessel filled with water. You’ll be unable to tell where one drop of water ends and another begins. And then think of a number of tiny little sponges dipped into the water. What had been a uniform mass of water in the vessel, is now divided up among many tiny sponges. That is how it was with the human soul at that time, if we may use such a commonplace analogy. Before, they rested in the care of the divine prime spirit, and they were dependent, having no individuality; then they were absorbed into human bodies and thus made individual, like the water in the tiny sponges. The principle which was then absorbed by the individual bodies, which are the four lower principles, has continued on into our time, developing all the time, and it will continue to develop in the future. In the science of the spirit, or occult science, it was always called the upper trinity, and triangle and square were chosen, above all by the Pythagorean school, to represent this human being who came into being in the middle of the Lemurian age.

The Lord's Prayer
Fig. 19

But as you can easily imagine, this upper, eternal principle which goes through all incarnations can be considered from two points cf view. On the one hand we may see it as part of humanity for ever and all eternity, and on the other hand as part of the divine spirit which that great spirit gave away at the time as a part or droplet of its own content, which is now down in the fourfold human vessel. A droplet of divinity became individual and independent as it came to rest in us human beings. You can see, therefore, that you may consider the three higher principles of human nature, the eternal in us, to be not only the three highest principles in human nature, but also as three principles in the godhead itself. If you wanted to enumerate the principles of the gods who gave humanity the soul droplet at that time, you would have to start with man and his physical body, continue with the ether body, astral body and I, go on up from manas to atman, beginning with manas, continuing with buddhi and atman, and go on to the principles that lie above atman and of which present-day human beings will only be able to have a idea when they become pupils of the initiates. So you see that we can also consider these three principles, which man has within him as his content, to be three divine principles.

Let us now look at them not as human but as divine principles, and describe them in their essential nature. The highest principle in the human being, atman, something we will develop at the end of this earthly, or, shall we say, present planetary evolution, can be characterized in terms of spiritual or occult science by comparing its essential nature with something of which present-day human beings have only a vague notion, and that is the will element in man. The basic character of this, the highest divine principle in us, is will-like by nature, a kind of will intent. The will, which is least developed in our inner nature today, will be our most outstanding principle at a future time, when we shall ascend higher and higher.

Today man is essentially a creature who seeks insight, with the will really still limited in all kinds of directions. We can grasp the universal nature of the world around us up to a point. But just consider how few of the things we are able to grasp are things we are able to will; how little power we have over the things we are able to grasp. The future will bring what we do not yet have. The will is going to grow mightier and mightier, until we reach our great goal, which in the science of the spirit is called 'the great offering' or 'sacrifice'. This consists in a power of the will where the spirit which wills is able to give itself up completely, not just giving the little a human being is able to give out of the weakness of his powers of feeling and will, but giving one’s whole existence, letting oneself flow out as an essential spirit right down to the level of material nature.

You’ll get an idea of what is meant by 'the great sacrifice', the highest form of the will in divine nature, if you look at it in the following way. Imagine you are standing in front of a mirror and your image is looking at you from this mirror. This image is an illusion but it is your perfect counterfeit. Now imagine you have died, giving up your own existence, your feeling, thinking and your very essence in order to give life to this image, making it into what you yourself are. To give up oneself and one's life to the image—this is something which in the science of the spirit has always been called the emanation, the flowing out. If you were able to do this you would find that you yourself are no longer there, for you have given away everything in order to resurrect life and conscious awareness in the image.

When the will has reached a level where it is capable of performing ‘the great sacrifice’, as it is called, then it makes, it creates a universe, large or small, and this universe is a mirror image that has been given its mission through the essential nature of its creator. We have thus characterized the creative will in the divine spirit.

The second principle we have to characterize in divine nature, in so far as it has entered into humanity, is already contained in the analogy we have made—it is the mirror image itself. Enter as actively as you can into a divine spirit that is the creator of a world and the centre of the universe. If you think of a point in this room and imagine that rather than by these walls, of which there are six, it is surrounded by a hollow sphere, the inner surface of which is a mirror, you will see yourself, the centre, reflected on all sides. You have the image of a divine spirit as a will centre that is reflected on all sides, and the mirror is the image of the godhead itself and also of the universe. For what is a universe? It is nothing but a mirror reflecting the essential nature of the divine spirit.

The universe is alive and active. And this is because the godhead emanates in making its great sacrifice, in reflecting its universe, which is like the enlivening of the mirror image we tried to imagine. The whole universe is given life out of the universal will that comes to expression in infinite variety. This process of infinite variety, infinite replication, this repetition of the godhead is known as the ‘realm’, as distinct from the ‘will’, in every occult or spiritual science. The will is thus the centre; its mirror is the realm, so that you may compare the will with atman or spirit man, and the realm, or mirror image of the will, with buddhi or life spirit.

Now this realm is such that it reflects the essential nature of the divine in infinite variety. Just look at this realm all around, in so far as it is our realm, our rich variety, our universe; look at its visible part in minerals, plants, animals and human beings. The realm manifests in every individual form, and something of this still lives on in the German term Reich [meaning 'rich' as well as 'realm'; tr.], with the major divisions of our universe called the mineral, plant and animal worlds or realms. But if we also go into detail, then every detail, too, is divine by nature. Nature is reflected in all of it, just as the centre would be mirrored in the hollow sphere. And someone who looks at the world in the terms of occult research sees the god, an image and expression of the divine, in every mineral, every plant, every animal and every human being.

The divine spirit shows itself in infinitely many different forms of life in all their variety. If one has reached the level of perception in the science of the spirit that enables one to see the individual entities as having originated in the godhead, they are told apart by giving them a ‘name’. It is the name which the human being thinks of as the individual entity; it serves to distinguish the individual entities in this vast variety from one another. It is the third of the greatest three human principles that flow from the godhead and may be said to correspond to the manas or spirit self. The occult teaching of different religions also used to teach, naively, what had flowed from the godhead and flowed into you, becoming your eternal image.

If you wish to rise to the realm to which you are ultimately destined to rise, you will find that it is will-like by nature.

If you wish to rise to the buddhi, the bearer of this will, of this atman, its realm is of the divine.

And if you wish to rise to that which you perceive to be names, concepts or ideas of things—this is what name is within the realm of the divine.

What we have been considering is the ancient wisdom which tells us that name, realm and will make up the part of the godhead that has flowed into essential human nature to be the eternal part of it. We thus see that the three higher principles in man are part of the divine.

To complete our study, let us now take a look at the four lower principles of mortal man. We know of the three higher principles that they can actually be considered from the other aspect, since we consider them to be parts of the divine principle. In a similar way, the four lower principles of essential human nature can be considered to be parts of the transitory world and parts of human nature.

Consider the physical body. It is made up of the same material and the same forces as the seemingly lifeless world all around it. This physical body could not exist unless matter and energy were continually flowing into it from the physical world that surrounds it, building it up over and over again. Everything we have in the physical body is really in transit within it. Materials flow into and out of it which make up the outer universe as well as being inside us for a time. Mention has been made here on several occasions that the whole material content of the human body is renewed in the course of seven years. None of you have any of the matter in you today that you had in you ten years ago. Human beings renew the substance of their physical bodies all the time. The matter which was in us before is now somewhere else, distributed in the natural world outside, and other matter has come into us. The life of the body requires matter to come in and go out all the time.

Just as we considered the three higher principles in the essential human being to be parts of the godhead, so we can consider the four parts of lower human nature to be parts of the divine natural world.

We may consider the physical body to be part of the material part of our planet; its substance has been taken from this material planet and goes back again to it. If we consider the ether body, we must also see it as part of the world that surrounds us here, and the same holds true for the astral body.

Let us consider the life body or ether body and the astral body in context. You know that the astral body sustains everything we have by way of drives, desires and passions, everything that moves the human soul—joy and suffering, pleasure and pain, whilst the life or ether body relates to qualities of soul that are more lasting, of longer duration and sustains them.

On some occasions when speaking to you I compared the development of the life or ether body and the astral body with the hour and minute hands of a clock. I made you aware that when you recall things which you knew and which happened when you were eight and the things you know and that happen now, you'll notice a great difference. You have learned infinitely many things, taking up many ideas; as to the things you did when you were eight, many feelings of joy and pain may have come to mind again; not only come to mind, but also passed through it. But if you now compare this with your temperament, your character, your lasting tendencies, you will realize that if you had a violent temper as a child you will probably still have a violent temper today. Most people keep these basic characteristics for the whole of their lives. As we have stressed a number of times, occult training is not a matter of theory but of directing evolution to the structures in the ether body, which otherwise tend to be unchanging. A disciple has done more if he has changed one of these temperamental characteristics, his basic inclination, and thus made the hour hand move a little faster than would otherwise have been the case. All the things that evolve so slowly—our lasting habits and basic temperament—are embodied in the ether or life body. Everything that changes relatively more quickly, like the minute hand on the clock, is embodied in the astral body.

If you now apply this to our human environment, to our life in the outside world, you will see that your habits, temperaments and lasting inclinations connect you with your era, your nation and your family. The lasting, unchanging qualities which people have will be found not only in them but in everyone with whom they are in some way connected—family, nation and so on. Individual members of a nation can be seen to have the same habits and temperaments. This basic set of habits and inclinations which need to be changed if we want to go through higher development make up our higher nature. Because of this such an individual is called a 'homeless' person, for he must change his ether body which normally connects him with his people.

If we consider the communities we live in, into which we are born, we find that the character qualities through which we belong to a family, a nation, and through which we feel we have a connection with the members of this nation, are also similar to the character qualities that live in our era. Just think how little you’d have in common with a member of the ancient Greek nation. His ether body would have been very different from the ether body of someone living today. People understand one another because of the common qualities in their ether bodies. The quality that makes people stand out from the common characteristics, making them unique within the family or the nation, so that they are individuals and not just a French or a German person, a quality that can also transcend the sum of gender characteristics, is anchored in the astral body; the astral body sustains it. The astral body thus holds more the individual, personal aspect.

If someone errs through his ether or life body, he is more liable to be a sinner among the people he lives or works with, failing to play his proper role in the social sphere that enables people to have a social life. Sins of a more individual nature, so that a person errs in a personal way, are due to the qualities of the astral body.

Sins against the community that come from a faulty ether body have always been called ‘faults’ in occult science. The way the term ‘fault’ is used for a physical defect is close to its use in a moral sense. The problem is due to a defect in the ether body. Defects in the astral body, on the other hand, are called ‘temptations’. Temptation causes people to commit individual sins. The I can also fall into its own kind of error, as shown in the story of paradise. When the human soul came down, out of the keeping of the godhead, and for the first time entered into an earthly body, it was taken up into that body the way a drop of water is absorbed into a sponge, and the higher soul then developed I-nature.

This higher soul, I-nature, can commit errors within the I. Man does not fall because of faults in his ether and astral bodies, but there is a basic way of falling into sin and this is due to the fact that man has gained his independence. Humanity had to go through selfishness and egoism so that they might gradually gain freedom and independence in full awareness. Man came down as a soul that was part of the godhead, and the godhead cannot fall into egoism. Nothing that is part of an organism would ever imagine itself to be independent of it. If a finger were to think so, for example, it would tear itself away from the body and shrivel up. Human beings could never have gained the independence which they need to develop if they had not first gone through selfishness; this independence will only gain its true meaning once selflessness has become its basic characteristic.

Selfishness entered into the human body and this made man a selfish, egoistical creature. We see, therefore, that the I follows all the drives and inclinations of the body. The human being devours his neighbour, he gives in to all kinds of drives and desires and is wholly caught up in the earthly vessel, just as a drop of water is absorbed by a small sponge.

The paradise story refers to the sins man was able to commit once he had become such an I-creature, a truly independent creature. Before that he drew on the common source, like a drop that is still in water and takes its energy from the common body of water; now he has all impulses within himself. This is indicated by biting into the apple in the paradise story, and not for nothing, for in occult science, all true meanings of words have a deep inner connection. So the Latin malum means both ‘evil’ and ‘apple’. In occult science, the word ‘evil’ is only used for errors arising out of the I.

Evil thus is to do wrong out of the I. A fault is the kind of error the ether body falls into in social life, in the life that human beings live together. Temptation is something that may affect the astral body in so far as it may be defective on the personal, individual level. And so the error which the ether or life body falls into is ‘fault’, that of the astral body is ‘temptation’, and the I is capable of ‘evil’.

When we consider the way the four lower bodies of man relate to the environment, to the surrounding planetary body, we see that the physical body is all the time taking up physical matter to feed and maintain itself. We see that the life of the life or ether body here on earth comes into existence in that the individual maintains community with the people of the community into which he has grown. We see that the astral body maintains itself by not falling into temptation. And finally we see that the I maintains itself and develops in the right way by not succumbing to what we call ‘evil’.

Now imagine you have before your mind’s eye the whole of this human nature with its lower four and higher three principles and are then able to say: ‘A drop of the divine lives in the individual human being, and man is developing towards the divine, to let his deepest, inmost nature come to fruition.’ Once he has done this, he will have gone through a gradual process to transform his own nature into what is called the ‘Father’ in Christian terminology. The great goal of humankind which lies hidden in the human soul is the ‘Father in heaven’. To develop in that direction, we must have the power to develop our higher three and lower four principles to the point where they maintain the physical body in the right way. The ether or life body must then live in such a way with other human beings that compensation is made for anything that lives in it by way of faults; the astral body must not perish in temptation and the I not in evil.

Through the three higher principles, man must seek to rise to the Father in heaven—through the name, the realm and the will. The name should be seen as something holy. Behold all things around you; they reflect the godhead in their manifoldness. Saying their name you must once again know them to be parts of the divine world order. Let everything there is around you be sacred; and see something in the name you give it that will make it part of the divine. Let it be sacred to you, grow into the realm that has come forth from the godhead, and progress to achieve the will that shall be atman, but at the same time also part of the godhead.

Now think of someone who enters deeply in meditation into this aim of evolution, and needs to express this aim in seven petitions in a prayer. How will he put it?

To say what the aim of the prayer is, he will say: ‘Our Father, who are in heaven,’ before he says the seven petitions. This refers to the deepest part of the human soul, the inmost nature of man which according to Christian esoterics belongs to the realm of the spirit. The first three petitions relate to the three higher principles in the human being: ‘Let your name be holy. Let your realm come to us. Let your will be done.’ We now move on from the realm of the spirit to the earthly realm: ‘Let your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.’

The last four petitions relate to the four lower principles in human nature.

What shall we say of the physical body, so that it may be maintained in life on the planet? ‘Give us today our daily bread.’

What shall we say of the ether or life body? ‘Forgive us our faults, just as we shall forgive those who commit faults against us.’

What shall we say with regard to the astral body? ‘Lead us not into temptation.’

And what shall we say with regard to the I? ‘Deliver us from evil.’ You see, therefore, that the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer speak of how the human soul, if it rises to this in the right way, asks the divine will to guide the development of the individual principles of the human being in such a way that he may develop all aspects of his essential nature in the right way. The Lord’s Prayer thus helps the human being to rise in moments of need to the true purpose of developing his sevenfold nature. And even for the most naive of individuals who is quite unable to understand them, the seven petitions reflect human nature as it is seen in the light of spiritual science.

Any meditation formulas that ever existed with the major religions have come from occult knowledge. You may take all real prayers and analyse them word by word—you’ll never find them to be words put together at random. It has not been a matter of following a vague impulse and putting together nice words; no, the great initiates took the prayer formulas from the wisdom of old, something we call the science of the spirit today. There is no true prayer formula that has not come to life out of profound wisdom. Christ Jesus, the great initiate and founder of Christianity, had the seven principles of essential human nature in mind when he taught this prayer, which reflects those seven principles.

All the prayers thus show a particular order. If they did not they would not have had the power which they have had for thousands of years. Prayers have to show this kind of order if they are to be a power also for simple people who may not even understand the meaning of the words.

This will be clearer if we compare what happens in the human soul with something that happens in the natural world. Consider a plant. It delights you and there is no need to know anything about the great universal laws that have made it grow. The plant is there and can lift up your hearts. It could not have been created if it had not been for those original and eternal laws. Naive minds need not understand those laws, but a plant can only come into existence on the basis of these laws. To be effective, a prayer cannot just be invented at will but must have arisen out of the eternal laws of wisdom just as a plant arises on the basis of the eternal laws of wisdom. A prayer can have no real significance for those who understand and those who do not understand unless it has come from that wisdom.

We now live in an age when people who have looked at the plant for so long, letting it lift up their hearts, can be guided towards discovering the wisdom-filled content of those laws. For two millennia, Christians have prayed the way naive people may look at a plant. In future they will perceive how the power of the prayer comes from that profound original wisdom that has given rise to it. All prayers, and especially the Lord’s Prayer as the central, focal prayer of Christian life, reflect that original wisdom. And just as light comes to expression in this world in seven colours, and the tonic in music in seven notes, so does human life, rising to its god in seven ways in the seven different feelings relating to the sevenfold nature of the human being, come to expression in the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer, as we contemplate it in our souls, thus reflects the sevenfold human being.