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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Concerning the Nature of Pain, Suffering, Joy, and Bliss
GA 107

27 October 1908, Berlin

Translator Unknown

Let us proceed to-day from simple forms of pain, from its elementary forms. When we cut our finger and feel pain, or when we bruise it, or cut it off completely and feel pain, this is the simplest, most primitive form of pain. Let us begin by considering this.

When we ask psychologists who are experienced in matters connected with the human soul, what explanation they have for the simplest form of pain, we find, particularly in the present time, that these psychologists say rather queer things. They made a strange discovery, for they found out that the only way of explaining pain is to add to the different senses, to the sense of smell, of sight, of hearing, a new sense the sense of pain, so that the human being perceives pain through this sense in the same way in which he perceives the light through his eyes and sounds through his ears. They say that man feels pain because he has a sense of pain. External experience does not give us any foundation in support of the existence of a sense of pain; nevertheless science, setting out from pure observation, is not in any way averse to accepting it, in fact, it invents a sense of pain.

But let us take no further notice of this and ask ourselves instead: How does such a simple, primitive feeling of pain really arise? In what manner does the experience of pain arise, when we cut our finger?

The finger is a part of our physical body. The physical body contains the substances of the external physical world The finger is permeated with the etheric and astral parts of the body belonging to the finger. What are the tasks of these higher parts, of the etheric and astral parts? The physical structure of the finger, consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, etc, these cells arranged within it could not be as they are, if the active element, the forming, constructive element—i.e. the etheric body—were not behind them. The etheric body is not only at the foundation of the finger's growth, arranging the cells so that they form the finger, gut it also maintains these cells in their structure, thus preventing the finger's decay. The etheric body permeates the whole finger and fills it with the etheric forces; it is contained in the same space filled out be the physical finger. But the astral finger is also there. When we have a sensation in our finger, when we feel a pressure of anything else,, this is of course transmitted by the finger's astral body, for sensation, feelings, live in the astral body.

The connection between the physical, etheric and astral finger is, however, not only a mechanical connection, but an incessantly living one. The etheric finger always fills the physical finger glowing strength, it constantly works at the formation of its inner parts. In what way is the etheric finger really interested in the physical finger?

Its chief concern is to bring all the parts with which it is connected, even the minutest particles, in their right place, in a right connection everywhere.

Let us now imagine that there is a little cut on our skin, a small injury. This prevents the etheric finger in its task of arranging the different parts in the right way. The etheric body lives in the finger and should keep its parts together. But the cut, this mechanical incision, keeps them apart, so that the etheric finger can no longer fulfil its task. It is in the same situation in which we should be, if we had constructed an appliance to be used for working in the garden and someone had destroyed it; in that case we could not do the work in the way in which we intended to do it. We must give up doing what we wished to do. This inability to do something, as resignation. This impossibility (on the part of the etheric body) to set in with its activity is felt by the astral part of the finger as pain.

When a hand is amputated, only the physical hand can be amputated, not the etheric hand, and the etheric hand is then unable to work; the astral body feels this tremendous renunciation in the form of pain.

The cooperation between the etheric and astral thus produces the most primitive, elementary form of pain. This is how pain arises, and it lasts as long as the astral body in a particular part of the body has grown accustomed to the fact that the corresponding etheric activity can no longer be carried out.

Let us compare this with the pain which we experience in Kamaloka! There, the whole body is suddenly torn away from man, it does not exist any more and the etheric, forces can no longer be active in it. The astral, body feels that the whole can no longer be organised—it longs for the activity which can only be carried out within the physical body,—and this want is felt as pain. Every pain is a suppressed activity. In the cosmos every suppressed activity gives rise to pain, and because activity must frequently be suppressed in the cosmos, pain is necessary in the cosmos.

But something else may arise. Up to a certain degree, the hand may be prevented in its particularly living activity by processes of renunciation, or similar things. This is, for example, the case when a person begins to mortify his flesh. Organs of the body which were formerly active and living are, in a certain way, brought to a standstill. Then the astral part of the hand, for example, withdraws from the etheric hand; it will have a surplus of forces, it will have lost some of its tasks, although it might have continued to fulfil them just as actively.

If a person treats his body in such a way that he begins to feel these surplus forces in his astral body and is able to say to himself: I dispose of surplus forces; formerly, I used up all these forces in order to regulate the physical body; now I have tamed the physical body, it no longer requires all these forces—if this is the case, the astral body endowed with these surplus forces will feel this as blissfulness. For even as suppressed activity produces pain, so accumulated activity produces a feeling of bliss. It is blissfulness for the astral body to do more than it was meant to do from the outset. This consciousness of an overflowing strength which could be used productively, which may be guided from within, since the external body no longer claims it for itself, this implies blissfulness.

What meaning underlies the fact that some religious communities do certain things in order to mortify the flesh, the physical body? What does this imply?

This means that the functions of the physical body are not used so much, they are thus calmed, so that a certain amount of forces is kept back in the etheric body.

Let us imagine a man who lived a life full of privations, who gradually succeeded in calming down the metabolic processes of his physical body, without making many demands on the etheric body, and then another man who likes to eat as much as possible, whose physical processes are in a state of turmoil and who has a lot to digest In the case of the former, where everything takes such a calm course, whose physical functions even show a certain sluggishness and do not consume the etheric forces so much, there will be superfluous forces in his etheric body; in the case of the latter, all the forces of his etheric body must be consumed in order to maintain the functions of the physical body. Consequently, the man whose body has learned to be calm and unpretentious will have superfluous forces in his etheric body, and his astral body will mirror them as forces of knowledge, not only, as blissfulness, and the imaginative pictures of the astral world will rise up before such a person. For example, Savanarola had a weak constitution and was nearly always ill; he had any forces in his etheric body which were not used for the physical body, and he could employ these forces for his powerful thoughts and impulses, he was able to hold those powerful speeches by which he enthralled his audiences. His visions also enabled hem to set before his hearers, in a powerful picture events which would take place in the future.

And now we may transfer this to the spiritual worlds. Even as suppressed activity means privation in Kamaloca—and there is always privation in Kamaloka—every suppressed activity falls away when the human being enters Devachan because there nothing exists which is in any way connected with the physical and which lustfully longs for the physical. In Devachan a spiritual substantiality is given to man which little by little builds up the form of his future incarnation. In Devachan there is purest, freest activity, and man experiences this as purest bliss.

During his earthly life, we continually learn through everything which surrounds us, but the different bodies which we have , were built up in accordance with the forces of our preceding incarnations, we built up these bodies through these forces. But what we learn to know during our life is not yet contained in our body. In the course of life we change; our feelings change, our ideas grow, there is a great amount of suppressed activity in us. But we cannot change our body, it must remain as it is, built up in accordance with the experiences of preceding incarnations.

In Devachan the human being has emancipated himself from these hindrances, and as a result, his unchecked will to work takes on the form of bliss. There he forms his astral body, his etheric body and his physical body for a new life. What remains unused in life, is applied in Devachan. He takes up into Devachan not only his present consciousness, but also what surpasses his personality. This gives him a heightened state of existence in Devachan, so that in addition to what he experiences here as his individuality,he experiences in Devachan all that he has gained over and above his individuality and could not yet bring to expression during his life:

We are thus able to understand pain and privation by rising from the lowest stage up to that of blissfulness. In one world we can always follow the traces of something that passes through all the worlds.

To-day we are thus able to appreciate more fully the ascetic methods of development. We may say: Even as pain is connected with an external injury of the physical body, so the feeling of bliss is connected with a diminution of the external activity and consequently with an increase of the inner activity. This is the sensible side of the asceticism of the past, and we are able to understand why that which was to lead man up into the higher worlds was sought through renunciation.

Consequently we must first throw light upon the most primitive aspects of things in order to grasp, as it were, how spiritual science explains to us by the simplest things, such as hurting a finger, the path leading from renunciation and privation to blissfulness, and also how the tearing of pain may become a kind of path of knowledge. For everything is a parable, and by explaining the smallest things which face us, in the way, in which spiritual science explains it to us, we gradually rise to a spiritual height enabling us to understand the highest things.

If we compare this with what was explained yesterday, we shall be able to grasp that the bearing of bodily pain may become a kind of training, a path of knowledge. Imagine a person who never had a headache. He can say: I am not aware of the fact that I have a brain, for I have never felt it. Let us now imagine that such a headache is not produced by influences from outside, but by a certain stage of Christian Initiation which is called “the crown of thorns”. It is meant to give man the feeling: Through pain and suffering and many hindrances approach me, seeking to undermine what is most important to me, my mission—I will stand upright, though I stand alone! If someone practises these feelings for months, indeed for years, he will finally experience this feeling of headache, as if sharp points or thorns were prickling his head.

This is a transition to the recognition of those occult forces which formed the brain. When the etheric forces of the brain do exactly what they to do, they do not find anything which might bring these forces to the consciousness of man. But when the physical brain is in a certain way injured under the influence of these feelings, the etheric body must loosen itself from it; it must withdraw from the brain, it is driven out of it, and knowledge is the result of this emancipation of the etheric head. This passing feeling of pain is only the transition to the stage in which the forces of knowledge are gained, and this is nothing but an objectivation of something which man did not know before. Before, he did not know that he had a brain, now he learns to know the etheric forces and their activity, the forces which built up his brain and maintain it.

Many other things might still be said, When a physical organ is separated from its etheric part, so that the etheric body is unable to work in it, we experience pain. But when the astral body has grown accustomed to this, when the cicatrization begins, implying an emancipation of the etheric body, when therefore not all the forces of the etheric body are being used, then the opposite arises: namely, a feeling of joy and bliss.