Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Nature and Spirit Beings
Their Effects in Our Visible World
GA 98

Part I

II. Esoteric Development and Super-sensible Knowledge

7 November 1907, Vienna

I want to talk to you more in-depth about the previous topic of the day before yesterday, about inner or esoteric development and super-sensible knowledge. It will be quite necessary to treat what we examined then as a prerequisite because we want to build further upon what has touched our soul at that time. You will have understood from what was discussed, that the development of the human being is not something that should be taken as a joke; it is not something that should be taken lightly. Though on the other hand, one has to emphasise repeatedly, that one should not talk about the dangers of occult development in an ordinary, trivial way either. The dangers are great, but the way they are usually talked about is not correct, we have to become very clear about this. Let us just try to imagine more precisely what happens to someone who has developed himself through some kind of exercise, let’s say, by way of the type of exercises mentioned in the last lecture, and let’s compare him with someone who is not involved in such training and follows, just like everyone else, his daily routine. We will arrive at a conscious understanding, if we begin, for example, with what we know about the ordinary state of sleep.

From the previous lecture1Vienna, 6 November 1907. No transcript is available of this lecture. you’ve learnt what the human astral body actually does at night in the normal state of sleep. While a human being is asleep, the physical body and the etheric body lie in bed—but the so-called “astral body” together with the ego rises out of these and leaves them behind. And when the astral body is not in the physical body, and does not use its tools, the sense organs, to observe and reflect upon the external world, and is not kept busy by the movements and work of the physical body, then the astral body can take on a completely different task. It removes the exhaustion of both.2Translator’s Note: the physical and the etheric body. The removal of this exhaustion is its task. A clairvoyant can see how the astral body throughout the whole night works from the outside on the physical and etheric body to restore them so that in the morning the human being feels the renewal of his strength and feels refreshed. For this reason, sleep is such a good doctor, and if someone doesn’t get healthy and sufficient sleep he loses a lot. Many, many things that seem to be sicknesses, are only disturbances in the physical and etheric body. These disturbances remain if the astral body is unable to remove them. It is, however, able to remove these disturbances when it is not in the physical body as in the awake state, but when it is outside of the body.

Where does the astral body get its strength and abilities, that it uses to 'repair' the physical body? In my last public lecture, I have already compared the exit of the astral body out of the physical and the etheric body, to an amount of water contained in a glass. If you have about 1000 drops of water in this glass which form a body of water, then this is different from taking a thousand small sponges and sponging up every drop of water separately—and so you will have individualised each drop separately. In the same way, this happens with the astral body during the night. If all of you were to fall asleep here now, the same thing would happen as when you were to squeeze out the sponges and create one body of water. Your astral body would raise up and would join with the others. By connecting in this way, human beings come into contact with those harmonic magnificent occurrences in the universe. Our souls return in the night to the harmony of the spheres and from these the astral body with the ego—and this is the soul—acquire the strength needed for the restoration of the physical body.

What will happen to a human being who obtains an occult teacher and undergoes occult training? He is given certain tasks. One can only talk about these roughly. He receives tasks to meditate, concentrate, and so on. What is the purpose of the task assigned to the student by the teacher? The purpose is to slowly enable the astral body to see when it is outside of the physical body at night. The astral body of an ordinary human being is, when outside, unconscious within the astral world, as you would be unconscious in the physical world if you had no sense organs. Without sense organs, the world does not exist for you. The moment a human being receives the instructions to awaken the dormant forces of his soul, his astral body receives spiritual or psychic sense organs, those organs that are called Lotus flowers. These are not flowers any more than the lobes of the lungs3Translator’s Note: Lobes of the lungs are called “Lungenflügel” in German i.e., wings of the lungs. are wings. Everyone knows that a hawk has wings that look quite different from the lobes of the lungs.

Lotus flowers are organs, that perform a kind of circling motion. One such organ is located underneath the forehead, one centimetre under where the eyebrows meet, in the brain. Focusing intensely on this point and simultaneously speaking a particular word, triggers a kind of flash, an appearance of light, visible to a clairvoyant from the outside. The sense organ begins to carry out a circling motion. It is said that the wheel is turning, it comes to life.

A normal average person does not have such an organ at this location, or there is at most a subtle hint of it. Through the training, the flashing appears when the astral body is outside of the physical one. The impression one gains as a clairvoyant, observing from the outside, is that of a turning wheel. This wheel is called a “swastika”. This sign, like other real symbols, cannot be explained by speculation. They weren’t randomly invented but can really be seen on the spiritual or astral plane. The swastika is a symbol of this sense organ, and all witty explanations in the theosophical literature are nonsense. One must not provide allegorical or symbolic explanations in theosophy. This would be what one must give up first: all speculation. One has to give up all this pondering about how things could be. It is only important to enter into reality itself. Located close to the larynx is the sixteen-petalled Lotus flower, an organ on which human development depends very much. Close to the heart is the twelve-petalled, and further down the ten-petalled Lotus, and so on.

These organs develop through the exercises that the teacher assigns to the student, in the same way as the sense organs of the physical body develop by practice, for example through the influence of light and sound. You can see one as a physical and the other as a spiritual process of exactly the same duration. You must not believe that any riotous processes, magic, or some such things, could lead someone to develop these sense organs. It is only intimate processes, learning by thinking thoughts that have the strength in them to develop such organs. Hereby it is consistently important that the human being learns what these thoughts are, and that he focuses on a particular bodily organ, for example at a point in his brain located one centimetre below the middle of the eyebrows. If a human being now focuses on this point whilst using a specific combination of words, he will awaken certain abilities inside his astral body. It is all systematically and, one could say, technically determined.

Some people don’t find this very relevant for them at all. Repeatedly, one hears phrases that are an absurdity for a true occultist: “I do not need a teacher; I have to find my teacher inside of myself”. Now, in such talks, the greatest egoism can be found—and it is nonsense. If someone would look at geometry from this perspective, what would be the result? Everyone is able to discover all the laws of geometry by way of inner development: he might need many thousand years to discover them, but he is able to find them. But is it really necessary, to discover geometry anew?

Should one not just connect to what mankind in century-long work has discovered, build upon it, and create something useful for humanity that has provided us with so much knowledge? Humanity is entitled to this. What could we spare humanity from, if we would feel devoted love towards the teachers of early mankind! In the same way, we are also not attempting to search for the sake of our own inner development, but as workers performing a great service to mankind. There were always human beings who were pioneers. They are the ones from whom we have to learn, and if we are worried about submitting to their authority then that is loveless nonsense. Working in the spirit of the teachers of mankind, to seek out those who can lead us, is an immediate and absolute necessity for occult teachers and students alike. Those things that the teachers tell us, and that were tested and known for centuries, tease the sense organs out of the astral body.

If someone gives occult advice—a real teacher won’t do this—then it can easily happen that they instruct the student on how he can gain perceptions in the astral world. It can then be perceived that the student begins to work on his astral body and starts to tease out the sense organs but begins to display worse habits and characteristics than prior to becoming an occult student. People were wondering about the fact that in the early times of theosophy many people made incomprehensible mistakes in regard to their character. Even a slight development of the astral body, instigated by the elementary teachings of theosophy, when these became first known publicly, triggered quite curious phenomena. For example, a student, who was a cashier, took off with the money, and another still did quite different things; also, people who were previously very peace-loving became quarrelsome. This is because even with a bit of occult development flowing from the theosophical concepts, if not followed up properly the bad sides of a character issue forth. However, none should be frightened because of this. Attention should simply be paid to such things as they need to be taken seriously. Using our strength of character, we just want to aim at not falling for such temptations. It will be different once a student is approached by real systematic occult training. Then work on the astral body is more extensive, and it becomes quite necessary to offer a substitute source of energy to replenish the physical and etheric bodies.

How can that be replenished which is taken from the physical and etheric bodies? To achieve this, it will be necessary to develop quite specific characteristics in a human being. In human nature and essence, it is possible to develop traits that allow the physical and etheric body to be maintained so they don’t depend on too extensive restoration. Imagine that you do something during the day that contributes to strengthening and restoring the physical and etheric body so that these will be resonating by way of their own purpose and rhythm in harmony with the great universe. Only then will you be able to use the forces for the astral body itself. This must be done, it doesn’t need to be done right away, but the time will come when it must happen. When the teacher says: “You have to concentrate the thinking”—what is meant by that is not only ordinary thinking. When told: “You have to sit down, think any ordinary thought and do not allow any other thoughts to come in, focus on the thought as intensely as possible whilst rejecting all other thoughts—this will require the human being to make a certain inner conquest—and this inner conquest is what counts. The subject is not meant to be interesting and fascinating. For example, it would be easy to focus on Napoleon, but it would be difficult to focus on a matchstick uninterruptedly for an extended period of time. This is the very essence. You will soon notice, how after some time you will reach a certain inner strength and surety. One can already feel, based on an inner experience, whether it has been effective.

Next, one must take the initiative and perform actions that one otherwise would most certainly not have done. It could be something completely unimportant. The importance of an activity is irrelevant, but it must be your own action, derived from your own original initiative. A man I told this to informed me after some time that every day in his office he would take seven steps forwards and seven steps backwards whilst imagining “Evolution and Involution”. Excellent! Not the importance of an action, but that the initiative is uniquely one’s own, is what counts.

I’ve talked to other friends about this and, to give them an example, I mentioned that one could water flowers if one had never done this before. And what did I have to deal with then? When I visited those friends, they were all busy watering flowers! That was the completely wrong thing to do because they weren’t supposed to perform “my” action, but to perform an action that they may not have invented but which is their very own, except for the invention. If this is done over an extended period, you will see its inner effect. It will harmonise and balance everything in the physical and etheric body, so that both resonate by themselves and do not require a lot of restoration work, thus enabling the astral body to withdraw a part of their strength.

Next, the human being must control himself in regard to desire and pain. In ordinary life, he is subjected to the slavery of his feelings. He laughs when someone shares something funny with him, he cries about any sad event. A student, however, has to exercise self-control, he must not allow himself to be dominated, but he himself must control lust and pain. Many think this would make them insensitive, but the opposite is the case. We thus overcome desire and pain, namely, what is egoistical desire and egoistical pain. We must find the way to sort of crawl or put ourselves into other beings, to become empathetic. None should shrink back from this exercise because of a concern about becoming insensitive—everyone will become more sensitive.

The fourth exercise is one I like best to explain by way of a legend. This legend is out of the life of Jesus Christ. Like many others it can’t be found in the Bible, it is Persian.4J.W.v.Goethe, Notes and Treatises for the Better Understanding of the West-Easterly Divan, section: General—Lord Jesus, who wanders through the World (Nisami). When the apostles once walked with Jesus Christ across the countryside, they saw the half-decayed carcass of a dead dog lying around. “What nasty carrion”, the apostles said and turned away in disgust. Jesus Christ alone stopped, looked at the carcass, and after a while said: “What beautiful teeth this animal had.”—He noticed in the ugly, decaying carcass still the beautiful teeth. This gives us a hint that we should adopt and must adopt the habit to discover in all ugliness the grain of beauty, in bad the good, and in error the truth. This positive attitude must be practiced for some time, it will lead to inner harmony and inner rhythm.

The fifth exercise is, that the human being should be reasonably unbiased towards everything new that he encounters in the world. It could also be said that one is not allowed to use anything he is used to from the past to influence the future. The words: “I don’t believe this”, must completely disappear from the mind. If someone comes to you and tells you that the church tower has become crooked overnight, you’ll have to find a corner in your heart where you believe it is possible for anything to really happen. This does not mean that you should become uncritical; you should simply consider nothing to be impossible. Whoever can do this, is able to exert influence very effectively on the physical and the etheric body, so they will fall into a rhythm that feeds the astral body during the night with what has been gained for it through meditation and concentration. Because this will lead human beings gradually to the true theosophy, allowing them to gain insight everywhere into why things happen the way they do, and not in a different way. Whoever knows the mechanism of sleep, also knows why such exercises need to be practised.

Once a human being has taken steps on the occult path for some time under appropriate guidance, many things become to him visible, tangible, and able to be experienced that he would otherwise have missed. Don’t believe that the dangers that one encounters are otherwise not there in life. One just doesn’t see them in advance but goes through life without seeing them. One only learns to see what is around us in the spiritual world when one can enter into the higher planes. What man, for example, must encounter and will always encounter at a higher level, what he must cope with, and what he must prepare himself for, is the “Guardian of the Threshold”. Human beings have usually quite strange ideas about him.

What is this “Guardian of the Threshold”?—Today, we want to turn our attention to this experience by skipping many other things. You have to be clear about what a human being normally does during his whole lifetime. Let’s take the “Kamaloka life” in its true sense, the life after death, where the human being still has a certain inclination to the physical-sensory existence, and compare this life with what happens immediately prior to the beginning of the Kamaloka life. A great tableau of memories will be laid out in front of the soul of one who has just departed the physical body. Then the Kamaloka life begins.

This is very strange. For a start, it has the characteristic that the human being relives his life. In fact, he will live his whole previous life backward, by going back through the events, which happened prior to his death until his birth. In this way, one relives all events backward and will be finished with it once one reaches the own birth. One returns to every point that one has lived through. Let’s say, you’ve reached age sixty, and when you were forty years old you slapped someone in the face. When you reach this point in your backward memory experience, you will be drawn towards that human being and you will be marked, so to speak, with something strange: You will suffer the pain you have inflicted. Whilst throughout your life you might have harbored feelings of revenge, now you are feeling what the person felt, on whom you have taken or intended to take revenge. By way of backward experience, you re-live the emotions and feelings you have spread. Everything you will experience there offers you much that obstructs your further development in the history of mankind. Without the implanted mark of pain, you would get further more easily, because this inhibiting marking stays with you as a force. By absorbing those forces in the Kamaloka backward, you will, in the next life again be led by karma to where you will be able to use them to pay off the debt, to put things right, for compensation. Thus, longing develops to redeem where you have failed, and you will be attracted to do this when the human being again lives with you. This is how Karma plays out.

Another example: Four vigilante5Judges of a Vehmic Court, a form of Court without fixed laws and norms, which occurred in isolation in the 13th Century in Westphalia and survived until the 19th Century. judges have sentenced someone to death and executed the judgment. Why did this happen? When the life of these four men was traced back, it turned out that in a former life the condemned man was a kind of chief who had sentenced those four men to death. The train of events that brought those five men together actually was created in the Kamaloka life. In this way, a human being always has the opportunity during his Kamaloka life, to accept those forces as inhibiting markings that will lead him again into life to pay off his debts.

After a human being has crossed through Devachan and should again return to the physical life, you will find the converse picture of what happens immediately after death. Now you will have a kind of premonition, a kind of preview of the life you are about to experience. Of course, what someone perceives at that time he will forget unless he is trained in the occult. There are verifiable cases, that human beings were so shocked by the preview that they did not want to enter into this life. It turned out that indeed the etheric body did not completely enter the physical body. In such cases, the etheric body of the head protruded quite a bit outside and caused a very specific kind of idiocy.

Now don’t think that karma plays out in such a way that we would be able to immediately pay off all the debts we have incurred in a previous incarnation, in the next one. It is not that simple. Sometimes one will have to go through many, many incarnations. If you would be able to look back for a moment and see everything, all the marks in your astral body that need to be redeemed, prior to your rising to certain heights of occultism, you would see your whole debt account.

What now confronts the student and must confront him in a symbolic and comprehensible form is what we still have to redeem, what still holds us back: the unredeemed karma. This is the Guardian of the Threshold.

It could also confront us in quite an abnormal way. I am aware of a case, where someone was incarnated at the end of the 18th century with quite an extraordinary greed to undertake certain deeds on the physical plane so that he had to experience a strange fate after death. He died; after a very long time, he left the remainder of his astral body. Usually, the astral body falls off after about a third of the time spent on earth, and remains back as an astral corpse, until it dissolves. Such astral corpses are consistently circling around us and exert a negative influence on people. He was unable to stay for longer in the spiritual world but experienced early, the urge to go down into the physical world again. Now he incurred a misfortune that very rarely happens. It is actually possible, that when a human being returns to physical existence, he finds his astral corpse is still around. This then is very bad for him because his current astral body will be penetrated by his earlier astral body, which is a horrible fate. He now has it consistently next to himself as a “doppelgänger”, and this is the abnormal form of the Guardian of the Threshold, which could occur in special exceptional circumstances.

For one, however, who is on the way to occult development, it is necessary that he, at a particular point in time, sees his ordinary astral body with all the marks of its unresolved karma, and he must try, through existing means, to balance out this unreleased karma. This is the true encounter with the Guardian of the Threshold. All of this has not been told to spook you, but to give you an idea of what is meant by “self-knowledge”, in the true sense of the word. Self-knowledge is two-fold: first, it is the recognition of what the true self must do. Second, it is the knowledge of the higher self. But their knowledge is something quite different. You can read in the Bible: Adam knew his wife.61 Moses, Chapter 4, 1, Luther Translation.—This is an expression for “fertilisation”. “Know yourself” means: fertilise yourself with the wisdom inside of you, look at the soul as a feminine organ and fertilise yourself. If you want to gain self-knowledge, search inside of you, where you will be able to recognise all your mistakes. If you want to reach knowledge of the higher self, search outside of you, because there knowledge of the world is knowledge of the self. Everything is in the sun because everything is sun. We have to let go of ourselves. I have been told: “You tell us about development and such things, but we want to achieve an uplifting of the soul, of the feelings.” One who speaks like that is his own enemy. Not by gawking into ourselves, but by learning to know the world in all its parts, bit by bit, will we become selfless and able to find self-knowledge and knowledge of God.

There is no phrase worse than that one: “One only has to look within oneself”.—There you will only find the lower self. One should search outside with love and one will discover. I have known people who said: “What do I need? I don’t need anything because I am Atman.” But even if they repeatedly say “Atman, I am Atman” they will not be able to become conscious of it, because they don’t know more about Atman than that it is a five-letter word. This looking within oneself only leads to shutting oneself off. We are nothing but a limb (part) of this world. The finger is only a finger as long as it is part of the organism; if you lose it, it will no longer be a finger.

The finger doesn’t separate itself from the organism, but the human being is so “smart” to believe he could separate himself from Earth, despite the fact that you only have to transport him a few kilometres above Earth, and he will perish. The human being belongs to the sun, according to his etheric and astral body, to a whole world of sun(s). It is the biggest mistake to want to find the self within oneself. Letting go of oneself by immersing oneself in all the details of the world is the right thing. One who fertilises himself with love and humility, will find divine salvation, whilst someone who searches for God inside of himself hardens.

You will see that there is much to learn when one wants to really get to know the esoteric way. It is important to have the right idea about such things. You don’t need to think about this from morning to night, just as it is unnecessary to repeat your own name all the time. It is sufficient to know the thought. There are thoughts without which an esotericist can’t be an esotericist. If he has those thoughts, as in his daily life he has his drives and motives, then these thoughts represent steps for him, that will lead him upwards to the super-sensible plane of knowledge, they will assist him in penetrating into the wisdom of the worlds, knowingly advancing to love.