The Occult Significance of the Bhagavad Gita
31 May 1913, Helsingfors
We have seen that if man would enter into the realm to which, among other things, the woven fabric of our dreams belongs, he must take with him from the ordinary world something we designated as an intensified self-consciousness. There must be a stronger and fuller life in his ego than he needs for his purposes on the physical plane. In our age this excess of self-consciousness is drawn forth from our soul by the experiences we gain through occult exercises such as I have given. Thus the first step consists in strengthening and intensifying one's inner self.
Man instinctively feels that he needs this strengthening, and for this very reason a kind of fear and shyness comes over him if he has not yet attained it. He tends to shrink from the prospect of developing into higher worlds. We must continually bear in mind that in the course of evolution the soul of man has passed through many different stages. Thus, in the period of the Bhagavad Gita it was not yet possible for a human soul to intensify its self-consciousness by such occult exercises as may be practiced today. In that ancient time, however, something else was still present in the self; I mean, primeval clairvoyance. This is also a faculty man does not really need for his ordinary life on the physical plane, if he can be content with what his epoch offers him. But the men of that ancient time still had the remnants of primeval clairvoyance.
So, we can look far back and put ourselves in the place of a person living at the time when the Bhagavad Gita originated. If such a man were to express his experience he would say, “When I look out into the world around me I receive impressions through my senses. These impressions can be combined by the intellect, whose organ the brain is. Apart from that I still have another faculty, a clairvoyant power that enables me to acquire knowledge of other worlds. This power tells me that man belongs to other realms, that my human nature extends far beyond the ordinary physical world.” This very power, by means of which there arises in the soul the instinctive knowledge that it belongs not only to the physical world — this power is actually a stronger kind of self-consciousness. It is as though these last remnants of ancient clairvoyance still had the power to surcharge the soul with selfhood. Today man can again develop in himself such surplus forces if he will go through the right occult exercises.
Now, a certain objection might be made. You know that in anthroposophical lectures we must always forestall objections that the true occultist is well aware of. It might be asked, “Why should it occur to present-day man to want to undertake occult exercises at all? Why isn't he content with what his ordinary intellect offers him?” That, my friends, is a big question because we touch something here that is not only a question but an actual fact for every thoughtful soul in the present cycle of evolution. If man did not reach out to anything more than what his senses and his brain-bound intellect can show him, he would certainly be content with his existence. He would observe the things and events around him, their relationships, and how they come into being and pass away again, but he would ask no questions about this ebb and flow of activity. He would be content with it as an animal may be content with its existence. In fact, if man were really the being that materialistic thinking considers him, he could quite well accept his life as such and ask no questions. This is the life of the animal, being content with all that arises and passes before its senses. Why isn't this the case with man?
Remember that we are speaking of present-day man, for even in ancient Greece the human soul was different in this respect from what it is today. When we today give ourselves with our whole soul to the study of natural science, or when we consider all the events of historical evolution and gain knowledge of the external science of history — with all this something else finds its way almost imperceptibly into our soul, something that has no purpose or sense for physical life. Many comparisons have been made to illustrate this fact. I would like to mention one of them because people often make use of it without considering its deeper significance. A famous medical authority in the last third of the 19th century, wishing to enhance the honor of pure science, once drew attention to a Greek philosopher Pythagoras who was asked, “What do you think of the philosophers who spend their time speculating on the meaning and purpose of life? How does their occupation compare with the activities of ordinary men who pursue some useful calling and play a useful part in community life?” The philosopher replied, “Look at a fair or market; men come to buy and sell and everyone is busy, but there are a few among them who do not want to buy or sell but simply want to stroll about and watch what is going on.” The philosopher implied that the market represented life, people busy in all sorts of ways; but the philosophers are not busy with such affairs, instead they look at what is happening and try to learn all about it.
Somehow a great respect for the philosophers who do not seem to take part in any productive activity has penetrated deeply into the minds of the so-called intellectuals among mankind. The philosophers are honored just because their science is independent, detached, self-sufficient. Yet this comparison ought to give us food for thought, for it is by no means so banal as it might appear at first sight. After all, it is curious that philosophers should be compared to idlers in the market-place of life, useless folk while their fellows labor. One might indeed think of it in this way, but we must realize that judgments are passed that originally are quite correct but become altogether wrong if they linger on for centuries, or as in this case for thousands of years. Therefore we ask again if these people who stroll about in life are really to be judged as idlers. That depends upon the standards by which we value human life. Certainly there are those who regard the philosophers as useless loiterers and think they would do better to carry through some productive work. From their point of view they may be quite right, but when man today observes life through the senses and considers it by means of the brain-bound intellect, something steals into his soul that obviously has no connection with the outer world of the senses. That is the point.
This can be seen clearly in books that try to construct a satisfactory picture of the world and life on a purely materialistic basis. It usually turns out that the big questions do not arise until the end. These books claiming to solve the riddle of the universe actually begin to set forth those riddles only in their concluding pages. In effect, when one begins today to study the external world that is the subject treated in such books, the thought slips in that either man exists for other worlds besides, or else the physical world deceives us and makes fools of us because it is continually putting questions we cannot answer.
An enormous part of our soul life is meaningless if life really ends with death; if man has no part in, no connection with a higher world. Indeed, it is not the longing for something he does not have, but the lack of sense for what he has, that impels man to follow up these questions and ask what it is that comes into the soul that does not belong to this world of the senses. Thus he is driven to cultivate something evidently without foundation in the external world. He is impelled to take up occult exercises. We would not say man has an inward longing for immortality and therefore invents the idea of it, but rather that the external world has implanted something in his soul that would be meaningless, unreal, if the whole of existence were included between birth and death. Man is impelled to ask the very nature, not of something he does not have, but of something he has.
In fact, present-day man is no longer quite in the position of a mere loiterer or on-looker, so he cannot appeal now to the Greek philosopher. In those times the comparison held good, but today it does not. Today we might say that buyers and sellers come and go. When at length they close the market and make up accounts they find something that certainly could neither have been bought nor sold, nor can they find out whence it came. That never happens in an ordinary market, but so it is in the market of life. (Every comparison has its flaw and this one is all the better for it.) As we go on living we are continually finding things that life opens to view, yet no explanation for them is to be found in the world of sense. That is the deeper reason why there are people in the world today who despair of life yet at the same time have vague, unrecognized longings. Something is active in them that does not belong to the physical world but keeps on putting forth questions about other worlds. For this reason we now have to acquire a spiritual culture. Otherwise we shall be overcome by hopelessness and despair.
What today we have to acquire, a man like Arjuna had, simply because he lived in the ancient age of primeval clairvoyance. Yet it also was a period of transition, because he belonged to that time in evolution when only the last remnants and echoes of that clairvoyance remained. If we are to understand the Bhagavad Gita it is important to realize that at the time of its origin men were entering an age in which this old clairvoyance gradually became lost. In this lies the deep undercurrent of that sublime poem; or we may say, the source of the breath poured out through it. For this song resounds with tones of a great turning-point in time, when, from the twilight of the old clairvoyance, a night was to begin in which a new force could be born to mankind. Only in that night could a force be born that the soul of today possesses, but that souls of that time did not yet possess. About Arjuna then we can say that ancient clairvoyance is still present in his soul but it is flickering out. It is no longer a strong, spontaneous force but requires such a harrowing experience as I have described to re-awaken it. What then can Arjuna perceive through this awakening of the ancient power of vision, which at other times was dying away within him? He sees the Spiritual Being who is called Krishna.
Here it is necessary to point out that though man may lift his soul today into that realm where his dreams are woven, this is no longer enough to give him a full understanding of Krishna's being. Even if we develop the forces enabling us to consciously pass into the region of dream-consciousness, we still are not able today to fully discover what Krishna is. Referring again to what was said yesterday, let us call our everyday consciousness the lowest realm. About it lies a realm we are unconscious of in daily life, or rather that reaches us in a kind of phantom picture veiled in our dreams. When we push these aside impressions from another world enter. Into all the experiences man has of his physical environment something now enters that is like a kind of overflow in his soul and belongs really to other worlds, to inner super-sensible worlds. Now he has an experience that cannot be described as a reminiscence of ordinary life, because the world now has a different aspect from anything known on the physical plane. We discover that we are seeing something we do not see in the ordinary world. Though we often imagine that we see light, in reality it is not so. On the physical plane we never see light, only color and different shades of color, darker and lighter colors. We see the effects of light but light itself speeds invisibly through space. We can easily convince ourselves of this fact. When a ray of light strikes through the window we see a kind of streak of light-rays in the room, caused by dust in the air. We see reflections of light from the glittering particles of dust, the light itself remaining invisible.
After lifting his experience to the higher realm we have spoken of, man really does begin to see the light itself. There he is surrounded by flowing light, just as in the physical world he lives in flowing air. Only he does not enter this world with his physical body. He has no need to breathe there. Man enters that world with the part of his being that needs the light as in the physical world his body needs the air. In this region light is the element of life — light-air we might call it — and it is a necessity for existence.
Further, that light is permeated and transfused with something not unlike the cloud-forms shaping and re-shaping in our atmosphere. The clouds are water, but up there what meets us like floating forms is nothing else than the weaving life of sound, the music of the spheres. Still further we shall perceive the flowing of life itself. Thus we may begin to describe the world into which our soul enters, but the terms of our description must remain meaningless for the physical world. Perhaps he who uses words most lacking in meaning for the physical world will best describe that other world that has a far higher reality.
Of course our materialistically-minded friends will find it easy to refute us. Their arguments against what the occultist has to say are plausible enough. The occultist himself knows how easily such objections are made, for the very reason that the higher worlds are best described by words not suitable for things of the physical plane. For example he would speak of light-air, or air-light. On the physical plane there is no such thing, but over there, there is. Indeed, when we penetrate into that realm we also discover what it is to be deprived of this life element, to have insufficient light-air. We feel a pain of suffocation in our soul, comparable to losing our breath for lack of air on the physical plane. There we also find the opposite condition, a fullness of pure, holy light-air when we live in it and when we perceive spiritual beings who manifest themselves in full clearness in this element of airy light and have their life in it. Those are the beings who stand under the guidance of Lucifer. The moment we enter that realm without sufficient preparation, without proper training, Lucifer gains the power to deprive us of the light-air we need. We can say he suffocates our souls.
It is not quite the same effect as suffocation on the physical plane. But like a polar bear transported to the South, we thirst and long for something that can reach us from the spiritual treasure, the spiritual light of the physical plane. That is just what Lucifer desires, for then we do not pay attention to all that comes from the higher hierarchies but thirstily cleave to all that Lucifer has brought onto the physical plane. This is what happens if we have not sufficiently trained ourselves in preparation. Then when we stand before Lucifer he takes away the light-air from us. We crave breath, and long for the spiritual that comes from the physical plane.
Let us suppose that someone goes through a training that brings him far enough to enter the higher worlds, to reach this upper region. But suppose he has not done all that belongs to the training; suppose he has forgotten that with all his exercises he must at the same time be ennobling his moral sense, his moral feelings, that he must tear all earthly ambitions and lust for power from his soul. Indeed a man can reach the higher worlds even though he is vain and ambitious, but then he takes these qualities with him. When a person has not purified his moral feelings Lucifer takes the light-air away from him, so that he perceives nothing of what is really there, and instead he longs for the things on the physical plane. He breathes in, so to say, what he has been able to perceive on the physical plane. So he may imagine that he perceives something only to be seen spiritually in the light-air. He imagines that he sees the different incarnations of various human beings. But it is not so. He does not see them because he lacks the air-light. Instead, like a thirsty being, he sucks up into that realm things of the physical plane below, and describes all manner of things acquired there as though they were processes in the higher region. Actually there is no more harmful way of raising one's soul into the higher worlds than by means of vain and earthly love of power! If one does this, one will never be able to bring down true results of knowledge. What one brings will be a mere reflection, a phantom picture of the speculations and conjectures one may have made in the physical world.
Here we have been describing what may be called the general scenery of that realm. There are also Beings we meet there, whom we may call Elemental Beings. In the physical world we often speak of the forces of nature. In that higher realm these same forces manifest themselves as real beings. There we make a definite discovery. Through the actual facts that meet us we discover that whereas on the physical plane good and evil exist together, in that higher realm there are separate, specific forces of good and evil. Here in the physical world good and evil are combined and interwoven in each human soul. One has more of a tendency to good, another less. In that realm there are evil beings who exist to battle against the work of good beings. On entering that realm, therefore, we already have occasion to make use of the strengthened self-consciousness we mentioned yesterday. We have need of the more acute power of judgment that must come with our enhanced self. Then we may really be in a position to say that here in the higher realm there must needs be beings who have the mission of evil. Such beings have to exist alongside those who have the mission of good.
We often hear it asked, “Why didn't the all-wise God of the universe simply create the good alone? Why isn't it everywhere, always?” Now we gain this conviction, however, that if only the good were present the world would become one-sided, it would not bring forth all the fullness of life that it does yield. The good must have something to oppose it. This, in fact, can already be realized on the physical plane, but in that higher realm we perceive it with far greater force. There we see that only people who are content with a merely sentimental and dreamy outlook can imagine that good beings alone could bring about the purposes of the universe. In the realm of everyday life we might do with sentimentality, but we cannot tolerate it when we enter the stern realities of the super-sensible world. There we know that the good beings alone could not have made the world. They would be too weak to mold this universe. In the totality of evolution those forces must be included which come from the evil beings. There is great wisdom in this fact that evil is mingled in cosmic evolution. Thus, one of the things we have to get rid of when we enter spiritual life is sentimentality. Bravely and unflinchingly we must approach the dangerous truths that dawn upon us when we perceive the battle that is fought in just this realm — the battle between the good and evil beings that can there be revealed to us. All these are experiences we have when we have trained and adapted our souls to entering consciously into this realm.
So far we have only entered the realm of dreams. We human beings live in still another realm, one for which we are so little adapted in ordinary life that we generally have no perceptions whatever in it. It is the realm through which we live in dreamless sleep. Here already an absolute paradox appears, for sleep after all is characterized by the complete cessation of consciousness. In normal human life today man ceases to be conscious when he falls to sleep, and he does not regain consciousness till he wakes up again. In the age of primeval clairvoyance this realm too was something the soul could experience. If we go back into those ancient periods of evolution there was actually a condition of life corresponding to our sleep in which, however, man could perceive in a still higher, still more spiritual world than the world of dreams. This was true even in early post-Atlantean times. There we find conditions that, in regard to the usual human processes, are exactly like the condition of sleep, but are not, because they are permeated by consciousness. When we have reached this height we do not see the physical world, even though we still see the world of light-air, of sound, of cosmic harmony, and of the battle between the good and evil beings. The world we see may be said to be still more fundamentally different from all that exists in the physical world. So it is yet more difficult to describe than the world we find on entering the region of dream consciousness. I would like now to give you an idea of how one's consciousness in this realm works, and of its actual effects.
Anyone who describes that sublime world into which our dreams find their way, and about which I have given the merest hint, will be labeled a fantastic visionary by the bigoted intellectualism of today. If anyone begins to speak of that still higher realm through which man ordinarily sleeps, then people, if they take any notice at all, do not stop at abusing him as a visionary. They altogether lose their heads. We have already had an example of this. When my books were first published in Germany, the critics, who are supposed to represent the intellectual culture of today, attacked them with all sorts of insinuations. In one point, however, their criticism ran absolutely wild; in fact, they became foolish in their fury. I mean the point where I had to call attention to something that could only originate in the spiritual realm we are now considering. This was the question of the two Jesus children mentioned in my book, The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind.
For those of our friends who have not heard of this I may say once more that it appeared as a result of occult research, namely, that at the beginning of our era not only one but two Jesus children were born. One was descended from the so-called Nathan line of the House of David, the other from the Solomon line. These two children grew up side by side. In the body of the Solomon child lived the soul of Zarathustra. In the twelfth year of the child's life this soul passed over into the other Jesus child and lived in that body until its thirtieth year. Here we have a matter of the deepest significance. Zarathustra's soul went on living in the body that until its twelfth year had been occupied by a mysterious soul. And then, only from the thirtieth year onward, there lived in this body the Being Whom we call the Christ, Who remained on earth altogether for three years.
We really cannot take amiss the reaction of the critics to this statement, as it is natural that they should want to have something to say about the matter from their scholarly viewpoint. But what they set out to criticize comes from a realm in which they are always fast asleep! So we cannot expect them to know anything about it. Yet a healthy human understanding is able to grasp this fact. People only will not give themselves a chance to understand. In their haste they change their power of understanding into bitterness and fury.
Such truths as that about the two Jesus children, which are to be found in this higher realm, never have anything to do with sympathy and antipathy. We find such truths; we never experience them in the way we gain experience in the usual manner of knowledge in the physical world, or even in the realm of dream life. In both these areas we are there, so to say. We are present at the origin of our knowing or perception. This is true also of those occultists who are conscious only as far as the realm of dreams. We can say that a person witnesses the birth of his knowledge, of his perceptions, in that realm, but truths like this concerning the two Jesus children can never be found in this way. When truths come to us in that higher realm and enter our consciousness, the moment in which we actually acquired them has long since passed. We experienced them long before we met them with our full consciousness, as we have to do in our time. We have them already in us. So that when we reach these truths — the most important, the most living and essential of all truths — we distinctly have the feeling that when we gained them we were in an earlier time than the present; that we are now drawing out of the depths of our soul what we acquired in an earlier time and are bringing it into our consciousness. Such truths we discover in ourselves, just as in the outer world we come across a flower or any other object. Even as in the outer world we can think about an object that is simply there before us, so can we think about these truths when we have discovered them in ourselves, in our own self.
In the outer world we can only judge an object after we have perceived it. In the same way we find those sublime truths objectively in ourselves, and only then do we study them, in ourselves. We inwardly investigate them as we investigate the external facts of nature. Just as it would have no meaning to ask of a flower whether it is true or false, there would be no sense in asking about these truths that we simply come upon in ourselves, whether they are true or false. Truth and falsehood only come into the picture when it is a question of our power to describe what we find or what arises in our consciousness. Descriptions can be true or false. Truth and falsehood do not concern the facts, they concern the manner in which any thinking being approaches or deals with those facts. Thus, when we do research and get results in this realm we are really looking into a region of the soul we have lived in before but did not look into with our consciousness.
In carrying on our occult exercises we are best able to enter this realm if we pay positive attention to those moments when from the depths of our soul not mere judgments arise, but facts; facts that we know we did not consciously take part in originating. The more we are able to wonder at the things there unveiled, like the objective things of the outer world, the more astonishing it all is for us, the better are we prepared to enter into this realm. So, as a general rule, we do not make a good entrance if we have all sorts of conjectures and constructions in our minds. For example, there is no better way of finding nothing at all about the previous incarnations of some person than to speculate as to who they may have been earlier. Let us say you wanted to investigate the earlier incarnations of Robespierre. The best way of finding out nothing at all about him would be to search about for historical personalities you think might possibly have been his previous incarnations. In that way you never can discover the truth. You must get out of the habit of making conjectures and theories and forming opinions.
He would become a true occultist who would set himself to making as few judgments as possible about the world because then he will most quickly attain the condition in which the facts can meet him. The more a man cultivates silence in his conjectures and opinions, the more will his soul be filled with the actual truths of the spiritual world. Someone, for example, who had grown up with a particular religious bias, with definite feelings and ideas or perhaps views about the Christ — such a person in general would not be the most adapted to discover a truth like the history of the two Jesus children. Just when one feels a little neutral about the Christ event one is well prepared for such a discovery, provided of course he has made all the other necessary preparations. People with a Buddhistic bias will least easily be able to talk sense about Buddha, just as those with a Christian bias will least easily be able to talk sense about Christ. This is always true.
If we would enter into the third realm just described, it is necessary that we go through all the bitterness — for in ordinary life we cannot help feeling it in this way — of becoming, so to say, a twofold person. We are, in fact, twofold beings in ordinary life, even if we make no conscious use of the one-half of our existence, for we are both waking and sleeping beings. Different as these two conditions are, so is that third realm in the higher worlds different from this physical world. That realm has a peculiar existence of its own. There also we are surrounded by a world, but one so altogether new and different that we get to know it best if we extinguish not only the sense impressions of this world of ours but even our feelings and sentiments and all the things that have the power to arouse our passions and enthusiasms. In ordinary life man is so little fitted for conscious experience of that higher world that his consciousness is extinguished every night. He can only attain experience there if he is able to become a twofold man. Those who have the power at will to forget and to blot out all their interests in this physical world, are then able to enter that higher realm. The world between — that is to say, where our dreams are woven — is made of the materials of both worlds, it is penetrated by reflections of the higher worlds of which man is generally not aware, and by reminiscences of ordinary consciousness. That is why no one can perceive the true causes of events in the physical world who is not able to penetrate with understanding into that third realm.
Now if a man of today wishes to discover through his own experience who Krishna is, he can only make that discovery in the third realm. Arjuna's impressions, which in the sublime Gita are described to us through the words of Krishna, have their origin in that world. For this reason I have had to prepare the way today by speaking of man's ascent into the third realm. Only so will you be able to understand the origin of the strange and wondrous truths that Krishna speaks to Arjuna — truths that sound so altogether different from anything that is spoken in ordinary life.
These lectures are to help us gain knowledge of Krishna; that is to say, of the very essence of the Bhagavad Gita. Also, the occult principles of this wonderful Song are to give you something which, if you really make use of it, can enable you to find the way into the higher worlds because the way is open to every man. We have only to realize that the grain of gold with which we must begin is ours once we are aware of how many things there are in which the highest spiritual beings live and work and are interwoven in our everyday life.